Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Gentlemen, open your wallets!

The midnight hour came and went for the NHL free agency sweepstakes and the Maple Leafs made sure that some of their key players were not part of the festivities. General Manger John Ferguson Jr. spent most of the day putting the finishing touches on the deals that kept Eddie Belfour, Joe Nieuwendyk and Gary Roberts in Bud Blue for one more year for 3 million and 3.75 million respectively. In Belfour’s case the contract runs through until 2006. For his goaltending expertise Belfour will receive 7 million dollars US per season, plus performance bonuses as well as the opportunity to pursue an option year.

While the Leafs were busy sewing up their potential refugees, the list of those looking for a new home grew in leaps and bounds. Some of the top names in the game are now free agents and waiting by the phone for the offers to pour in. But in this summer of discontent that just may not happen, with the league and the players union engaged in (or non-engaged as the case seems to be)negotiations over a new contract and some form of “cost certainty” expected it would be a rather gutsy GM that offers up his boss’ money right now.

But for those dreamers that win the yearly hockey pool with their drafting acumen here’s a list for you to pore over. Imagine how some of these names would stack up in your hockey pool!

Jason Allison, Adam Deadmarsh, Anson Carter, Alexei Kovalev, Paul Kariya, John Madden, Michal Nylander, Richard Matvichuk, Alexei Zhamnov, Peter Bondra, Mathieu Schneider, Teemu Selanne, Glen Wesley, Dominik Hasek, Brett Hull, Brendan Shanahan, Steve Yzerman, Chris Osgood, Craig Conroy, Ziggy Palffy, Vincent Damphousse, Sean Hill, Alexei Zhitnik, Mike Knuble, Glen Murray, Brian Rolston and Eric Lindros.

Some of these names may end up on the same team that they just finished the season with, but others are destined to be moving for sure. Brett Hull has been informed he’s not in the Red Wings plans so will be going somewhere. Paul Kariya had a horrible season with Colorado and is planning on playing somewhere else in the next season. And then there is Dominik Hasek, rumoured to be Ottawa bound but so far he hasn’t put his DH on a Sens contract.

Canada Day in the NHL is usually filled with number crunching and long distance phone calls. This year, it could be that it will be Day of Rest for NHL GM’s. With a tight fist on their wads of cash free agents may find that the day Canada celebrates our rights and freedoms, is not one of celebration. There are normally lots of fireworks across Canada on July 1st, for the NHLPA the fireworks will be delayed until September. By all accounts that display will put the Canada Celebrations to shame!

Monday, June 28, 2004

Leafs prospect busy pumping gas, follows advice of Don Cherry

Credit Maple Leaf prospect Justin Pogge with some common sense, expecting that he wouldn’t go until the fourth round of the NHL draft Pogge elected to take the advice of Hockey sage Don Cherry and stayed home. For many years Cherry has urged young players not to make the trek to the draft unless they were sure they were going in the first two rounds. Why Cherry would ask would you want to sit around for hour upon hour tempting disappointment. For Pogge working at his summer job of pumping gas at a Prince George yacht club, seemed like a much more sensible use of his time. But when he got the call, Pogge was delighted to find out he had been chosen by the Toronto maple leafs as the 90th pick of the 2004 draft.

The Leafs who sat around and watched the New York Rangers pick eight times before taking a microphone in celebration, are happy to have landed the young goaltender from Fort McMurray. Pogge was back up for the under 18 national team when he wasn’t tending the nets as number one in Prince George. He has a highly respected GAA of 2.83 and .901 save percentage, aspects of his game that have the Leaf scouts hoping for success over the long term.

His immediate future when he’s not filling up the mercury engines at the yacht club will be with the Cougars, he’s most likely a few years away from taking to the Air Canada Ice, but the Leaf scouts are high on him and expect good things. Picking up a goal tender became a priority for the Leafs as they only have one contract on file at the moment. Mikael Tellqvist and Trevor Kidd both become restricted free agents this year, while Ed Belfour reaches unrestricted status. Belfour is looking for an expected three year deal for around 20 million dollars.

Pogge would have to pump a fair amount of gas to reach those numbers even with our current high price of fuel. But if all his plans go as expected, one day it will be his agent negotiating with the Leafs for the big three year contract with bonus plateaus. For now it’s pump the gas and dream the dream.

Muckler's stamp firmly on Sens now

John Muckler made two bold moves in less than 48 hours which will change the Senators fates quite a bit should there be hockey in 2004-05. One day after moving Radek Bonk to the Montreal Canadiens by way of LA. Muckler has struck again, sending Patrick Lalime to the St. Louis Blues in exchange for a conditional fourth round draft pick in the 2005 draft. The movement of Lalime is expected to herald the arrival of the Dominator to Senators colours, as his agent and Muckler prepare to dot the i’s and cross the t’s.

Having dumped some salary the day before when Bonk was moved. Muckler is shaking things up in the capital. The move of Bonk was not an unexpected event, he has never really lived up to expectations and his presence in the line up was a frustration to the rising talent and the fan base alike. With his departure Mike Fisher and Jason Spezza will find more ice time under new coach Bryan Murray, who has long been known as one not to put up with underperforming talent.

For Bonk the day was mixed with disappointment and excitement, disappointment at leaving a team that he had been an integral part of for many years but excitement at heading to a team on the rise. It’s expected that Bonk will end up a third line centre for Claude Julien, the pressure of playing in Ottawa transferred to the fishbowl that is hockey in Montreal

Over in St. Louis, the Blues have decided not to bring Chris Osgood back and will have to make a qualifying offer to Lalime of about 2.8 million dollars. Blues management feels that it’s a worthwhile investment. The thinking in St. Louis is that Lalime will be hungry for success after his disappointing season in Ottawa, culminating with the two soft goals that eliminated the Sens from the playoffs. An event that weighed heavily on the mind of Muckler, who despite feeling that Lalime is going to be a successful goaltender was of the belief that his road in Ottawa would be too pressure filled to tap his potential.

Up will step the Dominator, who in his prime was one of the most gifted goaltenders in the game. His years in Buffalo and Detroit the backbone of successful seasons, though his days in Buffalo were stymied by eliminations before the ultimate goal of a Stanley Cup were realized. He did win one with Detroit and it is that form that Muckler hopes will return in the form of a Happy Hasek in the Ottawa nets. It’s a gamble for Muckler, who has begun the process of eliminating the pieces of the Jacques Martin coached team of the last four years. Lalime who two years ago was hailed as the next big thing, struggled through the past season, haunted by the return on the Maple Leaf match up in the playoffs.

One wonders which Hasek will arrive, if as expected he signs on with the Sens shortly, will it be the Dominating force of the Buffalo years and that masterful Detroit Cup win, or will it be the moody, disruptive Hasek of the last few years? Chemistry is an interesting ingredient to any team, the Sens had almost the right mix in three successive seasons, unable to make that final jump. Muckler is banking on Hasek being a positive force in the quest for Stanley. It’s a roll of the dice, but sometimes you just have to take that chance.

Friday, June 25, 2004

Talk show fodder

The laying of charges by the BC attorney general's office against Todd Bertuzzi Thursday, has taken over as topic number one with the always colourful talk radio wars in Vancouver.

As soon as the decision was announced, callers were quick to make their points known with the three Vancouver area stations that feature talk prominently in their daily broadcast schedule.

CKNW found that whenever they opened the lines to the public it was all about Todd, Steve Moore, the Police and the Attorney General's office.

Coming one day after a commission of inquiry cleared the Vancouver police of any wrongdoing in the Guns and Roses riot of 2002. Many callers expressed cynicism as to how the government could charge a hockey player, but not its own police force. Two VPD officers were under investigation for wrong doing during the event, both were cleared Wednesday. With the Bertuzzi charges announced the next day, this quickly became a flash point for many of the callers to the open lines.

The controversy carried on over to the Team and Mojo, both all sports stations that usually jump on anything Canuckish with all they have.

For a sample of just how hot the Vancouver public is getting about the issue, check out the CKNW audio vault, just pick any hour after the noon hour on Thursday and give it a listen. For a full examination of the situation the Dan Russell show from 9-midnight is a worthwhile check, if only to hear the angst in many a Canuck fan's voice. You will also get a full glimpse of the all encompassing effect this is having by listening in to NW, MOJO and the Team all before 10 am on Friday, expect the Bertuzzi issue to dominate all of the chat shows.

As this process carries on, one thing is certain we'll be talking hockey in BC long into the hot summer.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Bertuzzi Charged!

After a four month investigation by the Vancouver Police Department, Todd Bertuzzi’s infamous attack March 8 on Colorado Avalanche Steve Moore has moved from the administrative office into the criminal courts. The Crown Attorney was handed the file for prosecution today and will begin the task of preparing for trial.

The charge of assault causing bodily harm was announced by the criminal justice branch of the Attorney General’s office early today. Bertuzzi was ordered to appear in court on July 9. The Attorney General’s office was starting to feel some heat over the length of time it was taking to decide whether to press ahead with criminal charges in the matter. Commentators were wondering if the delay would have been so long had it been a Canuck on the end of the assault, with today's announcement they can now turn their attention to the prosecution of the case.

Bertuzzi who was subsequently suspended indefinitely by the NHL for his pile driving like blow to the ice of Moore, did not have any statement to offer through his lawyer today. Nor did Moore's representatives. Moore who has yet to fully recover from his injuries, continues on with his therapy and continual trips to the doctor. In fact there is some doubt as to whether Moore will be able to continue on with his career.

The court action is not the first time that hockey has been called to the halls of justice in British Columbia. The 2000 attack on Donald Brashear by Marty McSorley also went before a judge; in that incident McSorley was eventually convicted of assault with a weapon and given a conditional 18 month sentence.

With the incident now moving forward into the courts, neither Canuck nor Avalanche spokespeople had much to add to the discussion. The league office issued a release stating that they felt they had rendered the proper form of discipline and wished that the Crown Attorney was not moving the file any further.

For the NHL the trial is just one more negative in what is shaping up to be a very uncomfortable summer for the league. While the league’s labour troubles are played out on the sports and business pages, it’s internal justice system will be played out on the front pages. This will not make for an enjoyable summer for all concerned.

Bye Bye Bonk?

TSN is reporting on their website that Radek Bonk's days as an Ottawa Senator may be numbered. With draft day fast approaching John Muckler may wish to move his occassionally recalcitrant player.

The ten year veteran of the Sens, has shown flashes of brilliance from time to time, but has never been a consistent force on the ice. Picked third over all in the 1994 draft, Bonk has played in 689 games, picking up 399 points in regulation time.

With Jason Spezza and Mike Fisher beginning to come into their own in the Sens lineup, the time may be right to move Bonk. The only setback to finishing a deal seems to be Bonk's salary, the 3.5 million dollar contract has made John Muckler's phone seem very quiet of late. If the Sens can't deal him, the rumour is that they will let him go as an unrestricted free agent.

Either way it seems pretty clear that Radek's time in the black and red of the Senators has come to an end. An enigma of a player that no one really ever could figure out, Bonk left so many hopes unfullfilled. It will be interesting to see if a change of venue will spur him on to greater things.

Wheeling, Dealing hopefully even a bit of Stealing

Draft day in the NHL is only a couple of days away now, and with a less than stacked deck of draftees to choose from, trading upwards is almost imperative if a team hopes to find a nugget of gold this year.

In fact, this draft year is so thin in depth that even the third pick Chicago Black Hawks want to trade up, hoping to convince the Washington Caps to give up their claim to the number one pick.

Two Russian players Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin are expected to be drafted one and two respectively on Saturday morning. The only question is whether George McPhee in Washington or Craig Patrick of Pittsburgh bring the traditional hockey sweater to the stage for photo time. So far the sweaters are in their hands, the price perceived as too high for a trade. But as the countdown begins and we get closer to the noon hour (ET)/9 am (PT) start time from Raleigh, NC things may change. Cel phones at the ready and lawyers on alert, there may still be a deal cooked up to send one of the Russians to another team.

But it may be a case of buyer beware for numbers one and two. The Russian Ice Hockey Federation and the NHL’s transfer agreement has expired, and like contract talks between the players and the NHL, so to have things reached a standstill between the NHL and RIHF. The too sides say they are working to reach an accommodation, but until some kind of agreement is reached it’s expected that the Russians may keep their players at home.

After the first two picks though it could be anyone’s day to rise and fall. The crop of players that fall between picks 3 and 15 don’t have much between them talentwise to separate them. Those picks will probably be more of a positional situation, maybe a winger is needed or a defenceman.

For other teams it's a matter of being so far down the path that a trade may be the only chance they have to improve. Darryl Sutter coach and GM of the Flames has only one pick in the first three rounds, he's looking to improve those odds significantly and a trade may just be the answer. But if Sutter is feeling a little worried about waiting til the 19th pick, how about the Leafs!

Toronto won't be pulling their sweater out of mothballs until the 90th pick overall. That means Bud fans won't be seeing GM John Ferguson Junior until at least the third round of the day. Even the Leaf Friendly TSN folks may have called it a day by that time. If for no other reason than to remind Bob McKenzie, Dave Hodge and the rest of the TSN crew that Leafs are still in the league, you might see Ferguson make a deal before draft begins on Saturday.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Kickin' the tires on a slightly used Hasek!

The Senators are getting down to the nitty gritty details of bringing Domenic Hasek into the Sens goal. Word out of Ottawa has it that the Sens are just awaiting a clean bill of health before signing the Dominator, a move which apparently set the annual NHL goaltender carousel in motion.

Hasek is asking for between 2.5 million and 4 million dollars a year, plus a 2 million dollar bonus should the Dominator lead the team to a Stanley Cup. Pretty hefty numbers for a guy that only managed to play 14 games last year before hanging up his skates for the year. But it is less than he was making in Detroit, an arrival that seemed to set that team back in their plans to win Stanley. Hasek, who injured a groin while with the Wings, is in the process of testing for the Sens doctors to show that his chronic groin difficulties are a thing of the past. The upside of a Hasek signing is that he has something to prove having been a bust his last visit in Detroit. The downside are some well documented tendencies to be a disruptive influence should things not go well for the Dominator. He’s been known to look after Dom first, should things go south for him, leaving the team in the lurch at a key time. It’s something the Sens should keep in mind, while they bounce the numbers off the accounting department. However, time is apparently of the essence, should they delay too long in getting Hasek on a dotted line there is the chance the mercurial goaltender may look to other sutiors. The other point to sign him quickly is that it then gives the Sens a bargaining chip in the form of Lalime at this weekends amateur draft.

Should Hasek sign with the Sens, it’s expected that Patrick Lalime will be moved possibly to Broadway where the Rangers have apparently expressed occasional interest in his status.

Other goaltenders rumoured to be possibly filing change of address cards are Chris Osgood in St. Louis, Montreal’s Mathieu Garon and Dan Cloutier in Vancouver. Although the Canucks’ may have put a bit of cold water on that rumour today, with an offer sheet provided to Cloutier, who will most likely instead go to arbitration. That more than anything else, will probably determine if he’s to remain a Canuck. Should he leave Vancouver, the Rangers once again appear on the radar screen apparently waiting to see how he fares on the coast.

Of course should the league and its players not reach a labour agreement soon, it will all be a tedious exercise in math. Without a contract and some hockey to play in September any numbers passed around are purely of the Monopoly version.

Sunday, June 20, 2004

Should Old Lang Syne

Should the Hockey Universe turn bitter and ugly through the summer, Hockey fans across the world will have to find something to take their mind off of all the trouble. And if one plan being floated comes to fruition, New Year’s Eve may find Canadians watching a replay of the great Game 8 of the Canada/USSR battle of 1972.

The NHLPA is working out some ideas on bringing together current Canadian born NHLers and Russian born players to meet in a rematch of sorts of one of the great moments in Canadian History.

The game to be played at Toronto’s Skydome would take place with the roof open, giving it the same kind of event feel that the open air game last year in Edmonton did.

If the details can all be worked out there would be a concert, fireworks display and women’s hockey game to name a few of the planned celebrations.

The planning for hockey post NHL is also providing some other interesting ideas, a barnstorming run with NHLPA players playing in a four on four format in cities with Junior a hockey clubs. Some may even don the jerseys of their former Junior teams.

And one other idea being bounced around the union hall, a skills competition tied in with a golf tournament at a resort that Mike Weir is involved with in the Muskoka region of Ontario. Many of the players involved in the discussions belong to IMG management, which just happens to handle Weir as well, that plan would keep all of their clients happy.

But by far the New Year’s eve idea is the one that will have the fans most interested in the state of the League and its players by Dec 31, when the clock strikes midnight, fan, player and NHL exec alike may wish to sing along,

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And auld lang syne!

Chorus.-For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne.
We'll tak a cup o' kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.

And surely ye'll be your pint stowp!
And surely I'll be mine!
And we'll tak a cup o'kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.
For auld, &c.

We twa hae run about the braes,
And pou'd the gowans fine;
But we've wander'd mony a weary fit,
Sin' auld lang syne.
For auld, &c.

We twa hae paidl'd in the burn,
Frae morning sun till dine;
But seas between us braid hae roar'd
Sin' auld lang syne.
For auld, &c.

And there's a hand, my trusty fere!
And gie's a hand o' thine!
And we'll tak a right gude-willie waught,
For auld lang syne.
For auld, &c.

I don’t know about you, but I can hear Gary and Bob warming up their chords as we read this post.

WHA's cracking ice

They haven’t even drafted the schedule yet and already they have to make some major changes. The WHA which thus far is all press release and no substance took a serious hit in the credibility department on Friday when two of the fledgling league’s franchises chose to drop out of the reborn circuit.

The two Florida franchises Orlando and Jacksonville have decided that the machinations of the new league are just a bit too sketchy and have advised that they will rejoin the Southern Hockey League, a lower level minor pro circuit in the US south.
The two American cities were announced as part of the flashy debut of the WHA a few weeks ago, joining the likes of Detroit, Dallas Quebec and Halifax in the re launch of hockey’s second pro league.

The pull out of the two cities will reinforce those that have been naysayers about the league for the last year. With lease problems to sort out and a July 10 draft date fast approaching, the new circuit needs to get its shaky debut under control. With plans to add Hamilton and Toronto apparently still in the works, the specter of folding franchises popping up even before the first puck is dropped is not a good omen. Though should the new circuit land hockey mad cities like those two Canadian cities they might have a fighting chance.

So far the only public relations work the league has received after its splashy launch was this latest bit of financial worry. The clock is ticking on the ability to take advantage of a possible player lockout, if the WHA continues to shed franchises and can’t lure any decent players to the ones it believes will be there at the start of the season.
Fighting for a share of the hockey pie with the NHL could be aided by the current labour problems, but if the finances aren’t there, then neither will be the players. Three weeks from stocking the rosters, the league isn’t even sure how many rosters they have to stock. Until they can figure out that one small detail, the WHA will continue to generate rolled eyes and frustrated believers.

Saturday, June 12, 2004

The Battle for Don Cherry begins

The Battle for Don Cherry begins. With the colourful suits put away for the summer and the bombastic volume muted for now, its time to ponder life without Cherry.

The CBC just finished a mighty successful run of televised hockey as the Calgary Flames captured the imagination of the nation and boosted the Hockey Night in Canada numbers to their highest point in many years.

Yet unresolved is the status of Donald S. Cherry, throughout the playoffs CBC officials stated that they would address the issue at the end of the playoff run. The Cups been handed out, the NHL awards show has faded to black and yet we still aren't clear on whether Cherry will be back. Then again we're not really clear if there will be anything for him to come back to in September! But that's a worry for another day.

His side kick Ron MacLean has weighed in to soothe the anxious fan, predicting that when all is said and done, Donald S will be back at the desk making fun of MacLean and entertaining from the bridge of the HMCS Cherry!

Cherry is finding friends in many places these days, a letter to the Globe and Mail begs for him to be kept on.

And there's even an internet website where you can you register your vote to Save Don Cherry!

For now the print media has taken up the Cherry torch, with the Sun papers top ten reasons why Cherry should be back. Ten points guaranteed to give the suits at the CBC a bit of indigestion as the ponder they fate of their enfant terrible!

Words paint a bleak picture for September

The season isn't even over by a week and already the prospect of no hockey in 2004-05 seems to inching closer and closer.

The NHLPA issued a warning to the NHL owners on Friday, No salary cap or there will be no hockey. Bob Goodenow head of the player's association says he's not optimistic that things will be settled by the time training camps roll around in September. Goodenow addressed over 170 hockey players over the last two days, advising them of the stalemate in negotiations and what the players association's strategy might be.

Trevor Linden player rep for the Vancouver Canucks, says that some of the players may head for Europe and the friendly scheduling of the European league. NHLPA officials are also keeping their eyes on the fate of the new WHA, the eight team loop which announced it plans to be in operation by October.

While they welcome the possibility of at 160 new jobs appearing on the market just as a lockout appears likely, they wonder when the league owners will address a few of their concerns.

WHA officials have plans for a draft to stock their teams in July at which time they'll make overtures to some NHL stars possibly looking for a change or a chance to make some extra money.

In the mean time, the appearance of the WHA and the European options seem to be the best weapon the players association has to use against Gary Bettman and his thirty owners.

Friday, June 11, 2004

For St. Louis all the rest is gravy

Martin St. Louis has just completed what was probably the most spectacular week of his hockey career. St. Louis, who was one of the key reasons that Tampa became Stanley Cup Champions on Monday, collected all the major awards available to him at the NHL awards show Thursday night.

The nationally televised awards show that seems quintessentially Canadian harkens us back to those Minor hockey banquets of our youth. Mind you the trophies are a tad more up scale than those plaques of our early days, but probably the feeling of achievement is much the same.

For St. Louis the night was one to treasure, he was far and away the star of the show. Earlier in the day he was awarded the Lester B Pearson award as the NHL player of the year, the significance of that award is that it is chosen by the players of the NHL. When your peers hold you a notch above you realize how important the award is. St. Louis also collected the Hart Trophy as the most valuable player as selected by the Professional Hockey writers, he bested Calgary Flame Jarome Iginla for that honour.

The celebrations continued for St. Louis as he was awarded the Art Ross trophy as the leagues leading scorer and was also named to the NHL’s first All Star team, his first appearance on that roster.

Appearing in supporting roles on this St. Louis celebration were; Scott Niedermayer who collected his first Norris trophy as best defenseman, Andrew Raycroft with the Calder trophy for rookie of the year, Kris Draper took the Selke and Martin Brodeur won another Vezina trophy for his work in the Devil’s net. Jarome Iginla received the King Clancy trophy for his leadership and community work in Calgary. Lightning team mate Brad Richards was given the Lady Byng trophy for his sportsmanship in the game, while Tampa head coach John Tortorella pick up the Jack Adams trophy as coach of the year, completing the Lightning domination of the season ending awards show.

But by far it was St. Louis’ night, a perfect cap to a remarkable season for him and his Lightning team mates. By the end of the night he resembled that player at the minor hockey banquets, loaded down with trophies and a huge smile on his face. With worries about the next season yet to come, Thursday was all about hockey, a chance to reach back to the early days when the game was just a game, the banquet the final event. Reality will come soon enough, Thursday night they were all kids again celebrating the game they give their all to.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Everything old is New Again!

New faces, old name. The WHA is now more than just a rotisserie league, with the announcement today of stadium deals in six cities and negotiations going on in two others.

Bobby Hull, the original marquee player of that old WHA is the corporate face for the new adventure with the old name. Hull fronted today’s Toronto news conference as the fledgling league announced that its first six franchises at least have a place to skate come October.

Halifax, Nova Scotia, Quebec City, Quebec, Pontiac, Michigan, Dallas, Texas, Jacksonville and Orlando, Florida have all signed lease agreements in their respective cities. Franchisees in Toronto and Hamilton are still finalizing details in their communities and a group from Cincinnati is hanging around kicking tires.

Hull said that most likely the circuit will be an 8 team league by September but there is the possibility of putting 10 or 12 teams on the ice. More is expected to be learned about that as they get close to their first ever draft on July 10.

WHA execs figure the composition of each team will be that of 6 players with NHL experience, 6 from the AHL and 6 drafted from junior hockey, high on the wish list for the anxious to launch project is junior hockey phenom Sidney Crosby. With a salary cap of 15 million and a limit to one marquee player of 5 million dollars, Crosby might gobble up a lot of initial salary. However, before everyone gets too excited most hockey observers suggest Crosby will remain on his path to land in the NHL.

But with the NHL labour woes about to take things up another notch, there will be a lot of unrestricted NHL free agents looking for work. If the NHL arenas are dark for the start of next year and for who knows how the long, the new league may just find a large number of familiar names checking out the new employment options.

If nothing else the new league thinks big, the Detroit team will play in the Pontiac Silverdome with seating for 30,000 fans. Should Toronto get their stadium deal in place they will call the Skydome home with seats for 14,000 with an expansion of another 6,000 possible if necessary, it also sets up the opportunity for open air hockey live in Toronto. In a salute to it’s WHA past, the Toronto franchise will be called the Toro’s.

Pro Hockey will return to Le Colisee in Quebec for the first time since the Nordiques left the city for Colorado. The only real eyebrow raisers in the cities named were the two Florida franchises, neither of which can really claim any great hockey tradition. But then this is a year when a team from Tampa won the Stanley Cup, so perhaps the WHA will find itself in the right place at the right time.

At any rate, talk is cheap. And it may all turn to dust should the NHL and its players, settle their differences and return to the ice in September. For now though the dreams are in colour and the hopes are high. All that’s left is to stock the teams, drop a puck and see if anyone comes out to watch.

Try getting past this blue line on November 8th

The Hockey Hall of fame is going to be a whole lot safer in November, when three of the current era’s top defensemen, take their place in the hallowed hall of Hockey.

Ray Borque, Paul Coffey and Larry Murphy who not only excelled in the NHL, but shared a Canada Cup victory in 1987 with Team Canada will enter the Hall together. All three were selected in their first year of eligibility, testimony to the impact each has had on the game.

Cliff Fletcher, who built many an NHL hockey team into a contender, will join them, having been selected to the builders category. Fletcher who has been a coach and GM through many changes in the NHL has always been able to get the best out of his assembled teams. Best known for his 1989 Stanley Cup victory with Calgary, Fletcher also pulled off a mini miracle in Toronto. When after far too many years in the wilderness, he rebuilt that team into a contender.

Each player brought a different style to the ice, Borque known as the legendary workhorse of the Boston Bruins; he finally won a Stanley Cup with the Colorado Avalanche. His ability to play over 30 minutes a game, remain relatively injury free and win multiple Norris trophies made him a shoe in for inclusion on his first try.

Paul Coffey of course needs no introduction, possibly the most exciting defenceman since Bobby Orr; Coffey was part of that magical Oiler dynasty of the eighties. The proto type of the offensive defenceman his ability to step up into a breaking play, redefined defence for most of the eighties and into the nineties.

Larry Murphy has paid his dues in the NHL, stops in Los Angeles, Washington, Minnesota, Toronto, Detroit and Pittsburgh. Having his name etched on the Stanley cup four times; twice with Detroit and twice with Pittsburgh. While not possessing the most blazing of speed, he was seldom caught out of position and was an anchor for any team that he was on. His selection puts the cap on a terrific career, proving that you don’t have to be flashy to be a success. Steady and hardworking can get you into the Hall of Fame, as the fifth leading scorer on defense has proven with his inclusion Wednesday.

All four will receive their honours on November 8th at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. Well deserved recognition for outstanding play and the best example of a work ethic the NHL has to offer.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Flames Won, Flames Won!

Oh if only it were so simple. The Tampa Tribune committed one of those oh oh's of legendary status, with an editorial that bemoaned the loss of the Stanley Cup to the Flames but congratulated the team on its successful season.

Alas, for Flames fans it's not going to lead to a parade down the Red Mile.

The Tribune published an apology to the Lightning and its fans in later editions. They included the corrected editorial in their mea culpa.

For a few brief moments though Calgary, all was well you really were Stanley Cup champs if only in print. If you don't pick up a later edition you still are!

Bringing Bryan home

The Ottawa Senators have turned to a famous hockey family of the Ottawa area to lead them into the 2004-05 season (should there be one). Bryan Murray was introduced today as the new head coach of the team that tears up the regular season, but gets ripped open in the playoffs.

Murray leaves his post in Anaheim as Senior Vice President and General Manager, where he oversaw the rebuilding of the Ducks franchise. The Ducks are a team that last year challenged for the Stanley Cup, but this year fell fast down the standings. Though possibly not all on their own, an unstable ownership situation in Anaheim hampered personnel decisions all year. Murray, the 61 year old, veteran of 23 seasons, pursued the Ottawa opening diligently, describing it as probably his best chance yet to win a Stanley Cup.

And that may be the two sided coin that will line up Sens fans on one side of the hiring or the other. Murray a fixture in the NHL coaching ranks for 14 years, has the distinction of being the winningest coach to never win a Stanley Cup. With stops in Washington, Detroit, Florida and Anaheim, Murray has never been able to get his teams past the second round of a playoff series. A statistic that will give the Senator fan base something to chew on all the way until next June.

Some Sens fans will be wondering what the likes of Joel Quenneville, Keith Acton and Bobby Francis did to discount their candidacy, they being the three other rumored finalists in the quest for a coach.

For owner Eugene Melnyk and GM John Muckler, it was the passion to win a Stanley Cup that Murray presented that won them over. The fact that Murray was willing to step down from a high executive position, to become the lead general at the bench spoke volumes to the two.

When the Senators compared his beliefs and ideas to the other candidates, they decided that his age would not be a detriment; rather the experience gained in his 23 years could be strength. Feeling that with the roster they have and his ability at handling veterans and rookies he would be the right guy for the job.

Muckler hinted when he let Jacques Martin go, that there may be a problem in the dressing room. Something that Murray was quick to address, stating that in all his years he’s never had a problem in the room. He said he’s not afraid to make changes if the mix isn’t right or if he notices a problem that can’t be taken care of.

It’s a chance for Murray to return to his hockey roots, he and his brothers are legendary citizens of the Shawville area, a small community on the Quebec side of the Ottawa River. Martin too was a local boy, who had a good run but eventually couldn’t take the team over the hill. The Sens now turn to another local to take that next step, Murray will quickly find out if you really can go home again.

Monday, June 07, 2004

No Canada!

In the end, the Flames needed just a little more time, and time was not their friend in this game 7. The clock ran out and so did the dreams of Flames fans and Canadians from coast to coast, as Calgary came up one goal short of sending this series into Overtime for the third game in a row. Sadly for Calgary and Canada, Stanley won’t be coming home this year; Stanley is going to work on the tan on a beach in Florida.

The Tampa Bay Lightning scored twice on goals from Ruslan Fedetenko and then held on for dear life, as they held off a spirited Flame attack in the last ten minutes of the third period. Prevailing by a score of 2-1, the Lightning are the Stanley Cup Champions for 2003-04, winning the best of seven series four games to three.

For Calgary it’s a bitter pill to swallow, having come this far only to watch the clock run out. With a chance to put the Bolts away on Saturday slipping by them, they had their backs to the wall for game seven in Tampa. Tampa controlled the boards and kept the middle clear for most of the game, Calgary never really seemed able to put much pressure on Nickolai Khabibulin in the first 45 minutes of the game. Every time the Flames would enter the Lightning zone the Bolts went into a defensive scheme that kept the puck on the periphery, never to the slot and rarely to the point, Tampa controlled the play well early on, sending the puck out of danger with a great frequency. Scoring chances were few and far between, as the flow of the game never really got a chance to take off. The shots on goal were indicative of the sluggish nature of this game, in the first period the Flames could manage only 3 shots on net, the Bolts 6. The second period each managed only 4 shots. Thus the first two periods were not very pretty hockey, if tight checking and safe hockey is your thing, this would be your highlight film game, but if you were yearning for end to end rushing and spectacular plays this game was not for you.

When the Flames finally got untracked though, one just sensed that it would only be a matter of time before they pulled even and possibly ahead of the Bolts. Finally breaking free of the lock down checking system put in place by Tampa, Calgary began to get some chances again in the final ten minutes. The Flames came at the Bolts in wave after wave, getting 10 shots on net by the time the period and game came to an end. Finally revving up their offence, the Flames made wild stabs at the elusive rebounds offered up. But Khabibulin was up to the challenge, shutting the door time and time again. He effectively rebuilt the Bulin wall and in the end only surrendered a power play goal to Craig Conroy on a shot he probably never saw. That was it though, one goal on 17 shots, not enough chances, no finish and eventually as time wound down, no win for Calgary.

The Lightning, who battled back gamely in this series, saluted their fans, took their photos, collected their trophies and headed off the ice, Stanley Cup Champions. Brad Richards who had a stellar playoff series was named the Conn Smythe winner as the MVP for the playoffs, a fitting tribute to the player who calls PEI home; he was dominant in many of the games this playoff season and in particular had the number of Miikka Kiprusoff. Vincent Lecavalier had a solid game seven; finally regaining his offensive form as he single handedly controlled three Flames to set up Ruslan Fedetenko’s second and ultimately winning goal.

The Lightning did slow down the pace of the game in the first two and half periods, shadowing Jarome Iginla and Martin Gelinas, holding them off the scoring sheet and far enough away from Khabibulin to not provide too much trouble. Captain Dave Andreychuck, the 40 year newbie in a Stanley Cup was dominant in his checking, frustrating Iginla for most of the night. For Andreychuk it was mission accomplished as he collected his first Stanley Cup ever, finally given a chance to hoist the fabled trophy high above, perhaps for his only time.

Ice conditions in the warm St. Petersburgh Times Forum provided some unusual bounces and unexpected tumbles, but as they say both teams played on the same sheet of ice. In the end, the Bolts hung on and skated away with the championship. Perhaps now they’ll gain a bit of respect in the hockey world, as they traveled through the playoff rounds winning series after series many still expected them to exit before the final dance. They were wrong, the Lightning were in the playoffs for the long run, and stretching things as long as they could, they proved to be worthy champions. With the hard earned victory of game six to bring things home to the final horn of game seven and the celebration they proved to their critics that they were a true champion. Disappointed Flame fans and hockey fans across Canada can tip their caps to the new Stanley Cup Champs, they earned their victory shift by shift, goal by goal and save by save. They may have begun their playoff run as unknowns, but it’s safe to say that hockey fans across North America are aware of them now.

49th and above "don't touch that dial; 49th and below and its "we gotta go"

The television ratings for this Stanley Cup playoff are brining smiles to the faces of the usually dour personas at the CBC. While the executive’s suits ponder the fate of Don Cherry, the financial suits are chuckling all the way to the Bank (surely not the Royal Bank for their deposits!). This playoff run by Calgary has captured the interest of Canadians from coast to coast to coast. From early morning St. John’s, to late night Prince Rupert and up to the never setting sun of Inuvik we’re watching in record numbers.

Saturday night’s game six brought the second largest television audience to the Stanley Cup playoffs in history. 4.6 million Canadians sat down to watch the double overtime thriller, only 1994’s Vancouver New York final has attracted more at 4.9 million viewers. To put into perspective the importance of a Canadian team in the final to the CBC, last years game six between Anaheim and New Jersey attracted a mere 1.5 million. The casual hockey observer has caught the Red Wave and is riding it all the way.

The love affair between Canadian television viewers and the Stanley Cup final is not being replicated in the United States. ABC which is in the last gasps of their NHL contract probably can’t wait to get the game off their monitors and perhaps were secretly wishing that NBC would pick up their coverage a couple of months early. The games outside of Tampa Bay are but a rumour for the average television viewer. The ratings for ABC have been the lowest since the game appeared first appeared on US network television. Whatever the excuse, a Canadian team and a non hockey market in the final, it seems that nobody is watching hockey in America. This playoff season has been lost to a variety of options, reruns, syndicated reality shows and the home shopping channel. The number four sport in the States has fallen off the television map. A worrisome trend for Gary Bettman as his grand experiment of southern expansion does not translate into a television success.

For Hockey Night in Canada it’s a winfall of epic proportions, beside the revenue stream generated by the millions of viewers the CBC flagship broadcast returns to its place of prominence in Canadian culture. The Stanley Cup playoffs frequently disrupt the CBC schedule sending what’s left of Peter Mansbridges follicles to the floor in frustration, but you can’t argue with success. 4.6 million Viewers translate into some serious cash from sponsors, money that the broadcast networks turns over into other programming options for the rest of the year.

The CBC counts on the big events like the Stanley Cup, the Grey Cup and the Olympic games to keep the treasury full. The folks in the news department, at CBC variety and all the other enclaves of public broadcasting should keep that in mind when they ponder the need for sport on a public broadcaster.

Over at ABC they probably can’t wait to get rid of hockey as a broadcast option, up above the 49th the CBC execs probably fear the day that hockey is taken off the line up board. The record for a televised hockey game in Canada is the Olympic Gold medal of 2002; the broadcast from Salt Lake City attracted over 10 million viewers for French and English television.

Game 7 tonight won’t come close to that record by a long shot, but the Ranger-Canuck record of 94 may be within reach. The game falling on a Monday night plays against a challenge, but if a Canadian hockey fan can find a TV set, they’ll no doubt be in front of it. The same can’t be said in the US, there never really has been any doubt, but the proof is still in view for those wishing to tune in. Hockey is still and probably will always be a Canadian game, a major event to celebrate. They just don’t get it down below the 49th, and it’s a situation that apparently is not going to change anytime soon.

Mr. Bettman should take note of this; there are still parts of Canada that would gladly and enthusiastically support an NHL franchise. Quebec City, Winnipeg and Hamilton are all centers that would embrace a team without a blink. The game should be featured where it has its strength and its passion. Give the Canadian viewer someone to cheer for and your ratings will soar, fail to do that and you’ll surely suffer the fate of American TV, a sport that apparently has become very easy to ignore.


Their fans would have preferred to be planning the Stanley Cup parade today; instead they’ll be sitting nervously in front of the television tonight, trying to summon the good vibes to carry their Flames to victory. With the insanity that was Calgary on the cusp of a Cup left behind, the Flames await the drop of the final puck of the 2004 season, having missed a chance to win it all at home, they now must shake that out of their heads and focus on a winner take all game in the unfriendly confines of the St. Petersburg Times Forum of Tampa Bay.

Pressure, it’s always a deciding factor in a championship, which team will thrive on it, which team will succumb to it. In this playoff series the Flames have been thriving on it, throw them a game seven showdown and they’ll respond to a challenge, put their backs to a wall and they’ll find a way out of the jam. They tempt the fates frequently, yet through this incredible run they have always prevailed!

From head coach Darryl Sutter, through the voice of Captain Jarome Iginla, on to the exploits of Miikka Kiprusoff this team seldom dwells on its past mistakes, only forward to the next challenge. What about that phantom goal in game six, perhaps costing them the Cup? Sorry past history there’s a game to prepare for. How about a less than spectacular performance by the usually dominant Kiprusoff? Kipper’s been there all year; he’ll be there for us Monday! Do you have any questions about the captain’s lack of points in game six? Don’t even go there! The wagons are circled, this is a team that wins together and when the unfortunate loss comes around loses together, there are no fingers pointing in the Flame dressing room. It’s all energy channeled to the next game, if there’s a pressure crack forming in the Calgary room, we’ll never see the fracture lines.

It’s all businesses as usual, there’s a game Monday night, the Flames are aware of the odds but have been fighting them all year. The injuries may be mounting, key players unavailable for battle but there are no excuses, there's one more game to play. The Flames don’t need to be told to pick up their game, or to put it all on the line. Such things just are a given.

In a game seven final there’s only room for one winner, only time for one hero. In a room deep in the heart of a rink in Tampa Bay there’s a group of guys ready to go, sometime Monday night or maybe early Tuesday morning somebody is going to be rewarded with a winning goal. The folks in flaming “C” jersey’s figure it may as well be one of them. The captain has done it before in this playoff season, and now has a chance to do it again.

This is a team that is never too high and seemingly never too low. The Flames have just managed to win, when the time came to win. Monday gives them another chance to follow the pattern. Who’s to argue with the logic of that!

Sunday, June 06, 2004

Flames take the Hard road to Stanley

We’re going to get the full value for our Stanley Cup ride this year as the Calgary Flames let game six get away from them, with a double overtime loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning. Flame fans inside the Saddledome, on the red mile and across Canada, were ready for the big celebration when former Flame, Martin St. Louis crashed the party early in the second overtime period.

A hard fought contest worthy of the league championship had the teams exchange goals in regulation time preparing the stage for an exciting first overtime period. The end of the regulation only went to set the stage for 20 more minutes of excitement, leaving everyone involved players, fans, broadcasters and viewers tired and on edge by the end of the first overtime. Many chances, but no scoring the two teams drenched in sweat retired to their dressing rooms. A rest for all and we were ready for the second overtime, but Calgary never really got the chance to finish off the season. Tampa took the attack early into the Flames end, using their fore-check smartly they got the puck back to the point and at 33 seconds, St. Louis pounced on the rebound putting the shot into the net. 3-2 Tampa, a celebration on hold in Calgary and possibly one being prepared in Florida. So now its wheels up and we’re off to Tampa for Game Seven Monday night.

It will be interesting to see how these Flames once again, bounce back from the disappointment, for surely the anticipation level on Saturday was for a giant celebration. The Cup was in the building, the fans at their loudest and for a good part of the game it looked as though it was only a matter of time before the Flames put a couple of goals in the net to salt away their second Stanley Cup.

At one point it seemed as if they had done just that, a shot from Martin Gelinas directed at the Lighting net turned into a phantom goal. As a television replay seemingly showed the puck to have crossed the goal line. Even the paid observers in the broadcast booth were split, ABC seemed to think it was in, CBC's Ron MacLean leaning that way, but Don Cherry voicing his opinion that it wasn't. Regardless it became a moot point, the off ice officials viewed the replay and ruled against the prospect of a goal, the puck was dropped and we were back to the action.

A resilient Lightning squad the began to show that they had other ideas on how the night was going to end. Holding off the Flame attack in the first over time it became a game of whoever got the lucky break first would win. St. Louis was the successful candidate and Flame fans will nervously watch Game 7 from home, fingers crossed for the result they desire so badly.

Calgary has been amazing on the road, through the playoffs they have managed to win even at the most improbable times. Game 7 against the Canucks, a business as usual Flames squad sent Vancouver packing for the season. It’s that spirit they’ll try to recapture as they strap on their skates and equipment for one final time this season. But in the back of everyone’s mind is this one simple fact, have they gone to this well one time to many. Will Monday be the night when the law of averages finally swings back away from their remarkable run.

Game 7 in any sport is always a magical moment, all stops are pulled out nothing is left behind in the dressing room. Ask any minor hockey player what they’re favourite dream of hockey is and the answer is simple. Game Seven of the Stanley Cup playoffs, the breakaway down the ice, the shot at the net and the celebration as the red light signals victory. Monday night two teams will share that boyhood dream, but only one player will live it completely.

We get to share from the sidelines as suddenly this oh so long season will seem worthwhile. The victory will be sweeter the defeat more heartbreaking, but in the end the hockey should be at its best. It’s been a long haul since training camps opened in September, but we’re finally at the point we all hope for. One game, winner takes all. Drop the puck we’re ready to watch!

Friday, June 04, 2004

Strike up the band! Is it time to bid Donald S. adieu?

The indications are out there that Saturday night, may mark the end of Donald S. Cherry’s time in the Coach’s Corner. Given the chance to throw out the ever popular “Don fits nicely into our future plans”, CBC managers have been rather quiet concerning the fate of the most talked about hockey commentator in the land. Sticking to their stale old, "we won't discuss any contracts until after the playoffs" CBC managers seem to be tripping over each other to avoid the topic. Rumours continue to fly that tired of the various controversies surrounding Cherry, the management cabal that runs the CBC have given the order that Cherry is to fade to black with the end of the season.

Cherry himself hinted as much in Thursday’s game as he showed yet one more clip of Bobby Orr flying through the air. Cherry suggested that this may be the last time he gets to show the clip. If indeed the CBC finally pulls the plug on Cherry it will be a controversial move, one which is sure to see a backlash from the legion of fans that follow his every word. The hard to control Cherry shoots from the lip and seldom seems to think out his comments, which has led to many run ins with management over the years. On more than one occasion many folks seemed to believe that Cherry had stepped over the line one time to many and would surely be shot down. But he always seemed to bounce back, chastised but never vanquished; he would stick to his beliefs right or wrong.

But if the rumblings are true, it may all come to an end Saturday night, and if it does perhaps it’s fitting that it takes place when a Canadian team wins the Cup. Indeed it’s a great coincidence that the Flames embody the hard working, lunch bucket style that made Cherry famous in hockey circles for years. The Flames play Cherry’s kind of hockey, they aren’t afraid to take a hit or give one out, they play a style of hockey that keeps the opposition honest at all times and they have the kind of leader that Cherry would approve of in Jarome Iginla.

The audience for tomorrow’s Game six broadcast on CBC is expected to possibly be over 4 million people. Don’t be surprised if the number increases between periods 1 and 2 as Cherry speaks out, maybe his time has passed, maybe he’s not always relevant or on topic, but every Saturday night Canadians have tuned in between the first and second period to see what Don thinks. After Saturday, it won’t be quite the same if he’s gone.

It will also be particularly cowardly of the CBC to not at least send him off in a style befitting the king of Hockey Night in Canada, should he just fade off like an old soldier it will surely come back to haunt the CBC executives in charge. Cherry for all his faults deserves a spectacular sendoff, one that at least would recognize his contribution to the package that has made Hockey Night in Canada probably the most watched show in Canadian television.

The time may have come for him to take his leave, but many are just not ready. There are few folks that fit the lyrics of Frank Sinatra’s signature song My Way. But Cherry is one of them, it’s just a natural that the lyrics were written by fellow Canadian, Paul Anka.

There’s probably no better way to send Grapes out, than to take a look at and sing along with Mr. Sinatra’s song.

And now, the end is near;
And so I face the final curtain.
My friend, I'll say it clear,
I'll state my case, of which I'm certain.

I've lived a life that's full.
I've traveled each and ev'ry highway;
And more, much more than this,
I did it my way.

Regrets, I've had a few;
But then again, too few to mention.
I did what I had to do
And saw it through without exemption.

I planned each charted course;
Each careful step along the byway,
But more, much more than this,
I did it my way.

Yes, there were times, I'm sure you knew
When I bit off more than I could chew.
But through it all, when there was doubt,
I ate it up and spit it out.
I faced it all and I stood tall;
And did it my way.

Lewis to sign new deal with Red Wings

Having been put on ice for over a month now, Red Wing coach Dave Lewis can begin planning his next hockey campaign. The Red Wings today announced they were working with Lewis and his agent on a new contract to guide the pride of Hockeytown for a bit longer.

Ken Holland, General Manager of the Wings eliminated the rumour mill mumblings, with his announcement today that it was the hope of the Wings to get the details sorted out quickly. Ever since the Wings were eliminated by the Calgary Flames, the status of Lewis’ contract has been debated. With a star studded line up that has failed to return to the Cup final since Lewis took over, many felt that the Wings would go shopping for a veteran coach ending the Lewis experiment.

Lewis took over from lengendary coach Scotty Bowman two years ago, after the Wings had run their 10th Stanley Cup. It was expected at the time that the Wings would pick up where they left off under Bowman and give the Motor city consecutive Stanleys. But all great plans go astray from time to time and the Red Wings have learned not to take their Stanley Cup appearances for granted.

Last year they were eliminated in the first round by the suprising Anaheim Mighty Ducks who went on to the finals. This year they fell to the hard working Calgary Flames, a team that finds itself one win away from the engravers pen. It’s Small consolation for a team that expected to be challenging for the Cup the last two years.

With the announcement that Lewis is still their guy, the Wings are suggesting that the problems may not be managerial related but perhaps with the roster. Giving Lewis a chance to rebuild the team to his liking is only fair, expect him to be provided with younger veteran talent depending on the state of the NHL come training camp.

For Lewis it’s a good day and a just reward. To be given the chance to continue to run one of the fabled NHL franchises is something many coaches can only dream of. He now can put his stamp on the team by leading them back to the top of the pack. That no doubt is the thinking at the Red Wing offices. Strong on tradition they will give one of their own a little more time to lead them back.

Put out the donation buckets!

If the Calgary Flames are smart, they’ll have donation buckets set up outside the Saddledome on Saturday night. With Darryl Sutter facing the wrath of Gary Bettman at the end of the season, the Flames may find that their fans will be more than willing to help defray the cost of any upcoming fine.

Sutter deflected the disappointment for the Flames from the game four loss, by taking the heat with some well timed comments about how no one wants the Flames to win this Stanley Cup. Whether he actually believes there is a conspiracy or not, it was a brilliant display of giving his players some space to concentrate on hockey.

His comments took over the sports pages and broadcasts on Wednesday and Thursday, nobody was talking about power play chances, stupid penalties, missed scoring chances, cheap goals or offensive breakdowns. There was no questioning of Flame strategy or broken systems. It was all about Darryl’s belief that forces were working against his team in their quest for Stanley.

It worked wonderfully, the team responded as their coach faced the wrath of the league. It has become an US against them atmosphere, one which has united the Flames even more than they have been through this playoff season.

By deflecting the media spotlight onto himself, Sutter gave his players the room to regroup and prepare. The result was a game five win in Tampa and a chance to win Stanley on home ice Saturday night. Here’s some advice for the Flames front office, hire some extra staff folks; you’ll need a few to count up the donations. Bring on the fine Gary, no doubt Flames fans will be ready to help out, you can take that to the bank.

Chasing Kerry

Take a deep breath Calgary, let all that negative energy flow away. Kerry Fraser won’t be in the building on Saturday night. The controversial referee of game number 4 at the Saddledome, will not be making a return engagement in game six at Calgary.

The NHL announced Friday, that Fraser would not be among the crew for what may be the final game of the season, when Calgary attempts to put away the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Fraser bore the brunt of the Calgary animosity when in the first period he had two Flames sitting in the box in the first two minutes of play. The double penalties resulted in Tampa scoring the only goal of the game, going on to win game four. His reception only got worse as he missed a number of possible penalties committed by the Lightning which went unpunished.

Bill McCreary and Steven Walkom are the likely zebras for game six; Fraser would get the call for game seven in Tampa if it’s necessary, far away from the hostile stares and jeers of the Calgary faithful.

Fraser has been involved in many controversial games involving the Flames in the past, part of which may explain Calgary coach Darryl Sutter’s outburst after game four. At the time a visibly angry Sutter expressed thoughts about conspiracies to keep the Flames off the championship rolls. Sutter used the controversy to regroup his squad to focus on the job at hand. With a win in game five perhaps Sutter should send Kerry a box of Cubans and a case of beer in thanks.

Fraser can trace back the Calgary hatred all the way to 1989 when he called a rare penalty in double overtime which resulted in the Flames losing a game three match to Montreal. Calgary fans may have tempered their dislike for Fraser at that time with a Stanley Cup parade; no doubt they are hoping that history repeats itself again.

Thursday, June 03, 2004

It's Saprykin Great!

The Calgary Flames are 60 minutes away from an achievement few hockey fans suspected they had a chance at in September. Oleg Saprykin put the Flames close to the ultimate of NHL experiences, when he put the winning goal in behind Nickolai Kahbibulin after 14:40 of overtime. In a thrilling overtime period the teams traded chances taking their fans from one extreme to another. Finally Saprykin made the shot that counted as the Flames defeated the Lightning 3-2 in game five, sending the Calgarians home for game six with a three game to two lead in the best of seven series.’

Once again it was a battle of goaltenders that set the pace for this game as both Nickolai Khabibulin and Miikka Kiprusoff exchanged amazing saves, to keep their respective team’s away from defeat. Time and time again one or the other was snaring a stray puck, facing down and incoming forward or diving madly to keep the puck from entering the net.

The two Martin’s opened up the scoring as Martin Gelinas scored the first goal of the game for Calgary on the power play at 2:13; Martin St. Louis bookended the period with a goal at the 19 minute mark as he took advantage of a collision between two defenders, his shot trickled to the net where during a mad scramble of Flame sticks it ended up behind Kiprusoff.

Jarome Iginla once again rose to the occasion as he scored the Flames second goal at 15:10 of the second period. For Iginla the goal marked the 13th time this playoff year that he has scored a goal, good enough for the post season goal scoring lead. The Calgary captain picked the far corner post to put the go ahead goal into the net.

In a break with the Calgary play book the game remained rather wide open after the go ahead goal, as the third period began a wide open style of play replaced the usual defensive shell that the Flames fall into when they hold a lead. Tampa roared back to tie the game at 37 seconds of the third as Frederick Modin scored the equalizer on the Tampa power play.

The third and overtime periods were probably two of the most entertaining periods of the playoffs as the action continued from end to end, with only Khabibulin and Kiprusoff standing in the way of the winning goal. Khabibulin finally surrendered the winning goal at 14 minutes of overtime period number one. Sparykin scoring the winner on a set up from team leader Iginla who has just had an amazing run in this Stanley Cup playoff year.

When all was said and done Calgary had fired 36 shots at the Tampa net, while the Bolts directed 27 the way of Kiprusoff. An indication of the state of the Tampa attack came in the second period when they could only muster 3 shots on net, the control of the play by Calgary in the second shut down the Tampa attack a situation that did not escape the attention of the Tampa coach.

The two teams take their tired bodies back to Alberta for game number six Saturday night at the Saddledome. For Calgary its chance to secure their place in Canadian folklore, with a victory they will claim their second Stanley Cup championship, their first one since 1989. Should the sea of red prevail on Saturday it will be the first Canadian Stanley Cup since Montreal’s of 1993. The CBC couldn’t have mapped it out any better had they tried. Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday could end up being Stanley Night in Canada. The entire nation will find a TV set Saturday night to see if the Flames can wrap this up with a skate around the rink with the fabled Cup.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Lightning true to the pattern!

Make plans for a game seven, for it seems nobody wants to take a choke hold on the Stanley Cup final. Repeating a pattern of lose one, win one the Lightning have drawn equal with the Flames in the quest for the Stanley Cup. With a chance to take a commanding three game to one lead the Calgary Flames could not beat Nickolai Khabibulan, frequent Calgary opportunities to score were turned away. A slogging affair the term classic won’t be used by any but the true Lightning fan. But in the end it’s the score on the board that dictates how the audience will react to the game. In Tampa this was another date with destiny, in Calgary it probably is being treated more as just a travesty.

The Flames found themselves behind the eight ball in the first period as Kerry Fraser and Brad Waters combined in penalty calls to give the Bolts a two man advantage in the first two minutes of play. The dual call brought down the wrath of the Saddledome crowd as Fraser declined to put a Lightning player in the box for a retaliation cross check after the whistle. With Mike Commodore and Chris Clark watching from the penalty box, Brad Richards took advantage of the open ice to score the games only goal at 2:48 of the first.

As the game progressed the caliber of the play slowed down quite a bit, resulting in what Tampa Bay coach John Tortorella correctly described as Ugly hockey to finish off the first and second periods. The third showed moments of promise as Calgary began to press the Bolts in their own, pushing the fore check deep into the Tampa end of the ice. Throughout the game the Flames tested Nickolai Khabibulan but were denied time and time again. At the other end of the ice Miikka Kiprusoff did his best to keep his team within one goal of the Bolts.

Calgary seemed perplexed by the ability of the Lightning to stymie their attack, but penalties would slow down the Flame attack. Over the course of the game the Bolts had five chances on the Power Play while the Flames only benefited from two extra man situations.

The Calgary fans got another chance to voice their dis-pleasure with the Fraser/Waters enforcement policies as the duo missed a blatant interference call late in the third period. There would be no evening up of calls on this night and Calgary found itself master of its own misery late in the third as Ville Niemenen took a needless penalty for a stupid check from behind on Vincent Lecavalier. He was assessed a five minute major for his selfish behavior, putting his team in a short handed situation for the final four minutes of the game. The Flames were coming on prior to that and continued to apply pressure, but surely could have used some extra legs by that point. Still they had more than enough chances to pull this one out and couldn’t get the job done. And they now return to Tampa to await game five on Thursday night.

The momentum switch is now firmly behind the Bolts. But then again in this series home ice is not necessarily a home advantage, Calgary will want to get the upper hand in game five and come out flying, playing the hard hitting game that has brought them this far. The two teams now get a two day lay off as Game Five is scheduled for Thursday night at 8 pm EST, (5 PM PST).

The key for Darryl Sutter is to quickly get the Flames mind off of the lost opportunity of Monday and focus on the challenge ahead. If the Flames can go back into Tampa and take the fifth game, they’ll be able to reward their fans with the chance for a Stanley Cup win on home ice.

If the Flames lose game five it will be the Bolts that will have the chance to seize the moment. Should that happen then game four will surely be looked upon as the turning point in this series, a controversial 60 minutes of hockey that will be discussed long after the season finally comes to an end.