Gross Misconduct Hockey Thoughts from a drifter on the hockey landscape

01/11/2010

Rust Belt Hockey Tour

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.

Beautiful.

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.

12/28/2009

GMH On The Road: The Rust Belt Awaits

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.

If you’re looking for the straight stuff about RPI hockey, you need to be reading Without A Peer and following along with Tom and Gary at their site and with them on Twitter as well @without_a_peer.  I’m sure there will be plenty of stuff to hear from us about while this newest chapter of hockey road trip madness unfolds.

09/30/2009

Thanks For Playing: Colorado Avalanche

Filed under: Colorado Avalanche,Detroit Red Wings,Joe Sacco,Joe Sakic,Marek Svatos — Joe Yerdon @ 12:03 AM

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.

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.

07/18/2009

New Faces In New Places: Smorgasbord

After what a rousing hit the last set of premonition photos were with Tampa Bay and Washington…

…Wait, what’s that Professor Frink?

Ahh, yes, good to see yours is working. Well played, sir. Glavin!

Since folks aren’t overly entertained by the Lightning nor the Capitals it was high time to step it up in a big way. Again big thanks to EA Sports and XBox Live for providing the means to whet all of your appetites for the upcoming season.

This time the top pick in the 2009 NHL Draft makes his (sort of) video game debut, the New York Rangers unveil an entirely new lineup, Professor Pronger dons the black and orange, Nikolai Khabibulin does his best Andy Moog impression and a guy lets his new paycheck commit to the Indian in Chicago.

I’m going to let these photos appear to be a bit smaller on the page here because there are A LOT of them, but as always, feel free to click on them to make them reasonably life size on your screen.


2009 #1 Draft Pick Jonathan Tavares slips around 2009 #3 Draft Pick Matt Duchene.


This will not end well for virtual Marian Hossa as Chris Pronger steps up in the slot to greet him.


Professor Pronger stays in form: Elbows up at all times


Poise. Grace. Steadiness. Ray Emery. Wait, why are you laughing?


It’s John Madden doing what he does best.


Ian Laperriere was called in as a witness in Daniel Carcillo’s assault case (background) against Niklas Hjalmarsson.


Tomas Kopecky deals out some beach justice to Chris Pronger.


Marian Gaborik shows how far into the defensive zone he’ll ever go.


Nikolai Khabibulin stones Marian Gaborik in close. Gaborik pulls groin in process.


That’s just Donald being Donald.


Matt Gilroy shows the rest of the team how to play defense correctly. Take notes Roszival!


How do you know its a video game? When Ales Kotalik is trying to play some defense.


Christopher Higgins is just playing it out until the post-game party starts.


Hey look! It’s those two guys that got traded for Ryan Smyth!


What Dwayne Roloson doesn’t know is that he’s wearing Tommy Salo’s number and he’ll have to start more games than not. Let’s see how he reacts…

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