Just to be the 435,000th person to ask ... Are you tuning up the Zamboni for another year? Looking forward to the next column...
Actually, you're the fourth person, Rich. If you remember the e-mail that ended last year's final column.
But, this is a year of fan building for me, and fan containment for the NHL and its players. A dawn of a new era. So, in the spirit of unity and good faith bargaining, let's all get along. Let's cast aside our mistrust and bitterness and show some good ol' Darcy Tucker fair play. A man never stands so tall as when he stoops so low to annihilate an anterior cruciate ligament. Oops. Sorry.
Summer was good. It started with a drive from New Jersey at 1 a.m. following an ESPN get-together the night of the Devils' Cup-clinching victory and ends with, as I type now, the first weekly column of the 2003-04 season. I'll be here, every week, barring a pulled groin or a case of the gout, talking hockey, music, otters, backyard rinks, living-room hockey, and anything else from mullets, Melrose, microwave popcorn, toe rings, emo, punk, rap, shootouts, red lines, Ilya Kovalchuk, Steve Yzerman, Peter Forsberg, TiVo, Neely, movies, Jack Black, beer, college hockey, Sergei Fedorov, and why Denis Leary is usually way too overdressed and his hair way too done up.
As many of you know, Chris Drury is the official active NHL player of this column. I'm a fan first, like you, and Chris is my favorite player. So, in honor of his new No. 23 (Chris says it's in honor of Don Mattingly. I say it's for Oil Can Boyd) for the Buffalo Sabres, here are 23 things about my summer vacation ... followed by my Eastern Conference preview.
1. My summer began with a "There's no way when I was a sophomore in high school with 17 zits, feathered back hair parted in the middle, wearing earth shoes from the Great American Shoe Store, I thought this would happen to me" moment. Mike Myers sent my 3-year-old son, Jack, a Fat Bastard action figure. He autographed the outside plastic on the package: "To Jack, your Dad rocks. Mike Myers." I guess Mike read my final column from last year and wanted to send his biggest fan, Jack, a thank you. I almost threw up with excitement for three days.
2. Saw a baseball game in Fenway Park ...
3. and Camden Yards ...
4. and Veterans Stadium ...
5. and the Pirates home park ...
6. and the Reds new park ...
7. and in Milwaukee ...
8. and two in Wrigley Field.
9. A scene from the first game at Wrigley is enclosed in the Penguins preview below.
10. The second game I sat in the bleachers with Andrew Brunette, Shjon Podein and Ray Ferraro. Not a bad line. Stay tuned for the first installment of the "Life of Podes." This year's first one made me laugh out loud when he left it on my voice mail. It's coming soon.
11. Ballparks 3-7 above were part of a five-ballparks-in-five-days tour by car with my best buddy Brett.
12. During the morning of the Milwaukee game, we played 18 holes at Whistling Straits, the home of next year's PGA Championship. Winning score in 2004? Four under.
13. Went to Ozzfest. Hung out backstage and learned that guitarist Zakk Wylde once punched Marilyn Manson's dinner in a restaurant because … well, because he's Marilyn Manson. Zakk is one of the coolest guys I've ever met. I liked him 1.7 seconds after I met him.
14. Went and saw Bruce Springsteen in Fenway Park with former Bruins goalie Cleon Daskalakis, who is a dead ringer for Andre Agassi. On the way out, I met former Bruins Steve Leach and Bob Sweeney. During the whole concert, I couldn't stop looking at the 7-foot guy in the 10th row with no rhythm. Bill Walton! I sat in section 4 (Orr), row 8 (Neely). The highlight was when Bruce was about to play "Jungleland" and screamed, "THIS ONE"S FOR GILLES GILBERT!!!!"
15. Best concert of the summer? Ben Folds and his piano.
16. Memorized every Stanley Cup winner. Go ahead, try me. 1934? Blackhawks.
17. While on the fifth hole of the Nicklaus course at Pine Hills in Plymouth, Mass., I got a call from Drury. "I just got traded to Buffalo," he said. "Is that good?" My response: "Yes, you'll be surprised. It will be good." Two months later Chris signs a four-year deal worth about $16 million.
18. I couldn't play in Chris's charity golf event for Travis Roy because my dad's charity event fell on the same day. So did Shjon Podein's. And the event Calgary Flames forward Chris Clark co-hosted. Sorry, Dad, but hockey is thicker than blood. I make the date next year.
19. Hosted Joe Sakic's charity event for the Food Bank of Colorado. Joe played in front of me, so we played a little match. I gave him two a side, and he beat me. Joe shoots left-handed and plays left-handed, too.
20. Ray Bourque called to say he made a double eagle on a par-5 at Salem Country Club. Driver, 4-iron. His voicemail said, "Boy, Jim, you should have seen it!!"
21. I played in an ABC/ESPN golf outing at Westchester Country Club, the week of the Buick Classic, or Open, or LeSabre, or Oldsmobuick, or whatever Buick event was that week. A guy in my foursome got a hole-in-one. It was the first time I ever saw one. I jumped on him like Yogi Berra jumped on Don Larsen after his perfect game. I was more excited than he was.
22. I fell in love this summer. Her name is TiVo. I love the sound when you first turn TiVo on. And I love the sound it makes when you delete a program. And I LOVE the drum sound it makes when you scroll down too far on the now playing list. I love my TiVo.
23. I played in the NHL's Hockey in Harlem charity golf event at Winged Foot (it was a good summer of golf courses played). I outbid Jean-Luc Grand-Pierre-Evert-Lloyd-Goolagong-Cawley-Rodham-Clinton of the Columbus Blue Jackets for a Wayne Gretzky autographed sweater. As I've written before when I "won" (see mounting debt) a Larry Bird jersey at Drury's charity tournament in 2002, autograph penmanship is the only way I will pay for an item. I am appalled at the slop many athletes pass for an autograph. Wayne's, like his passes, is a work of art.
Predictions: Eastern Conference
Last year, I was 6-for-8 in picking playoff teams in both conferences -- 12-for-16 for 75 percent. Not bad. This year, I'm shooting for nothing less than a Lindros -- 88 percent (14-of-16).
Next week: Western Conference
Is Ken the Otter really holding out for a one way contract?
What would you expect? After a summer of Bowflex with Bill Romanowski and fat burners, Ken's body fat is down to 68 percent. It's not about the money. It's about respect.
Hope you and Ken had a terrific summer. (Does your family suffer at all from otter envy? Just curious.) Now get your butt back to work. What, honestly, was the very first thought that entered your mind when you heard about Kariya and Selanne joining the Avs? Welcome back. Foppa rules.
I was thinking, "Man, this double cheeseburger is good." I was at a Wendy's when Chicken Parm called me with the news. My second thought was, Joe Sakic wins the scoring title.
On our trip back from vacation in Canada, my wife and I were in northern Wisconsin when we passed a sign for cabbage being sold by "Connie." We had never before seen a sign for someone selling cabbage. We had a couple of yucks at "Carneys" expense, of course. Then, no more than five miles later, we entered the town of Carney. I kid you not. I think we just looked at each other with raised eyebrows at that point, then we started looking around for Mike Myers. Hockey start is not far away. Whoo hoo!
Keith Carney. Circus folk. Nomads, you know. Smell like cabbage. Small hands.
John Buccigross is the host of NHL2Night, which airs on ESPN2. His e-mail address -- for questions, comments or cross-checks -- is email@example.com.