Manitoba captain Mike Keane
offered an interesting commentary earlier this week after watching his son, Jackson, play youth hockey on an off-day between the Moose-Hershey Bears Calder Cup Final.
''I'm not a big believer in spring hockey, but that's a whole different debate,'' Keane said. ''When I was a kid, you had hockey and baseball during the summer. It's a different world now.''
But Mike, don't you play hockey in the spring? Isn't that the whole point of the season?
''I get paid to do it,'' he said.
He does indeed, at the ripe age of 42, and with very high stakes on the line.
Few careers have had arcs as comfortable as the one that Keane is currently riding. Already the owner of three Stanley Cup rings, he's looking for a few more drops from the fountain of youth to bring his hometown of Winnipeg its first Calder Cup.
''At this stage of my game, this is why I'm playing. Right now, there is no other reason to play hockey than to win the Calder Cup,'' he said. ''It will be not only great for our city, but great for our organization. We have a real solid fan base that has been real loyal to us. To play in front of my family and friends is something real special. I get critiqued by everyone I know. It adds the pressure of going out and playing well.''
Then it's a good thing that Keane is up to the challenge.
As a checking-line forward, he contributed 8 goals and 20 assists in 74 regular-season games. In the playoffs he's gone 4-7-11 in 18 games. That included two goals and an assist in Game 4 vs. Houston in the Western Conference Finals.
''The team needs goals. You make sure you don't forget that part of the game,'' he said. ''I have to feel younger (than his age). Every day I go to the rink, I'm battling against 21-, 22-year-old kids.''
That jousting from early fall well into the following spring only becomes more wearing with the passing seasons, but Keane indicated he'd be willing to re-up for at least one more stretch next year.
''Wanting to go to the rink, wanting to put the training in, that's still very important,'' he said. ''Things haven't changed. I still enjoy playing at a high level. All things being equal, I'd like to play again. I'm living a dream.''
AHL forced to take it inside --
Outdoor hockey, which has become such a hot ticket at the NHL level, is proving to be a tough sell in the AHL.
After taking a long look at the issue, Syracuse and Rochester both decided this week to put on the shelf proposed outdoor games for the 2009-10 season.
The Amerks were pondering a game against Hershey in January at Frontier Field, home of the Rochester Red Wings. The game was going to be a joint venture between the hockey and baseball clubs.
But Red Wings General Manager Dan Mason said after consulting with the NHL and hearing about its extra expenses for the Wrigley Field contest, he was concerned that snow removal and field repair costs would boost the game to an unwieldy $600,000-$700,000.
"We were excited about the prospects of doing the event,'' Mason said. "But the risks became too great for either organization to take on.''
The Crunch were on the verge of committing to a Dec. 5 game against Binghamton at Alliance Bank Stadium, home of the Syracuse Chiefs. The Crunch asked for a commitment of $350,000 from the Onondaga County Legislature, but that body offered a front of only $75,000. Ticked-off Crunch owner Howard Dolgon said deal him out.
"You'd like to think maybe once there would be a vision of what we can do instead of what we can't do," he said.
"At this stage of my game, this is why I'm playing. Right now, there is no other reason to play hockey than to win the Calder Cup."
-- Mike Keane
Unbowed, Dolgon is pursuing a game that would be held inside Syracuse University's Carrier Dome. That could challenge the AHL's single-game attendance mark of 20,672, set on Jan. 18, 1997 when Kentucky played Carolina at the Greensboro (N.C.) Coliseum.
"Howard is a big-event thinker. He's a guy who wants to bring happiness to the community," said Daryl Gross, director of athletics at SU. "I like how Howard thinks. I believe in the things he believes in. His way of thinking is very progressive. He has his head in the right place in this one. If we can make it work, I want to do it."
Gage still giving it his all --
In one form or another, it looks like Jody Gage can continue to wear his true colors of the Rochester Americans' red, white and blue.
In early May, ownership stripped him of his general manager's title and administrative duties. But Gage still has a contract that runs through April, and he will likely fulfill it in the capacity of senior hockey advisor. Scouting and player development, Gage's obvious strong points, will be his focus.
''We haven't come to a title yet. But I'll be in the hockey department,'' Gage said. ''Right now, I want to improve the team for next year. I've never been big on titles.''
Few players are as closely associated with an AHL team as Gage is with Rochester. He has been with the Amerks for 24 years, 11 as a player and the past 13 as general manager.
''I think I'll always be an Amerk, whether I'm here or not,'' Gage said. ''Nothing would make me happier than to see this organization get back to where it was.''
Around the AHL
-- After beating Hershey 3-1 in Game 2 of the Final on June 2, Manitoba had gone 15 straight playoff contests without losing in regulation. The Moose have 12 wins and three overtime defeats since a Game 3 loss to Toronto in the first round. ... The crowd of 15,003 that packed the MTS Centre on May 30 was the largest for any Game 1 in the 73-year history of the AHL. It was also the seventh-largest crowd in AHL playoff history, and the sixth-largest for a Final game. The turnout shouldn't have been much of a surprise -- the Bears (8,987 per game) and Moose (7,769) were the AHL's top two teams in attendance during the regular season. ... Nine of the last 10 Calder Cup Finals have opened with a one-goal margin in Game 1, including Hershey's 5-4 overtime decision in this opener. ... The Bears' Alexandre Giroux
has set two AHL records this playoffs -- most goals in one year, regular season and playoffs combined (73), and most career playoff overtime goals (four). His hat trick in Game 1 was the sixth in a Final game since 1994. ... The rosters of Hershey and Manitoba feature 12 former first- and second-round NHL draft picks and 20 players who skated in the NHL this season. ... Teams from Pennsylvania have made a combined total of 35 finals appearances (Hershey 21, Pittsburgh 7, Philadelphia 4, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton 3), the most of any state/province. New York teams have appeared in 33 Finals (Rochester 16, Buffalo 9, Glens Falls 4, Syracuse 2, Albany 1, Binghamton 1).