Commentary

Sweet home, Denver! My latest exploits from the road

Updated: October 14, 2008, 5:04 PM ET
By John Buccigross | ESPN.com

Shot of the Week

It's back. You know how it works. We present an NHL photo, and Bucci provides a caption. E-mail him your suggestions (include your name and hometown/state), and we will use the best ones and provide a new photo the following week.

LAST WEEK:

To offset mounting energy prices, the Capitals decide to carpool to games this season. (Courtesy: Washington Capitals)

Your captions:

"Bruce Boudreau was taken in for questioning after forcing a security guard to open Wally World for his players."
-- Chris Pianowski

"OK, whoever throws up the least gets to play with Alex."
-- Greg B. (New Fairfield, Conn.)

"First, the bailout, and now this. Washington is really going downhill."
-- Mark Chase (Atlanta)

"So, if we all puke together, is it still considered a team-building exercise?"
-- Eric Hudson (North Providence, Rhode Island)

THIS WEEK:

"The soup of the day is clam chowder!"
(Courtesy: Getty Images)

On Thursday, I landed in Denver.

Denver was nearly a second home for me during the first half of this decade, a hockey nirvana.

In 2001, I visited the city for the first time to cover the NHL All-Star Game for "NHL 2Night" and ESPN. On the eve of the event, I broke the news of Sean Burke's trade from the Phoenix Coyotes to the Philadelphia Flyers. Burke was traded along with Branko Radivojevic and Ben Eager for Mike Comrie. I remember being in my hotel room, watching Scott Van Pelt read the story on "SportsCenter" and feeling as if it was my baptism into the hockey community.

The next day, everyone involved, including my boy Wayne Gretzky, denied the report. My ESPN.com brethren at the time (not the current ESPN.com crew -- THEY ROCK!) were running away from me and my scoop like NHL commissioner Gary Bettman from the Hartford Whalers fan club. The trade went down the next day.

I returned to Denver later that spring to cover my first Stanley Cup finals, between the Colorado Avalanche and New Jersey Devils. This was the Ray Bourque Stanley Cup. The Cup where I met Chris Drury in a bathroom of a steakhouse. The Cup where I took a picture with former Masters champion Craig Stadler, each of us holding the Stanley Cup in said restaurant (never to this day have I seen or obtained the picture from the mysterious person who took it). The Cup where I watched Shjon Podein walk into said restaurant in full uniform, not realizing at the time that he would stay in that uniform for another 24 hours. I know how to choose my first Stanley Cup experience.

Al Pacino told me to never be a name-dropper, but I would return to Denver in 2002 and 2003 to host Joe Sakic's charity golf tournament, and in 2004 to play in Peter Forsberg's charity golf event. Then the lockout hit, and all of our worlds changed forever. It hasn't been the same since. I hadn't been back to Denver until Thursday.

Of course, the reason I was returning to Denver was hockey-related. I was hosting the 2008 United States Hockey Hall of Fame induction ceremonies. And what a class it was: Brett Hull, Brian Leetch, Mike Richter and Cammi Granato. Granato was the first woman to be inducted into the U.S. Hall.

Thursday
I arrived and stayed in the Cherry Creek section of the city. The section with expressionless, beautiful women, iced green tea, spas and complimentary car service in a Mercedes Benz. If I drove my 2001 Maxima with its 190,000 miles and South Windsor Youth Hockey magnet on the back of the trunk, I would have been arrested for car pollution. I was tempted to inject some fat into my lips to fit in. There was more augmentation than a Darcy Tucker dive.

My buddy Ray Ferraro told me to meet him at Panera Bread, around the corner from the hotel where the meathead MC and 2008 inductees were all staying. There are 1,160 Paneras in the U.S., but this would be the first time I would ever walk into one. I guess, to me, the name always said, "We don't melt cheese or deep-fry stuff within these walls," so I never found it very appealing. I had the tuna and I don't know if it was because I hadn't eaten for hours, but it tasted like the single greatest helping of tuna of all time. I give the Panera tuna five stars.

[+] EnlargeMike Richter
Michael Martin/Getty ImagesMike Richter won MVP honors after leading Team USA to gold in the 1996 World Cup of Hockey.

I walked in and there was Chicken Parm -- the man, not the entrée -- with his wife, Cammi Granato, their son, Riley, Mom Granato, Dad Granato and some of the Avalanche coaching staff, which includes Cammi's brother, Tony. Assistant coach Dave Barr was there; he was named the assistant on July 9. Barr, who played 641 games in the NHL from 1981 to 1994, moved to Colorado after four seasons with the Guelph Storm of the Ontario Hockey League, where he served as both general manager and head coach. He won the Matt Leyden Trophy as the OHL's coach of the year in 2005-06. Dave hopes to be an NHL head coach at some point and, despite loving his life in the OHL, believed this was the right move.

Jacques Cloutier was also Panera Bread-ing. He joined the Avalanche staff on Jan. 24, 1996, and begins his 12th full season behind the Colorado bench. We talked about golf and the time when he replaced Clint Malarchuk in net the night Malarchuk got slashed in the throat by the skate of Steve Tuttle in 1989.

After going 1-for-1 at the Panera Bread, it was back to the hotel for a quick nap. After all, there was a hockey game that night. It was opening night for the Avalanche. The Bruins were the opponent. Before the game, there was a reception for the Hall of Fame gang, and they were introduced on the ice before the opening faceoff.

After the reception, it was up to one of two suites reserved by USA Hockey. One for the Hall of Famers and their families, the other for the USA Hockey gang. Mingling between the two suites was encouraged. After watching the first period in the non-Hall of Famer suite, I meandered over to meet the Hall of Famers.

[+] EnlargeBrian Leetch
Michael Martin/NHLI/Getty ImagesBack in 1994, Brian Leetch was the the first American-born player to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.
• Brett Hull: Hull is the same guy you saw on TV all those years. He has no filter and wears his heart, mind, soul and barbecue sauce on his sleeve. I am quite sure he does not own the Perfect Pushup and does not eat lettuce. I told Hull that after his third straight season of scoring 70-plus goals in 1992, a child was born as a result of my efforts, and that child was named Brett with the hope that my boy could score goals like No. 16 on the Blues ... and thus pay for college. Hull, a maniacal golfer, was much more impressed and entertained when I told him I once got a hole-in-one on a par-4. Hull's wife, Darcie, was very tall, very pretty and very cool.

• Brian Leetch: I had just seen Leetch a year ago at the Lester Patrick Awards luncheon, so we had met before. Leetch is just chillin', living in Boston with his wife and young family. He likes sports and fishing for tuna. This man is the embodiment of how high-level professional athletes are just different from normal humans. He has a simmering energy underneath his layer of cool. I bet he can log on to a computer by just looking at it. CTRL+ALT+DELETE? Please, bro.

• Mike Richter: Mike Richter could talk nonstop for 13 hours and probably not use the same word twice. You know right away he has been well-educated and is quite smart, but he never tries to prove this to you. This is because he has been a hockey goalie all of his life and is from Pennsylvania -- that combination will always produce a fine human. (Also see: Mickey Melchiondo of the band Ween.) Richter is America's Ken Dryden, except he is half Dryden's size and does not have a size 8 head. I'm thinking like 6 7/8. Richter says he still has minor issues from the concussions that forced him to retire in 2003, but not major ones. I told him I was at the game in which he got hit in the head, against Edmonton. I hope I see Richter again soon.

[+] EnlargeCammi Granato
Michael Martin/Getty ImagesCammi Granato captained the U.S. women's hockey team to gold at the 1998 Winter Olympics.
• Cammi Granato: Granato is very special. She is very attractive and very warm and she has four incredibly loving brothers. There might not be a warmer set of eyes. You can understand why she was the captain for the United States' gold-medal team in 1998. Leaders lead with their eyes. I never like it when I hear Cammi is "the face of women's hockey" because it's her soul that defines her, and her trailblazing. It also bothers me because she could play! Some day, she will coach the U.S. to a gold medal. You can tell she desperately misses playing. Even more so than the other three.

The game between the Avs and Bruins was exciting. David Krejci's goal with less than 3 minutes to play gave the Bruins a 5-4 win. Krejci is a very good player and part of a very good group of Bruins forwards. The Bruins' issues will be getting creative and steady play from the back end. The goaltending will be fine and I think the Bruins will make the playoffs, but it will be close. They need more skill on defense. Colorado has similar issues and highly suspect goaltending, but the Avs will be fun to watch.

Friday
It was finally induction day. We made our way over to the University of Denver campus for rehearsal. Wow, what a campus. If you have a son or daughter who has the athletic genes and is thinking about college, they have to visit Denver's campus. It is a beautiful place in a very cool city.

When I host events, I keep things moving. As usual, I kept my introductory comments short. I talked about the historic class that was to be inducted. I mentioned how I liked the fact the ceremonies were being held in a hockey rink (Magness Arena) because hockey rinks remind me of old, big churches, and at the core of hockey and religion is simple love and sacrifice. Everything else is a lot of window dressing. I then asked the crowd to remember writer Jack Falla, and how his passing is a big loss for hockey in the United States.

[+] EnlargeBrett Hull
Michael Martin/NHLI/Getty ImagesBrett Hull is now co-GM of the Dallas Stars.

I finished by saying we were here to honor sportsmanship, grace and quiet determination. And we were also here to honor Brett Hull. Hull's trademark smile validated my little pokecheck. I then used the ol' "Brett also wrote a new book called 'The Ten Best Players In USA Hockey History and What I Think Of The Other Nine'" line.

Following dinner, it was time for the night's main speaker, Lou Vairo, head coach of the 1984 U.S. Olympic Men's hockey team and one of the most influential hockey people in the United States. Lou is the man. (I had a blast with him over dinner and later in the hotel bar. There is nothing like talking about breaking the trap over beers and a bacon cheeseburger with Lou Vairo at 1 a.m.)

Finally, we got to the inductees' speeches, and you could really feel the passion and gratitude they had for their country and the game. It was touching to see how they were touched, especially Hull. It was really cool to see this natural goal scorer, maybe the most natural of all time, so honored and touched by the night.

Honored and touched. That's how I felt. But that's how I always feel when I am in Denver. No place holds more hockey memories for me. I also bought my first Pete Yorn CD in Denver, so when the wheels of the airplane were gently leaving the asphalt atop the Colorado soil, the ol' Yorndog's "Ice Age" was playing in the mp3 player:

In future times
We'll hold it closer
Imagining
We weren't older
Yet, through it all
They'll be playing our song
Throw your arms around my neck
And whisper softly
Of a thing that we will get
I'm asking you ...
Let your diamond bracelet fall
Over the ice age ...
Over the ice age ...

Weekly Tribute to Jack Falla

The following is an excerpt from Jack Falla's "Home Ice." Falla passed away Sept. 14. We'll honor his memory each week with a few lines from one of his classic books:

In the years we've had our rink, it has become a kind of social pacemaker determining the pulse of our household in winter. It was often a mecca for our teenage children's raucous hockey games and skating parties, a peaceful place for my solitary early-morning skates, a small self-contained world of laughter and hockey and hot chocolate. And although the day is long gone when Barbara and I could win a pickup hockey game against the neighborhood kids, she and I still play together sometimes in the evenings, skating under floodlights, passing the puck and giving upraised stick salutes at goals scored on an empty net.

The Mother of All Mailbags

John,

Another e-mail from a student of Jack Falla. I had him this semester for his Sports Com class, and everything you wrote about him was true. An amazing professor, a passion for hockey I'd seen nowhere else, and an even better guy. One of the last comments he made in the last class he taught: it was in the midst of a story on how not to handle public relations, and he almost always used the NHL as a sarcastic punching bag. He stopped mid-sentence and said, "You know, I love the NHL. I would never be able to teach this class without it." I look forward to your excerpts this year.

Steve Thaw
BU '09


John,

[+] EnlargeBrandon Dubinsky
Scott Levy/Getty ImagesBrandon Dubinsky and the Rangers are off to a 5-0-0 start.
After watching Jagr and Shanny slow the Rangers down immeasurably over the past couple years, I am psyched to see this young, energetic and aggressive team come together. Every single writer and pundit is underestimating this team -- just like they all overestimated the team the past two years. They look at the star quality, notice Jagr and Shanny are gone, and predict doom. You will be pleasantly surprised. The Rangers will win the Atlantic this year -- 106 points. Remember this e-mail!

Alex Roberts

The Atlantic Division is the deepest division in hockey. 106 points is maybe a bit of a reach, but the Rangers certainly could be contenders for the division title with the injuries the Penguins have on the blue line and the uncertainty of their replacements for Ryan Malone and Marian Hossa. But the Rangers could also finish fourth in the Atlantic. I have them in the high 90s in terms of points and finishing with the fourth seed. They are fast and tenacious. The Rangers are 5-0-0, their best start since 1983.


Bucci,

When I first started reading your columns, I was a single man with a new girlfriend, a brand new job and lot of maturing to do. Six years later, I have married that girlfriend, turned that new job into a promising career and I still have a lot of maturing to do. The first child (a son) is now on the way and due in November. I absolutely, positively, need a baby name from you. It would complete the circle.

Michael Ellerman
Richmond, Va.

Sniff, sniff ... Little Mikey's all grown up. Sniff ...

Alexander Joseph Ellerman. Alex Ellerman. That's a good name.


Hey John,

I wanted to pass along an additional suggestion for Adam, who wrote in wondering how to get his girlfriend into hockey. As we all know, hockey is a thrilling game to watch, but as many, including Adam, know, it is even more gratifying to play. He should invite her to a stick session, get her out on the ice and start to cultivate an appreciation for hockey that playing the game can bring. It can be an intimidating sport to jump into, so if Adam plays with or knows any women who play, he should invite them along. Playing co-ed league hockey also makes a great date night!

Scott
Vail, Colo.

Nothing like the smell of hockey equipment to bring people together. "Afterwards, let's head down to the fish pier!"

John,

Shane's story of picking a wedding song brought back memories. Brooke and I weren't able to pick our "First Dance" song. Instead, we danced to "White Wedding" played in a piano bar at "New York, New York" in Las Vegas while drinking yard-long margaritas with our friends and family.

A few days later, I whisked my beautiful wife to Glendale, Ariz., where we watched the hometown Coyotes beat the hated Ducks 3-2 in a shootout. These memories make me happy I married a woman who loves hockey as much as I do.

Brooke and Tim Freitag
Ramsey, Minn.

This marriage will last 60-70 years.

John,

On another note, you can't make a woman like hockey. Either she does or she doesn't. Usually, the ones that do tend to have many qualities guys are looking for -- smart, funny, doesn't take herself too seriously, etc. Unfortunately for me, I married someone who faked her hockey knowledge and made me believe she liked the sport (it's easy to do that in Canada). Needless to say, my marriage is now over (there were other issues, but that was a biggie), and I am once again on the lookout for that perfect, hockey-loving, beer-drinking knockout. Oh, well. Even in Canada, it's hard to find that.

Marco
Brampton

Faked her hockey knowledge? Maybe she will be a future commissioner of something in Brampton.

--Taking your girl to a Leafs game because she says she loves hockey: $350
--Marrying your alleged hockey-loving girlfriend: $11,500
--Divorcing wife after she says Ted Kennedy was a great senator instead of saying Ted Kennedy was a great Leaf: $50,000
--Dumping that wife for overall lack of sufficient hockey knowledge: Priceless


Hey Bucci,

[+] EnlargeMartin Brodeur
Saed Hindash/US PresswireHere's more love for Brodeur from Bucci.
I was really surprised that in your quick "chasing milestones" section of your new column, you had not a word about Martin Brodeur. He is arguably chasing no less than four records (although, admittedly, two of them kind of go hand in hand). Coming into the regular season:

1. All-time wins: needs 14 to set the new mark
2. Most games played by a goalie: needs 61 games
2a. Most minutes played: 3,028 (approx 51 games)
3. Shutouts: needs eight (we'll see if he hits it, but it's certainly not out of the realm of possibility)

He also will likely be extending the records he and his team have already set in number of seasons with 35 and 40 wins, as well as consecutive number of seasons those marks have been hit.

I know that everyone else has been talking about these numbers, but that's because these accomplishments are huge and deserve to be mentioned. C'mon, give Jersey (and Marty and the Devs) some love!

Emily Dooley
Great Meadows, N.J.

I love Marty -- Marty, the one-man party. My apologies to Devils Nation for the oversight.


Bucci-boy,

Derek Roy is the best parts of Chris Drury and Daniel Briere, only six years younger. He is the best of the three at this point. Maxim Afinogenov is a big "what if" for the 2009 Sabres, but Tim Connolly is bigger. A healthy Timmy means a healthy power play, a second scoring line and a playoff birth. Thanks for equating Coldplay with the Penguins. Overrated and overexposed translate the same in both sports and music!

Rob
Syracuse, N.Y.

1. That is an arguable point, but I am still taking Roy third in that group.

2. A healthy Tim Connolly? First of all, that won't happen. Second, what does that matter? 438 games, 70 goals, 171 assists, $3.5 million. Another brilliant signing by the Sabres.

3. "X&Y" sold more than 8 million copies. "Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends" set a new record for most-downloaded album ever. Sales don't equal success, but I can't understand how an open-minded music fan can't listen to Coldplay and not understand that they produce quality music and they keep getting better. The Penguins WERE IN THE STANLEY CUP FINALS LAST SEASON. THEY WON THE EASTERN CONFERENCE. They were adequately rated by all.


Captain Buccigross,

I know I'm not alone in this -- I love your music flavors. If you haven't, make sure you listen to the latest Kings of Leon ... well, all Kings of Leon is worthy.

Bryan

See Rob in Syracuse and probably Chuck Klosterman. "Holy Roller Novocaine," Kings of Leon's debut effort from 2003, was acquired by me during the Stanley Cup finals between Anaheim and New Jersey.


John,

Again, via the local Wild beat writer, it looks like Gaborik won't sign and the fan base is getting tired of it. First KG goes to Boston and finally wins an NBA title. Then, Hunter and Santana leave the Twins and at least one of them had a shot at a championship (Angels were in the playoffs). Now, Gaborik wants insane amounts of money ($9 million per year for someone who is perpetually hurt?) or he's gone. What could/should the Wild get, when should they trade him (now or deadline?) and what are their chances with him?

John,

Marian Gaborik makes about a million a month. His salary is $7.5 million and his cap hit is $6.3M. He is an unrestricted free agent (UFA) July 1. He turns 27 in February. What about Gaborik for the Sedin twins? The Sedins are also UFAs this summer. Their dependable, unflappable style seems like a nice fit in Minnesota. The Canucks have tons of cap space and are in desperate need of an exciting offensive star. Gaborik is the closest thing to Pavel Bure that Canucks fans will see. This trade could be made tomorrow. Maybe the Wild will try to do something else if they have the Sedin twins on their radar for the summer; maybe Minny would try to get the twins for no compensation and try to use Gaborik for a high first-round pick and a prospect.


John,

Here's a picture of a future Pittsburgh Penguin. Ethan Michael was born on May 31, 2008, five weeks early and right in the middle of the Stanley Cup finals. Guess he was sick of listening to the games and actually wanted to watch. I got up at 6 a.m. on Friday, May 30, was up with my wife all night, Ethan was born at 11 a.m. on the 31st and I finally got to head home for some sleep after dinner, but the Pens were on. After 40 straight hours of being awake, I made it to the third period of the game and fell asleep. I woke up in time to see the last minute of Detroit's 2-1 win that gave them a stranglehold in the series. Hopefully, this year we will be able to watch the Penguins' Cup celebration together!

Mike Glover

Baby steps.


















John Buccigross' e-mail address -- for questions, comments or crosschecks -- is john.buccigross@espn.com.

John Buccigross | email

SportsCenter anchor
John Buccigross joined ESPN as an anchor in October 1996. He currently can be seen as an anchor on "SportsCenter." Buccigross frequently contributes to ESPN.com during the season.