Wednesday, October 01, 2008


NHL pre season builds anticipation

NHL camps opened later this year and even if it had been done by design it’s doubtful the league could have whetted our appetites any more. Whether it’s Chris Chelios in season number twenty-five or Steve Stamkos playing number one this hockey season seems to be filled with more anticipation than in years past.
I’m trying to recall if this is how I feel every year at this time and to an extent that’s the case but there is absolutely no question there are seven things I’m waiting for this year that have not materialized or had the same impact just a few short years ago. In no particular order – actually that’s not true because in honour of all my media brethren who cry like babies when there’s a fight this is exactly where I’m going to start.
1) Wednesday October 15th, Montreal versus Boston. Although there’s a chance they could be in the line up against each other as early as October 1st in an exhibition game I’ve circled the mid-October date as the matchup of the Big Z, Zdeno Chara and Montreal’s first real enforcer in years, Big George Laracque. They dropped the gloves twice last year, roughing minors initially then five for fighting the second time albeit a very mild scrap by their standards. My view is that however it plays out it will be quick with minimal shots landed but I am eagerly anticipating this fight.
2) Speaking of the Habs, Carey Price has been nothing short of spectacular this exhibition season. If he is the heir apparent to the legacy hockey fans, Montreal fans, should know in the next few months and beyond. In their 100th anniversary year this looks to be a very exciting Montreal team and a serious contender in the East.
3) Although he has not garnered the same excitement as Sydney Crosby or Alex Ovechkin , Steve Stamkos is a solid blue chip prospect and playing behind Vinny Lecavalier in Tampa should help insulate him on a team that made as many successful summer moves as anybody in the NHL. Regretfully Canada won’t have him at the World Juniors but good for him to make the NHL.
4) The Ottawa Senators. We do our show, ‘In The Net,’ in Ottawa so it can be centric toward the nation’s capital at times but there is no question that after their start last year, their collapse and subsequent house cleaning this is a fragile team albeit one that can still score so they bear watching.
5) As much as the Penguins caught our imagination last year with their youth many eyes are focused on Chicago and their renaissance. Led by the dynamic duo of Patrick Kane and newly named captain Jonathan Toewes, free agent Bryan Campbell, this is the most exciting Chicago team to come down the ice in a long, long time. They bear watching.
6) Can Detroit repeat? They are the last franchise to do so, ten years ago and there’s a reason for that. A year ago nobody was picking Detroit due to a series of collapses in previous years but now t hey are heralded as the second coming of the ’77 Habs. We’ll see. They are a very strong franchise, well coached and managed but with the hockey prostitute on their roster, Marian Hossa and the pensioner Chris Chelios it says here, as strong as they’ll be they will not repeat. But they definitely bear watching.
7) Crosby-Ovechkin. I’ve mentioned them both already but let’s be honest; we have a window here to this generations Gretzky-Lemieux. My hope is they stay healthy and if so we’ll see a great matchup here especially in the games against each other which usually feature at least one Ovechkin run at Crosby at some point in the game. Never a dull moment.

Monday, August 18, 2008


Free agent frenzy awaits the final pieces of the puzzle

Free agent frenzy awaits the final pieces of the puzzle- Sundin-Sakic-Shanahan

July 1 did not disappoint in terms of signings with more than 400 million dollars committed to a variety of players. To date ( August 17 ) more than 200 players have signed or resigned with the 30 NHL parent clubs, many of them on two-way deals, some of them, hello Jeff Finger and Mike Commodore, on inexplicable deals of a life time. In an informal chat with Ottawa GM Bryan Murray a week ago we both mused at the value of an escalating salary cap and what if anything the NHL learned from a 301 day-full season work stoppage just four short seasons ago.

In my view as ridiculous as the two aforementioned contracts are the most atrocious act was reserved for Marian Hossa who now I am declaring is a hockey prostitute. This deal will be the death knell for the Red Wings as they attempt to match their franchises good fortunes from a decade ago and repeat as Cup champs. Not likely. Hossa turned down three offers from the Penguins to sign a one year deal with Detroit at seven million and change. Thanks for coming. No question he played his best hockey of the playoffs in that final heart stopping game which ended with a potentially game tying goal just sliding wayward off of his stick as the final seconds ticked down. And throughout the playoffs his play although very, very spotty was good enough to record 26 points in the twenty games played. One behind Sid the Kid yet had he been able to convert Crosby’s seeing eye passes he would have had double that twelve goal total. Hossa signed a one year deal with who he believes will give him the best chance to win the Cup. Then with his one ring in place he can sign the long term big ticket deal that will take him to retirement. It says here- by me – that Detroit will not make the finals next year. Hossa will still get a big ticket somewhere. The cap will continue to go up and inside of five years we will have another work stoppage. Along the way though, the hockey will be good. Incidentally, of the 92 players who signed with other teams as free agents in 2007 only six improved their point totals from the season previous by ten or more points. Four of those, Scott Gomez with the Rangers, Petr Sykora with the Penguins, Viktor Kozlov with the Islanders and Robert Lang with the Blackhawks were in a group of eighteen who in 2006-07 recorded more than fifty points. As you can see, as it is in most years, free agents typically don’t do as good once they sign that big deal.

The hockey world now waits for a trio of Hall-of-Fame players, Mats Sundin, Brendan Shanahan and Joe Sakic, to make up their minds or act on existing offers. Sundin’s case remains the most compelling given that he did not waive his no-trade in Toronto, was subsequently courted by Montreal and has a twenty million dollar two year offer on the table from Vancouver and now word emerges about potentially the New York Rangers in the mix. This is a very confused man in my opinion. I’ve felt for some time that retirement was the direction he was headed even though he clearly can still play. But New York?? Bizarre. We’ll see.

The Hall of Fame has announced their newest inductions and the Glenn Anderson snub has been rectified. Anderson will join Igor Larionov in the players’ category. Anderson’s induction is long overdue. Larionov’s a head scratcher for me at least. 644 points in 921 NHL games. I’m sorry, I can’t get all gushy about his play in the Russian league or internationally when that hockey is so watered down by comparison to the NHL and its incredible grinding season. The Hall of Fame selection committee, filled with legends of the game both from the ice and off it, continues to astound me with their induction principals. I’m quite certain we will see a woman inducted within two years and more Europeans while bonafide NHL stars are overlooked. You have to face the facts, when you put in a Bernie Federko, when you put in a Cam Neely then guys like Doug Gilmour, Steve Larmer, Dino Ciccarelli even Eric Lindros should very seriously be considered.

Liam Maguire

Monday, June 30, 2008


Draft day to free agent frenzy. How to improve your team in two weeks

MCN Sports had a ring side seat for the Steve Stamkos draft in Ottawa two weekends ago. As most predicted, although you never really know until the name is called, Stamkos went as projected, first overall and it was a sight to behold in the stands with what looked like as many as forty family and friends present to congratulate him on becoming an instant millionaire. Not to suggest he didn’t work for it because despite raw talent which you must have clearly this is a young man with a tremendous work ethic. If that alone did not improve the Lightning’s lot on life their transactions since certainly have. Bagging Ryan Malone is the coup de gras at the moment but no less of an impact was the signing of Gary Roberts and yesterday, (June 29) the announcement that Brian Rolston has joined the fold after three seasons in Minnesota where along with being a veteran presence he has worn the C. Tremendous acquisitions for Tampa Bay. They are far and away the most improved team since Lidstrom hoisted the Cup in Pittsburgh after game six.
Other notes from the draft; appearing soon on our site will be interviews with Dave Brown from the Flyers, Eddie Mio, with Phoenix, Phil Myre with the Florida Panthers and a couple of beauties to finish off – Steve Yzerman with Detroit and Cam Neely with the Bruins. Neely has been brought into the Bruin fold and has made his presence felt big time. Interesting to note various connections in the hockey world as to a large extent it remains an old boys club but in addition, contacts made in some cases as young men end up being a mainstay reason that the same two parties will hook up years later. Case in point with the Boston Bruins super scout in the making, Wayne Smith who jumped over to the Bruins from Columbus two years ago under the Peter Chiarelli regime, is a long time friend of Chiarelli’s. Also on their mast head as Director of Player Personnel, long time Bruin Don Sweeney who played in Harvard with Chiarelli. In hockey the long time adage, ‘familiarity breeds contempt,’ does not hold. You see this all the time and frankly the cases of it leading to success far outweigh the stories where it doesn’t as in Tampa with the Esposito brothers or the other high profile example, in Phoenix with Wayne Gretzky. The Bruins are another team headed in the right direction only problem is the whole NHL is so competitive right now there are no guarantee’s of anybody making it back to the final let alone winning a second Cup in a row. As much as many fans think this Detroit team is the cock of the walk, let’s see how they do next year. My view is they are not as good as the ’02 team and I put that right to Yzerman in the interview where of course he downplayed the notion but again, just my opinion, I think the ’02 team which was the most experienced team to ever win the Cup would have handled this version of Detroit for sure. Then again, you’ve got eight players on both of those rosters so hard to compare. 14 players on that ’02 roster were 30+ in age. That’s an all time high in Cup history.

Aside from being present for a record thirteen transactions in the first round the other eventual sight on first round night was the ovation given to Wayne Gretzky by the Ottawa fans. Remember that Ottawa was the city where he played his last game in Canada and I’m quite certain that was not lost on the crowd, a full house by the way, 18,500 and the ovation gave me goose bumps. It was great to see. Captain Daniel Alfredsson also received a huge roar of support but he cut the salutation short by taking the microphone while the crowd was still verbally ringing his name. Still a great moment.

So now it’s on to the free agent feeding frenzy. GM’s have been very careful to avoid any tampering charges or so it seems. The rumour mills are all flourishing right now and all that’s left are for the cards to fall on the table. I said it on my show today, master the obvious but I just can’t see Sundin signing with Montreal. As much as I’m sure Bob Gainey attempted to broker a tremendous deal for the big Swede at the end of the day I think they’ll refocus on Marian Hossa and we’ll see how that plays out because frankly, if they offer him any more than 7m a year to me that will be a colossal mistake. Time will tell. It’s officially Canada Day tomorrow but for some players it’s going to be Christmas in July in a big way.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008


Detroit too much for young Penguins

At the end of the day or more appropriately, the end of the game, Detroit was just too much for Pittsburgh. Too much Zetterberg, too much Lidstrom, too much the whole experienced package. But what a final 1:27 of action. I felt so bad for Marc-Andre Fleury who put on a performance of the ages in game five, now ranked as the fifth longest game in Stanley Cup final history, only to allow a couple of weak goals get by him in the deciding game six. When Hossa deflected Gonchar’s point shot in at the 18:33 mark who else sat bolt upright and hung on for that final minute and a half? Literally another split second and who knows, maybe Hossa gets that puck in right at the end of the game. You could see it in the body language of the Detroit players on the ice, there was a moment of stunned disbelief that they had hung on. I believe when or if the Penguins watch any of that last game video they’ll see some of the same ailments that plagued them throughout the series. Couldn’t get the puck deep, couldn’t generate a fore check, and couldn’t generate enough shots on net. Even in the dying seconds, two or three times, pucks were shot into Detroit’s end only to be easily grabbed by the D and fired back out. I mean literally grabbed by the hand – Pittsburgh's shoot in was just not high enough or off the boards hard enough to get the puck deep. Sometimes when you have as talented a team as these young Pens are the tendency is to hang onto the puck. That’s all well and good down low, when you get it and are cycling or attempting to keep possession but sometimes the most successful game plan is the simplest one but there’s no question, against this particular Detroit defence at this time it was a very, very tough task.

Nice of Malkin to return from his vacation in game six. What a learning experience for him. He need look no further than across the hall at countryman Pavel Datsyuk who will turn thirty this July. Datsyuk scored three goals in his first thirty-seven playoff games as a Red Wing. Look at him now. Or Zetterberg, the Conn Smythe Trophy winner, same thing, at twenty-two and twenty-three years of age he was a spare part for the Wings. Malkin is twenty and a superstar in the making. My only thought is that when it was apparent he had hit the wall and it was painfully apparent – I would have sat him down for at least a game. His giveaways’ and complacency added up to extreme ineffectiveness that should have been addressed in a dramatic fashion in my view. Sydney Crosby will lead Canada to a gold medal in Vancouver in 2010. His vision is Gretzky like, he’s a bull down low with the puck, he’s excellent on the draws and I believe he’s a great team guy. Why is he hated by so many fans? I don’t get it. I guess either I’m showing my age because I remember Gretzky’s first few years in the league or I’m more open minded. Crosby could have dove a dozen times and probably drew an additional 4-5 minors on Detroit but he did not. He tied for the points lead in playoff scoring in his second time ever in the playoffs. If he has a relatively healthy season in 2008-09 he will win the Art Ross again by 10-15 points for fun.

For the record – Nick Lidstrom becomes the fourth Cup winning captain born overseas. He is the first born and bred European captain but not the first to have been born across the ocean. Dunc Munroe with the 1926 Montreal Maroons, Charlie Gardiner with the 1934 Chicago Blackhawks were both born in Scotland. Johnny Gottselig with the 1938 Chicago Blackhawks was born in Russia. Speaking of Lidstrom and the rest of team Sweden, AKA Detroit, it’s been funny to listen or read so many people who are acting like this is the first time a Cup winner has had Europeans on it. Granted it is the least amount of Canadians on a Cup winner ever – nine. The previous mark of ten was held by the 1995 New Jersey Devils, thirteen years ago. On that squad were eleven Americans. The 1997 and 1998 Cup winning Red Wings each had five Russians on those respective teams. Numerous Europeans dotted the Cup winners o f Colorado in 1996 also. The trend deviated back to a very strong Canadian base of players with Dallas in 1999 and then again on the five Cup winners prior to this Red Wing team led by Anaheim’s nineteen Canadians who played at least one playoff game in their Cup run of 2007. So which trend goes forward you ask? Easy. The cycle continues. There has not been a team to win the Cup with all Canadian born content since the 1975 Philadelphia Flyers. Conversely no team has ever won it without some Canadian content nor will they in our life time. The bigger question is can the Red Wings repeat and duplicate what they themselves accomplished last in 1997 and ’98? You look at their cap room and their team makeup and you’d be hard pressed to not pick them next season. Only thing going against that is history at the moment. All of the Cup winning teams since 1998 have looked pretty good in winning their respective years. Yet nobody can repeat. Very, very tough physically to turn right around ten weeks later, report to camp and get right into it for the next nine months. We’ll see how it goes. For now, congratulations to them, they certainly deserved the Cup and Zetterberg the Conn Smythe.

Saturday, May 31, 2008


Fragility of life jumps out at us again

I hate motorbikes. I never rode one, never will. My brother Mike owned several but thankfully not long after a cross Canada tour he rid himself of the last one and has been in cars ever since. He did have one spill, an accident in Ottawa in which he went flying but was basically uninjured. He was fortunate. Not so much for Luc Bourdon who died tragically May 28th. Officials are now speculating that a very strong gust of wind hit Bourdon and forced his bike into the path of an oncoming tractor trailer. Game over immediately. It’s when you sit back and wonder about the coincidences in these types of accidents that you sometimes are convinced there is a higher power involved. I don’t know, for whatever reason God must have needed a kid with all heart and a tremendous appetite to succeed. Why would the gust come up at that time, why was there a truck coming the other way, why anything at all at that precise moment? The agony of trying to determine what happens mere seconds either way can drive you crazy. Imagine the family. I’ve lost numerous friends to accidents. So many, I can’t even count them all and when we lose an athlete who has in a brief time captured our hearts for me at least it brings home many of the other needless deaths including people like Neil Janz on a motorbike just last summer or my very good friend Mike Doyle on a ski-doo two winters ago. It’s very tragic and upsetting. Condolences to the family and friends of Luc Bourdon, may he rest in peace.

The Penguins answered a lot of people in game three first by scoring, secondly by winning the game or more appropriately hanging on. If you could bottle what element of desire Gary Roberts has and transpose it in the bodies of twenty young men you’d have the ultimate dynasty. In his prime he could score fifty, rack up 200 pim’s and play twenty minutes a night. He’s half that player now but with eight to nine minutes of ice time per game he is by far the most effective player with the least amount of time in this entire playoff – at forty-two years of age. Will this series mirror Ottawa-Anaheim last year in which the Senators won game three and battled gamely in game four only to lose before bowing out in five or are these young Penguins poised to put their mark on the 90th Cup final in NHL history? My head says Detroit wins tonight, my heart says Pittsburgh. So, when in doubt go with your heart, I mean what kind of trouble has that ever got us in?

I appeared on a local TV station with former Montreal Canadien Murray Wilson on Monday May 26th. Wilson indicated that he’d be surprised if Pat Burns re entered the coaching fraternity of the NHL. Despite a successful run as one of Ken Hitchcock’s assistants at the recently completed World Championship and with rumours abound that Burns may have his hat in the ring for the Senator job Wilson feels that his recent triumphant battle with cancer was extremely draining and that he is just not up for the rigors and the stress of the job. We will soon know. Other names that are in the mix include Pat Quinn, Bob Hartley, who we believe have at least interviewed for the job. Craig Hartsburg, Kevin Dineen, Pete DeBoer who supposedly was on the short list last season, my choice of Randy Cunneyworth and now possibly John Tortorella from Tampa Bay. The core of the Senators needs to win yesterday. With Alfredsson in the mix they’ve got maybe two seasons so a real ball breaker coach is what’s needed which means I’d relent on my original choice of Cunneyworth and agree that Tortorella would be a prime choice if he was available – pending a no go from Pat Burns At some point, somebody is going to give Cunneyworth a shot and they’ll be a better team for it.

If I were a Leaf fan right now I’d be livid at Mats Sundin. After he accepted the Mark Messier Award stating that, “perhaps the Leafs were not his only option” going forward for next season. Are you kidding me? He doesn’t wave his no-trade, states he does not want to be a rental player, wants to finish his career in TO and then says this? Speculation is that he was quite miffed at being asked to waive his no trade in the first place. With all due respect to Sundin and he deserves a ton of respect for the way he’s played during this current three year hiatus from the playoffs but he needs to understand that interim GM Cliff Fletcher was trying to improve the club. Dealing Sundin would have paid huge dividends and Sundin could have simply resigned in the off season. It’s not like he played his whole career there ala Steve Yzerman or Joe Sakic. Sundin was in Quebec for four seasons including a playoff stint in 1993. Granted he has more than made his mark on Toronto including breaking long standing records held by the likes of Darryl Sittler and Dave Keon but if I were a Leaf fan I would be extremely upset that he seemingly has misplaced their loyalty, put his ego first and has clearly not looked at the big picture.

A small group of historians picked the Miracle on Ice as the number one international hockey story over Team Canada 72. Actually the second story they picked was Henderson’s goal in game eight which to me is a huge slap in the face and ignoring the totality of the comeback and Henderson’s goal scoring in game’s six and seven. Granted the theatre of game eight can never be duplicated. If you compare it to the Miracle game – Canada was down 5-3 after two periods. Clearly the officiating was extremely bias, the off ice officials as well – they did not even turn the goal light on after Yvan Cournoyer had scored to tie the game at 5-5 leading to the whole debacle involving Alan Eagleson, the Soviets then declare they will take victory in the series due to the goals for over the eight games only to have that yanked from them in the last minute by THEE goal. Team Canada 72 was about the last three games, not one game. It was about heroics and a never-say-die attitude. It was about a man who for whatever reason took this opportunity to score three of the biggest goals in the history of the sport. It’s about another man, Phil Esposito who played the best twenty minutes of hockey anywhere, any time in the third period of game eight. I wonder where these historians were from. Let me guess. What a complete and utter joke. Case in point, to justify their selection, after it was announced one of the European minion’s states, ‘we’re glad it was an Olympic moment selected as the number one.’ Sure you were Alexi. Because that means it wasn’t something favouring Canada who you hate. That’s okay. We get the picture we always have that’s why for every single time in every single event that Canada wins, which is many, guys like me remember comments like yours. Otherwise you can just go to sleep every night hearing Foster Hewitt. ‘Henderson has scored for Canada.’

Tuesday, May 27, 2008


Dream final being derailed by dominant Wings

The cyclical nature of sports is the perfect teeter totter. You go up – you go down. Sometimes you stay in the middle long enough, like the St. Louis Blues for almost three decades but in the end you usually go up or down. After a couple of inspired Cup runs from East especially the South East division, notably Tampa Bay in 2004 and Carolina after the lockout in 2006 the West is awake and really flexing it’s muscles.

Anaheim looked like the most dominant force in hockey last season and seemingly built for at least a two to three year run mind you the loss of several foot soldiers, Dustin Penner, Shawn Thornton and the delay in getting Teemu Selanne and Scott Niedermayer back clearly played a factor in their quick demise at the hands of the Stars mind you coupled with their undisciplined play especially early in games the Ducks set themselves up for a fall from grace. Detroit is a different breed. With the Ducks you have a franchise that took a small nucleus from a Cup run in ’03 and translated that into success four year’s later. The Wings are two wins away as of this writing from a fourth Cup in the past eleven seasons, ten if you minus the lockout. That is about as close as we’ll see to a dynasty right now.

The Wings play with extreme discipline; they are dedicated shot blockers, all of them. Clearly Coach Babcock has preached successfully a defense first philosophy whereby the talent up front particularly Zetterberg and Datsyuk are as adept and committed to their own end and yet are able to dominate offensively. Nashville exposed some weaknesses by being able to establish their fore check whereas the Penguins have not as of yet. The Stars rode the heart and soul of Brendan Morrow and Marty Turco but so rarely do teams who play in those lengthy OT games achieve the ultimate prize. As a result although the Wings were pushed a bit by the Stars and the Predators, they walked on the Avalanche and seem to be in cruise mode again against the Penguins. What does that mean for possibly a repeat trip to at least the final next season? Historically not a lot but with ten players who have Cup rings this franchise who by the way have one of the most successful alumni will rally around those who have not yet tasted a drink out of Lord Stanley, like a Dallas Drake and the Motown tradition continues.

The fine feathered Penguins are more likely feeling tarred and feathered after those first two games. Tough enough to win when you can hardly score let alone get a shot on goal. Kudos’ to Sid the Kid who after two outings was 0 in the +/-, nine shots on net and in game two was 12-9 in the dot, the only Penguin over .500 on face-offs. He has set up almost everybody he’s been on the ice with including the D at least once and has done all but scored himself. He turns 21 in August. I’m curious about the pundits and experts who only a few short weeks and months ago were heaping praise on the next Russian superstar, Gino Malkin now to watch him not only be ineffective but play uninspired and disinterested hockey. He should be sat down, given that rest he wants and watch a game while his spot is taken by an Adam Hall or a Tyler Kennedy. Malkin is a spectacular player but Wayne Gretzky said it best. ‘There are four parts to every season, the pre-season, the regular season, the playoffs and the finals. Each gets more difficult to play especially physically.’ What you have to play through to have success in the post season let alone the finals is a different world that many never get to experience that’s why you absolutely have to leave it all out there every shift. So Gary Roberts threw a few cheap shots. Get over it. If Franzen deems himself fit to play and is medically cleared to do so then he has to take the risks that come with it. I don’t believe he was targeted any more than any other Wing by any of the Penguins; he just happened to be there and had the other sweater on. Will Roberts ever win the Lady Byng, my guess is no but frankly for the better park of his entire career, including right now, he could play on my team any day.

Interesting tidbits if you’re into history at all; the last time Detroit and Pittsburgh pro franchises met in a final was the 1909 World Series when the Pittsburgh Pirates beat the Detroit Tigers 4-3 in games in a very hard fought baseball final. Honus Wagner of the Pirates and Ty Cobb of the Tigers were the games respective superstars at that time. Although not as old, we think, Chris Chelios then with the Montreal Canadiens lost in the Cup final to Gary Roberts Calgary Flames in 1989. Chelios is having a hard time getting back into the series. Lidstrom and Rafalski dominate the ice time while Brad Stuart and Nikolas Kronwell are the +/- dynamos having been on the ice for all of Detroit’s even strength goals to date.

Last comment, although many names are always missing that was a very solid World Championship. I’ve never been a fan of Ilya Kovlachuk but those were two big goals at opportune times. Canada played text book hockey for two periods and fell asleep a bit in the third in their OT loss to Russia in the gold medal game. And although it's a tournament that routinely does not attract all the big names, even Sweden had twenty-one players say no this time around, the final standings do affect matchups in future events including the Olympics and with their high finish again Canada is ranked number one in International hockey and that ranking will carry over to the Olympics which are being held in Vancouver. This is huge news for Canada. We will not face an equal power house until the quarter-finals at the earliest. Heck of a run for the boys, one loss in 18 games. Steve Yzerman has a lot to be proud of and he and his crew did a hell of a job. And if you don’t think fans here in this city – Ottawa – weren’t watching how Jason Spezza was handled by Ken Hitchcock…..guess again. More on Ottawa’s new coach-to-be next article and more international comments re the top moments in IIHF history.

Monday, May 12, 2008


Thoughts and observations from the third round

Just a few short days ago I eagerly awaited the semi-finals in the Stanley Cup playoffs thinking we’d be in for fireworks between the Flyers and the Penguins and hoping that the Stars magical run could continue. That was before the four overtime period marathon which clearly sucked the life out of the Stars, at least at this point. Coupled with the Wings phenomenal efforts to date that makes tonight’s game three a must win for the Stars otherwise a terrific ride that has seen them knock off the defending Cup champs and the prohibitive favourite will go for naught. Unfortunately that’s the way the puck bounces sometimes. Thanks to the inspiration of Captain Brendan Morrow the Stars have crashed and banged their way to the semi-finals behind the great goaltending of Marty Turco. Despite a less than stellar record on home ice the Stars will need to go to that well one more time. Detroit actually out hit Dallas 39-26 in game two, this against a Stars team that have averaged close to 40 hits in most of their games. And the game two victory came with Dan Cleary back in the Wing lineup along with Darren McCarty as the surprising news of Johan Franzen’s concussion symptoms made the news pre game. Most of the talk post game centered on the Ott-Riberio-Osgood fines which emanated from two separate incidents toward the end of the contest. Ott drilled Kris Draper and tried to fight him but Draper was unwilling as most Wings other than McCarty are. It’s a lesson in discipline and with the rules the way they are today also a further reminder that as long as you are willing to initiate physically on the fore check and go to the dirty zones you can survive and thrive in today’s NHL without worrying about dropping the gloves. Do I like it – no I don’t. It’s spawned a new breed of player, the Ruutu’s of the world who are shameless. I’d say gutless but frankly I don’t think that’s the case. I think they have some guts. I’ve seem them fight a bit when pressed but overall their antics are a disgrace to the NHL and when Jarrko was called for his dive last night after his exchange with Martin Biron of the Flyers I thought, right on, call that on him every time and maybe he’ll stop getting away with this blatant style of BS crap that makes me want to puke. I digress.
The Wings right now look like a team possessed. As much as I eagerly awaited the semi-final I now find myself saying the same thing about a potential Penguin-Wing final although Detroit’s experience looks like it could be a factor personified. We’ll see. As for Ribero and Osgood, again the right call was made with the fines. Osgood through the first shot with that butt end. Granted it did not hit but if somebody throws a butt end they should expect to get hit and that was a love tap Ribeiro gave Osgood yet he still went down like he was shot from the grassy knoll. That was a joke so it was good to see no suspensions come out of that.

Back to the Penguins and the Flyers and you shut down Malkin, along comes Sid the Kid. Playing his best hockey of the post season Crosby was a dynamo last night and easily could have had two more goals and two or three more assists on top of his one and one. Unfortunately for the Penguin fans this series is looking eerily similar to Detroit-Colorado where bodies are dropping for the Flyers much like the Aves and they are trying to make a game out of it. Braydon Coburn has played a ton of hockey this year for Philadelphia. Losing him two minutes into the contest with a puck in the face was disastrous. With Coburn’s absence and Timonen’s blot clot the Flyers were grossly short staffed on defense. Hatcher played more than 28 minutes, Randy Jones more than 26. That’s a ton of ice. What’s also fun to watch on the Penguins is they have somebody physical on every line. Ryan Malone, Pascal Dupuis, Tyler Kennedy and the entire fourth line featuring Big George all can bang and they bring it. If you don’t think the fact that George Laracque is a factor on this team or in this series you are crazy. I can count the times on one hand I’ve seen Derian Hatcher take a backward step from any kind of shot, punch, stick or otherwise and when hit by Laracque early last night, even though he drew the penalty, he wanted no part of him nor does anybody. It’s a quick trip to the hospital, do not pass go and I love the fact that Therrien has his on the ice to finish almost every game that they are going to win. Wayne Gretzky said it best, ‘intimidation is still part of our game today,’ amen and thank God Wayne, that’s all I have to say.

Last point today, how much more can be written about the video review of Finland’s goal against the States in the World Championships. The IIHF reported immediately after the game that the man in question was dismissed and will not work again this series. Where did he go, right to the next figure skating event? What an absolute farce, a disgrace, a black mark for the sport, just a total sham. The tree huggers all bemoan anytime somebody throws a punch in hockey. You know, watching those three blind mice try and corral that situation at the end of that game was the most ridiculous thing I’ve seen in the sport of hockey since the grossly inadequate zebras’ who worked the Piestany punch up at the World Juniors between Canada and Russia on New Years Day, 1987. Those clowns left the ice during a brawl and had the arena lights turned off. Yep, it’s just great hockey overseas and even better officiating. Let’s face it folks, like the NFL and the CFL this is the same sport, played by different rules, different sized surfaces and officiated wildly different than what either side of the ocean thinks is right. I like my eggs over easy, my pints cold and a server who lets me know its last call. I also like my hockey rough, accountable and if necessary, violent as need be. That eliminates me from next season’s hockey pool in Europe. Let’s hope some level of competence referee’s the medal rounds.

Liam Maguire

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