Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Watching Hockey -- at the AHL All-Star Game

For all the gusto and occasional pomposity (just using the word, I think, qualifies) displayed on this blog and within the five-foot perimeter surrounding my person, I am from Binghamton and thus held to a natural ceiling of arrogance. I hear the bitching about the All-Star games. I understand. And agree. But the AHL All-Star game came to my home rink, the Broome County Veterans Memorial Arena in Binghamton, and I did not hesitate when Sir Douglas the Hockeywise offered two tickets (in his season-ticket spot three rows from the ice, nonetheless) for the fell-in-our laps event.

I was joined for the Sunday/Monday events by Chris McGinnis, honorary captain of the defunct Livingston Manor Maple Leafs, accomplished musician, Subaru owner, and former goaltender of the three-time cup-winning Charlestown Chiefs intramural floor hockey team.

McGinnis and I have a lengthy and illustrious hockey history. We have posed with the Stanley Cup together, visited the Hockey Hall of Fame, purchased tickets for and attended both ends of a home-and-home series between the Sabres and Maple Leafs about a month or so before Maple Leaf Gardens was closed, and attended the Binghamton Senators first home game upon returning the AHL to its rightful place at the Slap Shot-era Broome County Veterans Memorial Arena. So it was fitting we were there to celebrate hockey in a hockey town.

We made certain to have a well-rounded Binghamton experience. Before Sunday night's skills competition, we hit the Oakdale Mall in Johnson City to look for Senators hats, and wound up drinking giant mugs of beer at Ruby Tuesday's. After a brisk walk through the mall (taking the edge off of a minor buzzer), we headed to downtown Binghamton and parked on Exchange Street near the library. McGinnis came close to getting robbed there Monday night, but nonesuch on the Day of Rest.

The Arena looked good, glowing within its concrete shell.

And McGinnis looked pretty good, too, glowing in the main concourse.

You know the All-Star festivities aren't really going to be about hockey. Or, at least, I know that, and you know that. The Canadian and America media? They don't know. Or they pretend to not, which (hopefully) explains the 1,000+ references this week to "shinny," "river hockey," "fixing," and "meaningful." (apologies to John Buccigross, who "gets it," so to speak, and who got his missive about enjoying the game out there before this one.)

The All-Star festivities in Binghamton were about the Hockey Fan in a Hockey Town. They were there in abundance. I saw teachers I remembered from third grade, wearing the same Whalers jerseys and haircuts they wore back in Harry L Johnson Elementary School. (no period after the L bitches -- that's how we roll in the JayCee.) A lap of the Arena yielded close to 20 former high school classmates, most of whom I could recognize only by their eyes, and all of whom didn't recognize me in my pre-playoffs playoff beard.

Old-Time Binghamton hockey jerseys.

There was a wealth of out-of-town jerseys, including a group of Portland (Maine) fans sitting near us, a group from Philly, the usual assholes from Scranton Wilkes-Barre, a couple of Chicago Wolves jerseys, and a few from Hershey. There also was a fine representation of vintage Binghamton wear, including the now-ubiquitous Dusters jerseys, a few authentic Binghamton Whalers sweaters, an Icemen jersey (dark days in the Parlor City), and some game-worn Senators gear. (and only one guy in a Rangers jersey, a testament to my hometown.)

Among the general "I'm at a hockey game I'm wearing some hockey shit" sightings: A nice 80s-era Islanders sweater, what appeared to be a homemade Philadelphia Phantoms jersey worn three sizes too small, a Howard Johnson (hotel) jersey (?), assorted youth hockey paraphernalia, and a lot of this, which goes with hockey like Molson Canadian on a Saturday night.

At one point, a kid sat down in front of us, joining a father and son who had been there since the start. The father, laughing at the kid's arrival, said, "hey Meatball." And McGinnis and I must have been thinking the same thought, because we had to choke back the laughter, and then snuck a few photos.


As for the game and skills competition: There was some marginal entertainment value, but, alas, as Bucci wrote earlier, the fun really was in scanning the Arena, scoping out the other fans, the kids, the mascots, and season-ticket holders best known as curmudgeons, occasionally rendered happy and quiet. A beer vendor remarked to us that it was "too quiet," but I think we found it to be a luxury to not be as invested in the game's outcome. As an Islanders fan (and Mets, as well), I have learned to enjoy the games oftentimes separate of their outcomes (a necessary trick if you are to continue to be a hockey/baseball fan with those allegiances). We blew off most of the third period and walked around the building, stopping at the third-floor bar, and walking the tunnel under the stands.

Lineups, and a nice view of the old bird.

And a zoom on Tuukka Rask for Jaroslav. (Rask looked like the Real Deal, even in the loose environment of the festivities. Note Brian Burke crush Bobby Ryan, #29.)

Fan-favorite and all-around Binghamton legend, Denis Hamel, participates in the fastest skater relay.

The game ended in some kind of shootout, which might have been fun, but, well, you know. The crowd was out pretty quickly, and the kids, who were still jittering with anticipation after Sunday's skills competition, were a little subdued and tired.

We walked back to the cars on Exchange Street, started them in the cold, and drove away from Binghamton into the quiet outliers of the Southern Tier.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Queen of the Isle

I have not consulted the other Palm Isle denizens on this, so maybe they have different opinions. Maybe they would nominate one of their loved ones, or Lindsay "Lily Braden" Crouse, or the trying-a-little-too-hard Christie Brinkley, or her supermodel colleague and New York hockey player lover Carol Alt, or FSN NY's favorite Islanders fan Hilary Duff, or maybe even former Jordin Tootoo arm candy and current professional moron Kellie Pickler.

But until they do, I hereby declare Canadian Kathleen Edwards (who will be singing the Canadian national anthem at the All-Star Game in a few hours) the official Queen of the Isle. She was probably already a shoo-in because she (a) is awful purty and has an awful purty voice, (b) released a song called "Hockey Skates" on her "Failer" CD, and (c) has a song that namechecks Marty McSorley ("I Make the Dough"...listen to it on her MySpace page) on her upcoming "Asking for Flowers" CD. But she sealed the deal with this quote from today's Daily News:

"I'm sure every Toronto Maple Leafs fan will be mad that I'm singing the national anthem," says Edwards, who will appear at Irving Plaza in April. "But they can eat it."

How do you not love a woman who tells Leafs fans to eat it? Sure, she's an Ottawa fan, but, I ask you, is that really so bad? It's not like she's a Rangers fan. Man, that would be depressing.

Anyway, long live the Queen.

Friday, January 25, 2008

We Got One.

A reader, that is. The peerless Sir Douglas Schneider, he of the Canuckle fanhood and Wiki-esque (but, alas, more accurate) knowledge of the As and Ns HL, has blessed the Reverend with an insightful email response, furthering the now-burgeoning discussion re: Hockey Metrics (snappier name yet to be conceived).

Sir Douglas writes:

Rev. Z,

Well, that’s one way to sucker people into reading the blog. Thanks for the shout-out, I think. I’ll try to be more insightful in the future.

Re: Sabermetrics … there’s probably an “effectiveness” stat to be conjured up using TOI (the one not pronounced “TWAH”), points and/or plus-minus, but you’re right that ours is a much harder sport to measure individual performance than is baseball. I mean, is there a hockey equivalent of defence-independent pitching stats?

The key is probably to calculate the league average value – likely oh-ffense only – of five “replacement players,” and then to develop a way to measure how much better they perform when you sub in your guy with the four generics. One real challenge will be equalizing value of blueliners vs. forwards. In beisbol, everyone gets to go mano-a-mano with the pitcher, and gets roughly the same number of hitting chances each plate appearance (a minimum of three, except in rare cases where he gets drilled), but how do you level the ice sheet so that -- Alert! Reference to obscure Midwestern franchise upcoming! -- Stan Mikita and Pierre Pilote end up close to the same place? You need Crosby and Nicky Lindstrom to end up close to the same place. And it’s not as simple as TOI = at bats. Guys who play more minutes need to get credit for that.

And it’s probably damn near impossible to compare the value of a goaltender to that of a skater.

Aren’t you glad you brought it up?


Random Thought to Deflect Attention Away From Another Poor Effort by the Islanders

Am I the only person who, upon hearing the name "Glen Metropolit," always says (either in my head or out loud) "Yip-ay-aye"?

I am? Fair enough.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Geno Malkin and the need for better thinking about hockey

First, a few AHL thoughts before I delve into the meat of this post.

Steve Downie, yay or nay?
The man is a terror, in some ways in the best sense. He is scoring points: eight in a nine-game stretch, which is a ++ for a guy labeled by scouts as a projected third-line agitator. And he is, of course, a pain in the ass. He thumbed Jason Blake in the eye and punched him while he was in the grasp of the referee. He fought Dave Clarkson of the Devils (video below), cut him (possibly with this visor), knocked out a tooth, and then, apparently, tried to rake his eye like an old-time wrestler.

Would you want him on your team? Would I want him on the Islanders? My impulse reaction: no. The grinder/fighter players I've enjoyed through the years have been the likes of Aaron Asham and similar players. We all have a tendency to overrate their value to their respective teams, but I always enjoyed the true middleweight fighting/checker. When Asham made Matt Barnaby cry, and I was in attendance, it was a highlight of my life as hockey fan. But (but but), am I (are we) being honest? Chris Simon comes to mind, and there's a decent argument to be made that Downie is far more valuable to the Flyers than Simon is to the Islanders (when either is allowed to play). I wasn't happy about the Hollwegg thing, but a lot of that unhappiness stemmed from not wanting the team to get the Goon label, not wanting to watch ESPN for the next 12 days, and not wanting anyone affiliated with the Rangers (or their fans) to have any reason to feel, even for a moment, self-righteous. When Simon stepped on Ruutu's big toe, I shook my head in agreement when The Mullet said Simon could have hurt him if he wanted to, and didn't, and laughed when Jaroslav sent an e-mail that said, "Chris Simon should not be taking time off to get his shit together. He should get a medal for stomping Ruutu."

We read enough, and hear enough from the hockey media about players "on the edge" when Simon or Downie find their way onto the news. And we hear a lot from pundits who share the opinion of Kelly "a message to you ... quit" Hrudey on HNIC's daily radio show: A league featuring a reserved spot for the true fighter is far preferable to a league loaded with pests such as Downie and Hrudey's personal boil, Sean Avery. Really? You'd rather have Eric Godard than Sean Avery -- Godard having membership in the 1 pt. club?

So Steve Downie, yay or nay? I'll stick with nay, because I think it's more than likely he'll either cripple someone or bite off a finger (shades of Hatcher?) before this is through. And don't forget, he's the kid who tried to brain someone in what I recently heard described as the "lawless Canadian Junior Leagues." But there's a part of me that knows were Downie to find his way to the island, I'd be telling the people I worked with that "no, this isn't worse than the Bert Toosery thing, he only cost this guy his hearing in his left ear, and the guy can still walk."

Anyway, that's hockey.

A few of Downie's finest (with the final word for Grapes):

The Reappearing Case of Geno Malkin, and dumb hockey thoughts
If msnbc is writing aboat Sidney Crosby, we've got cultural penetration. Let's all thank the weather gods for snow at the Winter Classic, and for thus bringing Crosby into the national light, and then, for thus resulting in expanded coverage of his injury.

Once the "when will he be back" story was comprehensively covered and speculated upon, the attention of the media was turned to a seemingly rejuvenated Evgeni Malkin who (you read it here first) was thrust back in a centreing role on the Penguins, and also thrust into the role of replacing Jesus. Ned Braden can sympathize. HNIC just-before-dark radio tackled the issue this week, with the needlessly employed Cassie Campbell dumbing things down for an audience learning too much from Jeff Marek. Each expressed some interest in Malkin's revival. And Cassie, because she is wrapped in the myopic culture of the Canadian hockey lockerroom, commented on Malkin's displays of "emotion" vs. the Caps (and also Ovechkin's, but he is coming close to being considered by the Canadians to be something other than of Russian origin), which were out of character for what she expects of her Russians, despite being born a year after the overrated, ultimately embarrassing Summit Series. We have reached a point, methinks, at which it is incomprehensibly stupid to characterize any of hockey's foreign players as possessing certain characteristics common to the group as whole, simply because there are too many foreign players, and they've been here too long.

A topic of greater interest might be Michel Therrien's continued mishandling of the Penguins. Is it a great surprise that Malkin can play? Is it a great surprise that a giant, nearly immovable centreman with finishing skills, passing skills, and some "edge," might ought to maybe possibly could be smart and good enough to play some centre? He doesn't need Crosby drawing defenders' attention away to shoot open goals. A player whose greatest strength is his short game, so to speak, should thrive with a combination of some decent-enough two-way winger and a floating finisher (or, as the journalist and general practitioner of hockey wisdom, Douglas Schneider, said today, "one of those table hockey guys who just spins in a circle waiting for the puck"). And, when Crosby is healthy, you have two lines that can score, and you don't need to spend 40 min. a night dressing up Jennifer Love Hewitt in Claude Julien's flannel pajamas (if her ass is too big for this country, I'll be an ex-pat by playoff time).

Maybe I'm wrong, maybe not. But it sure beats talking about how neat it is to see a Russian express human emotions.

More dumb thoughts: Bruce Boudreau called into the show. He's doing a helluva job in Washington, D.C. I considered taking the Caps on NHL 08 and trying to rejuvenate them for a Cup run, but I like Bruce Boudreau so much, I thought he'd do a good enough job in real life that my video efforts would somehow feel lacking. It was a good decision. Instead, I use the Wild and run two forecheckers all night, giving Jacques Lemaire heart pain he can't explain.

Ovechkin comes up in the HNIC conversation. Marek comments on the hit Ovechkin tried to lay on Malkin in Monday night's game (see below post for highlights), and asks Boudreau which part of Ovechkin's game is more valuable to the team, his scoring ability, or his physical play. Boudreau says, "they're about equal." End of conversation. Goddamn.

I've spent some time online researching what I would (and other people since 2004 or '05) call hockey's version of sabermetrics (for the uninitiated, or at least those who actually work whilst at work, sabermetrics is the statistical study of baseball performances, of which a watered-down version was heralded in Michael Lewis' Moneyball, is often credited to Bill James and his fantastic Baseball Abstracts, and is kept alive on hundreds of web sites, most notably Baseball Prospectus, and my personal favorite, firejoemorgan.com), and I've discovered two things, the latter of which is no surprise. The first is that statistical analysis of hockey performance is in its infancy. The second, which may help to explain the first, is something any hockey fan who studies other sports likely already knows: Hockey is such a fluid, chaotic, team-oriented, and ephemeral game, it is very difficult to create meaningful numeric structures to explain what is happening, or what has happened, on the ice.

(jeebus, as I write this, the effing Bs have gone up 4-0 on the Isles. Anything short of a Deb Kaufman pole dance at the intermission is going to send me to the Rangers game to root for the Thrashers. Lucic is a beast.)

But I know, even though I cannot yet find a statistical way of defending this or expressing it, that Ovechkin's superb ability to score goals, an ability very, very few people in the world possess, is far more valuable to the Washington Capitals than his ability to run into people, sort of like Steve Webb. Now, I don't expect Bruce Boudreau to come out and say this, because he probably understands there is marginal value to be gained from Ovechkin's physical play, especially if it is controlled enough it doesn't take away from his ability to score. So he, and thus the Caps, stands to gain from encouraging Ovechkin, and his teammates, to keep popping people. But why, oh why? doesn't Jeff Marek (who is, by far, one of the best hockey gabbers in the business) ask him what the hell he's talking about? Another example, not necessarily related but equally as soft, occurred during tonight's show when Marek asked an NHL goon (more on this later) if the new extension of the Vs. contract was exclusive, and if ESPN could elbow into the picture (a good question, one of high interest for me). The goon told Marek this wasn't the appropriate time to discuss the issue, it was a time to celebrate. Marek moved on.

Goddammit Jeff! I am a hockey fan, as are you, and that is a tremendously important question to those of us south of border. And you let him off the hook. I want to know. And, I want to know why Bettman's flak for the day said "the NHL have provided Vs. with great content, and they have given us a good product in return." (I would, and will, argue it is less than good, but that's a different fight.)

Ok. I will close on a positive note, keeping in mind the recent commitment of The Mediocre Among Us to do the same: I love the NHL Network. Thank you. "On the Fly" is the Anti-ESPN, and for that I offer congratulations, thank yous, and a promise to buy a new Islanders cap before the summer.

Good night. And I leave you on a happy note. Check out The Maven at the 1:49 mark.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Damn My Lucky Underwear

I watched the Isles get shutout against Edmonton on the 7th, then saw them lose in OT to Vancouver the following night. I missed the next game, a win over Calgary. I only caught the NHL network highlights of the Ottawa win but tuned in for a loss to Montreal two nights later. I was out the next night when they beat the Devils. I made an effort to be free during games which came just in time to watch them blow big leads against Philly and Carolina. Out again last night to find that they’d scored six goals. I’m ready to apply for official ‘jinx’ status. I’m going to miss tomorrow night’s game so fans should be sure to tune in for that one. Sorry, Beantown. However I may actually be attending a game next week which can’t be a good sign.

I’m looking forward to going to a game now that I have a blog to report back to. If I’d had a blog at the last game I went to, I could’ve mentioned the “Free Simon” chant coming from a neighboring section. Speaking of Simon, it sounds like he’s coming back soon. Be sure to catch his next highlight at the top of the hour on SportsCenter.

I’m just now realizing that my two blog entries have had a decidedly negative tone. I’ll try to post more positive material in the future which means avoiding any discussion of the Islanders.

Give me a frikking break

Bruins 2, Habs 8

Jesus fucking christ. This was one of those games. One of those gin-soaked, yell at the wife, kick the dog and regret it the next morning games. Where to Steve Begin on this one?

1. Alex Auld. Alex, when warm-ups are over, that’s when the game begins. Your job is to stop pucks, not let them in. That first goal, you bit harder than a Civil War soldier with gangrene getting a leg amputated. You bit harder than Seabiscuit groaning under the weight of Spiderman’s fat ass. You bit harder than the American public’s belief that there really were WMD’s. You bit harder than …

2. It’s 2-0. You’re down one in the first 14 seconds, two in the first 5 minutes, on like four shots. Where was the fight? No one is dropping the mits? Where was Reich? Where was Lucic? Where was Chara? Where's Shawn Thornton when you need him? What the fuck is wrong with you guys? What happened to wanting to be a difficult team to play against? You guys wait until the third period to dance? It was 6-1 by then. Pathetic.

3. Claude Julien. The prodigal Frenchman. Does he have some sort of inferiority complex going into Montreal? Losers of six straight vs the goddamn Habs. That’s a mental thing. It’s a pride thing. It’s the whole Boston sports consciousness thing. The whole archrival, nemesis who always beats us thing. If you want to beat the Habs, B’s, you have to ask yourselves: What better time than now? What better place than here? That’s the attitude. Right here, right now. It’s not, wow, would you look at that Kovalev stickhandle. I hear he flies planes too. You know, Montreal is just like a European city only in North America. Don’t get too close to Koivu; you might catch the cancer. They all ought to have shock therapy after the game.

4. Darryl Reaugh. A cornucopia of food metaphors. “Juicy, succulent rebounds.”

5. The boards. When a puck hit the kickplate, were Habs fans kicking from the other side to make the puck bounce off harder? The Bell Centre has some of the liveliest boards in the league.

6. Versus cameraman. The game is hockey dude. Not tennis. Stop acting like a spaz with the f’ing camera. You’re giving me a headache.

7. Shane Hnidy. Minus fucking 4. Hnidy night.

Injured Crosby

My AP RSS feed had him as one of the Top Stories for a while. Big story.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Gettin' around

While the other denizens of the Palm Isle were holding things down indoors, I spent the last few weekends out and about on hockey-related expeditions. And here's the happy recap (sorry for the baseball reference...I can't think of how Howie Rose teases a recap, though I sure as heckfire know that "damn" isn't part of it):

Saturday, January 12: To mark the closing weekend of the Pond at Bryant Park in NYC, a swell group of former NHLers took to the ice to skate with what I assume were the largely oblivious masses. Clark Gillies, Bob Nystrom, Gerry Hart, Benoit Hogue, and Rod Gilbert (one of these things is not like the other...) were introduced to the crowd by a gentleman who called Gerry Hart "Gary" (leading to a later debate at the autograph tent of whether the guy signing autographs was Gerry Hart or Garry Howatt), Benoit Hogue "Benoit Hague," and the hockey team from Buffalo the "SAH-brays." Twice. Good to see they got a hockey fan to do the job.

I didn't skate, ostensibly because the line was too long but mainly because I didn't want to fall in front of Gillies and Nystrom. Instead I queued up with the rest of the nonathletes on the autograph line, where I was regaled with stories of hotel collecting success (if I get really bored one weekend, maybe I'll do that and report back to you) and eBay finds. Finally, the players made their way over, and the signing began. I added Nystrom to my signed John Tonelli 8X10, got Gillies, Hart, and Hogue to sign an Isles puck, and accepted a signed postcard from Gilbert, who, I was told by the collectors in line, has turned into a big jerkoff. I have a soft spot for Gilbert, because he was always nice to my dad when he worked at the Garden, so I didn't want to believe that he was a prick. But then he greeted the request of the guy behind me to sign his mini Rangers stick with "I don't sign those things." Meaning, I guess, that he doesn't sign them unless you pay him to. Friggin' Rangers.

The line was so short that I had a rare bright idea: get the pictures printed off my memory card at the Kinko's across the street and get back on line to get them signed. Bob Nystrom saluted my ingenuity as I made my way through the line for a second time. Or at least he said something vaguely complementary to someone who might be a stalker. And then he signed the group photo, which has a hot shot of some Nystrom ass because he turned around at the moment I took the picture (really, I swear), saying "I just wanted you to get my better side." Good times.

Sunday, January 13: After Saturday's successful day, I figured I'd keep the fun going by hopping on the Metro-North to see the Sound Tigers play their third game in three days, and their second against the Binghamton Senators. And, of course, this afforded me the opportunity to see our Blessed Savior Kyle Okposo in his third professional game. Let us pause to celebrate his presence on earth:

As you can see, it was camo jerseys for Armed Forces Day at the Harbor Yard. A list of those from Connecticut who have lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan was read before the puck was dropped, and the whole arena went completely silent, save for the gasps that accompanied those whose ages were 19 and 20. A crowd's silence during such a moment would seem like a given, but since the PA announcer at the Coliseum had to say "Please refrain from shouting" before a moment of silence at yesterday's game, it aint always a sure thing. And people in Bridgeport did start chanting "U-S-A!" afterward, but, to their credit, maybe the Iron Sheik and Nikolai Volkoff were in the building.

Anyway, the game was pretty slow going, and Okposo looked like a guy who was playing his third game in as many days, so it was hard to get all excited. But I did get a front-row seat next to the penalty box, so at least I had a good view of the nonaction. And I was close when Drew Fata got pummeled by Matt Carkner in a fight. So that's something.

The Sound Tigers lost 3-1 and I didn't win a camo jersey in the auction. Still, I got to see Okposo. I can imagine the excitement in previous years when Isles fans got to see a young Brett Lindros. Or Scott Scissons. Or Dean Chynoweth. I should stop.

Sunday, January 20: What better way to spend NFL Conference Championship Sunday in New England than meeting Hockey Hall of Famer Johnny Bower at a sports collectibles store in Saugus, MA? My friends DJ and Wendy live just minutes away, so I figured it wasn't too much of an imposition to ask them to drive me over to the store before we headed to DJ's friend Chris's house to watch the Pats game.

If you don't know why I would want to meet Johnny Bower, all you need to do is read this from the above link:

"Bower, like his other five Original Six brethren, became famous for his fearless play. Maskless, he never shied away from an attacking player and in fact patented the most dangerous move a goalie can make - the poke-check. Diving head-first into the skates of an attacking player at full speed, Bower would routinely flick the puck off that player's stick and out of harm's way. One time he got a skate in his cheek, knocking a tooth out through his cheek. He suffered innumerable cuts to his mouth and lips and lost virtually every tooth in his mouth from sticks and pucks, but almost to his last game, he never wore a mask."

That's enough to forgive him for being a Ranger.

When we got to the store, I noticed another guy signing stuff next to Bower. Turns out the store added former Bruin and (sigh) Ranger Derek Sanderson to the signing, so I got an 8X10 signed by both of them (and also picked up a signed Willie O'Ree puck while I was there, because it was the day after the Bruins tribute and the puck was only $15). Then, the fun began when I handed my camera off to one of the guys at the store to take a picture of me and Sanderson. I guess I tripped the wheel of the camera to the movie function when I pulled the camera out of my pocket, which led to two three-second videos of me posing awkwardly next to Sanderson. Then the problem was solved, and the picture was taken.

But after that, Sanderson took an interest in my camera. I then spent some time explaining the camera to him, finding it odd that he was so interested. He was particularly hung up on the movie function, and after I explained it, saying that the screen is always running, but the movie doesn't start until someone clicks the button, he said, "Oh, so that's how they get those videos out there." Yeah," I replied. "YouTube and all that." Then I moved over to Bower, who is clearly awesome and has an old-time hockey face you have to love, and got the picture with him.

I wandered around the store a bit, as I can't just go in and out of a place that has autographs on the walls and in racks and cases all around the store. So I'm looking at stuff when Sanderson comes out from behind the counter.

"Hey. Show me that movie thing again with the sound."

"Well, I don't have any on here that have sound on them, but..."

And then he explained why he was so interested. I guess he had been having a conversation with another guy about an actor that he didn't want on the Web anywhere. I honestly didn't even hear the conversation, let alone film it, and if you think I'm even mentioning the person he was talking about, you're crazier than I thought, which, since you're actually reading this blog, is pretty, pretty crazy.

Anyway, he was nice about it, just concerned. Of course, after I told him that there was nothing on the camera and all was resolved, another guy chimed in with "Yeah, that's what he says." The same guy added, "He can still fight, y'know," to which Sanderson said, jokingly (I hope), "Oh, it'd be worse than that." And we all shared a laugh. Ha ha ha.

The lesson here: If you see Derek Sanderson around, don't film him, kids. That's one to grow on.

And with that, I'll wrap up my first post here. Welcome. We're all Palm Islanders.

The weekend in hockey

B’s vs. Rangers, Jan. 19

Tim Thomas. Timmy. When is the rest of the team going to play as well as him? Boston players owe Timmy a few dinners after the way he bailed them out during Saturday’s matinee tilt against the Rags. Thomas is Boston’s MVP. Savard is a very close second. Thomas is always there to make the big save. He doesn’t take a night off. He’s the guy who has kept Boston in the running. He’s probably the one who has benefited the most from Julien’s defense-first system. As proof, his save percentage is at the top of the league. If the rest of the team could show as much heart as he does, the Bruins would be doing (even) better. The Bruins will go as far as Thomas will take them, no question. They don’t have enough depth up front to do much better.

This game was broadcast on NBC and who do we get between periods but none other than Mad Mike Milbury and Pierre Maguire, who was doing double duty “behind the glass” or in between benches, as it were. Others here would disagree, but I like Maguire. He’s a hockey guy. He knows what he’s talking about and I can think of several other talking heads who are a lot worse. Anyway, the most interesting nugget to come out of the banter between these two was this question to Milbury from Maguire: Do you sign Phil Kessel or do you trade him? Milbury’s answer: trade. Although, as he admitted, “I’ve been wrong before.” (That’s an understatement, no?)

I’m leaning in your direction on this one, Mike. Yes, Kessel is fast and he has some pretty good hands. But does he have top-six forward career potential? Second line center? So far, it doesn’t seem like it. It’s close but not quite. Kessel belongs in the league and he can play with the big boys, but he may end up like more of a Matthew Lombardi kind of player. Speedy and can chip in the odd goal now and then. On the other hand, Kessel may have heard Milbury’s comments because he really nailed that goal he scored (no thanks to an intelligent play from Savard, of course. Savard takes advantage of a Ranger turnover, blasts a slapper at Lundqvist practically guaranteeing a rebound and Phil is in perfect position to clean up the mess.) But the one thing missing from Phil’s game, Milbury pointed out, is the physical component. And how can you be an effective, impact player without that unless you can make up for it in other ways, and so far, it does not appear that Phil can. He doesn’t seem hungry enough, mean enough, tough enough to go the distance.

So who do you trade for Kessel? I’d take a draft pick and bonafide role player. But what do I know?

Caps vs. Penguins, Jan. 21

Too bad the NHL can’t put together more games like this one. I figured no Crosby would mean tough luck for the Pens, but I turn the game on in the second and it’s 4-4. I have to watch. My first thought is why did Therrien start Sabourin? The guy gets two wins in two starts, one shutout, OK, but big deal. Conklin is the hot hand. 10-1-1 in his last 12? What’s not to like? Are you trying to give Conklin some rest? In Sabourin’s defense, it didn’t look like he had a chance on the first four goals. Maybe that second one by Ally O’Vechkin, which was a bit of a floater. But the point is moot. Conks should have started.

For the record, Malkin’s goals were more fun to watch than Rumplevechkins'. He had a chance to put the game away there in the third, when he walked in on the off-wing to the top of the circle, unmolested, and … decided to shoot? Not a good decision, Geno. He had the time and space, as they say, to make a better play. Godzilla swallowed up the shot and that was the end of that. If I’m playing NHL 08 and that happens to me, I’m faking slapper, changing the angle and firing a wrister short side. SCORE.

This game was how hockey was meant to be shown on TV. Scoring and enough end to end action to keep the play-by-play guy (Finnish broadcasting prospect Joe Beninattiiettannenn) and color guy (was it Reaugh?) busy talking about THE GAME and not which college this player attended, and oh this is what it was like when I was in the league, and hey this guy and his wife are expecting their first child. Shut up. Call the f’ing game. Stick with what we, the viewers, care about — what we’re seeing on the screen.

All-Star preview

Short and sweet. I want to know who wins hardest shot (will Big Z keep his title?), who will go 4-for-4 or 4-for-5 in the accuracy contest, and I guess I will have to check out the slam-dunk contest. I predict one or two good ones and a lot of choking.

Now I feel like an ass ...

for missing the Caps-Pens game. Jeebus. (keep your volume down, the only direct, reasonable-quality link I could find was to ESPN, and, naturally, the asshole calling the highlight -- this time Scott Van Pelt -- has to step all over his shit). Note to self: Hot chocolate and blankets, dipshit. (Imagine, a hockey fan saying it's too cold; and we wonder why the Canadians bust our balls).

Goodbye, and Good Night

Ferguson is gone from Laff Land. This team could be the Red Sox of hockey if they ever managed to chase the teachers' union and find someone with no connections to the franchise to turn things around. But, that's not going to happen.

In related news: Scotty Bowman just poured a bottle of Courvoisier on a hooker whilst texting Mike Babcock to tell him how to handle a lockerroom dispute between Nicky Lidstrom and Pavel Datsyuk about who gets to program the iPod in the steam room. (Lidstrom. Datsyuk after morning skates Monday/Wednesday/Friday.)

Watching Hockey on a Long Weekend

Providence beats the Rangers, twice
The Bruins are better than the Rangers. Saturday, Chuck Kobasew scored twice, Z Chara actually shot a few from the point, and Scott Gomez was the only Rag to report for work (Jagr scored, but it was one of the wonderful Jagr goals -- Chara fell down in front of him and, finally, Jagr was in position to shoot). In related news, I was watching Ghostbusters on VH1 during the commercials (why, oh why, would a TV station in 2007 show a full-screen version of any movie?), and I'm pretty sure I saw a #68 Rangers jersey floating away from the firehouse after that prick from the EPA forced the shutdown of the grid.

Wait for it.


Tip your waiter.

Joe Micheletti, a traitor, seems amazed Claude Julien would encourage his cast of superstars to "go into a defensive shell" when they have a lead against a team some people picked to win the Stanley Cup.

It's fun to watch the Rangers. Remember Henry Lundqvist?

The Bruins won again Sunday. I couldn't watch (busy around the house), and was lost in football land Sunday evening. The Rangers are awful. It's fun.

Islanders are a bore, lose twice

This is what the opening of an Islanders game typically looks like to me:

Between bath time for the kids and putting them to bed, I usually jump in somewhere toward the end of the second period, trying to piece together what's happened thus far, and trying to guess what Deb Kaufman might be wearing tonight. The Flyers game was a wash for me. I had it up on the computer, but the room where our computer lives essentially is a converted porch, and it's cold, cold, cold anytime the outside temp. drops into single digits. I checked in and out and dragged the wife in to watch the third period, but gave up at 5-3.

The game, according to Howie and Chunk's retarded buddy from Goonies, was loose, fast, and apparently featured a fight between Derian Hatcher and Trent Hunter. I hear it wasn't much to miss. The Isles don't match up well with the Flyers, mostly, I think, because the Flyers display an interest in actually winning games and not "not losing" them. Not losing is the Isles strong point. Winning, methinks, is a ways away.

Notes I took during the game: Billy Jaffe keeps saying "rim-around." I really wish he would stop. Jesus. Did Derian Hatcher fight Trent Hunter? (yes, and Hunter lost -- but he's Trent Hunter, that's to be expected. Hunter is big, but Derian Hatcher spends his off days beating on old ladies in grocery store parking lots.)

Saw much more of the Carolina game, and realized the Bruins are better than the Rangers and the Islanders. I thought Micheletti sounded like a fool criticizing the Bruins for slinking back into a defensive shell with a one-goal lead, because the Bruins are pretty good at that sort of thing. The Islanders aren't as good. The difference: The Bruins have a few guys who are legitimate threats to score (Kessel, Savard) or create scoring opportunities without dragging the whole team into the zone with them. Mike Comrie occasionally goes on little forays against two or three defenders, but unless Wade Redden is in front of him, he rarely makes it to the circle. The Bruins play four men back and stacked at the blueline, and Phil Kessel gets three scoring chances.

Up one late in the Carolina game, the Isles go into defensive posture, and, unfortunately for this team, that basically means Carolina spends the rest of the game in the Islanders zone. Every Isles' possession results in a (bad) soft dump into the opposing zone. Oh, and Andy Sutton isn't worth shit. He took a lousy penalty before OT that led to a Hurricanes goal. I know the defense is depleted, but Snow paid $3 million for him, and he's here for three years. (As you can see, I'm not exactly full of insight today.)

Deb Kaufman watch: Saturday she was in some kind of blue sweater she must have found at Coldwater Creek, or some other menopausal nightmare store. Did nothing for me. Butch Goring, though, looked crazy as hell (and might have gotten a haircut ... if I'm casting a Vietnam movie, Goring is my Willem Dafoe). I can't remember what she was wearing Monday. That pains me. Must have been equally dull. I'll be better.

Billy Jaffe? Saturday night, laying in bed, freezing, watching the Isles lose to the Flyers. Down two, the Isles get some traffic, take a shot on net. Mike Comrie sees the rebound, skates directly away from the goal, hopes puck magically flies out of scrum onto stick. Billy Jaffe? "The Isles get a shot here." Back to Howie. If hockey was popular, and the Islanders mattered to anyone besides the three of us and a few people on Long Island, Frank Caliendo would have a Jaffe impression that would rival Madden. (I just learned Billy didn't play professional hockey. I had assumed, incorrectly, that someone as boring and obvious as him could find his way into the booth only with some reasonable pro-level connections. He played for Michigan and at the Maccabiah Games, held in Israel in 1997. Here. I know, I know, Wikipedia. I checked it out elsewhere.)

Elsewhere on TV
I watched the Giants and skipped the Avs-Jackets game, as, I'm guessing, did most of the rest of the world. Monday it was too cold on my first floor to watch TV, so I went to bed early. Country living.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Russian Superleague brawl

Ak Bars Zazan vs. Chelyabinsk. I'm routing for the guys in white (Ak Bars Kazan)

Watching Hockey - TV for Jan. 18, 2007

First, forgive Jaroslav for his Caliendo worship. Our comrade watches only hockey (and only hockey), and doesn't realize most of America wanted to choke Caliendo close to death after the TBS MLB Playoffs debacle (which was so awful, poor Frank was answering questions from Artie Lange three weeks later on The Howard Stern Show about how he was "hated by America") during which the formerly-great network showed a "Frank TV" promo during every commercial break, and sometimes twice (to be clear though, I love Caliendo ... I'm a sucker for impressions, especially his "turreble" Barkley).

Anyway, back to hockey ... .

The NHL Network (thank you, Time Warner Binghamton) carried the Lightning-Pens ...
And I watched 35 seconds of the first period when I realized the Pens were half asleep and, possibly, thinking ahead to a trip to the Bell Centre in Montreal on Saturday. Our friends at HNIC radio (Marek and Morrison on a Friday -- thank you CBC, I can't handle Cassie or Kelly "a message to you ... quit" Hrudey on a Friday) told me all about The Sidney's lust for playing in front of Les Supporters des Habitants ... and then The Sidney sprained his ankle on an ugly slide into the boards.

Didn't see the play -- I was flipping back to the Notre Dame-Michigan college game -- but I saw The Sidney limping and Paul Ranger sitting in the box, and I figured George Laraque would be giving Ranger the Steve Downie at centre ice in two minutes, but nonesuch. Watching the replay, it didn't look like anything more than a soft X penalty, or holding, or tripping. Yeah, something.

The result: Pens fan get to watch the raw, adaptable genius of Michel Therrien without that pesky team leader getting in the way. After Crosby went down last night, Malkin looked like the only player on the Pens who wasn't ready to pack up for the night. He played how I imagine Olli Jokinen would play if he were still an Islander -- driving the net, splitting defenses, pestering on rebounds. Pick him up if he's a free agent in your hockey pool (just kidding Canadians! Even we Americans of wee hockey knowledge know the man isn't worth picking up without The Sidney feeding him sweet bounce passes).

Elsewhere in the hockey universe
Notre Dame played at Michigan. It was a thrilling 3-2 victory for the Wolverines, and I watched about 15 seconds. I tried. And I continue to try. We picked up college hockey games Friday and Saturday nights on the $2 sports tier that gave us the NHL Network, so I've been trying to slog through Minnesota/Minnesota-Duluth matchups and the occasional Denver v. Somebody game, but I just can't do it for some reason. Even Cornell makes fairly regular appearances on TW's local sports feed, but the cameras at these games are a close rival to Slingbox on the Mac (anything past 4 in. and you're watching Atari Sprites and digital lag), and really, as much as I love hockey, I don't know who these guys are, and I know they're not going to fight. I'll keep trying. The Reverend grew up with AHL hockey in the slummy, hockey-gorgeous Broome County Veterans Memorial Arena, where the three-curse, four-beer minimum is still enforced, so the gentrified climes of the collegiate game are still growing on me. I will continue to try. See this for further discussion.

Buffalo scores 10, Rick Jeanerette's heart lives through it
Didn't see any of this game because I forgot it was on. Did switch over in time to see the refs sorting out some kind of mess in the third period, with the score 9-1 ... the Thrashers wound up two men down. Jeanerette, with the camera focused on Don Waddell, said something to the effect, "maybe it's time to throw up the white flag." If Jeanerette thinks a visiting team is getting screwed, the team is getting screwed. Many times over. The Sabres scored again. Derek Roy had a hat trick. Jason Campbell is still overrated.

Flip Station
I watched A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints in commercial breaks, and committed myself when I realized there weren't gonna be no more fights in the Sabres game. Not bad. Robert Downey Jr. is getting better as he gets older. He's growing out of that "I'd agree to do The Shaggy Dog for a half a rock of crack" stage and getting a little more weathered and more subtle with the "I'm manic! Manic and brilliant!" thing. He was pretty damn good in Zodiac.

had every guido's favorite father, Chaz Palminteri, and Shia LaBeouf. Both were serviceable. Downey Jr. was excellent until the closing scenes, which were written by a man wearing hams on his hands. Rosario Dawson was awful. The assholes who put the stars on the digital movie guide gave it ***. I'd give **1/2. And you don't care.

Go forth and forecheck.

Friday, January 18, 2008

If Madden called hockey games

Have you ever wondered what it would be like if John Madden called hockey games? Well, I have.

This won't make any sense if you haven't heard or seen any of Frank Caliendo's bits about his "idol," John Madden. Check out his CD "Make the Voices Stop." You'll hear all about Madden's gift to state and restate the obvious, and make the rest of us feel smart. So here we go. If John Madden were a hockey broadcaster (with apologies to Frank Caliendo):

"If a center … if he passes the puck to a winger and the winger shoots the puck and it goes into the net … that's gonna be a goal."

A player loses a contact lens on the ice. Madden says, "Here's a guy who when he puts his contacts in, he can see better."

Or, "Here's a guy who when he skates he goes faster!"

Or, "Here's a guy who when he eats a lot he takes a big dump later."

"If a … if the referee, if he raises his arm and blows the whistle, and it wasn't icing, then there's probably … there's probably gonna be a penalty."

Madden will also say the same thing in the first part of the sentence that he does at the end of the sentence. "Great hockey is about great hockey, and when you're playing great hockey that's what makes great hockey great. If you weren't playing great hockey then it wouldn't be great hockey it would just be mediocre hockey, and without great hockey you can't have great hockey and these guys out here today … these guys, they're playing great hockey."

"Hey look, that guy's got blood on his jersey! See, the way you get blood on your jersey is you get a cut and it starts bleeding, and then you wipe the cut with your jersey and blood gets on it and that's a bloody jersey."

B's-Lafs, state of the game, HNIC radio

OK, on with the blah-ging. (But first, let me point out that the Bruins are represented first on this majority Islander blog.)

B's vs. Leafs, Jan. 18

Good game for the B's last night, although they lost in the SO. They played pretty well. Infuriatingly well. They had the Lafs on their heels for a while. They just could not put it away. A few posts there in the third. Some other missed opportunities. They just couldn't do it. (Is Toskala's fantasy value rising? Six goals allowed in his last two games, both victories.)

Now here's something you don't see every game – Marc Savard tapped Toskala's pads once (after his miss in the shootout), maybe twice (did he do it at the end of regulation or was that Sturm?). That's one thing about hockey that is different from other sports such as, say, foosball, er, football (check the post above for more about football). Why don't hockey players do that more often? The simple answer is probably that the game is too fast for bullshit sportsmanlike gestures like that. If you check a guy into the boards, you're not going to stop and help him up. Unless you really flattened him and he's hurt. You might stop and try to lend a hand. But not if you're a Flyer.

I'm not pointing the finger specifically at Savard and this isn't to say there is a lack of sportsmanship in hockey. We have our glittering Lady Byng trophy, after all, and her boyfriends Sakic, Datsyuk and Kariya. And, of course, how could anyone forget the display of camaraderie Don Cherry showed several times last season of the two players with their arms around each other while watching a fight. Beautiful. Hockey is just different that way. We have our own ways of complimenting each other. And if you're Ian Laperriere, that includes a kiss on the cheek (hey, the guy is French).

But we hear a lot lately about how players don't respect each other anymore. There's too much at stake. Finish your check at all costs. It doesn't matter if you might end a guy's career. You have to look out for yourself. Look out for number one. It's cutthroat. That's just the way the world is today.

I'm inclined to agree with some old-schoolers or traditionalists who would say the league has taken away the game's ability to police itself -- the players' ability to police themselves. It's a simple argument that makes sense. Players are not held accountable like they used to be.

There was a great discussion on HNIC radio about this and Cassie Campbell (believe it or not) and Jeff Marek were discussing what the league wants. Does it want a bunch of Jarkko Ruutus and Jordin Tootoos running around – the pests, who know they can get under the skin of their opponents and probably not have to answer for it – or does it want more Laraques, Boogards, etc., who call those types of guys on the carpet and take them to task. I'd have to go with the latter. Ultimately, which one would be better for the game?

Hello out there

Speaking of HNIC radio, that brings me to my next topic. Something I feel I need to do – because if I don't do it, no one else will — is post an ongoing list of host Jeff Marek's one-liners, insights and witticisms (hey, the guy is entertaining). So here we go. Today's Marekisms:

— On the Rob Ramage sentencing: "When hockey players get together … beers will be consumed. … Any more tins in the cooler?"

— On Andrew Ference's fight with hockey's Golden Boy, Sidney Crosby: Ference "is no pacifist" and he doesn't mind "passing the fists." (This was a hilarious interview. I looked for an archived copy of the show but no dice. Ference talks about getting a call the day after from his sister, who is a teacher. Her students kept telling her the day after the fight that her brother got beat up by Sidney Crosby. Which leads me off on another tangent – Ference is the NHLPA's rep for environmental issues? And he also is involved in the Right to Play organization – which is great charity work and all, but bringing hockey to kids in Africa? Tell me that's not what he was doing on that episode of the "Rubber Biscuit" with your host Rob Simpson on NESN. Terrible show, by the way. How many people really want to watch Glen Murray working out?)

— "The name's Tucker not Sucker." (Darcy Tucker?)

— "I was born at night but not last night." (boo)

We continue with the Marek glossary:

— Canadian Gatorade = beer
— barley sandwich = beer
— grape juice = beer
— Diet Coke = beer

So obviously, Marek gets my seal of approval. But let's take a look at some of the other voices on HNIC radio.

Kelly Hrudey — Career stats from hockeydb.com: 367-361-97, 3.67 GAA, 0.845 SP. Complete douche bag. What's going on there beneath the surface, or should I say "behind the mask" of Rudy? Not much. Some geese flying by, tumbleweeds, maybe a light bulb short-circuiting. This guy is an insufferable bore. Holy crap. From his struggles with his Latvian or Slovak or whatever ethnicity growing up, to his powder blue bandana hanging out of his helmet during his playing days, to his career as a "broadcaster," he must have some seriously damaging dirt on someone to be allowed to continue. How and why would CBC ever offer him a job? Disturbing.

Cassie Campbell — Oh boy. Nice to see a woman in the job. Interesting to hear her take and perspective on things – sometimes – but she's mostly dead weight/air. Usually when I think of Cass, my thoughts turn to love. (Is she married?) Hey Cass, it's business time.

Elliot Freedman — Not bad. I can deal. But I can see his makeup through the radio. You don't need to wear that much blush Elliot.

Scott Morrison — Ditto, sans the rosy cheeks.

Ron Maclean — That's more like it. He's the man. What can you say.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

First post


Nyet. Dat vould be "Voot."