Unknown soldiersHow many times have we heard that "in the playoffs, the heroes are often unknown players from the third and fourth line?" Well, many times. This is one of the stories that surfaces every spring at playoff time, and naturally, every time a third-liner scores a game-winning goal.
Every year there seems to be one. Seems? Yes, I am doubtful, but maybe there really is an unexpected hero every year.
But often? Really?
If the playoff game-winners are often unknown players, how come Wayne Gretzky and Brett Hull are tied for the most career game-winning goals in the playoffs (24 each)?
If it's often we see these grinders step up and bang in the winning goal, how come my old 2003 NHL Official Guide & Record Book lists Joe Sakic as the number one player with most game-winning goals in one playoff season (6), tied with Joe Nieuwendyk and followed by Mike Bossy, Jari Kurri, Bobby Smith and Mario Lemieux, with five?
Because, of course, the stars are stars in the playoffs, as well.
At the time of writing this blog, the top ten scorers in this year's playoffs are:
1. Eric Staal
2. Patrik Elias
3. Chris Drury
4. Daniel Briere
5. Shawn Horcoff
6. Chris Pronger
7. Patrick Marleau
8. Jason Spezza
9. Martin Havlat
10. Ryan Smyth
"Ha!" you say. "Where are all the stars now?"
Well, see, this is the new NHL, and these are the new stars. Of the regular season top 30 leading scorers, only three are still playing: Eric Staal, Teemu Selanne and Andy MacDonald.
And conversely, let's see who the top three scorers of each of the four remaining teams were in the regular season, and compare that to the top three of the playoffs.
Anaheim, regular season: Teemu Selanne, Andy MacDonald, Scott Niedermayer. Anaheim, playoffs: Teemu Selanne, Joffrey Lupul, Scott Niedermayer. Lupul was fourth in team scoring in the regular season.
Buffalo, regular season: Maxim Afinogenov, Chris Drury, Ales Kotalik Buffalo, playoffs: Chris Drury, Daniel Briere, Jean-Pierre Dumont Daniel Briere played only 48 games in the regular season.
Carolina, regular season: Eric Staal, Justin Williams, Cory Stillman Carolina, playoffs: Eric Staal, Rob Brind'Amour, Cory Stillman Brind'Amour was fourth in team scoring in the regular season.
Edmonton, regular season: Ales Hemsky, Shawn Horcoff, Jarret Stoll Edmonton, playoffs: Shawn Horcoff, Chris Pronger, Ryan Smyth Ryan Smyth was fourth in team scoring in the regular season.
The stars seem to be the stars in the playoffs as well. Naturally, it's a great story when somebody whose career high for points in one season is 34 comes through and scores a goal at 4:24 of the second overtime of Game 7 at Madison Square Garden to take his team to the Stanley Cup Finals.
Right? "MATTEAU!! MATTEAU!!"
And we tend to remember the stories with a twist.
The hero's cape is there waiting for somebody. Somebody has to score the Stanley Cup-winning goal. If it's Teemu Selanne, "he comes through as a true leader." If it's Teppo Numminen, it's an "unsung hero who scored only his second goal of the playoff season."
But I'm guessing it won't be Teppo.
Line changeIn a career that spans over two decades, you see a lot. You get to celebrate some sweet victories, you cry over some bitter losses, you see friends win, and you're happy for them, you see friends lose, and you feel sorry for them. You get hurt, you get well, you score a few goals, pick up an assist here and there, make friends with teammates that soon become ex-teammates, all the while loving what you do so much that you don't know what you'd do without it.
That's the stuff of fairy tales. That's what me and people like me make our living off of. Seeing the little nuggets of stories, piecing them together, and presenting them in a way that brings order to the chaos, and makes heroes out of men.
Often when I start writing a piece, I struggle with the beginning. I usually type up a headline which I know is not going to be The Great One, but it's a start. It gets me off to The Next One. I write the intro and the lead of the story. Those two are the key to me. I'd like to get in a good GAG line or Punch line early on, and if I hit that so that I start giggling myself -- and yes, I do mean giggle, come on, guys giggle -- I know I scored.
The problem is my Production Line. When I know I hit the right track, I get so giddy that I have to get up and go shoot some pucks or dribble with a soccer ball. Then I come back, type another line, maybe a whole paragraph, and if I'm on a roll, I need to go jump up and down again.
Basically, when I am just sitting at the desk, I'm not doing that well.
There are two things that trigger this. First, it happens if I am just so pleased with myself, and the way I have just solved a storytelling problem, and don't know who to call about it and second, if I realize that the story I am about to tell is so good, so delicious and so powerful that I just can't keep it all in.
This entry was supposed to be about Teppo Numminen, who was on the Finnish team that won the country its first Olympic or World Championship medal ever at the Calgary Olympics in 1988, was loyal to his Winnipeg Jets, always delivering, always there, moved to Phoenix, was still loyal, never winning a playoff series, had heart problems, came back, bounced back to his own standard, got to play in an Olympic final 18 years after the first medal, lost, and is now on his way to the Stanley Cup Finals.
Of the remaining teams and their players, Numminen is second with most games played without the Cup.
Credit an assist to NHL Public Relations for the following:
MOST REGULAR-SEASON GAMES WITHOUT WINNING STANLEY CUP:
(among remaining playoff teams)
Glen Wesley, Carolina: 1,311
Teppo Numminen, Buffalo: 1,235
Rod Brind'Amour, Carolina: 1,187
Doug Weight, Carolina: 982
Teemu Selanne, Anaheim: 959
And to add some drama into Numminen's story: just as he's finally getting close to winning the Cup, the stick company that he owns, Montreal Hockey, is filing for Chapter 11 in Finland.
What a story. It's so good that I don't even know where to start. So I don't. For once, I'll just sit here and watch it unfold.
But I will say this: I would really want the Stanley Cup-winning pass to come from a guy who plays with a Montreal stick.
Everybody loves TeemuThere are two kinds of playoffs heroes. The kids, the wonder boys who seem to come out of nowhere and just don't know how to lose. And then there are the veterans, the greybeards, the old-timers who come back ... one ... last ... time.
Or in Steve Yzerman's and Mario Lemieux's cases several times, but still.
That's what legends are made of.
Teemu Selanne knows both ends of the rainbow.
Thirteen years ago, when he came to Winnipeg, he was a handsome kid from Finland, with droopy bedroom eyes. Eighty-four games later, he had shattered the rookie records for goals and points with 76 and 132, respectively. (Wayne Gretzky picked up 137 points in his rookie season in the NHL, but having played in the WHA, he wasn't eligible for the Calder Trophy.)
Teemu Selanne became "The Finnish Flash," the perfect poster boy for the NHL that was sizzling hot. He came, he saw and he didn't win, but he scored. And scored. And scored.
In fact, Teemu's (well, yes, he's one of those players that is recognizable by first name only) point per game average was well above 1.0 until 2001. In fact, 2000-01 was the first season that he didn't average a point a game. He averaged .99 in 72 games that he split between the Mighty Ducks and the Sharks. His career average is 1.09 in the regular season and 0.72 in the playoffs.
And yet, since he hasn't won anything, he hasn't been considered a winner. He is a great player, an excellent goal scorer, but...
The doubters said that he wasn't a team player. Sure, he scored a lot of goals, but he didn't work hard enough with the defense. His other numbers were good, but his plus/minus was proof of his dissing attitude. And true, in his 15 years in the NHL, Selanne has been in the positive double digits only four times.
But if you are to believe his teammates, Selanne is a great team player. Maybe we're fooled by the fact that the hockey myth of a real leader is that of a serious and solemn, often quiet, man. Maybe balding, too.
Teemu's not. He's still got the looks, he's funny, he's popular, he's flashy on ice. And yet, he is a great leader. Former Team Finland coach Hannu Aravirta says that Saku Koivu and Teemu complement each other well as co-leaders of the team.
"Teemu could always encourage the others on an individual level, speaking right to that particular person," he says. "Saku did the same on the team level."
Maybe Teemu had to have his knee problems, go through a couple of off seasons -- sorry about that, Colorado -- maybe he had to become 35, and maybe he just had to lose a few teeth to have the real looks of a leader before he could carry a team to a big win. He was close in the Turin Olympics, and here's hoping he'll go all the way in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Everybody loves a fairy tale. Who could hold back the tears when Ray Bourque hoisted the Cup, and who doesn't think it's fitting that Mats Sundin's last game with team Sweden was an Olympic final?
And who wouldn't want to see Teemu Selanne celebrate a Stanley Cup victory? What a party that'd be.
Rene Fasel wants youDid your team just get eliminated from the playoffs? Looking for a way to make the season just a little big longer? Want to make international friends and see the world while playing hockey? The World Championships are for you! Please contact your local hockey federation for more information about chartered trips to Riga, Latvia. All-inclusive! First come, first served, limited offer.
The World Championships kick off on Friday and as always, as much time and energy is put into guessing and speculating which team will get their best NHLers, as is put into watching and writing about the games.
That's why the Swedes are at least half rooting for the Oilers. Holmstrom, Zetterberg, Samuelsson, Lidstrom, and Kronwall already won an Olympic gold this season, so obviously, any coach would want them on his team.
(I'm only cheering for the Oilers because I predicted that they'd reach the Stanley Cup Finals.)
The Russians and the Czechs (especially with the Rangers recently ousted) naturally have their fair share of NHLers to choose from, the Finns were delighted to hear that the Stars fell. That'll give Team Finland Hagman, Miettinen, Jokinen, Niinimaa, and Lehtinen.
In theory, that is. Many of the NHL players have injuries to take care of, others are just mentally drained and exhausted.
You can add the quotation marks around the words of your choice there. Many European hockey fans -- this one included -- are quite cynical when it comes to hearing the reasons for declining an invitation to the national team. As Mats Naslund, the team manager of Team Sweden, said in the Swedish media: "Makes you wonder how they could have played another round of playoffs in the NHL."
See, in a Euro Hockey tour game played on Monday in Stockholm, the Swedes had zero NHLers on their roster. No Markus Näslund, no Mats Sundin, no Daniel Sedin, not even Henrik Sedin. And, no Alex Steen or Robert Nilsson (who, according to the Swedish rules, couldn't have been cut after the camp, and coach Gustafsson didn't want to give them a free ticket to the team). Well, you get the drift. No NHLers.
The Finns had the Ruutu Bros., Jani Rita, Mikko Koivu, and Aki Berg.
The Russians got one: Alex Ovechkin. (And, well, he may be just enough, I know).
It's a generally accepted fact that the Olympians aren't going to play in the World Championships, now officially relegated to second tier tournament status. With 14 teams outside the NHL playoffs to begin with, a few other teams already eliminated, with at least over a hundred Europeans on their rosters, and only a dozen on the rosters when the World Championships begin is a testament to that.
It'll still be a hockeyfest, and the people in Finland and Sweden are going to follow their teams and cheer them on -- like every spring. And should they win the whole thing, there's going to be a party with "We are the champions" blasting from the speakers, that's for sure.
Then, there's just "no time for losers/'cause we are the champions -- of the world."