Sunday, October 30, 2005

Should have saved a few goals for tonight

They must have emptied the vault in Toronto Saturday night! With the 8-0 massacre of the Leafs under their belts, the Sens returned home to face the Flyers on Sunday only to find the offence harder to find.

While goals seemed to come as easy as line changes on Saturday, Sunday was a different story as a wall named Esche stood in the way for most of the night. Robert Esche faced 39 shots in the Flyers net, but in the end only gave up three goals as the Flyers went on to a 5-3 victory over the high flying Sens.

Everyone in Flyer colors praised the goaltender, who made numerous key saves to keep his team in the game and on course for a victory. Ottawa took a number of penalties at inopportune times, which allowed the Flyer powerplay to get to work in putting pucks in the net. Four consecutive penalties provided the Flyers the opportunity to gain a two goal lead, an amount that the Sens could not overcome despite the flurry of shots on Esche.

Perhaps they tired themselves out during Saturday nights public skate at the Air Canada centre, they seemed sluggish at times and neglected to take the body, nor crowd the net in front of Esche. From the very beginning they came out flat, much to the distress of the over 19,000 on hand to welcome them back from the previous nights battle of Ontario.

It was only the Sens second loss of the season, so the fans probably aren't too terribly disappointed, that 8-0 victory over the leafs gives them a fair amount of credit with their fans. But a win over the Flyers would have made for a pretty great 48 hours!

Players of the week for October

Here are the players of the week in the NHL, for the month of October. Click on the name for a stats sheet of the player selected for that week.

October 31 Forward, Eric Staal, Carolina
October 31 Goal, Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers
October 24 Forward, Craig Conroy, Los Angeles
October 24 Goal, Manny Legace, Detroit
October 17 Forward, Steve Sullivan, Nashville
October 17 Defence, Bryan McCabe, Toronto
October 10 Centre, Marc Savard, Atlanta
October 10 Goal, Roberto Luongo, Florida

Cloutier out for the count, Canucks out in OT

It seemed as though the pattern of the Canucks bouncing back from an ebarrassing loss was about to repeat itself. Having been dismissed on Thursday night with a 6-0 loss at the Pepsi Centre, the Canucks were looking for a little redemption on Saturday.

Vancouver got off to a decent start as they kept the pace of the Avalanche and took advantage of a few chances in the Colorado end of the rink. Things went a little sideways at the ten minute mark of the first period when Canuck goaltender Dan Cloutier was forced from the game after a collision with defenceman Nolan Baumgartner. The Canuck defenceman rammed his own goaltender into the goal post, leaving him stunned on the ice for about five minutes before he left the game for the night. Alex Auld was pressed into service on short notice and played a solid game in the nets, doing his share to keep the Canucks in the game.

A string of second period penalties cost the Canucks as they played 2 men short for lengthy portions of the period, giving the Avs more than enough chances to put goals in the net. Alex Tanguay tied the game up late in the third on a breakaway, while Ian Lapperiere put the game away after 2 minutes of O T, scoring the winning goal in a 4-3 Avalanche win.

While the loss was a hard one for the Canucks there were some positive developments for Marc Crawford to make note of. The Sedin's had a pretty decent game, moving the puck well and having a number of scoring chances, one of which paid off for Henrik Sedin. Brendan Morrison picked up a goal for Vancouver and Todd Bertuzzi had a solid game, perhaps his best of the season thus far. Bertuzzi was more involved in the play than in the last few efforts, gaining an assist on Matt Cookes opening goal for Vancouver. Even the fans seemed to let up on him as the game progressed, there were still the boos everytime he touched the puck, but the costumes and chants weren't as prevalent as they were on Thursday.

Besides Tanguay and Lapperiere, Colorado goal scorers included Rob Blake and Andrew Brunette who bounced back nicely from the collision with Baumgartner and Cloutier. The loss, Vancouvers second in three nights to the Avs and second in a row, drops the Canuck record to 8-3-1. Colorado improves to 6-4-1 so far in the young season.

With the loss behind them now, the one question that still remains to be seen is the health of Cloutier, he was taken from the rink before the game ended for further evaluation. One player probably hoping for a quick recovery is Baumgartner, he's going to be in for a bit of a rough time in his own dressing room for taking out his own goaltender. It makes it hard for Marc Crawford to complain about protecting the goalies when his own players are crashing their own net!

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Too Much for Toronto

Too Much Scoring, Too Much Hitting, Too Much Speed and Too Much Heatley, in short it was a case of Too Much for Toronto.

The Ottawa Senators administered a lesson in hockey Saturday night, as the Sens dominated the Maple Leafs from the one minute mark. It was Dany Heatley night in Toronto, as the Senator scored four goals on the way to an 8-0 thumping of the Leafs.

Ottawa outplayed the Leafs in every category Saturday, the Sens were far too fast for a Toronto team that appeared to be standing still at times. Watching wave after wave of Senators cross the blue line and take shots on a beleaguered Ed Belfour. Belfour lasted until the fifth goal, at which point Pat Quinn realizing that his goaltender had been abandoned for the night pulled a switch. Enter Michael Telqvist who at least can claim to have held the Sens to only three more goals on the night, though he can't really claim that his team mates picked up their game for him either.

Heatley could do no wrong on the night, he was in constant motion through the game and ran pretty well unchecked deep into the Toronto end. While he was filling the net in the Toronto end, Dominic Hasek was doing his part on the Ottawa part of the ice, Hasek turned aside 27 shots on the way to his shut out. Though he was only really tested a handful of times through the game, the majority of the Leaf chances were perimeter shots at best.

Needless to say Bryan Murray was rather happy with his teams performance, though he admitted the one sided win was a freak compared to most Leaf Sen matchups. Over in the other dressing room, Pat Quinn was dissecting his teams play on the night and suggested that they were far too individual on the ice and not playing as a team of late, hesitant to take the body and allowing far too many chances for the opposition.

The big win for Ottawa should do a fair amount to keep the folks back home in a good mood, the Toronto/Ottawa rivalry is becoming one of the best in the league. Ottawa fans love nothing better than a win over Toronto, an 8-0 slaughter at the Air Canada Centre might just be good enough for a Bank Street parade!

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Cherry pickin' your pets

A little mindless surfing on a Thursday discovered this little gem of an ad, it seems that Don Cherry is branching out from his sub sandwiches and cold remedies.

Cherry is the spokesperson and has lent his name in partnership, to a new line of pet insurance called, Cherry Blue Pet insurance. It offers up extensive coverage, so your fido or snowball can laze around the house secure in the knowledge that all is taken care of should something bad happen around the estate.

You can insure your pet under two different plans, the Red Line or the Blue Line program. For those that really, really like their pets there is the Blue line coverage which in addition to accident coverage includes any new illnesses that may unfortunately be visited to by your pet.

For those not quite ready to go top dog, there is the Red Line coverage , which will at least take care of any accidents that may befall your beloved.

Cherry's participation in the project is designed to help raise funds for Rose Cherry's home for kids. Something he has tied in nicely with all of his corporate dealings, you do a search for Rose Cherry's home on the net and you'll find many of Cherry's corporate partners have stepped up to help out. A smart use of Cherry's very high Canadian profile.

As for the Pet Insurance though, we wonder, is your coverage voided should your dog or cat wear a visor, or refuse to go into the corners?

The above posting first appeared on my A Town Called Podunk blogsite, where I post my general observations on all things.

Public Enemy Number One

In days gone by, it used to be the arrival of the Detroit Red Wings that would bring out the bellicosity of the Denver hockey fan, a rivalry that ironically started with a cheap hit by the Avs Claude Lemieux on the Wings Kris Draper. But that is no more, indeed as of Thursday night its ancient history. Thursday a fellow in a White uniform with a number 44 on it will step onto the ice at the Pepsi Centre and realize just what it feels like to be hated. On Thursday night, Todd Bertuzzi will take the title of Public Enemy Number One in Colorado.

Bertuzzi, makes his first appearance in Colorado since the infamous Steve Moore attack and if the stories coming out of Denver these days mean anything, the next three days are going to be uncomfortable ones for Bertuzzi.

In a strange quirk of scheduling fate, the Canucks are in Denver for two games early in the season, giving the Avalanche faithful much opportunity to vent their collective anger over 72 hours. The expected expressions of dissatisfaction with the return of Bertuzzi have even been noted on the Canucks website, which suggests that the team will have to concentrate on a rather dangerous offense, rather than the outrage of the fans.

Expect the NHL to advise the Avalanche to increase their security profile for the next few games, tensions are high in Denver, the more angrier of fans have been calling talk shows suggesting that Bertuzzi will not only hear catcalls, but be subjected to garbage and spittle as he takes to the ice.

With the NHL moving to a weighted divisional schedule this year, Bertuzzi had best hope that the Av fanbase get it all out of their system in the next couple of days. The Canucks will be frequent visitors to Colorado this year, only time will tell if each successive visit become uglier than the previous one.

Bertuzzi was quoted in a Detroit paper earlier this week as hoping to put the whole incident behind him as the season moves along, something tells me that is not going to happen anytime soon when the Canucks play in Denver.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Naslund finds the mark

The Canucks are on a roll, notching their sixth consecutive win in a rink they normally have some trouble in. Markus Naslund led the way as the Vancouver Canucks put away an injury depleted Minnesota Wild squad 3-1 on Tuesday night.

Naslund scored the winner early in the second period as he converted a breakaway pass from Todd Bertuzzi into a goal to put the Canucks in the lead for good. Other goal scorers for the Canucks were Jarkko Rutuu in the first and Henrik Sedin with the insurance policy in the third.

Minnesota were missing three key ingredients to their line up as Marian Gaborik and Pascal Dupuis and defenceman Filip Kuba all sat out the game with various ailments. With the missing fire power the Wild could only sit back and watch the Canucks come at them. The night marked a milestone for Canuck defenseman Ed Jovanovski, who checked off game number 400 in his career thus far.

The Canucks improved their record to 8-1-1 which matches the best start to a season in their history. The only loss on the year so far was in Minnesota, when the Wild punished them 6-0, the Canucks have faced the Wild three times in the last ten games as the NHL unbalanced schedule tries to build up regional rivalries. While it may be a good marketing tool for the playoff drives, here in the early season it's just a goofy idea. With thirty teams in the league, one would think you wouldn't have to play one third of your games against the same team. A bit of fine tuning to the plan by the schedule maker, should be a must for next year.

The Canucks continue on with familiar faces next when the play the Colorado Avalanche in Denver on Thursday night, a team they played on Saturday in Vancouver. Vancouver stays in Denver on Friday, as they take on those same Avalanche on Saturday night, making for three games in seven nights against the same team! If nothing else the Canucks are about to prove the truth to an old saying; familiarity truly does breed contempt!

Pens still looking for win number one

Sidney Crosby gave it his best shot, at times it seemed like he was trying single handedly to put a notch in the W column for his owner and his landlord as well as his other team mates. Facing a distracted Florida Panthers team (many wondering how their families fared under the howling winds of Wilma) Crosby played large, as he did his share in trying to end the Pens frustrating streak of non wins.

While he only placed one point on the scoring sheet, his play contributed to six power play opportunities as the Panthers flustered by the speed of Crosby, corralled him time and time again, incidents for which they were penalized time and time again.

Yet in the end it was a penalty to Mario Lemieux that dashed the hopes for a Penguin victory, Lemieux picked up an interference penalty in the last seventeen seconds of the third period, a power play opportunity that carried over into overtime for the Panthers and was rewarded with a goal by Stephen Weiss 53 seconds into OT, securing the win for Florida.

Lemieux left the ice in rather foul mood, letting the referee's crew know that he was not impressed with their work on the night. With Pittsburgh's record now 0-4-5, nowhere near where Lemieux had hoped to have them considering the sizeable investment made in players in the off season.

Mario may not be happy with the refs, but he should really direct his angst towards the power play, the Pens had 12 power play opportunities and only converted two of them into goals. That is more of an indication as to where the work needs to be done. Between that and shoddy work in their own end the Pens have more than enough things to worry about besides the officiating. With the team already suffering the longest winless streak in its history, the pressure will be on to snare a win soon.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Any publicity is good publicity

Gary Bettman's new and improved NHL continues to draw reviews, some good, a few bad and at least one satirical. Don't look now Gary, but your league has been discovered by the satirical website The Onion. The popular website has a blurb about the new rules of hockey in its sports section

Indicative of a lack of interest at times in the USA, the piece is rather short and rather tame, the Daily Show this is not. But then again it is interest, something that at times seems hard to find south of the 49th.

As they say, as long as you spell the name right!

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Solving the Oil Shortage

General Manager Kevin Lowe is looking to tap a few new wells, considering his current holes seem to have come up dry in the early stages of the NHL season. The Oilers (and their faithful fans) had approached the season with great expectations. The team had made a couple of high profile signings, had managed the NHL cap with extreme sensibility and generally were quite optimistic about the new season to come.

With a terrible start the rumblings are starting to get louder from St. Albert to Leduc, something has to be done. Losing is not something the Oiler fans had banked on in the new NHL, they felt that their team was ready to step up and be a contender, but so far it's been anything but.

With a couple of embarrassing efforts in front of the home fans and now a lengthy road trip, there is much debate in Edmonton that Kevin Lowe needs to spend some of his reserve money now to get his team back on track.

One of the more interesting rumors to come out of the Oil patch this week has been the possibility of a trade with Ottawa for the presently suspended Martin Havlat, according to Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sun a panicky Lowe is trying to bring the kickin' magician to Edmonton to help his charges find a way to put a puck in the net. Only problem for Lowe is the fact that the Sens apparently have no desire to trade Havlat just yet.

For the time being coach Craig MacTavish is trying to get the attention of his players and find away to turn around a horrible start. Time may be short however, if the players don't respond quickly they may find themselves plying their trade in some other hockey market and Kevin Lowe may find himself writing a few more cheques than he thought he would be in October.

Bob Hartley, Goon master or Guru!

Bob Hartley is finding his style of hockey is gaining him of a nasty reputation with his fellow coaches, one which may find him on the lonely side of the coaches' association by the end of the year.

Hartley's Atlanta Thrashers are finding more of their names associated with the penalty sheet than the scoring sheet the last two weeks or so, as the opposition coaches suggest that Hartley is on a crusade to bring back the days of the Broad Street Bullies.

The most recent debate over Hartley's handling of his offensively challenged players started up with the recent Leafs/Thrashers game in Toronto. Pat Quinn, took to the post game microphones to express his distate for Hartley hockey, suggesting that Thrasher Eric Boulton's hit on Eric Lindros was designed to do more than to take Lindros off his game. The hit on Lindros created a number of ugly skirmishes in the runaway 9-1 Toronto victory and gave Leaf tough guy Tie Domi the opportunity to hold court and take exception to Hartley's hockey bona fides.

Hartley had just finished ignoring the complaints from Leaf land, when Boulton went and got himself into further trouble after a nasty elbow delivered to the jaw of Tampa rookie Paul Ranger. Colin Campbell will hold court on Monday to dispense justice to Boulton who was suspended indefinitely after the ugly incident with Ranger.

The successive exhibitions of goonish behavior appear to be contrary to the new NHL as espoused by Gary Bettman and his high office NHL executives. Making things worse for the Thrashers is the woeful record of the team and the continual routing that the team seems to suffer on a nightly basis. With a deficit on the scoreboards of 22-2, the expectations of a high scoring machine have not been met, instead night after night of losing seems to bring out the worst in the Thrashers

The Thrashers are quick to snuff out any stories about the team not wanting to play for Hartley, suggesting that in fact Hartley is so respected by players that they seek him out for his hockey knowledge. Using Bobby Holik and Ilya Kovalchuk as players that are in Atlanta because they want to play for Hartley.

With fellow coaches like Pat Quinn and John Tortorella expressing rather strenuous objections to the style of Thrasher play, Holik and Kowalchuk may be a minority vote for the next little while.

The Puck was in the net, the bucks were in the wallet!

Vancouver radio listeners got an added bonus to their Canuck's coverage on Thursday night October 20th, as the on air duo of John Shorthouse and Tom Larscheid discovered that coming to the rink meant more than watching a hockey game.

Like many teams in hockey, the Canucks run a 50/50 draw, where the winner shares the total jackpot with the Canucks charity of choice.

Like good little hockey fans Larscheid and Shorthouse buy their tickets game in and game out, laughing at the state of their fortunes as the winning number usually comes up some thousands away from the one on their ticket.

That is until Thursday night! As the Coyotes and Canucks meandered around the GM Place ice, Shorthouse discovered that they had the winning ticket and were about to pocket the 20,000 dollar prize.

Listen in as the two try to reconcile their winfall with the job at hand in the broadcast booth.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Gary spreads his Gospel

Gary Bettman took to the stage in Toronto on Wednesday afternoon to spread the good word, his NHL is back and better than ever. Now of course one wouldn't expect the Commissioner to say otherwise, but for the first time in years there weren't many people questioning his rose colored glasses, nor his rah rah approach to the good old hockey game.

With a debut couple of weeks full of scoring, tight finishes and fast action on the ice, the new NHL has delivered as advertised a more enjoyable brand of the game than what we were used to. As Bettman put it, "For the first time in a long time, the NHL has momentum".

His state of the game address to the Sports media Canada luncheon highlighted a number of exciting changes to the game that have provided it with more speed and scoring. Bettman credited the number of rule changes implemented to the new and improved brand of hockey. Cutting down on fighting and stickwork has had a liberating effect on the skill players, giving them more room to roam and more opportunities to put points on the board. A situation that has many hockey fans welcoming the firewagon approach to the game that has developed.

Bettman did not dwell to long on some of the low attendance reports from some NHL cities, stating that the league is playing to 93% capacity two weeks into the season, not bad he says for a league that had shut down for an entire season. He suggested that those that were questioning the trouble spots, were looking for a negative story that isn't there. A flash of the old combative Gary that was, but he quickly turned back to the fast pace and high scoring and suggested the fans will come back as the word spreads.

While the game in Canada has found it's home back on television both TSN and CBC have welcomed back their audiences and to fairly decent ratings, the same can't be said about the US television package on OLN which faced tough competition from football and baseball , which did not exactly set any records in the first two weeks of broadcasting. Not to mention some serious distribution problems in Gary's own hometown.

But in Gary's frame of mind that would probably be a debate for another day, right now he's only interested in the positives, a faster game with lots of offence and lots of excitement. So far so good, lets hope he still has some good news to update us on in six months or so!

Everybody in the pool

Geez what happened, Gordie Howe was too busy, Jean Beliveau couldn't find the time? It seems like those fine hockey ambassadors were the only names left off of the Team Canada Olympic preliminary roster on Wednesday. Wayne Gretzky and his Team Canada management group took no chances as they named 81 players to be considered worthy of the Team Canada sweater in Turin next year.

There was even some thought to naming every living, breathing and skating Canadian NHLer to the preliminary roster, as a way to cover all eventualities for Canada's entry in the 2006 Olympics.

A player must be on the preliminary roster in order to be named to the final 23 who will participate for Gold. With injuries and other possibilities Gretzky and his team didn't want to find themselves short handed come cut down day.

The early list of names is probably more about the IIHF and Olympic drug testing policies than anything else. Players on the preliminary list are now subject to spot drug testing through the upcoming months leading to Turin.

The final version of the list does not have to be submitted until Monday, so there is still time to add a few names should Gretzky, Lowe and Tambellini, feel they missed one or two. Good news for Gordie and Jean, they should start looking for those skates now, they may still have time to make the cut!

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

No Beer league hockey for Coffey

The word is out, Paul Coffey really is through. They made it official on Tuesday night in Edmonton as the Oilers celebrated the golden years of their franchise by retiring Paul Coffey's number 7 sweater. Coffey held court in Edmonton on Tuesday, looking back at a great career when he was in Oiler blue and sharing moments with old friends. He doesn't get on the ice much any more, with little time to play rec hockey in his home of Toronto, he really has hung up his blades. But he had them sharpened for one more skate.

Coffey took an end to end rush for old times sake, fired a Charlie Huddy pass into the net and then stood back and basked in the adulation of the Oiler faithful. Coffey's sweater joins some of the other Oiler greats in the rafters of the rink that used to be the Coliseum, Gretzky, Kurri, Fuhr and Hamilton all have had their sweaters retired and now number seven is placed forever out of reach of a new arrival.

The celebration of Coffey's exploits included a celebration at City Hall, trumpets and confetti at the rink and a noisy throng determined to offer up one more cheer for a team favorite.

Coffey knew what the crowd wanted to hear when he said "It's great to be an Oiler!" To the approval of his fans he proclaimed that "he will always consider himself an Oiler and Edmonton his home".

It wasn't always so though, in the dark years after the great Oiler dynasty a nasty contract dispute in 1987 between Coffey and Peter Pocklington played itself out daily in the Edmonton and national media. Coffey would refuse to report to camp, Pocklington would declare him to be a coward afraid to fight for a puck. It was the beginning of the end and a foreshadowing moment of troubled times to come in Edmonton.

Since then of course history recorded the collapse of a team that caught the nation's fancy, Coffey went on to other exploits in other cities, as did many other of the dynasty team. But for hockey fans and obviously Oiler fans there really was only one place for Coffey, Gretzky, Kurri, Fuhr et al, it was Edmonton.

Tuesday night everyone got their wish, for one last time.

Not everyone is going to Brett's retirement party I guess.

Hot on the heels of the HockeyNation tribute to Brett Hull, comes a reminder that not everyone is sad to see him go.

Jon Cook who pens occasional columns for the Canoe webservice offers up a differing view of the life of Brett. Cook points out that Hull could be a troublesome soul from time to time. Cook suggests that Hull did not so much as retire as walk out on his latest club, upset over dwindling ice time. Cook also looks at the Phoenix record without Hull and suggests that he did the team a favor by leaving, as their record has been improving without him in the line up. (Ouch!)

Cook explores a possible sit down between Hull and Wayne Gretzky, divining what Hull's role would be on the team and how he might have reacted to it.

He does provide some valid points, Hull has had difficulties with authority over the years. Gary Bettman and Mike Keenan probably don't have him on a Christmas Card list, but then not getting along with Mike Keenan is not exactly a negative is it? Seems to me that Iron Mike has made more than one enemy in his days in the NHL.

Hull did say that he didn't give a damn about the fans, in a moment of frustration, something that really should not happen in a league that is rather dependent on box office receipts.

At any rate, the Cook article does provide the other side of the coin, which I must admit HockeyNation did not dwell on in the All Hail Hull edition. So in a bow to two sides to every story, here is the Cook article in full.

It's a bit harsh on Hull, but then when you have thrown out the odd verbal punches as Hull has done over the years, you have to expect a few jabs to come back. And somehow I don't think he'll be losing any sleep over the article.

Mantha hammered after Hazing incident

The OHL's Windsor Spitfires are without a coach for 40 games and a general manager for a year as OHL Commissioner David Branch laid down the law today. Branch issued the suspension to Windsor GM and coach Moe Mantha over disturbing tales of a hazing incident on the team bus from early September.

Mantha who holds down the dual posts will have nothing to do with the on ice aspects of the team for 25 games for the hazing and another 15 games for practice fights in his camps. As well as his coaching penalties, Mantha will have no organizational duties with the team for a year, his penalty for a lapse of judgment and definite lack of leadership with his team.

The hazing incident stems from a situation that developed on a bus trip back from London after an exhibition game. Rookie players were told by more established ones, to strip and stand naked in the small bathroom at the rear of the bus. Mantha did not apparently step in at the time to put an end to the practice, a situation that put him in violation of the league's strict zero tolerance policy towards hazing.

The practice fighting problem has been an ongoing situation in the Spitfire camp as disagreements between two players continued to fester through the training camp and into the season. Akim Aliu and Steve Downie have continued to spar through out the early eason, culminating in a nasty altercation on September 28th when Downie and Aliu collided one final time. An investigation by the Spitfires determined that Downie cross checked Aliu in the face during the incident, Aliu then returned to the ice from the dressing room and engaged Downie in a fight, which was unobserved by anyone on the coaching staff none of whom were on the ice at the time.

The continual problems in the Spitfire camp have resulted in Downie refusing to return to the team and demanding a trade and now have cost Mantha his job for 40 games.

The Spitfires have also been hit in the cheque book as the OHL imposed 35,000 dollars in fines, 25,000 for the hazing incident and 10,000 for the practice troubles. Branch who is not afraid to take action when required, pointed out that the league and its member teams have an obligation to guard over the well being of it's players.

His observations showcase the leagues commitment to it's players, something that they owe to the families of the young men that play for their teams. It is also something that Mantha lost of sight of this year.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Havlat gone for five

Martin Havlat's version of kung fu fighting has found him suspended for five games. The Ottawa Senator forward let frustration rule the day in an altercation with Boston Bruin Hal Gill on Saturday night and punishment has now been administered for his much reported kick.

The situation developed in the Boston end of the ice during the second period, as Havlat found himself hopelessly pinned to a cross bar by the rather large Bruin. The weight difference between the two is something like 46 pounds and the vertical leap between the two is six inches, so Havlat was very much outsized prior to his well placed karate kid imitations.

By no means condoning his actions, the simple fact is that sometimes the smaller players have to take liberties to create space for themselves. Bobby Clarke was not the cleanest player in the world and he carved out (literally we might add) a pretty good place for himself in the dirtiest of eras of NHL hockey.

Havlat has become no stranger to controversy, Clarke's very own Flyers painted Havlat as one of the leagues dirtiest players last year. Perhaps a badge of honor coming from that particular organization, but also indicative of a record that did not help him in today's deliberations.

It's pretty well accepted that his past history of misbehaviour cost him the five games today, as the league continues to put it's more high profile miscreants on notice that the ugly aspects of the game will no longer be tolerated.

For Havlat a more creative way to make some space and keep his cool is in order. He's going to be a target for the rest of his career, some players will fear his temper others will try to use it for the benefit of their team.

Five games today could turn into ten or twenty next time. Ottawa needs him on the ice too much for that, a quiet chat from the coach and someone on the ice to help keep him away from the troublemakers may be the required moves from the Senators.

Sabres retrieve some of their history

The departure was steeped in bitterness and acrimony, the reunion is the sugar coated thing of a Disney movie. After far too many years, the Buffalo Sabres have patched up their differences with Pat Lafontaine.

The Sabres organization announced on Monday that Lafontaine's number 16 and Danny Gare's number 18 will be retired from service. Putting the two former Sabres into some elite company of Blue and Gold hue, the two will join Gilbert Perreault, Rick Martin, Rene Robert and Tim Horton up in the rafters.

The Lafontaine story did not end well in Buffalo, in a move tied to a salary dump the Sabres refused to let him play after suffering his fifth concussion in 1996-97. They cut all ties to him the following year and he moved on to New York to play for the Islanders, wrapping up his fifteen year career in 1998 after one final concussion. To have his time in Buffalo end in such a vitriolic fashion was not a fair conclusion for both Lafontaine and his beloved fans in Buffalo. In fact the incompetent handling of the Lafontaine era contributed to the near death experience of the Sabres of a few years ago. The management of the time had no sense of history nor the fans attachment to the young American who helped keep hockey alive in upstate New York.

Gare will see his uniform officially retired on November 22nd, Lafontaine will have his night on the ice on March 3rd in a game against Toronto.

The Sabres have made some positive strides since their days of bankruptcy and the perp walk of the former owners. A new page has been turned, and not surprisingly it's a page that leads back to happier days for the Sabre faithful.

Update and correction! To stem off the flow of hate mail, Pat Lafontaine went to the Rangers to end his career, not the Islanders as I stated. (I knew that, you know, no idea why I typed in Islanders.) At any rate thanks to Phil (see comments below) for pointing out my error. For the record here is the definitive career path of Pat Lafontaine.

You've got to know when to hold em, know when to fold em, know when to walk away and know when to run!

Credit Brett Hull with knowing when the time has come. Hull hung up his blades over the weekend, having come to the conclusion that the new NHL was a creature which has passed him by. As Hull put it "the mind was willing, but the body isn't". As the season began, it became apparent that Hull no longer had the wheels to keep up with play, as the new offensive oriented NHL took flight. Imagine his stats had these changes taken place ten years ago. It would have been an amazing sight to see, no clutch and grab, firewagon hockey with Hull as the head fireman!

At an emotional news conference, Hull said his farewells to a game that he loved and one in which he performed to the highest of standards, reaching the number three spot in all time goal scoring. And with a few tears and some rather sage remarks, ends the run of one of the more colourful characters of the NHL.

Hull first made his debut in an NHL uniform in 1986 with the Calgary Flames, at the time he occasionally provided us with glimpses of potential only to be stymied by an occasional lack of a work ethic. A situation that eventually found him out of Alberta and on to America.

Perhaps hindsight in Calgary would suggest that a bit more patience might have gone a long way, for once Hull took his show to the States his legend began to grow. He went on to become one of the main attractions of an NHL which at times seemed to be lacking in showmanship, from St. Louis to Dallas, through Detroit and finishing off with a brief appearance in Phoenix, Hull rewrote record books and spoke out as a conscious for a game that at times seemed to be on the road to ruin.

Outspoken at times, he would from time to time say something that didn't sit well with management or fans for that matter. But what you saw was what you got. A straight shooter (and what a shot eh) who wasn't afraid to speak out, when so many others hid behind the old I was misquoted line.

He earned a bit of animosity from his Canadian fans when he chose to join the Team USA group for world competitions, a situation that went back to his first Team Canada camp when he was unceremoniously told he wasn't wanted. A slight that was never forgotten, Hull in a USA uniform gave more than a bit of credibility to the International aspirations of American Hockey. But perhaps his choice was one of the best things for the game in the still troubled American markets.

At 41, Hull has played a lot of hockey. 1,269 regular season games, 202 playoff contests and countless International matchups. His regular season totals give you an idea about how important he was to his various teams. 741 goals, 650 assists for a total of 1,391 points. Shot totals of 4,876. A performer equally at home on the power play (265 goals) or defending a short handed situation (Short handed goals 20)

The playoffs also gave him the opportunity to shine, 103 goals, 87 assists for 190 playoff points, 784 shots fired for potential game winning situations. A deadly sniper who could end a series with just one shot.

The accolades have been pouring in over the weekend ever since he announced his retirement and most seem to have discovered the talent that was Hull. The true testament to his value to the NHL is the fact that despite having one of the most famous fathers in NHL history, Brett is honored now on his own accomplishments. His father's name merely a passing note in the flood of articles about his storied career.

Brett Hull became his own man in the NHL and now takes his leave from a game that finally seems to be adapting many of the nuances that he had so long clamored for. Beyond his many scoring achievements over the years, Hull's best contribution may have been to make the NHL stand up and take notice about a game that was on a trip to nowhere.

Hopefully as he takes off the skates for the final time there will still be a place for him somewhere in the NHL family. Television would be a natural for the opinionated and thoughtful mind of Brett Hull. Perhaps the league can put him to work examining their latest rule changes and how to make the game even better. It would be a natural fit for a guy that lobbied for change for so long. If nothing else, I'm sure there are hundreds if not thousands of Old Timer rec league teams that might let him suit up from time to time!

It was a hull of a run for Brett, but all good things truly do come to an end. The skates may be off for good, but here's hoping he still hangs around the rink for many years to come.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Bertuzzi struggles through early games

For Todd Bertuzzi it seems that the idea picking up where he left off is a little bit harder than first thought. When Bertuzzi was reinstated many wondered if he would play a less physical game than the crashing, bashing style that made him famous. Would a misplaced elbow, or a crushing check into the boards land him on the Colin Campbell/Gary Bettman carpets, where banishment is a hammer apparently not spoken, but fully understood.

With a new season underway, thus far there has been a change in the way Bertuzzi seems to play the game. He's tentative on the ice at times, has struggled to find his place in a game that has changed since his infamous night in Vancouver and the "incident". The Bertuzzi presently patrolling the ice for the Canucks is not the same equalizer of past seasons, he doesn't seem to create the space he once did, his passing and shooting have not been particularly sharp and his points so far are not at levels expected. He has taken careless chances with the puck in his own end, been sent to the penalty box for needless penalties far away from the play and generally seems to be playing in a bit of a fog, unsure where to fit himself into the lineup night after night.

The Vancouver Province explores his return with an article here (subscription required, though if you go to Google sports and type in Bertuzzi you find a back door into the story {you're welcome}) The article by Brad Ziemer gives us an interesting glimpse into the road Bertuzzi is presently on.

There is still much residue from that attack on Steve Moore, it would seem that Bertuzzi is now destined to hear the Boobirds at every rink he and the Canucks visit. In many places it would appear that he is now public enemy number one. It will be interesting to see how he handles the attention and the endless questions that he will face. Many believe he should not have been allowed back until Moore was fit to play again, others say he should be banned for life.

While they debate those issues to the last breath, the simple fact is that the NHL has closed the book on the Moore/Bertuzzi incident. Bertuzzi is back on the ice, most likely under the watchful eye of the NHL brass, a situation that could be the genesis of his slow start and uncommon on ice errors. It's only five games into a lengthy season, some in Vancouver are quick to panic, suggesting the best solution would be a trade to the East for Bertuzzi. Personally I don't think that's in the cards, the Canucks have been fairly adamant about keeping a core group together for a run at the Cup. Bertuzzi has always been at the heart of that core, expect the team to give him more than five games to get back into a groove and return to the form that made him the toast of Vancouver at one time.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Crumbs for the farm hands?

Minor League Hockey players across North America are not impressed, the new look NHL is having a rather major impact on the pocket books of the farm hands.

The Professional Hockey Players' Association, which has members playing in both the ECHL and the AHL claims that the current NHL collective agreement is having a severe trickle down effect on their members earning power.

Current members who make over 75,000 dollars, find that when they are called up to the parent NHL club they suddenly end up on waivers and into a wage ceiling of only 75,000 dollars. Effectively imposing a 75,000 dollar ceiling on all AHL salaries, bringing down the earning power of all league players.

The players association is studying the ramifications of the new era of financial prudence in the NHL, so far they don't like what they have discovered. If things don't seem to be negotiable then there's a very good chance they will sue the NHL.

As Bob Dylan once said "when you have nothing, you have nothing to lose"

It could be the song on the bus for the next few weeks as the Minor leaguers look for a bit of respect.

Open season between the pipes

Martin Brodeur is speaking out, the new NHL has made the start of the season an open season on those that guard the nets for NHL teams. Brodeur says its only a matter of time before somebody gets hurt as players crash the net without fear, or stand in the crease with no fear of retribution.

New rules this year restrict the goaltenders from taking matters into their own hands, no more slashes on the back of the neck, nor cross checks to get brazen forwards out of the crease area. In fact things are so easy for forwards these days, that running over the goaltender seems to be a strategic move in the new NHL. Brodeur was taken out on Thursday night by the Ranger Jed Ortmeyer, fortunately the transgression did not go unpunished, as Ortmeyer was penalized for goaltender interference. However, it seems the enforcement of the rule is handled in a few and far between mode.

With scoring up dramatically and the speed of the game increasing from it's occasionally lethargic ways of a couple of years ago, many probably don't want to see much change at the moment. But since the goaltenders have already had their equipment sizes clawed back and their puck handling days brought to an end, they may be feeling just a little bit under the gun from the NHL rule makers.

Brodeur first vented his frustrations in Le Journal de Montreal earlier this week and his comments have caught the ear of the NHL off ice officials. There is an expectation that the NHL traveling officials will be watching the play in front of the crease much more closely over the next few weeks. If it's determined that the players are showing a lack of respect for the goaltenders and their crease then changes may come.

For Brodeur his comments to the papers may prove to have been the best thing he could have done. In fact in this case, it could be that the pen is mightier than the lumber.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Carry On Crosby

Another Sidney Crosby wardrobe disappearance case has been solved. For the second time in less than a year a Sidney sweater has been found missing from the Crosby family luggage.

This time it was the debut jersey of young Sidney fresh from his first NHL appearance in New Jersey last week. Sidney's Dad Troy had packed the jersey into his luggage Sunday for a trip from Pittsburgh to Buffalo, only to find his luggage partially open upon arrival and the historic sweater missing from the contents of the luggage.

The jersey was found two days later by a US Airways employee who discovered it at the foot of a stairway that is used to load planes. The jersey was placed in the care of a US Airways manager and is now in the process of being returned to the anxious father.

The latest sweater problem brings back memories of last January when a Sidney Crosby Team Canada jersey went missing at Pierre Trudeau Airport in Montreal. An investigation that time determined that a baggage handlers had stolen the sweater to give to his daughter. It wasn't long before the sweater was discovered and returned to Crosby, the baggage handler was fired over the situation.

Sweaters for Sidney seem to find a way of walking away. One piece of advice may help reduce the frequency of theft and perhaps even end it completely. Carry On baggage, no matter how sweat stained it may be, still in sight is the best policy. Either than or wear the things home at night.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Hockey 101

Now that the CBC lockout has ended, the CBC website is back into full operation. While browsing through it today I discovered a neat little feature from their archives section. Kind of a primer of hockey lore from the land of the frozen ice and the rubber puck.

Called the spirit of hockey, it features a number of interesting items to help recapture the love of the game. From Roch Carrier's The Sweater (which includes Peter Gzowski recounting his hockey experiences) , to a feature about a famous hockey Dad to the women's quest for a gold medal. It's a worthwhile stop for a few minutes.

1,243 more to go

The next quest in the amazing world of Wayne Gretzky finally got underway on Saturday night, as the Phoenix Coyote coach notched his first NHL win from behind the bench. Gretzky who has of course set many a record from an NHL players bench, had to wait until his third attempt to join the win column as his NHL coaching career got underway.

With a come from behind 2-1 home ice victory over Minnesota, Gretzky can now begin the chase for Scotty Bowman's magic mark of 1,244 victories in the NHL. Though even Gretzky has admitted that the long time dean of Canadian hockey coaching, can probably sleep easy at night as his record stands ready to face all takers.

Bowman's achievements over his storied NHL career were well earned and he makes a rather worthwhile role model for any new NHL coach. But when you're talking about Gretzky your not discussing just any old coach out to make a name for himself. His years of domination of the NHL gave him a complete picture of what it takes to be a success in professional hockey, one he will try to share with his new students in the desert. He has laughingly suggested that Bowman's record is pretty safe and more than likely it is, but with the first win out of the way after three games a more relaxed Gretzky may now take his place behind the bench each night.

The student has become the teacher as they say, it will be interesting to watch his Coyotes as the season progresses. With one part awe and another respect, it may take a while to settle things down on the ice. What they chose to retain could go a long way this year to deciding if this career move for Gretzky will be a long term option or a short term lark.

A stormy sea ahead for Admiral Saskin

Ted Saskin's watch on the good ship NHLPA is about to hit another batch of turbulent waters, the deck hands are about to find that their gruel is a wee bit thinner than they originally were led to believe.

Next Sunday will mark the first payday for the NHLPA members under the New NHL structure and when the boys go to check out their local ATM the ole bank account is going to be a lot lighter than what they had become used to. When the players settled with the NHL, a 24% rollback was in place as far as salary goes. Cited at the time as the cost of settling a lengthy and bitter dispute that produced no real winners and a sense of lost time and of course lost money. But Sunday brings a new factor into the picture, a possible 12% removal of pay to be placed in the NHL escrow account. A little project designed to make sure that no NHL team exceeds its cap limit. But something that probably seemed like a lesson in Economics that while important bored everyone to tears.

The last few months have seen some of Saskin's crew members less than thrilled with the machinations that removed former head Bob Goodenow and placed Saskin in the Admiral's chair. Combine that underlying distrust with a glaring example of just how much the players gave up to reach their agreement and many feel that Saskin's troubles will only get worse.

At the moment there are approximately 50 NHLPA members openly in opposition to Saskin as the leader of the Association, grumbling of the last couple of weeks suggest that there may be a few more ready to stand up and offer their opinions.

What Saskin will have to be banking on, is that the vast majority of his membership believe that he did the best possible deal at the time to get them back to work. But numbers can sometimes cloud a person's judgment. Next Sunday, 24% meets 12.5% and a 36 percent reduction in take home pay. While were still dealing in millions of dollars and there shan't be a tag day for anyone under an NHL contract, money out of pocket still is something that doesn't sit well with anyone.

How Saskin can negotiate the fallout from next Sunday's pay envelope could go a long way to determining his length of tenure at the head of the players association.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Marital bliss nailed at the blue line

With the NHL season officially underway now, reports of hockey widows suddenly being abandoned are becoming more and more common. Rather than Don Cherry, perhaps a second intermission feature with Doctor Phil might help bring the two sides together!

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Opening night numbers

Bill Beacon of the Canadian press has put together an interesting look at night number one of the new NHL.

By the numbers the night included some of the following:

95 goals in fifteen games.
An average of 6.3 goals per game.
275,447, the number of fans in attendance in 15 NHL cities.
11 of 15 sell outs.
2.1 million television viewers, a one night record.

Guess we all missed hockey after all!

The Power of the Puck

For Canadians weary of the reruns of Coronation Street, Antiques Roadshow and other imported epics from England, the return of the NHL hailed the end of the CBC lock out. With money on the line and a population getting nervous about missing out on the sage meanderings of one Donald S. Cherry, the management of the CBC and the Media Guild have cobbled together an agreement to end the labour dispute.

With days counting down to the debut of a new year of Hockey Night in Canada, the Liberal government brought the two sides together and instructed as to the wisdom of settling their differences, preferably before the puck would drop at 7pm EST on Saturday.

And thus with the power of a puck, Hockey and the rest of regular programming will return to the CBC. No CFL like silent movies for the Hockey fan, it's full programming ahead this Saturday night. CBC management put about a million dollars in the pot to ensure that technicians report to work early to make sure the show goes on as scheduled. Peter Mansbridge and friends can now get back on the payroll, because hockey is back, the risk of losing the single biggest money maker the network has evidently secured a deal.

Seven weeks went by, and while a few folks probably missed their diet of Canadiana, the nation seemed to get by just fine with other options, that is until hockey season started, then we noticed, and with that so did the politicians. Suddenly an agreement was within reach, a settlement arrived and Ron, Don and the rest of the gang are back to work this Saturday.

The power of the puck, it may be mightier than both the sword and the pen!

Headlines of October

The Headlines of note for the month of October.

October 31 Leafs bounce back from humiliation
October 30 Esche shuts down Sens
October 29 SENSATIONAL in TO
October 28 It is, what it is
October 27 Booing Bertuzzi, clipping the Canucks
October 26 And then there were none
October 25 A Junior Hockey mentality
October 24 Sens streak stopped
October 23 Winless in the Steel City
October 22 Marty for the Oil Patch?
October 21 Avalanche add to Oiler slide
October 2o Sens wait on Wilma
October 19 The naming of the names
October 18 Hazing won't be tolerated in the OHL!
October 17 Sabres retrieve some of their history
October 16 Havlat gets his kicks, NHL set to take their licks
October 15 The Golden Brett makes the Golden handshake
October 14 Thrashed!
October 13 Moore's case eixts Colorado
October 12 Bad Luck Blue Jackets
October 11 4 and 0 and on a roll
October 10 Bringin' some Heat in Ottawa
October 9 Seven days till a showdown for Saskin?
October 8 Birthday Boy big in Oiler's win
October 7 Kovalchuk stays in America
October 6 Sundin Gone for six weeks
October 5 Game On!

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Game On!

Ok, it's back to work. I chose to sit out the pre-season, mainly because I find it to be a tedious exercise of tracking developments that have no real meaning to the big picture. So sue me, a one month vacation to recharge my batteries before the quest for the Holy Grail begins anew.

I also found it strangely hard to be over excited about hockey just yet, I'm still a tad annoyed at the two sides who left us jilted last year. I am slowly recapturing my interest, but you know part of me still wants to say, so show me you really want me back folks!

However, it would seem I am very much in the minority there. Most Canadian cities have welcomed back their gladiators with open arms, in fact it's more like we the fan did something wrong and we're just glad that they boys are letting us back into the club. Strange, but that seems to the be the tone of the call in shows and the general atmosphere of the Hockeynation, I'm not quite in that crew, but I can understand those that have jumped for joy with the return of the game. Hell, the power of hockey even managed to end a labour dispute at the CBC, go figure. one just assumes that the NHL must underwrite the entire CBC budget, since it wasn't until the debut game of Hockey Night in Canada was threatened that the two sides came to an agreement. Strange power this little black puck must have.

So it's game on, new rules, new salaries, new faces but the same old fans, living and dying with their home side.

Everybody was in the pool on Wednesday night, fifteen games in fiteen cities. TSN putting hockey head to head with the Baseball playoffs, betcha hockey won the ratings! A renewal of the blood feud of Ontario with Ottawa and Toronto taking it to a shoot out before the Sens won the first game of the season3-2, the Heatley acquisition already paying off its dividend. One noticeable snapshot of that tilt, if Eric Lindros plays every game like he played game one, he's going to be on the Injured List before the season is ten games on. He played a tough and fast game, but how many of us wondered if he was going to be going down for the night with each crashing blow into the boards. It's the way he used to play the game and apparently the way the Leafs want him to play now, but it's kind of like watching a moth head for the flame, pretty soon he's going to be burned.

Out west it was the debut of The Great One as the Professor, Wayne Gretzky took his place behind the bench of the Desert Dogs of Phoenix and quickly learned that it may be a very long season. His Coyotes abandoned the Big Dog in the nets, as Cujo faced more than a half dozen breakaways as backchecking and picking up your man were terms quickly forgotten by the young Gretzky charges. The game featured the return of Todd Bertuzzi, who took his place on the GM Place ice to the expected loud and boisterous reception of the Canuck faithful, a bit of rust was shown and some tentative play from time to time, but he found a bit of a groove as the game progressed. Dan Cloutier kept his team out of trouble with some timely saves and found the fickle Vancouver crowd on his side in this debut of the 2005-06 season, as the long ride begins one wonders if the fans will still be in the Cloutier sidecar when the playoffs come around. But for the Canucks and their fans it was a Marcus Naslund kind of night, the Canuck captain who had toyed with the idea of returning home to Sweden picked up two goals in quick succession as he lead the Canucks on to a 3-2 victory. The win sent the faithful home happy and took the pressure off a team that many expect big things from this season.

There were a few other stories to follow on this reunion night, the rising star of Pittsburgh didn't burn as bright as many had hoped, Sidney Crosby assisted on the Penguins first goal of the new season, alas it was their only goal as the Devils blew past them 5-1. The Oilers won, the Flames lost. The Habs topped their long time rivals the Bruins as mini Stanley Cups littered the ice from the unhappy Boston patriots. And wonder of all wonders, the New York Rangers won a hockey game.

The action for the most part in most highlights appears to have been fast paced, a number of mental errors seemed to be the determining factor in many contests. But after oh so many months, 18 of them, the mistakes have been forgiven as have the players, managers and owners who took the game away for so long. Hockey's back, for the fans it seems all is well once again in the universe.