|Consider yourself warned! Phil Coffey, NHL.com's editorial director, will share his views on the NHL frequently in this space over the course of the season.
Enjoying dinner with Stanley
One of the very special moments of my working life occurred Monday and it really had nothing to do with cranking away on a keyboard or pushing a pen on a notepad.
Rather it happened after work was put away for the day and our intrepid band of Patti Fallick from NHL Productions, Rich Libero, Darryl Haberman and myself from NHL.com gathered at our home-away-from-home, Angelino's. Nothing surprising there, but we had a couple special guests. Phil Pritchard from the Hockey Hall of Fame joined us along with his friend Stanley.
Yes, the Stanley Cup was in the house and the small crowd of diners were in for a treat. The Monday crowd at the restaurant was small by Angelino's standards, but it made for a great setting for Stanley, who was wheeled in the main dining room on a cart, with people craning their necks to see what it was.
Libero, in his best broken Italian, told everyone this was the most famous trophy in sports, and it received approving nods, as patrons pulled out their cell phones to take photos.
Imagine the surprise of two women from Long Island, hockey fans too, who never could calculate the odds of being in a Northern Italian restaurant and having the Stanley Cup wheeled past their table.
We made sure they had their photos taken with the Cup.
As we sat down to dinner, the Cup was placed at the end or our table, a majestic sight to be sure. Later in the meal, a German man came over and quietly asked if this was "the real one". When told it was, his eyes grew large and he went on a thorough inspection tour. Later in the evening, his girlfriend, a TV journalist covering the Games, took in the sights and history of Stanley and arranged to do a TV piece at the IIHF's Hockey House facility today with Phil.
It never gets old being in Stanley's company. There is always something new to look at, always something that catches your eye. For me, the best part is just scanning all the names that have been etched on the Cup, giving the winners a share of immortality. No matter what happens down the road, their achievements are noted there -- on the Cup -- forever. That's what sets Stanley apart from anything available in the sporting world.
The evening was pretty sedate compared to some of the celebrations Phil and his staff from the Hall of Fame have witnessed over the years, but for our little group, it was just top notch. After all, how many times can you say you were in Northern Italy with Stanley on his first visit to the country?
When dinner was over and all the photos had been taken, Stanley had to get home. His ride arrived and Stanley and Phil, wearing white gloves as per usual, were bundled up in the car for the next part of the journey. Our evening with Stanley was over, but the telling and retelling of the story is going to go on for quite some time.
Let's get physical
There are only a couple more days remaining in preliminary-round play here in Torino, and that means the marathon days at the rink will come to a close.
That's both good and bad news. The good news is there will be much more time to concentrate on the games at hand on a given day. The bad news is there will be fewer games.
Since the hockey tournament began, we have been setting up shop at one of the two hockey venues, usually getting there around 11 a.m. for a 1 p.m. start and leaving around 1:30 a.m. after the last game is completed.
I'm beginning to think this should be an Olympic event in itself because there is a distinctive skill set to covering three games in a day.
First of all, there is getting through security. It's always a good idea to pack as much stuff as possible inside your bag, and that means emptying your pockets as much as possible. The bag is the first through the X-ray machine, then comes your coat. I was smart enough to bring an old Army field jacket that has lots of pockets, so things like wallets, keys and the like can go there. Unfortunately, I normally forget my watch, so that sets off the metal detector and that means I get wanded by the security guards. That isn't much of a problem except the other day the wand they use kept going off when they waved it over my chest. Since there was nothing there by me, I was getting a little concerned, especially when the officer asked: "Pacemaker?"
"Not that I know of," was my reply. He smiled and let me go.
Next comes climate control. Each rink is a little different in terms of how to dress. At Palasport, the temperatures are pretty even. It's a little on the cold side watching the game itself, but the press room is in the same ballpark, so it makes being comfortable easier. But at Torino Exposizioni, it's just the opposite. Watching Team Canada play Kazakhstan Saturday, it was so cold inside the rink I ended up wearing a coat and gloves, a first in 25 years of writing hockey. But once you return to the press room at Torino Ex, it's so warm that some reporters have stripped to their T-shirts.
Once you master how to dress for success in the Olympic hockey coverage competition, the next step is to make sure you have lugged all the proper equipment. In Europe, the electrical outlets don't resemble the ones in North American in any way, shape or form. That means adapters are an absolute must. Forget your adapter and the laptop and other gear isn't going to work and you have to hoof it back to the hotel and then repeat the security portion of our competition.
Navigating the press box, or tribune, as it is called here, is a science in itself too. Many of the seats are reserved for "special" media outlets, so the rest of us are jockeying for position, especially when it comes to seeing Canada and the United States. The trick here is getting to the tribune early and setting up shop and then holding on to the position for dear life. Bonus points are awarded for seats that don't have an obstructed view from the TV monitors that are on each countertop. I lost points during Canada's game Saturday, getting stuck behind a monitor and leaning back and forth or watching the monitor for portions of the game. A true rookie move.
Another big difference is post-game. In the NHL, the dressing rooms are open to the media and that's where everyone congregates. Here, because there is such a large media presence that isn't practical or desirable for everyone involved. So they have the "mixed zone". As the players come off the ice, they pretty much have to run the gauntlet of media types. First come the rights-holders, primarily the TV outlets that paid big bucks to cover the Olympics. They get the first crack at the players. Then, the players walk along a barricade that is packed with reporters. You call out to who you want to speak with and for the most part the players stop and talk for a couple minutes. It's not as relaxed and in depth as you can get in the NHL, but it has eliminated another potential event in this competition, the dressing room fistfight among the media. It can get physical, however, as the media types jockey for position. In Salt Lake City in 2002, there was a Russian writer who decided to take me on for positioning one day. Don't know why, but every place I went, he followed, pushing. I finally spun off him and checked him into a cement post. Points for the United States!
Once you're done there, only one portion of the competition remains. You have to write stories in a timely fashion, namely before the next game starts or they close the venue and you have to go searching for a security exit, which after midnight is usually located about as far from where you are working as you can get.
It's a long busy day, but please don't feel sorry for us. After all, we have been averaging three games a day and you can't trade that for anything!
Now for something completely different
A couple programming notes for the loyal readers of NHL.com.
Because of all the Olympic coverage, a couple of our regular features -- On Campus, AHL report, ECHL Report and Inside The Numbers -- are going to be found on our Features page during the course of the Olympics. Just click on the Features link in the left column to take a look.
And as we near the end of our time in Torino, NHL.com will jump back into 2005-06 regular-season coverage with both skates, so hang in there with us here in Torino and the rest of the way. Remember, the trade deadline is March 9th!
Now, back to Torino!
As I read Rich Libero's daily blog here at NHL.com, I keep forgetting that the real reason we're here is to cover hockey. I kept thinking it was some sort of culinary expedition and travelogue from what he's been saying.
And by the way, things aren't as dire as he would have you believe. Certainly there have been some moments when my Type A "Ugly American" persona has been bubbling to the surface -- don't say cell phone anywhere near me for at least another month -- but by and large, very nice people whose English -- what little they speak -- is light years ahead of my Italian.
But let's get rolling on to some hockey. After all, that's why you're here.
Here are some observations of what has happened so far.
Jetlag hurts -- I thought it was just me, but the flight from North America to Italy does leave you a little dazed and confused for a time, so it's good that the players and the rest of the attending world aren't dealing with world peace issues for another day or so.
Teams that have flown over the majority of their players from North America have been at a disadvantage in the early going, not just from lack of practice time, but trying to get their legs and wits about them. The good news is everyone appears to be falling into a routine, although the Czechs might disagree after Thursday's loss to the Swiss. The Czechs were very hard on themselves after the game, and you can understand their disappointment. But David Aebischer was just great for the Swiss and that game goes in another direction if Aebischer doesn't stand on his head.
Uniform stance -- Couple e-mails from the U.S. have complained about the look of the Olympic uniforms. I'll admit it takes some getting used to.
The socks with the vertical stripes rather than the traditional horizontal ones, make the players look like they are in practice garb for games.
The Swedes still have a great uniform here. I like the Russians' and the Czechs' as well. Swiss are winners too.
I'm a little underwhelmed by the Canadian uniforms probably because I loved the 1996 World Cup and 1998 Olympic uniforms.
As for Team USA, I'm not down with the dark Team USA jerseys. Just too much blue, not enough white. And I would use blue helmets with that combo since the white looks out of place.
Look good, feel good, play good I always say.
Of course anyone who has seen me on our daily walking trips around Torino isn't going to listen to my fashion advice.
Goaltending matters -- From the NHL to the Olympics, to the local pee-wee game at the rink, goaltending matters. Aebischer proved it Thursday in one extreme and we saw how the Swedes fared when Henrik Lundqvist was left to fend for himself against the Russians. Good goaltending hides so many sins it isn't funny.
I think that's why the Canadians are so at ease thus far. Marty Brodeur behind you tends to make a hockey player's life quite easy.
Fantastic -- I have really enjoyed the Latvian, Swiss and Czech fans here. Just a whole different level of interaction than we have in North America, with drums, horns, flags, all sorts of noisemakers and some very uninhibited cheering for their squads.
And from what I have seen so far, these folks keep it all in perspective, cheering for their teams without making it a bloodsport with someone who is rooting the other team onto victory.