Saturday, October 05, 2002

Turns Out Theo Fleury. . . Missed practice this week to be with his Dad who was recovering from prostate surgery. He says he shouldn't have to answer questions all the time about what he's doing, and Jordon Cooper of The Hockey Pundits agrees:

Most media outlets (and blogs) look like morons as we all aluded to another meltdown by the talented winger. Fleury was not on drinking bender but at his fathers side for some serious surgery. Fleury said his father, 63, was home in Saskatchewan, up and moving about. The family is waiting for test results to see if the tumor was cancerous. Fleury said the news "threw me for a bit of a loop." Best wishes for the entire family and a reminder to sites like ours that sometimes a missed practice for personal reasons are very often legitimate reasons.


Jordon's got a point, and everyone has to wish Fleury and his Dad well. But in the media-driven world we live in, reporters who get paid to ask questions and fail to get an explanation in return, begin to suspect a bigger story is in the works. And when reporters didn't get an answer about Fleury, it was natural, given his history, to speculate about what was going on.

Fair? No. Normal? You bet.

Here in Washington, defenseman Brendan Witt missed a few days of practice to be with a family member that was ailing. All that merited was two sentences at the end of a Caps story when he left, and another sentence when he returned. Not a big deal, and handled in a way that respected Witt's privacy as well.

All in all, a sensible solution -- and one the Blackhawks should learn something from.

Thursday, October 03, 2002

East vs. West All-Star Game... I'm glad they are going back to it. I hated that North America vs. The World thing. It seemed so Xenophobic. And the worst part of it is that it messed up the whole root for the home team dynamic. You had Mario Lemieux vs. Jaromir Jagr, Peter Foresberg vs. Patrick Roy matchups. It was just stupid.

I'm not sure that I would like the Stanley Cup winners vs. the league. I was too young to see it played that way, but I imagine that it suited a 6 team league. The biggest problem I see trying to go back to that now is that it doesn't leave enough slots for the stars. The Wings have lots of stars, but they would take up 15+ slots that would allow you to see better players. Would you rather see Boyd Devereaux play, or Joe Thornton play?

I do like the idea of the All Star game as a season kickoff, but mid-season has many practical advantages that teams would loathe top give up. For all the players who don't make it, this is some mid-season time off.
After Five Years. . . The NHL is abandoning the North America vs. The World format it has used for the All-Star game. Instead, the league will revert to the old East vs. West format for the next All-Star game scheduled to take place at the home rink of the Florida Panthers next February.

Yawn. . . If the NHL really wanted to breathe life back into the All-Star game, they would revisit a format that was used in the early years of the league -- one pitting the defending Stanley Cup champions against a team of All-Stars made up of players from the rest of the league. This was the format the league used from 1947-68 (with the exception of two seasons), and I think it would infuse some new life into an All-Star game that very few fans care much about at all. Here's another idea borrowed from the past: instead of having the game in the middle of the season, why not have it before the season starts? It would be a great way to kick off the regular season, and would provide all the same opportunities for the league to promote itself that the current format does.

There's just one problem: getting the players association to agree to the changes.

So guys, what do you think?
For Some Time Now. . . I've had my doubts that we're getting the whole story on Theo Fleury, the oft-troubled winger who now plays for the NHL's Chicago Black Hawks. Sure, we've heard the stories about how substance abuse has rocked his life. And God knows we've seen the constant meltdowns on the ice -- something that was never more apparent than last season when Fleury was playing for the New York Rangers.

Now, as many readers already know, I'm not exactly kind to highly paid athletes who constantly misbehave. But for some reason, I'm inclined to give Fleury more passes than most. It isn't his grit and talent -- two undeniable qualities that led Wayne Gretzky to include him on the Team Canada roster at the Olympics earlier this year. In too many cases awe and respect for an athlete's abilities blind us to their other shortcomings.

But in Fleury's case, we don't see a history of violent behavior toward others. What we see is a person who is in dire need of some help. On some level most of us can't understand, I fear Fleury is damaged -- and perhaps beyond repair.

That's why I winced when I heard that Fleury missed a Blackhawks practice yesterday without explanation. I'm sure many of you might just say it's time to stop giving him second chances, and force him to clean up his life on his own. Who knows, maybe that's what Fleury needs. But I'm afraid that this situation is far more complicated than anyone is letting on.
Howard Fienberg, "Senior Sporting Analyst," quoted in the Toronto Sun: How he mixed up my title, I don't know, but cheers to Mike Ulmer for listening to me in his column back on September 4:
The Toronto Sun. September 4, 2002 (Sports; Pg. 95)
"THE LAST WORD"
BY MIKE ULMER

Memo to: Gary Bettman, c/o NHL offices, and Bob Goodenow, c/o NHL Players' Association.

Boys: Thought this would be an opportune time to drop you a line in light of the baseball settlement and the opening of NHL training camps next week.

Fans are heartened by the fact that baseball's owners and players managed a deal without a work stoppage for the first time in nine tries.

If Donald Fehr and Bud Selig can strike a deal, anyone can. That, of course, includes you two doughheads. The NHL contract has two more seasons to run and that leaves plenty of time for the two of you to pile irritants in front of each other.

Case in point, Gary, the NHL's challenge to the Bobby Holik, Darius Kasparaitis contracts which, as usual, gave plenty of work to lawyers but accomplished nothing.

STILL WAITING

Second case in point, Bob, Gary's open invitation to start early negotiations for a new deal, last issued publicly at the all-star game. He's still waiting.

Baseball found peace because the alternative was Armageddon. Fan anger was about to consume the game and owners and players, backed into the corner of common sense, acted accordingly.

Here is the part you two need to understand.

Hockey is in a worse state. Much worse. It's not just me saying so.

"There does not appear to be any compromise on the horizon in the NHL, " said Howard Fienberg, a senior sporting analyst for the Washington-based Statistical Assessment Service. "The differences in baseball were quite minor. The biggest sticking point was possible contraction."

"In the NHL, issues include free agency, salary caps, saving the Canadian teams. The list just goes on and on."

Here is something else to chew on.

For all the fan resentment of how poorly baseball and its players have gotten along, no fan has complained that the game stinks.

Baseball has Sammy Sosa and Wrigley Field, Barry Bonds and a fresh assault on a home run record, quaint retro ballparks and charismatic performers, a national profile in the U.S. and real money from local broadcast rights and national television deals.

Hockey has the neutral zone trap, Paul Kariya and the Arrowhead Pond, sterile cookie cutter arenas, dwindling support in traditional markets such as Boston and Buffalo and, most recently, a reduction of ESPN broadcasts which really has to smart.

Put it all together, boys. If this isn't urgency, I am strapped to define what is.

What this game needs is leadership and it's about time the two of you showed some.

Bob, suck it up and admit that salary drags such as luxury taxes and hard caps are, in the wake of the baseball deal, a new reality.

Don't wait for a destructive fight that will gut your union. That's what happened in the NFL and NBA. Most of your players will still live like Pharaohs and when it comes time to assess blame for high ticket prices, you can rightly point to ownership as the problem. Pick up the phone and dial 212.

Gary, stick with the no-interference edict and ignore the Don Cherrys of the world.

Stop using back-door harassment techniques to hold up valid contracts. If the New York Rangers are stupid enough to pay players during a work stoppage, that's their problem. Admit that you gave away the store in the last negotiation.

Under your watch, the average player salary has increased from $572,000 to $1.64 million US.

Put your tail between your legs and show a little humility.

The two of you, this is your last kick at the cat. The nuclear winter forecast for baseball will be just as bad for hockey. You have a two-year window to save the game, and, not incidentally, your own jobs.
Dammit, get to it.
Sincerely,
Mike Ulmer

NOTES: If Gary Bettman and Bob Goodenow were wise, they would start negotiating a new NHL labour contract now. The issues are far more complex than baseball.
The Waiver Draft: ESPN has the rules, the full list of who is being exposed in the draft, and what interesting players are available (so you don't have to read the full damned list). Nice of them, eh?

I would bet that the Detroit Red Wings' Stacy Roest will be one of the guys to get picked up. Steve Heinze is another good bet. After that, the rest are either injured, unreliable, or complete losers...

Wednesday, October 02, 2002

Six "controversial maxims" for saving the NHL game.
Let the fists fly
If the NHL wants to recapture the hearts and wallets of the American sports fan, it has to fight for it. “No matter what all those bleeding hearts say, none of them get up to leave when a fight’s going on,” Barry Melrose says. Unfortunately, starting in the 1992–93 season, the NHL has been using penalties like the instigator rule to consciously crack down on fighting. The effects have been disastrous. “If you cut down on fighting,” Gordie Howe explains, “it just gives guys that want to fight an opportunity to start swinging sticks.” He’s right. Since 1993 the number of career-threatening injuries caused by stick-swinging has skyrocketed. Ding! Ding! Ding!

“If a player wants to hack somebody, he should have to stand up for himself on the ice,” Melrose adds. “But now you’ve got these little cowards who resort to stick work because there are no repercussions.” Even the greatest finesse player of all time agrees. “I used to be a big believer that we should eliminate fighting,” Wayne Gretzky says. “But there’s no question that by allowing certain guys to fight, you eliminate a lot of the unnecessary stick work.” It’s the sport’s greatest irony: Fights exist not as gratuitous violence but as the most effective deterrent to unsportsmanlike conduct. Oh, yeah—they’re darn cool to watch, too!

Sell the violence
Now that we’ve injected more good, clean violence back into the sport, it’s time to get the word out. “People love football; they love wrestling; they love Tyson fights,” Tie Domi says. “But we don’t sell the fact that hockey’s a tough sport. We try to be prima donnas and say, ‘Oh, come and watch us—it’s like fairy tales out there.’ Well, it’s not. When we play, it’s a war. And that’s how it should be marketed.”

Denis Leary agrees: “People watch this game because they love the game in total, and that includes a guy like Cam Neely grabbing Claude Lemieux and beating the shit out of him—and I mean a righteous beating. If they actually sold this game the way it’s played, the ratings would go through the roof. But it’s like legalizing drugs—it’s the right thing to do, but you can’t do it because it’s politically incorrect.”

Maybe political incorrectness is just what hockey needs.

Screw the zone
Sure, kick-ass defense wins games. It also bores the shit out of fans. The consensus: The mind-numbingly dull neutral-zone trap that’s strangled the game in recent years must be banned forever along with plus-size spandex. “The Devils—God love ’em, God love their fans, but I hate that fucking team,” Leary says. “I hate the way they play. It’s boring, frustrating hockey.” Melrose agrees: “You make me commissioner for a day and I’ll eliminate zone defense so we can capitalize on the speed and aggressiveness of our athletes.” Adds Cam Neely: “You can’t play a boring style all season and expect people to be excited about watching the sport.” Amen.

Develop a cult of personalities
“As a fan my main concern is that I don’t know these guys,” Gordie Howe laments. “They’ve got to get the new players better recognition.” After all, the NFL and NBA have become massively successful by developing larger-than-life personalities (Favre! Shaq! Sapp! Iverson!) and then hyping the hell out of their match-ups. Fans root for personalities, and right now the only hockey player anyone’s heard of is Mario Lemieux, a once-retired French-Canadian with all the charisma of a celery stick.

Could it be that making stars out of a bunch of Euro mulletheads is impossible? “I think it’s a bit of a concern, and I don’t say that to be critical of European players,” Gretzky says. “But there’s no question that some of them struggle with English during interviews.” But one look at Seattle Mariners sensation Ichiro Suzuki, who doesn’t speak a word of English, tells us it’s worth a shot. “We don’t market our individual players enough,” Melrose says. “We should be pushing them to be in places like Maxim. Look at Dennis Rodman—love him or hate him, he got people who aren’t fans to watch basketball.”

Bring the action home
“Hockey is tough to follow on TV,” Neely says. Pronger agrees: “The puck is going 100 miles per hour, in unpredictable directions, so it’s difficult for cameras to get in the middle of the action.” That’s why ScanVision, which incorporates 30 robotic cameras and allows viewers to see plays develop from multiple angles, was a huge success in the playoffs last season and should be used more consistently. “ScanVision is a good example of new technology,” Gary Bettman says. “High-definition television may also help. In addition to the clarity, the rectangular shape should let you see more of the ice surface.”

Save the Canadians!Frankly, most Americans couldn’t give a flying frog fart about the financial future of the NHL’s Canadian teams. But with just 31 million people, Canada still produces 60 percent of all NHL players. So if the Canadian teams fail, that vast talent pool could dry up and play would suffer. “I blame the Canadian people,” Leary says. “It’s their sport. Imagine if baseball were moving to Japan and there were only three teams left here—the Red Sox, the Yankees, and the Dodgers—and they were about to fold. You can bet your ass we’d get some money and change that.”

“In Canada, hockey’s a religion,” Melrose says. “There’s an old joke: Why do Canadians always make love doggy-style? So they can both watch Hockey Night in Canada.” It’s your freaking sex life, people! Don’t you want to save that?
Eric, I take your point. However, I’m not sure whether Canadian hockey and American basketball ignored the talent and athletic development in other countries as much as the NHL and NBA ignored that development because it was not in their immediate interest to engage it. Loss of the gold medal for men’s basketball in 1972 in Munich did not really influence the NBA. It was a fluke and not a serious challenge to the best in America’s game. It is a testament to the strength of the American basketball program that it took another 30 years for a European national team to finally defeat a group of NBA all-stars.

However, Canada’s amateur hockey program did not and does not parallel the well-organised and equally well-funded American college program. Amateur hockey in Canada is purely a function of private enterprise without the auspice of education. Teams and leagues rise and fall on their own ability to raise funds. Coaches are concerned (and sometimes not so concerned) Dads who coach future stars without any qualification or teaching certificate. To see a hockey program in a school run by a qualified instructor is, even today, unusual. The system funnels the best players through leagues like the THL (the Toronto Hockey League) until they reach midget age (14-17) and a Major Junior A team drafts them. Usually these kids sign an irrevocable contract at a very early age with a team that is affiliated with a Junior A franchise. Those not able to make the move to the NHL, in the Fifties and Sixties, moved onto a Senior League where most of the talent for Canada‘s international hockey teams were drawn.

Scott Young (father of rocker Neil) as a sports writer for Toronto’s Globe and Mail, wrote a compelling story of Canada’s international hockey experience in a book entitled War on Ice. He details the trials and tribulations of teams like the Penticton Vees, the Whitby Dunlops and Trail Smoke Eaters.These clubs raised money for expenses to cover tournaments like the Olympics by touring and passing the hat. The decline of these teams moved Father David Bauer, purportedly a great player in his own right and coach at St. Michael's College in Toronto, to push for a national program. Father Bauer, brother of Bobby Bauer a member of Boston’s famous Kraut line, was well aware of the athletic prowess of the Soviet National Hockey team. It was the NHL who chose to ignore the looming Soviet tsunami.

Nevertheless, League owners and governors were not entirely to blame. The NHL had expanded from its original six-team format,and the WHA exploded onto the hockey scene making Bobby Hull, the Golden Jet, hockey’s first millionaire. Most importantly, was the advent of the NHLPA and the growing power of Alan Eagleson.

Fred Shero, former coach of Philly’s own Broadstreet Bullys talked about the motivation of the professional hockey player (in the 1970’s) as opposed to in the ‘50s and’60s.
I’ve studied every system in hockey in Europe, I’ve even studied the Japanese system…I still think my system is no better than theirs, and no better than the Russians and the Russian system is probably no better than ours, it all depends on execution and dedication, that’s what works for you!

I remember the first game I coached in Buffalo, we lost and I fined everybody $25 on the team…so the next day I got a call from the President of the League and he said you cannot fine anyone for not doing what you say, it’s your fault if they do not do what you say!
My point being that the Russians did not invent the hockey work ethic. It was alive and well in Canada long before the Russian bandi players took up the Canadian game, however I have always admired the innovation and insight the fathers of Russian hockey, Bobrov, Kulagin and Tarasov, have displayed. Certainly they deserve full credit for their success. The point is that a Canadian planted the seed for this new growth in the game of hockey and that the best system is not worth a hill of beans, as Freddy says, unless your players are highly motivated. In the 1950’s and 1960’s, NHL players had that type of motivation. The Russians had no choice but to perform or “else”. In the summer preparations in 1972, the NHL players required no such committment. The Canadians motivation came much later, in Moscow, and was drawn from a deeper source.

While Eric is correct in asserting the NHL didn't consider NCAA prospects prior to Lake Placid, the ensuing years could hardly be considered a flood and it appears the appeal of NCAA talent in the Nineties dropped precipitously. However, Harvard Crimson have made quite an impact in the 2002 NHL draft. My experience with the NCAA and college hockey in general has been positive. But the evidence that the Miracle on Ice produced a sustained influence on the NHL is still lacking.

While Eric is correct in asserting that the advantage to Canadian teams in the Canada Cups, playing in North America on the smaller ice surface, is significant, one could also assert the opposite. It was not surprising that the Soviets won seven Olympic gold medals between 1956 and 1988 on the big ice, mostly at European venues and with European referees. It is also not surprising that the Soviet National team or Central Red Army (basically the National team) would perform well against a multitude of NHL club teams. It would be comparable to soccer's World Champion, Brazil, matching up against British club teams. The lack of depth in the Russian hockey system is evident in the decline of the Russian game in the 1990’s.The Russians, with a population six times that of Canada, essentially provide enough players to comprise two NHL teams and because of that exodus have seen the collapse of their national program. Still playing the system devised by the fathers of Soviet hockey the second tier of the Russian game is barely competitive on a world level. Yet Canadians playing what Herb Brooks calls "stupid hockey" win a gold medal in Salt Lake City. The evidence supports Shero's theory.

As to the issue of the Edmonton Oilers, the hockey pundits described them as having European speed and Canadian toughness. In combination with dash and crash speed demons like Anderson and Messier who were always intent on driving to the net, the Oilers also drafted Semenko, then the League's top pugilist, who played on a line with Gretzky and Kurri, and big defenders like Smith and McTavish. Unfortunately, Canadians, more than most people, have a great propensity to forget their own history. The advent of statements such as “European speed” almost precludes the fact that speed was ever a part of the Canadian game. However, the Oilers of the 1980’s had more in common with the fire wagon hockey of the Flying Frenchmen than Europeans. The Richards, Geoffrion, Beliveau, Rousseau, Moore and Harvey of Montreal Canadien lore who combined speed and skill (on the 85x200 foot ice pad) with toughness (Butch Bouchard, Lou Fontinato and John Ferguson) to dominate the game long before the arrival of the big Red Soviet machine.
Colorado trades Chris Drury and Stephane Yelle to Calgary for Derek Morris, Dean McAmmond and Jeff Shantz: First off, whoah! I love big trades!

My take is pretty much the same as that of ESPN's Darren Pang:
The Avalanche got a mobile, puck moving defenseman who can play the point on the power play in Derek Morris. He's on the smaller side, but seems to have plenty of upside in terms of offense. In Dean McAmmond and Jeff Shantz -- these two players were bubble players for the Calgary Flames, a team that didn't make the playoffs and isn't a Stanley Cup contender. McAmmond fell off Calgary's top line last year, and Shantz has played sparingly. Colorado's director of player personnel, Michel Goulet, knows Shantz from his Chicago days, so there is familiarity there.

Stephane Yelle, in my mind, is a more complete centerman than Jeff Shantz. McAmmond adds speed and depth up front. Calgary solidified two center positions -- if they want Drury to play center, he can. Then, he can go out there with Jarome Iginla for two right-handed shots on the power play.


The only thing he did not mention is that Yelle has suffered from injury problems, making him a slight risk for Calgary. But boy, did Calgary need itself some Drury...

It is true that Shantz scored a fantastic end-to-end rushing goal in 96-97, but that one goal was about as big as his career has ever gotten. That is not to say he is dogmeat, but not to say that he is not... McAmmond is a nice guy and all, and performed well for the Flames, but he is nothing special (par for the course in Calgary). The forward duo will probably be thrown in with any late-season blockbuster trades that Colorado's GM can manage.

The Avs were looking mighty thin on defense, especially having lost Pascal Trepanier to free agency and Lance Pitlick to retirement (see last item), so Derek Morris is gonna have some ice time coming his way...

Graham Hays examines the Fantasy Spin of the trade.

And Charles, to answer your question, Drury is unlikely to play on the same line with Iginla except on power plays - they will need him desperately as a second-line center, and the Iginla-Conroy magic is not something I would want to mess with...
The Man With a Silly Name Retires: Lance Pitlick says his back is killing him and it is time to retire. Whether Pitlick would have made the Avalanche roster as a sixth or seventh defenseman won't ever be known because he took himself out of the running Monday. Pitlick, 34, signed with the Avalanche as a free agent three weeks before training camp. Pitlick wasn't able to play Saturday when the Avalanche dropped a 4-1 decision to the Montreal Canadiens in Quebec City, leaving the team short one defenseman.

"He just basically told me that his body was telling him he couldn't keep up. Every part of his body was hurting and he felt he couldn't help this hockey club. The passion for hockey wasn't there anymore,'' Hartley said. "He did it with lots of class. It's too bad because we're losing a great guy.''

Pitlick, an eight-year NHL veteran, played in only 35 games for the Florida Panthers last season and then became an unrestricted free agent. He signed with the Avalanche on Aug. 23.

Colorado fans won't really miss him, since they just got someone much better to play D for them (see my next post)...
Ottawa gives up its backup goalie for a bag of pucks: The Ottawa Senators traded goalie Jani Hurme to the Florida Panthers on Tuesday for two junior-aged prospects.

Hurme, scheduled to earn $850,000 this season, was dealt before Tuesday's afternoon trade deadline because the Senators would have probably lost him in the NHL waiver draft on Friday. Hurme, 27, went 12-9-1 with a 2.48 goals-against average last season and three shutouts. But the Finnish goalie was deemed expendable by Ottawa after the emergence of Czech goalie Martin Prusek, who will be the backup to Patrick Lalime.

The Senators received center Greg Watson and goalie Billy Thompson, who were both 2001 draft picks playing junior hockey in the Western Hockey League. Watson, Florida's third choice, 34th overall, had 22 goals and 30 assists in 51 games last season. Thompson, Florida's seventh choice, 136th overall, went 20-17-2 with a 2.73 GAA last season.

If I recall correctly, Watson is a plodding behemoth. But, you never know. Ottawa usually does better out of moves like this than anyone would ever expect... except for certain cases, like giving up on All-Star Pavol Demitra...

Tuesday, October 01, 2002

Why Did The Av's Trade Chris Drury? But more importantly, will he get to play on the same line with Jarome Iginla for the sake of my fantasy team?

Monday, September 30, 2002

Hey Charles! Thanks for your post -- it was the first time I had heard about Percival (more about him later) After reading through what Charles had to say, I thought I should share a few more thoughts on this issue.

When I sat down to write my original post, the idea I was trying to get across was that both Canadian hockey, as well as American basketball, had a tendency of ignoring the talent and athletic potential in other countries -- something which led directly to the sort of shocks we saw in ice hockey in 1972, and in basketball this past Summer. I've excerpted a few paragraphs from Charles' post below, and added some comments of my own.

Certainly the Soviets implemented a new exciting hockey paradigm, vital and compelling. Utilizing a methodology whose origins were Canadian (Lloyd Percival) the big Red Soviets gave sweet vindication for those few who lobbied for change at the NHL sausage factory.


While I won't dispute the assertion that Russian strategy and tactics resembled those developed by Percival(the father of Russian ice hockey Anatoli Tarasov wrote to Percival to praise his Hockey Handbook as "wonderful"), I don't think Charles gives the pioneers of Soviet ice hockey enough credit. As Ken Dryden and Roy MacGregor wrote in Home Game: Hockey And Life In Canada:

These hockey pioneers knew much about the game through similar sports, such as bandy and soccer, but they had no reason to know this at the time. And so they looked for teachers. The Czechoslovaks had a long history in hockey and played it well, and so did the Scandanavians, but in 1946 there was really only one hockey country, and that was Canada. Canadians had been the world's teachers and were easily the best players.

"I wanted to go abroad," recalls Anatoli Tarasov, one of the early Soviet players. "I was thirty years old at the time and had seen nothing but the war." A relentless bear of a man, Tarasov later would be coach of the Central Army and Soviet national teams for many years, and was the first Soviet inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. But at this moment, like most of his hockey friends, he wanted to travel to Canada to learn how hockey should be played. He tells of a fateful conversation he had with a friend and mentor, Mikhail Tovarovsky. "There's nothing for you in Canada," Tovarovsky chided him. "Go your own way. Devise your own style of hockey." Years later, Tarasov could say with the wisdom of experience and success, "To copy is always to be second best,"


And again, though Tarasov praised Percival, it was really the special circumstances of Russian life that led them to adopt what to an outsider might have looked like an odd set of drills and techniques to train ice hockey players:

The early Soviet players worked more hours of the day and more months of the year than Canadians had ever deemed necessary -- or possible. The country had but one artificial ice rink -- a slab of ice really, in a Moscow children's park. The players, built it themselves. Without walls or roof or even boards it was just 12 meters by 10 meters, roughly one-quarter the size of the defensive zone of a normal rink. In summer, they covered the rink with a canvas tent to keep out the ice melting sun and , in soccer shorts and shin pads, continued to play. As for the country's other rinks, with natural ice they were at the unforgiving whim of the seasons.

So the Soviets took hockey off the ice and did on playing fields and gymnasiums what they could not do in arenas. They ran, rowed, lifted weights, tumbled. They made themselves better athletes. They learned hockey techniques and strategies by playing other games, doing other drills. Skating and conditioning were the twin foundations of their game. Skating they got from bandy; conditioning was just hard work. Together they would allow the Soviets to compete until their hockey skills and feel for the game had time to catch up and enable them to win.


So, the forerunners for today's 365-day-a-year hockey players were not Canadian, but rather the Russians who we despised so much during the Cold War. Percival, who was right, needed some Communists to prove how right he was.

Funny how things work out.

Next, let's turn to Charles comments concerning American ice hockey:

Laying the success of Herb Brook’s Team USA in 1980 at the feet of a Russian hockey revolution overlooks the existence of a solid USA hockey program that saw silver medals won in Oslo and in the rain in Cortina in the 1952 and 1956 Olympic games. It neglects to account for the well-deserved Gold won by the USA in 1960 at Squaw Valley when the Americans went undefeated, dominating seasoned Russian and Czech teams. It fails to account for the hard-earned Silver Medal won in Sapporo in 1972 by an underrated team that included 16 year-old Mark Howe.


Certainly, USA Hockey compiled an honorable record prior to 1980. But despite this honorable record, the Canadians that dominated the GM jobs and scouting staffs inside the league paid little respect for the talents of American players until those scrappy amateurs kncoked off the Big Red Machine in Lake Placid.

U.S. Players few and far between in the NHL in 1980. Sure, there was Mark Howe, WHA refugees Mike Milbury, Robbie Ftorek and a few others, but for the most part Canadian general managers had scant respect for the quality of play in NCAA hockey.

After Lake Placid, the Canadians who dominated NHL front offices never looked at American college hockey the same way again. A system that had once only supplied a trickle of gritty players suddenly turned into a flood -- with the alumni of Lake Placid leading the way.

From here on in, American college hockey began to be seen as a legitimate alternative to Canadian Major Junior hockey -- even for Canadian players (Curtis Joseph and Paul Kariya being just two examples). And again, just as with the addition of European players beginning in the 1970s, ice hockey was all the better for it.

So what conclusion can we draw? When Canada fielded its best players playing the Canadian “system” (1972, 1976, 1984, 1987 and 1991) more often than not it won. Did 1972 really signal the demise of the Canadian game, as so many pundits suggested? It appears not. Did the 1972 Summit Series invoke wholesale changes in Canadian hockey? No.


That Canadian NHL All-Star teams won five tournaments on their home ice (Canada Cup) using the NHL-sized ice surface with NHL rules is not such a big surprise. And, as I recall, Soviet teams that barnstormed across North America beginning in 1975 acquitted themselves very well, regularly embarassing their NHL hosts. And when the Soviet National team played a team of NHL All-Stars in the Rendez-Vous '87 tournament, they earned a well-deserved split.

As to the second assertion, that the 1972 Summit Series didn't presage massive changes in Canadian hockey, I can see how Charles might see it this way. But to say it didn't change the way the game was played in the NHL seems absurd on its face. Again, I point to the example of the great Edmonton Oilers teams of the 1980s. Who did that team have more in common with: the 1972 Canadian All-Stars, or the Soviet National Team? Or did they play a style that was a hybridized version of the two?

Back to you Charles. . .
Dave Lowry gets the boot in Calgary: The Calgary Flames have demoted Dave Lowry to AHL Saint John. Whether he ever ends up skating for the Flames' affiliate is another matter entirely. The organization is allowing the veteran a couple of days to mull over his options. Lowry, 37, could request a buyout, then seek employment elsewhere. Or, he could report to Saint John, N.B. Or, he could retire.