|Nancy Koenig has been an NHL.com contributor since 2000. She will share her thoughts regularly on NHL.com's Blog Central.
at the Garden
After games, I sometimes wish I could clone myself. The desire is more pronounced on nights I can't catch anyone I want to speak with, let alone everyone. I'll walk into the home locker room to find I just missed Player A, then hop over to the visitors' room to learn Player B addressed the media while I was searching for the first guy.
The same principal holds true for practices. Inevitably, there comes a day when the guy I'd planned to do a feature on heads into the showers while I'm speaking with his teammate. And later, while I'm chatting with his coach, he walks out of the room entirely and I'm left with the decision to either cut the coach off mid-sentence to chase him or work my story around the supplementary quotes I've acquired.
"Hmm, do I have enough to make a story out of this," I'll wonder. Not a chance. "Excuse me." Reporter for "I know I just asked you a question and believe me, I really do want to hear your answer but not as much as that guy's answer."
The best way to combat the need to be everywhere at once, I've learned, is to not have an agenda in the first place. It isn't always possible to show up without an angle, but when I can surrender to the flow and speak to whoever happens to be around, I generally end up getting everything I need and more.
I experienced one of those nights Saturday at the Garden, mainly because I had planned to be a mere spectator. When an associate asked what I was working on, I told him I was just there to enjoy the show. It had been the truth; I rarely go to games for the sake of doing so and this one had been slated for enjoyment purposes only.
And yes, it did turn out to be quite a show. In the process of making it one, Jaromir Jagr recorded his 97th - 100th points of the season and I thanked myself for bringing my recorder "just in case." After the Rangers' 5-2 win, I decided it wasn't the night to ask one of the Leafs what they thought of Jagr. I've seen those guys pretty angry and never want to face the consequences of riling them up. In sticking to one room, I got enough quotes for a story and ran into Mark Messier on the way out of the locker room. Talk about timing!
He was making his rounds, but said he'd return in a few minutes to talk about Brian Leetch, who will be visiting the Garden tonight for the first time since being traded by the Rangers just over two years ago.
I pictured my friend standing outside the Garden, freezing, while she waited for me. "I'll only be a couple of minutes," I'd said before Jagr worked his magic and redirected my intention to leave right after the game. I reached for my cell phone and realized it was in my jacket pocket. The one hanging in the press room.
I contemplated running for it, but knew from experience I would miss Mess en route. Instead, I attempted to send her a telepathic message informing her of my delay.
When Messier returned, a small group of us had gathered to hear his thoughts on Leetch.
"He deserves to come back and be greeted with the kind of ovation he'll receive," Messier said of his close friend of many years. "He meant a lot to the Rangers on and off the ice and was a consummate professional when he was here. I think you can ask anybody around here; nobody would have a bad word to say about Brian Leetch."
Messier recalled the first time he himself returned to the Garden after his first stint with the Rangers; many tears were shed during the emotional video tribute, including his own.
"It was a bittersweet feeling, I guess," Messier recalled. "I didn't want to leave in the first place so coming back was tough -- there were obviously a lot of memories. It'll be a tough night for him emotionally -- my advice, having been there before, is just relax and enjoy it. He deserves it."
Of course, Messier is a bit more comfortable in the limelight than Leetch has ever been.
"Brian's such an understated guy and a quiet guy but he's also very sensitive," said Messier. "He'd be the first guy that would want nothing because he's never wanted to be in the spotlight or to be singled out individually, certainly not by another team. That's just not his style. But he deserves to be noticed as one of the greatest Rangers ever, if not greatest Ranger ever. And I think fans will let him know that."
From teammates to foes in a snap
Although a record 25 deals were made at the trade deadline last week, it was still considered by many to be an uneventful one because many rumored trades failed to make the transition to reality and not enough stars switched zip codes.
Call me easy to amuse, but just seeing all these guys in new uniforms is exciting. I love tracking the aftermath of the moves and prefer not to judge a trade's relevance until I get a taste for how the players involved fare with their new teams. I also like to look beyond the surface for entertainment value.
Take the fact, for instance, that Oleg Kvasha and Mark Parrish, acquired by the Coyotes and Kings respectively, are playing against one another for the first time in their NHL careers. The pair, teammates since 1998, was traded from the Panthers to the Islanders in 2000 for Roberto Luongo and Olli Jokinen in a move that Islanders fans are still grieving.
Now division rivals, Kvasha and Parrish have been among my favorites to deal with as media and I'm hoping to see them do well with their new teams. They should. Parrish, who scored in his first game with L.A., will park himself in front of the net and add to the Kings' potent offense. Kvasha, who was shuffled from line to line on the Islanders, looks as though he's been playing with Oleg Saprykin and Geoff Sanderson for years and already has a point in each of his first three games as a Coyote. Watching Parrish and Kvasha face off against one another was all the excuse I needed to procrastinate a feature I'm working on as I chose instead to watch OLN's coverage of Tuesday night's game.
I was glad to finally hear someone discussing Mike Ricci's hair, although I realize now that this topic has been explored quite often by various media outlets. I spoke to Ricci about the matter toward the start of the season, but got the impression he didn't want to draw attention to it, so I didn't either. My other career is that of a substance abuse counselor, so I'm used to people ignoring the elephant standing in front of the doorway.
Not that Ricci's shortened hair gets in the way of much except immediate identification, but fans knew there had to be a reason for the change and no one suspected the Coyotes were adopting the Yankees' grooming policies. And yes, Ricci should be recognized for the contributions he makes on the ice and the value he adds in the locker room, not the length of his locks. But hey, if OLN can talk about it, articles have mentioned it and the topic has already appeared on message boards around the League, I guess I can finally mention it in my blog.
For those who are somehow still wondering why Ricci tamed his flowing mane, it was to play a small part in the movie about the life of hockey legend Maurice "Rocket" Richard. Ricci plays the part of Elmer Lach, a longtime linemate of Richard's in Montreal in a film simply titled "Maurice Richard," which features a handful of current NHL players.
I asked Ricci if it was his first time acting.
"Yeah," he said. "And probably the last time."
Which is not to say he didn't enjoy it.
"It was interesting to learn something else, but I think I'll keep my day job," Ricci said.
This should come as a relief to Coyotes fans; for Ricci's leadership skills and work ethic are invaluable to a young, evolving team.
Of course, if he changes his mind anytime soon, fans can take solace as they soak up the rays on their new beach towels. Sure enough, the first 10, 000 fans who enter the barn on March 25 will receive a free Coyotes beach towel. Now they just have to find a beach in the middle of the desert.
I jest, but admit that deep inside, I want one of those towels. My passion for relaxing, on a beach or otherwise, is one reason I could never be a beat reporter. The more obvious one, of course, is the fact that I wait five months to report breaking news. Guess I'd better stick to writing features.
Fun, sun and an Olympic search
As happy as I am to be watching NHL games again, I'm still in a bit of denial that the Olympics are over. It doesn't seem possible that over two weeks have gone by since that first day of international matches.
I was en route to South Florida at the time and thought I'd have the best of all worlds thanks to the miracles of modern technology. While Jet Blue delivered USA Network as promised, I was disappointed to discover the morning's menu: Curling.
I was comforted only by the knowledge that I'd brought a good book aboard and would make it to my destination in time to catch some rays before the game USA Network did plan to air the United States vs. Latvia. Seriously though, curling?
When I got to my hotel, I channel surfed, hoping I'd misunderstood that the network wasn't carrying any earlier games. To my surprise, I couldn't find USA Network. Or MSNBC.
Turns out my hotel only had satellite and while I had my choice of several history channels, NBC was the only Olympic-bearer I could access. I refused to accept that fact and continued searching for quite some time, praying, ironically, to stumble upon some curling.
As I recovered from one of the fiercest temper tantrums I've thrown in my adult life, I paused to put things in perspective and surveyed my options. Finding another hotel in the area proved impossible; unfortunately, so did making hockey loving friends, although I did score (and decline) an invite to the Daytona 500.
So, I missed the game between the United States and Latvia, which I suppose turned out to be a blessing. One of my best friends from high school is Latvian and I have always taken an avid interest in the culture. I rooted ferociously for the Latvian team in 2002 and they had an impressive run. But after a disappointing dating experience with a Latvian last spring, let's just say my face may have been painted red, white and blue for that matchup if it hadn't instead been slathered in sunscreen.
In all seriousness, I'm glad Latvia rallied; that was a big game for them. I'm also happy the Swiss did so well this year and am sorry I didn't catch any of their games. Rather than spending my much-needed vacation obsessing about where and how I was going to view games, I surrendered to the idea that I wasn't going to tune in until the quarterfinals. As predicted, I spent that round grieving the fact that I was no longer in the tropics. Never happy we humans, are we? The fabulous games did make my adjustment back to real life that much smoother.
While still in Florida, it was a bonus that NBC aired the U.S. matches against Slovakia and Sweden over the holiday weekend. Missing all earlier games made those two that much sweeter, although I must say it's challenging to sit indoors when the ocean is providing a backdrop for the TV and its 80 degrees out.
It was much more enjoyable to watch back in New York, knowing all I was missing outside was a wind chill that ventured into the single digits. Thanks anyway. Not that I would have turned away from the TV for any reason during those highly entertaining games. Congratulations to Team Sweden. Should we be on the lookout for a Henrik Lundqvist stamp? Which save would you immortalize if you had to choose one?
I hope everyone enjoyed NHL.com's Olympic coverage as much as I did. Especially those blogs! I was seriously living vicariously through those guys, although it sounds like they could have used my Latvian language skills and sharp elbows in the Mixed Zone.
P.S. Your predictions entertained me but none of you got the top three correct, much less in order. Sure, I received several "Sweden for gold" predictions, but as 99 percent of them came from Swedes, I'm not sure they were coming from a place of objectivity. I'll make an exception for Michael Gamble, a Canadian who has been living in Sweden since '94, who begrudgingly admitted the Swedes would be a force to be reckoned with. Everyone missed the boat on Finland's silver, but thanks for playing.