Monday, November 27, 2006
They're All Stars
Have you voted for your NHL All-Stars yet? I haven't, but I do have a short list of candidates that I am keeping an eye on. Here are some of them, from both conferences. I'll reveal my full lineups a little later on. Saku Koivu, Montreal Canadiens
He is a shoo-in. After all, it is an All-Star game.
He's the captain and leading scorer of the most storied franchise in the NHL. He's fought his way back through everything, and in his case, "everything" is not an overstatement. Let's see. We have the eye injury which apparently makes it so that he can't really see the puck if it's in his feet. There's the non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, the knee injuries that have him wearing braces on both knees now, and several other, smaller injuries that just go with the territory of being 5-11 in the NHL.
But even if you forget all that, all those injuries and illnesses, and just look at the guy right now, you know he's a star.
And I'm not alone. Eric sent me an email about Saku. This is what he said:
"Not only is Saku Koivu the elite, he is and has been a source of inspiration for anyone who aspires to persevere through adversity, as he does on a consistent basis in a field where he competes with the best of the best. He is hockey's Lance Armstrong."
Here are some of my other All-Star candidates:David Vyborny, Columbus Blue Jackets
I don't care how bad the Blue Jackets play, David Vyborny is a hockey artist. And if you happen to be a Blue Jackets fan, you may want to just give your nerves a break, forget the rest of the team and just follow Vyborny's play. Even better, follow him and try to guess what he's going to do next with the puck. If you get it right three times out of ten, you may want to get in shape and get ready for training camp next fall. There are 29 other teams in the NHL who want you. Vesa Toskala, San Jose Sharks
The goalie previously known as "The Guy that the Sharks Decided to Keep When They Traded Kiprusoff to Calgary." And now we all know why. Toskala is worth every word of praise, he's a great goalie and a nice guy. Alexander Ovechkin, Washington Capitals
When I interviewed him for The Sporting News in '03, he wanted to have an interpreter with him. The only two words I heard him say in English were "no problem," but he said it a lot. He was right then, and even if his English is a lot better now, the message is the same. No problem. Daniel and Henrik Sedin, Vancouver Canucks
Just because it's a smart deal: two for one. Besides, they're finally - finally - meeting the expectations people had for them because they, too, came from the same small Swedish town that Peter Forsberg now owns. Oh, and, they're the team's leading scorers. (By the way, there seems to be a slight error in the NHL stats: Henrik has three points more than Daniel. Shouldn't they be identical?)Teppo Numminen, Buffalo Sabres
The man that time forgot. And apparently the NHL, too, by keeping him off the ballot. Not only is he a legend, he also logs the third-most ice time on the league's best team, just over 22 minutes a game. Not enough? He's smooth, he's smart, he never makes mistakes. What does he have to do to get some respect? Score a goal?
Who are your favorites?
Posted by Risto @ 2:02 p.m.
Thursday, November 16, 2006
Shanahan The Man
As you’ve probably already seen, Rangers forward Brendan Shanahan was named the inaugural winner of the Mark Messier Leadership Award this week.
Brendan Shanahan truly is a leader. He stands out from the crowd. He’s different. He’s smart, he’s a great athlete, he’s rich, he’s famous, he’s got it all. When he gives interviews, he actually answers the questions he’s asked. He looks the interviewer in the eye and delivers his thoughts in a careful manner. He’s tall, he’s dark and, yes, he’s handsome.
He’s got that ruggedly handsome look from the 1950s Hollywood.
Maybe when they’re done with George Clooney after Oceans 13, they can throw in Shanahan in number 14. Nobody would miss Clooney.
“A lot of players here go above and beyond in the community, and I do think it’s very important,” Shanahan said when he received the award. “I think about it every day when I’m walking my kids to school, just being a good citizen and being a good person in the community.”
Not your average hockey quote.
In 2001, Shanahan helped Detroit sign Brett Hull by giving money back and later agreed to a smaller contract to fit under the salary cap.
Not your average guy.
With his Gretzky-styled small shoulder pads, and a droopy skating posture, he sometimes looks like Goofy on ice. And no, I wouldn’t say that to his face. After all, this is the only active NHL player with more than 500 career goals and more than 2,000 penalty minutes.
As we all remember, Shanahan invited – and paid their way – the who’s who of the NHL to Toronto in December 2004 for a two-day summit about the game, trying to figure out how the game could be improved. Maybe he got tired of sitting at home while waiting for the lockout to end, but he probably just wanted to get involved. Carry his weight.
In fact, a month after the summit Shanahan was in Sweden with the “World Stars” team of locked out NHLers, so I got to ask him about it. He looked me in the eye, and he delivered a carefully thought out answer about how the American presidential election had been an inspiration for the initiative. Or, even more, he was impressed by the volunteers in the John Kerry campaign he supported.
“I was really impressed by the way ordinary people got involved and handed out flyers and campaigned for their candidate, and I felt that I wanted to get involved,” he said.
And then he hit the shower.
The fact that Shanahan stood his ground and drove the current officiating development even though he wasn’t the ultimate “skilled player” is a testament to his leadership qualities. He is a true class act.
It also turned out that Shanahan’s vision was correct. Hockey did become more fun to watch, and to play.
Last May, Shanahan took on the role of paving the way for the next generation of Canadian players as he captained Team Canada in the World Championship in Latvia, Riga. He was the only one on the roster that was born in the 1960s, and five years older than the second-oldest player on the team, Glen Metropolit from the Swiss league.
Shanahan was there to lead the team, and to pass on the torch to Sidney Crosby and others.
“I am sure they learned how much all the other countries want to beat Canada. A part of it is respect, and a part of it is that there is a swagger to Hockey Canada, and they’re annoyed that even in losing we carry the swagger. For Canada, it’s all or nothing,” Shanahan said.
“It was fun coming to the rink every day with these guys. For me it was a great honor to be a part of it. The heart on this team was so great and I am really honored that I got the chance to meet these guys at this point in my career, and get to know them before I am buying tickets to watch them.”
Sure. But for now, we’ll gladly stand in line to buy tickets to see Brendan Shanahan.
Shanahan. Sha-na-han. Man, even the name’s cool.
Posted by Risto @ 12:30 p.m.
Thursday, November 9, 2006
Modesty is such a lonely word
Move over, Jari Kurri. Out of my way, Peter Stastny. Sorry about that, Borje Salming. Pave way for Teppo Numminen because on Monday, when he steps on the ice in a regular season game against the Carolina Hurricanes, he does so for the 1,252nd time as an NHL player, most by a European-trained player.
Teppo Kalevi Numminen from Tampere, Finland.
I guess with a father like Teppo’s – Kalevi, a former Finnish Elite League player and an Olympian both as a player and coach of Team Finland, and Finnish champion many times over as a player and coach – hockey has always been a part of his life.
And he’s always been a star.
Like the drummer in Nirvana. Or that funny guy in Fargo, you know, the guy that was the good-bad guy in The Island?
Exactly. Teppo has delivered the same top quality hockey year in, year out, game in, game out, shift in, shift out. No mistakes, perfect positioning, classy play, superb skating, always giving all he’s got, never making excuses for losses.
His feet are so on the ground that it’s a miracle he can skate at all.
In December 1995, Teppo sat out a game against Edmonton. And then he played 360 consecutive regular season games, then the longest streak in the NHL. Very impressive, but records like that don’t really make the front page.
My guess is that’s just fine with Teppo.
Twelve years ago, I was standing in the hallway of the old Helsinki Jaahalli. The Winnipeg Jets were in Helsinki for the 1994 NHL International Challenge. The Jets were Finland’s favorite team at the time, thanks to Teemu Selanne and Teppo Numminen.
The team held a part of their training camp in Finland, and then played games against Jokerit, Teemu’s old team in Finland, and Tappara, Teppo’s old team.
I was standing there, wearing a dark suit I had bought just two hours prior to the game start, and holding a small walkie-talkie in my hand. The Commissioner was there, as were the dozens of people from NHL game operations.
My job was to give the Jets a signal, to let them know when it was time to go to the pre-game ceremony. I have a faint memory of shaking hands with the Commissioner, and saying something clever, but mostly I was focusing on not screwing up. Everything had to be perfect.
So, I am standing there, watching the players get ready. Tie Domi, Teemu Selanne, Keith Tkachuk, Dallas Drake, Teppo Numminen.
Then it was time. My walkie-talkie made a cracking sound so I stepped up to the first player and told him that it was time.
I watched the players walk past me, and I nodded to them in an encouraging way, until I saw Teppo. I followed him disappear through the door when I saw that his name was misspelled on his back. It said: NUMMINNEN.
Teppo probably didn’t mind. He just went, and played another game. For him, the name on the front was more important than the name on the back.
One of over 1,500 games in his life.
I wonder if that sweater’s on eBay.
Posted by Risto @ 3:14 p.m.
Tuesday, November 7, 2006
Last Saturday, I took my four-year-old wanna-be goalie son to a hockey game at my favorite arena, the Globe Arena in Stockholm. It was the first time he and I really went to a game, although when he was smaller I often took him with me to see some junior games in the arena across the street from us in Helsinki.
(Talk about an ideal location for an apartment).
In the first period, he ate a bowl of popcorn and a hotdog, and was almost hit by a puck. Almost, in this case meaning that a puck flew into the stands five rows above us. So it wasn’t really close, but still close enough for me to dive to a) try to block the shot and b) dive after the puck. My son lifted his eyes from the comic book he was reading and wondered if there was more popcorn.
In the first intermission, just before the Main Event – the Zamboni – the home club sent its youngest junior players on the ice to show off. All 12 players (that’s right) chased the puck around the rink until the smallest one on the white team got a hold of it on the red line. He pushed the puck forward, a blue defenseman fell on his butt, and he was on a breakaway.
The little guy looked like one of the Seven Dwarfs in Snow White as he skated toward the net. The blue goalie, who fit nicely under the crossbar, played it cool and made no move whatsoever. The white player carried the puck to two feet from the goalie, then took a wrist shot and scored.
The 11 players chasing the white one looked around confused, and stopped skating. The white goal scorer didn’t. He turned around and skated toward the red line as fast as he could. When he got there, he put one knee on the ice, flipped his stick around and used it as a fake gun to shoot around.
Every time I see someone do that, I think of Teemu Selanne.
I think of Teemu Selanne breaking Mike Bossy’s record for most goals by a rookie. Teemu – he’s on first name basis with at least Finland, and probably the whole world – lifting the puck over Quebec Nordiques’ goalie Stephane Fiset with one hand, then turning around, throwing one glove in the air and “shooting” it down.
Teemu ended up with 76 goals that season, tied for most in the NHL. He also broke the record for most points by a rookie, and danced home with the Calder Trophy. The Rookie of the Year.
The year was 1993. None of the kids in the Globe Arena were born when Teemu was breaking records in Canada. In fact, they probably weren’t around even for Teemu’s Maurice Richard Trophy in 1999.
Thirteen years seem to flash by really quickly. Now, Teemu is only four goals shy of 500 and the former “milk boy” (one of his endorsement deals in Finland was with a Finnish dairy company) is a seasoned veteran who has famously lost a couple of teeth in the Olympics, even had time to be written off and make a glorious comeback. (That’s called the Bill Masterton Trophy).
Even though he’s currently pacing his way to “only” 22 goals this season, it’s safe to say Teemu will get to 500 in less than a thousand games. He’s got 26 games to do that.
Let’s hope he gets the 500th goal the same way he scored his record-breaking 54th all those years ago, and the way Mats Sundin got his: topping off a hat trick.
And when you score your 500th Teemu, do that glove thing again. Kids love it.
Posted by Risto @ 3:34 p.m.
Wednesday, November 1, 2006
Days of Thunder
A Swedish newspaper reported that the NHL is in talks with Jerry Bruckheimer about having the Hollywood blockbuster producer bring some marketing spark to the league operations. Bruckheimer’s movies have grossed over 10 billion dollars, so the man sure knows how to get some butts in the (movie) seats.
It’ll be interesting to see what Bruckheimer cooks up. Looking at his movie history, there are so many avenues he could take. One thing’s for sure, though. It will be an action story.
In fact, Bruckheimer could just repackage a bunch of his own movies to create a compelling narrative for the “new NHL.”
Let’s see:March or Die (1977)
American Major (Gene Hackman) is haunted by his memories of the war. He’s assigned to protect a group of archaeologists at their dig. An Arab leader attacks the tiny Legion garrison at the dig. An epic battle follows.
A Canadian franchise is haunted by the memory of a Stanley Cup victory. A Swedish captain (Mats Sundin) is assigned to protect the archaeologically significant site all the way through March. A Legion of Senators then attacks the dig. An epic battle follows. Top Gun (1986)
Maverick is a hot pilot. He encounters a pair of MiGs over the Persian Gulf, and his wingman freaks. Maverick is able to talk him back down to the Carrier. Maverick is moved up in the standings and sent to the Top Gun Naval Flying School. There he fights the attitudes of the other pilots and an old story of his father's death. An epic battle follows.
Evgeni Malkin is a hot winger. He encounters a pair of agents in the shadows and his former team freaks. Malkin is able to continue his career. He moves his team up in the standings and is sent to the All-Star Game. There he shows off his attitude to the other wingers and fights off an old story of his former team. An epic battle follows. Bad Boys (1995)
Marcus Burnett is a hen-pecked family man. Mike Lowry is a foot-loose and fancy-free ladies' man. Both are Miami policemen, and both have 72 hours to reclaim a consignment of drugs stolen from under their station's nose. To complicate matters, in order to get the assistance of the sole witness to a murder, they have to pretend to be each other. An epic battle follows.
Tie Domi is a hen-pecked family man. So is Peter Worrell. Both are NHL enforcers and both have 72 hours to sign their retirement papers. To complicate matters, they have to pretend they like the “new NHL.” An epic battle follows.Gone in Sixty Seconds (2000)
Car theft in Long Beach went down 47% when Randall “Memphis” Raines walked away. He gets dragged back into it by assuming the job his brother Kip screwed up: steal 50 exotic cars and have them on a container ship by 8 a.m. Friday morning, and he gets this news on a Monday. Memphis reassembles his old crew and attempts to pull off the logistically impossible. An epic battle follows.
Attendance in Long Island went down 47 percent when Garth Snow walked away. He gets dragged back into it by assuming the GM job. Then he has to steal 50 free agents and sign them for 20-years deals by Friday morning. Snow reassembles his old crew and attempts to pull off the logically impossible. An epic battle follows. Coyote Ugly (2000)
A sexy romantic comedy, “Coyote Ugly” is the story of one girl's wild adventure in the big city. Graced with a velvet voice, 21-year-old Violet Sanford heads to New York to pursue her dream of becoming a songwriter. A new nightclub with a twist, Coyote Ugly, is the hottest spot in town, featuring a team of sexy, enterprising young women who tantalize customers and the media alike with their outrageous antics. An epic battle follows.
A romantic comedy, “Ugly Coyotes” is the story of a franchise’s wild adventure in the big league. Graced with a golden touch, 44-year-old Wayne Gretzky leaves New York for Phoenix to pursue his dream of becoming a winning coach. A franchise with a twist, the Coyotes feature a team that tantalizes fans and the media alike. An epic battle follows. Black Hawk Down (2001)
Action based on a near-disastrous mission in Somalia. Nearly 100 U.S. Army Rangers, commanded by Capt. Mike Steele, try to capture two top lieutenants of a Somali warlord. Two Black Hawk helicopters are destroyed. An epic battle follows.
Action based on a near-disastrous mission in Chicago. Iron Mike Keenan leads his troops to the Stanley Cup Final, then departs and wins it with the Rangers. The Blackhawks are destroyed. An epic battle against injuries follows. Remember the Titans (2001)
The year is seen through the eyes of the football team where the man hired to coach the black school is made head coach over the highly successful white coach. Based on the actual events of 1971, the team becomes the unifying symbol for the community as the boys and the adults learn to depend on and trust each other.
No, really: Do you remember the Titans? Gretzky’s sticks and the red plastic skates?
Posted by Risto @ 5:45 p.m.