- John Buccigross, SportsCenter anchor
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First Period -- The Whistle Blower
I was at Disney World on Friday when my cell phone rang. Now, I'm not one those people whose cell phone is a 21st-century appendage, but one of its functions is as a timepiece since I don't wear a watch.
On this particular day, I had calls out because I was set to appear on the "Hockey Night in Canada" "Satellite Hot Stove" feature the next day. I wanted to bring something to the table rather than answering Ron MacLean's questions on any inside information with "Daddy like pizza!"
While I paid $85.32 to have my 6-year-old's face painted, I left a message for Stephen Walkom, hoping to hear back by Saturday afternoon.
Walkom is the NHL's senior vice president and director of officiating, and I was anxiously waiting for his impressions of how the new rules were being interpreted and for his much-heralded impression of Conan O'Brien, if he had one. As my son was having toxic chemicals spread over his eyes and nose, my phone vibrated. I had it on vibrate for fear that Packers coach Mike Sherman had, for some reason, left Packers practice in Wisconsin and flown to Disney for the day with Donald Driver. (If Donald Driver chauffeured Donald Duck while in Orlando, he would be Donald Duck's Driver.)
Anyway, Walkom had called right back. So, I stuffed 3 pounds of cotton candy in Jackson's piehole and threw him on the Dumbo ride while I talked to Walkom. I used seven seconds of it on TV, so consider these conversation capsules, fresh, never been used, Disney World-based hockey information:
• The current standard of "no pillaging the puck carrier" wasn't agreed upon until July 28. There was some fierce opposition, and it almost didn't happen. If it hadn't, Brett Hull would still be playing right now.
• As more video is acquired by Walkom and his staff, they will be able to e-mail officials video evidence of how a play should be interpreted.
• Walkom is completely committed to the current standard on the puck carrier. He had been for some time as an on-ice official, and one could assume he might not have taken his current job if he didn't believe in how the game should be called. The NHL has a young, energetic, passionate steward of the game, one who is looking ahead, not in the past. Walkom told me there would have been no Bobby Orr if hooking had been legal then the way it had become within the last 10 years.
• Walkom said the penalties being called now will be called come Game 7 of the Western Conference finals. The standard does not change. And the old habit of "evening" things up by dictating both teams have a similar number of power plays is over. If one team commits 15 infractions and the other team has four, then that's how the power-play chances should look.
• Walkom believes that when the players get in better game shape, the hitting will increase. The pace is so fast right now, players have little left when they get to the bench. Hitting would only take away more energy in certain cases. As the game changes and we see teams going to seven or eight defensemen, or perhaps some sort of "rover," defensemen will play less and, as a result, hitting could go up. The days of players playing 32 minutes are gone.
• Every game will not be "Shawshank Redemption." There will be some Drew Barrymore movies in there, too. I remember going to a Bruins-North Stars game at the Boston Garden in 1991. It was a Saturday night, and I had great seats. But the game was blah. Little hitting, little excitement. But a bad night at a hockey game is still better than a fishhook in the eye. That's what my Papa always said.
• The attitude Walkom is taking is positive. He's trying to change the culture of the current thinking. Those who complain will stand still. Those who adapt, like Carolina's Peter Laviolette, will thrive.
Second Period -- 'Hockey Night in Canada'
Ninety percent of Canada's 31 million citizens live within 100 miles of the U.S.
border. I have always thought Canada reflected the values, faces and general way of life of its U.S. neighbors, and vice versa.
People in southern British Columbia are a lot like people in Seattle; folks in Mississauga, Ontario, greatly resemble people southwest of it in Mentor, Ohio.
My grandmother was born in Newfoundland, and I was raised in Ohio and Pennsylvania. Driving through Ontario is a lot like driving through Ohio. Both have Tim Hortons. An NHL player once told me his coach used to yell out on the plane after landing in Canada, "Turn your clocks back 20 years, boys!" It takes me back to my childhood -- riding bikes with no helmets, pond hockey with no headgear, basically roaming about town finding adventures. There was nothing, like cable TV or video games, to keep us inside. We were always out. It was a cool life.
Life is slower north of the border. There are 8 million people in New York City and 30 million people in Canada. There is time and space. Less clutching and grabbing. If something works, Canadians are less apt to change it.
Watching a hockey game on CBC is not very different from 20 years ago. The camera angles are simple and clear. The cameramen know the game. The play-by-play announcer describes the action instead of the U.S. broadcaster who carries on conversations during the action. The sideline reporting is only done when relevant, and it's never intrusive. I wrote this when hockey was on ESPN, and it's even more the case now: No one does hockey like CBC.
Not only do the CBC folks have the fundamentals down like TSN, but they are a landmark with rich history like Fenway Park, Wrigley Field, the Rolling Stones and John Wooden. That aura can get stuffy sometimes if it's not tweaked and kept alive with smart and energetic change. The Canadian way seems to say to me, "Let's sprinkle a little of this here, and try this here and see what happens." We in the U.S. tend to say, "Grab that explosive, Sparky, and let's blow this mutha out, yo!"
"Hockey Night in Canada" is like "Saturday Night Live" in the late '70s, "Monday Night Football" in the '80s, the Internet in the '90s and the iPod nano now. I guess if you are an ardent NFL fan, ESPN and the U.S. serve you well. For those of us who are not, there is no "Hockey Night in Canada" equivalent.
Hockey is the game of Canada, but it's more than that. No one loves golf more than me. The swing, the history, the game. I subscribe to five golf magazines. But I don't watch the Golf Channel much. Why? They must not be doing something right.
Canadian hockey is connected by car rides, grandmas, cheeseburgers, Cokes and giant cinnamon sticks. It's constant, it's clear, and it's documented with love and passion. Who wouldn't want to be a part of that club? "Hockey Night in Canada" is so effective at what it does that we Americans, whether in Michigan or other states that get CBC on TV or those of us on the Center Ice package, feel and appreciate the show.
The reason is simple: The CBC crew treats the game with the same amount of love and passion we do. Hockey fans in America feel like second-class citizens. Our self-esteem can get squashed by the barrage of cut downs and ignorance from the national media. Every Saturday night, we get our weekly hockey hug. The distraught child is cuddled by the big, burly grandfather saying, "It's OK. You're safe here."
Third Period -- Life of Podes
Our boy Shjon Podein (100 NHL goals in 699 games) has continued his hockey life's adventure in Japan after spending last winter in Sweden. Here is Shjon's latest e-mail to me:
"Where do I begin? What a culture. I am big into the whole bowing thing. The people are great. Tokyo is huge. Mount Fuji is one cool mountain. I climbed the Great Wall and lived to tell about it. I don't know if the satellites could see me waving. Hockey is a blast.
"I got a 10-game suspension for running into a ref. I talked it down to three. I'm really into the conveyer belt sushi. I like just to watch the sushi go round and round and grab the one you want. It's exhilarating. I ate some blow fish and avoided the poison. Homer would be proud. I saw some NHL highlights on ESPN.com. I don't even dream as fast as the boys are skating! Everyone in southeast Minnesota loves it. I saw my first sumo live. I'm hooked for life! Those big, round guys got some quick feet. Yakitori and noodles instead of hot dogs and popcorn. I hope life is great and keep loving the world's greatest game.
S.W. Podein, Esq.
The Mother of All Mailbags
Tell Rick at UMass-Amherst that Verizon Wireless has the NHL 2night ring tone. He can access the "Get It Now" function, select "ring tones" and then scroll down to the ESPN category. I have kept it as my ringer in the hopes that one day the show will be back on the air.
Cyndi in Redondo Beach
As for the NHL 2night ring tone, if you are a Sprint/Nextel user, you can still download it from the Sprint.com Web site for a $2.00 charge. I've had it as my ringer for several years and it has started many interesting conversations.
Keep up the great work,
For Rick at Amherst, ESPN offers a ring tone package through Verizon. The old ESPN hockey music is my ringer, too.
Moon Township, Pa.
P.S. -- I rank that song in the Top 5 TV Sports Themes of all time. The list, in no particular order: Monday Night Football, CBS College Football, the NBA on NBC, ESPN National Hockey Night and Fox NFL Sunday.
I just have one quick question for you. Will there be a shootout at the end of the first overtime during the playoffs? Don't get me wrong, I LOVE the shootouts but I think that would be an unfair way to eliminate teams in the playoffs, especially if a goalie has stood on his head for 60-plus minutes. Thanks and go Avs!!
Chapel Hill, N.C.
No shootouts in the playoffs, Krishna. Hari hari.
Who do you think is going to start or even be on the team for Team USA in the Olympics? I know a lot of people are thinking Rick DiPietro, but what about Ryan Miller from the Sabres? He is playing incredible and already had some international experience. Hopefully we will see him in net for Team USA.
Miller's broken thumb will keep him out until around Boxing Day. It will be interesting to see if Team USA puts him on the roster anyway and makes the assumption he will be ready by February. I reckon they will. Miller, DiPietro and Robert Esche will be the goalies for Team USA.
I am a little confused by the intentions of the NHL and the new rule regarding substitutions after an icing. If the point is to give the advantage to the offensive team by keeping out a tired opposing line, then why is there a 30-45 second break for a TV timeout after the icing. Doesn't this defeat the purpose of the rule? I was at the Oilers/Preds game Oct. 29 and noticed this happened many times.
Matt, there are only three TV timeouts in each period. Roughly, at the 15-minute mark, 10 and 5, and they are usually about two minutes. Otherwise faceoffs are about 15-20 seconds after the whistle.
I am offended by the lack of emphasis that ESPN.com and NHL.com are putting on Teemu Selanne's comeback. He had three points on Oct. 30 and wasn't even one of the NHL.com's Three Stars. He has been sensational, yet he is seemingly getting no respect (Which is usually what happens to him on awards night). Could you please just mention him in an article?
OK. Selanne began the week with nine goals and seven assists in 15 games. If he roughly keeps that pace, he will finish with about 50 goals. He'll likely slow down a bit and finish with around 30. Selanne is 39 goals from 500.
You have got to watch Eric Freeeking Staal in person. Hell, you might want to catch a 'Canes game. Brindy's playing great, and this team is all about perseverance. And two-goal comebacks.
Back to Staal, it is unreal how good he looks. His last goal was a mixture of effort, persistence and skill. He's got confidence, quickness and patience. And he threw his size around a little tonight. Nice.
I'm shocked at the jump Eric Staal has made. His rookie season, he was a good player but lacked explosiveness. Even last year in the AHL, I watched him play a game against the Hartford Wolf Pack and he wasn't even the best player on his team. Now, he is playing as though he's an amphetamine-popping lumberjack in Maine with nothing but a chainsaw and an acre of trees. Staal appears to have Joe Sakic game.
Are they using the tag-up offside rule? I have seen several times where a player is offside without the puck as the puck carrier crosses the blue line and the whistle blows right away. I thought play would continue and the offside player could go back and touch the blue line. Is there a time limit for him to go back and touch the line?
In theory, unless I'm misunderstanding the rule, the whistle should not blow unless the offside player touches the puck before he tags up. No one during any telecast has even mentioned this rule.
A team has to establish itself as onside before the tag-up rule is in effect, Tim. If you and I come down on a two-on-one and I beat the puck over the blue line, the whistle blows. That said, there have been instances when players and officials are still conditioned to the old offside rule.
With the trap pretty much gone from the NHL, the new plague is diving. Players are taking advantage of the referees because they know how closely the refs are being watched. I feel the NHL needs one more rule change, making diving not only a two-minute minor, but also a 10-minute misconduct. That would be a heavy price to pay for making the decision to flop.
Cherry Hill, N.J.
Hockey is so fast. And remember it's played on ice, which any Chevy Cavalier will tell you is slippery. It's very hard for referees to judge diving during the course of a game. They are first and foremost instant rule interpreters of a game with continuous action. No sport is as mentally taxing. To turn them into figure skating judges as well is a lot to ask. Slow-motion instant replay is a pretty good indicator of who is flagrantly diving. Quietly take money out of their paycheck a couple of times. Don't embarrass the player first. Give him a chance to repent. Then, threaten suspension. If I had one negative of Sidney Crosby, it is that he borderline dives to draw penalties.
If you could attach a song to each of the following players, what would it be?
I despise these questions because they take over my life. Since I first read this e-mail, it's all I've thought of. Ken the Otter is hungry -- there is a filleted carp on the counter I forgot about and it has been sitting out for five days and I haven't showered since last Thursday. I hate you, Chris.
1) Forsberg: "Good Riddance" by Green Day (All of the highlights in slow motion)
2) Ovechkin: "Do You Want To" by Franz Ferdinand
3) Kovalchuk: "Feeling This" by Blink 182
4) Heatley: "Where Are You Going" by Dave Matthews Band
5) Staal: "Sick of Myself" by Matthew Sweet
John Buccigross' e-mail address -- for questions, comments or cross-checks -- is email@example.com.
8dScott Burnside and Craig Custance