Sunday, December 31, 2006

Bloggers Can Aim Higher Than Rory

The internet hockey community has recently proven itself to be quite a united and powerful group in regards to the Rory Fitzpatrick story.

The "Vote For Rory" story, an internet quest to send an NHL "everyman" to the league's All-Star game has gained a surprising amount of media coverage and momentum. While I have previously chosen to remove myself and my site from the moral equation of the campaign, I must admit to being impressed by the dedication of hockey fans, and bloggers alike.

Bandwagon jumpers, caught in the coolness of the ruse, likely never positioned themselves inside Fitzpatrick's skates or conscience.

My unstated point of view on the whole deal, has always concerned the player and person first and foremost.

To finally speak my mind on the matter, Rory, under any given circumstance, would never feel comfortable in heading to Dallas, in the midst of controversy. While the player initially seemed to momentarily relish the attention, he soon understood the consequences of jokingly endorsing such a lark.

He has since backed off, hoping that internet hockey fans do so also.

In truth, Fitzpatrick never represented the hyped "everyman", but merely a fringe NHL'er hanging onto his job. The "everyman" has a firmer, less teetering grasp on a longer term career.

Fitzpatrick honestly never needed the distraction.

Having said all that, and not wanting to seem as though I am a pisspot spoilsport, the power in numbers shown by fans of the game is what has impressed me most about the Rory infatuation. It is not a shaking of the foundations aspect that has grabbed my curiosity and attention, but the sheer will to do something positive with a clout we, as internet hockey fans and bloggers, could well earn if put to proper use.

Affecting positive change, is what I am getting at.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has often mentioned that he is aware of NHL fans online. We are also becoming more aware of our voice as fans within the league. While we online fans may never be querried on matters of league rules or divisional alignment, we can make make ourselves important in other progressive ways.

It all begins with doing something positive and right.

It requires our involvement in a "feel good" story that would have little to no controversy attached to it.

It requires our involvement in a "feel good" story that would have little to no controversy attached to it.

Through the hockey media itself, I've latched on to two stories in the past year that could well gain some support, amongst ourselves and the said print media, who would undoubtably become our ally.

In a sense it is not all that different than voting for an NHL "everyman".

The Hockey Hall Of Fame is an institution we are all familiar with. It has a due voting process only slightly less immediate than that of the NHL All-Star game.

There are two cases of omission into the Hockey Hall that have long irked me - one, if you have a reporters heart, could seem closer to you than you think.

As a writer of 44 years of age, I sincerely hope that the people who I will be suggesting for inclusion to the HHOF are not beyond your realm of game love and understanding. The greatness of who they are and were, should never escape those who share the opinion that how the game treats it's past, affects it's future.

I say, we all get together, to make these cases our feel good stories!

Trust me, both are more than worthy.

They involve NHL goaltending great Rogatien "Rogie" Vachon, and the longest standing hockey beat writer in North America, Montreal Gazette scribe, Red Fisher.

While both scenario's differ, I will tackle the Fisher case first.

Fisher has been covering the Montreal Canadiens for 49 years. He has been writing on hockey even longer.

His dignity and professionalism are second to none. He has long been revered by not only readers, but also by the players he has covered. Respected individuals in hockey such as Bob Gainey and Ken Dryden have given testament to his accomplishments.

You would tend to assume that he deserves induction into the Hockey Hall Of Fame as a writer, and hence as a promoter of this great game of hockey that we all are fortunate enough to be commenting on daily.

In regards to writting about the game and it's players, Fisher is our eldest of professional ancestors. A man of no small compromise, he is the purest of our breed.

The most cutting of slights, the most blatant, absent-minded of diminishments, has been committed against Fisher.

Red Fisher, you see, was inducted into the Hockey Hall Of Fame in 1985, as he rightly should have been.

He received the Elmer Ferguson Memorial Award for excellence in hockey journalism.

He didn't steal it.

He put in more hours than the average NHL'er on job and did it all in the good name of the game of hockey. He wrote about players, while understanding they were human beings. He wrote about teams, while understanding winning team concepts. He respected what was personal and priveledged information while never compromising his position, enabling us hockey fans to get great insight into the game we love.

If he's still on the beat 50 years later, what else do I need say?

Hockey owes Red Fisher more than it owes him.

In the late 1990's, the Hockey Hall decided for no positive reason that all media personnel inducted in the Hall be referred to as "Honourees" rather than members. Fisher proudly pulled his name from the Hall in protest, feeling the slight. In his profession, Fisher had built up the game and promoted it to the best of his ability. No "honour", as so termed, ought to diminish what the man accomlished. He ought to be re-inducted, as he initially was, as a full fledged "member" of the Hockey Hall Of Fame.

Need there be reminding that Red is like quite a lot of us. He remains and always has been a non-compromising seeker of truth, deliverer of news, and a hockey fanatic at heart.

You'll agree with me when I say he deserves a more honest fate in regards to the HHOF.

Before the NHL even begins to suggest one more time, how important media is to the game's interest spreading continent wide, it ought to correct the wrong committed, not only in Fisher's name, but in all former, present, and future media inducteed of the game.

Red Fisher, is you and I, writing of hockey everyday.

Rogatien Vachon is on the opposite side of the paper and pen.
A career hockey man, Rogie was one of the NHL's premier goaltenders of the 1970's. His stats from the era show he may have only been surpassed by the likes of Dryden, Tony Esposito, Bernie Parent, and Gerry Cheevers in terms of career acomplishments and career numbers.

Not only did Vachon ply his trade mainly on hockey's west coast, in that gold and purple Kings jersey, he thrived at it. Vachon, along with Marcel Dionne, very consistantly displayed excellence throughout their careers. Had it not been for them, Wayne Gretzky may not have had a franchise to bolster upon his trade to Los Angeles in 1988.

There are three current franchises in the state of California the NHL can be thankful for - the Kings, the Sharks and the Ducks. Vachon spent the better part of a decade there stopping pucks where the sun burns peel more skin than the red lights of goal judges do, yet he has never been given the game's supreme acknowledgement.

Vachon was on the smaller side of goalies, standing only 5' 7' and 170lbs. Despite his stature, he parlayed his stand up style successfully, playing over 200 games with the Montreal Canadiens between 1966 and 1972.
With them, he won 3 Stanley Cups in 4 seasons, including winning the Vezina Trophy.

In 16 NHL seasons, Vachon compiled 355 wins and a more than respectable for the era, 2.99 GAA. Rogie went on to play two seasons each with the Boston Bruins and Detroit Red Wings before retiring in 1982.

In the 1976 Canada Cup tournament, Vachon's goaltending was key to the country's win. Rogie's excellent performances were again overshadowed by the games greats. With Bobby Orr's last hurrah earning him tournament MVP honours and Darryl Sittler's winning goal against Czechoslovachia, little spotlight was left over for Rogie the goalie.
In his post player career, he has served the L.A. Kings in many capacties, including General Manager.

If one was to compare the career stats of Rogatien Vachon against other HHOF inductees such as Bob Pulford, Dick Duff, or Bernie Federko, it would be plain and obvious to see that this goalie has a home in this temple of greats.

Are you ready to do something about it?

If we can come so close to flying Rory Fitzpatrick to an All-Star game, we could surely add our influence to the cases for Fisher and Vachon.

After that, who knows what we could accomplish together!

The Hockey New Years Wish List

Here's a list of New Years wishes for the players and personalities, teams and organization that make hockey the greatest game on Earth.

To the Canadian boys in Sweden at the WJC - another undefeated run to the Gold to launch their careers.

Former Flyers GM Bobby Clarke - a less stressful front office job while coming to grips with today's game.

For Wayne Gretzky - a healthy family and a ticket out of Phoenix before 20 years of hockey integrity is undone.

Pat Quinn - the opportunity to once again scream at NHL officials close up.

Brendan Shanahan - the 50 goal season this funnyman and astute hockey thinker's legend deserves.

Peter Forsberg - spare parts!

To Mario Lemieux and the Penguins fans - solid plans for a new arena that they will fill for decades.

Guy Carbonneau - A Jack Adams Trophy to place next to his Selke's.

To Gary Bettman and Colin Campbell - muzzles, disguises, and a goal scoring surge.

John Muckler, Harry Neale, and Don Cherry - a hastened and vile free ride off into the sunset.

Rory Fitzpatrick - peace of mind to concentrate on the task at hand and a playoff spot for the Canucks.

To the Blackhawks and Bruins - a return to the playoffs and a battle with another Original Six franchise.

Guillaume Latendresse - continued class, composure, and coolness under fire.

To Dave Lewis - a mirror and a razor.

For Sidney Crosby - an Art Ross and a hockey game in late April.

Charles Wang - perception and 25 good books on hockey.

To Sheldon Souray and Andrei Markov - lucrative multi year deals with the Habs that do not handcuff GM Gainey. (OK, that's for me also!)

Mats Sundin - hair, wingers, and a contract that keeps him in the blue and white.

To the Oilers and Flames - deep playoffs runs into the month of May.

For the Ottawa Senators - a head scout that can replenish their depleted talent base.

To Alexander Ovechkin - America wide recognition and a highlight reel goal that tops last seasons goal against Phoenix.
John Ferguson Jr. - A father in good health and free agent clarity.

To Pat Burns - A call come June from newly appointed Senators GM Bryan Murray.

To every hockey playing child, between the ages of 3 and 20 - government sponsored mandatory heart defribulators in every arena in Canada and the United States.

To Doug Gilmour - a first ballot induction to Hockey Hall immortality.

For Red Fisher - on a similar note, eliminating the "Honourees" distinction from the HHOF, and an invitation to return as a full fledged "Member."

To Jeremy Roenick - a killer second half, meals after games only, and a healthy family.

To Gordie Howe, Jean Beliveau, and Bobby Orr - the best health and all the adulation and love from the hockey world as it continues to not only recognize your player contributions, but also the special people you are.

David Aebischer - a starters job, anywhere!

Jose Theodore - a gossip free resurgeance to the netminding elite.

Ed Belfour - another contract well earned.

For Patrick Roy - another Memorial Cup run and a clue when to shut up when things are of no concern.

To the Capitals, Blues, Predators, and Panthers - fans in the seats.

Phil Kessel - a Lance Armstrong like recovery.

To the Zambonies rock group - a huge pop hit so good it replaces "The Hockey Song" in minds of fans for the next 30 years.

Lou Lamoriello and Claude Julien - hairpieces and cameos on "The Sopranos."

To all NHL goalies - less groin pulls unless self administered.

To the Blues and Predators - a game that's settled by a shootout lasting an additional hour featuring a ton of highlight reel goals and a complete turnover of the shooters order to make the sports story of the week.

For women playing hockey everywhere - the recognition they deserve and more TV time.

To Canada itself, a nation united around a puck - more squirts and tykes highfiving bewildered teammates after scoring on their own net, more parents of kids smiling in freezing arenas, more frozen ponds and lakes and outdoor rinks, volunteers unlimited, and a million boys and girls aspiring to be the next Sidney Crosby.

To Bob Gainey and family - good health and spiritual guidance from angels above for generations and beyond.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Screened Zebras Versus The Eye In The Sky

May he, who cast the first stone...

I've often been asked, after an umpteenth recurrant tirade over NHL officiating, "Well, smart guy, how would you fix it all?'

Well damnit if it wouldn't be presumptous of me to claim I can solve every question surrounding the overall disatisfaction with NHL officiating, but I think I may have something that points closer to what could be called answers.

Let me first assume myself to be in your front row seat, boots, skates, couch, and lazy boy watching the NHL game unfold.

Let me also pressume that the answers to all the following questions are a resounding "No!"

"Are you always happy with the current state of officiating in the NHL?"

"Do you always find it consistant and fair to both teams, in every situation, for three full periods?"

"Can you say without a doubt that officials always make the correct call?"

"Have you ever walked away from a game disgusted by how the outcome seemed to you, to be affected by calls or non calls, during the course of a game?"
If you answered "yes" to the fourth query only, we likely have the same frustrations in common.

I have long believed that the NHL game and it's officiating have become imcompatible - moreso since the advent of the 4 on ice officials system.

It was then that I began thinking about solutions and resolves. That was ten years back in NHL evolution.
Before I ply my ideas forth, let me please, if you will, give some devil's advocate points of view to what you will, I assure you, later argue with me on.

Officiating a hockey game is the most masochistic profession I know. While I have never been in their position to see and feel fans and coaches wrath first hand, I am not unfamiliar with it. I have delivered it from behind benches for years, instictively at times. Later even, ashamed at times, watching young teen referees leave the rink in tears. Caught between competitiveness, officials cannot win.

Imagine a job, where the better you do, the less is said. No pats on the back, just an awkward comradery scattered amongst loud booing and jeers. When you least expect it, the odd projectile is flung your way. On occasion you are confronted, questioned, chastised, and belittled above and beyond your job description.
Rare is the human skin thick enough to withstand such abuse. Yet we not only expect officials to withstand it, we expect them them to rise above it all and perform perfectly. We demand it and pay them accordingly, all the while showering them with pointed venom and abuse.

The referee or official places themself in this lose-lose scenario, usually for a love of the game. We rip their heads off in return.

The NHL official, thick skinned and mentally armoured, has been given, under all these circumstances, the daunting task of bringing order and compliance to a sport that executes itself at light speed, with changing motions, agressive behavior and with defying attitudes. Still, we demand that official to be perfect. Human, with all that is at stake, is no longer good enough!

Did I not mention that officiating had become incompatible with the sport?

While officials deal with an on ice view as the game unfolds and unravels, we are perched mostly in higher seats, whether it be in arenas or couches, examining and disecting every error made by them. From the rafters or the television camera angle, we have an honest view of what has been missed, neglected, unforeseen, and to us only, obvious.

They rarely see what we see - and that's the killer!

If you are fortunate enough to live near beautiful forestry, take a deep look into the late August woods and spy that first leaf that is changing colour. It's not easy to spot, is it? Imagine trying to spot it from across a road with vehicles passing at different speeds. It's not easy, is it? Everything is moving so quickly.

That's your puck, your high stick, that subtle hook, that sublime trip, that slash you missed with two bodies blocking your view, that elbow up high (seemingly obvious to everyone), a somewhat apparent dive - um, not sure!, that spear that has the home teams star player in agony, and that goal that everyone in the building agrees went in.

Now place yourself in an officials skates and envision those scenes again.

The official cannot rule on it, he simply could not see it. He tried, but he's a professional and will not guess at it. That would be wrong and it could set himself up for embarrassment. He looks to his cohorts for guidance on the play - his cohorts look to him, confused for a second, waiting. There is a second of second guessing.
Players on opposite teams react differently, some look away innocent and indifferent, others are enraged and in disbelief. There is no blood on the ice, thankfully, and the play moves on. Seconds later a goal is scored.
Immediatly and from all perspectives, scorn pours down from the stands, the players on the ice and the coaching staff. Your cohorts look to you again, with a mixture of understanding and disbelief themselves. You look back at them wondering why they did not make the call if they'd seen it, while trying to keep your own composure intact. You are on national televison and your superiors are watching and judging and rating your every move.

You hold a quick think tank with those cohorts but you still make the wrong call. It was up to you to decide. It nags at you. It will eat your thoughts on your off day, but...

Heck, it's get out of uniform time, catch a red eye flight, and shuffle these notions away - there's a flight to catch and all!

If any profession has this amount of on the job and outside pressures and mental stress, I'd love to see it's workman's compensation psychiatrist billings!

What an official is asked to do during an NHL contest is quite obviously, either inhuman or superhuman.
Since the implementation of the 4 officials system, it is my take that matters have gotten way worse.

While linesmen deal mainly with onside and offside calls, their job detail consists of little more. It is basically stay out of players way, make the proper calls, and do not impede the pucks progression. They do have the power to make certain calls, but will rarely do so, at the risk of embarrassing, even humiliating referees in charge, in seeing something they did or could not see.

Many of these officials calling the game share an age dynamic. Like rookies on a team, upsetting a veteran is never a career wise move. Often ego's clash. Younger officials invariably defer to that most immediate of authorities. Regardless of their ability and vision, this is the big leagues, and they conform.

Now ask yourselves those 4 questions I put to you at the top once more and consider this.

Do you still feel the same way about officiating?

Can you now understand it in a different light?

Will you watch the next hockey game with more understanding and less judgement?

It ought to be obvious by now, that the current configuration of 4 on ice officials, simply cannot work. Given that they have been dealt extra responsabilities since the lockout, it is even more unworkable or them.

There are more infractions to blow the whistle on.

They need help with it.

If I have spent so much detail analysing how it is for officials, it is because I chose to focus on what it is they fail nightly to achieve.

It's beyond their human fault.

Did I even bother to mention that NHL officials are likely the best available officials to the NHL? It ought to go without question.

My whole point is this. I ought to underline or highlight it loudly.


An official never has the benefit of a spectators point of view. Whether it be from an arena where the larger proportion of fans sit higher, or from a living room couch where camera angles never lie - the perspective can never be quite the same.

If the NHL's thinking heads believe that the avenues to properity for the league lie primarily in a National television contract, why not begin to call the games from that same viewers standpoint.

It is not that unthinkable, that unreasonable, or that farfetched to come to terms with the idea that a hockey game can best be officiated from a higher perspective.

Doesn't God judge us from above?

Goals, the most crucial of calls, have long been decided by overhead cameras. To little or no error at that!

While it may not be a workable, overnight solution, can't penaly calls somehow be dealt with in the same way?

I've always kept all this at the back of my mind as an eventual solution to officiating woes. The time may have come to at least begin pondering it, to working out the forseen kinks.

The NHL may actually be seen as a trailblazer by adopting such a revolutionary sports officiating perspective.

Call it "The Eye In The Sky".

A multitude of overhead cameras scanning the game's every zone for infractions committed.

To enable such a cohesive and grand scheme to work beyond what fails today requires some vision, the years ahead kind!

Here's what I, humble hockey blogger, see in the officiating future.

To begin with, I see on the ice, one less official in the way of players and pucks shot in and out of zones.

I see linesmen, having only to deal with calls that are offside, onside or icings of the puck.

I see no more referees of different ages and seniority, having to get along and become compatible on the ice.

I see blame removed from on ice officials as they execute commands from upstairs.

To that end, I see less player arguements and frustrations with said officials, as their deeds have been detected and nailed by the official "in the sky."

MOST IMPORTANTLY I see fans, of both arena and TV perspectives, agreeing with such calls.

Implementing this, will of course, involve financial undertaking by the NHL owners group.

The logistics would take careful planning.

It will involve a technology enabling on ice officials to communicate via headsets with the setup above.

It will involve communication, immediate to the penalty box area once calls are made.

It will involve an investment of time, planning and patience, to convince fans that it is the way to go.

HOW I SEE IT working is something like this:

One luxury suite in each NHL arena holds the technology to view multi camera angles from all 3 zones of play - the neutral between the blue lines, and each end zone. Two camera men are assigned to each zone per period on a rotating basis. During the game they have access to every camera angle available in the setup. Each will have a view of opposite sides of the ice surface and the ability to make calls within the leagues discretion.

THEY WILL MISS NOTHING if this setup works like it ought to.

Calls will be sent down to the on ice officials who will blow the whistle when the penalized team touches the puck.

The goal judges area behind the net, long obsolete due to such calls going overhead, could now feature four coloured lights to alert officials and fans of calls. They would be red, green, amber and blue. Such light could also be placed by the penalty box and at both sides of both blue lines.

Red, as in a stop light, would signify a periods end. Green, should be a call on the opposing team, suggesting that the home team GO on with their play. An amber light would signify a call on the visiting team. A blue light, long identified with emergency, alerts officials and fans of a double minor call.

While I realize this may be a futuristic mess of technology and glitches to sort through, I am adamant that this is where the NHL confronts it's officiating grey area.

The NHL was behind the expansion curve four decades ago. Why not be progressive when the technology could be their best friend?

Of course, this technological officiating template would need tinkering. It would have to be out of view of the fans with nothing obstructing the game. Calls would have to be made much quicker than goals are reviewed presently.

It should not in any way resemble the goal review fiasco's of the late 1990's.

Most annoyingly, it may further subject fans to another crackdown on calls. It must be understood that, for a time, the number of calls would again increase.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Why Trade Sheldon Souray?

Under the NHL's present salary cap structure, hockey's trade rumour mongers haven't had much to proselytize over this season. God forbid the notion, they've almost had to make up their own! With less than a dozen players changing teams so far, phones aren't exactly ringing off the hook in the offices of GM's lately.

It got a little wacky a few weeks back when a nameless Nation's Capital scribe, who deserves to remain nameless, cooked up a beauty involving the stratospherically separated Blue Jackets and Canadiens. It had all the makings of a blockbuster deal. It was all the makings of hotdog helium.

Get this: Sergei (Inflated contract, washed up) Fedorov to the Habs for Janne (Wanna buy a vowel?) Niinimaa and Radek (Knob spelled backwards) Bonk. The guffaws were heard coast to coast. I won't even indulge in the nonsense of the deal's impossible improbability!

There is one trade rumour, however, that refuses to fade, again involving the Canadiens. In this case, where there is smoke, there is clearly nothing but smoke!

It surrounds and hounds Habs defenseman Sheldon Souray.

While most chatter of players being on the market are the usual rank underperformers and castabouts, Souray stands out and gets talked up as he is in the midst of a career year. Possibly even an All-Star season. He has become the prime sought out commodity of every league GM and trade pundit for many reasons.

What it boils down to is the Canadiens have but three NHL roster defensemen under contract for next season. Souray, Andrei Markov, and Craig Rivet are all unrestricted free agents. Mike Komisarek, who is making slightly under a million per season and performing up to expectations should receive his due upance.
Niinimaa, who is ironically the highest paid (2.5M) and least used, will be escorted out of Montreal by pidgeons at seasons end.

It is perceived that GM Bob Gainey will have trouble signing all three. That would depend on where his priorities are placed. Gainey never discusses a player's standing publically, leaving rumours to be pure fantasy and nothing more.

Now there is also the notion that Souray wants to be on the West coast. His off season home is in California. The gossip has long been that he wishes to be closer to his estranged infant daughter. While the wish is certainly true of any caring father, Souray hasn't as much to gain as most assume, as he has been granted the same standard visitation rights, with certain allowances, as any parent has. Living on West coast implies longer road trips and doesn't neccessarily solve that woe.

Relations with his ex-wife Angelica Bridges have not always been smooth, and perhaps being farther away has it's merits in that regard. Bridges has been known to become quite a headache for Souray in the past, with slanderous allegations and such.

As far back as last July, Souray was strongly denying he'd made any trade requests, stating he was quite happy being a Montreal Canadien. His on ice performance and leadership this season would attest to that.

The Canadiens current bind on defense revolves around a Markov signing. Markov, and a prickly Russian agent, have in the past given former Habs GM's cold sweats with signing negotiations that dragged on longer than the team would have liked. The importance of Markov to the team cannot be marginalized with mere offensive statistics. That importance clearly manifested itself to the team in the past whenever Markov was out of the lineup. The Habs instanly became brutal on defense, weaknesses and shortcomings exposed.

How much Markov could command from another team with more cap room than the Canadiens remains to be seen. It has been recently noted that the Russian defender is great friends with the Capitals Alexander Ovechkin. How alluring would that scenario be to him?

Even Souray, when prodded on the question a few weeks back, made no bones about the fact that Markov will be Gainey's most pressing priority. Souray suggested his needs came after that fact.

As far as defenseman Rivet goes, he would likely shed a second layer of skin to remain with the team. At roughly 2.4 million, he's a good bet to resign with little fuss and fanfare.

In the bigger picture of things, the Canadiens have $22,258,00.00 committed toward next seasons cap. It is not unreasonable to suggest that they attempt to resign all three defenseman.

The remaining unrestricted free agents next season are Bonk, Mike Johnson, and goalie David Aebischer. With the Canadiens being organizationally deep in forward strength and goaltending, moreso than defense, the accent surely will be placed on all three rearguards being resigned.

The Canadiens have five restricted free agents, with only Chris Higgins set to srike for gold. The others include Michael Ryder, Tomas Plekanec, Alexander Perezhogin and Komisarek.

Other than the 3 RFA's the Canadiens have possibly 24 million to divy up between the three blueliners and the youngters.

Hardly as bad as it seems, unless Markov and Higgins play hardball.

While Souray's name has been bantered about, gainey hasn't bitten on the rumoured trade bait. Names tossed in the melee have included Pavel Datsyuk, an RFA, who is underachieving while demanding bigger bucks from the Red Wings, and Markus Naslund, a UFA, of the Canucks, who has too often mentioned the possibility of finishing his career in Sweden.

Most tempting to Gainey in exchange for Souray, would be "can't miss" prospects, the likes of which are rarely offered up in trade talks.

While Gainey has listened to offers patiently and unpressed, the Canadiens have unexpectedly climbed in the standings. They are amongst the top three teams in the conference and place in the leagues overall top 5 on some given nights. If the Habs are not quite yet aspirants to the Stanley Cup, they have brought themselves closer to contention. gainey will hardly let the pursuit of the ultimate goal slip backwards.

Souray is a rare breed among defenseman. He brings a threatening arsenal of passing skills and a booming shot to the powerplay, which currently ranks as the leagues best - in no small due to Souray.

On the defensive side, Souray does tend to get augered into the ice by the odd dazzling speedster, but that is also true of many other less fleetfooted D-men. Despite the highlight reels showing him to be a periodic pylon, inside his own zone Souray handles to goings on better than most.

It's hard to find other defenseman with the same attributes. He's the prime reason the Habs powerplay is so killer - teams have become defenseless against that boomer blast he threatens with.

If teams concentrate on eliminating Souray's shot by playing him close, they invariably set up a 4 on 3, with Markov and the slippery Alex Kovalev moving nearer to the net. If teams drop back and box square, Souray gets his cracks - and it's been seen what he can do. Teams are damned if they key on him and damned if they don't. Without him, the habs are not the same threat.

Bob Gainey realizes all this, of course, knowing how irreplacable Souray's become.

Souray may well be thinking few other teams can offer him the same setup.

Did I mention he adores Montreal?

Souray isn't going anywhere soon or even remotely thereafter.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Habs All Over Ovechkin In More Ways Than One

Alexander Ovechkin is quite the newsmaker, on and off the ice. As the great 8 gets a firmer handle on the English language, the Russian star will surely be a media and blogger story trigger for years to come. Here's just hoping he don't turn into a Sputnik Roenick!

Writers for Le Journal de Montreal in this morning's paper, were all over Ovie, covering him pre-game and post game, with everything in between. There were on him like Hugh Hefner on a Playboy Bunny, with a fistful of viagra!

Stories on Ovechkin's comings and goings and quotes were spread out on six pages of game coverage. I consider myself damn lucky to be able to snatch this paper up a hundred miles from where it's published. I can't imagine the knowledge I'd have lost out on if I were without. I don't always agree with all they say.

Mingled in with the paper's astute thinkers, are the occasional morons who believe they have a better handle on the Habs than anyone else in the city, including the teams GM. That, or they just prey to controversy making themselves a name and selling more newsprint.

There's lots to cover, so I'll start somewhere in the middle:

It seems Ovechkin became very good friends with the Habs Andrei Markov while both were teammates in the 2004 Olympics. Before yesterday's game they were spotted enjoying each others company and sharing some laughs. Ovechkin mentioned that since The Games, they have stayed in touch, even training together during the summer months in Toronto.

The great 8 said the had lots of catching up to do the morning of the game.

When asked a few days back, which defenseman in the conference gave him the most trouble, Ovechkin dropped a few names while singling out Zdeno Chara and Markov. He uggested that Markov is one of the better D-men in the NHL.

"It's because he knows my every trick on the ice. He reads me like you read a book."

When these comments reached Markov, the defender said, "He's so funny. He's just trying to put me to sleep with all that. It's true that we're great friends but that ends on the ice."

The paper noted that "as his command of the language improves, so does his ability to express his opinions. He's quite a lighthearted treat, a refreshing athlete."

Glen Hanlon stated that he "wished the fans in the Washington area realized just what a fun-loving exhuberant star they have in their midst. He's an extraordinary player and not the only one on the team."

The Caps pull in a little less than an average 13,000 fans per game at the Verizon Center, even though the team has been doing much better than was expected. Hanlon says that will change as the team moves up in standing.

When Ovechkin was asked why the seats were empty, he replied, "They're only half empty!"

Asked to comment on his recent run-ins with the Sabres Daniel Briere, Ovechkin suggested "they were now even."

Briere seemingly evened the score in the previous game when he tagged the Russian with a sprear to the family jewels.

Ovechkin enjoyed the Buffalo crowd getting on him, heartily booing him after he scored. Ovechkin put his hand to his ear in a suggested "I can't hear you" pose.

"I play for fans and they enjoy players who give it up for them. Those boos motivated me way more than they ever could bother me!"

When asked what happened to his tinted visor, he exclaimed, "It's all Martin Brodeur's fault. He complained that he couldn't see my eyes behind it. He should keep his eyes on the puck. Anyhow, that's not why I wore it - I am just trying to be a little different, that's all. It went well with my personality. If left up to me, I'd wear one that's completely black!"

On the taxi ride taking reporters to the game, they noticed two large billboards that proclaimed, "Do you know Number 8?' They asked the taxi driver if he knew who the young man was. The driver, a native of Sierra Leone in Africa, had no clue.

"Is he French or American" asked the driver.

"He's Russian", they replied.

He turned to one reporter and asked in complete seriousness. "Is he still alive?'

"Oh yes he is", he answered. "He's just 21, and very much alive!"

Another focus of the papers Ovechkin coverage centered around how well the Canadiens managed to contain him on this night. Coach Guy Carbonneau told that the plan was the same as the one applied Sidney Crosby a week earlier. They attempted to have the Markov - Komisarek duo on him at all times, along with Radek Bonk's line keeping to the perimeter as much as possible.

Cristobal Huet, who played another outstanding game, added, "He's such an explosive player in the offensive zone. He's a constant threat. He can let one go quickly from any conceivable angle."

Carbonneau added that he was especially pleased with the job done by his defenseman. He also gave a tip of the hat to Bonk's line, noting that Hanlon pulled the Ovechkin trio off, each time Carbonneau countered with Bonk's.

"That's exactly what I'm hoping to achieve!" said the coach.

Should be quite a circus when Ovechkin hits Montreal on Febuary 20th.

Habs Over Caps 4-1 / Another Officiating Low

Tonight's Capitals and Canadiens tilt had the cumulative effect of splitting my emotions in different directions. While it may at first glance apprear to be a game in which the Habs coasted to a 4-1 win, it left different impressions with me.

As a consequence of the way the game went, I have little thought cohesiveness to bring to this post so quickly after it has ended.

For a quick random game summary: Huet was his solid usual self. Markov and Bonk did great work neutralizing Ovechkin to the outside lanes. It was funny to watch Downey score. Semin is better than most people think. Latendresse notched two assists playing on the thrid and fourth lines. The Capitals have zero blueline presence on the PP. Washingston doesn't quit - very exciting team to watch. The referees missed the game.

While watching the game I remembered something my father had said years ago while we were taking in a CFL game in front of the Sunday afternoon TV.

During that Alouettes game, a touchdown was called back and my Dad was fuming. I was too young at the time to recall the infraction call being a good one or not. I do remember my father saying bad officiating is what keeps him from watching sports at times.

Today his three VCR's capture all his interests from pucks and balls to Nascar and Formula 1. I imagine he does his share of fast forwarding.

Dad was not just a casual fan, he followed baseball, football, was outright religious about hockey, was a great swimmer in his youth, did some downhill skiing, snowmobiling, and mostly raced motorcycles with the passion of a dedicated madman while winning most of the time.

I never understood then, why it had upset him - especially with hockey. The Canadiens won all the time then. I was in my glory. There wasn't anything to complain about.

Over the last while I've noticed myself emulating his long ago behavior. Lately it's become very apparent to me. Tonight, the Canadiens won, but when the final buzzer sounded, I was incensed. When that occurs, the last grasps at sanity must make oneself wonder why fumes upset what ought to be joyousness.

I do lighten up, easily, but the overiding emotion never strays far.

My father didn't raise me to be a homer type of fan. When we watched games, we watched both teams. When we saw bad calls made, I learned without a blind spot that they occur to both teams.

My barometer to being grounded revolved around the ideals that no player was bigger than any sport, no team more important than the game itself. Fans fit in at the bottom line.

That line is thin at times. It is where my father found himself when he said that comment years ago. It's where I find myself at lately: bemused by where the sport seems headed, put off completely by incompetant officiating.

There was always that human element - referees are people, and human as we all are, we make mistakes.
It's not an unreasonable notion. But sport is a business.

If I made as many mistakes at my job as the officials on ice did tonight, I'd lose my job. If everyone at a plant or office performed as detrimentally as these jokers in zebra suits did tonight, said business would shut down.
Now I care about this game of hockey, more than I care about my Montreal Canadiens team I write of almost daily. I want this game to be at it's most fluid, passionate, poetic best.

All I can see after games like this is a sport business grinding the gears of uncomfortable growth while it fights off indifference from those who walk away from it. Away from arena's. Away from their T.V. sets. Forever turned into empty seats that can't quite speak loud enough for our favorite league to hear.

During tonight's game, both teams got reamed by bad calls, non calls and overzealous calls.

Washington lost the games opening goal to an extremely quick whistle. Huet had never frozen the puck, as it slowly trickled through his pads into the net unrewarded. There was not a Caps player near him to warrant blowing it dead any quicker. From then on, like the knee jerk correction only a ref can make in amends, they spent the remainder of the game, taking their sweet time to blow dead any puck tightly in Huet's firm grasp.

That did well to raise the tensions and general chippyness of the game.

It increased the stick fouls to an unpenalizable level. There was simply too much to call - hardly what last years crackdown on fouls was initiated to achieve. They penalized retaliation while missing everything that lead to them. Apparently, you can dish it out, you just can't give it back.

Players on both teams took turns faking injury and diving and falling at will. The most obvious dives went uncalled. The slightest of stick fouls were seemingly picked out on a whim. The useful double minor call seems extinct.

Alex Kovalev gave Alexander Ovechkin a one handed sword slash to the wrist area. Ovechkin bent for a split second, to favour it, a minute later he led a dazzling up ice rush. Both players should have gotten two.

Aaron Downey's goal should have been disallowed. He knocked a puck down from over his shoulders with a high stick. While it didn't look like it hit the ice, it bounced off Kolzig's pad to be knocked in waist high by Downey a second time. Shouldn't the whistle have blown?

Craig Rivet got into a tustle along the boards with Chris Clark. The Caps captains stick caught Rivet in the forehead - no call. Rivet pursued Clark, likely to pound his lights out. A stick tap here and there from both and their arms met in a shoving match. Rivet relented, looking pissed - Clark was in a full facial shield. Rivet got the two he deserved, Clark went unpunished.

With a 2-0 game still on the line, the Canadiens were given 6 third period penalties, five of which were in the final ten minutes The third call came six seconds after the secord call ended. The final three calls overlapped into two 5 on 3 advantages for the Caps. Washington were handed three calls themselves, one, I forget which, was extremely questionable and killed their powerplay.

In the midst of all this, the Capitals netted one while two men up. The Canadiens, quite proficient on the penalty kill, continued to ice the puck at every opportunity. This was primarily how they had to play the final ten minutes.

A sad spectacle, again!

I wonder how that empty seat feels?

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Colin Campbell and His 3/10 Solution

So the NHL has a big, big problem on it's hands! Scoring is down from last season's peak of 6.1 goals per game, to a sacriligious, unthinkable 5.8 percent. A whopping drop of 3 tenths of a percentage point.

You know, I've been watching games lately, wondering just where went that additional 3/10's of a goal per game. At first I surmised that it must have gone the way of Niklas Sundstrom, when he took his offensive dynamite with him to Modo in the Swedish Elite (?) League.

Then I got mathematical and deduced that the fraction in fact needed to be blamed on two teams, as it does take two teams to bring down that whopping total together. So now, that three tenths percentage actually worked out to 0.15 goals per team, per game - still totally unacceptable!

Finding myself in decimal territory - I was decimated beyond a fraction - I realized I now had to multiply this huge sum by 30 teams, if I were to find the true culprits of this critical decline. Even worse, I would have to project that total to stretch across the 36 games each team has played on average, and divide that by two once more, because is still take two teams to play a game.

All this I thought, was another job for that genius of hockey theology and reasoning, the smart as he looks, Colin Campbell.

I did, by accident, discover the source of that twitch that Gary Bettman has developed over the years, when questioned on anything to do with Canada, money, or television contracts. You know the twitch, where Bettman's chin jerks slightly to the right then up a quarter inch like an old misfunctioning typewriter.

Each time the thought of Campbell enters my mind now, I get that twitch!

Especially now that he's blathering on again, like he did last week, about the need to look at larger nets one more time. When I re-envision the enlarged nets used in the Ricoh Cup pre-season prospects tournament between Toronto, Montreal and Florida, I not only twitch, I get nausious also.

The prototype nets feature curved posts and an angled crossbar giving them an oval appearance. Either that or it was an acid hallucination!

Habs prospect and current Team Canada goalie Carey Price had nothing but fits cencoring his own expletives when asked about a bad performance he endured while being used as a ginea pig to test them out. He said that goalie would never be confortable in front of them. Price added that he could not cuddle the post without looking for holes. It was a brutal experience.

There has to be a better solution!

So back to decimating decimals I went, looking that vanishing three tenths of a goal that somehow went the way of the straight stick blade, the end to end rush, and Maple Leafs Stanley Cup parade's that faded off into the ozoneless sunset long ago.

I watched some game videos and thought I almost saw three tenths of a goal go in. I know I saw 0.15% of a goal disallowed!

I came up with some less drastic solutions like making the goal line thinner - those almost goals that almost cross the line would be make it over and be counted now. That would up the goals scored by 0.036%, at least. Shave a sixteenth of a inch off the puck - who'd even notice! More pucks would surely fit in between the pipes and avoid hitting them as obliquely. That could raise goals scored an additional 0.712. While we're at it, scrape some of that red paint off the posts themselves - there must be a good 10 coats and touch ups on there per season. There goes another 0.252!

If I can just find something / anything that provides for another 0.50 increase, well then, then...we're right back where we started last year.

After rolling back salaries 24%, and reducing goalie pads in size, maybe this is what's coming next?

Maybe they should try something novel, something that's not been done in decades. Something akin to leaving the game well enough alone.

Stick with re-aligning those divisions. Flip-flop Atlanta and Columbus - nobody really cares. Balance the schedule so everybody sees all teams in a given year and it will please the majority.

I haven't heard one person yet, speak up to suggest they do not want to see Crosby and Ovechkin play their teams. In a few years they might wish they had!

As far as my previously suggested alterations go, I've sharpened my aim. Make Colin Campbell's portfolio of responsability thinner. Shave his time spent speaking to the media with an axe. Scrape the clueless expression off his face. Reduce the amount of access to he has to league statistical knowledge - he's quite dangerous with numbers.

Maybe then I'll get a 24% rollback on my twitch!

Searching For Bobby Orr

From the excellent Stephen Brunt book, "Searching For Bobby Orr", I found 'neath my Christmas tree, here are a few passages;

Prologue: A Memory, page 5
...on the sports heroes of the mid 1960's...

The althletes, not just in hockey but in all sports, were a collection of crewcut heads on bubble-gum cards, the subject of heroic profiles in the sports pages and the few specialty magazines that turned up in the drugstores. Far-fetched was the notion that an athlete could be part of the nascent 1960's counterculture. That possibility didn't dawn on anyone until Cassius Clay beat Sonny Liston and then told the world he'd rather be called Muhammad Ali. And it wasn't until the arrival of Joe Namath that a sports star possessed the kind of attractive, cutting-edge, sexy danger normally associated with movie stars or musicians. Professional athletes instead represented and reinforced the status quo, whether or not that was true, whether or not that was their choice, whether or not that was who they really were.

Prologue: A Memory, page 7
....on seeing Orr play live for the first time...

There is an image, of a kid player, who to me certainly looked like a full-grown man. Every time he stepped on the ice, which was often that day, I was told to keep an eye on number 2, playing for the visiting Oshawa Generals, a Boston Bruins farm team whose uniforms bore a variation on the spoked logo that has been reproduced by many a bored student doodling on school notebooks. So many hockey players are blessed, or cursed, to carry boys' names for their entire lives, at least those that, unlike Wayne or Mario, could be easily reduced. Howe would never become Gordon, even when he was a playing gradfather. Hull was never Robert, or even Bob. It was and is a game of Gordies and Mickeys and Dannys. And Bobbys. Orr: blond crewcut Bobby, who could take a puck behind his own net and skate through and past and around the other team. Bobby, who in the days when a young country seemed to be waking from a long nap, when a minor professional sport began to shake off the cobwebs and look to new horizons, embodied the idea that it didn't have to be like it had always been. A defenseman could take off, could improvise, could be so good that they would let him defy every bit of conventional coaching wisdom. A skinny teenager could play among hardened, violent, resentful men, and survive. A sixties guy - at least when he finally let his hair grow past his ears - could take the place of heroes who in their square upright Canadianness, looked like your buddy's dad who worked down at the plant.

Chapter One: Parry Sound, page 9
...Orr in his youth...

On the river, he could skate forever. No barrier but the banks and horizon, the ice stretching far out onto the bay. Soon enough, the cold seemed to disappear, even for the boy who always insisted on lacing up barefoot - it just felt better, more natural, that way. Take the puck, and try and hold it. Keep away. Offer it up, then pull it back, tuck it behind the blade, make it disappear. Sleight of hand sleight of feet. Learn to keep your head up, your eyes forward, feel the puck on your stick, don't look down. Speed up, change direction, the motion natural, deceptive, economical, graceful. No churning legs or laboured strides, even on beat up, second hand skates. He is smaller than the rest, a skinny kid, scrawny, no meat on his bones at all. But they can't get near him, even though it looks as if he isn't working hard, as if he is shifting through the gears in automatic - one speed, then another, then another. Size and muscle are of no use, without corners, without ends, without limits. There are no coaches standing by, waiting to impose their will. No parents shouting at the side. No drills, no repetition, but rather every rush is an improvisation, a jazz solo, a flight of the imagination. And when the boy is clear of them all, or alone by choice, when all he faces is open ice, the other sounds of the world disappear, the intermittent hum of small-town traffic, the rumble of distant factories, the angry shouts at home. Just the scrape and gouge of metal on ice, the rhythmic tap of rubber on wood, on and on forever. Pick a direction and keep on going, and eventually there is no one in the way.

Chapter One: Parry Sound, page 12 in the Canadian hinterland...

Why people played hockey here, at least to a Canadian, is self-evident as well. This place and so many rural outpoints like it are an essential element of the great national myth, the fantasy of one nation united around a puck. The truth is, most of don't live out in the country, don't live in little towns, don't have homes within easy walking distance of a frozen river or bay or pond or slough where naturally, come winter, it's time to grab a stick and put on the skates and play the game of our ancestors. Most of us live in big cities not so distinct from big cities in the United States, in Western Europe, in Australia. Most of us would have to drive many miles on multi-lane highways through dense traffic to find a patch of natural ice (and that only if the winter was cold enough to sustain it). Many of us came from other places, far away, where hockey isn't bred to the bone. Many of us never play hockey at all. Most of us have little real experience of a place like Saskatchewan* - the shinny Holy Land (at least in English Canada), birthplace of Max Bentley and Gordie Howe and Wendel Clark - which, for all it's vast open spaces, is home to fewer than a million people, about a quarter of the population of Metropolitan Toronto.

Which is the real Canada? Well, that's not the point. The Canada of our imagination, the Canada that Canadians imagine while trying to pin down their elusive national identity, is somewhere just like Floral or Parry Sound or Brantford....

The game of hockey, for Canadians, seems organic. It emerges out of the trees and rocks and ice, out of the long winter months, the rare precious daylight, out of facing down nature, surviving and embracing whatever it can throw at us, enduring to spring. Hockey players, the best hockey players, those who go on to star in the National Hockey League - an American-based entertainment conglomerate, though Canadians can still pretend it is their own, that it isn't just another business designed to sell tickets and beer and gasoline - come from all kinds of different places: here, the United States, Europe, the former Soviet Union. But so many of them, so many of the greatest stars of the game, seem to have come from a place just like Parry Sound. They seem to have emerged from a frozen river, from a backyard rink, to have found the source of their genius somehow in the landscape. Howie Morenz, Maurice Richard, Gordie Howe and Bobby Orr and Wayne Gretzky, spun out of the elements, out of the land.

*Saskatchewan produces more hockey players on a per capita basis than any region in Canada.

Is this not vivid enough for you? I urge anyone who truly cares about the game of hockey to go out and get themsleves a copy of this one. I may just be tempted to quote from it, from time to time.

Hockey Ladies Of (Writing) Greatness

(RC Note - That's mine, my soon to be 12 year old Poke Check, with her Player of the Game award from a recent tourney, third from the left.)

Ever so often while scanning through anothers blog site, I'll hit upon a piece of quality writing that almost makes me jealous.

"Why didn't I think of that!", I'll say to myself.

Just minutes ago, I happened on just such a piece and thought to myself right away that it needed to be read, especially by Habs fans. The blog was on one of my favorite, if not, underappreciated players, defenseman Mike Komisarek.

I love reading something / anything that makes me want to become better at this craft. I've been doing some quality reading over the Holidays - yes, I'm the type who brings a good book to the kitchen table, the washroom, and to slumberland on occasion. Whenever I find things I believe are of interest, my first notion is to pass them along for more readers to enjoy.

Lately I've been singing the praises of HabsWorld and the Legends of Hockey site, among others. What I like best about them, is their uniqueness. While many well known blogs, and surely the most popular ones, tend to compromise themselves into filter sites (not that there is anything at all wrong with that ideal), the ones I ultimately enjoy most, create their own content and point of view.

Such is the case with Hockey Ladies Of Greatness (HLOG).

While the name might mislead some into thinking all articles concern the Hayley Wickenheiser's and Cassie Campbell's of the hockey world, you would honestly not know it's contributors were female if not for the name. Only in reading it more regularly, does one start to see a twist in perspective.

Having a daughter (Poke Check), hopefully soon two, who play the game, I can tell you quite honestly that hockey is hockey no matter what. All the differences are quite subtle.

All in all, the HLOG is a site written by a small batch of females with astute insight. Do yourself a favor, add it to your links and favorites and keep checking it out. The Habs content is just one part of their overall scope of the game. Being DC based, you get your share of Ovechkin to boot!

On the further subject of great writing, I have simply been floored by Stephen Brunt's "Searching For Bobby Orr". So far, I'm just a few chapters deep into it, and it is one moving read. I have been notating passages with the idea of posting them here. I already have many to quote. Let me just say that it is the type of book that will simply carry you away to hockey's purest of times. Orr changed perceptions, off he ice as well as he did on it.

Keep checking back here, I may just need to create a permanent link to all the passages I will post on this book.

Price Gets A Leg Up On Sweden - WJC Update

Montreal Canadiens goaltending prospect Carey Price ( 5th overall, 2005 ) got the WJC off to great start for Team Canada by stopping 31 shots to blank a solid junior squad from Sweden, led by Capitals propect Nicklas Backstom.

Price extended Canada's shutout streak in the WJC to 211:50, dating back to it's final round game of the 2006 showing in Vancouver.

Moncton Wildcats defenseman Luc Bourdon and Val-d'Or Foreurs winger Brad Marchand both notched powerplay goals for Canada while penaly killers fended off seven Swedish man advantages. Canadian captain Kristopher Letang added a pair of assists.

Canada displayed a textbook roadgame, scoring first and silencing the rabid hometown crowd. They continuously won the battles along the boards while recieving quality goaltending from Price.

Earlier in the day, Germany stunned the U.S. 2-1 in overtime while a surprising Belarus squad including Canadiens prospect Sergei Kostitsyn ( 200th overall, 2005 ) dumped Sweden 4-3.

Canada next takes on a desperate Team U.S.A. on Wednesday in Mora at 1 p.m. EST. Teams with the best records in the A and B pools then earn byes straight to the semi-finals while runners up and third placed teams cross over to meet in the quarter finals.

Habs fans are once again priveledged to have four prospects representing their countries at this years worlds. Along with Price and Kostitsyn, who is the younger brother of Hamilton Bulldogs Andrei, they also have Juraj Mikus ( 121st overall, 2005 ) of Slovakia and Pavel Valentenko ( 139th overall, 2006 )of Russia. Price and Mikus go head to head on December 31st, while Kostitsyn and Valentenko meet up on the 29th.

For a most comprehensive update on Canada's tournament results and those of the Habs prospects, you will likely find it at HabsWorld first. Keep checking their link daily.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

No Mean Feat - Haydar Breaks AHL Record

This is a pretty impressive stat, no matter what professional league a player performs in.

Chicago Wolves right winger Darren Haydar has set a new AHL record for points in consecutive games. Haydar, an Atanta Thrashers prospect, broke the record with a goal at the 13:05 mark of the first period in the Wolves 2-1 win over the San Antonio Rampage.

The record of 30 games was previously held by Mike Richards of the Binghampton Whalers in 1987.

Both the puck and stick from Haydar's goal, are now on their way to the Hockey Hall Of Fame in Toronto.

Haydar is a former 9th round pick of the Nashville Predators (248th overall), and stands at 5' 9", weighing 170 lbs. He has appeared in two contests with the Predators in the 2002-03 season. He was signed as a free agent by Atlanta on July 4, 2006.

The Toronto born player spent four seasons with the University of New Hampshire, before graduating to the AHL's Milwaukee Admirals, where he has spent the previous four seasons. Prior to this year, his best AHL totals were 35-57-92 in 2004-05 with Milwaukee. Last season with Chicago he posted an impressive 19-45-64 in 32 contests.

This season, he leads the AHL in scoring, having put up 18-46-64 in 31 games.

Haydar plays on a line with center Jason Krog and left winger Brett Sterling. The trio sit one, two and three in league scoring. "It's my job to be on the scoresheet every night, but the most important thing that came out of this game was the fact that we won" , says Haydar.

Haydar surely deserves a callup to the Thrashes presently, or at the very least, once the streaks end. The diminutive forward has now made a name for himself and the Thrashers would be wise to give him an extended tryout at the NHL level.

Haydar is excatly the type of late bloomer that could now prosper in the big leagues. Considering that Buffalo Sabres star, Daniel Briere was once waived throughout the NHL by the Phoenix Coyotes, it is not inconceivable that Haydar could stick in the NHL given the proper fit of linemates.

In today's cap cash strapped league, such players make more and more sense in a teams depth chart.

As we recently witnessed with Maxim Lapierre's callup from the Hamilton Bulldogs to the Montreal Canadiens (3-1-4 in 4 games, +5), the gap between AHL'ers and the NHL may be more narrow than ever.

Perhaps, Haydar will become the Thrashers secret playoff weapon!

Stanley Cup Facts and Folklore

The Stanley Cup, donated by Lord Stanley of Preston in 1892, is the oldest trophy competed for in North America. It was originally known as Dominion Hockey Challange Cup and the first winners were the Montreal Amateur Athletic Association.

Unlike other team sports trophies, no new Stanley Cup is made for each new years winner. It is the only trophy that engraves the names of the winning teams players, coaches, management and staff on it.

Beginning in 1915, the Cup was contested by the winners of two Canadians professional leagues, the HNA and the PCHA. When the NHA merged into the NHL in 1917, it continued to challenge West Coast league teams for the Cup until 1926, when it became property of the NHL. The league's official ownership of the trophy began in 1947.

There are actually three Stanley Cup in existance. The first is the original bowl that is enshrined at the Hockey Hall Of Fame in Toronto. A duplicate, made by Montreal silversmith Carl Peterson, is the one most seen, as it is awarded to the champions and used in promotions. When the duplicate is not on display at the Hall, it is replaced by a third replica in the Hall while the other one travels.

Currently, in order for a player to have his name engraved on the Cup, he must have appreared in a minimum of 41 regular season games or at least one game in the Stanley Cup final. The NHL does bend this rule at times, on a case by case basis.

Steve Brule, of the 2000 New Jersey Devils championship team, appeared in only one game in the Stanley Cup final, and has his name engraved on the Cup. Brule had never appeared in a regular season game up to this point. He played in a pair, three seasons later with Colorado in 2002, and never returned to the NHL.

Players whose names appear the most on the Cup are Henri Richard (11), Jean Beliveau (10), and Yvan Cournoyer (10), all of the Montreal Canadiens. The Canadiens have won the most Cups, 23 in the NHL, and one more before it's formation. Seventeen other Montreal area teams are immortalized on the mug, Including the Wanderers (4), the Maroons ( 2) the Victorias (5), the Shamrocks (2), and the AAA (4).

The smallest town to ever conquer the Cup was the 1907 Kenora Thistles, population 4,000. The Thistles, led by Art Ross, defeated the Montreal Wanderers in a two game, total goals, series.
Kenora Thistles - 1907
The 1896 Winnipeg Victorias started one of the oldest Cup winning traditions by drinking champagne from the bowl.

Prior to 1930, the Cup was never awarded after the game it which it was won. Beginning with the 1932 Toronto Maple Leafs, the Cup was presented on ice to the teams captain. In 1950, Ted Lindsay of Detroit, became the first captain to hoist the Cup over his head and begin a victory lap around the rink. Throught time, each player on the team would have their own lap of glory.

Two captains that broke with the hoisting tradition, did it with class. In 1998, Detroit captain Steve Yzerman handed the Cup directly to Vladimir Konstantinov, wheelchair bound, and proceeded to follow him around the ice during the first lap. Two seasons later, Colorado Avalanche captain Joe Sakic passed the Cup to 22 year veteran Raymond Bourque to hoist it first.

Many superstitions about the Cup revolve around touching the sacred mug before it has rightfully been won. While there are many tales of players who have touched it and lost, Stephane Matteau of the 1994 New York Rangers, claims that he tapped it gently with his stick before game 7 of that years Eastern Conference final. Matteau, an unlikely hero, scored that games overtime goal that pushed the Rangers to the final and eventually to Stanley Cup glory.

Another superstition involves the touching or raising of the Prince of Wales and the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl. Many have told of the jinx incuured of celebrating anything secondary to the Stanley Cup. Mario Lemieux, of the 1991 and 1992 Pittsburgh Penguins, is the last known celebrant of the Wales trophy to go on and win the Cup. Ever since, each team captain who has dared to touch a conference title trophy, has gone on to lose.

Starting in 1995, each winning player on a team was allotted one private day with the Cup, accompanied by a representative of the Hockey Hall of Fame. Prior to that date, and since, what went on with Cup holders is the story of many legends.

Starting in 1995, each winning player on a team was allotted one private day with the Cup, accompanied by a representative of the Hockey Hall of Fame. Prior to that date, and since, what went on with Cup holders is the story of many legends.

In the late 1970's, while the Montreal Canadiens were in the midst of four straight Cups, Hall of Famer Guy Lafleur literally stole it for himself for a day. Somehow, Lafleur managed to get the car keys to PR director Claude Mouton's vehicle. After the Cup had been placed in Mouton's car trunk, the sneaky Lafleur removed it and placed it in his. When Mouton discovered it missing, ha had no clue as to how it was lost. He alerted the Canadiens, who then called the authorities. The following day, news spread fast that Lafleur had been publically displaying the Cup on his parents front lawn in Thurso, Quebec. Seems the entire populace of the small town had their moment with it.

In 1999, Brett Hull, while shopping with Mike Modano, locked it inside his car - along with his car keys!

In the long history of the Stanley Cup, there have been many adventures and misadventures. The Cup has been around the world more than once, dropped from heights, thrown in water, and forgotten by the roadside after Cup holders fixed a flat.

Many of the names inscribed on it have been mispelled. The names of a number of women are also on the Cup. Once, a name that had no business being there in the first place, was x'd out.

In 1984, Oilers owner Peter Pocklington, included his father Basil's name, although he had absolutely no connection to the winning team.

The most awesome resource for information in every regard of the Stanley Cups history can be found through this Wikipedia link. It is a litany of every minute detail and a great link to add to your favorites for any hockey fan. You'll want to go back time and again.

Its many sections detail facts I've only scraped the surface on. They include the origins of the Cup through it's challenge years before the NHL took it over. It covers the multitude of adventures and mishaps over it's history. It details names engraved, provides many unique anecdotes, and has lots of information on Stanley Cup finals of note.

It has stories from almost every Cup win in over a hundred years and it's external links are very broadbased.

I highly recommend taking a cruise through it all. You will inevitably learn a bunch of interesting facts you never knew about the Cup.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Mr. Hockey Gordie Howe at 78

Many hockey experts have long considered Detroit Red Wings legend Gordie Howe as the greatest hockey player of all time.

While times and era's shift, Howe, long a force of nature, remains perched at the top of the games all time elite.

For those unfamiliar with Howe's history and exploits, the man quite simply has a resume rivaled only by Wayne Gretzky, the player who broke his most longstanding records.

Howe joined the Red Wings in 1946 and retired in 1971 - an amazing 25 year stretch that saw him record NHL records for goals (886), assists (1023), and total points (1909). His final year with the Wings saw him post 23-29-52 totals in 63 games.

Howe retired from the Wings, disillusioned with their direction, but hardly a finished player. He had long earned the moniker "Mr. Hockey", for his conduct and exploits within the game and off the ice. Along with disliked on ice rival Maurice "Rocket" Richard, Howe trailblazed through the game, keeping the sport alive and popular.

The game owes him a debt it could never possibly repay.

While Howe was finished with the Red Wings, he was hardly finished hockey wise. A new and rising league, the World Hockey Association, came calling to Howe with a chance to continue his career playing alongside sons Mark and Marty for the Houston Aeros.

After some trepidation, Howe got on board to play with his sons, and along with former NHL great Bobby Hull in Winnipeg, gave the surging league the appearance of credibility. While the league did manage to lure many stars from the NHL, it was always perceived as second rate. After four seasons, Houston became the New England Whalers, where Howe played three more years. Howe excelled throughout those seven seasons, scoring 174 goals and 334 assists in 419 WHA games.

When the remaining WHA franchises merged with the NHL, Howe played one final year, at age 52, with the renamed Hartford Whalers. He played in 80 games in the 1979-80 season, racking up respectable, if not astounding stats for a 52 year old man, of 15 goal and 26 assists. Howe's swan song ended here, but not before an appearance in the All-Star game, in Detroit no less. An opposite conference rival, was none other than heir apparent and long time aquaintance, Wayne Gretzky.

Howe's game, for comparisons sake, most resembled Mark Messier's.

While Howe was prolific in every offensive aspect of the game, it was along the boards that Howe made his name. To be blunt, Howe was a punishing S.O.B., rarely letting any rival leave the rink corners unscathed. He could have almost been as easily known as Mr. Elbows. Howe's hits hurt harder than his goals scored did.

Gordie Howe is now 78 years old.

Mr. Hockey has remained a fan favorite much due to his wife and business partner Collen's efforts. Over the last two decades, the Howe Mrs. has managed the players business affairs in making his name a marketable commodity.

In the last few years, things have changed for the Detroit Red Wings great. His personal life, his health and his business life have been altered. The good news is that after some difficult times, they appear to be changing for the better.

"There were some awful times," Howe said recently from his home outside Detroit. "I always thought I was a tough S.O.B. , but I'm on these pills for my heart. You never think you're getting old ..."

He's had both knees replaced and can't move his once powerful wrists due to arthritis. Five years back, an irregular heartbeat forced a stint to be installed. He tells dozens of stories, readily admiting he often can't remember how long ago they happened. He is distressed he has trouble remembering faces and names.
The greatest challenge he faces is one that is out of his control.

His life-long love, his wife Colleen, is in the late stages of Pick's Disease - a rare brain illness that causes dementia. Colleen needs 24-hour care. Caregivers feed her, bathe her and and give her medication. She doesn't recognize anyone.

Gordie was beyond devastated. Yet with help from his family and a more active life, he's recovering.

"I've seen a big change in him over the last year," said grandson Travis, son of Mark. "When my grandmother was diagnosed, he aged overnight. He completely slowed down. Once she was diagnosed, he became a grandfather, an older guy. It really aged him.

"He didn't know how to take care of himself when it happened. For example, my granddad would go out to Taco Bell every single day to eat breakfast and dinner. He wasn't shopping for groceries. With the caregivers there, it's helpful.

"Now he's enjoying himself. He's more himself. The restrictions are gone."

Travis is working with Gordie and Mark to rebuild the business of the Howe brand, a business Colleen oversaw under the name Power Play International.

Since Colleen's illness, the Howe family has had a falling out with two individuals who worked in the company. The employees left under a cloud of controversy and bitterness that still exists.

Mark Howe has spent months rebuilding the business and, along with Travis, now handles Gordie's appearances.

"That's been my life. I try to be respectful to the game of hockey and its followers", says Howe of the hockey fans who still flock to meet him.

Meanwhile, he still struggles as he copes with Colleen's illness.

"She's not really with us, where she's coherent and speaking," Travis said. "But if you know my grandfather and you see him at home, it's a good thing she's still there. It gives him the feeling that he's still taking care of her in a way."

"I'm better. I just can't believe she went so quickly," Gordie said. "She took care of everything. I took the doctors advice. I realize this is something even the doctor's can't do anything about. The doctor said, 'If you don't relax, you're going to go with her.'

"They tell me she doesn't recognize anything but if you say something that rings a bell with her, she laughs, especially with the kids. She went awful fast, holy cow!"

Through all of this, Howe remains a class act and wants nothing more than to remain in touch with the game and the fans who continue to be interested in him.

"I try to be respectful, because some wise old man told me if someone is interested enough in you to ask for your autograph, you should be interested enough to sign it."

"I remember years ago at the Olympia after the game they had rails for people to stand behind for autographs. I used to put two chocolate bars in my pocket and eat it after the game to give me a little boost because of the long lines. The staff would often open the door so cold air would come in to get rid of us because we would just stay and sign autographs."

"He's great at public speaking and meeting people," Travis said. "That's one thing that bothered me with his old business manager. Everything was strictly dollars. If he did a memorabilia signing, it was always push the next guy through the line and get them out of the way.

''My grandfather's appeal has always been that he's personable with people and he enjoys it. We went to a Red Wings game and did a signing on the concourse. He did (225) people and spent three or four minutes with each of them, almost too long. That's what people enjoy. Otherwise, you might as well order something signed off the website. What's the difference?"

Gordie, meanwhile just enjoys talking hockey. The stories come one after the other, blending together through the decades, famous names flowing like a list from a hockey encyclopedia -- Sudden Death Mel Hill, Harry Watson, Sid Abel, Ted Lindsey, and Rocket Richard.

"I went to Montreal to play the Canadiens and there were 300 people outside after the game. The police asked me if I wanted an escort 'because a lot of people think you don't like the Rocket' I told them 'I don't like him on the ice, but I like him as a man. I play golf with him," Howe said.

What about the escort?

"I told them I'd just go out with my stick. When I left the building, they just wanted my autograph."

Howe has a dog. He named it Rocket.

Howe was always underpaid, something Colleen tried to rectify. He never did make as much money as he deserved.

"When I got to Detroit I weighed 203 pounds," Howe said.

"I remember Jack Adams checking everyone out and asking them their weight. I lied. When he asked me, I said 208. He said, 'I want you to lose three or four pounds or it's going to cost you $200.' I was making $5,000 at the time. I came in eating ice cream a couple of days later, I thought they were going to shove it down my throat. They weighed me and I weighed 203. Adams said, 'Stay at that weight, you never looked better."

Earlier this month, the Detroit Red Wings and their owner Mike Ilitch named an entrance at Joe Louis Arena the Gordie Howe Entrance.

"I said to Mr. Ilitch 'Before I go out there, I just want to make sure that it isn't an exit.'
To visit Gordie website, click here.

For more information on Howe and his illustrious career and life, visit Joe Pelletier's "Legends Of Hockey" blog, one of the best historical hockey sites on the internet.

A feature film on Howe's return to hockey at age 44 is currently being readied. To find out more, visit this newspage.
The above article contains files from the Ottawa Sun, December 20, 2006