Lost amid the NHL debuts last weekend of a number of big-name rookies was another notable first.
, who centered the Philadelphia Flyers
' fourth line during their season opener Saturday against the New York Rangers
, became the first player born and trained in the state of Alabama to play in the League.
Ross, 26, was born in Huntsville, Ala., and played his college hockey at the University of Alabama-Huntsville. While the thought of a player stepping out of the Deep South and into the NHL sounds crazy, there is hockey tradition in Ross' family. His uncle, Tom Ross, is the all-time leading scorer at Michigan State, while his father, Doug, played on the 1976 U.S. Olympic hockey team and was the long-time coach at the UAH.
"I just always loved playing," Ross told NHL.com. "I always had access to ice down there because he was the coach. My size (5-foot-9, 165 pounds) probably prevented me from playing football. I never really cared about football."
Youth hockey in Alabama isn't quite the same as what they have in more hockey-centric areas.
"Hockey down in the south was way different because you practice twice during the week and then you have to travel, quite often 3-4 hours on the weekend, to play teams from Atlanta, Knoxville, Nashville," said Ross. "Lots of traveling. You practice twice during the week and play three games on the weekend."
Ross left Huntsville before his junior year of high school to play two years at Detroit Catholic Central and wanted to follow his uncle to Michigan State, but the Spartans weren't interested. Instead, he went home to play for his father, where he had 72 goals and 158 points in 133 games with the Chargers, and he ranks in the top three in school history in goals, assists (86) and points. He led the team in scoring in each of his final three seasons, was a three-time College Hockey Association First-Team All-Star, and was the conference player of the year in 2003-04.
"Playing at UAH was a great experience," he said. "I wouldn't change it for anything."
After his UAH career ended in 2004-05, he signed with the Motor City Mechanics of the United Hockey League. He spent most of the next two seasons with the American Hockey League's Chicago Wolves, and on March 1, 2007, he was traded to the Philadelphia Phantoms, the Flyers' AHL affiliate, for Niko Dimitrakos
Last season with the Phantoms he had a break-out campaign, leading the team with 39 assists and 62 points, and his 23 goals was second on the squad. He followed that with a team-best 5 goals in 12 postseason games.
He capped an outstanding preseason this fall by scoring a goal for the Phantoms in an exhibition game against the Flyers, and a few days after being demoted to the AHL, he was recalled and placed in the opening-night lineup when Steve Downie
was scratched with a knee injury.
Doug Ross made it to Philadelphia for the game, and it's likely the NHL sold at least a few Center Ice packages to Alabama residents for the occasion.
"It's amazing how many people called me, texted me, telling me congratulations," said Ross. "Huntsville had a bar that played the game and a lot of people went to watch it. The first time I stepped on the ice, all I could think of was don't make any mistakes, but there's a lot of people watching. My dad said no matter what happens, I've accomplished something."
You're great, you're wonderful, now change
– Martin Brodeur
wasn't always the calm, unflappable goalie NHL fans have watched for 14 seasons.
His mask, of all things, told the story. Brodeur has had the same mask design since his rookie season, 1993-94. It had a Devils logo, but no 'N'. Back then, Brodeur wasn't sure if he would be playing for the New Jersey Devils
or the Utica Devils, then the team's minor-league affiliate.
We all know how that story ended, but Brodeur never changed with the design on his helmet because, well, he had a pretty good run. Why mess with success?
Well, he's messing with it now. To commemorate his run on the goaltending record book, Brodeur had a new mask made which features a new logo, MB30 – his initials and number, in case you were wondering. Brodeur's brother, Denis, designed the logo, and the Devils' Web site has pictures of the mask, which you can see by clicking here
While Brodeur's mask can't take credit for too many of his saves over the years, Brodeur still was hesitant to make the change.
"When I thought about that, 'I can't believe I'm going to change it. I've played for so long with it,'" he told The (Bergen) Record's Tom Gulitti. "Then I thought about it. I've had some success with a Team Canada helmet on my head. So you've got to change it up. In the middle of the summer I thought about it. When I saw the designs my brother was doing, I thought it was really cool and I thought, 'I wonder if I could put that on my helmet?' Then, next thing you know, with photo shop, (Denis) put a picture of my face with the helmet and he superimposed everything and it looked all right. That's really how it happened. I was not really thinking about doing a change. It was a spur of the moment thing."
Brodeur is going with the new look, but after 538 wins with the old helmet, he said he's going to keep it around – you know, just in case.
"Like I told my brother, 'I'll be wearing it, but if something goes really bad, I might have to go back to the old faithful.'"
In their thoughts
– Ben Stafford
may be far from Philadelphia, but he's staying close to some of his former teammates.
Stafford, who played with a number of current Flyers on the AHL Philadelphia Phantoms - among them Mike Richards
, Jeff Carter
and Antero Niittymaki
– recently deployed to Iraq as a member of the United States Marine Corps.
Flyers trainer Jim McCrossin purchased dog tags with Stafford's name on them as a way for some of Stafford's former teammates can keep him close to their hearts.
Thrown in the fire
– As if making his NHL coaching debut wasn't stressful enough for new Islanders coach Scott Gordon
, he started the season without the services of his franchise goalie, Rick DiPietro
"As will be the case all year, we won't even talk about who's the starting goaltender." – Scott Gordon
DiPietro, who had hip surgery in March and knee surgery in June, started the club's final preseason game, but hasn't seen any action since. He served as the backup to Joey MacDonald
for the first two games of the season, and likely would watch again Monday when the Isles hosted the Buffalo Sabres
So is DiPietro healthy?
"Ricky could have played all three games and we could be 3-0 and the next thing you know, we head down to Florida (this week) and he's out a month," Gordon told the New York Post after Saturday's win against St. Louis.
So DiPietro will continue to sit and rehab his knee and hip.
An earlier comment Gordon made to Newsday might remain apt this season: “As will be the case all year, we won't even talk about who's the starting goaltender.”
– Rangers forwards Blair Betts
and Aaron Voros
aren't counted on for their scoring, but in the club's 4-0 start, its best in 25 years, they've contributed some unlikely offense.
Voros' goal Thursday against Chicago was his first in 37 games, while Betts' goal Saturday against the Flyers was his first in 41 games.
Voros, by the way, nearly lost his leg five years due to a tumor; now he's skating on the Rangers' second line, alongside Brandon Dubinsky
and Nikolai Zherdev
– In the days of the Broad Street Bullies, some otherwise healthy opposing players would be too ill to play when their teams came into Philadelphia – it became the legendary Philly Flu.
Rangers goaltender Stephen Valiquette
, though, is a one-man vaccination.
He went 3-0-1 with a pair of shutouts against Philadelphia last season, and prior to Saturday's 4-3 win, he was 4-1-1 with a 1.36 goals-against average in seven career regular-season games against the Flyers.
Contact Adam Kimelman at: email@example.com.