Friday, May 24, 2002

Look, up in the air! It's a bird! It's a plane! It's..... SuperBlogger! Howard, did I just see you on the United commercial on the Laker game? Or is that another guy with the same name. Come to think of it, I'm a United 1K flyer, where the hell is my camera crew!
Too much of a good thing: I agree with you, Eric. Part of the reason that the NHL is stuck in second gear is that even the smooth Gary Bettman hasn't been able to bring the league into the 21st century.

The hockey playoffs are so exciting because the games mean something. Unlike, say, the regular season. Less is more.

A Day Without Puck Is Like A Day Without Sunshine: Which is exactly what we have today thanks to the schedule makers and the lords of television. I'm sure that Saturday afternoon game between Detroit and Colorado on Memorial Day weekend in the States will be drawing big numbers. It's days like this one that make me wish we could magically contract the NHL's worst eight teams and lop 20 games off the schedule. The professional game would be a whole lot healthier for it.
More coaching changes: Mike Babcock, who coached Anaheim's minor-league team in Cincinnati the past two seasons, was hired as the Mighty Ducks' coach Wednesday. Babcock replaces Bryan Murray, who gave up the job in April to become the NHL team's senior vice president and general manager.

Meanwhile, good ol' boy Andy Moog returned to the Dallas Stars as an assistant coach.

Thursday, May 23, 2002

Montreal Canadiens Take Two of Three NHLFA Awards: The NHL Fan Association awards were announced today.

Best Bang for the Buck went to Jarome Iginla of the Calgary Flames. At a salary of $1.7 million, Jarome is a bargain by NHL
standards. He topped the NHL in goals
(52) and points (96) this season while playing in all of the Flames 82 games.

"I am honored to be recognized for an award selected by the fans. They are the most
important part of making our game successful and their support is very much appreciated,"
Jarome Iginla said.

The NHLFA's choice for MVP was Jose Theodore, standout goaltender for the Montreal
Canadiens, while the Best Role Model went to another member of the Montreal Canadiens,
Saku Koivu.

Last year, San Jose Shark goaltender Evgeni Nabokov won the "Best Bang for the Buck" award, while Colodaro's Ray Bourque and Detroit's Steve Yzerman shared the award for Best Role Model, and Joe Sakic netted the MVP award.
Watching classic puck:
Thursday 8pm and 11pm - Jacques Plante SportsCentury
Friday 8pm - Bobby Hull SportsCentury
Friday 8:30pm - Eric Lindros SportsCentury

Sat May 25:
7 p.m. - Classic NHL
1994 Eastern Conf. Quarters, Game 2 Washington Capitals @ Pittsburgh Penguins

Tuesday May 28 7:30 am to 9:30 am :
Bye Bye Eddie! The Dallas Stars say "Take off, eh?" to goalie Eddie "The Eagle" Belfour.

Wednesday, May 22, 2002

The Face Of Victory: Something tells me that even if you happen to be a Toronto Maple Leafs fan, you can't help but admire the guts and determination shown last night by Carolina Hurricanes right winger Jeff O'Neill. Sure, the score sheet this morning shows that O'Neill, a thirty-goal scorer in the regular season, came up big scoring in overtime to give Carolina a 2-1 win in Toronto and a 2 games to 1 lead in the series.

But what the box score can't show, and won't show, was the sheer force of will O'Neill needed to summon to even finish the game, never mind score the game winner in OT. With less than five minutes left in the first period, O'Neill was struck in the eye with the puck off a clearing attempt by Leafs defenseman Bryan McCabe.

After struggling to the bench, the Carolina medical staff tried to ice his face to get the swelling down, but eventually had to use a needle to drain enough blood so O'Neill could see again. Even after that, he had to deal with bouts of dizziness for a while once he returned to the ice. A few days ago, I mentioned that at times, critical mental mistakes can cost teams a shot at a championship. It's nice to see the flip side, where raw guts can make the difference too.

Two teams playing consummate traps slowed the pace of last night’s Leafs’, Canes’ match to a crawl. The second period saw only eight shots on goal, 4 for each team. Canes are banging and smokin’ now. Depending on whether Mogilny returns, he does not like the heavy going; it could be lights out for the Leafs if they continue to stall on the heavy thumping, hard trappin’ Canes' D.
For Fans Of Puck In The States. . . ESPN2's NHL2Night is the most valuable 30 minutes on cable television. More often than not, ice hockey highlights, outside of marquee matchups get horribly short shrift, even on cable sports reports. There have been more than a few nights every Spring where I'll see endless minute and a half college basketball highlight packages from games between mid-major bottom feeders; meanwhile, I should feel lucky to get a highlight-free boxscore on as many as four NHL contests a night.

Lucky for us, NHL2Night helps fill the void. A chronic insomniac, I've never had a problem with the show's late U.S. East Coast start time, though I can see how others might. Over the past two seasons, John Buccigross has more than grown into the job as the show's host, providing just the right combination of expertise and irreverence to the job. He's also proved he can work with a variety of co-hosts (rotating between Barry Melrose, Darren Pang, as well as a host of other current and former players), and looks to be ticketed for bigger things at the cable network (though after watching him for two seasons, I'd have to conclude that he really would be happiest sticking with the NHL). In any case, Buccigross writes a column for that is pretty damn entertaining. Add it to your weekly hockey reading list.

Tuesday, May 21, 2002

Matt Haws' encouragement and kind words, for which I thank him, resulted in the following post.

For the past month or since the NHL playoffs started, at the gracious invitation of Howard Fienberg, I have been contributing to his Puck Hog blogspot. In addition, coincidently, the Leafs have obliged, providing grit and determination for the hockey mill during this playoff season. I’ve always been a Redwings fan and the last time the Wings and Leafs met in a Stanley Cup final was 1963 with the Leafs being victorious in 5 games. Of course writing about hockey again, a chapter of my life that had ended long ago leads to at least some maudlin sentimentality.

Toronto has made many contributions to the fastest game on earth, but none more significant than that of Tom Watt. Known largely for his work in the NHL, AHL, and OHL, I feel Watt’ s greatest contribution to the game of hockey was at the University of Toronto coaching the Varsity Hockey Blues. Watt won five consecutive college championships and nine of 10 between 1965-66 and 1976-77. He coached the 1980 Canadian Olympic team at Lake Placid. That team featured six of his former Blues. U of T won its tenth national college title in 1983-84 under the tutelage of Mike Keenan beating the Concordia Stingers 9-1.

Not being able to play against Watt and the Blues, busting my knees and Cornell scholarship at the same moment, I suppose the next best thing was watching them. We, Clarkie, Ramón and I, an unwholesome hockey watching trio with disparate interests, viewed Watts practices with reference from high above the ice surface, in the hard, narrow, north end seats, the crescent of the elegant shoulders of the grand old Ice lady, the University of Toronto’s Varsity Arena. Originally built in 1926, Varsity Arena was a repository for years of Canadian hockey history. The quirky antiquated nature of both the ice surface and stands made this old lady unique. We spent our entire waking hours there, trying to mooch free ice time. Paying for ice time, like paying for parking, meant defeat. It was a game of wits and like every great game or soulful endeavour it was constant work. We were rink rats.

Clarkie, named after Philadelphia’s finest, Bobby Clarke because of the tenacity and enthusiasm with which he played, was the youngest son of an affluent Toronto doctor, mohel, and coroner. Eli was the sanctioned medical practitioner for MacDonald’s Canada, owned, and operated by the irrepressible, Chicago born, George Cohen. George adorned himself with a long lustrous bullion chain, which carried his pride and joy impertinently around his neck, a juicy, golden Big Mac. Always conscious of his good fortune George was the principal player in many charitable benefits. In fact, he organised the Canada Loves New York rally in Gotham, shortly after 9/11.

Clarkie had two brothers, Pinner and Chaz. Pinner was a genius and a voracious, insatiable eater. It did not help that his mother, Devi, made the best cheesecake I ever tasted. Chaz, the middle child, was more pensive but learned to love the game of hockey after mastering the fundamental skills at an advanced age. And I, I was the “adopted” one.

Chaz was also a leading light, introducing Tai Chi to our pre-game regimen, to loosen stiff muscles before a match. Hockey dressing rooms, even when it is a pick-up game of shinny, are redolent of testosterone. Seeing the startled faces of fellow combatants when Chaz launched into his meditative movements still makes me laugh.

Clarkie was the greatest yipper I have ever met. Looking a little like Gino Vanelli, with full soft dreadlocks falling on sinewy shoulders, he could engage, in an endearing fashion, anyone. He was the bagman, the heart, and soul of our triumvirate. In 1976, during the first Canada Cup, the Swedes, Borje Salming, Lars-Erik Sjoberg, Anders Hedberg, Ulf Nilsson, and Inge Hammarstrom practiced at an arena in North Toronto. Clarkie cornered Sjoberg, who looked like a Swedish fire hydrant (he had incredible glutes) and invited him over to the house to talk hockey and consume smoked oysters with Devi’s incredible oyster sauce. Hammarstrom grabbed Sjoberg and brushed us off as only a seasoned NHL star could do.

When he came to me and asked how to play the game, Clarkie started with out puck skills but developed rapidly into a highly skilled master of the pond. Incredibly, he ended up practising with one of the best teams in Canadian college hockey, our beloved Varsity Blues coached by the man, who to us was the real attraction at Varsity Arena, Tom Watt.

Ramón was the sceptic, engaging in his own diminutive way, he was an only child. Born of Ukrainian parents, who left Kiev a few years after the War, searching for a new life in Canada, he was the product of two solitudes. We speculated that Mrs. B, his Mom and Steve, his Dad, only had loving relations once, and thus begat Ramón. Mrs B. loved to make pierogies and on Friday nights, Pinner would accompany us to her kitchen where he preceded to devour a dozen potato pastries without tribulation. After a couple of glasses of beer, we would drag him to the car and he would moan the entire journey home. Once in the house, he then ate another dozen of his Mother’s, Devi’s, cabbage rolls.

Afterwards, in the wee hours of a clear Canadian winter night, we headed for Nathan Phillips Square, located at the foot of the “new” city hall, where a man made pond, aesthetically cooling in summer, and frozen in winter, was all the invitation we needed to strap on the blades, and with the joy of children, chase a hard, black rubber disc under the shadowy lights of a Toronto sky.

Based on Soccer's 4-2-4 system, Arkady Tchernyshev, Tarasov's tactical expert, developed a 2-1-2 system that fit both the political and strategic requirements developed for Tarasov's collective approach to hockey. Again, this system effectively forces the puck carrier or play to the outside.
Tom Watt, when he coached the U of T Varsity Blues implemented a system used to defend, especially when playing one man short due to a penalty. He called it the “I” or inverted “T”. Unlike the trap, this system allowed for a more aggressive fore-checking stance when playing short handed. One forward would call out his intention to go deep and the other would line-up in tandem. Against an attack that operated in a linear mode, forwards stay in their lanes, up and down the ice, it effectively divided the ice surface in half forcing the puck carrier to move the puck to one side or other thus effectively creating an even man situation. If you are coaching or playing try it, you’ll like it.
At The Request Of Fellow Puck Hogger. . . Lawrence Haws, I'm announcing Colorado as my pick for taking the title from the remaining four. Not that I'm going out on a limb or anything.

Monday, May 20, 2002

Szymon Szemberg claims the Swedish Torpedo (credit should really go to Anatoly Tarasov who used the system before the Swedes) "guns down the trap".

Two energetic forecheckers ("torpedoes") probe the defense. Their main mission is to create havoc in the other team's zone.

Behind the torpedoes is a pair of playmaking "halfbacks."

The remaining skater is the "libero," a traditional rearguard.

The revolutionary quintet features four forwards and one true defenseman. With this system, Djurgarden won both the regular season title and swept the Sedin twins and MoDo in the playoff final.

"When I returned to Swedish hockey in 1998 after 11 years of playing and coaching in Switzerland, I found the Swedish league extremely boring," Waltin told The Hockey News. "It struck me the players practiced twice a day and were in perfect condition, but when they entered the rink the coaches asked them to stand still and wait in the neutral zone. That didn't make sense." In Djurgarden, no one refers to the terms "left winger" or "center" or "defensemen," except in the past tense. "My players are torpedoes, halfbacks and liberos only" Waltin said. In the defensive zone, the usual rules apply, but the torpedoes are always prepared for a change in possession and outlet pass. No center ice red line in Sweden makes that pass even longer and more dramatic. Hedberg. who stepped down as the assistant GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1999, left Sweden for the World Hockey Association in 1974. That was before the neutral zone trap was introduced in Sweden and he retired from the NHL before its gospel reached North American rinks.

For him, it was the monster he heard about, but never encountered. "The mid-zone trap is like having $10,000 and putting it under your pillow," Hedberg said. "You risk nothing, you gain nothing. "With the Torpedo system you invest the $10,000 wisely, some into stocks, some low-risk funds, some high-risk funds. You might lose a little now and then, but in the end you gain." Waltin is more to the point. "We give up some 3-on-2s, 2-on-1s and even 3-on-1s, but in the end we still win and the crowd likes it," he said. "Win and entertain."

Even though forward momentum or playmaking options are diminished for the puck carrier [1] the trap can be beaten. The weak side [where player 3 is positioned] is undefended. Movement of the puck back to a defenceman can pose problems and the trap must adjust.

posted by Max at

Sure, Colorado Won Tonight. . . But for the second game in a row, Patrick Roy made a major puck handling blunder that cost the Avalanche another goal, and almost the game. Sure, having a goalie with superior puck handling skills can be a real plus, but with Roy, it always seems to be a matter of time before he makes a major mental mistake.

Fortunately for Colorado, Dominic Hasek seems to be just as prone to the same sort of mental breakdown as Roy. When it comes to Hasek, his most famous breakdown came in the 1998 Eastern Conference Finals against the Caps. After Peter Bondra brushed Hasek in the corner and sent the goalie flying, Hasek got up wanting a piece of the Slovakian sniper. With Bondra scooting away at high speed, Hasek flung his blocker at him. A great moment, and one that proved that sustained pressure on net can cause Hasek to come unglued.

Postscript: Look for the NHL to enforce some sort of rule on the placement of water bottles after a potential review was obscured by Hasek's water bottle. Something tells me the refs won't be letting that happen again.

The Detroit Red Wings run the tightest neutral zone trap in hockey. The NZT has also been employed effectively by the Leafs against Carolina. The trap was originally developed by European teams to counter the greater skill and speed of the better conditioned and puck control oriented Soviet teams. The Germans utilised the 1-4 trap to efficaciously shut down Slovakia in their 3-0 victory during the Olympic trials at Salt Lake City. It is best used by a bigger, slower, older team and is only useful to a team with a lead.

Christopher proves, in a wonderful treatise, the synchronicity between NHL hockey and World War II
Canes to win Cup. With my favorite teams out of the running, and after much indecision, I've determined to start cheering for the Carolina Hurricanes to win the Stanley Cup this year. Not because the club hails from the Hockey Mecca that is Raleigh, North Carolina, but for no other reason than I used to watch Erik Cole play Junior A hockey in Iowa for the Des Moines Buccaneers.

The New York native was only second in scoring for the Bucs in '96-97, but the NHL rookie sensation who is the "C" in the Canes' high-scoring BBC line (with Brind'Amour and Battaglia) set a playoff record for most goals scored by a rookie in the second round (4).

At least I think that's a record. If not, one of my fellow editors will surely slap me down quicker than a Patrick Cote comeback.
Police blotter: Police charged former NHL loser (fighter) Patrick Cote with possessing more than 30 pounds of marijuana Friday.

Ottawa GM takes off, eh? Although coach Jacques Martin will stay on, Senators' General Manager Marshall Johnston will not.