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Evan Grossman

About Evan
Evan Grossman comes to NHL.com after six years as a sports reporter for the New York Post, where he was the Islanders beat writer from 2001-2006. Among Evan's memorable assignments at the tabloid were Shawn Bates' penalty shot against the Maple Leafs in the 2002 playoffs, walking with Phil Mickelson on Sunday at the 2006 U.S. Open at Winged Foot and countless hours waiting in the Yankee Stadium parking lot for Yankees owner George Steinbrenner.

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Season Archive
November 2006

Friday, December 29, 2006

"I'm gonna drop down to 168 and wrestle Schute"

It's that time of the year again. That's right, it's time for resolutions.

For as long as time and history have been recorded, men and women have sat down around New Year's, the oldest holiday in the world, and they've jotted down -- or chiseled into a stone tablet -- their hopes and dreams for the coming year. Most of the time those resolutions have to do with being more fit in the coming year, reflect on taking better care of ourselves, or establishing goals we think will make us better people.

More often than not, resolutions include going to the gym more often, eating less candy, or getting better grades in school.

The tradition started about 4,000 years ago, and since then, about two people have actually followed through with their personal promises for the New Year. As the NHL calendar flips to the second half of the season and 2006 turns into 2007, here are some resolutions for the 30 teams around the league.

Anaheim - Follow up on a brilliant first half; keep everyone healthy; to pick a name and stick with it (funny how now that they're just the Ducks, they're Mightier than ever, eh?)

Atlanta - Hang on to the cushion they've built in the Southeast, the division that's produced the last two Cup winners; wear those sweet blue jerseys more often; for Ilya Kovalchuk to be nice to Sidney Crosby.

Boston - For Phil Kessel to get healthy and get back on the ice ASAP; play better in the tight games; and give goalie Tim Thomas more help back there.

Buffalo - Wear the "throwback" third jerseys more frequently; continue their Eastern dominance; build off last spring's heartbreaking Game 7 loss in the conference finals and finally take the next step; send some guys to the All-Star Game.

Calgary - For Jarome Iginla to keep editing the franchise record book; find a way to come out of the skin-tight Northwest Division; install a Richter scale to measure Dion Phaneuf's earthquake hits.

Carolina - Find a miracle hangover cure after winning the Cup last year; hire a private detective to find the Cam Ward who was so spectacular in last spring's playoff run.

Chicago - One of the most-improved teams since the start of the year, make the midseason surge they're on right now mean something two months from now; continued success under new head coach Denis Savard, who has the Hawks performing quite the Spin-O-Rama on their season.

Colorado - Find more of the magic potion that's kept Joe Sakic one of the elite scorers in the West; more playing time for super rookies Paul Stastny and Wojtek Wolski; make Jose Theodore's GAA a little thinner.

Columbus - Continued success under new head coach Ken Hitchcock; for Rick Nash to keep blossoming into more than a one-dimensional goal-scorer; more of whatever Sergei Fedorov's been eating recently.

Dallas - Give Niklas Grossman another shot; more old-school production from Eric Lindros; and get Mike Modano his 500th NHL goal.

Detroit - Keep aging wonders Chris Chelios, Mathieu Schneider, Nicklas Lidstrom, and Dominik Hasek from ever really getting old, or at least looking like they've been around forever.

Edmonton - Make Mark Messier Night one they'll never forget; build on last year's surprising run to the Final; keep Ryan Smyth healthy and in uniform, because the Oilers are a different team when he's not in the lineup or in front of the net.

Florida - Find an assistant GM for the do-it-all Jacques Martin; don't get hung up on the Roberto Luongo deal; keep Todd Bertuzzi healthy; close the small gap between them and the rest of the tightly packed division.

Los Angeles - Make Anze Kopitar the superstar he has the ability to be; keep building the system with electric young players like Mike Cammalleri and Dustin Brown; get a skinnier plus-minus for Rob Blake, a defenseman far better than his pre-Christmas minus-10 indicated.

Minnesota - Find a way to win on the road, where they have not tasted victory since Nov. 16; keep getting Mark Parrish out there and let him set up in front of the net, where he does his best work.

Montreal - Keep feeding Sheldon Souray the puck for that fierce one-timer; get goalie Cristobal Huet the respect he's earning; keep Saku Koivu healthy and get more production out of Alex Kovalev.

Nashville - Get anger management for Scott Nichol; find more ice time for Alexander Radulov; close out the season as strong as they started and finally unseat Detroit for the top spot in the Central.

New Jersey - Keep pushing Martin Brodeur up the all-time wins and shutout lists; follow the lead of captain Patrik Elias, who is as deserving as anyone in the league to wear the 'C'; discover a style of play that will allow them to be as stingy on defense and open it up at the other end; make their last season at the Meadowlands a memorable one before the move to Newark.

NY Islanders - Keep fighting, keep working and keep proving people wrong; continue the trend that's seen Alexei Yashin find his heart, Jason Blake find his hands and Ted Nolan find that second chances are a beautiful thing; have another 14 ½ years that are as good as Rick DiPietro's first half has been.

NY Rangers - Figure out what's going wrong with six-straight losses on either side of the Christmas break; uncover why Henrik Lundqvist hasn't been able to save the day; get Jaromir Jagr's grove back.

Ottawa - Somehow go back to being the team that was so explosive last season; get over the massive hole on the blue line Zdeno Chara left over the summer.

Philadelphia - Don't make any more trades with the Islanders; play the kids; concentrate on scouting picks for the 2007 Draft.

Phoenix - Less Jeremy Roenick drama; less stress for head coach Wayne Gretzky; the league's most penalized team needs to make a commitment to keep their feet moving and stay out of the box.

Pittsburgh - Find a new home; get Sidney Crosby a scoring title, and Evgeni Malkin the Calder Trophy; replace the batteries in Marc Andre Fleury's crazy-bright pads.

San Jose - Find Jonathan Cheechoo's scoring touch again; increased minutes and exposure for the two kids on the blue line, Matthew Carle and Marc-Edouard Vlassic; seatbelts for the boys so that they can hang in there in the ridiculously competitive Pacific Division.

St. Louis - Find their way out of the NHL wilderness; get last year's No. 1 pick Erik Johnson in uniform as soon as possible; play hockey like the Blues, instead of making their loyal fans sing 'em.

Tampa Bay - Rediscover the mojo that won them a Cup a few years back; keep the big three of Vinny Lecavalier, Brad Richards and Marty St. Louis sizzling hot; give sharp-shooting defenseman Dan Boyle the green light to go to the net more often.

Toronto - Keep feeding Darcy Tucker the puck; keep captain Mats Sundin healthy in the second half; perform an exorcism to scare away the ghosts of 1967, their last Cup win.

Vancouver - Vote for Rory; find another set of brothers as good as the Sedins have been.

Washington - To keep building around Alex Ovechkin; to keep making the Eastern teams around them in the standings nervous; and for Ovechkin to be nicer to the Sabres.

"Fear does not exist in this dojo, does it?"

Toronto center Michael Peca will miss the remainder of the season -- and hopefully that's all -- after suffering a broken right leg and torn ACL last week following a knee-to-knee collision with Chicago defenseman Jim Vandermeer, who got a five-minute major and a game misconduct on the play.

"It's tough when you see a guy who can barely play in this league take out one of the best players in this league," Toronto's Jeff O'Neill told reporters. "I don't know if he meant to do it or not, but this [stinks] for us."

Thankfully, it's not the same knee Peca hurt in 2002 when Darcy Tucker submarined him in the playoffs, though you have to wonder how much more punishment Peca can take.

Leafs bench boss Paul Maurice spread zero holiday cheer after the costly hit.

"Our guy will be out a long time," he said, "and their guy will probably be in the minors by the time our guy gets back."

Ouch.

Two-Handers

Former White House intern Monica Lewinsky recently graduated from the London School of Economics, thereby making it one more person in the world smarter than I am. All I learned about economics I learned from Ferris Bueller's Day Off:

The Laffer Curve. Anyone know what this says? It says that at this point on the revenue curve, you will get exactly the same amount of revenue as at this point. This is very controversial. Does anyone know what Vice President Bush called this in 1980? Anyone? Something-d-o-o economics. Voodoo economics.

According to a report last week, the name Mohammed, and its most common alternative spelling Muhammad, are now more popular names in England and Wales than George. But in Sweden, Jonsson -- which must translate to Smith in English -- remains the most popular last name among hockey players from that nation.

Last week's Avalanche game was postponed because of the blizzard that hit Denver. Not to make light of serious weather conditions, but the only thing more ironic would be a Carolina game being postponed because of a Hurricane or a Tampa Bay game being moved because of Lightning.

According to population estimates released last week by the Census Bureau, Arizona has ended Nevada's 19-year reign as the nation's fastest-growing state. Arizona led the nation with a population growth rate of 3.6 percent in the past year, a number that must take into account all the people that have been camped out in front of the Phoenix net all season.

After 18 months of seclusion in Europe, Michael Jackson is planning a musical comeback in Las Vegas. Perhaps that's also a reason for the sudden population halt in Nevada.

Detroit defenseman Mathieu Schneider had a 12-game scoring streak snapped last week by Minnesota, a career-best span in which the 37-year old racked up two goals and 13 assists. The streak was the longest in the NHL this season and came one game shy of Paul Coffey's franchise-best, 13-game scoring binge by a defenseman.

Several New York Rangers players were battling the flu last week, which leads me to wonder why they haven't been taking their Mark Messier-endorsed Cold-fx.

A giant squid was captured on video last week by Japanese scientists who claim the footage of the 11-foot, 110-pound beast are the first-ever moving images of a giant squid. When asked it's last wish before being taken into captivity, the squid said, "Take me to Detroit. The kids have been bugging me for years to see a Red Wings game."

Is it just me or am I the only one who would fork over 50 bucks to see Rosie O'Donnell and Donald Trump drop the gloves on Pay-Per-View? Rosie's got to be the favorite in that one. Like Emilio Estevez told Judd Nelson in The Breakfast Club: "Two hits, man. Me hitting you and you hitting the floor."

A hickory hockey stick, thought to have been carved somewhere between 1852 and 1856, was sold at auction for $2.2 million last week and will be displayed at the Hockey Hall of Fame. Considered the world's oldest hockey stick, it will likely be part of a display alongside Chris Chelios, the world's oldest hockey player, and "The bounces didn't go our way," the world's oldest hockey excuse.

Scientists in England are wild about an obesity pill that can help women drop two dress sizes in a year. The drug, Excalia, fools the body's metabolism into staying active, cutting weight by 12-percent in under a year, according to reports. In Philadelphia there's a similar pill being tested that local doctors hope can fool Flyers fans into thinking they really didn't lose a franchise-worst nine straight heading into the Christmas break.

And last but not least, if you haven't heard Dustin Penner's story, you're missing out. The 6-foot-4, 245-pound wrecking machine was 15-9-24 in the first 39 games of the season for the first-place Ducks and has gotten plenty of deserving ink for the long road he traveled to get to the NHL. Born in Manitoba, Penner, 24, wasn't considered good enough for major junior or college hockey and was forced to play at Minot State University-Bottineau in 2001 before getting a sniff at the University of Maine. He scored 39 goals in the AHL last year and the rookie has emerged as a vital cog on the deepest and best team in the league this year.

"I guess I'm just an example of a guy who loves hockey and didn't want to stop playing. No matter where I ended up," Penner recently told reporters. "Let me tell you, playing hockey sure beats working at the gas bar in Winkler."

You said it, man.

Posted by Evan @ 11:55 a.m.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Would you say I have
a 'plethora' of piñatas?

What ever happened to the days when the Western Conference represented freewheeling, run-and-gun hockey that burned out red lights and had goalies pulling pucks out of the net with back hoes? Evidenced by a quick glance at the NHL scoring leaders as we approach the Christmas/New Year’s midseason turn, the West isn’t nearly as wild as it once was.

Of the league’s top 27 scorers going into this week’s games, only six of those players call the Western Conference home. All the rest, the bulk of the league’s leading scorers, come from Eastern teams.

Teemu Selanne, Jarome Iginla, Joe Thornton, Joe Sakic, Chris Pronger, and Patrick Marleau are the West’s only representatives, while Easterners like Sidney Crosby, Jaromir Jagr, Alex Ovechkin, and Martin St. Louis have kept goal horns blowing all season.

OK, so the Western individuals might not be putting pucks in the net as much as their Eastern counterparts, but the trend also continues when you examine team-wide scoring output this season. Going into this week, there were four teams in the entire Western Conference with more than 100 goals scored this season, dwarfed in comparison to the 10 Eastern squads that have surpassed the century mark in less than half a season.

The tide has most certainly swayed Eastward this season, but after a closer look, the West has been lagging in the overall goal department for several years. Aside from last season, when there were seven Eastern teams with less than 250 goals scored, against only five with less than that number out West, the East has proven itself to be the true scoring conference of the two.

In 2003-04, prior to rewriting the rule book to outlaw clutching and grabbing, there were seven Western clubs who scored less than 200 goals for the year, versus only four in the Eastern Conference. In both 2002-03 and 2001-02, the two conferences each had four teams score less than 200 goals for the season.

On the individual side, NHL scoring champions have come out of the West three of the last four seasons, Martin St. Louis being the only Eastern scoring leader in 2003-04, sandwiched between Joe Thornton last season, and Peter Forsberg and Jarome Iginla the two seasons prior. The seven seasons before that saw Eastern players – Jagr, Mario Lemieux, Eric Lindros – win seven straight scoring titles.

So maybe NHL scoring is a lot like the economy in that it operates in cycles. For the time being, it appears that we’re headed towards another Eastern scoring champ. And judging by the young names out East who are making scoring look painfully easy, it could be several more years before the West goes wild again.

You're my boy, Blue

Goalies are weird. But apparently goalie fans give them a run for their money in the sanity department.

Martin Brodeur got a kick out of, well, himself, at a recent book signing in New Jersey.

“The funniest thing I saw, I’m sitting there and this guy walks in and he’s fully dressed as a goalie, like me,” Brodeur says. “Same equipment. Mask. With sunglasses inside. He’s all the way over there, and the line goes all the way back and around me. So now he’s standing there with his stick and he’s looking at me, he’s got the books in his hands, and he started going through my routine. He was going through the whole line like that. Seriously, it was the funniest thing. I’m telling you, the guy was doing this whole stretch ... and he didn’t say anything. I thought it was one of my buddies.”

Pink is the new black (and blue)

Vancouver’s Josh Green returned to the lineup last week after missing time with a less-than-macho injury to his toe. His pinky toe.

"I'd just say toe and then they obviously think big toe, which is not too bad," Green told reporters. "I try not to tell them it's a pinky toe if I don't have to." Green suffered the injury when he was plunked in practice with a puck that made starting and stopping impossible.

Two-Handers

Watching Sidney Crosby at practice, bouncing the puck on his stick like Tiger Woods while skating full-speed around the rink, is as much fun as watching him play in the games for real. ... Angelina Jolie recently talked about how she fell for Brad Pitt, about how you find love where you least expect it and at the most unexpected times. Some guys have all the fun, but the only guy luckier than Brad is Morgan Stanley CEO John Mack, who received a $40 million bonus last week. I’m waiting for Mack to pull an Angelina and say how money is always found in the places you’d least expect it to be. Like my checking account, for starters. ... Rookie Alexander Radulov’s rambunctious goal celebrations are beginning to attract some attention around the league, and naturally there are some players that have a little problem with his enthusiasm. Get a grip. Let the kid have his fun. “The old school of thinking is sometimes just that - old,” Nashville coach Barry Trotz told reporters last week. “It’s the new NHL, baby. We have an exciting product and he’s an exciting player. If it wasn’t genuine, then I’d have a problem with it. It would be showmanship. But he just loves to score. He gets a real rush from it.” ... Pittsburgh-Washington lived up to the hype last week on The V with the Pens overcoming a 4-0 deficit before winning it on Evgeni Malkin’s pump-fake in the shootout. But the best part of the game, which featured a half-dozen of the league’s most exciting and talented young players, was simply the youthful exuberance displayed throughout. Love the rally helmets in the shootout, boys. ... The Rangers still have not retaliated for Derian Hatcher’s high hit on Jaromir Jagr. ... The Las Vegas Wranglers of the ECHL held their fourth annual midnight game this week against Bakersfield. A Calgary Flames affiliate, the Wranglers started playing a game at midnight every year to allow for night-shift casino workers, who make up about a third of the local workforce, to have a rare opportunity to attend a game. The other two thirds of the Vegas workforce could not attend though, because, it seems, the Elvis Presley wedding chapels are a 24-hour business. ... According to a report last week, a University of Glasgow professor believes oversized clothes should have obesity helpline numbers sewn on them as a way to promote fitness in England. Good news for all those fried fish and chips fans from across the pond: the NHL will begin producing new sleeker, form-fitting jerseys for your pleasure next season that will have only your favorite players’ digits on the back, rather than those embarrassing 800 numbers. ... Don’t look now, but after 32 games the Washington Capitals had inched to within five points of the first-place Thrashers in the skin-tight Southeast. It may be early, but the battle to win the division that’s produced the last two Cup champs is looking like it’s going to be of Tony Snow-David Gregory proportions, a spat last week that made Rick James vs. Charlie Murphy look like a pillow fight. ... Ranger goalie Henrik Lundqvist faced his twin brother, Dallas forward Joel Lundqvist, last week, the first time twins opposed each other in an NHL game since Ron and Rich Sutter did March 14, 1994. The next time identical twins meet could be if and when Terrell Owens decides to play hockey and his team faces Jeremy Roenick’s. ... Last week a 65-year old Quebec man, who received a new mechanical heart, was described as being the only living Canadian -- literally -- without a pulse. So then what’s Alexandre Daigle’s excuse? ... History was made over the weekend when the Kings’ 24-year old goalie, Yutaka Fukufuji, became the first Japanese-born player to dress for an NHL game. The next Japanese-born player that will likely dress? That would be Isles’ prospect Ryan O’Marra, a Canadian citizen who was born in Tokyo while his parents were there on business.

Posted by Evan @ 9:17 a.m.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

You built a time machine...
out of a DeLorean?

The torch is passing, and while the growing number of young players making their mark on the NHL is a great thing and a transition to be excited about, it is also a bittersweet changeover.

Evolution is a good thing, evidenced by reports recently that NASA hopes to build a settlement on the moon by 2020, but like all wild advancements in technology, innovation always makes you appreciate the good old days even more. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t curse the invention of the cellular phone, the Blackberry or instant messaging, because I believe the world was a better place when we wrote letters and engaged people in face-to-face communication.

The same goes for hockey. Newness is great. But it also makes you appreciate the way things used to be, too.

There’s no denying the buzz surrounding the emergence of a new generation of creative, hard-hitting, future superstars -- the Monday matchup of Crosby vs. Ovechkin on The V just the latest example -- but in the last week, we also got a reminder that NHL careers are a finite commodity and that you don’t know how good you’ve got it until it’s gone. You should appreciate your favorite players before they, too, become a thing of the past like brown leather goalie pads, Atari 5400 (only 50 bucks?) and the A-Team.

In the last week, we’ve seen fan favorites walk away from the game, get their numbers raised up to the rafters, and lose their roster spots, because sadly, their best days are behind them. Last week was a reminder that you can’t play forever -- unless your name is Chris Chelios.

Old Time Hockey shed a tear when, because of a bad back, Joe Nieuwendyk was forced to retire after a 20-year career in which he was not only one of the best in the business in front of the net and in the faceoff circle, but also one of the nicest guys away from the rink. Proving once again the “time and pressure” theory put forth in The Shawshank Redemption, Newy’s back could only take so much of the NHL grind. It’ll be an interesting debate when it comes time to consider his 564 goals, 1,126 points and three Cups for Hall of Fame honors.

Also last week, motormouth Brett Hull, one of the purest snipers the league has ever seen, watched his No. 16 go up to the rafters in St. Louis. He’s getting ready to lend his lively opinions to NHL on NBC broadcasts beginning in January, and I’m hoping he’s able to make those games as much of a draw as his booming one-timer was able to attract fans to the rink. Hull, who scored 741 career goals (third behind Wayne Gretzky (894) and Gordie Howe (801) on the all-time list, tried to play last season with Phoenix but at 42, he came to the realization that hockey is a young man’s game and he could no longer produce like he used to when he scored 72, 86 and 70 goals in consecutive seasons in the early 1990’s.

Father Time also threw a hip check into John LeClair. Vermont’s favorite son was sent to the minors by the Penguins after scoring seven points in 21 games, quite possibly putting an end to his NHL run. He’s another guy who, 10 years ago, had few peers when he was a member of Philadelphia’s fearsome “Legion of Doom” line with Eric Lindros and Mikael Renberg. He scored at least 40 goals for five-straight years with a Sher-Wood curved stick like a 9-iron. LeClair, immovable from the goalmouth and a terror along the wall, is 37 and hoping to at least finish this season with an NHL team, perhaps play in 33 more games to reach 1,000 for his career. Someone needs to give Big John the paper-plastic-glass treatment, fish him off the scrap heap and attempt a little recycling project. In a perfect world, he’d get picked up by the Dallas Stars, reuniting him with Lindros, and maybe rekindle some of that Legionary magic.

That would rule.

While it was a sweet and sour week for the Old School, the sun managed to come up on Sunday when the Chicago Blackhawks announced the one-year signing of 38-year old Peter Bondra, who needs two goals to reach 500 for his career. Bondra is expected to join the Hawks lineup this week on the heels of the team also getting Martin Havlat back from injury and the appointment of Chicago legend Denis “Spin-O-Rama” Savard as head coach. In the spirit of the holiday season, Blackhawk fans with black lung from all the coal they’ve gotten over the years had their stockings stuffed with treats ahead of time. Which is nice.

Two-Handers

There was an E. coli outbreak at Taco Bell last week, and suddenly people are realizing that ordering off the dollar menu at the drive-thru at 3 a.m. might not be such a healthy thing. Wait. So the nacho cheese at the rink concession stand doesn’t have Vitamin C in it?

The Team USA World Junior roster was released last week and got me thinking ahead to the next Olympics. Looking around at the up-and-coming NHL Americans not only on defense (Ryan Suter, Ryan Whitney, Matt Carle, John-Michael Liles), but also up front (Dustin Brown, Ryan Kesler, Brad Winchester) and in nets (Ryan Miller, Rick DiPietro) I can’t help but be excited for the 2010 Winter Games in the hockey hotbed of Vancouver.

Say what you want about the Devils’ style of play and the comparisons you can draw between their slow-down game and the entertainment found in watching paint dry. But listening to the voice of play-by-play man Mike “Doc” Emrick can make mid-December Meadowlands clashes seem like Game Seven of the Cup Final, no matter what the score is.

There can’t be many players more frustrated right now than Mark Parrish, who jumped at joining his hometown Minnesota Wild in his first spin as an unrestricted free agent this past summer. Parrish, 29, one of the good dudes in the league, got five years and $13.25 million from GM Doug Risebrough, but with only five goals through the first quarter of the season, he found himself in head coach Jacques Lemaire’s doghouse. Parrish, a top-six forward, was relegated to lower-line duty getting an average of 13:40 per before finally coming to life Saturday with a hat trick against Chicago. Always a streaky scorer, maybe Parrish is finally out of the woods.

If you haven’t seen University of Minnesota forward Kyle Okposo’s “Marek Malik” goal in tight and to the short side against Minnesota State, you haven’t yet seen the goal of the year.

Speaking of goals, there’s no better scoring celebration than the Rangers’ wo-o-ooo goal song at the Garden. For that matter, there also isn’t a better post-game party than the salute the Blueshirts give the crowd from center ice following home wins. Wonder if they win the Cup at home, if the salute would come before the lap with the Cup.

Every NHL team needs to have a skills competition around this time of year, and it should be open to the public and free of charge.

There should also be radar guns at every game in every city set up behind the nets so we can tell how hard they really shoot the puck these days. I once talked to a TV producer friend of mine about the subject and the problem, it seems, is the guns pick up too much of the other movement on the ice and rarely were able to isolate the incoming puck. Someone – Versus, perhaps? -- needs to fine-tune the technology and make the radar gun an NHL staple just like at baseball games.

You better watch out. You better not cry. You better not pout, I’m telling you why. Santa Claus is comin’ to town. For my money, Christmas music doesn’t get better than that.

So Britney Spears is hottest thing on the web these days? And I thought it was Rory Fitzpatrick.

They say the Flyers are getting ready to pull the trigger on a trade, but that’s what they’ve been saying in Philly since the first week of the season. Maybe by the time Rocky Balboa comes out later this month there might be some movement. Here’s hoping that when the new Balboa flick does hit theaters, there’ll be some lines like the unforgettable “I didn’t like you not much either” gem from No. 4, or even “This ain’t no pie eatin’ contest” beauty from No. 5.

Nice to see nice guy Kevin Weekes getting some love at the Garden after a rough go last year on home ice, just as it’s also nice to see Janne Niinimaa getting some ice time in Montreal after a battle to crack the lineup there.

Posted by Evan @ 11:47 a.m.

Tuesday, December 5, 2006

Little Giants

A lot of the sports talk here in New York the last few weeks has revolved around the bickering going on in the New York Giants’ locker room. All season, it seems, the news out of the Meadowlands has been a fountain of sewage with Giants players throwing their embattled coach Tom Coughlin under the bus for calling the wrong plays, for not running the ball enough, and just about for every reason the G-Men have now lost four in a row.

When the Giants weren’t bashing the coach, they were using the media to air out more dirty laundry with the Strahan-Burress spat taking center stage last week. Michael Strahan said Plaxico Burress “quit” on a play during a radio appearance and the story got bigger and bigger as the week unfolded, all part of the Meadowlands sideshow that always seems to include some internal turmoil within the Giants’ locker room. The papers here were consumed by the entire mess, which got me thinking:

This would never happen in hockey.

Perhaps NHL players are too gentlemanly to behave like their football-playing counterparts, or perhaps the code that exists in hockey dressing rooms precludes players from publicly ripping their teammates or coaches. In baseball there’s a rule that whatever happens in the clubhouse remains in the clubhouse, but even in that sport we’ve seen the code of silence shatter more often than not.

In my experiences covering hockey there have been plenty of situations where players have had reasons to call out their teammates in the press, plenty of instances where ripping the coaching after a poorly executed game had been there. But never once have I ever seen players turn on each other or the organization the way the Giants have this season. Not even off the record or under the condition of anonymity.

It’s like Al Pacino says in Any Given Sunday, “Either we heal NOW as a team, or we will die as individuals.”

Right on, brother. If there is ever a problem in a hockey dressing room, pretty close to 100-percent of the time that’s where it stays. Imagine the circus it would cause in Toronto if Darcy Tucker pulled a Strahan and said one of his teammates quit, or in Ottawa if Dany Heatley creamed his coaching staff, or even in New York if one of the Rangers blasted the play of struggling goalie Henrik Lundqvist.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. There are few bonds in sports as strong as the ties that bind hockey teams, and that’s why when a team wins the Stanley Cup at the end of a hard season, it’s so evident how much they care about each other. It’s why there are fights in hockey games, it’s why players stick up for their teammates and, of course, it’s why hockey coaches do so much to strengthen the bond that exists on their teams as they prepare for each season. Many teams will escape for a few days to focus on team building because it is such an important ingredient to a successful season.

A lot of the time, hockey writers might complain that the players they cover are too vanilla at times, that those players may be too polite and not stir up as much trouble as their editors would like. Maybe that’s the case, but keeping quiet and sticking up for teammates and coaches rather than tearing them down in the media is a noble character trait. And it’s definitely one of many qualities that has -- and always will -- put hockey players at the top of the heap when it comes to class and sportsmanship.

Stan the Man

Props to Stan “The Maven” Fischler for being named the first-ever Bobby Bryde Memorial Trophy winner by the Society of North American Hockey Historians and Researchers. The award, also known as "The Hockeymeister", will be presented annually to an author or illustrator whose works have made a substantial and lasting contribution to the promotion of hockey.

Fischler, who provides outstanding commentary on Devils, Islanders and Rangers telecasts for MSG Network and its affiliates, has been working in hockey since he was the Blueshirts’ publicist during the 1954-55 season. With over 50 years in the business and having served as a mentor to several high-ranking hockey officials around the league, there is another prestigious award we endorse Fischler for: The Hockey Hall of Fame.

Two-Handers

Walking to work last week, I was a little enraged that Times Square was shut down during rush hour for some auto racing stunt. I know it’s not fair to say that New Yorkers just aren’t into car racing, because after all, they probably said the same thing about how people in racing towns like Nashville and Raleigh would receive hockey. But really, we don’t need NASCAR in New York -- not when we’ve already got taxis trading paint.

I wish I could say seeing the Islanders emerging as an Atlantic Division contender is a nice surprise, but it isn’t. From the first day of training camp, there was a certain vibe about Ted Nolan’s team that had me in the minority, predicting they’d make the playoffs. I’ll save the I Told You So for April, playa haters.

Thought it was rude that Clay Aiken put his hand over Kelly Ripa’s mouth recently. But Ripa’s response goes to show that there is no more irritating thing in the world than being on the business end of a face wash. No matter whose mitt it is, or where it’s been.

Haven’t taken a sick day since I started working almost 10 years ago, knock on wood. But I think if I ever have to sit one out, keeping with the growing NHL trend I’d like to be able to say it’s either a lower or upper body injury. Wonder how that would go over.

If an expansion team ever sets up shop in Green Bay, Wisconsin, without a doubt, it needs to be called the Frozen Tundra of Green Bay.

Is it me, or does the Britney Spears-Paris Hilton-Lindsay Lohan line combination need a name already? How’s about “The Wench Connection.”?

Posted by Evan @ 10:58 a.m.



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