Tuesday, November 26, 2002

Dr. Richard Lonetto of the University of Guelph, Ontario is a prominent sports psychologist. While researching athletes' performance under stress some years ago, he made some interesting discoveries about golfers' heart rates. Working with a group of players, Lonetto found two different heartbeat patterns: one associated with good shots and the other with bad shots. Lonetto found that a sense of calm and being in the “zone” pervaded the “good” shots, while a sense of anxiety and despair provided a trigger mechanism to boost the heart rate which adversely affected the golfer resulting in bad shots.

Similarly, after the “awakening” for the NHL and Canadian hockey in 1972 following the Canada-Soviet Summit Series, much soul searching was done in an effort to shift an ego based perception of the Canadian game to a learning based approach. Some coaches like Freddy Shero, Roger Neilson, and Tom Watt demonstrated that Canadian hockey can rise above the biases and ‘learn from others’.

In the mid-seventies, Lonetto attempted to quantify the relationship to an athlete’s success and failure by examining their attitudes to hockey, the personality traits, game performance and motivational patterns. For every coach, in hockey or other sports, the great quandary is predicting player performance. Lonetto developed a model that was reasonably effective in forecasting performance by using the following measurements; self-assurance, self-perceptions of performance, super-ego strength, and perceptions of frustration, losing, and non-competition. He purports to foretell total points over a 17 game season for wingers with 78% accuracy, defensemen (75% accuracy), and for centers (70% accuracy). However, in order to predict goals against averages for goalies, only self-perceptions of game satisfaction and intelligence were useful (prediction of g.a.a. with 74% accuracy).

Lonetto’s studies found that wingers on average tended to get anxious about 2.32 hours before a game, centremen 2.25 hours and defensemen about 1.63 hours. Goaltenders, however, experienced pre-game jitters anywhere from 2.5 to 10 hours before a match.

Lonetto found that the best teams were comprised of older players, had a higher level of team morale, never blamed the coach for team failures and were not satisfied after a team loss no matter how well individuals played.

The reverse was true for the worst team. Maybe not surprisingly, he also found the players on the best team were happy-go-lucky and somewhat more group oriented than self-sufficient. The players on the best team were talkative, frank, expressive, and alert. Certainly these qualities are conducive to building a healthy atmosphere both on and off the ice.

And maybe, just maybe it's working for Eddie Belfour,
After a miserable start, Toronto has experienced a renaissance led by Belfour. The Leafs have won three of their past four games, largely because Belfour has delivered excellent goaltending. In those four games, Belfour has stopped 118 of 125 shots, posted a shutout and been named one of the three stars in each game.

The 37-year-old Belfour doesn't buy the notion that he has found a comfort zone; he maintains he has felt welcomed and needed since he arrived. But it's evident that Belfour is far more poised and confident, is facing shooters with more authority and seems to be anticipating the play rather than guessing.

"I'm getting into a groove with my timing and stuff like that," Belfour said. "That's when you're going down at the right time, you're standing up at the right time and that only comes from working hard in practice and playing a lot of games."

Link via Chris Corrigan
To Neither Forgive, Nor Forget: There's a deep bench at the Sports section of the Washington Post, one that contains an awfully talented writer by the name of Rachael Alexander Nichols. She broke in with the paper a few years ago covering the Washington Capitals, and has since done duty on a number of other beats. Still, she knows her pucks, something that is on display today on a story recounting the fallout from the Islanders-Maple Leafs playoff war from last Spring, one that left Islanders captain Michael Peca crumpled in a heap with six months of rehab ahead of him:
This is the story of three seconds becoming six months, of blood becoming sweat, of twisted bones becoming warped logic. It is of New York Islanders captain Michael Peca and veteran Toronto Maple Leafs center Darcy Tucker, although it could easily be about anyone in the NHL, certainly anyone who played through last spring's demolition derby of a postseason.

For those few months, skaters smashed into each other with abandon, and the wreckage was everywhere: torn anterior cruciate ligaments, busted ribs, cracked cheekbones, high-grade concussions. As the victims piled up -- high profile names such as Chris Pronger and Richard Zednik among them -- players swore revenge, coaches railed about the refereeing, and league officials handed out suspensions and get-well cards in equal doses.

Six months later, much of the storm has quieted, and the NHL's 86th season is calmly underway. But not everything is exactly the same, and not everyone has forgotten. This is the story of blood becoming sweat, and it starts with Peca, whose collision with Tucker was so jarring it became the emblem of an entire postseason.

On the night of April 26, Peca skated onto the ice healthy. Less than two hours later he left it crumpled. And he is still trying to find his way back.

Of course, Nichols is talking about the shot where Tucker took out Peca at the knees, tearing his antierior cruciate ligament and putting him on course for six months of rehab. But that wasn't the only dirty hit that night. Earlier, Maple Leafs forward Gary Roberts crushed defenseman Kenny Jonsson into the boards from behind leaving him with a concussion. Roberts got a 10-minute misconduct, but the league neglected to tack on a suspension, just as it would with Tucker's hit on Peca.

Though the Islanders would come back to win game 6, these two injuries essentially ended any chance the Islanders had to win the series. It was as if Leafs coach Pat Quinn had determined that since his team couldn't skate with the Islanders, then he would just ask his team to crush them.

Now, don't get me wrong, I like physical play as much as anybody else. It's one thing when hard hitting, good positional play, and physical sacrifice shut down a team's offense. But it's another entirely when you simply go out and try to injure the opposition's best players.

Certainly, it was frustrating to see the NHL ignore what the Leafs did, and essentially let them get away with it. It was infuriating to see a player like Roberts, one I once respected, make such a big deal about promising to take out any player who might cross-check him in the back, yet show so little respect for another player who had an injury history not unlike his own. It's even worse, now that the league has distributed a videotape that features Tucker's hit on Peca as an example of the sort of hit that will result in a suspension from now on.

But this is hockey, and there isn't any room for whining. What the NHL front office won't take care of, you can be sure the Islanders will take care of on the ice. Over the course of the offseason, the team sacrificed some offense in order to acquire players like Jason Wiemer, Aaron Asham and Mattias Timmander -- the sort of players you want if you don't want to see your team pushed around anymore. And on December 6th, when the Leafs make their first appearance on Long Island since last season's playoffs, I'm sure there's a good chance career minor leaguer Ray Schultz might find himself on the Islanders bench as well.

And there will be a reckoning. One I don't think the Maple Leafs will soon forget.

Monday, November 25, 2002

Gordie Howe, writing his Mr. Hockey on Hockey column for USA Today was asked to compare the 1951-52 Detroit Red Wings with the Red Wing team that won Lord Stanley’s Cup last spring.

As difficult as it is to compare eras, I see similarities between the two teams.

First, each boasts one of the best goalies in history. Terry Sawchuk was just a youngster in 1951-52, but he was already dominant. Dominik Hasek has been intimidating for years. Much like Hasek is looking for a Stanley Cup championship to complete his résumé, Sawchuk needed the Stanley Cup championship to establish himself as a playoff goaltender. We had won the Cup in 1950 then didn't win in Sawchuk's first season. His greatness was understood, but he needed a championship.

In terms of style, Hasek and Sawchuk don't compare. With all of his flopping around, Hasek is more like my former teammate Glenn Hall.
The 1951-52 Red Wings strung together a remarkable 44 wins that year and allowed a heart-stopping league leading 1.90 GAA. The league average was 2.60. The 1951-52 Wings posted a win ratio of 63% when the league average was only 41percent. The Canadiens, who finished second that year, fell a full 10 wins short of the Red Wings. The Wings also put up a league leading 3.07 goals per game average over 70 games.

However, the 2001-2002 edition of Hockey-town’s beloved were no slouches either. They gathered a league leading 51 wins for a winning percentage of 0.62, with a goal against average of 2.28 per game. The goals per game average were a comparable 5.24 for last year’s champs compared to the stingy 5.19 average in 51-52. The 2001-2002 Red Wings posted a 0.62 winning percentage, slightly less than the 51-52 team, but significantly higher than the Carolina Hurricanes 0.43 winning percentage. The best defensive team last year was the Colorado Avalanche with a GAA over 82 games of 2.06.
Another comparison that does work is Red Kelly from my team and Nicklas Lidstrom, Detroit's top defenseman today. Kelly was a two-way defenseman with the capability of contributing significantly to the offense with his puck movement. That describes Lidstrom's game.
Kelly had 16 goals and 31 assists over the 1951-52 season while Lidstom tallied 9 goals and 50 assists. The ’51-’52 team averaged 4.29 assists per game while the modern Wings compiled a 5.28 per game assist average.
In 1951-52, I won my second of four scoring championships in a row and Ted Lindsay was second in the scoring race. The Red Wings' scoring is spread around more, although left wing Brendan Shanahan's offensive production is similar to Lindsay's output. Both were just below a point per game. Lindsay was more aggressive than Shanahan, although Shanahan has played more physical this season.

Lindsay was a one-of-a-kind player. He was an aggravating, irritating presence on the ice. He was a pest, and his temper was always bubbling. They changed the public address setup at Olympia because once, when Lindsay got a penalty, the microphone picked up Ted voicing his feelings about the penalty. Only about every third word was English, and the rest was profanity. It looked quite comical as the PA guy was trying to yank wires out to prevent Lindsay's words from being broadcast. Even so, he was a great player.
The Production Line of Howe, Abel and Lindsay accounted for 41% of Detroit’s total points in 1951-52 while Brendan Shanahan, Sergei Fedorov and Brett Hull were responsible for 31% of the 2001-02 Red Wing points output. Shanahan garnered almost 1.5 points per game, whilst Howe average 1.23 PPG in ’51-’52.

While Abel and Delvecchio were great centers, the modern day Wings have the advantage down the middle with Fedorov, Steve Yzerman, Igor Larionov and Pavel Datsyuk. Syd Abel, Alex Delvecchio and Metro Prystai piled up 126 points over 70 games, with Fedorov, Yzerman and Larionov gathering 159 points over 82 games.
The challenge this year's team faces is far different from what we faced in 1952. First of all, we needed to win two rounds to capture the Stanley Cup. Today a team needs four rounds and 16 wins.

But it will be difficult for today's team to match our level of efficiency in 1952. We became the first NHL team to go unbeaten in all eight games. Sawchuk had four shutouts and posted a 0.63 goals-against average. If Hasek performs like that, they might erect a statue of him next to Joe Louis.
With a .915 saves percentage and a record 5 shutouts in last spring’s playoffs, Hasek certainly has earned that statue!

Stats courtesy of hockeydb.com