yankee hockey

MARTY’S BACK

Posted in New Jersey, Players by yankhockey on February 26, 2009

So Martin Brodeur came back yesterday after missing pretty much the entire season up to this point and all he managed to do was shut out the Avalanche. Granted, it is the Avalanche without Joe Sakic and a just-back-from-horrible-injury Paul Stastny, but Brodeur hasn’t played a game since November 1st and he achieved his 99th career shut-out. Think he’ll get to 100 before the year is out? Uh, yeah. Not only that he is now only six wins away from the all time record in wins. Had he not been injured we would have been celebrating all this before Christmas and now it would have been forgotten in the midst of playoff hunts and the trading deadline, so it’s nice to have him come back strong now so our excitement for the end of the regular season can coincide with our excitement for Brodeur. There’s always something magical about people approaching milestones at the end of a season. Like Roger Maris hitting 61 on the last game of the season.

There’s little doubt that Brodeur is the greatest goalie of this generation. I’m well aware that Patrick Roy was incredible between the pipes, but even a man of his boundless ego would have to admit that Brodeur is better and more consistent then he ever was. Brodeur is not going to just beat his total wins record, he’s going to shatter it. The man will be 37 in May, and seeing guys like Eddie Belfour, Curtis Joseph, and Brian Boucher play well into their forties leads me to believe he’s got at least 90 more wins in him, and probably 15 more shut-outs. And that’s only if he starts to slow down in his old age.

What is almost lost in all this though is the treatment of Scott Clemmenson by the Devils. Clemmensen stepped in when Broduer went down and kept the Devils from falling down the standings. In fact, under Clemmensen’s backstopping they took over the lead in the Atlantic Division. And what do they do when Brodeur comes back to thank him? They send him down to the AHL. The Devils have apparently decided that Kevin Weekes will be Brodeurs back-up despite the fact that he has never done anything in his career to show that he is capable of consistently winning games at the NHL level, which Clemmensen certainly did. What are they worried about? That he’ll have to go through waivers? Trust me guys, no one is picking up his contract, you’re paying him regardless, might as well go with a winner.

Of course, the fact the Brodeur will play every remaining game probably was a factor. Why leave Clemmensen to rot on the bench when he could be getting valuable experience actually playing the game of hockey at the AHL level. Still, in thanks for everything he has done for you this year, you might as well leave him in the bench and allow him to soak up NHL glory. Even though he won more games for them this season (25) then he ever should have been able to, if they go on to win the Stanley Cup and he isn’t on the bench I don’t believe he gets his name engraved on it (correct me if I’m wrong though). That would be a true shame. Of course, there’s nothing to say he won’t make his way back up come playoff time, especially because I don’t see the Devils having any confidence in Weekes come post-season.

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TRADING DAY

Posted in Uncategorized by yankhockey on February 25, 2009

So we are roughly a week away from the NHL trading deadline, and I have to say I am a little excited. I know it’s an over-hyped, under-achieving sort of day, but there’s still some suspense in it all. If my team are buyers, will they pick up the player they need? If they are sellers, will they sell the whole team or only the disappointing big contract player.

Last year my team basically stood pat, and it cost the job of the GM. Even though the trading deadline was lame for my team, and for me as well by association, even the lack of moves produces its own set of emotions.

This year there are only a couple of big names on the market, Jeremy Bouwmeester from Florida being the big one. But also you might see Chris Pronger or Scott Niedermayer moved from Anaheim. You might see Ray Whitney moved from Pittsburgh. Maybe Marion Gaborik from Minnesota if he is healthy and someone actually believes he will stay that way.

But I’m not here to start rumours or make predictions, for one I don’t want to be another Eklund, but also because trading day predictions are all hogwash. It’s easy to see what two teams would benefit from exchanging two packages of players, but that is not in any way an indication that it will happen. There is much more to making a trade then just saying “I need offense, you need defense, let’s trade”. There’s salary considerations, there’s team depth, there’s no-trade clauses… even fans come into play. Owners aren’t stupid, they know if they trade a fan favourite they are liable to alienate the people who spend their money coming to games. Not to say it doesn’t happen, but it certainly has never panned out well in my experience. Fans also want to see something good in return, so even when making a little deal, GMs want fans to believe they have gotten something dynamic in return.

Even though I won’t be going into who’s going where myself, I love to keep up with it. I love to hear what other people think is a good deal. I love to tell them when they’re wrong (seriously people, it doesn’t matter how many first round picks you offer, Washington is not giving up Ovechkin), I love it when someone brings up an offer I hadn’t thought of before.

In the end, I’m sure my team will be unable to make any kind of significant deal, just like every year. Even my baseball team can’t make a deal. What’s up with me a sports? But, regardless of what my own team accomplishes, I’ll be back on the fourth to analyze the days deals for all of you, and maybe then make a few predictions of what those deals will mean for their respective teams.

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SHORT HANDED MAGIC

Posted in Philadelphia, Players, stats by yankhockey on February 22, 2009

In case you haven’t heard, you don’t want to go on the power-play against the Flyers. They lead the league in short handed goals… by a ton. And they are, in turn, lead by their captain Mike Richards who just happens to have tied a team record over the weekend by potting his seventh short handed goal this season against the Penguins. Oh yes, it was also his third game in a row with a short handed goal, and one of those three came while the Flyers were two men short which was the league record third time in his career he’d accomplished that. Oh yes, this is only his fourth full season with the Flyers.

How bug of a deal is seven? Well, the record is thirteen, set by Mario Lemiuex, and he’s unlikely to reach that. But at the rate he’s going ten certainly isn’t out of the question, eleven is probably in reach too. Only four players have ever scored more then nine; Lemiuex twice, Gretzky twice, Marcel Dionne and some guy named Dirk Graham who unfortunately scored his ten the same year Lemiuex scored thirteen thereby ruining a perfectly good opportunity to lead the league.

Scoring short handed is supposed to be a difficult thing to do, but the Flyers have been doing it like they’re on the power-play. Richards himself has nine short handed points, Simon Gagne has four goals and four assists, Jeff Carter has four goals of his own, even under achieving Glen Metropolit (who I continue to expect to pull out and awesome season and am continually disappointed by) has managed a short handed assist of his own. In total the Flyers have scored 16 short handed goals, which is ridiculous. Most teams, if they’re good at the penalty kill, and a little lucky, will pot eight or nine in a season total, the Flyers are looking at more then that from just one player.

I saw Richards’ seventh goal. It came off one of the laziest passes I’ve ever seen. I can understand that a team can get a little over confident on the power play, but when you know you are playing the best short handed scoring team in the league you have to know that you must be responsible. But then, being lazy and irresponsible, especially on the defensive end, has been the biggest criticism against the Penguins this year. In any case, it was a slow pass across the blueline that Richards picked up so naturally it almost seemed like it was meant for him. He was off then, all alone against Marc-Andre Fleury and with a slight nudge of his stick blade he sneaked the puck five hole. In the end it didn’t matter much, the Penguis won the game thanks to the Flyers’ goalie woes, but it was still embarrassing.

In fact, there’s nothing so embarassing in hockey then to let in a short handed goal. Unless you’re the team getting the short handed goal, then you can start teasing the opposing goaltender by chanting his name over and over and over again. The Flyers are a little unique this year in that scoring short handed goals seems to be part of their strategy. Most teams will take one when they can get one, but discourage most attempts because if you mess up the opposing team has even more advantage the other way. Something Philly is doing is right though, even with throwing caution to the wind they are still tied for seventh in the league in the penalty kill. I wonder how much of that is due to other teams being intimidated and trying to play it extra safe while on the power play? If the Flyers go far into the playoffs, I imagine that more teams will be trying to imitate that style in the future. They better hope they got a player like Mike Richards on their team if they do, though, because he may be the most powerful PK offensive machine tis league has seen in a very very long time.

TAKES YOUR BREATHE AWAY

Posted in Players, Washington by yankhockey on February 19, 2009

As I said in my last post, the whole point of hockey, of sports in general, is entertainment. It’s not about collecting stats, it’s not about breaking records, it’s not even about winning championships (though… granted those tend to be quite entertaining), it’s all about playing a game and making it enjoyable to watch so that fans will pay money for the honor of relaxing for a couple of hours and feel content that their money was well spent. In that regard, I have never seen a better player then Alexander Ovechkin. I have seen a lot of great players live; Pavel Bure, Mark Messier, Luc Robitaille, Sidney Crosby, Joe Thorton, Jarome Iginla, Roberto Luongo, Mika Kipprusoff, Evgeni Nabakov… but none of them offer me the pure hockey pleasure that I get every time I watch Ovechkin.

The reason I feel the need to go on and on about Ovechkin like this was the goal he scored Wednesday night against Montreal. If it was the first time he’d scored a goal that was nothing but amazing we’d be impressed, but he’s done it over and over and over again, each time being just as entertaining as the last. Well, take a look at the goal yourself and see what you think:

I’ve embedded the one with commentary from John Buccigross and Barry Melrose because Melrose says something very true, it’s the play off the wall that’s the most impressive. Not to say the goal itself isn’t awesome, especially when you watch it at different angles. At first it looks like he just pushes the puck along with his body into the net, but when you look at it from head on you see that the puck goes into the net long before Ovechkin skirts the crease, and that it’s the defenseman who knocks the net off, not Ovechkin. So not only does he perform an mind blowing spin-o-rama pass to himself off the wall, he manages to flip the puck over Carey Price while on his back, and at the same time changes his direction from into the net to across the crease! It’s like a ballet it’s got so many complex moves.

At the end he mentions Phoenix as being his best goal. That Phoenix goal was like Kennedy being shot, hockey fans everywhere know exactly where they were and what they were doing when they first saw it. For those of you who haven’t seen it yet, allow me to show you this:

It almost hurts to watch. That’s the magic of Ovechkin, he makes your jaw drop almost every time he has the puck. So I thought it would be fun to go through some other stunning goals and talk a little about what makes them great.

Rick Nash Dekes Out the Entire Coyotes Team:

This goal demonstrates the reason I love Rick Nash. He’s the size of the Incredible Hulk, but he’s got the hands of a surgeon. He makes the Coyotes look like amateurs. Every turn of his stick makes you intake a little more breathe until he finally scores and you get to exhale in one long “wow!” Incredible goal that belongs on highlight reels from now until the end of time.

Pavel Bure Hits the Booster Jets:

Just watching Bure take speed to another level is impressive enough, but then the stick-to-skate-to-stick move he pulls? Forgetaboutit. That was like the Usain Bolt 100m dash of the hockey world right there. he was so far ahead of everyone he took the time to put a little dazzle on his goal.

Do You Believe In Miracles?:

Do I even need to explain this goal on a site called Yankee Hockey? US college players, Soviet Red Army team, Eruzione scores in the third to win. Maybe the most exciting goal of all time.

Peter Forsberg Goes for Gold:

Maybe not the most exciting goal ever if you are only looking for something flashy, but consider the context. Sweden going for their first Olympic gold in their own country against a powerhouse Canada team. Young Peter Forsberg, not yet a household name, comes in and squeeks one by for the win. They made a postage stamp in Sweden to commemorate this event. Also impressive was Tommy Salo who’d never be able to live up to this moment again, especially a couple of Olympics later when he let in a goal against Belarus at the blue line.

The Goal:

It’s “The Goal”. There’s almost no topping this. Arguably the best player to ever play the game, at the top of his game and at the defining moment of his game. Nothing says hockey like

There are plenty of more goals out there that have stunned hockey fans from around the world, these are just the few that have stunned me. If there are any goals out there, dear readers, that have taken your breathe away, please let me know and I’ll try to highlight them in a later post.

PENALTY KILL

Posted in rulebook, Vancouver by yankhockey on February 17, 2009

Something unusual happened tonight; Kyle Wellwood of the Vancouver Canucks was called for a penalty. What’s so unusual about that you ask? Wellwood hasn’t been charged with a penalty since 2006, a total of 159 games played without a single infraction. How can a player accomplish a thing like that in today’s NHL? There’s so many things that can be called. It’s not simply a matter of being disciplined and not hitting a guy wrong or grabbing onto his jersey. Someone could knock your stick up into another players face, that’s a penalty. You could accidentally get your stick between another player’s legs, that’s a penalty. You could be spreading your legs to steady yourself and accidentally clip another players knees, that’s a penalty. Hell, you could even get a penalty for a second false start in a row on a face-off. And yet, despite the many many ways to head to the box in the NHL… Wellwood has managed to keep himself out for an incredible period of time. Maybe he had a whole stack of get out of jail free cards, I dunno.

What I do know is that having a reputation for not taking penalties surely helped. The officials in the NHL are very smart and know the players they ref better then those players would like. Officials know which players are prone to dives, which players are prone to dirty play, and yes, which players are clean as a whistle. Maybe Chris Pronger takes a penalty every time his hand leaves his stick, but that’s Chris Pronger. Refs know that Wellwood doesn’t take penalties, so they give him the benefit of the doubt.

This might sound a bit cheesy to people who aren’t used to the NHL. Rules are rules right? And rules should always be followed shouldn’t they? The NHL has an interesting take on the rules. Sure, some things always have to be called. You always have to call a high stick if you spot it, you always have to call boarding, you always have to call fighting, delay of game, and slashing. But the thing that makes the NHL really interesting, and quite a bit more fun, is you don’t always have to call tripping, roughing, interference, goaltender interference, holding, or things like that. Anyone who follows the game closely will tell you that a cross check at center ice is far different from a cross check in front of the goaltender. Likewise, interference away from the puck is different from interference at the puck.

Hockey, basketball, and football are ruled by refs. Unfortunately football and basketball are also often ruined by them. It’s the strictness of the rules that starts to break down the game. I’m not saying you shouldn’t make sure that players are safe, as most rules in any sport are there to make sure players don’t get hurt, but it’s the really dumb rules like trying to figure out whether the quarterback’s arm was going through a passing motion or not that just bog everything down. Like I said, hockey refs are smart. They understand that the principle behind hockey is first and foremost entertainment. They know exactly when a penalty will be entertaining, and when it will ruin the flow of play. As long as players are playing safe, and the game is going strong, who cares if someone takes their hand off the stick or runs a little pick, or maybe nudges the goaltender a little bit. All that just make the game a little more exciting.

The officials in hockey are really smart. I know I keep saying that but it continues to be true. Ever see a group of refs swallow the whistle for the last three minutes of play? If it’s a close or tied game they’ll just let the teams go at it. It’s so exciting to see your team either try to keep the lead or tie the game in the last few minutes when the refs take themselves out of it. Bodies are flying everywhere, hitting everything that moves, throwing other players out of the way. Hockey is a real struggle, and the last minutes of the game should exemplify that. They shouldn’t be filled with whistles and penalties, no one wants to see that, we want to see the players playing as hard as they can without fear of putting their team one man short. The same is true in overtime, overtime power-plays are annoying, and that’s no way to end the game for either team. Hockey fans love to see two evenly matched opponents play to the highest level of their abilities to try to get those extra points. Of course, as I said earlier, there are those calls that need to be made, regardless of where the game happens to be. It doesn’t matter if you’re team is down one and already on a penalty kill, if you get your stick into the face of another player you are going into the box because people have to be kept safe on the ice.

There’s a bit of an understanding between players and refs about what is kosher and what is not, and often the tone is set early in the game. If the refs are worried that the two teams meeting are going to be playing too rough they’ll call a lot of questionable penalties early to let the teams know to keep it legit. If there’s a lot of good back and forth going on and the teams are pulling out scoring chances on every rush the refs understand that to slow it down by calling soft penalties would be a real shame and let them play.

Since the lockout there have been a few changes to the way the game is called. For one, interference and holding are called more often, and that’s fine by me. One thing that’s not so fine by me though is how they call diving. I like that they’ve added a diving penalty, what I don’t like is that I’ve never seen one that hasn’t followed a penalty called for the infraction which the player dived to embellish. I think if the dive is obvious enough that you can call a player for do it then you must believe that what the other player was doing to him was too slight to have meritted a penalty alone. Don’t reward the diver by taking a player from the opposing team off with him, that just doesn’t make any sense.

PENGUINS ON ICE

Posted in Pittsburgh, san jose by yankhockey on February 15, 2009

I was planning on talking about the sudden downfall of the Sharks when suddenly the news came down that the Michel Therrien, coach of the Penguins, had been fired. For those of you unfamiliar with the situation, the Penguins have two of the highest scoring forwards in the league in Sydney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, as well as other offensively talented folks as Miroslav Satan, Peter Sykora, and Jordan Staal, as well as world class goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury… who went to the Stanley Cup finals last year by the way… are currently sitting five points out of a play-off spot.

Once the Penguins started to fall down the standings anyone paying attention became concerned for Therrien’s job. When they proved themselves completely unable to climb back up the standings it was no longer a matter of if, but when. The only question remaining is why the Penguins were so eager to try let Therrien right the ship when it was obvious it was already sunk.

For once I’m actually in favour of a coach firing. Not that I completely blame Therrien. I think most of the blame belongs to GM Ray Shero who dropped the average weight of his team by 60 pounds in the off season. Matt Cooke is no Ryan Malone. But regardless, Therrien couldn’t put together a good defense if he had the help of the Maginot Line. When you have Crosby and Malkin on your team, your offense is pretty much set (even though, with all that firepower, they still rank 23rd in the league on the power play), you gotta concentrate on not giving up more then you score, and that’s something that Therrien was never able to do.

Defense has been the Achilles’ Heel of the Penguins for years. This year they’re loaded with fast, offensively minded defenders, which is fine if you have a couple that can be rough and tough with the opposing offense. Hal Gill is the only guy they got who’s real tough to play against, and they have him playing offensively. Ryan Whitney would be a great defender if he could play as big as he is. The rest of them wouldn’t know a body check from an unemployment check. With a quick glance at the Penguins’ defense shows you exactly the problem, they always try to play the puck. Any junior coach will tell you, as a defender, you play the body. If you are on defense your role is to protect your zone first and foremost, and if you happen to be a Bobby Orr type you can turn that into an offensive chance, but there is no shame in rubbing out a player and letting your offense provide the offense. When you play the puck then the player can sneak their way around you, especially in the East where fancy puck-handling is as common as the rink ice. Is it any wonder that the lowly Toronto Maple Leafs can pot six on you?

I don’t know that replacement coach, Dan Bylsma, can change that at all, or if he even wants to. The problem lies not in the defenders, but in the way they’ve built and coached this defense. Whatever occurs now, Therrien definitely had to go. I’ve felt for a few years now that the Penguins have been floating on Crosby alone, and were absolutely over achievers. I do think they are a play-off worthy team, and that they can’t even seem to find their way into the post season is reason enough to change coaches.

The Canucks were in a similar situation until they went and won four straight. Until that point it was hard to say who would be fired first, Therrien, or Canucks’ coach Alain Vigneault. The Canucks are another team that isn’t good enough to over-achieve their way into the finals, but should definitely be in the post-season, and their fans demand nothing less. Just look what happened last year when they lost something like seven of their last eight. GM Dave Nonis was fired, but Vigneault was given another year to prove he could bring this team into the playoffs. Frankly, I thought they both should have been fired, especially since long time captain Markus Naslund implied that as long as Vigneault was coach he wasn’t coming back. Naslund is the highest scoring Canuck in history… what has Vigneault done for you lately Vancouver?

I have to mention the Sharks before I’m done tonight though. They’ve won a single game in their last seven. Sure they’ve picked up some overtime points, but losses are losses. They’re fighting Detroit and Boston for the honor of being called the best team in the league, so though it would be the most glorious and unlikely downfall in the history of sports if they missed the playoffs entirely (if that’s even mathematically possible at this point), they still don’t want to give up any possible points.

The bigger issue is that they’ve given up 11 goals in the last two games. Those games were against Buffalo and New Jersey, good teams to be sure, but hardly goal scoring juggernauts. The two main reasons the Sharks have been so good this year are their defense and their goaltending. Surprisingly, they were winning more games when both their defense and goaltending were ravaged by injuries. Now that the team is the healthiest it’s been since the beginning of the year they’re suffering from an epic (on their terms) losing streak.

TIME TO INVEST IN GOLD

Posted in predictions by yankhockey on February 12, 2009

Well, the Olypmics are one year away now, and everyone is talking potential line-ups, so I don’t see why I should be any different.

Next year’s US squad is going to be one of the most promising in recent memory… on offense. With the likes of Zach Parise, Paul Stastny, and the likely return of Mike Modano and Jeremy Roenick the offense is looking to score a lot of goals. Hell, even Thomas Vanek of Austria might be playing for the US team (don’t ask me how, I’m not a lawyer, I just report these things). And with tough guys like Phil Kessel and Ryan Kesler, and Dustin Brown playing hard and scoring goals the US will also be tough to play against. Hell, even youngsters Bobby Ryan and Patrick Kane may get in on the act.

So the offense looks really very sound. The goaltending should be great too with Ryan Miller and a rejuvinated Tim Thomas leading the pack. If Thomas can play like he is now in international play there won’t be many teams that can score against him.

Looking good so far right? But what are we suppose to do on the back end? Brian Rafalski will be back to lead the d-corps (I’m guessing captaining the team as well), but after him we really don’t have much in the way of depth. Erik Johnson is good but very young. Ray Whitney has a definite offensive upside but it comes with a slight defensive downside. Jordan Leopold is still very good but he’s getting kind of slow. And Brooks Orpik? Well, he’s not as advertised. Mathieu Schneider will be 40 so he may not make the cut. Chris Chelios will be 48, and though I respect the man and his game a lot there is no way that is flying in the Olympics. Joe Corvo maybe, but he’s pretty small for international play, as is John-Michael Liles. Paul Mara would look pretty good on the blue line. In the end I think they’ll have to go with big defensive guys without much offensive talent like Mike Komisarek and Derian Hatcher or risk giving up too many chances.

What it really comes down to is that we are lucky that the games are being played on NHL size ice at GM Place in Vancouver as opposed to international ice. We stack up as good or better with every team on both offense and goaltending for the upcoming Olympics, and it’s not often we get to say that. But on defense both Canada and Sweden knock our socks right off. Even Finland is probably stacked up better defensively. The NHL sized ice will make sure we aren’t immediately at a disadvantage when it comes to our back line.

The only other thing I could ask for is for Canada to put Minnesota Wild winger and all-around bad-ass Cal Clutterbuck on their team. I just really want to hear international commentators yelling his name. Also, it would be great if Bob Costas did a profile on Clutterbuck, or maybe invited his mother or father to do the profile. They could call it “Clutterbuck on Clutterbuck”. God that’s a beautiful hockey name.

So here’s what my line-up looks like:

Vanek (I hope) – Gomez – Parise

Roenick – Modano – Ryan

Kessel – Tkathuk – Brown

Langenbrunner – Drury – Kesler

Rafalski – Hatcher

Orpik – Komisarek

Mara – Leopold

Thomas

Miller

DiPietro

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ROID RAGE

Posted in Uncategorized by yankhockey on February 10, 2009

The Alex Rodriguez revelation has brought steroid use in sports back into the spotlight. Just when we thought we could forget about it until Bonds and Clemens came up for Hall of Fame voting. Not that it’s surprising. It’s hard to believe any player in baseball in the last 15 years was clean. Certainly there were players who only enhanced their performances with skill and effort, but I can’t imagine a single player who I would be surprised to discover was using steroids or HGH. For baseball this just enforces that there is nothing sacred anymore, but what this means for other sports is somewhat foggy.

There is no doubt that there are athletes in every sport, both male and female, using performance enhancing drugs. Our sports heroes no longer get a free pass, knowing what we do now it’s hard to believe that people like Lance Armstrong, Usain Bolt, or even guys like Super Bowl winning quarterback Ben Roethlesberger are successful through nature and training alone.

In most sports it’s easy to see how performance enhancing drugs can help. In individual sports, such as track and field, where races are won in tenths of a second, being a little faster can mean the difference between last place and first. In sports like football being stronger and heavier can be more important then being more skilled. In sports like baseball, where one’s actions are very repetitive (hit the ball a little harder, pitch the ball a little faster), and non-pitcher positions only have to play roughly a third of a game at most performance enhancing drugs could most definitely help. But what about hockey? Is there an epidemic of steroid users in hockey as there are in baseball?

There is something different about hockey. For one, foot speed does not equal skate speed. Arm strength does not equal puck speed. A big chest does not make you a better hockey fighter. Being stronger and faster does not make you better. Look at Wayne Gretzky, the Great One. He wasn’t very fast, and he definitely wasn’t very big. What he was was smart… hockey smart. Look at Bobby Orr, the original Great One. He was fast sure, but he wasn’t very big, he’s real skill was skill. Great hockey players would make great NASA scientists, or psychic hot line readers, because what great hockey players have is an incredible ability to predict the future. You can imagine a game of hockey like a fencing match. The participants must anticipate their opponent’s moves at lightning speed instead of trying to react to them once they’ve made a move. In fencing if you a reacting you are losing, you have to be one step ahead. A truly great hockey player is able to see the game like a chess match. What we see as one minute of fast paced hockey, a great player sees as a slow, calculated series of moves, and that can’t be improved by steroids or HGH. Even brawlers won’t be helped much by steroids. Sure, you could be stronger, but fighting on ice is more then just being the Incredible Hulk, it’s almost a ballet. Steroids don’t make you more steady on your feet, or help you sneak a punch inside a players defenses. In fact, it’s not even so important that you win a fight in hockey. Most last about thirty seconds and consist of a bunch of whiffed punches before one of the guys falls. Sure, it’s nice to get the win in a fight, but even if you don’t you’ve made your point.

I’m not totally naive though. Certainly there is steroid use in the NHL. Even if the advantage that it gives you is middling, that small advatange could mean the difference between playing in the AHL and being a top line player. Even more significant is the ability of steroids and HGH to help recovery time with injuries. Hockey players just want to play hockey, especially in the playoffs. I can’t believe that some die hard player hasn’t decided that taking HGH was worth it so that they could get back in time for the semi-finals.

I’m also sure that there are a good many players coming out of the AHL and ECHL who have taken performance enhancers their entire careers. Who wants to spend their entire lives playing in the minor leagues when you could take an injection and get a slightly better chance at making it to the pros? Especially since there is currently no testing procedure in the NHL.

So do I think it’s a real problem in the NHL? Well, since I believe in the spirit of competition I think any chemical advantage is a problem. And no, I don’t think caffeine counts, I’ve had caffeine plenty of times in my life and it hasn’t helped my sports skills a lick. Furthermore, there are definite health risks associated with taking steroids and HGH that not every player is willing to take, so if everyone isn’t on them, no one should be. However, when comparing to other sports being played I think there is no epidemic in hockey. I have no doubt that should there be a test like they had in baseball in 2003 where everyone was tested to try to get a percentage it would be roughly the same. That doesn’t mean that I think that the amount of users in hockey is equal to that in baseball, for one I think baseball is much more technologically advanced and many of the substances being used cannot be tested for yet. Also, the first baseball test was not random, players were aware of it for months, and still more then 10% of the players tested positive.

Steroids, HGH, and other like substances have no place in sports, but anything that gives you an advantage will always have supporters in the shadows. And if history has taught us anything, it’s that the cheaters will always be a step or two ahead of those trying to stop them. Alex Rodriguez and others will eventually make it so that hockey has to address the steroid issue. I do believe that steroids offer little assistance in the game of hockey, and that most of our beloved players aren’t on them, but that doesn’t mean the game is clean. Until they institute a testing policy and harsh punishments for those that test positive, the NHL has it’s head in the sand.

BREAK OUT THE BUBLE

Posted in Chicago, Vancouver by yankhockey on February 8, 2009

I had a truly wonderful hockey experience on Saturday night listening to the Canucks destroying the Blackhawks on Canadian radio. The Canucks’ radio color man, Tom Larscheid, was in Logan, Utah being inducted into their sports hall of fame for his time playing football there (but that’s an entry for an entirely different blog), and as a guest commentator they brought on Grammy winning jazz musician, and Canucks fan, Michael Buble. The man was awesome! Now, the two Canucks’ commentators, Larscheid and John Shorthouse, are great guys. They can really call a game. I’ve listened to other broadcasts and there are few other radio guys who can call hockey well enough to really give you a picture of what’s happening on the ice. Through all the years I’ve listened to Canucks’ broadcasts they’ve often had guest commentators when one of the two regulars couldn’t make it, and they usually stink the place up. If there is one thing universal in sports, it’s that the camaraderie between radio commentators is as important as their abilities to call a game. So often, when they bring in a substitute, even if they can call the game great, the timing is a little off and it makes for a poor listening experience. But Buble was different, he seriously rocked the house.

I’ll admit, part of it was that he was, like me, a rabid Canucks fan. Tom and Shorty are too, of course, but as professional radio guys they have to be neutral, or at least try to be. Buble is a jazz musician who was invited into the radio booth, he doesn’t have to be anything but what he is. It was great to listen to a guy who was as excited by me, and luckily for both of us it was a great game for exciting fans. Buble was laughing, singing, taunting the Blackhawks, he was absolutely charming. There are power-play contests during the game where people are given tickets when the Canucks score and Buble was so exciting he offered the first person two hundred of his own dollars along with a collection of his cds and dvds. He went on, on later power-plays, to offer dinners with Barack Obama, Goodyear blimps, and dates with Oprah, joking that he would never be allowed on the radio again.

It wasn’t just his Canucks fandom that was fun to listen to, it was his personality. He was witty, humble, informed, and altogether a joy to listen to. He told personal stories (his parents having to fix drywall in their basement when he was a child whenever the Canucks lost because of his tendency to throw objects against the walls), professional stories (He likes Paris Hilton and believes she is much smarter then people think, but has never met Billy Blanks), and between period stories (he and Shorty opened a door into a private booth and accidentally made a woman spill wine on her sweater, but he apologetically refused to buy her a new one since it was really Shorty’s fault). It was much better then I could ever imagine putting a fan in the booth could be. A fan in the booth makes me think of some drunk screaming at the refs and speaking with unearned authority about exactly what the team needs to do to succeed. Buble was great, you could tell he was just excited to be at the game, and not just at the game, but a part of the game. He had so much fun that he even suggested that he quit music and become a commentator.

Obviously this kind of thing doesn’t work in the long term. It’s like the Winter Classic, it’s great when it happens once a year, but loses its charm should it occur multiple times a year. But for that one game (and again, it was a great game to have a fan in the booth) it was one of the most entertaining hockey moments I’ve experienced this year.

If you’d like to listen to a few highlights (and I suggest you do), then check out the game highlights from canucks.com here.

As for the game itself, it’s just the type of game the Canucks have needed since the beginning of January. They beat down one of the best teams in the league, 7-3. Luongo got his first solid win since he came back from injury, Sundin had his second consecutive multi-point game, and the Canucks only gave up one power-play goal (which you’d know was significant if you’d been paying attention to their last month).

What this game means for Chicago is not entirely clear. They played ok. They got more shots on goal then the Canucks, and they played well in their own end, but their goaltenders were horrible and they ran into major penalty problems. They’re penalty killing managed to score one short-handed goal, but gave up four power-play goals. This was Chicago’s first lost to a Canadian team, they had just beaten Calgary and Edmonton. At the beginning of the year, the one real question in Chicago was who would step up to be the starting goaltender. That question was seemingly answered when Khabibulin started playing like a Stanley Cup winning goaltender, and Huet was playing well enough to be considered as well. Huet started the game and gave up three goals, Khabibulin replaced him in the second and preceeded to give up five. If that trend continues then Chicago may be headed for some trouble.

FIGHT CLUB

Posted in rulebook by yankhockey on February 5, 2009

There’s been a helluva lotta talk in the NHL about fighting.  Is it necessary? Or is it a hold over from a more barbaric age?

I’m not entirely a hockey purist, and I don’t come from old hockey stock. I fell into hockey rather late in life. That doesn’t make me any less of a fan, and listening to other fans, fans from such hockey towns as Detroit and Vancouver, I think that I have at least as much insight and love for the game as people born and bred into it. I say this because I want you to understand that when I say I support fighting in hockey I do so not because I want to watch a blood sport, but because I believe that fighting in hockey is much more then just two men throwing punches at each other. I believe it is an essential element to the game.

Let’s get something out of the way real quick: Fighting in hockey is never, ever about sucker punching somebody, or taking them by surprise. You may have heard a little something about “The Code”. The Code is the unwritten set of rules that govern hockey fights. For one, you never fight an unwilling player. You never punch with your gloves on. And you always stop if you knock someone out. This is a strict code, and though occasionally people stray, the players who make their living as fighters never do. Don’t believe me? Just listen to what Georges Laraque, one of the heaviest of the heavies, says to his opponent before a bout in this video:

Good luck he says!

The other thing that has to be debunked right away is that these guys are really hurting each other. The image of bare-knuckled brawls certainly does make one think of real danger, but in hockey situations it is preferable. Hockey gloves are not boxing gloves. Their padding is think and hard. Their knuckles are made out of leather, and what do you think happens to leather that gets wet and then dries over and over and over again? Especially when it is wet in freezing conditions? Not only are hockey gloves cement hard, they get cracks in the leather that can cut like glass. No, bare fisted is definitely preferable. Not only that, but trying to fight while covered in pads while slipping on ice makes it very hard to land solid punches. Even when punches look solid, because of the lack of friction on the ice, they are pushing against the opponent more then contacting them violently. Though a fighter will occasionally leave the bout with a bloodied nose or mouth, the most common damage is to the hands. These guys are throwing bare clenched fists at pads and helmets which often result in cuts and bruises to the knuckles.

The reason I support fighting in hockey is because of the strategy of it. These guys are told to go out there and hit everything wearing another color. Most of the talented goal scoring type players and not heavy hitters, and if the other team is allowed to run at them all game without repercussions then you stand to lose your best players either to injury or fear of touching the puck. By allowing players to fight you make it so that the other team is a little hesitant to attack your best players for fear of retribution. Many people in the hockey know suggest that fighting actually lessens the chance of injuries, and I tend to agree. People who disagree point to college and international play as examples where there is both no fighting, and less injuries, but this is a fallacy. Hitting in international leagues is far far less then it is in the NHL. Leagues in places like Russia, who created the finesse team, crack down much more on hitting. What might be a clean hit here could easily be called a penalty there. As for college, players there are wearing full face masks (something the NHL might start thinking about), and no one wants to be the thug on the college team. College players know that if they want to play in the pros it’s got to be earned through skill. Thugs will be coming from Canadian major junior leagues, not US college teams.

The best way to illustrate how the NHL is different from international leagues is the occurrence of fighting between international players that occurs here. I’ve seen on numerous occasions Swedish player Mattias Ohlund drop the gloves and fight as well as any Canadian boy. North America breeds a different sort of player, the kind of player that just wants to win and will do so by any means allowed. In Europe they may be happy to make stunning passing plays and dekes, but here the only thing that counts is the W in the standings. Many European players that come here stick to their fancy ways, and are very entertaining. But others, players like Ohlund, or even Alexander Ovechkin, understand that being scary to play against is as important as being tough to play against.

In all the years of fighting in the NHL, and it’s been every year, there have been no deaths, and few debilitating injuries. I have a feeling it will happen eventually. It happened recently in a senior league in Canada, which is very unfortunate. But that’s all it is, unfortunate. These guys are throwing 230 pounds of muscles at each other at thirty miles on hour on ice while wearing blades and firing a hard rubber disk at speeds up to 100 miles per hour with a four foot long stick, I really don’t think taking a couple moderate punches to the helmet is really going to do much harm to anyone.

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