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Are you ready to rock?

by Mike G. Morreale /

Welcome back!

Now that the NHL has officially ended its tour of Europe with weekend games in Prague and Stockholm, let the countdown begin to the opening regular-season face-off in North America.

Each Monday, will be your source for the biggest events and games of the coming days in NHL This Week. So make it a point to check out what the NHL has in store for you.

The NHL will launch the 2008-09 season in North America on Thursday with NHL Face-Off Rocks™ 2008, an opening day spectacular that will include a concert with Def Leppard. The multi-platinum selling rock band will open the night with a special performance of their arena-inspired hit single, “C’mon, C’mon” from the Fox Theatre in Detroit. The Red Wings will then unveil their 11th Stanley Cup banner prior to the start of their sold-out home opener against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Joe Louis Arena (7 p.m. ET, VERSUS, CBC, RIS).

Additionally, seven-time Grammy Award-winning songwriter Alanis Morissette will give a special performance via satellite as part of NHL Face-Off Rocks™ 2008. Morissette, who is currently on tour in support of her new album, Flavors of Entanglement, will join festivities from Place des Arts in Montreal. Her performance, carried by CBC and VERSUS, will be broadcast throughout Canada and the U.S.

In addition to the four games scheduled Thursday, there are seven scheduled Friday, 13 slated for Saturday and three on Sunday. Here’s a rundown of what to look for during the opening week of the NHL season. Enjoy.

One final skate – The Philadelphia Flyers will get one final shot to play hockey inside their old home, the Wachovia Spectrum, on Tuesday when they skate against their American Hockey League affiliate, the Philadelphia Phantoms, in a preseason match at 7:30 p.m.

Comcast-Spectacor is closing the 42-year-old Spectrum at the conclusion of the 2008-09 Phantoms and Philadelphia Kixx hockey and soccer seasons. On Sept. 27, the Flyers defeated the Carolina Hurricanes, 4-2, in an exhibition that was the last NHL game contested at the Spectrum. The game against the Phantoms will give fans one final opportunity to witness the Flyers in their historic arena.

Coaching debuts – Five teams will hit the ice under the tutelage of a new coach this week.

On Thursday, Colorado’s Tony Granato begins his second tour of duty with the Avalanche against the Boston Bruins at Pepsi Center (10 p.m. ET, VERSUS). Granato had coached Colorado from 2002-03 through 2003-04 before stepping down. The Avalanche will also honor the 2008 U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Class in a special pre-game tribute prior to face-off. Granato’s sister, Cammi Granato, as well as Brett Hull, Brian Leetch and Mike Richter will be recognized. The foursome will be formally inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame on Friday at a dinner to be held at Magness Arena on the University of Denver campus.

San Jose coach Todd McLellan, who most recently captured the 2008 Stanley Cup in his third season as an assistant coach for Mike Babcock in Detroit, will lead his team at the HP Pavilion in San Jose against the Anaheim Ducks. One of McLellan’s key responsibilities was working with the Red Wings power play, which finished third in the NHL in 2007-08 (20.7 percent) and first in 2005-06 (22.1 percent).

On Friday, the Florida Panthers and first-year coach Peter DeBoer pay a visit to the Carolina Hurricanes at the RBC Center. DeBoer led the Kitchener Rangers to the 2008 Ontario Hockey League championship. Meanwhile, John Anderson of the Atlanta Thrashers makes his coaching debut at home against the Alex Ovechkin-led Washington Capitals. Anderson guided the Chicago Wolves to the 2008 Calder Cup title.

Also on Friday, Scott Gordon makes his NHL head-coaching debut for the New York Islanders against the New Jersey Devils at Prudential Center in Newark, N.J. Gordon, who was named the AHL Coach of the Year with the Providence Bruins last season, agreed to a multi-year contract with the Isles in August. He guided Providence to an AHL-best record of 55-18-3 in 2007-08.

Remembering Luc -- The Vancouver Canucks will honor the memory of former Canucks defenseman Luc Bourdon on Thursday prior to their home opener against the Calgary Flames at General Motors Place (10:30 p.m., CBC).

”Luc was an important part of our Canucks family and we want to make sure that everyone who Luc touched has the opportunity to celebrate his life and memory,’’ said Chris Zimmerman, president and CEO of Canucks Sports & Entertainment. “Luc was a special person in so many ways. He brought great spirit and determination to all that that he did on-ice or off. His passion for our game was always present whenever he was with fans, team personnel or helping in the community. Luc will be forever a Canuck.’’

The Canucks will prepare a pre-game ceremony that includes a video tribute to Bourdon and a moment of silence. All fans in attendance will be presented with a commemorative pin in Bourdon’s honor. The 21-year-old blue liner died on May 29 when his motorcycle collided with a tractor trailer.

Bourdon, who won two gold medals and silver for Team Canada at the IIHF World Under-20 Championship and IIHF World U18 Championship, respectively, was selected 10th overall by the Canucks at the 2005 Entry Draft.

USA Hockey honors four – Four of the most gifted American hockey players will be enshrined into the United States Hockey Hall of Fame on Friday at the Magness Arena on the campus of the University of Denver.

““It’s great to be honored alongside these three other inductees because I watched and idolized them when they played. I watched all three in college and I remember Mike (Richter) and Brian (Leetch) playing with my brother (Tony) on the 1988 Olympic Team in Calgary.’’
-- Cammi Granato, on her fellow US Hockey Hall of Fame inductees.

Not only did inductees Brian Leetch, Mike Richter, Brett Hull and Cammi Granato each earn silver medals at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City for their respective teams, but the latter also happens to be the first female in the 36-year history of the Hall to be honored among 134 members.

Granato, who last year received the NHL’s Lester Patrick Award, along with Leetch in recognition of her service to hockey in the United States and was also inducted into the International Ice Hockey Federation Hall of Fame last May, said she is privileged to be the first woman in the US Hockey Hall of Fame.

“It’s great to be honored alongside these three other inductees because I watched and idolized them when they played,’’ Granato said. “I watched all three in college and I remember Mike (Richter) and Brian (Leetch) playing with my brother (Tony) on the 1988 Olympic Team in Calgary.’’

Leetch, Richter and Hull all played major roles on that American squad that won the 1996 World Cup of Hockey. Leetch, the captain of the team, dished seven assists, Richter was named Tournament MVP after posting a 2.43 goals-against average and Hull registered a tournament-best seven goals and 11 points. will have complete coverage of the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame induction celebration.

A return to Washington – Goalie Cristobal Huet, who signed a four-year contract with the Chicago Blackhawks in July, will face his former team, the Washington Capitals, when the clubs collide on Saturday at Verizon Center.

Huet appeared in 52 games last season while playing for the Montreal Canadiens and the Capitals. He was acquired by the Caps on Feb. 26 for a second-round pick in the 2009 draft. Huet’s .920 save percentage last season tied for fifth in the NHL and his 2.32 GAA tied for ninth. In Washington’s seven-game series setback to the Philadelphia Flyers in the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, he finished 3-4 with a 2.93 GAA and .909 save percentage.

The Capitals will likely counter with free-agent acquisition goaltender Jose Theodore, who posted a 2.44 GAA and .910 save percentage in 53 appearances with Colorado last season. Theodore posted a 6-1 record in shootouts in 2007-08, boosting his career mark to 9-2.

Rivalries renewed – There will be seven divisional matchups on tap for Saturday, when 26 of the 30 clubs are in action. Here’s a breakdown:

Eastern Conference

Atlantic Division

New Jersey Devils at Pittsburgh Penguins -- The Penguins and Devils each won four times in their eight-game season series in 2007-08. The Penguins scored a 7-1 victory on March 28 at Mellon Arena, marking the first time the defensive-minded Devils allowed seven goals in a game since March 17, 2007.

New York Rangers at Philadelphia Flyers -- The Flyers open their regular season against their division nemesis at the Wachovia Center. The Flyers managed just three victories against the Rangers last season, including the last two meetings during a stretch when they won seven of their final nine games to clinch the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. The Rangers went 5-1-2 with three shutouts against Philadelphia in 2007-08.

Northeast Division

Montreal Canadiens at Toronto Maple Leafs – Despite the fact the Leafs finished last in the Northeast Division and 12th overall in the East with 83 points last season and the Canadiens clinched their first conference title in 19 years with 104 points, the teams split the eight-game season series in 2007-08. In fact, four of the games were decided by one goal and three required overtime.

Southeast Division

Carolina Hurricanes at Tampa Bay Lightning -- The teams split the eight-game season series last season but neither advanced to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Hurricanes haven’t qualified for the postseason party since winning the Cup in 2005-06.

Atlanta Thrashers at Florida Panthers -- The Thrashers had won the season-series between the two teams three straight seasons before the Panthers snapped the streak in 2007-08, winning five of the eight meetings, including a 3-2 decision in Atlanta in the season finale on April 1.

Western Conference

Northwest Division

Vancouver Canucks at Calgary Flames -- Sure, the Canucks may have won the season series in 2007-08, going 4-3-1 against the Flames, but in addition to dropping a 7-1 decision to Calgary in the final game of the regular season, Vancouver managed only one win in their final eight games to miss the playoffs. Calgary’s Jarome Iginla scored his 50th goal of the season in that six-goal triumph on April 5, the second time he’s reached that mark in 12 seasons.

Pacific Division

Los Angeles Kings at San Jose Sharks -- Even though the Kings finished last in their division for the seventh time in franchise history and first time since 1998-99 with 71 points, they still managed a split in their eight-game season series with the Sharks, who placed second in the conference with 108 points. Slovenian standout Anze Kopitar scored twice in the final 5:38 of the third period to lead the Kings to a 4-2 verdict on April 3 and handed the Sharks their first regulation loss in 21 games. The setback also denied the Sharks (49-23-4-6) an opportunity to become the first post-1980 expansion team to put together back-to-back 50-win seasons.

Contact Mike Morreale at

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