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The Opening Faceoff: Shinny with the stars, Part 2

by Shawn P. Roarke

Maybe I'll do things right
Maybe I'll start tonight
You'll learn to cry like me
Baby let's just wait and see
Maybe I'll start tonight
And do things right
You'll control me
And oh so boldly
Rule me 'til I'm free
'Til the pain that shakes me
Finally makes me
Get up off of my knees
Maybe I'll be as fast as you
Maybe I'll break hearts too
I think that you'll slow down
When your turn to hurt comes around
Maybe I'll break hearts
And be as fast as you
-- Fast As You, Dwight Yoakam

Country music’s Dwight Yoakum clearly knows a little about heartbreak. Fast as You is a look into the heart of a man that has been wronged one too many times by the fairer sex.

Yet, it is also a sneak peek into the heart of a hockey fan. A stretch, you say. CTN says think again.

Sports are about rooting for someone or something. In hockey, it is more often than not about rooting “for the laundry,” as they say, because of the entrenched parochial nature the sport has bred from its inception.

But sports – hockey, in particular – are also about rooting against a team or an individual. To use a Yoakam analogy, there can’t be a white-hat hero without the black-hat villain as his foil.

As a kid, CTN grew up as a fan of the Boston Bruins. The mere sight of the Montreal Canadiens’ red-white-and-blue colors was enough to send the young CTN into spasms of intense loathing. No longer a fan of the Bruins – a habit CTN gave up (primarily because CTN first moved away from home in the pre-Internet days and could not easily follow the hometown club) even before becoming a hockey journalist – and no longer prone to convulsions upon seeing the Habs up-close-and-personal, CTN still believes that rooting against something can be almost as fun as rooting for something else.

CTN is still a fan of the Boston Red Sox (feel free to extend your congratulations on their World Series win at your convenience) and has found that rooting against the New York Yankees is part of the fan dynamic – especially since CTN moved to the capital of the Evil Empire nearly two decades ago now.

So, why a discourse on Dwight Yoakam’s heartbreak lyrics and CTN’s baseball allegiance? Because, it segues perfectly into this week’s Opening Faceoff topic.

The Opening Faceoff

In last week’s Opening Faceoff, CTN presented the collection of individuals he would like to watch in the afterlife. But what good is a team if it doesn’t have a worthy opponent?

None, says CTN. The challenge of winning is what makes the glory when, and if, it is achieved so fulfilling In the afterlife, CTN is not interested in watching his “Heavenly Heroes” face off against hockey’s version of the Washington Generals, the patsies made famous by the Harlem Globetrotters.

No, CTN wants his team to face a challenge each and every time they hit the pond. So, this week, CTN presents the 20 players that will form the team to face the CTN “Heavenly Heroes” in that never-ending game of shinny.

Players for this team can be living or dead, famous or infamous. The only qualification to be on the team is that the player must have the ability to break a hockey fan’s heart at the drop of a hat -- or puck, as the case may be.

Breaking hearts is not necessarily a bad thing, in this case, by the way. You must have a burning desire to win, a lack of fear of failure in the face of adversity and immense talent. Those are things we love in players that wear the “right” laundry, but make those in the wrong colors the perfect anti-heroes.

So, without further preamble, here is CTN’s Heavenly Heels squad. And, remember, CTN bestows that name with all the respect it rightly deserves.

Patrick Roy, goalie, Montreal Canadiens -- The greatest goalie of his generation, Roy broke a number of hearts before his retirement. He was a stone-cold postseason assassin in his prime with the Habs and could actually strike fear into the hearts of opposing fans.

Vladislav Tretiak, goalie, Team USSR -- Was there a more menacing figure than Tretiak in the run-up to the 1980 Olympics? The Russian goalie was discussed in reverential tones by the announcers, suggesting that he was more robotic than human. That aura never left him, even after he was pulled – unbelievably – by the Russian coach in the “Miracle on Ice” game against the United States.

Pelle Lindbergh, goalie, Philadelphia Flyers -- He was going to be among the game’s greatest goalies, right up to late fateful day in November 1985 when he lost his life, at just 26, in a single-car accident on his way home from practice. At that time, CTN had never enjoyed watching a goalie more than Lindbergh. It’ll be good to see him don that white mask again in heaven.

Chris Chelios

Chris Chelios, defenseman, Detroit Red Wings -- “Chelly” has broken more than just hearts with his straight-ahead, no-quarter, old-school ways. He plays every game like it is his last and that is all you can ask from a player, even if he plays for the opposing team.

Ray Bourque, defensemen, Boston Bruins Bourque’s presence on this team, as opposed to the Heroes, is discussed further in the Penalty Box, but there is no way that such a talented defenseman like Bourque could miss such a big game.

Ulf Samuelsson, defenseman, Pittsburgh Penguins Cam Neely, again made whole in the afterlife and a starring member of the Heavenly Heroes, gets a shot at payback against Samuelsson, whose hit began the injury problems that would prove to be the beginning of the end of Neely’s Hall of Fame career.

Nick Lidstrom, defensemen, Detroit Red Wings He is way too nice to be on a team of heartbreakers, but CTN had to figure out a way to get the other-worldly talent that Lidstrom brings to the table into this game. Plus, he has used that skill to break the hearts of fans across the League, just not in the same in-your-face style as many of the other guys on this list.

Slava Fetisov, defenseman, Team USSR – Fetisov was just as feared as Tretiak in the lead-up to the Lake Placid Games. And, it just wasn’t build-up. Fetisov was as good as anything the NHL had to offer at the time. He looked cold and unemotional, but he played the game with a passion that had to be respected. He earned that respect from the NHL when he came here a few years later and was at the vanguard of the Russian invasion.

Brian Leetch, defenseman, New York Rangers Ask the New Jersey Devils and Vancouver Canucks if Leetch can break a heart. His 1994 postseason performance, for which he earned the Conn Smythe, was among the most clutch performances ever turned in by a NHL player.

Maurice Richard, right wing, Montreal – Another selection that is discussed in further depth in the Penalty Box. For now, let’s suffice it to say that Richard is just the type of player that CTN likes to watch and because there was no room for him on the “Heroes” team, he earns a home here.

Claude Lemieux, right wing, New Jersey – The self-proclaimed “most-hated man in hockey,” Lemieux could stir the pot better than any of his contemporaries. That ability to get under the skin of opponents wrongly overshadows his ability to deliver in the clutch. There are few players that opposing fans should fear more than “Pepe.”

Stephane Matteau, right wing, New York Rangers Yes, CTN knows that Matteau played left wing for most of his career, but he is moved here because of a log-jam on the starboard side. The subject of one of the most heartbreaking calls in NHL annals – just ask Martin Brodeur – has to be on this list. “Matteau, Matteau, Matteau!”

Wayne Gretzky, center, Edmonton Oilers “The Great One” did not fit on the CTN “Heroes” team – perhaps the only time Gretz has not made the cut. But he is a natural here.

Mario Lemieux

Mario Lemieux, center, Pittsburgh Penguins The same goes for “Le Manifique” that went for Gretzky. He was good enough to be on the “Heroes” squad, but just didn’t fit into CTN’s vision of that team. He fits here.

Eric Lindros, center, Philadelphia Flyers During his prime, Lindros was a can’t-miss event. His epic battles with Scott Stevens – before “the hit” – are among CTN’s most vivid memories of Lindros’ career. Lindros was a man among boys and in this forum will once again be able to bring his many physical gifts to the fore.

Ken Linesman, center, Boston Bruins How can a man simply known as “the Rat” not be involved in a game with so many physical players? Linesman, who was a pretty fair scorer in his day, will be right at home with these two teams.

Clark Gillies, left wing, New York Islanders Gillies broke CTN’s heart a few times when CTN was a wee lad back in Rhode Island by repeatedly showing CTN’s favorite player at the time, Terry O’Reilly, just who was the boss man out on the ice. Is it a coincidence that they are on different teams here with O’Reilly anchoring the wing for the Heavenly Heroes? No way!

Esa Tikkanen, left wing, Edmonton Oilers Hopefully, they have a Tikkanese translator in the afterlife. Otherwise, the shinny spectators will miss half the fun of this player. Sure, he was offensively talented and, yes, he was physically involved. But, often, it was what Tikkanen said – or tried to say in a mish-mash of languages – that made him so unique.

Chris Nilan, left wing, Montreal Canadiens You thought we could have a rough-and-tumble game without the presence of a guy that goes by “Knuckles”? How tough was Nilan? He was a Boston boy that made his bones with the hated Canadiens and then switched sides of the rivalry, joining the Bruins -- after a stint with the Rangers -- without so much as a hiccup.

Stephane Richer, left wing, New Jersey Devils For a brief time in the early-90s, Richer scored the prettiest goals you were likely to see at that time. But, for the rest of his career, he never seemed ready, or willing, to deliver on his undeniably enormous talent. He gets a second chance here.

So, there you have it – a team of pretty talented and pretty accomplished players ready, and willing, to play foil to CTN’s Heroes in this hypothetical game of shinny in the afterlife.

If heaven turns out to be anything close to these 40 players once again strapping on the skates and doing battle, CTN hopes he does enough good deeds in his lifetime to earn a ticket to the show.

The Opening Faceoff | The Breakaway | The Penalty Box

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