Monday, March 23, 2009

From a Bubblehead to a Bobblehead

How do you follow up Ron Duguay Night? Easy. You head to Jeff Tambellini Bobblehead Night in Bridgeport.

I'm neither a huge bobblehead collector (the collection consists of a generic Mexican wrestler, Endy Chavez, and baseball play-by-play guy Warner Fusselle) nor really that much of a Jeff Tambellini fan (I want to be, really I do, especially since he wears my lucky number, 15), but I figured I'd make a hockey weekend out of it and take in the Sound Tigers' third game in three nights. Sunday's game found the Islanders JV taking on the Buffalo Sabres' farm team, the Portland Pirates. And, since I've been following the lineup for a few weeks, I was fully prepared for Mitch Fritz being a healthy scratch—not happy, but prepared.

I really like going out to Bridgeport (mainly because of the easy access via Metro-North, but also to see how the young guys—or, this season, just the guys—are doing), but since it is a bit of a hike from home base (about two hours door-to-door), I'm usually best served by the Sunday games, which have an earlier start time. Unfortunately, because this is the AHL, the Sunday game is usually a club's third in three nights, so play can be a little sluggish. This game started off well enough, though, with the Sound Tigers putting three on the board in the first period, and new Sound Tiger Robin Figren picking up his first AHL point. I'd briefly met Figren, a 2006 Isles draft pick, at the thoroughly depressing 2008 Draft Party at the Coliseum, so it was kind of cool to be there when he made it on the score sheet for the first time. He's still clearly feeling his way in the new league and he looks like a kid out there (he's only 20, so that makes sense), but, with any luck, good times are ahead for him.

The score at the end of the first was 3-1, with the Pirates' goal coming off some sloppy play in his own zone by the man who now officially (I'm the official, in case you were wondering) has "Poor" added to his name. I am, of course, referring to Poor Jon Sim, the man who has been waived twice and will likely be spending the rest of the season and the playoffs on the Sound Tigers (he's been piling up the goals since being sent down, though...he has 8 in 10 games). I liked Sim as an Islander and, while I understand that he doesn't fit in Gordon's youth movement, he always seemed like a decent, hard-working guy. It's hard to believe that no NHL team could use a guy like him (and I reckon he feels the same), and I can't imagine that PJS is thrilled to be toiling in the AHL at this point in his career (perhaps he can be the poster boy for a new "Dying in Bridgeport" ad campaign to bookend the "Born in Bridgeport" one. I hope good times are ahead—somewhere, anywhere on the NHL—for him, too.

Hewing close to the Islander work ethic, the Sound Tigers decided to take most of a period off—in this case, the second, where Portland scored two as the Islanders JV did little to stop them. But after killing off a five-on-three, the Sound Tigers got a power-play goal themselves, with Jeremy Colliton finding Sean Bentivoglio as he was sprung from the penalty box. That goal turned out to be the decisive one, as the third period got a little sluggish on both ends. But during the third period, I did spot Mitch Fritz up in one of the boxes, so that was a highlight. I also spent some of the game hoping to spot winning goaltender Peter Mannino's hot girlfriend, but no such luck.

I actually had the opportunity to get a genuine Mitch Fritz game-worn training camp jersey in the silent auction, but when bidding got into the $200 range, I realized that dream was not going to come true (apparently Fritz is way more popular than Jon Hein). I also passed on waiting to get Jeff Tambellini to sign the bobblehead because it was a long line and the trains only run once an hour (and if I took the later train, I wouldn't have been able to see who got booted off the "Rock of Love Bus"...fare thee well, Beverly). Plus, if it were signed, I'd feel much worse next year when I throw the bobblehead against the floor after Tambellini misses an open net. So I snapped this photo of him and Andrew MacDonald instead.

I nearly fell asleep reading on the train, as the hours of train and bus riding started to take its toll (I was continuing my valiant effort to read a complete David Foster Wallace book, though, so I may have drifted off to sleepyland regardless). But it felt good to have ignored March Madness and celebrated a hockey weekend instead.

Who needs brackets when you've got a 51-year-old guy with feathered hair and a bobblehead?

Rhetorical question. No need to answer.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Ooh La La

I'd been meaning to get out to see an Eastern Professional Hockey League game ever since the team set up a booth at a Cyclones game I attended last year. Hockey in Brooklyn? Sure, I'll check that out. Then I looked online and saw where exactly the Aviator Sports and Recreation Complex (the home ice of the Brooklyn Aces) was and, as a 32-year-old man without a driver's license, thought, "Well, maybe not." The Aviator Complex is in a part of Brooklyn best described as "Where Exactly Am I?" Or at least it seems that way when you don't have a car and are reliant on the subway and bus routes of the Metropolitan Transit Authority. Similarly, if I wanted to see the Aces' rivals, our own Jersey Rockhoppers (apparently, a rockhopper is a penguin, because when you think Jersey, you think penguins), I would have to travel to West Orange, which is not a trip I want to make with NJ Transit.

Then, the Aces announced that they had signed "Hockey Night Live" sexpot Ron Duguay to a one-day contract, and he would be suiting up for a game against the Jersey Rockhoppers. Now, there's a reason to venture out into unknown territory. Then, to sweeten the pot, the Aces announced that the Howard Stern crew (well, those who could skate, and, based on the actual skating that took place, that was flexible) would be squaring off between the first and second intermission. It was go time.

When I asked the Q35 bus driver to let me know when we got to the Aviator Complex, all he said was "Oh, you'll know." And so, I did, as we came to an airport hangar-size building (the complex is part of Floyd Bennett Field, a decommissioned airport) that features two rinks, a basketball court, a rock-climbing wall, a bunch more stuff I didn't see, and surprisingly good pizza at the snack bar. There is no assigned seating for Aces games, save for the "skybox" seats above the ice, which, at $35, were out of my price range. So I plunked down $16 for a bleacher seat (those cold, uncomfortable steel benches that kids love to pound on, which becomes less charming with each passing second) and settled in for the game.

When the (naturally) helmetless Duguay initially took the ice, there was a pretty fair-sized pop. I was pleased to hear a well-fed Islanders fan begin to heckle Duguay during the ceremonial puck drop, urging him to come out to Nassau and see the banners and, of course, giving him a hearty "Ooh la la." The kids in his section seemed unimpressed and, perhaps, a bit confused. One can only hope that some parent's Saturday night was spent explaining that the older Ace without the helmet was once part of an ad campaign for designer jeans. And one can similarly hope that that child went to YouTube, found this


and is now ashamed to be a Rangers fan.

Duguay primarily took short shifts throughout, with a a few longer ones when whistles broke up the play. To his credit (and I don't enjoy giving Rangers credit), he didn't look out of place (except for, you know, the feathered hair and the earring) among the younger guys, and he even got a little dirty in the corner late in the third, getting a hearty roar from the crowd in the process. He was also strong on faceoffs, though perhaps his hair served as a distraction for the opposing player. Fortunately, further distraction was avoided when Duguay decided not to cut his jersey to show his chest hair.

It was a decent-sized crowd at the game, likely augmented by Duguay's appearance and not affected in the least, judging by the aggressive apathy that greeted the introduction of the Stern staffers at the first intermission, by the promise of seeing "Wrap-Up Show" host and "Jump The Shark" creator Jon Hein (whose physical appearance can best be described by the adjective "Keilloresque") and "The Intern Show" host Steve Brandano lace up the skates. I think I might have been one of three people clapping when they were introduced. And the cheers didn't exactly grow as they played (to be fair, though, I was on the less-populated side of the arena...a caller to the Monday-morning wrap-up show seemed to indicate that the other side of the arena was more into it).

The battle (never has a term been used more loosely), which also featured a guy wearing a Dell'Abate jersey who wasn't noted Islander fan Gary "Baba Booey" Dell'Abate, Howard TV producer Doug Goodstein, and Private Parts coauthor and Village Irregular Larry "Ratso" Sloman (author of the best hockey book I've ever read, Thin Ice, about the Sasson-era Rangers, and the best Dylan book I've ever read, On the Road with Bob Dylan), ended 3-1, and all the goals were scored in the final two minutes when both goalies were pulled. It was ugly.

Luckily, Duguay was around to pretty everything up. And when he picked up a power-play assist on the game-tying goal in the final minute, the crowd ate it up. Alas, the Rockhoppers would not be denied their playoff-berth-clinching win, with Matt Puntureri putting in his second goal of the game with 30.7 seconds left in overtime. I'm not entirely clear about just how prestigious clinching a playoff berth in a four-team league is, especially when one of the four teams (the Hudson Valley Bears) has won three games out of 48 and let in 360 goals in that span. But it does mean that the Aces and Rockhoppers will meet in the best-of-three championship starting on Thursday. Go Rockhoppers! Make Jersey proud.

Duguay finished with an assist and a -1 and was scheduled to play for the Rockhoppers in today's season finale against the Danbury Mad Hatters, which I can't find stats for at the moment (I'll update later). In between, he joined his fellow Aces for a postgame autograph session. The line for said session eventually split into kids who don't care who Ron Duguay is and adults who at least kind of do (the latter included me, as I had him sign my NHL 75th anniversary book). As I was waiting in line, the guy in front of me noted the jersey in my hand and asked me which one I got. I told him that, though I bid on (and won...35 bucks) Jon Hein's "game-worn" jersey, the guys had apparently taken their jerseys with them, so I was told I could either wait for the team to get the jersey back and have them mail it to me or take one of the unused ones they had. Deciding that I didn't really want Jon Hein's jersey anyway (it was for charity, and there were no bidders), I jumped at an unused one. The guy on line seemed to think this was an awful decision.

"Game-worn. That's what they're all about these days. Game-worn," he said.

"Yeah, well, it's barely game-worn," I replied.

"Well, I guess that's true."

I got the sense that he still thought I was a fool. And when the Jon Hein game-worn memorabilia market skyrockets, I guess I'll think I was a fool, too.

On the bus back to the subway station (to the PATH station to home), I noticed two young kids with, I assume, their dad. Both of them were still clearly on a hockey high, but the older one was staring at his photo signed by the Aces as if it were the Golden Ticket, moving it around in his hands to look at every last signature. I'm almost certain he didn't care about Ron Duguay. He was just happy to have met and got autographs from the guys in uniforms he just saw play.

It was a nice image to take on the long journey home.

Monday, March 16, 2009

This is how it should be

I think Mr. Bad Example was layering on a bit of sarcasm this weekend when he wrote via e-mail that, "this is easily the most enjoyable Islanders season since 2001-2002." But if this plan works, and someday we are looking back to 2008-2009 through the gentle haze of Stanley-colored glasses (Ok, even "Eastern Conference finals-colored" glasses), I think we will say this was at least a satisfying season in the larger context.

I understand the race to the bottom. Considering the economic structure of the league, the Islanders were in the best position to perform the full rebuild in the post-Ted era. I always have preferred the approach of the Red Wings-esque franchises that make it a priority to get good and then build from hidden draft picks, smart free-agent management, etc. But, well ... no shit, right? Who doesn't?

The Isles are doing it (mostly) correctly. Stocking up on draft picks. Not getting attached to veterans, except the handful who can handle being part of a rebuild, with all of the setting aside of professional pride that may entail. And then, of course, losing. You have to lose. But the Isles are doing it the right way. The team on the ice has played with guts and spirit for most of the year, considering so many of them wouldn't even get a whiff of the NHL for a contending team. They lose, but they lose close. And now that the Isles' place in the race for the bottom is relatively secure, they're winning just enough to hit the off-season with a kick of confidence. Come November, I'd like to see this on the scoreboard movie screen ... .

"He doesn't know it's a damn show! He think it's a damn fight!"

And, more good news here. Royal blue jerseys again next year, and management is pushing to make them the primary jersey going forward, likely in place for 2010-2011. Win.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


This, "Rangers Gain Draft Pick for Cherepanov's Death" is so macabre and clumsy you almost feel sorry for Rangers fans, who can't possibly support this ugliness.

Almost. Almost. Almost. Almost.

Paging Malcolm Gladwell

Take a few minutes, read "Tough guy loses out on internal battle," in the Calgary Herald.

Lots of talk about fighting in recent months. No problem there. Make it legal for two men (or sometimes more) to punch each other in the face in the context of a game, and it's going to be discussed widely. It should be. They are, after all, punching each other in the face.

I do not support eliminating fighting, although I do support the helmet-on proposition, and increased penalties for the nonsensical staged fights. I've seen those fights from about 10 feet away in the AHL, where the compensation doesn't match up with the commitment and the risk, and it is achingly uncomfortable. Without the proper emotional context, you hear fists thumping against skin and bone in a quiet arena. It feels sleazy.

With that out of the way, I think it's important to give the debate, which is (for the most part) pleasingly nuanced, appropriate context. This particular story in the Calgary Herald is an example of poor context and causal reasoning.

It's easy for journalists to take the inherent drama of a bare-knuckle fight and apply that drama to circumstances outside the rink, without understanding external factors. A guy fights, there must be some emotional toll, and here's the guy who proves it. The subject of this story, Brantt Myhres, was a fighter, and also a drug/booze addict for 15 years.

From the story: "They can sit there all they want and claim that's part of the game," Myhres says in a low voice, barely discernible above the noise of a Calgary coffee shop. "I understand that. I guess, (fighting) half-killed me though, being part of the game. I understand that I had a choice, too, not to play hockey. But when you grow up and you're five years old, and that's the only thing you ever want to do is play in the National Hockey League. It didn't matter what you had to do, you did it."

This is speech shaded by addiction. This is sensitive stuff, because this guy obviously has been through the ringer, but you can't simply draw a line from hockey fighting to addiction that clearly and that simply. A better journalist would tell you he's not drawing that line, that he's simply presenting facts, and you are making the causal link. That's a copout, and it's a fundamental pillar of the business. But Bruce Dowbiggin can't even do that, because he's loaded this story with his own reasoning.

Some samples

"The NHL culture of allowing gave Myhres a life in The Show from 1994 to 2003. Then it almost took his life through drugs and alcohol."

"The collateral damage is written all over Myhres' bio."

"To reinforce his point, Myhres lists the widely disproportionate number of 'knuckle' boys who've ended up with him in rehab or worse: Bob Probert, Chris Simon, Chris Nilan, Brian McGrattan, Darren McCarty and John Kordic are the more public of those who've sought refuge from their job in substance abuse."

And, this is the worst, "He's removed the trigger point for his addiction: hockey."

Bruce Dowbiggin does not know why Brantt Myhres is an addict. Brantt Myhres may never know why he is an addict. The line can't simply be drawn, "hockey fights made a drug/booze addict out of Brantt Myhres, and all of these other fighters." It seems logical being a fighter would add to life's stresses, but to imply any of these addicts would have been substance-free without hockey fighting - which is what is being done, make no mistake - is to make a giant leap in reasoning that can't be made without oodles more information. And even then, the science is so inexact it's difficult to even call it science.

Football lineman and running backs become addicts. Pool players. Lefty pitchers. Point guards. Nurses. Teachers. You know the drill.

I don't like staged fights. And yes, sometimes it really is two grown men pulling at each other's underwear. But there are bigger concerns in life, and a little circus-flavor in your hockey game is an acceptable indulgence. Is there collateral damage? There must be some. But there is collateral damage to everything in life. Where do we start drawing the lines? QB sacks? Hard fouls in basketball? Boxing? MMA? Beanballs? You do the best to control these things. Make them keep their helmets on. Keep the appointments out of the game.

Even Carl Sagan once wrote that we should be forgiven our Monday Night Football and our predilection toward violent sporting confrontations. It's ingrained.

And look, I hope the goon-only player disappears. But while we're sorting this out, and the debate continues, let's not start making shit up.

Monday, March 9, 2009

In exile

My wife is working out in the living room, so I am relegated to the computer. I worked out tonight, too. Three brownies (they're homemade, what the hell ... ), two beers, and a rousing fist pump when Vs. displayed the Rangers falling below the playoff line.

She's doing a little dance workout routine on the TV. It beats the balls off of Dancing with the Stars, and also reminds me, why the hell aren't they selling these

(the outfit, not the girl ...)

in the Isles' team shop?

Guy Carbonneau is out in Montreal. Our friend the Puck Daddy thinks the blame is correctly placed here, writing that the "losses of Mark Streit and Michael Ryder couldn't have made that much of a difference, could they?" A few readers in the comments pointed out quickly and accurately that Mark Streit not only has been good (I'd say really good considering the supporting cast) for the Isles, but that a defenseman who can make the smart breakout pass, handle the puck in space, and work the point with some confidence and sense is highly valuable in the NHL. Yup. Garth Snow +1. is great. Like having another more-than-full-time reporter covering the Isles. But here's something we can do Chris Botta can't: write "fuck." So go read fucking point blank. As if I have to tell you. In what universe would someone find this blog without having first found the other? This one.

Vs. is terrible. Not necessarily the coverage, although people who care about these kinds of things seem to also hate Vs. I don't watch any national studio shows except HNIC about twice a year, so whatever nonsense they're talking about on Vs. is about the same to me as whatever nonsense they're talking about the NHL Network, except there's better hair and better accents on the NHLN. The thing is, Vs. is a shitty, ridiculous network full of shitty, ridiculous shows considering it is supposed to be flagship of the damn league. How in holy hell cannot there not be a nightly highlight show? How is this acceptable? And what the fuck about Saturday night? I thought Vs. was supposed to be showing HNIC? (is it only the NHL Network? If it is, you can't get that in hotel rooms, and that's where I watch hockey.) Seems logical they would, but instead they're riding fucking bulls Saturday nights.

Fine. Do what you fucking want. But do not give them Stanley Cup games. I know, NBC doesn't do shit either. But it's NBC. And although that means a hell of a lot less than it used to, it stills means a great deal for the NHL. Naturally, I have no solution. I despise ESPN. Maybe shift the whole thing to the NHL Network? Maybe make it 200 or 300 percent easier to watch shit online on a good, hi-def feed? I don't know. Now I'm tired.

Last thing: NHL 09 was fixed by a patch about a week ago. It's fantastic. I take back everything I said.

It's fun again

I'm reading between the lines. And more lines.

"Leadership is a funny thing. You can't really describe it. It's just there. A lot of the guys are playing with a lot of confidence now, which shows a lot of leadership."
- Kyle Oh!poso

"Off the ice, we've had it great all year. But on the ice, I think there's a big difference. Maybe it's because we're young and kind of know each other."
- Sean Bergenheim

"Sometimes players get bitter and that's part of the game. I'm not going to worry about it. Just the fact that we, given our situation, have competed at the level we have here. If it was all that bad, human nature would have been just to throw away the rest of the season, to tank it.

"For me, it was identifying the players who I thought had the character to lead us through the rest of the year and get us into the start of next year."
-- Scott Gordon

Get the feeling Bill Guerin isn't so missed by the Islanders younger players or the coach? It doesn't surprise me.

I like Bill Guerin as a player. I know nothing about the man. He's a below average player now, or hovering just around average considering his toughness and the experience. But he was a very good player for a bried period of time. And he was a damn good, always complete player when he wasn't very good.

But Bill Guerin, the leader of this team? I'm not sure I buy it. It's always interesting hearing the rumblings around this franchise about grizzled veteran leaders struggling to find their place with aggressive young coaches. Bill Guerin was bitter, if we're to believe Scott Gordon and Herrmann Monster, and, I guess, Guerin, if the sniping about not knowing where he was going is any indication. This "sitting in limbo" thing obviously played out poorly for the team and for Guerin. But what else to do? I don't know. And I suppose the Islanders didn't either.

I don't know what Bill Guerin wanted out of the Islanders, although I think the Islanders got exactly out of Bill Guerin what the Islanders wanted. They got a serviceable captain whose dedication and work ethic hopefully was transferred to some of the younger players. Guerin might have thought he'd finish his career here, although his feelings regarding Gordon may have made that impossible/uncomfortable/unproductive. And he had to know by having a decent season, he was making himself a commodity at the deadline.

Anyway, it's a minor drama. I think the team is better off without Guerin (and Weight, for that matter) moving forward. You need character guys, but I think it's preferable to develop them from within. Shipped-in leadership is no substitute for players drafted by the franchise, players who have some deeper-rooted loyalty and connection amongst the group. And I think this especially holds true for a young, young team in the earliest stages of development. This team is a not a player away. Best to develop from within.

Mike Comrie? Who gives a shit?
Chris Campoli? That's a-whole-nother post.

We'll get there.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

An Oddball Opinion

I'm going to break ranks here. I bleed orange and blue and everything, but I'm getting a little tired of this Texas Hold'em all-in approach to the "Lighthouse Project." I'm in favor, I'm in favor and I want it to happen but good holy christmas--what's the rush? Is the reason you're not going to an Islanders game really because of the arena? I mean, if they were contenders are you telling me you'd be staying home because there's not an expensive steak restaurant there? Please.

What's more disturbing is the complete lack of interest on the environmental impact of this project. Again, I want it to happen, but if Hempstead has to take some time to get their collective heads around what this will do to the environment then I am fine with that. I like my water to be as unpolluted as possible and if that means I have to go to some more games and park in a crumbling parking lot and watch an antiquated scoreboard then I'll survive. Think I'm overreacting? Check out this article from the same paper that's treating Wang like he's Ghandi.

Call me a whiny liberal environmentalist if you want (hell, I'm just happy someone's reading this blog) but here's how I see it: One of the richest men in America uses a hockey team to strong arm some local politicians into approving a gigantic building project. As far as I know it's environmentally sound, but if the project were somehow to be considered a huge environmental liability, how could these politicians possibly stand up to the onslaught of Newsday and Wang dragging us fans along with them? I'm guessing the politicians would be strung up before getting a chance to explain the delicate intricacies of our aquifers or whatever other problematic impact the project might present. I don't exactly know how to take the moderate road of wanting the team to stay and getting a new arena while avoiding feeling bullied into supporting Wang's project on his terms. Open to suggestion...

Related articles (for those wondering where the hell this all came from) here and here.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Dr. Hook and the Mitch Fritz Show

Upon visiting the Bridgeport Sound Tigers' website last week, I saw that Paul D'Amato, a/k/a Tim "Dr. Hook" McCracken of "Slap Shot" fame, was due to appear at that Saturday's Sound Tigers game to sign autographs. I quickly sent out an e-mail to The Mediocre One, as well as two lowercase mediocre ones (or, as they are also known, Rangers fans) to gauge interest in a trip to Bridgeport. I'd been itching to get to a Sound Tigers game, since I hadn't been yet this season, and this seemed like as good an occasion as any, even if it meant missing a dual-accordion concert in Brooklyn featuring an alumnus from the Official Palm Isle Alma Mater.

Not surprisingly, the Mediocre One was the only one to jump at the opportunity; I can only assume the Rangers fans were home baking muffins for their hero. So, after a brief flirtation with going to see Mr. D'Amato (along with Chris "Hanrahan" Murney and Andy "Tim Carr" Duncan) at the Coliseum on Thursday (which turned out to be a double-super-secret appearance not promoted or even really encouraged by the Islanders), we were off to Bridgeport to see Mitch Fritz's Sound Tigers take on the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in a battle for second place in the East.

The Mediocre One picked me up in Woodside, where I'd arrived from Philadelphia after a Friday night Jason Isbell concert, and we headed for I-95. The Mediocre One is easily a bigger "Slap Shot" fan than I (I'm a "Slap Shot 2" kind of guy...I keed), and he and the Reverend Zamboni (perhaps you remember him from the good old days here, before he abandoned us for the cold embrace of the Central New York winter and the love and adulation of his twice-monthly Puck Daddy fantasy-hockey column) are members of the legendary Ithaca College intramural floor hockey Charlestown Chiefs franchise. And, as a member of the team, the Mediocre One wanted to make sure he wouldn't be the only Chief to have a Dr. Hook autograph. That meant that he came fully prepared with not only DVDs but also a stack of Dr. Hook photos printed on his computer. Ten of them. We were hopeful that Mr. D'Amato wouldn't be charging a hefty fee for his signature.

We got to the Harbor Yard about a half-hour before gametime and found what seemed to be a sizable crowd getting ready to head into the arena. Still, because it's minor-league hockey, we were able to pick up center-ice seats, about twelve rows back, for $28 a pop. We could've gotten cheaper tickets, but I like to support the Sound Tigers as best as I can. And considering similar seats at the Coliseum are probably about three times as much (and, let's face it, the Isles are really the Sound Tigers varsity at this point), it was still a helluva deal.

We spotted the Dr. Hook table soon after entering and after scoping out the merch situation (signed 8X10s, pucks, and t-shirts were available for $10, $15, and $20, respectively, and there appeared to be no fee if you brought stuff to sign), we decided to head to our seats and come back later.

After the excitement of seeing Mitch Fritz in person subsided (never gets old) and the first period ended, we headed to the concourse to complete Operation McCracken. While the Mediocre One was in the can, I bought a Syracuse Bulldogs puck and got it signed, capping off the experience with this swell photo.

And then came the Mediocre One's turn, after he bought $20 of raffle tickets for the McCracken jersey, in a goodwill gesture for the monster autograph signing that was about to take place.

The Mediocre One opted for a split session, getting the DVDs signed first and letting the line die down before hitting him with the photos (all class, that kid, though I did give him some coaching based on my sadly vast autograph experiences). So, after talking with the guy in charge of the Slap Shot fan pages on MySpace and Facebook (nice guy...I forget his name; TMO has his business card) he headed back to the table when things subsided and hit him with the stack (not literally). Mr. D'Amato was awfully nice about it, happily signing and personalizing the photos as TMO made sure to get all his Chiefs (well, the important ones) covered.

And, since we were on a roll and had obtained 14 autographs from Mr. D'Amato, we kidnapped him and took him back to the Mediocre Estate, to watch "Slap Shot," partake in a couple of rounds of Scattergories, and play Super Mario Kart on the Wii.

OK, you got me. We didn't. But seriously, Paul D'Amato's a good (and patient) dude. Check out his website and buy a signed photo (or ten) if you're so inclined.

With all that taken care of, we could enjoy the game, which wound up being a pretty good one. It was hard not to just watch the awesomeness of Mitch Fritz the whole game (the man seems to be forever taking notes about whose ass he might have to kick later in the game), but the rest of the Tigers played well and had things well under control, until an incident with 6:16 left in the third. After a play stoppage, there was some jawing at the benches involving Fritz, and the next thing we knew Fritz was heading back to the locker room and the Penguins had five minutes of power play time. What the?

Because the PA announcer likes to not be too vocal when announcing penalties, I originally thought that Fritz got an unsportsmanlike, but I see today that he was called for the equally baffling butt-ending (prior to the play stoppage, I guess, since I didn't see him butt-ending anyone at the bench). Don't see that called every day. In fact, I'm not sure when the last time I saw a butt-ending call was, particularly with six minutes left in a one-goal game.

No matter. The Sound Tigers killed off the five minutes (only one shot on goal) and took the 3-2 victory and possession of second place. The two teams are playing again tonight, and I'm watching it as I write this on the free AHL Live preview. Nice.

And that wraps up another successful Palm Isle road trip. I hope to provide you another Sound Tigers report after I attend Jeff Tambellini Bobblehead Night later this month.