- John Buccigross, SportsCenter anchor
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"Everyone tries to win 1-0, how much fun is that to watch? It's horrible."
-- Theo Fleury
For 15 years, the NHL gave Theo Fleury an all-expenses paid vacation across North America, millions of dollars to either give to charity or waste at the blackjack table, and countless thrilling moments to decorate a life. And like most hockey poseurs recently, he chose to poop on the game.
Hey, the game needs some remodeling. You know it, I know it, Bob Dole knows it, and the American people know it. But keep in mind what we have stated here before: The people who whine, the people who complain, are largely people who don't watch the games. There are over 1,230 NHL games a year, and they can't all be gems. Some will be "Usual Suspects," and some will be "Stakeout 2." I remember a Saturday night game I saw in the Boston Garden back in 1990 that was boring. The most exciting thing for me that night was walking in on Bruin anthem singer Rene Rancourt changing out of his tux in a room I thought was the media room. My God, Rene! Put on your pants!! There just weren't 178 channels, TiVo, Blink 182 CDs and home theater systems to give the world more options.
But, alas, the game needs fixin'. So next week, we will give our top 10 changes the NHL needs to make to give the game a tuneup, a cheat sheet if you will for NHL GMs as they gear up for some serious discussions on possible game changes after All-Star weekend.
Until then, this hockey fan is sick and tired of the ignorant anti-hockey rants coming from talk show hosts, columnists and NHL players past and present. Thus, here are my top 10 reasons why I watch NHL hockey every night on my home theater system and why the game is great:
10. The Sounds. The blades of steel on the ice as Brian Gionta powerfully and quickly strides, and the shavings of ice Sergei Fedorov makes as he unexpectedly changes direction. The sound the puck makes on a Brett Hull one-timer, the puck hitting the post on a Sheldon Souray bomb, and the sound the boards make on a Jordin Tootoo body check. The sounds of the game are audibly underrated. For a game so visibly pleasing, it is a real sound blaster.
9. The Flow. Go to a football game, watch a basketball game and you will see stoppages in play, hear whistles, and rarely see continuous action. Hockey moves in waves like those on a Maui beach -- sometimes big, sometimes small but always movement.
8. The Hockey Sweater. What looks better than a hockey sweater? I drove down to Philadelphia last week to hang out with Keith Jones and Ween guitarist (Buy their CD "Quebec." So good.) and Flyers season ticket holder Mickey Melchiondo for my annual Flyers game and I loved looking around the arena at all the people wearing Flyers sweaters. Nineteen-year-old girls wear hockey sweaters. Fifty-three-year-old women wear them. So do 9-year-olds, working men, and the Dave Matthews Band's drummer Carter Beauford. Carter wasn't there, I'm just saying.
7. Lauren Hart. No one -- and I mean no one -- sings "The Star-Spangled Banner" like Flyers anthem singer Lauren Hart. When she sings, my eyes get wet. She should put her version on one of the CDs she has out and sing it before every gig. I have a severe Jumbotron crush on Lauren Hart. I'm going to use my one 30-second column timeout now, and my assistant Don Marcotte will diagram a play.
6. 'Oh, Canada.' Let's face it; it's the best national anthem of all time. I knew all the words when I was 8. Maybe this has been done before in Canada, but how good would it be to get NHL players from Canada to sing the song and then edit it to have a different player sing each line? I just sung the song in 55 seconds, so it can fit into a 60-second spot. Has Labatt Blue done this? For the finishing "On guard for thee," I would film a sold-out Air Canada Centre singing the last line during a TV timeout, and that's how I would end the spot.
5. The Desperation of the Moment. Boy, does everybody care. Every game has always mattered to those playing and coaching in the NHL, and players in the '70s, like Dave Burrows, played just as hard and took losing just as hard as Adam Foote. Up close, with the TV camera and audio, the grit of the game comes flying through the TV. I mean who can't get enough of Todd Bertuzzi's f-bombs?! Keep 'em coming, Bert!!!!
4. Skating. Skating is a beautiful thing to watch. That's why they have figure skating contests judged by politically corrupt judges. The skating in the NHL has never been better. Playmaking hasn't improved, but with a few exceptions, and I'm talking like 11, everyone is a joy to watch skate. The Flyers have Ice Girls now to shovel the snow along the boards, and I found myself just watching their skates and how fluid they moved. I never noticed the tight pants, tight orange half-shirt, navel jewelry and steel shovel. I mean, what a sweet shovel! I wish I could draw, juggle and skate like Marco Sturm.
3. The Announcers. They are the lead singer of the great band of hockey. Mike Emrick, Chris Cuthbert, Sam Rosen, and all the other great ones sing the game. No one jells like Randy Hahn and Drew Remenda in San Jose. Like his dad, Dan Kelly Jr. of the Blue Jackets makes every game sound like Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final, even when the Jackets are losing 7-0. Great announcers make for great telecasts.
2. The Courage. Here's where football shares a thread with hockey. You can't thrive without some courage, and it is blatantly obvious who has it and who doesn't. Keith Carney will break his foot, have it heal, and in the first game back will stick it in front of another 95 mph hour slap shot. Jeremy Roenick's exhibitionism overshadows his complete disregard for his body and bravery. J.R. gives everything every night. He is so watchable. What makes the Stanley Cup playoffs so grand is, magically, everyone's bravery exceeds what each player actually thought he had. That is the secret magic potion of the playoffs that separates them from every other sporting event.
1. Friends. A hockey fan is a friend. Hockey is family, friends and rock and roll. A bond, a laugh, a good time. What more do we all want in life than bonds, laughs and good times? That's what the people and the game bring. There is an undeniable bond within the hockey community. The self-centered are eventually exposed or weeded out. The humorless will not be remembered. The good times are the result of the heeded values.
The NHL game is a little rough around the edges right now, but we'll fix that. The staunch and sexy components are still there and forever will be. The boring and bitter need not apply. Either you are in or you are out. Either you are a hockey fan or you are not. It's not a game for you to poop on!!!!!!
Rick Nash and I have a lot in common. We are both 6-foot-4, a shade over 200 pounds and have spent most of our lives trying to gain weight. We both love golf, have an interest in teaching someday, and were raised in the middle of North America. Nash is 19 and lives in Columbus, Ohio. When I was 19, I went to school 90 minutes north of Columbus. Nash recently was named to the NHL Western Conference All-Star Team, and in 1981 I was cut from the Wintersville, Ohio, Babe Ruth All-Star Team. OK, maybe not a lot in common.
No. 1: When you were born, Mark Messier was, like, 24. When you see him at the All-Star Game, will you call him Mark, Mr. Messier or Dad?
Nash: I probably won't talk to him. I'm not the kind of guy to walk up and talk to people. I'm a little shy in that area. Hopefully, he'll come up and introduce himself to me.
Rick was born on June 16, 1984, in Brampton, Ontario. Mark Messier was born in Jan. 18, 1961, in Edmonton, Alberta. The biggest All-Star Game age discrepancy was Gordie and Wayne in 1980. That game was played in Detroit, and Reggie Leach was the MVP.
No. 2: How can you help the Western Conference in the skills competition? What is your skills competition strength?
Nash: If they don't use me! I wouldn't say I'm nervous. I'm just glad to be there and will do whatever they want.
The skills competition will be on ESPN, Saturday, Feb. 7 at 7 p.m. ET, right after the YoungStars Game. The All-Star Game will be on ABC, Sunday, Feb. 8 at 3 p.m. ET.
No. 3: What is your passion outside of hockey? What would your dream job be?
Nash: Probably a gym teacher or a professional golfer. I have about an 11 handicap. I usually shoot in the 80s. I didn't have a lot of time last summer to play or practice because of working out, power skating and getting ready for the season.
Rick's owner, John McConnell owns a beautiful golf course called Double Eagle. Rick has never had a double eagle. Neither have I. Nor has Jessica Simpson. Ray Bourque, Ray Ferraro and Ray Floyd all have.
No. 4: Would you rather go bowling with Jessica Simpson or Britney Spears?
Nash: Hmmmmm. I'd say Britney.
This is one of the few areas where Rick and I differ. We also differ in tattoos. He has two. I have none. I don't know what to get. I was thinking maybe an otter. Rick has his zodiac sign (Gemini) on one shoulder, and he wouldn't tell me what is on the other shoulder. I will use all of my journalistic skills to find out this vital piece of deltoid art information. My guess what the other tattoo might be?? 1) Espen Knutsen wrestling a squirrel, 2) a snorkel, 3) two pop tarts.
No. 5: Your hockey stick appears to be a Hal Gill model. Is it longer than standard?
Nash: Nope, it's standard, right to my chin. Maybe it looks longer because of my long arms.
Rick has an equipment deal with Louisville. He uses a Response stick and gloves. His skates are Bauer Vapor 20s.
No. 6: What do you get when you go to Steak 'N Shake?
Nash: I get a Steakburger, fries and chocolate shake.
There are 55 Steak 'N Shake's in Ohio, eight in Columbus.
No. 7: What do you want to get accomplished when you step on the ice to begin a shift?
Nash: Go all out, forecheck like crazy and get to the front of the net. Get to the places where you can score.
On the ice, Rick drives to the net. To drive to the Steak 'N Shake, Rick drives a GMC Denali.
No. 8: I picture you, Rostislav Klesla, Nikolai Zherdev and Dan Fritsche getting a house on Lake Erie, maybe Put-In-Bay, and have like an "American Pie 2" summer. How does that sound?
Nash: That sounds great! But I don't think it's going to happen. I'll probably split my time between Columbus and home. I'll keep trying to get bigger and stronger, and gaining weight.
Rick said he weighs 206 at the moment.
Bonus: Tell me something you've never told anyone else.
Nash: I told you more than I tell most media people. That was fun.
Tell me what your other tattoo is?
With 30 teams and still just one All-Star Game, there always will be players who have valid arguments on why they should have been included. I believe five players are more deserving than five who made it. I won't say whom the five I would take off because that would be demeaning to players having good years. If you see me in the produce section buying my squash, I'll whisper in your ear which ones I would take off.
1. Milan Hejduk, RW, Colorado Avalanche: I mean, really. Rocket Richard trophy as the only man to reach 50 goals last year. He leads his team in power-play goals and game winners. Those hands belong in the Smithsonian, or a Palmolive commercial.
2. Kris Draper, C, Detroit Red Wings: Throw me a bone here. He skates like he really loves the game. Bloated plus/minus, more goals than Brendan Shanahan and Brett Hull, only one of his 19 goals is on the power play, great faceoff guy, great personality. They would have made this guy's year.
4. Mattias Ohlund, D, Vancouver Canucks: Plays a lot like Schneider except he's a little bigger and hits more. He has Norris Trophy candidacy written on him. If the game were anywhere but Minnesota, he would have been named to the team.
5. Mike Ribeiro, C, Montreal Canadiens: One of the NHL's slickest players and leads a playoff-positioned team in scoring. He would have made Datsyuk-like moves at the All-Star Game and have been an exciting skills competition guy.
Life of Podes
The life and hockey times of Shjon Podein: "Dog Day Afternoon" meets "Reality Bites."
The tooth next to my right front tooth has been cracked twice. The second time was in Game 7 of the 2001 Stanley Cup final against New Jersey. Sean O'Donnell punched me in the face and broke the tooth, but the memory was too good to get it fixed.
The first time I broke my tooth was a couple of years earlier. I'm on my neighbor's porch having an ice-cold beer. I have a broken leg, and it's a beautiful day. I have Little Buddy and Blackie (the Akita-Chow mix we took in from Sherry's dog rescue) playing in the backyard. As I look away, Blackie put the death clamp on Little Buddy's jugular!!. I hobbled as fast as I could down the stairs of the deck. I get there and Little Buddy is crying for help. So I grab Blackie by the neck, no luck. I grab her by the back legs to pull her off, no luck. I punch and kick her ribs, then gouge her eyes, still nothing. Now I'm freaking out. So finally I grab Blackie's head and bite into her neck as hard as I could with everything I have. She finally lets go. I throw her over the fence, and Little Bud, after some drainage and stitches, is OK. On my way to the vet, I noticed I broke my tooth. That's my man bites dog story.
Who's the smartest man in Silicon Valley these days? My vote would go to Doug Wilson. The Sharks' GM told me this summer that the men in teal would compete, and would be a whole lot better than the prognosticators thought.
The Sharks have been healthy, are getting great goaltending and are a good skating team. Whenever any NHL team does this, it wins. As we told you in a previous column, there a lot of teams who are a lot alike and what will determine who makes the playoffs is largely health and goaltending. If the Sharks get injuries and their goaltending drops just a notch, they will start losing games and go down in the standings. The really good teams are the ones that win despite the injuries. The Coyotes finally got nicked up and have dropped out of the top eight in the West.
To me, the fights on the ice allow both the players and the fans to let off some bottled up anger and adrenaline. If you try to eliminate all situations where someone might die, then I suspect the puck, the sticks, and the skates will soon be gone; they all seem much more hazardous to me than a fist does. Attempting to limit fighting will only make it worse, I think, and the pent up emotions will spill over after the game with the players and the fans. And hockey would be the worse for it.
Fighting has no place in hockey. The argument that no one goes for popcorn when a fight breaks out doesn't make it right. I've never left a bar when a fight broke out either. That doesn't mean the bar owner should be allowed to have fights every night because it attracts a bigger crowd.
Green Bay, Wis.
For all those out there who think that your scenario of someone being killed in a fight far fetched, think again! This past weekend, David Hookes (a legend in cricket, the baseball of the southern hemisphere) was killed by just a single punch. It wasn't even a fight as such, but someone threw a punch, it landed in the wrong place, and David's now dead. It can happen.
This hell cannot end soon enough. I'm 88 days away from freedom from Operation Iraqi Freedom, and your column this week just makes me miss it that much more. You mentioned the Johnstown Jets last week. My first hockey game was at the War Memorial. When I do get home, I'll be an employee of Robert Morris University outside Pittsburgh. And John, this is an open invitation to the Island Sports Center for a game during RMU's first season of Division I hockey.
Specialist Brian Stevens
Camp Anaconda, Iraq
With his lack of goal scoring, do you think Joe Thornton may be better off playing a wing?
That's a great question Brandon, and one I've pondered while chewing bark and watching Bruin games at Scott Van Pelt's crib. Todd Bertuzzi doesn't play center, but he bangs and stickhandles and passes and scores and gets to the front of the net. The Bruins are beginning to use Thornton more in front of the net on power plays instead of behind the net. You wonder if he is better suited to play wing. Plus he is not a great faceoff guy. Patrice Bergeron at center, Thornton on the right side and Sergei Samsonov on the left.
Need your advice. For over the last year I have wanted a 1980 USA Olympic hockey jersey. I finally decided I want the white jersey with Kenny Morrow's number 2 on the back. Should I consider the blue jersey instead?
No way, Brennan. Go with white all the way. As I mentioned last week, I saw a sneak preview of the movie "Miracle." To add to last week's comment on the movie was all the wood sticks. They looked great. I wish the NHL had implemented a baseball-like, wood-only policy on sticks for four reasons. 1) A puck slapped with wood sounds better, 2) passing has dropped off big time in the NHL since wood began to get phased out, 3) these broken sticks on D-to-D passes are maddening, 4) dad wouldn't have to pay $180 to buy Sparky a stick for his Mite C team.
Do you have to be Swedish to get an e-mail published on your column? I'm 1/32 Swede, can you publish my e-mail?
Use the Hakan-Hannukah melody for the following lyric:
Vesa Toskala's not Swedish, nor is Nabby,
Jim Campbell is 1/32 Swedish, not too shabby.
Who has better hair in your opinion -- Marc Crawford or Kerry Fraser?
Not even close. Without question, the coach of the Vancouver Canucks has the best head of hair in all of hockey. He has Mike Wallace-if-I-live-to-be-129-I'll-still-have-this-hair, hair. I'd love to hit my 7-wood off Crawford hair. Yeah, I said it. I have a 7-wood. And proud of it.
Just thought I'd let the world know that your buddy Ray Ferraro, native son and Avon lady in Trail, B.C., is going to be inducted into the B.C. Hockey Hall of Fame this year. The ceremony takes place at the Lakeside Resort and Casino in Penticton, on July 23. Joining Ray in the Hall will be fellow Trailite (Trailian? Trailer?) Steve Tambellini (Canucks VP of player personnel), Bob Nicholson (president of Hockey Canada); former Rockies and Rangers d-man Barry Beck; and longtime Canuck fave (and the only one on the list not originally from B.C.) Harold Snepts.
Congrats to Ray and the others,
Since Cam Neely is already in the B.C. Hall of Fame, I will begin my "Why Joe Sakic should be in the B.C. Hockey Hall of Fame" columns next fall. Like my argument for Neely to be in the Hockey Hall of Fame, I have good numbers to back up the Sakic argument.
How much ice time did you log last game?
John Buccigross is the host of NHL2Night, which airs on ESPN2. His e-mail address -- for questions, comments or cross-checks -- is firstname.lastname@example.org.