The fight is over and a childhood hero is enshrined for eternity. Bias accepted here, there’s never been a doubt as to Oates’ career being Hall-worthy.
I am as happy as a hockey fan can be. The complaining, the indignant stat-prattling, the case-making, the whining about it all… It’s over. I don’t have to crow about an open-and-shut case anymore.
There’s no need to talk about the injustice of it all and continue alternating between banging my head against the wall and shouting from the mountain tops. Adam Oates: Hall of Famer.
Back in late September during the preseason, I wanted to interview Oates about being snubbed by the Hall. With him being the Devils assistant coach and it also being the team’s first preseason game of the year, the Hall was the last thing on his mind. All business, all the time. That’s part of what got the Washington Capitals to hire Oates as their head coach today on top of it all.
It feels a bit silly to feel as happy for what someone else accomplished, but that’s part of being a fan, right? Embracing those that helped bring the love of the game to you. Oates is the key figure on my personal “Mount Rushmore” of hockey. Oates, Wayne Gretzky, Steve Yzerman, and Teemu Selanne. There are plenty other players I have a great appreciation for, but those four? They turned hockey from something I watched and enjoyed into something I obsess over and love dearly, maybe a bit too much if you ask some of my friends.
But Oates? He was the guy who sparked it all for me. Seeing a guy like that play live in person when you’re a kid leaves an impression on you. Seeing him win your favorite local team a championship hammers it home even more. Watching him excel as a professional for nearly 20 years is icing on the cake.
Adam Oates is a Hockey Hall of Famer. What a great day.
This post is about two weeks overdue at this point but such is life and my New Year’s Resolution was to actually follow through on promises to recap things that I say I will recap when they happen. Confused yet? Good… I’ve got you right where I want you then.
The trip started off on 12/28/09 with an overnight stop in Buffalo to prepare us for the driving the next day to Detroit. That evening, the entire gang of the Collar City Madmen hit Duff’s Wings in Orchard Park, NY. Given that location you can bet we were within shouting distance of Ralph Wilson Stadium and sure enough we rolled right past it on the way to Duff’s on this snowy, blustery Buffalo night. Hundreds of wings were consumed, a few beers were had and some bubble hockey was played.
That’s right – bubble hockey. For being a Buffalo-area sports-type place the whole restaurant was decked out in Bills, Sabres and Bandits jerseys. There was a Danny Briere jersey turned so that his name wasn’t showing to the people and there were a few more interesting autographed jerseys including one of Bills punter Brian Moorman. Sure, he fits in well with the autographed Thurman Thomas jersey.
The highlight of the decor for our hockey-mad gang were the different NHL pennants hanging from the rafters (Hartford Whalers represented) and the pucks hanging around the wall. Why was this important to notice? Easy.
This is what we call a good omen.
Here over the doorway to the restrooms, were these pucks which on first glance the skating Puckman celebrating the 1985 National Championship was the shining beacon for everyone. Of course after looking at this picture a day or two later I noticed the other part of this set up that told me this trip was going to be awesome: The 1980s Oswego State puck RIGHT NEXT TO IT.
Fate was smiling upon our merry band for sure.
We packed up the cars and moved out of Buffalo to head across Canada to get to Detroit on 12/29/09 and I can say without a doubt that Canada is the much more farm-friendly version of upstate New York, driving wise. When you ride along I-90 through New York the landscape is pretty dominated by trees whereas going across southern Ontario through Niagara wine country (including Wayne Gretzky Vineyards) there is very little in the way of trees to occupy any of the landscape and everything in the way of what I can only imagine what the Great Plains would look like. Farms everywhere.
I noticed this in southern Quebec on the way to Montreal over the summer as well and it struck me as odd then too and to see the same thing going down the highway through cities like Hamilton, Brantford and London it threw me off. It must be one of those comforts of home kind of things or the fact that upstate New York isn’t quite as immediately farm-like as some folks would like you to believe.
On the way through Canada we hit a rest area, the only one along the way oddly enough, to grab some food and sure enough we spot folks who weren’t part of our group there decked out in Rensselaer hockey gear. Being the inquisitive folks that we are and the fact we were in the middle of Canada we had to find out who they were on the way to go see. Turns out we ran into Brandon Pirri’s parents. They were a bit startled by our group and the fact that we were driving from the area out to Detroit to go see the team play. In fact, if I was to get a chance to ask them I’m sure they’d say there were horrified by our fandom but that’s neither here nor there.
I discovered that my timing at border crossings is quite outstanding as when our car came up to go back into the United States into Michigan, it was right after a shift change and, much like in July after the NHL Draft, we were the first car up for the new guard. We hand over our passports and enhanced IDs and I say right now that my enhanced driver’s license makes me look like a felon. Flat out, I look insane. Add to that I now have a bit of a beard going on and according to the border patrol agent, I looked older than what my license says. (aside: I look older than 30? DAMN IT!).
Piling on with further confusion is that Tim has a shaved head now (he’s got hair in his picture) and apparently Tim and Tyler looked like twins (…the hell?) it meant we got the once over and then over again by the agent. Whatever, she did her job and considering every knucklehead in the last few days was trying to fly to Detroit with bombs… We can understand. But honestly, four extremely pasty white guys with New York plates coming to Detroit, the chances were better that trouble would find us rather than us going to look for it.
As for the Great Lakes Invitational on 12/29 and 12/30 for us RPI fans, our entertainment came in the form of RPI beating Michigan 4-3 and getting some help from maybe some of the best and most loyal fans in all of college hockey: Michigan Tech. Their fans and some band members were eager to join up with us for the Michigan game and take part in our taunts and cheers and given how poorly Michigan Tech’s season has gone (including a 10-1 thrashing at the hands of Michigan State in the other game that night) having them jump on the bandwagon for the night was probably as fun for them as it was for us to help send the very partisan Wolverine crowd home disappointed.
For what it’s worth, Michigan’s goaltending is abysmal. Bryan Hogan may be the single worst goaltender I’ve watched in person since… Former Michigan goaltender Billy Sauer in the 2008 Frozen Four. Michigan does have a talented squad but they must really hate themselves some Bryan Hogan because he can’t stop anything thrown at the net.
For those of you who are Michigan haters, we came up with a few chants that really helped keep the crowd quiet so feel free to adopt them as your own.
“Worse Than Sauer”
“Where’s Jack Campbell?”
There may have been only about 20-30 of us in our vocal section made up of the Collar City Madmen and other RPI folks as well as the MTU fans who joined in, but after RPI jumped ahead 3-1 after Paul Kerins’ soft wrister found its way into the net, I can assure you that even a place as large as Joe Louis Arena that 30 people can be heard saying these things. We confirmed this with some of the RPI players we spoke to at the 12/31/09 Red Wings game who said they got a good laugh out of our vocal antics.
As for the GLI title game, well… Bryce Merriam looked nervous in warmups and he looked equally as nervous when the game started and RPI was in an almost instant 2-0 hole against a truly great Michigan State team. I know that sounds like I’m huffing and puffing and dropping to my knees for the team that won the tournament (they defeated RPI 6-1) but after having seen how some past great teams have showed up in Troy to hand RPI their heads, this Michigan State team did the same thing (albeit with a home ice and officials advantage).
This team beat a good RPI squad and did so after fending off a flurry of threats in the middle of the second period and skated away relatively easily with the win. The Spartans are very good. They’re as dangerously good as the Miami team with Ryan Jones a couple seasons ago and Corey Tropp and Jeff Petry are two of the more dangerous players I’ve seen on the ice. No, I wasn’t being secretly snarky about Tropp – he’s got a bit of a history, it’s a shame that there’s this incident as he’s also a pretty good hockey player as well. Jeff Petry was the guy who really impressed me though. I’ll confess to going into full-on man-crush mode. What a friggin’ player and just a dynamic defenseman for the Spartans. I said this at the tournament and I’ll say it here publicly because hey, why not? Michigan State is a definitive contender to be at Ford Field. They are very, very good and easily the best team I’ve watched this season.
As for the first of two NHL games we would take in, the Red Wings-Avalanche tilt on New Years Eve was special for me. It was my first Red Wings game in Detroit and after calling Joe Louis Arena “home” the previous two nights, there’s nothing that compares to the buzz inside an arena when the real home team is there and there’s nearly 20,000 people packing the place out and this holds true for Detroit.
Not bad seats, right?
As for the game, truly spectacular from this Wings fan’s perspective and a haunting one for the rest of our groups because, while some folks may not have been rooting for the Wings at all, they definitely weren’t prepared to see former Boston University forward Brandon Yip on the ice for the Avs. We all certainly weren’t prepared to see Brandon Yip score two goals in our presence, that’s for sure.
Thankfully for us, Darren Helm and former Maine Black Bear Jimmy Howard were the heroes of the day as Detroit went on to win the game 4-2. Helm had two goals (both shorthanded, one on an empty net) to seal it for the Wings and Jimmy Howard was college-like in his rock-solid play to help us ring in 2010 on a very high note. Here’s a few more photos from Joe Louis Arena, feel free to click on them to help make them look bigger on your monitors, I made them smaller so as to make the page easier to load.
As for our New Year’s Day jaunt back to Buffalo, the day’s drive was interrupted by a lunchtime stop in London, Ontario to grab some food and catch the Winter Classic (well, two periods worth). You’d think this would be easy to do given that it’s a hockey event and we were in Canada so finding a place open that could hold eight or nine people and would have the game on would be easy to do.
Not so fast. Being that it was indeed New Years Day we forget things like it being a holiday for most everyone, so our initial research into places in London that proclaimed lots of TVs and food proved to come up empty as hell. Luckily we spotted a Boston Pizza restaurant that was open and was definitely showing the game. Yeah… I know, city not known for their pizza proclaiming superiority – it’s like getting a Los Angeles Cheesesteak or Chicago Wings – whatever we were in Canada so anything goes. The wait staff was shocked to see so many of us and they were equally happy to bring us in because, hey, we’re ignorant Americans and we’re hungry.
The Winter Classic when broadcasted by CBC is a glorious wonder. Jim Hughson doing play by play and no NBC masturbatory bullshit. We were also spared from listening to the Dropkick Murphys during the pregame and we were already back in the car while Lenny Clarke murdered “Sweet Caroline.” Thank goodness for small miracles.
Upon reaching Buffalo, the temperature must’ve dropped about 30 degrees because it felt like we had landed on Hoth when we parked and walked up to HSBC Arena. Ice cold, windy, awful… Ahh, Buffalo. As for the game inside featuring the Sabres and Thrashers, well, it started off pretty bad for Buffalo as the Thrashers jumped out 3-0 in spite of Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller doing everything humanly possible to keep the team in the game.
Then the Thrashers stopped playing… And the Sabres figured out that they’re leading the Northeast Division and they should play like it. Back they come to tie the game at three and get it to overtime where down at the opposite end of the ice from where our awesome luxury suite was located, this happened:
Unreal. Just a completely freaky goal but it sent us all home on a high note to end our Rust Belt Hockey Tour. Of the games we attended and someone in the gang had a vested interest in one of the teams, our record was 3-1 with RPIs loss to Michigan State being the only (understandable) blemish. Beating Michigan in Joe Louis Arena is the absolute highlight of the trip on a trip that didn’t have any lowlights to speak of.
We enjoyed Detroit quite a bit (no, seriously) and found a bar that welcomed us as much as we enjoyed it. We did a slight tour and checked out the sights that will be more popular in Detroit come Frozen Four time (Ford Field, Comerica Park, Hockeytown Cafe) as well as the more tourist-driven locations like Greektown and the General Motors building. For the bad rap that Detroit gets in general, sure, some of it is earned and there are some really rough parts of town… But you’re not going to those areas if you’re going there for games or other events. It’s easy for me to say as I was never there on my own and making my way around town but I’d absolutely go back again. Whether I go for the Frozen Four or not is up in the air as of yet, but I wouldn’t have reservations about going back.
Surrounding such a trip with tons of hockey games though is a must-do. Joe Louis Arena for being as old as it is compares similarly, to me, with the Carrier Dome in Syracuse as far as how the concourse is laid out and the amenities contained within it. The inside bowl of the arena is spectacular as far as sight lines go. For the GLI we were in the lower level along the goal line and it was a great place to be and the same can be said of our seats for the Wings game in the upper half 15 rows back in the 200 level. We were in the corner but it didn’t matter because the views were perfect and unhindered by anything and folks leaning forward in their seats wasn’t much of an issue either.
It doesn’t have all the fun bells and whistles a lot of the new arenas do and sure the concessions are a bit too expensive ($8.75 for a Miller Lite? Blow me.) but being able to duck off down to the Olympia Room to get away from the concourse is a good thing, even if that gets crowded too. I say this with my Red Wings fan hat on that the place is great, but I understand why folks are clamoring for something new and reverential to the team’s past.
This week I go on one of the more awesome, and slightly random, hockey-themed road trips I’ve ever done. This has become a bit of a thing for me, going back to April 2007 when I made it to Denver for the Frozen Four. That trip was so incredible and life-fulfilling that it’s inspired me to do other trips both great and small. Whether it meant going to last year’s Frozen Four in, now hockey-mad, Washington D.C., taking a short drive over the Berkshires to take in a Division III NCAA Tournament game or going to Montreal for the NHL Draft it didn’t matter – hockey was the reason and everything about each of those trips made it 100% worthwhile.
The great secret I’ve discovered is the road trip itself and when the college schedule was completed and it was announced that RPI would be heading to Detroit for the Great Lakes Invitational I circled the date and started to ask around to some of the other RPI-mad fans I know to see if this might be something we could do and sure enough… Everyone else was more than fair game and driving (yes, driving) from here around Albany to Detroit seemed to be the way to go about it. More folks were contacted and more people were interested. Hey, more the merrier, right?
For two days, this annual Michigan-centric tournament takes over Joe Louis Arena and University of Michigan, Michigan State and Michigan Tech have a battle to see who can be the GLI champion and get a banner hung inside the Joe to state as much. Every year a fourth team is invited and RPI got the call this time around. North Dakota was there last year, so it’s not as if a patsy is invited to secure an easy win for someone, although some Michigan fans seem to find RPI to be the weakest team to be invited in a long time. We’ll see how that goes as Michigan is having a bit of an off year.
Fun thing about getting this many heads together for a plan is other ideas pop up. The NHL schedule was released and sure enough, the “traditional” New Year’s Eve game at Joe Louis Arena was back on, after being called off for preparation for the Winter Classic last year. Detroit against Colorado is the game and so another call was made to secure tickets for the gang. Three nights in a row our band of RPI fanatics (now tentatively bearing the moniker of Collar City Madmen) would be holed up at Joe Louis Arena for a total of at least three games, probably four or five depending on how ambitious we are to see the other games of the GLI.
For myself, getting to see a Red Wings game at the Joe is the icing on the cake. Look at it this way, about 25 years ago my hockey fandom was kicked into high gear thanks to the local team from RPI winning the National Championship against Providence College… At Joe Louis Arena. It was that same local team that provided another local team, the Adirondack Red Wings, with a soon-to-be Hall of Fame player in Adam Oates (who was later unceremoniously traded by the Red Wings in one of the worst trades of all time) but helped make that connection to the NHL team I now follow. Fast forward to now and here I’ll be in the same arena getting to see BOTH of these teams.
This is about as close to a religious experience as this lapsed Catholic will ever get. I’ll be at the Joe where Oates, Puppa, Carter and Servinis helped lead RPI to their last National Championship and I’ll be getting my photo taken at Gordie Howe’s statue and finding ways to get as many pictures of Steve Yzerman’s banner as one person can get.
It’s my moment damn it, keep your remarks to yourself.
As Ron Popeil might say, “But wait, there’s more.”
This schedule for the trip means that New Year’s Eve will be spent hoping the Red Wings didn’t lose anymore players to injury and maybe pull out a victory and then finding a bar to hole up with the gang, usher in 2010 and then get right the hell to sleep because a road trip to Buffalo is in order for the day of January 1st. Sure, most everyone will be going bonkers over the Winter Classic in Boston but we’ll be getting geared up for Thrashers v. Sabres at HSBC Arena in Buffalo because, really, you can’t have enough hockey.
Oddly enough, for the limited number of NHL games I get to see live this will be the second time I’ve seen Atlanta play in the last three or four years. The last time I saw them was down at Madison Square Garden against the Rangers when the Thrashers won in overtime and Ilya Kovalchuk proved to me what a madman on the ice he can be. Just an unreal, sick talent. More fun than that, this helps make packing for a trip easy.
RPI jersey? Check. Red Wings jersey? Check. Old school Buffalo Sabres jersey? Check.
Good to go!
I know it sounds insane to be fired up for a trip to two cities in the Rust Belt of the USA but here I am writing this up in the wee hours of the morning before hitting the road to get to Buffalo and stay the night there before trekking to Michigan. What makes going to places like this in the dead of winter when the climate is at its bleakest and these cities are seemingly even less “fun” to visit? It’s hockey, stupid. Simple as that. It’s cities like these where hockey lives and breathes the hardest even when things financially aren’t at their best. The fans love their teams and when it comes to college hockey at Joe Louis Arena… Well, that’s a big deal there too because state bragging rights are more-or-less on the line and the Michigan-Michigan State rivalry is vicious. Even going as an “objective” hockey fan for an event like this I would be fired up so you can imagine what the adrenaline rate is now having horses in most of the races involved here.
The NCAA has made it a point to have better “destination” cities for some of their bigger events (namely the Frozen Four) but it’s places like Detroit and Buffalo (and Minneapolis/St. Paul) where hockey encompasses the lives of the folks there. Sure some folks can get up in arms over selecting Ford Field as a Frozen Four venue (rightfully so) but their line of thought was right. For every Tampa Bay the NCAA picks out, they make sure to take care of St. Paul, Minnesota and the Denver too.
As for updates while I’m gone for the week… Don’t expect too much unless I witness something completely insane or I’m duly inspired and want to (potentially) drunkenly ramble when I return back to the hotel room. If you’re wanting in on crazy stories from the road or photos as they happen, I strongly suggest following me on Twitter @HockeyJoeGM.
I know it’s Christmas time (or Chanukah time for others) and that means a lot of folks are winding down their year and stressing out about what to get their loved ones for the Holidays. It’s that time of year and it happens, I understand.
One thing about this time of year that I got really into when I was working in radio was doing something to help out those that can’t help themselves. With the job market still being brutal for a lot of folks around the country and money always being tight for everyone else, seeing something charitable come up always moves me to want to do something to help out. Being a guy with a website that has a nice loyal band of fans it’s times like these that I feel motivated to try and do something to help a good cause and, to the surprise of many of you out there, one Red Wings blog is really stepping up to the plate to do something really nice this year.
Bill Houlihan, The Chief at Abel To Yzerman, was struck with good tidings of the season to step up and do just that. It started off with a great rallying point to put something together for “one of their 19 members” – the man behind Red Wings Brazil, Guilherme – To donate some money and see if they could get enough funds together to get Guilherme to see a game live and in person at Joe Louis Arena. Seeing bloggers and commenters alike teaming up to do something that incredibly cool for a fan in a very different market, it’s pretty damn amazing in its own right. There was one “problem” though as after about 30 hours, the goal of $1000 set by The Chief was met.
In my days working in radio, our main holiday charity drive built up funds for the childrens hospital in my home area and getting to see the kind of work that is done and the facilities they have there and knowing how much the money is both used to do great things and needed so desperately to keep doing great things I can’t even begin to stress enough to you folks what even the smallest donation can do if you even give just a little bit.
I’ve visited the Children’s Hospital at Albany Medical Center more than a few times and while it’s heartbreaking to see babies and toddlers going through any number of problems big and small alike, it’s reassuring to know that they’re getting the best of care possible from some of the finest medical minds you’ll find in this country. These specialized hospitals aren’t found in as great a number as you’d find a typical hospital and giving kids the kind of care they need when they’re so fragile and so young is of the utmost importance.
I know it’s just a few days before Christmas and asking anyone to give up a few bucks is a tall order no matter what your situation is, but in the spirit of the holidays if you’ve got the time stop by A2Y and give a click to the PayPal button they’ve got set up there and see if you can do a little something special for a special hockey-related kind of charity action. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Penguins fan, a Blackhawks fan, a Rangers fan or an Avalanche fan… Doing something nice to help out the kids is something that a fan of any team can do.
A Sunday without NHL hockey is getting to be a bit old, two straight weeks without Sunday games makes Joe a dull boy. Rather it makes me one that has to focus far too much on the NFL and when you’re a Detroit Lions fan there’s better things to do.
So rather than go into hiding and pretend like my efforts to take down the Western Conference elite of Sports Blog Nation are going all for naught, here I am to go and toot my own horn and pick out some MVPs and some players I’m going to put on notice.
While it was just an 8-5 victory, my goaltending chomped on the tailpipe much in thanks to Josh Harding of the Wild getting bombed on and Ray Emery falling from his high horse after earning a shutout in his first start. Marty Turco was steady but uninspiring from a fantasy standpoint.
Offensively, Drew Doughty was my main man providing tremendous value for a late-round selection tallying a goal and four assists during the first week of play. James Neal of the Stars carried the goal scoring trophy for the team nailing down three goals. Brendan Morrow added two goals and three assists and Sidney Crosby showed why it was awesome that he fell into my lap at fourth overall scoring four goals including a game winner.
Who’s on notice after the first week? Alex Tanguay who scored just one assist (granted it was on the power play) and landing only three shots on goal. Paul Martin of the Devils finds himself on the hot seat as well tabulating just one shot on goal, an even +/- rating and one assist (also on the power play). Josh Harding in his one start for the week managed to earn a 6.01 GAA and a .739 save percentage with only 17 saves. Ouch babe.
The Cannons were lead by Evgeni Malkin (2g 5a 16 PIM 12 sog) and Alex Burrows (3g 1a 6PIM 23 sog). Steve Mason and Cam Ward carried the goaltending efforts earning two wins a piece and putting up mostly nice GAA and save percent numbers while seeing a ton of action in the first week.
All in all, a very pleasing effort for the Frontiersmen but that goaltending has to get better.
The trend keeps on keepin’ on. Another eight victories and only losing out on four against the Red Wings laden squad. This is when it’s fun to not be a homer. No, not Tomas Holmstrom.
Since you didn’t get to see how the squads shaped up before, here’s the comparison (click to enlarge).
As you can see, there was one transaction made by me. Josh Harding got the boot already in favor of Scott Clemmensen. Harding has been lit up in two starts for Minnesota and well, if I’m going to have a backup goalie that starts occasionally, I’d prefer it to be a guy who doesn’t have an astronomical goals against average and a minuscule save percentage. Call me old fashioned. As it stood, the only thing I struck out on this time were wins. Turco had a stellar week including a shutout and Emery, while mediocre, wasn’t overly brutal in his one start.
Offensively, the Frontiersmen were beastly although they enjoy the company of the minus rating. Alfredsson, Knuble and Neal all ponied up the assists and Brendan Morrow did the heavy lifting with the goal scoring. You really can’t complain when you get consistent offensive work like that each week. What I can complain about is how miserable Alex Tanguay is. I know the offense in Tampa Bay is struggling (as will happen when you basically have one scoring line and nothing else) but tallying zero points and a -3 for the week is a good way to end up on a fantasy managers bad side… Especially when you have one of his other teammates setting up at center for you.
Vinny Lecavalier has yet to score a goal and while the three assists this past week were nice, the -4 is a mega kick in the nuts. Vinny will get his goals eventually, but the pain of his lack of success is being felt in places other than central Florida. This isn’t to say that Vinny is officially on notice, but it’s just plain old frustrating.
Who is on notice? Paul Martin of the Devils. Zeroes across the board and three shots on goal. At least get kicked out of a game or something man. Defensemen are thin pickings in the league as it is, but its frustrating to not get anything from a guy that is getting enough playing time to make things happen.
That said, the whining ends there. +/- is a bit of a crap-shoot category and it can fluctuate from week to week so there’s no real use in trying to plan against that, especially when you can get a lot more out of every single other category possible by playing a guy any given night. I would like to see the goal scoring pick up though. You hear me Vinny?
This week I will have my duel with Nathan from Hockey Wilderness, one of a handful of in-house throwdowns. After reminding Nathan about his team, suffice to say he hates his Yahoo auto-drafted squad. I’m not about to start counting wins here, but confidence is running high. Nathan’s “State of Mediocre” pulled a rather Wild-like showing this past week getting shutout by Defending Big D 11-0.
Last season, the fate of the Colorado Avalanche was summed up with the fate of the franchise’s long time captain Joe Sakic. Sakic, for all intents and purposes, was going at it for one more year to see if the team could bounce back after being embarrassed out of the playoffs in 2007 by their one-time hated rivals from Detroit.
Sakic was already out of the lineup for the Avs dealing with a busted back but living in Colorado in December means having to deal with winter and snow removal and for Joe Sakic that resulted in one of the more bizarre injuries recorded by humans as he broke three fingers and damaged tendons in his hand while… Well, screwing around with the snowblower.
Public Enemy #1 in Denver
It could be more beneficial to you, the readers, to break down how bad the goaltending in Denver was last year or talk about how the offense was, by far, the weakest in the NHL managing to score 199 goals, two less than the NHL’s worst team the Islanders.
So they can’t put it in the net and they can’t keep it out of the net, but hey, they beat Detroit in some shootouts so season success, right? Oy. OK so what do the Avs do to make corrections for this season? Their first step came in the form of first round draft pick centerman Matt Duchene. Duchene will make for a great addition up the middle for a team in search of a new pivot now that Joe Sakic is retired and Paul Stastny has to carry the offensive workload. Duchene will have his hands full, however, as expectations are high and at 18 years-old he’d normally be the lone supremely young guy trying to help turn around the franchise.
Of course, this is Colorado and with the Avs trading away Ryan Smyth (to Los Angeles) in the off-season to get cap relief scoring is at even more of a premium in the Rockies thus opening the door for yet another 18 year-old 2009 draft pick in Ryan O’Reilly. Duchene should stick around all season long and if O’Reilly is still around after 10 games (otherwise they head back to juniors for the duration of the season), the Avs are in with the youth movement for the long haul.
How do you spell Avalanche? R-E-B-U-I-L-D-I-N-G
On the wings, Milan Hejduk and Wojtek Wolski are still here as is the enigmatic Marek Svatos. Svatos so far in his career has been the hot-and-cold type of player. In his first full NHL season (2005-2006) he scored 32 goals. He then followed that up with season tallies the next three years of 15, 26, 14 goals respectively. Svatos has also never played a full 82 game season and averages 64.5 games played per season. Inconsistency, thy name is Svatos.
OK so what about the rest of the forwards? T.J. Hensick, T.J. Galiardi, Cody McLeod, Chris Stewart, David Jones and Matt Hendricks lead the “Who the hell are they?” crew while Darcy Tucker and David Koci lead the “Don’t Turn Your Back On Them” brigade. Of that bunch, Chris Stewart is the most promising of the bunch while T.J. Hensick is still trying to capture the glory he once had at the University of Michigan. T.J. Galiardi, on the other hand, will be getting his first real taste of the NHL this year after being a high scoring hero at Dartmouth College.
One other young guy to keep an eye out for later is former Minnesota Golden Gopher Ryan Stoa. He’ll start the year in the AHL at Lake Erie, but with what the Avs are dealing with talent-wise at the NHL level, don’t be surprised to see Stoa join the club and flash the skills.
Hang on, David Koci has something to share with us.
Thanks David, that was inspiring.
The defensive corps is where the strength of this Avalanche team will be. Unfortunately for the Avs, these aren’t the, ahem, glory days kind of guys like Blake and Bourque, but Adam Foote is back in the fold (re-acquired in a trade last year) and he’s been deigned the new captain of the team. John-Michael Liles, Ruslan Salei, Brett Clark and Kyle Quincey (acquired in the Smyth deal) make for a very serviceable unit on the back line. Long time AHL’er and youngster Kyle Cumiskey gets to crack the big roster this year and once Tom Preissing returns from injury, Cumiskey will duke it out with him for steady playing time.
Goaltending in Colorado should prove to be interesting as career backup Craig Anderson was signed in the offseason and he’ll provide the bulk of the work in starting as new GM Greg Sherman sends the message to Peter Budaj that perhaps he should play a little bit better, a message that certainly couldn’t be sent last year with Andrew Raycroft as the backup to “push” him. Now Budaj is slated as the backup but at the very least should Anderson struggle a bit there will be someone mostly solid right behind him to steady the ship.
The Avs have a new head coach this year after deciding to live with deja vu all over again with Tony Granato last season. They’ve brought aboard former player Joe Sacco and while he has no NHL coaching experience, having him learn on the fly with what should be a really young team isn’t the worst thing in the world. After all, he was the coach of the Lake Erie Monsters, the Avalanche farm squad. Instant success isn’t demanded of him here but helping the admittedly very young team develop better at this level is. Sacco was always a solid depth forward in his career in the NHL and he was never a big time scorer… Which works out to be pretty coincidental since that is what this Avalanche lineup will be like.
It’ll be a young team, it’ll have moments of fleeting glory but one thing it will not be is a playoff team, something, I’m sure Sean Payton at Anyone But Detroit will be very grumpy about me saying. I will say though, at least Sean is being realistic about things, at least kind of, from what he had to say with the Slap Shots blog at the New York Times.
The Avalanche will be better — they finished 15th in the West last year so there is nowhere to go but up. I’ve got them finishing 13th, ahead of Nashville and the mess currently known as the Phoenix Coyotes.
Normally there would be nowhere to go but up, but in this case, staying the course is what I count on happening for the Avs this year. They will be out of the playoffs most assuredly and finishing dead last in the brutal Western Conference is a fate they appear to be aligned for.
Thanks for playing Colorado, go get ’em next year.
Just watching this series, even while watching it with a stray eye from afar in Washington, was exhausting. For fans, for media, for bloggers, for everyone alike.
Just imagine how it is actually playing the games.
The Penguins showed in Game 7 that they did, in fact, want it more. They played harder and more aggressive for the better part of the game. They played smarter for the entire game and didn’t allow for Detroit to wheel and deal the way they like to.
Most importantly, and this was something I made it a point to say both last year and this, their third and fourth lines responded better than Detroit’s did, a point that was made emphatically in Game 7 by Maxime Talbot scoring both Pittsburgh goals. Talbot last year was the lone player on Pittsburgh’s third and fourth lines who proved to be a burr in the side of the Red Wings.
This year, Talbot solidified himself as a folk hero win or loss given how he handled himself against the Capitals and how he played smartly and selflessly throughout the playoffs. I know that the folks in Pittsburgh’s blogging circles will write folk songs and sing the praises of guys like Crosby, Fleury and Malkin but Talbot is the guy for whom much of Pens fans adulation and warm memories from here on out will be saved for.
Evgeni Malkin is the superstar you should get forced down your throat. (Photo – AP)
In this go-round, Talbot had sustained help from Ruslan Fedotenko – a guy who already has Stanley Cup folk hero status for the last 25 Tampa Bay Lightning fans that haven’t been run off by the new owners there. Adding characters like Craig Adams and Fedotenko helped solidify the other lines for Pittsburgh helping younger players like Tyler Kennedy and Jordan Staal feel more at home working the grinder lines and realizing that by doing their job checking and defending you can still find a way to pot a goal or two.
Pieces like that are what the team was missing last year and they were able to capitalize best on playing the aggressive forecheck (you know, like I kept saying they ought to do) and put pressure on Detroit’s defense.
No, not Nick Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski – those guys you can’t exactly rattle. Brad Stuart and Niklas Kronwall however…
To this point in the playoffs, I had been singing the praises of Brad Stuart as his play through the first three rounds had been solid if not spectacular. In the Finals, however, Stuart’s efforts in Game 7 are what folks are going to be paying attention to. Stuart took a bad slashing penalty in the first period and had a brutal turnover and mis-timed moment to pinch in leading to both of Maxime Talbot’s goals.
Having that kind of résumé in an elimination game will often get a guy run out of town. For Stuart, it’s a Finals he’d like to forget as his play suffered. Whether that be from his own mistakes or for having to perpetually look out for Niklas Kronwall who would take himself out of plays looking to deliver a hit elsewhere or do too much on the puck it’s tough to say.
For all the advances that Kronwall seemed to make last season in his play after finally finding a way to remain healthy, I couldn’t help but find myself watching him to see how he would handle himself and his positioning. A lot of the time he’s solid, but there’s enough brain farting going on that teams were finding ways to expose him.
Yeah, you guessed it, he was a -2 in Game 7 along with Brad Stuart. Game 7 saw plenty of reckless play from the two of them and if anything that -2 was well earned on their part. The poor unfortunate guy that had to deal with all that was Chris Osgood who truly played stellar all throughout this series and the playoffs.
For Pittsburgh though, Conn Smythe Trophy winner Evgeni Malkin was the story from beginning to end.
Enough about Crosby and him captaining the team to the win – I’m done with that. Good for him for winning but it’s not because of him they were able to beat Detroit. Not in Game 7 and not in the rest of the series. He’s the guy you’re going to get forced down your throats from now until Lord knows when, but it’s got to be eating him up how much more sound the Penguins play when he’s not around. Malkin carried this team last year while Crosby was out with an injury and he carried the team again in Game 7 when Crosby left with an injury in the second period after taking a hit from Johan Franzen.
This was Malkin’s baby from the start of the playoffs and he earned it. Worst of all? Fans in North America aren’t going to hear enough about him because he’s Russian and speaks poor English and the NHL can’t wrap their head around marketing players that don’t come from North America.
Amazing, isn’t it? I’ve got a full-blown man-crush on the Hart Trophy candidates this year (Alex Ovechkin, Pavel Datsyuk and Malkin) but the league can’t do anything with them. This is why if you too are a Twitter user you should be following Dmitry Chesnokov, one of the contributors at Yahoo’s Puck Daddy.
He’s Russian and gets all the juicy interviews with the Russian stars and gets the personality out of them that the NHL is too ignorant or lazy to try for and hey, guess what, Russian players aren’t the robots you see elsewhere around the league.
Look at it this way, when your favorite Russian player is giving a poorly-worded interview in English, that guy is a regular Jeremy Roenick or Brett Hull when interviewed in Russian.
It’s so frustrating to see such marketing ability available here and no one putting it to use it’s even managed to derail my Stanley Cup wrap up.
I know a lot is going to get made about how Herr Bettman’s wet dream finally came true here, and it did let’s not think differently, but what we’ve got here is a damn spanking nice little cross-conference rivalry teeming over with superstars. Canadians, Russians, Swedes, Finns and Slovaks all over the place.
A lot of you may be stressing the hell out today because your team is playing in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals tonight.
Others of you may have hitched a ride with a team for the Finals after having yours bumped off along the way either before or during the playoffs. It’s OK, I’m not here to rat you out or tell the others in your fanbase that you may have given up the team colors in favor of the “prettier” horse that came along.
That’s not my job to rat you out and besides, you’ve got to live with yourself anyhow. Enjoy the anguish of living a lie should that be your course of action.
What I’m here to do is try to share with you what it is to live in the hell of having the next game be your last, when you’re that close to taking home the prize that your team is dying to reach. I’m here to tell you that if you want to live life as a hockey fan in a brilliant kind of tortured hell there’s one thing you have to do:
Become a college hockey fan.
I’m not joking and hell, if you want examples of that already, take a look at the stories from my Back To School tour of excellence back in March and April.
OK so you don’t want to check it out, fine. Here’s what the teams in tonight’s final have to look forward to (click to enlarge):
Thrill of Victory:
Agony of Defeat:
Those are shots from the conclusion of this year’s National Championship game that saw Boston University defeat Miami University in overtime. Yeah, ouch.
Pretty simple, I know, but seeing it is another thing entirely and let’s face it, Penguins fans have tasted defeat in the Finals once, just last year. Detroit fans, at least the more modern variety, got a piece of it back in 1995 at the hands of Jacques Lemaire’s ruiners of 1990s hockey, the New Jersey Devils.
I can tell you first hand, however, that living and dying by your team is mentally and physically exhausting and having a hand in it with the college team of your upbringing or graduation can make even the most even-keeled of folks become raving lunatics.
For me, my roots are based in Division III college hockey, graduating from Oswego State in 2002. Working games from the press box while in college doesn’t allow you to fully give into your fandom, after all, there’s no cheerleading in the press box.
In 2003, Oswego State reached the Frozen Four for Division III and you better believe I was there with friends to witness this in Northfield, Vermont. Oswego was the newcomer to the party in dealing with local favorites Norwich and Middlebury (both in Vermont) as well as St. Norbert’s College from Green Bay, Wisconsin. Oswego drew Middlebury in the semifinals and trounced them “surprisingly” 6-0 and met the hosts from Norwich in the Finals.
There’s no more nervewracking of a setting than being there in person, on hostile ground no-less, hoping to see your team win the big prize. That afternoon we would leave Kreitzberg Arena to the sounds of the place going bonkers as the Cadets would beat the Lakers 2-1. A long, humbled and quiet car ride would follow as we headed back to the Albany area.
Four years later, Oswego would be back in the NCAA tournament and would open up at home against Norwich and exact a revenge of sorts for the 2003 loss beating the Cadets 3-0, this time on Oswego’s home ice. A date in the Frozen Four was set again, this time in Superior, Wisconsin.
There would be no road trip, there would be only reliance on the Internet broadcast of the semifinals against St. Norbert’s and then praying they win that so I could watch them on CSTV in the Finals.
This is where I leave things off to our media successors at Oswego State campus TV WTOP-10 to show you how this played out. I can tell you this right now, every time I watch this my adrenaline races and I break out into a cold sweat.
(ed. note: YouTube is being a bit buggy lately so be patient and come on back again to see the video.)
After Garren Reisweber scored that OVERTIME GAME-WINNING GOAL, I leapt out of the chair, did a lap around the house, then ran outside leaping into the snowbanks via backflip.
I’ve never done a backflip before, and I’ve never dared try one since but it’s true, adrenaline can make you do super-human things.
That said, your team is on the road looking for their first championship and the road to get there goes through overtime in the semifinals and in the finals, it’s a wonder myself or any other Oswego State hockey alum survived.
But I did and I’m alive to pass this on to those of you who will be locked down into Game 7 tonight to let you know that win or lose, you’re still going to be there to fight again.
Neither Detroit nor Pittsburgh are going anywhere bad after this season. Folks want to write the Red Wings off and say that their demise is imminent.
Pittsburgh has already proven that they’ll be able to stick around by making it back again this year, especially after dropping their dead-weight of an albatross named Michel Therrien.
If your team loses, yeah it’s going to sting like a son of a bitch and it’s going to eat you up for a while. You probably won’t want to look at anything hockey for some time after that and you can’t be blamed for it.
But if you come back from it and you hunger for more and you develop that war wound with your team, and believe me losing in a game where it’s all or nothing is a cannon blast to the midsection in the Civil War, the reward is worth the wait.
Game 7 wins and losses weed out who belongs and who doesn’t and if for some sick psychotic reason you want to give yourself a better chance at experiencing this sensation of living on the brink with a team you know and love and adore… Sign up for college hockey. Pick a team and go along for the ride.
If you went to college that has a team, even better, you’re already in the family. All you have to do then is start caring about them. Don’t have a team yet? Snoop around, adopt one, adopt a local team if you’ve got one. Remember though, you’re adopting them not to half-ass your attention to them you want to accept them into your life because you’re a maniacal hockey fan and you seek more and you have wanton disregard for your sanity.
Detroit fans I probably don’t have to tell about college hockey given that Michigan alone has University of Michigan, Michigan State, Michigan Tech, Northern Michigan, Western Michigan, Ferris State, and Lake Superior State all contained within their borders.
Joe Louis Arena plays host to the annual Great Lakes Invitational pitting Michigan, MSU and Michigan Tech against a fourth team to be named later. RPI joins them this upcoming season. Yes, consider that foreshadowing for what may come in December.
For Pittsburgh fans and those of you actually in the Iron City or close by, you’ve got a couple of teams within reach of you: Robert Morris University and Mercyhurst College. Robert Morris plays in Pittsburgh itself while Mercyhurst is located to the north in Erie. There is a bonus to becoming a Mercyhurst supporter though:
Mercyhurst Lakers goalie Matt Lundin shows off Whalers-colored glory.
Your team wears the colors of the Hartford Whalers. I can see no other reason than that to want to become a fan of Mercyhurst. If you’re into the women’s college hockey scene, Mercyhurst’s squad is one of the better ones in the country. Double your pleasure Pennsylvania.
I know that this post offers in no way any kind of comfort or solace for those looking to find a way to get through tonight’s game and I’m only serving to be more of an enabler of further stress, hair loss, anxiety and short fuses but I just want you all to be able to join me in that club.
Some say “misery loves company” but in this case it’s more like the asylum seeks more patients.
You’re hockey fans after all, be proud of your insanity.
I know that sometimes trips are really often poorly timed and, well, you could say that this is one of those times as I’m headed to Washington, D.C. for the weekend and will NOT be recapping Games 4 and 5 while I’m there because, honestly, who knows if I’ll even get to see them.
No, that’s not a dig at Versus for not being in a hotel there – I’m not even staying in a hotel.
So to commemorate this occasion, I was going to play you the video from Mr. Show with the stars of the show singing “Going On A Holiday” but that’s lame and it sucks. So instead if you’d like to complain about me dumping out on recapping the game, I want all complaints to be like this:
Good luck keeping up with that! See you next week.
I should really just re-print my game recaps from last year and see if anyone bothers to fact check me at this point.
Just picking up and running with this acid flashback kind of thing for this series turned out to be the right thing to do since, just like last year, the Penguins pulled off a Game 3 victory.
In this version, a crazy up and down first period with two goals for each team lead to a Detroit-dominated and defensively locked down second period which saw Detroit get its opportunities to take the lead and then turn into a third period where Pittsburgh turned up the pressure and get the lead and the victory on the power play.
Once again, however, officiating is at the forefront of the discussion after an obvious too many men on the ice call was missed in the first period. Shortly after that, Detroit was booked for a penalty which lead to a Pittsburgh power play goal to tie the game at two. Even the guys in the NBC booth were going bonkers over the call.
The Penalty Kill is this family’s dirty secret. The Kill is the clepto dad, the dirty sister who hands it out like candy at Christmas, the mom who got a DUI last week, pulled over and arrested in the middle of the day. Our penalty kill is a problem like that. It’s not going to just go away without treatment. And, left to its own devices, it’s going to humiliate us all at the worst possible moment.
The truth hurts. In short-handed situations there’s something drastically different about how the Red Wings go about business. The pressure on the point men isn’t there, defensive positioning is certainly off, hell, look where Niklas Kronwall is standing on this goal:
Pretty tough to help your goaltender when you’re screening him. Then again, Niklas Kronwall is a bit of a dirty secret for Detroit as it is anyhow. Kronwall is currently a +4 on defense in the playoffs. Not bad, sure, but how does he stack up with his teammates?
Nick Lidstrom: +10
Brian Rafalski: +10
Jonathan Ericsson: + 10
Brett Lebda: +9
Brad Stuart: +7
Brad Stuart has been a stud throughout these playoffs so why are his numbers a bit off from the rest? Look no further than his defensive partner Kronwall.
Yeah, I know, he makes the big hits and makes the highlight reels and all that fun stuff but positionally he’s a bit off and already in this series we’ve seen him make a misplay that leads to a Evgeni Malkin breakaway.
You think this is something Dan Bylsma and the Penguins staff haven’t taken note of? You bet they have and they know that Stuart is playing out of his mind and doing even more to help/cover up for Kronwall’s mistakes.
How does this translate out in Game 4 though? Who knows. At this point, why even try to deviate from how things shook out from last year. Detroit has shown an uncanny ability to rebound from losses and make corrections in their game to make sure these problems don’t come up again.
Pittsburgh is going to need to bring the thunder like they did for the third period last night all game long. Another period like their second period last night where Detroit controls play and gets the chances they did will not turn out well for the Penguins. Then again, perhaps the Penguins had a bit of hockey karma coming their way after some of the bad-break-bounces they suffered in Game 1 and that’s why you see Mikael Samuelsson rip a couple of shots off the post.
Then again, I could say that unicorns will stampede the ice and leprechauns will take over and control Game 4.
Wait, nevermind, a leprechaun already runs the NHL.