Saturday, April 27, 2002

I am not sure what it says about today's game, but in the 50's and early 60’s, you never saw a 40 year old playing this sport. Gordie Howe won the Hart trophy for the sixth time in 1964 at the age of 35. An unheard off accomplishment. However, tonight 42-year-old Igor Larionov picked up a goal and three assists to snuff out Vancouver's early series lead and push the red and white to the next round. I have always admired the Russian approach but sometimes you just cannot figure them out. A guy with the enormous talent of Federov sometimes appears to be just going through the motions. Pierre Larouche was another with huge natural ability. He could do things on skates others would only dream of. Nevertheless, there he was, on the bench, between shifts, smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee.

The Ruskies snoozed and nodded their way through the Olympic preliminaries. The U.S. only just managed a tie in their first match. Then when the two teams met again, the victor to face Canada for the Gold, the Russians went to sleep for two periods, hanging on merely by the acrobatics of Khabi the Krease Keeper. Then, BANG, two quick ones, as they have done to Canada so often in the past, and the U.S. is reeling. Chelios really looked his age that night. Celtic great, Bill Russell always said comebacks were like an elastic band, you could only stretch it so far before it snapped. And so it was for the Russians that night. The Americans hung on and as they say the rest is history.

Larionov debuted with the Krutov and Makorov in the early 80’s. The KLM line, that so devastated Canada in an 8-1 trouncing in Montreal, was a wonder to watch. Krutov was another of those who drank and smoked his talent away. However, in 1981 on a cool September eve, these kids were a marvel.

We flew to Winnipeg in late August that summer. The Canada Cup games were spread across the country and the ‘Peg was the Soviets home base. Seems crazy now, but it was the only way we could see the Russians live. The cold north winds were blowing and you’d swear that old man Winter was just over the horizon. We caught a couple of games in the ‘Peg, home of the World Hockey League Jets. The Golden, Golden CBS colour man Bill Mazer called him. Bobby Hull. Hockey’s first Million-Dollar Man. Played with Ulf Nilsson and Anders Hedberg in Winnipeg and they were great to watch. Remember sitting in the end Blues at the Carlton Street cashbox when the Jets were in town playing the Toronto Toros. When Hull made a rink-long dash, you could just feel the power, even way up in the GODS. His brother Dennis, told me a funny story at a charity fundraiser. He said Bobby didn’t have sex for twelve years. Then he turned 13.

This day, the vaunted Russians struggled to a 2-2 tie with a feisty Czech team. Fetisov was just a kid then. They called him the Russian Orr. He wasn’t of course but he had immense talent. That day he was somewhere else. Fetters spent most of the game Beaver shooting. The moment that stays with me, from that time long ago, was a move the eminent Alexander Maltsev, then late in his career, made. At full speed, he turned backwards, beat the young Czech defender, and fired a hard backhand off the cross bar. It made the trip worthwhile.

Friday, April 26, 2002

For years now the Niagara Peninsula in Southern Ontario has been producing award wining Ice Wine. But nothing in ol' Ontari-ari-ario provides the full bodied compliment of a good Vancouver Whine. Here's a sample:

"Todd Bertuzzi does not play for Detroit," Burke said. "It just looks like that because he is wearing two or three red sweaters all the time."

"We pay the same dues to the National Hockey League that Detroit pays," Burke said, "and even though we're just a little Canadian team, we deserve a level playing field."

"I was their boss for five years and I think they're a group with real integrity and character, and I don't normally complain about officiating . . ." said Burke, who seamlessly launched into complaints about the officiating.

"The respect gap here now is as absurd as the payroll gap is."

Puttin' on the foil. The Habs are threatening not to be outgooned by the Bruins when the Eastern Conference quarterfinal resumes play tomorrow night in Boston. Kyle McLaren has been suspended for Game 5 for elbowing Richard Zednik in the waning minutes of Game 4 and knocking the Montreal star out for the remainder of the playoffs.
"If they try to go after our best players, if that's part of (Boston coach Robbie) Ftorek's strategy, we have no choice -- we'll go after theirs," said (Montreal coach Michel) Therrien, red-faced with anger after the game.

When asked if his threat will only escalate the violence, Therrien said: "I don't care. This is what they did and this is what we're going to do."

On Friday, the Canadiens called in some muscle from their AHL affiliate in Quebec City. Matt O'Dette, a 6-foot-5, 221-pound defenseman, had 136 penalty minutes, along with seven goals and an assist, in 48 games with the Citadelles this season.
I'm a Bruins fan second only to my adopted Blackhawks, so perhaps it's not surprising that I saw the hit a little differently than Howard. To me, it appeared that McLaren was preparing to put a hit on Zednik when Zednik cut toward the middle with the puck, leaving McLaren to stretch forward to still make contact. The result was that the hit was high and caught Zednik in the face with the back of McLaren's arm. It was certainly a penalty and perhaps even merited a one game suspension given the danger of such hits, but I didn't think he was headhunting.

Tomorrow's game could get ugly, especially if the Canadiens fall behind by a few goals.

THROWING OCTOPI ONTO the ice have been a playoff tradition for a long time in Detroit. It all started with two brothers, Pete and Jerry Cusimano, owners of a fishshop.

The year was 1952. It was mid April and the Red Wings had beaten Toronto Maple Leafs and lead the series, 2-0. At that time it was enough with 8 wins to get the Cup, but no team had managed to win in 8 straigth games. Jerry brought an octopus and said: "Pete, this thing has eight arms. Why don't we throw it onto the ice and maybe Detroit will win in 8 straight?" Pete convinced him to boil it first to become easier to throw.

That night, Cusimano hid the octopus and put it under his chair in the arena. Right after Gordie Howe had scored Detroit's first goal, Cusimano took the octopus and threw it onto the ice and into hockey history.
UPDATE: The Sawchuk affair

"I'm old and I'm tired,
but I try my best."

-- Terry Sawchuk after his 103rd and final NHL shutout on 2/1/70

Was he the greatest goalie ever? Arguably, yes, but in the world of sports debates, nothing is ever definitive.

Sawchuk, know as "Ukey" to his friends, and certainly one of the greatest goaltenders of all time, reveled greatly in that final shutout. It was a 6-0 New York Rangers whitewash of the Pittsburgh Penguins at Madison Square Garden and the 103rd of his career, a mark that likely will never be challenged. Some of his teammates good-naturedly teased that it might have been Sawchuk's last. They were right.

Less than four months later, on May 31st, Sawchuk was dead, the victim of what the police called "horseplay" during a scuffle a month earlier (on April 29) with teammate and roommate Ron Stewart in the yard of their rented house at 58 Bay Street in Long Beach, New York.

Sawchuk was taken first to Long Beach Memorial Hospital, where he was operated on May 1. During the early part of his recovery period, Sawchuk repeatedly exonerated Stewart for the accident. When complications set in, a second operation was performed on May 14. Initially, at Sawchuk's insistence, the whole affair remained a secret.

"Ukey," whose nickname owed its birth to his Ukranian ancestry, wanted it that way, not only to protect Stewart but also to keep the news from his estranged wife Joan and their seven children back in Michigan. By the third week in May, too many people knew of the incident, and word got to the press. It was a big story, in New York of course and especially in Canada.

But dreading the future in Chicago: The team showed a lot of grit, despite their inability to score. And Sutter was a great coach all year, you can't take that away from him.

But next year does not look that great... there is no indication that the Blackhawks are going to re-sign captain Tony Amonte. Daze has been great this year, but he will not hold up without another scorer on the team.

I weep, not for the franchise, but for the fans. Like in Anaheim, the ownership is rich beyond imagination and you would have to give them a root canal to see them be any more tight-fisted.
The Blackhawks finally put me out of my misery by knocking themselves out of the playoffs with last night's 5-3 loss to the Blues. The Hawks were held scoreless longer than Rosie O'Donnell at an NRA swingers party (10 consecutive periods) and were 0-for-16 on the power play before finally finding a way to beat Brent Johnson in the second period. As we're used to saying here in Chicago regarding every sport, there's always next year.

Red Wings 4 Canucks 0

Howard thanks for the invitation. It is truly an honour and I will try my best to make a worthwhile contribution.

Of the great goaltending traditions in hockey, with each nationality proudly supporting their favourites, you have to give the Ukees the top spot. This, of course flies in the face of French-Canada’s aspirations to that elevated podium. They have produced the likes of the innovative wanderer, and knitter par excellance Jacques Plante (though he, so embittered by not being chosen for the series against the Soviets in 1972, allegedly tipped off the Russians to idiosyncrasies of Canadian shooters, has fallen in my estimation) and the irascible, Patrick Roy. But the Ukraine is the fertile homeland that produced three of hockey’s greatest puck-stopper, Sawchuk, Tretiak and the ever-affable Johnny Bower.

In the spring of 1952, as Howard mentioned, Sawchuk and the Red Wings completed an eight game undefeated sweep to win Lord Stanley’s cup. Thus began Hockey City’s tradition of the Octopus. Terry posted a 0.80 (less than one goal a game) against average and shut out opponents in four of the eight games, a performance that will never be matched again. Canadian lore has it that in those days, even in practice, the only one to consistently beat Sawchuk was Howe. Arguably the greatest team in hockey history, during the halcyon days of hockey, this bunch of Red Wings won seven straight Prince of Wales trophies and four Stanley Cups in a six-team league from 1948-49 through 1956-57.

Sadly, in the twilight of his career, three years after back-stopping, with Bower, the Leafs to their last Stanley Cup, 35 years ago, Sawchuk, probably an alcoholic, and long removed from his family, died in an inauspicious round of horseplay at a New York condominium he was sharing with a fellow Ranger, Ron Stewart. But the legend continues.

Great FARK headlines: Flyers scoreless in regulation now 316+ minutes. Bob Clarke busy preparing list of why it is Eric Lindros' fault.
Zed: Richard Zednik may only have a concussion, a broken nose and a broken cheekbone. He might even be able to play in the NHL again next year.

But Get Kyle McLaren outta here now.

Shameful ending to Bruins win

Therrien promises revenge
Jay Bouwmeester is number one: Of course he is, he kicks ass.

The Central Scouting Bureau's rankings of North American skaters were released yesterday, and they ranked Jay number one. The 6-foot-3½, 206-pound Bouwmeester's 61 points for the Medicine Hat Tigers ranked third among Western Hockey League defensemen. He scored 12 goals.

The Florida Panthers have the No. 1 overall pick, followed by Atlanta, Columbus, Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh.

Rick Nash, a left wing for the Ontario Hockey League's London Knights, was rated No. 2. He had 32 goals and 40 assists in 54 games.

Boston University defenseman Ryan Whitney was the top-rated U.S.-born prospect at No. 3, followed by forward Joffrey Lupul and right wing Scottie Upshall.

Jeff Deslauriers of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League's Chicoutimi Sagueneens was the top-ranked North American goalie.

The top European skater is Joni Pitkanen of Finland, and the continent's top goalie is Kari Lehtonen of Finland.
Other leafs had already fallen: There were already some Toronto players on the sidelines. Their most consistent defenseman, Dmitri Yushkevich; winger Mikael Renberg; and (sometimes decent, other times a five-story tall pylon) defenseman Cory Cross. They were in rough shape already. It will take some poor play by the Isles to blow this series now.

Thursday, April 25, 2002

To anyone who reads this blog regularly: Please welcome new PuckHog contributors Lawrence and Geoff. More should be on the ice soon. Although Scott Ganz appears to have turned down the offer to join the team... I have dispatched pugilist Tony Twist to change his mind...
Fallen Leaf. Well Howard, it seems that one of your ifs has come to pass. Mats Sundin will miss the rest of the playoffs with his broken wrist. While I am excited that it improves the Isles' chances of winning the series, it's disappointing knowing that the Leaf's best offensive player won't be out there.
Let's Go Leafs! I must admit to being impressed by the refs last night. It takes more balls than most zebras can muster in an entire season to call those kinds of penalties late.

But that does not change the fact that I am... miserable. Not that I believe Alexei Yashin is about to become some great playoff performer in the mold of a superstar... cause he ain't. But if he can score, CuJo keeps letting in cheap goals and Captain Mats cannot return from whatever wrist injury ails him... the Leafs are toast.

While it is not yet warranted, I am already pondering the free agent signings the Leafs need to make for their beleaguered squad of minor leaguers (Bryan McCabe excepted, of course).
Go Isles! I will devote my first post on here to congratulating my beloved New York Islanders for evening up their series with the Toronto Maple I mean Leafs. Last night's game was amazing: how often do you see a penalty shot called with 2:30 left in the third period of a tight playoff game, and then another penalty called with 1 minute left to play? Despite what some ahem bloggers might think, hockey is the greatest sport!

Wednesday, April 24, 2002

Woman to sue the NHL and the Chicago Blackhawks because she ate puck: The NHL had medical evidence showing that fans are more likely than players to leave a game with stitches, yet it did nothing to increase protection for spectators, according to a lawsuit to be filed Wednesday.

The lawsuit, the details of which were reported by the Chicago Sun-Times in Wednesday's editions, on behalf of a woman who suffered brain injuries after she was struck by a puck at a Blackhawks game in January, cites a study of hockey fan injuries by two emergency-room doctors. It showed that during 127 NHL games at the MCI Center in Washington, 122 fans suffered puck injuries -- nearly one per game. Of the injured fans, 90 required stitches and 45 were taken to emergency rooms. The research found similar results at other arenas.

Results of the study, conducted by David Milzman and Andrew Bachman, were given to the NHL two years ago, the suit alleges. But the league failed to increase safety measures to protect fans. (ESPN)
Did I mention my heart was bleeding? Those poor NY Yankee fans can't watch baseball on cable television.

Time for them to know what it feels like to be forced to get a dish to watch your sport.

Tuesday, April 23, 2002

Brett Hull says 'f&*^ the fans in Detroit': "That's disappointing," he said. "Those are the people you need the most and ... expect to be with you. When they turn on you it's just kind of like, 'OK, we'll stick it up theirs.' ... I guess they can pay the money so they can do whatever they want, but as a group, we're disappointed in that. ...

"It's really disappointing especially when they get on Dom, who has played so fantastic for them all year. ... Hopefully we can come in and take a couple here and go back home ... and we won't listen to them then, either." (Pgh Post-Gazette)
Playoff beards: Some guys look stupid with them. Todd Bertuzzi's works.

Trevor Linden is working on his. He's had the goatee going most of the season and is now sporting the full facial. But he's not sure for how much longer. "I've already taken this down a notch," Linden said Monday, while scratching both of his cheeks. "It's itchy. I don't know what I'm going to do."