yankee hockey

THE BIG GAME

Posted in Phoenix, Pittsburgh by yankhockey on January 29, 2009

Well folks, it’s the week of the Super Bowl and you know what that means right? No, really, what does it mean? I have no idea. I think it has something to do with Pepsi commercials. Anyway, for hockey it doesn’t mean squat, but that doesn’t mean I can’t use it to create a theme for a post. The Cardinals and the Steelers aren’t the only sports teams to represent their cities (or states), both places have NHL teams as well. So let’s compare the Super Bowl bound football teams to their respective hockey teams.

Pittsburgh:

Steelers fans have been pretty lucky, their team has always been competitive, if not championship material. Penguins fans aren’t nearly that lucky. Of course, you could say that Penguins fans are incredibly lucky cause they got to see Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr score as many goals in a year as the Minnesota Wild, but we’re talking about teams here, not just players. This year the Steelers were considered contenders right out of the shoot. In this regard they are very similar to their cross-town hockey counter-parts who began the year in the short list of Stanley Cup favourites. Oh, but how things change. While the Steelers have certainly met or exceeded expectations, the Penguins have faltered in a major way. They still have two of the top scorers (and personalities) in the league, but that’s pretty much where they end. Unlike the Steelers, the Penguins lost size in the offseason, and tried to replace it with Matt Cooke. Don’t get me wrong, I love Matt Cooke, and he’s great at what he does, but he’s not Ryan Malone. Further, while the quarterback for the Steelers, Ben Rothlesburger, has managed to play through a lot of pain this year, the quarterback for the Penguins, goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, has been injury plagued all year. While the Steelers are the favourites to win the Super Bowl, the weaknesses of the Penguins have really come to light this season. They will probably make it into the playoffs (though just barely), but with their small back end, and reliance on only two players, they won’t make it far.

Arizona/Phoenix:

There are a few great success stories in sports this year, and Arizona contains two of them. Both the Cardinals and the Coyotes have had the same description for the last couple years: disappointing. And I don’t mean disappointing in a “man that team is bad” sort of way, I mean it in a “that team is better then it plays” sort of way. Well, this year they are poised to finally live up to, and exceed, their potential. The Cardinals could certainly never have been picked to be playing in the Super Bowl, and likewise, the Coyotes couldn’t have been picked to make it into the playoffs. But at this moment both appear to be happening. Phoenix sits in fifth place, which in the hard fought west is all of two points away from being out of it. Both teams are doing it with a nice young group of players. In Phoenix, players like Peter Mueller, Mikkel Boedker and Kyle Turris, while not running away with the show, have been a nice addition. Both teams are also doing it with cagey veterans. Eddie Jovanovski and Ollie Jokinen are a good core of experienced players who can take the youngsters and show them how to compete. The Cardinals and the Coyotes are showing that they can compete with the best of them, and the Cardinals have done it so well that many analysts are picking them to win it all. Don’t be surprised at the end of the year if the Coyotes haven’t changed a few minds as well.

WHY IS YANKEE HOCKEY SO SPORADIC?

Sorry about missing some posts folks. I just got a new puppy and let me tell you… when you are raising a puppy you rarely get to benefit from it. Don’t get me wrong, she’s a bundle of joy and I enjoy every minute of it, but I’m like a single parent here, she takes up a lot of my time. Things are settling down now so I’m hoping my regularly scheduled posts will resume. But for now, here’s a picture of her for you to enjoy.

little Hastur

little Hastur

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SKATING WITH THE STARS

Posted in This Weeks Questions by yankhockey on January 26, 2009

I’m watching the All-Star Game right now, it’s the second period and already my prediction is way off. Kovalev currently has two goals and the score 8-7. Can’t blame the goaltending here, the passing this game has been amazing, as have the shots. There have been a couple of goals that I’m sure the goaltenders would like back, but when you a dealing with the amount of skill present in this game along with a lack of hard hitting defensive play (which is fine in the All-Star Game, but you hope that these habits don’t carry over when the regular season starts up again), you can’t really expect to save as many as you’d like to. This has actually been a pretty enjoyable game this year, especially from the East where the emphasis is definitely on flash over force.

Still, the most fun event again this year was the super-skills competition, even with the silly addition of the elimination shoot-out event. What happened to the two-on-one event? There was almost no skills competition to show off goaltender skills. The elimination shoot-out came close, but for whatever reason only for of the six goaltenders played. It’s possible that the other two opted out, but we have to remember that, despite giving up a ton of goals, these goaltenders are all-stars too.

The young stars game was very fun too. I like the way the game progresses, no whistles, no face offs, no penalties. It’s actually an interesting way to play overtime. Five minutes, four-on-four, whichever team scores the most goals wins. That would certainly encourage offensive play, as well as mainting the team aspect that hockey thrives on.

Of course, the biggest moment of the evening was when the human sasquatch  Zdeno Chara broke Al Iafrate’s 16 year hard shot record by a tenth with 105.3 mp/h. The hardest shot competition is a fun one to watch. There’s something about a frozen piece of rubber flying fast enough to kill a man that just oozes excitement.

So of course the game ends with what I think is the most anti-climactic event in hockey: the shootout. 11-10 East, so at least I got the winner right. There was a penalty in overtime, the first All-Star Game penalty in nine years. There was also the annual single All-Star Game hit behind the West’s net.

But now they are talking about what I think is the saddest part of the All-Star Game… the MVP. Not that I don’t think that Kovalev earned MVP, but I hate that they are awarded a car. I know this is the case for the baseball All-Star Game as well, don’t know about the other sports. I just don’t get why we are rewarding players who make million of dollars, and almost certainly have enough cars already, with a new car! Obviously car companies are looking at the advertising they get from this award, but they could slap their name on a donation to the charity of the MVP’s choice. Just have some guy come out and say “Honda Motors is proud to present this check for $15000 to {name of charity}.” And not only does everyone know that Honda is the official car of the NHL, but they also get to show their charitable side. Instead Alexei Kovalev got a car. Why not make it a hockey prize? Like some sort of experimental pads, or a cool patch they get to wear for the rest of the year?

I don’t know, the All-Star Game seems fun when you’re young, but as you get older, and it may just be my own bad attitude, it quickly becomes obvious what the game is, a chance to schmooze with sponsors.

It’s great to be able to watch the best players in the game all skate at the same time (wait… was that Keith Tkachuk, who isn’t even the best player on his team?), but a full game of such players is a little much. One twenty minute period with all the stick handling, crisp passing, and between the legs shots would be more then enough for me. As it is, you spend the second and third periods repeating the first with a different goalie. It’s not as useless as the NFL All-Star Game, but this game could hardly be considered the most exciting moment of the year.

THIS WEEK’S QUESTIONS:

Which player will suffer most from the All-Star Game hangover? Will Brendan Shanahan continue his stellar play, or was his first game back a fluke? Will Roberto Luongo win his first game since coming back from injury last week? Which team will dominate the second half of the year?

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NO YANKEE HOCKEY THIS WEEK

Posted in Uncategorized by yankhockey on January 21, 2009

Because of some responsibilities I have this week I will be unable to update Yankee Hockey. Sorry to my readers, we’ll be back in full force next week.

TIE ME DOWN

Posted in predictions, rulebook by yankhockey on January 19, 2009

First off I’d like to apologize for the late post… due to circumstances beyond my control I was unable to finish my article last night, but here it is in all its final glory!

You’d be hard pressed to find anything the NHL has done in the last ten years that I don’t like. Nets behind the goals maybe, but I can live with that. But there is one change that I absolutely cannot stand: shootouts.

I was never once bothered with games ending in ties. I always found it kind of quaint, and it made the game seem a little more classic. You might be surprised to know that pretty much every sport allowed for ties, even baseball, until one-by-one they all changed. Football still allows ties, though they are rare, and soccer (or English football) still allows for ties, and I thought that it made sense in hockey too. I did think it was a good idea to guarantee a point to inspire teams to fight hard in the overtime for that extra point, and I liked it when they dropped it to four on four, but shootouts are really beginning to get on my nerves. I’ll admit, at first it was kinda fun watching shootouts, there was some excitement to be had. But now they are really starting to show what they really are… bush league.

Ok, so if you don’t want games to end in ties, I can understand that. Get rid of the guaranteed one point, lengthen the overtime to ten minutes, and I promise you someone will get the winning goal. Shootouts may be exciting, but not nearly as exciting as winning in overtime. You ever watch overtime playoff hockey? It’s the most exciting sporting event in the world. It’s a whole period, five on five, except the very first goal wins. You ever see playoff hockey in the third or fourth overtime? I have, best games I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching. Potting that sudden death goal is the most exciting play in hockey, and something the league should take advantage of more.

I realize that players are tired and just want to get off the ice. Hockey is draining sport to play, especially when you figure the game should have already ended. In the playoffs it’s not as big of a deal because players are willing to play their hardest as long as it takes, but in the regular season, once the game goes into overtime they can start to drag their feet a bit. Regardless, I think if you really want to fix overtime, ten minutes four-on-four will probably do it. If not, ten more minutes three-on-three.

I guess the biggest problem I have with it is that you actually don’t need a game to end in a win. With the guaranteed point, teams are losing in the shootout but still climbing the standings. It doesn’t really make much sense. The reason they added that point is that teams would enter the five minute overtime and skate around like it was a light practice because they were happy with just the point. If they scored, all the better, but mostly they just defended that single point. By guaranteeing that one point that got teams interested in fighting for the second point, and it kinda worked too. But extending the overtime period will solve both the problem with ending on a tie, and relieve the need for that ghost point. Because one team will almost certainly score a goal in those ten minutes four-on-four, teams will be more concerned with scoring it first, rather then defending their own goal in the hope of a tie. But even if the game does end in a tie… so what? I don’t think any possible hockey fans have ever been turned away because of the possibility of a tie. If they are, they can go be basketball fans, I don’t care.

Ties in hockey are part of its charm, and we should bring them back. Shootouts scream exhibition, and I think it’s weak that we have to witness them over and over and over.

PREDICTION OF THE WEEK:

Instead of my normal Question of the Week, I’ve decided, in honor of the huge layoff because of the All-Star Game, to predict the score instead.

With better goaltending on both side this year I think the scoring will be lower then in years past. I think that Ovechkin will be the difference maker scoring two goals.

My prediction, West 5 – East 6

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BATTLE OF THE TITANS

Posted in Pittsburgh, Players, Surprise of the Week, Washington by yankhockey on January 16, 2009

For those of you who do not get ESPN, or simply choose not to watch it, there is a very popular show which the station airs called Pardon the Interruption, or PTI. On it two sports columnists, Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon, argue about current sporting issues and events. It’s really a damn fun show to watch because it accurately portrays what every sports fan does with other sports fans: yell as loud as you can to be heard. These two guys have been talking and writing about sports for longer then I’ve been alive, and they really know their stuff. Well, they really know their stuff… except for hockey. It’s not their fault really, hardly anyone in the states really knows about hockey. Read any AP Wire Service game recap and you can tell the author has absolutely no idea what two teams were even playing the game. Anyway, the two men, though they both admit to attending many Capitals’ games, couldn’t talk hockey to save their lives. Thankfully the producers rarely give them hockey to talk about, unless someone does something exceptionally stupid or violent.

So I was a little surprised yesterday when they not only had a hockey topic to talk about, but that they got it right on, despite the fact that they disagreed with the majority of hockey experts. The topic: Is Alexander Ovechkin better then Sidney Crosby? Now they were talking about this because the players met on Wednesday where Ovechkin potted two goals, and added an assist, while Crosby skated away with a respectable two assists. Against the flow of the show, the two men agreed on this topic. Both men declared Alexander Ovechkin is better then Sidney Crosby despite Canadian and NHL media trying desperately to insist otherwise. And you know what my friends, they are absolutely right.

This debate has been going on since the first year these two began playing. Too be sure, they are both phenoms. They are both incredible, once in a lifetime type players. But Ovechkin has shown over and over again that he is a better hockey player. Watching Ovechkin must be similar to what it was like to watch Maurice Richard, Gordie Howe, or Mike Bossy. He is a beast on skates. He hits people with such a flourish that if you missed the number 8 on his back you’d swear you were watching an enforcer play. He’s so strong on the puck that once it’s on his stick it’s only coming off at the time of his choosing. Before one of the goals he scored Wednesday, a defender had three or four whacks at the puck on Ovechikin’s blade before he scored. The guy actually defended himself out of the play trying to move Ovechkin off the puck. He’s got an unnatural ability to put pucks in the net. On his other goal of the game he went to pass across the crease and ended up knocking it off a defender’s skate and into the net. It’s not because he has the greatest hands in the world, his stick work is pretty good but far from the fanciest I’ve seen. It’s his pure determination. It’s like all he sees is pucks and nets. I wouldn’t be surprised if, like Jimmy Hendrix and his guitar, Ovechkin sleeps with a stick.

Crosby is a great player, better by far then 99% of the players in the league, but he just doesn’t stand up. Even Ovechkin’s off ice time is better then Crosby’s. The man is the most personable man I’ve ever seen in sports. He’s like Terrel Owens without all the baggage. he’s charming, witty, and he bleeds excitement regardless of what he is talking about. The one area where Crosby is certainly better is passing. Ovechkin has good puck handling skills, and is a good passer too, but Crosby is even better. Crosby’s ability to pass is what really makes him a phenomenal player.

Now, there is a lot to be said about the different positions they play. Ovechkin is a winger, while Crosby is a center. The two positions have different responsibilities, and different styles. Crosby is probably currently the best at what he does, but that doesn’t make him better then Ovechkin.

The PTI guys said something else that surprised me, something else right on the ball. They said that Crosby wasn’t even the best player… on his own team! They said that Evgeni Malkin was the best player on the Pittsburgh team, and they’re right, he is. Malkin is an extraordinary player who doesn’t play with the same zest and lust that Ovechkin does, but has noticeable more skill the Crosby. Crosby may be the best Canadian player in the game today, and even if you weren’t sure about that any discussion of the top three would have to include him, but sorry Canada, he’s not the best player in the game today.

SURPRISE OF THE WEEK:

I must say, I am quite taken aback by the resurgence of the Dallas Stars. They are 5-3-2 in their last ten, which is hardly great, but by their standards it’s incredible. They are fighting their way back into play-off contention, and you know what, they just might make it.

BEST IN SHOW

Posted in New Jersey, Vancouver, What Going Right by yankhockey on January 14, 2009

How does one decide which team is the best in the NHL? If you go by the obvious one, record, then you’d have to say the San Jose Sharks. If you go by goals scored, or goals against, there’d be no one better then the Boston Bruins. If you go by experience then the Red Wings are the best. And if you go by sheer depth of talent then the top spot would have to be the Penguins. It’s tough to pick a best team in the NHL, especially since in hockey, more then in any other sport, effort can trump skill. A garbage goal barely pushed passed the line by a checking forward is worth as much as a deke to the backhand, top shelf shot.

By that same token, lack of effort is sure self-destruction. There are many teams with a ton of talent and no effort. Teams like Columbus, Nashville, and this years most lazy team Ottawa have plenty of talent to compete every night, if they’d only compete.

This lack of effort usually involves on of two approaches. There’s the one currently popular in Ottawa where players get it into their minds that fancy is better then tough and try to score the perfect goal with every attempt. Everyone likes a pretty goal, but when you aren’t taking the body, aren’t taking a shot, and skating around the perimeter waiting to make the perfect pass you’re never going to score enough goals to win, let alone intimidate your opponent. This one is pretty prevalent throughout the league. Most teams have one line that passes a little two often. The problem is that this line is also often the highest scoring, if only because the skilled players on the line are the goal scorers. Really, it’s ok to have on line like that on the bench, but when it starts to spread to the rest of the team it becomes a problem. Everyone likes to score, and when they see it working for the best scoring line, they get it in their minds that if they play similarly it will work for them too. Well… it really doesn’t. A team needs to be able to ice lines with different looks, that way if one strategy isn’t working you’ve got at least two more you can try, but if everyone is playing the cycle game then the opponent only has to work on one defense. More importantly, having some offensive players who will hit and fight for the puck makes the other team worried and they’ll end up making mistakes, which is exactly what you want to happen deep in the offensive zone.

The other approach, perfected in Nashville, is the “No-one-else-cares, why-should-we?” Thanks to empty arenas, uninterested fans, and a complete lack of accountability, players on teams in non-hockey markets tend to lose the drive to compete. Sure, there are always players on these teams that work hard every night, but it has to be a team effort, and that just isn’t often the case in cities like Phoenix, Atlanta, and Nashville. Hockey is a hard game, not just in practice, but physically. These men are putting their bodies on the line every game. Sure they are getting paid a ton for it, but money isn’t inspiration enough to work as hard as you can, you need to get something back from the fans, you need to know that you are working towards a supported cause.

It’s sad when teams don’t compete, because competitive hockey is great hockey, while non-competitive hockey is frustrated to watch. That’s why the best hockey is in the play-offs. You know you are going to watch a great game cause people are taking the body, taken shots from every where on the ice, and fighting for possession every chance they get. With the right level of competitiveness, the Islanders could beat the Sharks on any night, but without it, Detroit would lose to Tampa Bay every game.

Nothing is worse for a hockey fan then when their team can’t play with any ferocity. They know it too, every city, every team. It’s obvious to any hockey fan when they are watching a team that just doesn’t want to play hockey hard. Hockey fans in hockey cities aren’t afraid to let their teams know it too. Ever heard hockey fans booing the Wings in Detroit? I have. Even teams like Detroit need a wake up call every once in awhile, and the good teams listen to their fans as closely as they listen to their coaches, because they know the fans are seeing things you just don’t pick up at ice level. Effort: It’s what makes hockey stand out among the sports, and it’s what we, as hockey fans, demand.

WHAT’S GOING RIGHT:

Not much for me as a Canucks fan, as they lose yet another game due to a complete lack of effort (see above post). But the Devils played great. Zach Parise got another goal, he’s going to score 50 before his career is done, and Clemmensen won another game in for Brodeur. When Brodeur went down everyone thought that New Jersey was going to really suffer, it’s a testament to their team that they have hung right in there. Everyone always said this was Brodeur’s team, but this team is run well from management on down, and the team has always acted like real professionals, playing hard and fighting for wins. That’s what a real good hockey does.

RETURN OF THE NATIVE

Posted in New Jersey, This Weeks Questions, Veterans by yankhockey on January 12, 2009

Right now, as we speak, Brendan Shanahan is working on a contract that would bring him back into the game with the Devils. This is too too long in coming. Shanahan is one of the better players to play the game. He was a huge part in Detroit’s Stanley Cups back in the 90s. He is a player of incredible skill, grit, and intelligence, as well as being one of the better leaders in the game. He has 1340 points in his career, and still managed to sneak 25 pucks past goalies last year despite his his age. This isn’t a Sundin situation where Shanahan decided to sit out a good portion of the year, he’s been trying to get a contract since the beginning of the season and no one has given him a sniff.

Shanahan is just too good, and too important, to have been left hanging this long. There were certainly some requirements he had that limited the teams that could go after him, such as wanting to be near his family on the east coast, but there were plenty of teams that that could have snagged him. It’s not surprising to me that he appears to be headed to New Jersey. Back when he made himself available I suggested New Jersey as his likely destination. I knew they had some cap room, as well as a need for some extra goal scoring. If they manage to get him under contract they’ve done good, but why did they wait so long?

It’s not like they believed they would have goaltender Brodeur back early from his injury, it’s not like they didn’t know what kind of offense they were icing. They’ve been aware that both Shanahan was available, and that he was a perfect fit, for quite some time now. But now it’s the second week of January, and only now have they begun to hash out a contract with him.

Now, there’s could be a lot here that I am not privy to. There could have been attempts months ago to get him under contract and for whatever reason Shanahan was not interested at the time. There had been rumours that Shanahan was looking into going to St Louis, and that St Louis would have liked to have him aboard, and that may have stayed his hand for a bit. It may be that New Jersey came to him with an offer that he didn’t like, and thought he could get a better one somewhere else, only to find out that that was not the case. So it isn’t necessarily New Jersey’s fault for taking this long, but for those of us watching from the sidelines, as many Devils’ fans are, it sure seems that way.

What Shanahan will bring won’t be measured in point producing. He’s been out for a long time, and as good as he still is, it’s going to take some time to get accustomed to game again. Fans will have to be patient while he gets his hockey legs back. They’ll have to accept what he can bring, some assists, the occasional goal, and let he become acclimated to the ice again. Eventually they’ll see a change in this team thanks to Shanny. They’ll see his leadership and experience rub off on the younger players, and his cool, collected nature influencing  the vets. With Shanahan, and the eventual return of Brodeur, the Devils will be a force to contend with in the post season again this year

THIS WEEK’S QUESTIONS:

Will Sundin win some games for the Canucks? Will Boston still be the top team in the league come the All-Star break? Will the All-Star Game ruin a perfectly good week that could have been filled with actual hockey? Will the experience the young players in the NHL got during the World Juniors improve their play in the pros?


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LULLS

Posted in Calgary, Ottawa, Surprise of the Week by yankhockey on January 9, 2009

Try as I might I am at a loss for what to write about tonight. There’s just nothing much going on at all right now in the NHL. Sure the All-Star Game is coming up, but I’ve already spent too much time on that. Pittsburgh is outside the play-off picture, and Dallas is nearly in the play-off picture, but I don’t expect either of those things to last the month. The World Juniors just ended and I’d love to talk about those, but this is Yankee Hockey, and if the WJs proved anything, it’s that yankee hockey isn’t gonna look overly bright in the coming years.

Well, I guess maybe that’s worth discussing. There actually is an important reason why Amercian youth hockey doesn’t always play it’s best games in the World Juniors; our junior leagues are not top notch unlike Canada and many European countries. Most of our best players play on high school teams, and then jump to college teams. The USJHL (United States Junior Hockey League) is a pretty respectable organization, but it’s not how many people here in the US imagine their children playing their way into the pros. We are so used to the college route thanks to basketball and football that most people assume that’s how hockey players make it as well.

They’re kind of right. American hockey players do come more often from college teams then from the USJHL, but that’s because all the best players get recruited by colleges here. In Canada, if you are a top notch hockey player, you get recruited by the junior teams, not the universities. When teams are scouting American players they scout high school and college teams, not just the USJHL. If you are a Canadian boy playing on your high school or college team, it’s because you weren’t good enough to get into a junior league.

One result is that many of the players on the US junior team come from the USJHL, with college players having responsibilities to schools and not always being able to make the tournament, or even try out. Still, we can field a pretty decent team. We gave Canada a little scare, even if we then blew it completely and lost to the Czech Republic. Canada was just a very excellent team this year… every year really.

We’ll beat them eventually.

GO USA!

SURPRISE OF THE WEEK:

I am surprised by two things this week; that Calgary is kicking so much ass, and that Ottawa continues to get its ass kicked. Calgary is a good team, and I expected them to win the Northwest, but did you see the beat down they put on San Jose? Where did that come from? And what’s with Kiprusoff? He plays like a third string goalie for a couple of months, and suddenly he’s running away with the Vezina. And Ottawa… you should be ashamed. Such a powerful scoring team that can’t score. It all starts on the back end as they like to say, and Ottawa’s back end looks like a couple of tin cans and a mangy dog with three legs. To say this team needs a retooling would be an understatement. I’m not sure who’s going to survive in Ottawa this season, but I’ll tell you this much, if this team does not looks dramatically different next season fans are going to stay away like the arena carries leprosy.

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CRIME AND PUNISHMENT

Posted in What Going Right by yankhockey on January 7, 2009

So yesterday prosecutors in Philadelphia determined they did not have enough evidence to charge Indianapolis Colts receiver Marvin Harrison for a shooting that occurred at a car wash he owns, despite the fact that it was his unique pistol (apparently made specifically to pierce armour) that was fired. It got me thinking about just how many times in the last few years sports have been horribly tainted by crime, whether it’s this current issue, and the DA in Philly seemed confident that they will gather enough evidence to eventually charge him, or Michael Vick going to jail for dog fighting. The NBA has a serious drug problem, and now they’ve discovered their refs have a gambling problem. Baseball is clean for the most part, except when World Series winning manager Tony LaRussa gets caught drunk behind the wheel. It seems like every week there are at least two stories involving a sports star and a crime, except for hockey.

What is it about hockey that seems to keep it crime free? There are a number of possibilities that I’ve considered. It’s possible that it’s because very few of the players are American. In the documentary Bowling for Columbine Michael Moore discovered that gun crime in Canada is so rare that it only seems to occur when Americans visit. But I don’t believe that for a moment, not to get into a thing here but Moore is well known for only publishing footage that supports his opinion so I don’t trust anything he produces. It is true, though, that guns, especially handguns, are less prevalent amongst Canadians and Europeans then they are here in the States, but that only accounts for handgun crime.

Maybe it’s the culture of hockey that keeps it squeaky clean. Hockey is always more of a team sport then the others. There are certainly star players, but there isn’t any tolerance for star behavior. When one of the biggest stars in the game, Alexander Ovechkin, is the sweetest, most personable, most innocent player on the ice something’s right with the world. It’s quite a bit different then listening to players like Terrel Owens, Stephan Marbery, or Barry Bonds, whose personalities are about as rough as a cheese grater.

But why is hockey like that? I’d like to say that it starts with good hockey parents, but I’ve seen my share of bad hockey dad behavoir. Youth coaches have had some problems too. I think it can come down to two things. The first is the nature of a hockey player. This is a sport that still respects its gentlemenly background. There’s even a trophy for it, the Lady Byng is awarded to the most gentlemenly player. People think fighters are brutish, but they are very polite to each other, making sure both are ready to fight, following a The Code to the letter, even congratulating each other after the fight is over. Even after a hard, and often physical playoff series, teams skate together and shake hands with the men who, just minutes before, were their mortal enemies. The second reason is that players just don’t spend enough time in the game to really get a swell head about it. At most they’ll spend a minute, minute and a half on the ice and then off they go back to the bench.

It’s the swollen head that I think gets sports stars into trouble. They believe that they can do whatever they want because they are much beloved. When New York Giants receiver Plaxico Buress went to a night club in New York City last year he brought with him a loaded gun, despite the fact that it is illegal just to carry a loaded gun within the city limits. He thought that since he brought the city a Super Bowl victory he could break the law, now the mayor of New York wants him to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

But now it’s honesty time. Hockey players get in trouble all the time. Theo Fleury’s alcohol and drug problems got him arrested on multiple occasions. Rick Tochett, and assistant coach in Phoenix got busted for an illegal gambling ring, and oddest of all was the murder-for-hire scheme that landed young Mike Danton into prison. The thing is, hockey players aren’t big stars around the States so we don’t hear about their brushes with the law as much. Though they certainly haven’t been known for committing violent crimes hockey players abused alcohol, beaten spouses, trashed public property, you name it. But that doesn’t mean that everything I’ve already stated isn’t true. The nice thing about hockey is that the biggest stars are also often the most responsible, most active in charities, and most fan-friendly of all the players. Who knows why Sidney Crosby never bitches about not getting the puck enough, or why Roberto Luongo doesn’t complain about his workload, ,or Joe Sakic doesn’t send some schmuck at a bar to the hospital? It could be any of those reasons I mentioned above, or it could be that hockey is the last vestige of the honorable sportsman. Or it could be something in the water, I don’t know, I just know it works.

WHAT’S GOING RIGHT:

You mean besides everything I already said today? Well hockey is finally back on network Television starting next week, which I think is great. Even though I have cable now, I always watch hockey when it’s on NBC because I want it to grow. Now that FOX and ESPN no longer show games, it’s pretty much NBC and VS, and I don’t much like VS. I want hockey on like it used to be, I want to catch a bunch of games a year, not two or three a week. So anyone out there who loves hockey, watch it on NBC even if your team isn’t playing because we want them to know we support the game, and we want them to be able to make money off it so they will show some more.

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HOCKEY ASTROLOGY

Posted in This Weeks Questions by yankhockey on January 5, 2009

The NHL made all of us fans amateur astrologists on Saturday by announcing the All-Star starting lineup. I could here one unanimous “whoopity-shit” from all over the NHL nation. The All-Star Game is fast becoming a corporate-driven, ego-inflating, do-nothing game. Oh, I’m sorry, did I said “fast becoming”? I meant, has been for at least ten years now.

I remember a time when I was kind of excited about the All-Star Game. I thought it was real neat that North America’s best players were suiting up against the World’s best. That instilled a little drama in the game, a little consequence. Now the only thing I notice about it are the endless ads and the uninspired play. Just cause the scores are huge doesn’t mean the players are playing hard. They’re all-stars! They have a lot of skill! That’s what the term all-star was coined to describe!

The worst part is how they have the fans vote for the starting line up. I think anyone who has really paid attention to this all-star game, or the baseball one, must agree to some extant with me. I understand wanting the fans to feel like they play some part in the process, but it hardly ever turns out well. Hockey hasn’t been so bad, in baseball you’d think the entire American League consisted of only two teams; the Yankees and the Red Sox. This year, though, some fans finally got smart and filled the Eastern team with Canadiens. It’s not that I don’t like the Canadiens, but the NHL was lucky they didn’t have six guys from that team alone starting the game.

This should be a wake up call for the NHL to quit it with these votes. Let the players and coaches vote for the starting line up, they know better then we do anyway. As a fan I wouldn’t be pissed if my player didn’t make it onto the starting line, as a fan I’d be pissed that my player didn’t make it because a bunch of people in Montreal stuffed the ballots. As a player I’d be mad as well. I’m sure some players receive bonuses for getting into the All-Star Game, and there are only so many spots. I don’t want the fans to be able to prevent me from earning money I may well deserve because they want to field an entire team of Canadiens.

They won’t change of course. The opportunity to get fans involved, and by way of that, count fans, is too great. Especially because they want to prove to their sponsors that people are interested and hence be able to charge competitive rates on their advertising space. The NHL is a business and having fans vote is very good for business. But for those of us who want to take the game seriously, it’s bad PR. Unfortunately those of us who want to take the All-Star Game seriously aren’t liable to stray away from hockey because of one poorly done exhibition game, and the NHL is keenly aware of that. The All-Star Game is all about showing people who aren’t serious fans the kind of fun that can be had with hockey, and the kind of skill possessed by the best players.

As for me… yeah I’ll watch it. Even with cable I don’t get to see hockey on TV often, so I’ll take any chance I can get. Actually, I do like watching the super skills competition and the young stars. The latter especially because you often don’t get to watch younger players really show what they can do in a regular game, too much pressure, not enough experience, but in the young stars game they can just have some fun with it. So yeah, I’ll watch it, just don’t ask me to analyze it ok?

THIS WEEK’S QUESTIONS:

Will we finally see Mats Sundin suit up for a game? When their game of Chutes and Ladders finally ends, will the Penguins be at the top, or the bottom? Will Boston maintain their league lead, or is San Jose poised to take it back? Is Ovechkin going to maintain his MVP calibre play for the rest of the season? Will the Coyotes sneak into playoff contention? What’s in store for us in this brand new year of hockey?

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