Gross Misconduct Hockey Thoughts from a drifter on the hockey landscape

04/09/2010

Why Hockey Is The Greatest: Mike Modano

Filed under: Dallas Stars — Tags: , , — Joe Yerdon @ 5:54 AM

Want to know why hockey is the greatest game on the planet?  Check out the ovation the fans in Dallas gave to Mike Modano playing in his final home game there at least this season, and perhaps in his career.

I hope you watched that to the end because Stars color man Daryl Reaugh said it right. “That was friggin’ awesome.”

Whether you remember Modano as being the guy part of the team that broke your heart in 1999, as a member of one of the more questionably put-together Olympic teams in 1998, as the face of the Minnesota North Stars before they were yoinked off to Dallas by Norm Green, or as the guy that got jobbed out of winning the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year in 1990… Chances are that you know who Mike Modano is and the important role he played for hockey in America.

Yeah, I said it.  I said it because when he does retire, be it at the end of this season or at the end of whatever season he damn well pleases, he’ll retire as the greatest American hockey player of all time.  Shocking, isn’t it? For the attention that his contemporaries like Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Mark Messier and Steve Yzerman got – Mike Modano had one thing going for him and it was that he hailed from Livonia, Michigan.  He was a good ole’ American boy and a guy who busted his hump as hard as any of those Canadian wunderkinds ever did.

He toiled in semi-obscurity playing for mostly mediocre teams in Bloomington, Minnesota with the North Stars and got his first taste of success in 1991 as the North Stars made a miraculous run to the Stanley Cup Finals only to be pummeled by Mario’s Penguins in six games.  The big guy he played with in Minnesota was another good American boy (I’m getting a little Don Cherry-ish here folks, bear with me) in Neal Broten, a member of the 1980 “Miracle On Ice” team.  Broten was a Minnesota boy and Modano getting to spend his first few seasons getting to play and learn with him had to do wonders.

Just as Modano’s career was starting to break out and blossom in Minnesota, the team was off to the untested southern frontier of Dallas.  Minnesota fans were left bitter and it was unknown just how Texans would receive ice hockey.  Without a guy like Mike Modano it might have failed miserably.  There, Modano continued to be the lifeline for the Stars racking up the high offensive numbers we’ve become more accustomed to these days pulling in 80-90 points per year.

Dallas then established themselves as a regular playoff team and it paid off in 1999 with the team’s first, and only, Stanley Cup.  Guys like Joe Nieuwendyk, Ed Belfour and Brett Hull garnered a lot of the attention on that team, but it was Modano who was the leader and the guy that lead the team in points in the regular season and playoffs. Nieuwendyk might’ve won the Conn Smythe but it’s easy to see who carried the load for the team all year.  If you want a better idea of what Mike Modano’s meant to hockey in Texas, just do a search for “Youth hockey, Texas” and look at everything that comes up. Then take a look at when a lot of these huge leagues formed and you’ll see that a lot of them came about right as Modano’s Stars were on top of the NHL. That’s no coincidence.

Obviously other people can offer a better perspective on what Modano means to them (like Stars beat writer Mike Heika for instance), but for me as someone who wasn’t a fan of the Stars I never properly looked at Modano’s career and what he stood for as an American hockey player. I never once before gave him the proper credit nor looked at him with the proper perspective he’s earned for his career: The greatest American hockey player.

05/14/2008

Congratulations

Given that both Conference Finals series sit at 3-0 as of this writing with Detroit looking to end Dallas’ season tonight, I’ll offer up a jinx-proof congratulations to both the Red Wings and Pittsburgh Penguins, who lead the Flyers, a hearty, “Thank you” deep from the bottom of my hockey-loving heart.

I thank them for playing ridiculously good hockey of late. I thank them for showing that yes, indeed, skill can win out over blatant laziness and goonery. I thank them for carrying out my marching orders that neither the Sharks nor the Canadiens could take care of in the previous round.

Most of all, I thank them for giving me the game I love back to me and others like me with a vengeance.

Detroit has been nothing short of a cold-blooded monster of a team, carved out of the mold of the most bad-ass of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator. Pittsburgh has proven to be the most resistant and most opportunistic of teams, capitalizing on every turnover and every mistake offered up by the Philadelphia Flyers – and most notably, Steve Downie. Downie has had two crucial and demoralizing turnovers in the last two games that lead to cinching goals for the Penguins.

Karma is indeed a nasty trollup Mr. Downie and don’t you forget it.

What most bloggers are doing now is taking a look ahead at what the Finals will bring about, however, I’m not completely presumptuous and will save such a thing for when both the Prince of Wales and Clarence Campbell trophies are presented and ignored by team captains.

These Conference Final matchups have provided something interesting amongst the potential double-whitewash. Philly and Dallas writers and fans both have had plenty to say about the officiating through the first two games, but Game 3 in both series silenced even the most ballyhooed complainers. Detroit and Pittsburgh both took care of business so thoroughly that any complaining from then out just rang hollow and very bitter, nevermind completely uneducated.

Every bit of momentum the Stars attempted to seize from Detroit was met swiftly with an answer – no more pointedly than Grossman’s goal in Game 3 that tied the game and got the Stars faithful fired up only to have Pavel Datsyuk score 37 seconds later to quiet the crowd. Pittsburgh has been nastier, jumping out to leads and not letting Philly get comfortable in any way. Philly would rather get ahead, sit back and beat the tar out of you. It’s tough to do that when you can’t get the lead and the injuries suffered by the Philly defense have rendered them tired and toothless. Even Derian Hatcher can’t muster up the strength to hit someone cheaply.

Not yet anyhow – there is still at least one more game to go.

Detroit’s work in Games 2 and 3 was even more pointed given that Johan Franzen, the latest Swedish goal-scoring sensation, was sidelined with something resembling concussion-like symptoms. Franzen single-handedly slapped around the Avalanche and got a taste of some more in Game 1 against Dallas before being benched for recovery. Valteri Filppula is banged up as well and Tomas Holmstrom is showing signs of all the abuse he dishes out/takes in front of the net as he’s clearly a step or two slower than his linemates Datsyuk and Zetterberg. Then again, with linemates like that, who wouldn’t look slow? Come Finals time, you’re looking at, potentially, a fully recharged and rested Red Wings team. My goodness.

Pittsburgh, on the other hand, has only seen the flu sort of take chunks out of the lineup, but not really. Gary Roberts sat out Game 3 and his physical presence wasn’t even necessary to beat Philadelphia. Players like Mike Richards, Scott Hartnell and Daniel Briere have taken plenty of abuse at the hands of guys like Hal Gill and even Evgeni Malkin, and what have they done to fight back?

Turn around and yell at the officials. They’re in your head boys, just play the game.

Nevermind that virtually every beat writer in Philadelphia has been yelling about one-sided officiating since the start of the playoffs, the players appear to have picked up the same poorly cynical attitude. All the complaining led to having the officials set the tone at the start of Game 3, tons of penalties early on on both teams which effectively neutered the rabid Philadelphia crowd. Talk about your slaps in the face – you get what you’ve been asking for but at the price of killing the buzz and emotion of the crowd.

What’s been most exposed about the Flyers though is their youth. A lot of the youth is in action thanks to injuries on the blueline, the rest of it is there because they’re supposed to be ready. The Flyers aren’t an old team and they’ll be back at it again next year, and perhaps even better. Dallas, on the other hand, has looked slow from the get-go and Dallas writers and VS. analysts have used that early on as a crutch; That the Stars aren’t playing like the real Stars because the series with San Jose wore them out.

That’s fine to say that and think that that’s true, but all those guys on the ice will tell you that that’s no excuse and they’re just getting beaten by a better team.

Well maybe Marty Turco wouldn’t say that, but his mental stability in regard to playing Detroit is, at best, extremely fragile given that Turco has managed only two wins in his career against the Wings, both of which came in Dallas. Detroit isn’t going away any time soon in the West and if Turco wants to get over the hill, well, he’d better start winning a few against Detroit – praying you don’t face them in the playoffs can’t work every year.

Let’s hope that Detroit and Pittsburgh can end the warm-up act quickly and we can get to the Main Event because we haven’t had a Cup Finals, potentially, this good in a very long time.

05/06/2008

Round 2: Operation Failure

Filed under: Dallas Stars,NHL playoffs,Philadelphia Flyers — Joe Yerdon @ 3:59 PM

It was bound to happen.

When I first started setting goals for this year’s NHL Playoffs I knew there was no way to keep the happy momentum going along after a rousing success in Round 1.

Heck, I even cut down on the number of goals to be met in Round 2.

Alas, fate and incomprehensible failure on the part of two great and underachieving teams interceded and both the Stars and Flyers have moved on to put the Stanley Cup Finals in jeopardy of being dreadfully boring.

Well, maybe not that bad but certainly not as exciting as it could be.

Last year, we were openly rooting for Buffalo to beat Ottawa and Detroit to beat Anaheim in the Conference Finals because that would’ve presented us with perhaps the most wide open Cup Finals since Gretzky played in Canada. Instead, we got the team that played slow-it-down-clog-it-up crap hockey to beat Buffalo and the Ducks who set the rules of the game back 100 years.

This season, you’ve got two teams that do the same thing, just they come from opposite conferences. The Dallas Stars are more than happy to play at a snail’s pace and make skating anywhere on the ice impossible. Dallas isn’t really there to score, they’re there to keep it a one-goal game.

Literally, if it’s 0-0 going to overtime, Dave Tippett is doing cartwheels in the tunnel after regulation. Of course, that reaction might also be because Marty Turco hasn’t given up a back-breaking goal either. This defense-first style is no accident and a lot of that has to do with Turco.

Before last season, Turco had a bad reputation for getting ripped up in the playoffs and pulling the El Foldo. Enter the Vancouver Canucks and their non-existant offense and you have one cured head-case of a goaltender – even still, Dallas lost but Turco couldn’t be blamed. Go figure.

It was no accident though, Dallas’ defense helped keep an already toothless attack at bay for most of the series and still Dallas’ offense stunk it up. How bad were they? Goals scored by Dallas per game against Vancouver (wins are in bold italics): 4, 2, 1, 1, 1, 2, 2

Obviously, Dave Tippett blamed the defense for the losses since they’ve only managed to get more annoying and tougher on that end of the ice. That means that Turco giving up one or two is hard to come by since teams have to work even harder to get a shot off or get to the net. It also allows their suspect offense to win more games after scoring two or three goals.

Just ask the Sharks.

The Flyers, on the other hand, came into the playoffs with the reputation carrying all the earmarks of the Flyers teams from the 70’s and earning worthy comparisons to that of the Anaheim Ducks…and not the good ones. Over the season, I’ve covered all the issues with the Flyers and their cheap hits ad nauseum, so I’m not about to go bringing that back up. Suffice it to say, the Flyers, already a mostly unlikable team, came into this playoff season with an even worse reputation.

To make matters worse, they knock off the World’s Favorite Hockey Player in Alexander Ovechkin in the first round, much in part due to Martin Biron playing solid in goal as well as to what turned out to be very suspect officiating all series long. Given how it’s been all playoffs, it doesn’t seem as though this was unique to their series.

Up comes Round 2 and they get to deal with the Eastern top seed Montreal Canadiens, aka: Canada’s Last Hope. The last few seasons, we’ve seen Canada’s Last Hope make it into the Cup Finals before bowing out (Ottawa, Edmonton, Calgary) and Flyers fans found themselves wrapped in paranoia after Game 1 convinced that the fix was in to have Montreal make it all the way. Nevermind that the officials assisted in getting Philadelphia past Washington, this was a new round with new conspiracies!

I’m convinced, however, there was a plot against the Flyers advancing if for no other reason than it failed miserably. After all, anything the NHL tries to make happen while Herr Bettman is leading the way manages to fall flat on its face. It’s for this reason alone I have this nagging feeling that we’re destined to see a Dallas-Philadelphia Cup Final. After all, you have to bet that the NHL and NBC are praying for arguably the biggest hockey fan market (Detroit) to face off with team with two of the hottest rising stars in the league (Pittsburgh) in the Finals. Detroit and Pittsburgh would provide for some high-octane

I’m also convinced we’re going to be having a healthy dose of deja vu come Saturday May 17th. Remember last season when Ottawa and Buffalo had their Eastern Conference Final overtime game get bumped off of NBC in favor of coverage of the Preakness Stakes? Well guess what…the NHL schedule has again set itself up for conflict, this time with the potential to get the Red Wings and Stars bumped off of NBC in favor of the ponies. The Wings-Stars game on the 17th is scheduled to start at 1:30 p.m. ET. Coverage of the Preakness Stakes will begin at 5:00 p.m. Dallas did just play a four-overtime game with San Jose and virtually every game involving the Stars is a one-goal game. I can’t help but figure this is going to happen again and the NHL will rightfully get slapped around for things being this way.

All that said, the only goal for this round is for Sid the Kid and Evgeni Malkin to get a date with Datsyuk and Zetterberg in the Stanley Cup Finals – it’s now the Dream Matchup for the league and for television. Canada doesn’t have a stake in things this year so they’re happy to have hockey to watch in general.

Anything outside of Pittsburgh and Detroit will be a letdown to some degree and a Dallas-Philly Finals will be extremely disappointing and not nearly as fun to watch. Since Round 2’s goal set was a complete letdown, we’re carrying it over to the Conference Finals in hope that it will be fulfilled for the betterment of hockey.

04/20/2008

Two Needs Settled, Two Left Hanging

Filed under: Anaheim Ducks,Dallas Stars,NHL playoffs — Joe Yerdon @ 11:35 PM

  Never before I have I rooted for the Dallas Stars so hard to just win a game and after watching tonight’s God-awful Game 6 between the Ducks and the Stars, my goodness, I am really sorry that one of these teams had to move on to the next round. Dreadful.
 Someone should pony up the Pepto Bismol for Montreal and San Jose. Boston has decided to wake up and proceeded to hit Les Habitents in the mouth and then proceed to live up to being at least partially French and are laying down and taking it. Losing 5-1 is one thing, sure. Everyone has a bad game – however, Game 6 was the most lifeless performance I’ve seen out of a team that only lost by one goal.
  If the Habs don’t get some shock therapy, there about to get the Julien debt repaid to them for what happened a few seasons ago. You know, back when Boston’s reaction to losing to Montreal in seven games after being up 3 games to 1 was to run their captain and best player out of town and then trade him for magic beans. What would Montreal do if they lose this Game 7? It’s tough to say, but if you thought the Boston media was hard on Sinden and Company then, you ain’t seen nothing Jacques!
  As for the Sharks… yikes. This is what most top teams feared about dealing with Calgary. They’ve got the guy who should be a Hart Trophy candidate in Jarome Iginla and a goalie who is more than capable of making a couple of goals stand up to be too much in Miikka Kiprusoff. Teams have advanced deep in the playoffs on less than a hot goalie and an MVP-like player – San Jose at least gets the advantage of having Game 7 at home. It would be a shame to see a team with as much talent as the Sharks to get bounced this early and it would, again, speak volumes about how differently hockey is played in the Western Conference, and I say that as coyly as possible.
  There’s one other series still going on and they apparently put it on the NBA Playoff schedule thinking it was the Wizards and the 76ers. That said, the folks in Washington, D.C. weren’t expecting the Caps to make the playoffs, nevermind to have home ice, so Wizards games and concerts have helped to spread out the schedule. Philly leads 3-2 and will look to end things at home in the Wachovia Center. This series has seen the officials get influenced very easily by the home crowds, which I suppose could be a coincidence, but I’m not buying it. Calls have been brutally slanted towards the home teams and both home crowds have been especially frantic. Washington cannot allow the Flyers any space and must knock them around. Getting Ovechkin on the scoresheet more often might help too.
  The Flyers have to keep goading Washington into taking really stupid penalties and they’ve been playing the perfect way against the mostly inexperienced Capitals. I said this one would go seven, but I had anticipated home teams holding serve throughout this series. Washington laying an egg at home in one game may turn out to be the killer for them.

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