There is a man named Judson Burch who works at ESPN. Judson is very good at his job and is very good at coming up with fun games to play as we work at our incredibly difficult and important job of watching sporting events. Some of Jud's games:
Retired Major League umpire: Dead or alive?
Name as many songs as you can on a Greatest Hits CD. (You get three strikes. Sometimes everyone in the working pod plays.)
Name the fake game.
In the Name the Fake Game game, Jud will give us a list of college football games. Three are fake games from two made-up institutions. The rest are real games between two real teams that took place over the weekend. The games are all fake or all real. This week's choices are below, so you can play along. I will reveal the three games that are fake at the end of this portion of the column. Again, your job is to pick the three fake games in as few guesses as possible. I was only unable to choose one fake game correctly in my first three guesses. I made two more guesses and got another one before I forfeited. Fellow "SportsCenter" anchor John Anderson nailed the three fake games on his first three guesses. I bet you don't. Here are the games. Again, three are fake. Name them.
Alfred 24, Husson 7
Hope 28, Adrian 20
Apostle 17, Avaricus Bible 13
Bethel 35, St. Olaf 29
East Texas Baptist 32, Louisiana College 29
Redlands 21, Claremont-Mudd-Scripps 9
St. Xavier 24, Quincy 12
Notre Dame 20, UCLA 17
Bryant 41, St. Anselm 0
Elizabeth City St. 36, Shaw 0
Friends 19, Ottawa, Kan. 0
CMSU-Springfield 20, Southland Tech 10
Humboldt St. 45, Dixie St. 7
Southeastern Oklahoma 9, Central Oklahoma 7
Fort Valley 16, Benedict 10
Missouri Southern 31, Central Missouri 26
Grand Valley 45, Northwood 7
Gadsden 10, College of The Woodlands (Texas) 9
Answers at the bottom of this section.
I bring up this game because it should be brought up. It's brilliant. But also because I enjoy these kinds of reindeer games. Best arenas, best goalies, best play-by-play announcers, and any other opinion or fact-based games. Bucci's "A-List" will appear from time to time with random lists. This week, I'm going to give my Top Five Power Rankings. I often get asked, via e-mail, whether I have anything to do with the power rankings on ESPN.com. I don't. It appears that a lot of you like the power rankings. For me, there is no upside. It guarantees lots of hate mail from fans who feel their team has been slighted. But, hey, no pain, no gain. So, after a very small sample of games this year, here are Bucci's Top Five Power Rankings.
1. Buffalo Sabres: Duh. Speed, mobile defense, depth and one of the top five goalies in the NHL. (That's another list for another time.) If the top three lines played without names and numbers on their backs, it would be hard to differentiate the nine skaters. They have skill, speed and a sameness that makes them very fluid. They also have some policemen to protect those nine. Buffalo's defensemen all play about the same amount of minutes, and they all move well. But, with any good hockey team, if it's not backed up by great goaltending, a team is not great. Ryan Miller has the ideal goalie physique, temperament and game to play for this team. When you have a goalie like Miller, it allows you to play aggressively. His stats won't look as though he's one of the best, but he is.
2. Dallas Stars: Naming Brenden Morrow captain was the right move. The NHL is a young man's game again, and Morrow brings an energy and a youthfulness to an organization that needs good young players desperately. Also, Dallas needs Morrow to score 35 goals this year. He needs to step up his game offensively, and maybe the captaincy will give him a little push in that direction. Dallas still is a bit of an older team, so it will be interesting to see whether the older players can stay healthy and stay energized all year. The Stars also need people like Antti Miettinen to score all year. The Mike Ribeiro trade was clutch. They look like a really good team right now, but we need to keep an eye on them.
3. Anaheim Ducks: I'm not sure why I picked Dallas ahead of Anaheim. The Stars beat them in a shootout, so we'll go with that. If these two met in a best-of-seven right now, I might go with the Ducks. They have a fantastic power play, incredible defense and lots of speed. Their goaltender is pretty good. I'm just a tiny bit concerned about their ability to score. Buffalo has Maxim Afinogenov, Daniel Briere, Chris Drury and Thomas Vanek, who should all score 30 goals this year. I would be a bit concerned as a Ducks fan at their overall ability to finish. If I were coaching against them, I would not take penalties and try to shut down the first line and take my chances.
4. San Jose: The Sharks are really good. Their power play will hum all year with their talented defensemen, Joe Thornton and Jonathan Cheechoo. Matt Carle will be in the top three in Calder Trophy voting, battling for second place behind obvious winner Evgeni Malkin. San Jose has two strong goalies and forward depth. Thornton refuses to shoot, so the Sharks can't expect much more than 20 goals. He's on pace for something like 140 shots. I swear his goal is to have these totals on the back of his hockey card at the end of the year: 0-134-134. I like the Mike Grier and Mark Bell acquisitions. Grier gives them some veteran steadiness, and Bell gives them some wacky personality. Bell looks like the kind of guy you would invite to Las Vegas with a bunch of friends because he would provide security in nightclub and there is a pretty good chance he would end up naked in a hotel fountain.
5. Minnesota: The management has done such a wonderful job of guiding this franchise along like a smart, loving parent. Kim Johnsson was a great signing, but he needs to stay healthy. I'm not comfortable calling anyone a playoff choker, but I thought Johnsson did that a few times in his Flyers playoff career. He didn't look as though he could handle the moment. He'll be 31 in the spring, so maybe he's a different player than he was a few springs ago. That's a lot of negative stuff for a team that probably will win the Northwest Division.
So, there it is. As you notice, four of the five teams are from the Western Conference, which is undoubtedly the stronger conference. If you want to live in the Eastern time zone and watch the best hockey, stay up later.
Name the Fake Game answers:
Apostle 17, Avaricus Bible 13
Gadsden 10, College of The Woodlands (Texas) 9
CMSU-Springfield 20, Southland Tech 10
This week, we light the red lamp with Podes.
Veteran readers of this column know that from time to time we like to give you an update on the life and times of Shjon Podein, hence, "Life of Podes." Shjon played 699 NHL games and scored exactly 100 goals. He played a year in Sweden during the lockout and spent last year in Japan. The following is a top-10 list Podes sent me while playing in Sweden.
1. A remote-controlled car bringing the game puck out to center ice for the opening faceoff.
2. Getting knocked on my butt and having the whole crowd cheer (all 892 of them).
3. Coming out for the start of the game to find the national anthem half over.
4. Taking two hours on my first trip to the grocery store to get a total of eight items.
5. Having an outdoor bandy rink one block away.
6. Playing 34 minutes. (No, not over the season, but in one game!)
7. Did you know Swedish massages are called massages over here? And Swedish meatballs are called just meatballs? (Is this country wacky or what?!)
8. I don't know if it's the language or what, but my daughter Anna calls me and Little Buddy (my dog) the same name, Da.
9. After good games we go back on the ice and do the wave with the crowd. After really good games, we go back twice and do a dance.
10. A car with my name and number on it. That's right, there's a new mayor of Dorkville, and his name is Shjon.
Like Dave Poulin, "Podes" is in my hockey people Hall of Fame. He sent this e-mail from Minnesota this week:
Life of Podes
Is this a great game or what? The speed, the talent, the scoring, all things that eluded a player like me for 16 years of pro hockey. I know some guys after they retire watch games and wish they were back out there, but the new NHL has had the opposite effect on me. I watch these games and thank Buddha I'm not out there having my weak links exposed to all.
I watch these young guys carrying the puck in midair like it's glued to their stick. I was lucky to loft the puck off the ice with a slap shot by the time I hit my 18th birthday.
I am and always will be a fan of the game. It is the greatest game in the world and watching from the Big Brown Couch is much more comfortable than the end of a hockey bench.
I started working at the Octagon Hockey player agency and have been really enjoying it so far. It is a nice feeling going to work and not having a 6-foot-4, 215-pound man ask me if I wanna go. Now the guys in the office ask me to go, but to lunch and relaxing things like that.
My daughter Anna has chosen tutus over skates, Junior is starting to roll over at 3 weeks and eating like a horse.
Mommy is recovering slowly; Little Buddy still runs the late-night canine get-togethers; and Pappa Podein is about to sing an octave higher in a few weeks.
Well, John, it's 5 o'clock somewhere, so I am outta here, Peace.
Son of Walt, not Tkachuk
Dave Poulin played 724 NHL games with the Flyers, Bruins, and Capitals. He wore the "C" with the Flyers, won the Selke Trophy in 1987 and won the King Clancy Memorial Trophy in 1993. Poulin retired after the 1994-95 season, became a volunteer roadie for Collective Soul in the summer of '95, then became the hockey coach of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish that fall. When Poulin inherited the program in 1995, his Irish went 9-23-4. In his last season as Notre Dame coach, in 2003-04, the Irish went 20-15-4.
The former popular Flyer now works and lives in South Bend, Ind., still an employee of Notre Dame. I highly recommend inviting Dave to your next golf trip, bachelor party, yard sale or pampered chef party.
Q: What is your job title and what do you at Notre Dame?
A: I'm in athletics development, principally responsible for capital projects within the athletics department.
Q: Do you miss coaching more, less or about what you thought?
A: I really haven't missed coaching. It was an unexpected turn in my life, I enjoyed it for 10 years, and have moved on.
Q: Will Dave Poulin ever be an NHL head coach?
A: I think my coaching days are behind me!
Q: I would think you could be commissioner with your background and
what you are doing now. You are raising money for Notre Dame, and Gary
Bettman raises money for the the NHL. What about it?
A: Mr. Bettman has a very difficult job, in that he essentially has 30 bosses -- the owners of 30 teams. I would imagine that to be a tremendous challenge.
Q: What haven't you done in your life that you want to do?
A: Caddy for John Buccigross.
Q: You have twins. Tell fans why the Sedins have to be on the same
A: I consider myself a consultant on twins, having played with Rich and Ron Sutter in Philadelphia for five years, and then having my own set of identical daughters. The bond is difficult to explain. The unspoken language is real. Plus, they can share clothes on road trips.
Q: In your mind, how has the NHL changed the most from what you see?
A: Right now, I believe they have the speed and flow back. It's not new, it just took a sabbatical while zealous coaches overthought, and overtaught, the game. In my view, they've given the game back to the players.
Q: What is the state of NCAA hockey?
A: NCAA hockey is strong and growing. Every day, there are more and more college players playing at the highest level. Players develop at very different rates. The NCAA provides a tremendous option for development over the course of four years while growing off the ice as well.
Q: What is your fondest NHL memory?
A: The players I played with. From an on-ice standpoint, it was winning Game 6 versus Quebec in 1985 to go to the Stanley Cup finals for the first time. We were young and invincible, and we simply played the game.
Q: I understand you were listening to ESPN Radio and someone said something about whether Tom Glavine was a great athlete? What do you think?
A: If someone can play three different sports at a highly competitive level, I would qualify them as a good athlete. I know Tom can pitch; I understand he's a great golfer; and I have an interesting hockey story about him. In '92, after his Cy Young, I walked into the locker room one morning in the Boston Garden and there was a guy putting gear on, being filmed by a camera crew. I thought we had made a trade, and introduced myself to & Tom Glavine. "This Week In Baseball" was doing a piece on him, and he skated an entire practice with us. And he was pretty good! The rust came off pretty quickly. My guess is he hadn't skated very much since high school, when he was a fourth-round draft pick by the L.A. Kings. That day, he skated on a line with Cam Neely and Adam Oates, and he wasn't bad. (OK, you might not have been bad skating with those two either!) So back to the athlete question, my guess is there are not too many who can play multiple sports at that high a level. He's a pretty good athlete.
I am a coach, and while at the USA hockey coaching clinic, I asked about the tag-up offsides, and the explanation they gave me made a lot of sense. Right now they are trying to develop a puck-possession style of hockey instead of the dump and chase. If you have a player trapped, you need to regroup the puck and bring it back in instead of dumping it. As to the new standard, once everyone adjusts, it will open up the game and make it better for everyone.
Regrouping is definitely too advanced for most mites, and that's the perspective I come from in most things youth hockey these days. I go back to what I've written here in the past when it comes to tweaking NHL play. Tag-up offside makes hockey more fun for everyone. Fewer stoppages, more skating, better scoring chances and less likely a 7-year-old will turn the puck over, feel like crap and not want to play hockey anymore. Also, two of the past three games my 7-year-old, Jackson, has played have been played with six-minute third periods because all the ice time was used up from 984 whistles between offside and penalties called. This past Saturday, the officials didn't show up for the game, so one of the assistant coaches had to ref. He called zero penalties; the other team won 5-3; three full periods were played; Jackson scored his first of the year; and everyone had a good time.
Great response about USA Hockey's new standards of play. I couldn't agree more. I think the pre-lockout NHL was a problem in search of answer. The "new" NHL (i.e., enforce the rules) was the needed answer. I think the USA Hockey standards of play are an answer in search of a problem. I, too, see tentative play and too much emphasis on special teams as a result of the new standards. The other big problem is inconsistent officiating. The caliber of referee at the NHL level and oversight of the officials allows for more feedback and consistency. At the youth level, the range of abilities is much wider and oversight is generally lacking. Already this season I have seen inconsistent enforcement of the new standards, both at a local and regional level. I'm sure the players are really confused. We constantly keep on them in practice about the new standards, but then game to game, the consistency of officiating just isn't there. I guess we'll just have to see how it plays out.
This column promotes two sides of every argument, so we all get as much information as we can. Someone might say something that cements our beliefs or changes our minds. This column also promotes flossing every day you can, the taking of fish oil supplements and the Von Bondies.
I have read your column for the past few years, and I feel that if I were to meet you on the sidewalk somewhere, I would feel as though we had been best friends for years based on what you have written. So tell me, John, what kind of person do you think I am? Take your best shot at guessing what kind of person I am.
You cherish your friends. You can appreciate a song by Bob Dylan and the Killers. You probably are a good worker, don't call in sick much and look like the love child of former Boston Celtic Kevin McHale and Nancy McKeon from the "The Facts of Life." Pleasant and approachable. You like a cold beer on a hot day and hot chocolate on a cold one. If you could be surrounded by any smell the rest of your life, it would be a combination of melting cheese and Mariucci Arena.
Led Zeppelin + Black Sabbath + The Who + Jack White = Wolfmother
Shawn P. Kehoe
Alison Krauss - Mary Chapin Carpenter + Cowboy Junkies + Beth Orton + The Merritt Parkway in October = Hem
Now that the Avs home sellout streak has officially ended at 487 (including playoff games), my guess is that the Red Wings are right behind and could surpass that mark this season. I've attempted to count up every home sellout at JLA and I think I can trace back the beginning of the Red Wings streak to Feb. 19, 1996. A couple versions of my counting (which I'm trying to reconcile) show anywhere from 451 to 479 consecutive sellouts, including the three home games they've had so far this season.
My thoughts are I can't believe how many empty seats there have been in a couple of the Red Wings home games this year. Fair-weather fans? Watching Tigers games? Shedding their marquee stars the last few years has taken the Red Wings off the must-watch list on the NHL Center Ice package. Although Danny Markov's hit on Jarret Stoll, followed by Pavel Datsyuk's sweet goal in Edmonton on Saturday, might be the hockey play of the year.
I recently read an article about visors, and Mr. Marty Brodeur complained about having mirrored visors ( e.g. Alexander Ovechkin) and I was wondering, do you agree with the ban or do you not? I disagree with this. I think this is total nonsense and personally I just think Brodeur doesn't like the fact that he can't see their eyes, and I like that the players have that advantage. I mean in the "new" NHL, they want more goals. Well, this is a perfect example of a way to get more goals by the players having a little bit more of an edge on the goalies. What's your opinion?
Banning tinted visors is as dumb as not mandating visor usage.
The Decemberists just came out with a new album titled The Crane Wife. Give this band on the rise a chance to make it into the homes of hockey fans!
Salt Lake City
My name is John Buccigross, and I approve of that e-mail.
I've been a Tampa Bay Lightning fan since their beginnings in the league in the Campbell Conference. But I just cannot grasp why they are horrible this season -- they play with no spark and have a really dull game all-around.
With that said, do you think they should trade Martin St. Louis? I mean, I think he is the weakest of the Big Three and he still gets all the acclaim from winning the Hart Trophy in that glorious Cup year. I think if you trade him now, you can get a lot more for him now than waiting to the trade deadline. Besides, I think if you send the message to the locker room that no one is untouchable, the team will play with that fire as it did in the '03-04 season. Any thoughts?
Martin St. Louis signed a six-year contract worth more than $31 million in August 2005. So, he'll have four years at about $20 million left after this year. He was 76th in scoring last year. As I type this, he is tied for 215th in scoring this year. (OK it's early, but it looks good, so I'm using it for effect.) He'll turn 32 in June. Add all that together, and St. Louis isn't going anywhere anytime soon. He had a freakish career year at the right time, and he'll now be rich for life. I'm glad; he's a good man. He still should be able to be around 25-30 goals and 25-30 assists a season. He is overpaid for his offensive production, especially considering how much ice time he gets and that it is now a salary cap league. But he can do a lot of things, play well in all three zones, has missed only two games the last three-plus seasons and is a good all-around guy.
I don't know if you have covered this question, but still this could be of interest for many hockey fans. Namely shootouts. I think that current order of playing countless overtimes in playoffs should be changed. Wouldn't this make game even more appealing and TV-schedule friendly?
Peace out, Latvia! The world is indeed flat. My current stance is that I don't want shootouts in the playoffs. Unless a game goes 10 overtimes. I'll start there.
After the first few games of the season, I'd like to know your thoughts on the Maple Leafs.
Organized, younger and energized. They have played and will play lots of close games. Five of their first nine games went to overtime, four of those to shootouts. They are 1-3 in shootouts so far. Those are precious points as they try to be among the top eight at season's end. I'll think we'll know more about this team by Dec. 1.
I can't decide whether my favorite sports journalist is you or David Feherty. I'll go ahead and give Feherty the edge for now, because he drove me home from school last week, but if I see this in your mailbag section he might lose his top spot.
I hope this helps, but I'm still taking David Feherty. His column is a must-read in Golf Magazine. I wish he would write a completely serious tome. He is hysterically funny, but I feel his poignancy is his greatest strength. David appreciates the hockey and has a strange fascination with Melrose. He hooks Barry up with golf swag.
Dear Mr. B:
Am I in love with the woman I am dating?
I mean, I have missed two Sharks games in a row so I could be with her.
Even worse, I can listen to a truly horrific song on the radio like Shakira's "Hips Don't Lie" WITHOUT going into convulsions.
Turn in your NHL fan card, your music fan card and your man card, Mark. I've said it before, and I'll say it again. The girl of your dreams would never take you away from hockey. She would feed you one-timers on Lake Ontario until her arms fell off. Move to Ontario immediately, wait for the lake to freeze and find true love, Mark.
You are not in love, Mark. You are being seduced by Satan himself. Run. Run very fast and don't stop until you see "Welcome to Port Hope."
John Buccigross' e-mail address -- for questions, comments or cross-checks -- is firstname.lastname@example.org.