Monday, September 12, 2005

Into the deep woods for the Moose

With twenty five years under his belt, Mark Messier will patrol the NHL ice no more. One of the most dominant players of our game, Messier called it a career on Monday as the changing of the NHL guard continued. In a week of high profile retirements, Messiers is perhaps the most expected yet at times unwanted. In New York his departure signals the end of another era for Rangers fans.

For the last few years it wasn't the same Messier game in and game out, and while he was a step or two slower and certainly not as physical as he once was Messier still commanded a presence when he appeared on the ice. A force to be reckoned with and a unifying figure for most of his team mates. He would be like an on ice general, urging his team mates on to greater glory despite the odds or the obstacles in the way.

His latter years have been more frustration than adulation, while he won a Stanley Cup with the much denied New York Rangers back in 94, he couldn't lead them back to the oasis again.

And while he seems permanently attached to the Rangers now, many still think of him as an Oiler forever. It was in that exciting mixing bowl of the eighties that Messier came of age in the NHL, he, Wayne Gretzky, Grant Fuhr, Steve Smith, Jari Kurri Kevin Lowe and Paul Coffey to name a few, were the nucleus of that amazing Stanley Cup machine that brought many hockey fans to their feets night after night. The young bulls in Edmonton redefined the way the game was played and recaptured the spirit of the game for Canadians from the brawling ways of the seventies. To get a feel for those heady days of hockey in Alberta check out Peter Gzwoski's Game of our Lives, it puts you in that young Oiler dressing room just as the team prepares its assault on the NHL record books.

Messier first landed in pro hockey in Indianapolis, Indiana and Cincinnati, Ohio through the WHA's Baby boom days, players who tested the old way of thinking that eighteen and nineteen year olds weren't ready for pro hockey. As the WHA folded into the NHL, a relatively wise (or maybe he was just damn lucky) GM named Glen Sather began collecting young energetic hockey players and molded them into a template that has yet to be copied. Those years in Edmonton surely gave hockey fans many good nights of viewing and proved that sometimes you can't recapture lightning twice. There has yet to be a team put together that has grown together and eventually dominated as much as those amazing Oiler teams.

And so another big name has gone. The next we'll hear of Mark Messier will be an announcement of his enshrinement in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Certainly an honour that should come the first day of his eligibility. 1,887 points, six Stanley Cups and perhaps the most important qualification, that of the ultimate leader should grant him a place in Hockey's hallowed hall.

It's been a hell of a run, a hard hitting, bone crunching, high scoring run. I'm just glad we were all along for the ride. But thankful that I wasn't in the trolley tracks when the Moose came down the ice.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Saving the TV Season for all

The return of the NHL is going to be a gold rush for the television viewer as Canadian TV networks firm up their programming plans for the upcoming season.

From Sportsnets various channels, to TSN and the CBC Hockey is back and ad reps must be doing cartwheels at the soon to be bumper crop of games.

TSN takes the lead this season with 71 games scheduled the key night for them and their new talent Chris Cuthbert will be Wednesday night, but expect other key games on the remaining nights of the week as the season progresses.

Sportsnet will welcome the NHL back with a number of options for the hockey fan, Oiler fans can gather together 48 times to cheer on the Oil on Sportsnet West, Westcoasters can follow the journeys of the Vancouver Canucks as Sportsnet Pacific over 45 nights while Ottawa Sens believers can keep the faith on Sportsnet East for 39 games.

Parlez vous Francais, if not it may be time to break out that ole French/English dictionary as RDS provides coverage of all 82 game of Les Habitants.

LeafsTV takes on the task of explaining the leafs for thirteen games this season, games not available anywhere else as they say.

Between the Sportsnet and RDS options, the idea of a satellite dish seems awfully appealing all of a sudden.

And then there's the CBC, with the franchise of Hockey Night in Canada providing up to six hours of advertising revenue for the Mother Corp each and every Saturday night. With the Corporation currently involved in a nasty little lockout with the Canadian Media Guild many are waiting to see how the CBC handles the single most important product it has to offer. Don't expect to see the silent movie treatment for the NHL that the CBC gives the CFL, it's expected that somehow the CBC will provide audio commentary to go with it's pictures once the season starts.

And while many Canadian Hockey fans believed they had hit the hockey jackpot last month when the NHL gave its American contract to OLN, there won't be much puck action on the station that makes outdoor living famous. Canada's version of OLN is not expected to pick up the hockey programming for Canadian audiences. There is always hope for a change of heart one guesses but it doesn't seem a likely addition for the time being.

However, Canadians will be able to follow the puck on NBC when they pick up the NHL after January. NBC takes over where Fox left off as they showcase Hockey on a cost recovery basis, the NHL will get paid once NBC has met its expenses and taken its cut. Not exactly an NFL type arrangement, but about the best the league could hope for in the US for this year.

But in Canada where the puck means a buck, the cash register starts to ring on October 5th when TSN kicks off the 2005-06 season with a double header. Most fans will take in the Leafs and Sens followed by the Canucks and the Coyotes. Alberta will become its own little distinct society with the Flames playing the Wild followed by the Oilers and Avalanche.

On the 6th Habs fans will get their first glimpse of the Canadiens on English TV as TSN picks up the Rangers/Canadiens season debut. A game shown coast to coast to coast wrapping up a hectic 48 hours of hockey to start a brand new season and a brand new era!

Sidney sightings, Sidney signing!

Unless there is a shortage of Pens in Penville Friday, Sidney Crosby will begin his journey to dominance in the NHL. The Penguins have a press conference planned for Friday to show Crosby's name on the dotted line as the Pens get ready to kick off their training camp on Tuesday.

With the Pittsburgh Steelers about to kick off the NFL season this weekend, the Pens are more than aware that their media window is small and ready to slam shut, hence the Friday presser with Crosby, his agent and a cast of fellow Pens all prepared to welcome the latest ONE!.

Crosby will sign on for the new NHL salary minimums, but shall still be pretty flush in cash, its expected that he'll make more in endorsement deals than in Penguin paycheques for the next couple of years. Crosby has already signed on to a number of endorsement projects that will keep him busy when he's not sharing the ice with Mario, Sergei and John this winter.

Friday he just picks up some traveling change and offers up to Penguin fans a reason to separate themselves from their change for the 2005-06 season.