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Friday, 09.28.2007 / 12:00 PM / Ice Age

By Phil Coffey - NHL.com Sr. Editorial Director

William W. 'Bill' Wirtz, owner of the Chicago Blackhawks and longtime former Chairman of the NHL Board of Governors, passed away this week at the age of 77.
It doesn’t seem that long ago that the Anaheim Ducks won the Stanley Cup and the Entry Draft was held in Columbus.

Who am I kidding? It feels like forever. But now the ice is down in 30 arenas around the NHL and the regular season gets under way this weekend in London with the Ducks and Kings playing two games in England before the rest of the NHL gets rolling next week.

We’re expecting a great season here at NHL.com, not just on the ice, but with the site as well. We will shortly introduce a new look to the site that we think you all will like. We also will be bringing you more stories, more video and just more hockey than ever before, so stay tuned.

Let’s take a look at some of this week’s stories as we get Ice Age back on track for the new season.

Remembering Wirtz - Former Blackhawk defenseman and Chicago native Chris Chelios was saddened by the death of Blackhawks owner William Wirtz earlier this week. Wirtz passed away after a fight with cancer at age 77.

”He did a lot for hockey,” Chelios told reporters. “I really liked Mr. Wirtz and his family a lot. My sympathy goes out to his family. My father and his father go back a long way, so there’s a lot of history between our families.

The biggest thing was his loyalty, whether to his players or his staff. He always felt it was a great honor to be involved with the Chicago Blackhawks organization, and he really believed that. He was a tough guy. He’s Chicago through and through.”

Upon further review -- One might expect Flyers GM Paul Holmgren to toe the party line after rookie Steve Downie’s devastating hit on Ottawa’s Dean McAmmond in a preseason game earlier in the week.

Holmgren told reporters his first reaction was that he “thought it was a good hit, and unfortunately a guy got injured.”

But looking at the hit again repeatedly, Holmgren said “there were some concerning issues about the hit.

“He left his feet. He kind of launched himself at the player, and that’s an area of concern in the league right now, obviously,” Holmgren said.

Honest assessment -- Everyone is expecting big things from Alex Radulov of the Nashville Predators. His 18 goals and 19 assists for the Preds in 64 games last season left plenty of hope for more to come.

But Radulov told John Glennon of The Tennessean the other day that he’s disappointed with his performance in training camp so far.

“I don’t think I’ve done as well in camp like last year or the year before, maybe because the second (NHL) year might be a little tougher,” Radulov told Glennon. “I don’t want to say I didn’t prepare myself for training camp, but just not the way I did last year or the year before, and I think that was a huge mistake.”

Playing the odds -- Veteran defenseman Joel Bouchard went to training camp with the Columbus Blue Jackets, but he isn’t sure how long he’ll be there.

He turned down a two-way contract with Columbus and attended camp on a tryout. Why turn down the security of a contract?

“There are at least 20 teams right now in the NHL that don’t like two of their defensemen,” Bouchard said.

Good omen for Kings -- The LA Kings played an exhibition tournament in Austria before heading to London to open the season against the Ducks, and the Kings will be bringing back the trophy from the Red Bull Salute Invitational in large part because of Anze Kopitar.

Kopitar, the Kings’ standout rookie a year ago, scored the game-winning goal in both games of the tournament for the Kings. He netted the winner in the championship game against Farjestads BK and was named the tournament’s MVP after scoring four goals and an assist in the two games.

“It was great to play well in front of my family and friends,” Kopitar, a Slovenian native, told the club’s Web site. “When they are in the crowd, you get a little extra boost. We feel good about the win. The fans just expected us to come in here and win because we are from the NHL, but we played some good opponents and it was tough. In our locker room, we knew it would be tough.

“I had a lot of buddies here, my grandparents, my girlfriend, they were supporting me,” Kopitar added. “It was a lot of fun to be playing back here in Europe, and it was special for a lot of them to see me playing for the first time in a Kings jersey.”

Jacques sees something -- After being scratched in seven of the Minnesota Wild’s last 11 regular-season games and all five of the team’s playoff games, Dominic Moore had to be wondering if he was long for St. Paul.

But he reported to camp and has impressed coach Jacques Lemaire.

“He’s doing something,” Lemaire told reporters. “His vision is good, he gets the puck, he makes some plays. When it’s time to drive at the net, he drove. When it’s time to support the guys, he did. Defensive zone, he wasn’t responsible for any chances against. It was an all-around game.

“(Last season), we didn’t see passes, we didn’t see as great of a defensive player, we didn’t see the skating that he’s showing now, we didn’t see the confidence that he has now.”

The quiet man -- Penguins rookie defenseman Kris Letang has a world of talent, but he has been somewhat shy about taking advantage of the veteran leadership on the team.

"He does not want to come out and ask (questions)," veteran defenseman Darryl Sydor told reporters. "He has asked a couple of things. But it has been more of a case of me seeing a couple of things and then going up to him.

"What I can say to him is to ask questions. There is nothing more important or beneficial than asking the (veteran) guys. I am one to ask questions. I still ask questions. You get a lot out of it. This is how you learn."

Meet “The Closer,” “The Specialist” and “The Finisher” -- So how do nicknames originate?

Well, goalie Jimmy Howard coined his own nickname after replacing Dominik Hasek and Chris Osgood in two preseason games.

“He calls himself the closer,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said.

In Florida, Cory Murphy is now “The Specialist.”

Nathan Horton started calling me ‘The Specialist,’” Murphy laughed. “My first thought was, ‘Isn’t that a movie?’ I get a new nickname everywhere I go. They can call me anything they want.”

And in Edmonton, coach Craig MacTavish may have given defenseman Sheldon Souray a new moniker thanks to his big slapper.

“Souray doesn’t mess around. He’s got a real intimidating presence ... and he is a finisher,” MacT said.

Great news on Numminen -- Wonderful news that Sabres defenseman Teppo Numminen underwent successful heart surgery early in the week.

The hope is the classy defenseman will be back with the team in December.

”Teppo’s feeling stronger every day, and hopefully he will be released from the hospital in the next several days,” Buffalo team doctor William Hartrich said Tuesday after conferring with Numminen’s attending physician at the Cleveland Clinic. “He’s extremely pleased with Teppo’s postoperative recovery.”

Material from personal interviews, wire services, newspaper, and league and team sources was used in this report.

I've been getting frustrated lately, and the only thing keeping me sane was the team winning and other people stepping up and scoring. Then you just kind of let it go and realize you can end the series with one shot, that frustration goes away for a brief moment, and that's what happened.

— Montreal forward Max Pacioretty after scoring the series-winner in Game 4 -- his first career playoff goal -- to eliminate the Lightning and send the Canadiens into the second round