Every NHL fan knows that watching a game in person changes everything. You follow hockey differently after that. During the Stanley Cup Final, NHL.com Editor-in-Chief Bob Condor will be watching games from various locations inside the arenas in Chicago and Philadelphia -- to give the both fan and insider perspectives.
-- The Blackhawks marked their 101st straight sellout for Monday night's Game 2 ear-splitting win, ample evidence that what winger Tomas Kopecky
was yelling from the home penalty box was not likely reaching the ears of Philadelphia's Daniel Carcillo
in the visitors' penalty box.
Both players were whistled for two-minute minors at 17:27 of the FIRST PERIOD. Kopecky went for roughing and Carcillo took a seat for unsportsmanlike conduct. Before resting with a Gatorade and a clean towel provided by off-ice official Gary Steffenhagen, Kopecky cleared the air, let's say, with some pointed comments for Carcillo. It's hard to imagine the Philly trouble-mucker could hear the words, but Kopecky was satisfied enough to sit down and catch a breath.
One observer in the second row behind the Blackhawks' penalty box didn't have to hear Kopecky's exact words to get the meaning or call it ambience. Former NHLer Tie Domi
was parked there with friends, who likely know that Domi set the Toronto Maple Leafs
' all-time single season record with 365 penalty minutes during the 1997-98 season, eclipsing the previous record of wildly popular Leafs bad dude Tiger Williams.
The Kopecky-Carcillo penalties first germinated just four minutes into the game, when Carcillo bumped Kopecky after a stop in play. Kopecky, who scored the game-winner in Game 1 after being a healthy scratch for the five previous games, jabbered at the Philly forward while shoving him a bit. It is safe to assume Carcillo heard those words.
Kopecky, by the way, drew a 100 dB reading (imagine a blender stuck in your ear) on the NHL.com 2010 Stanley Cup Final Decibel Meter when he was announced as a starter before the game.
You see (and, of course, hear) lots if you happen to be sitting in the home penalty box at ice level for Game 2 of the 2010 Stanley Cup Final. Some samples from the first period:
Discipline, when Carcillo hard-shoved Chicago's Dustin Byfuglien
after a whistle, the Hawks' extra-large wing simply skated back to his bench without looking back.
Gamesmanship, when "Big Buff" just a shift or two later returned from his time on ice to hem Flyers forward Simon Gagne
for a good five extra seconds before releasing him.
Stick wizardry, watching several Flyers and Hawks settle rolling pucks or stop cold passes zipped their way.
At ice level, it is clear just how hard it is to be good enough to play in the NHL. Even seemingly simple procedures loom hazardous. For instance, at the start of the SECOND PERIOD, Flyers defenseman Kimmo Timonen
lasered a 150-foot shot on goal that Antti Niemi
stopped but only after impressive focus and making sure his leg pads were closed to stop a puck that was rising like the perfect drive off the tee by some 20-something pro golfer.
Several game minutes later, Kopecky dumped a puck into the Flyers zone and skated, dig-dig-dig, to chase it down. Philly defender Oskars Bartulis
countered with a bull-strong move to hold off any Hawks shot on goal. Neither sequence was flashy, but the ice-view affords the distinct feeling that neither Niemi's nor Bartulis' preventive measures could be repeated by many of the rest of us mortals without blades.
During his time in the home penalty box, Troy Brouwer
exhibited a more relaxed demeanor when he was sent for two minutes for roughing 36 seconds before the second intermission. He sat next to Steffenhagen (whose 34 years on the job make him only third on the seniority list among Chicago's NHL off-ice officials -- more in a minute) and discussed his last shift on the ice.
When the Blackhawks center returned to serve the rest of his penalty at the beginning of the THIRD PERIOD, Brouwer was relaxed and even laughed once while talking with Steffenhagen.
While Steffenhagen has served more than three decades at United Center and, previously, lovingly, at the old Chicago Stadium, he is nearly two full decades behind timekeeper Paul Ruck, 75, who worked his first game with the old winding Stadium clock (no such thing as digital) in 1960. You know what happened during the 1961 Cup Final and not since then.
When asked if he still has fun on the job, Ruck provided a sound answer: "It is now!" he said enthusiastically, not needing to reference those game nights just a few years ago with half-full United Center houses during the first regular season shared by Chicago hockey heart-tuggers Patrick Kane
and Jonathan Toews
John Trappina has been a Blackhawks off-ice official since 1958, when he served as a goal judge. He runs the visitors penalty box, where he was on the lonesome for nearly the first four periods of this Cup series but eventually hosted four Flyers who came through this night.
"I actually started as a clubhouse boy when I was 12," said Trappina, 74, who is as happy to talk about his grandkids ("17 the oldest and six the youngest") as favorite Blackhawks he first befriended when he ran the home penalty box ("Savard, Larmer, Secord").
The home penalty box is directly across the ice from the Chicago bench. At ice level, the bench of 2010 looks the same as when Trappina and Ruck first started their lifelong dedication to the NHL. It wasn't hard Monday night to image that Joel Quenneville
was a descendent of, well, honestly, Billy Reay
Another "am I seeing things moment?" occurred mid-period when 37-year-old veteran pickup John Madden
warp-sped into the offensive zone, beating even on-ice teammate Kane to the hop.
The night in the penalty box ended with eardrum-numbing ovations for the three stars, goal scorers Ben Eager
and Marian Hossa
, plus, naturally, Niemi. There was also a rousing cheer for the home team's stick salute, which up-close revealed some happy players who could barely lift those sticks over their heads.