Disappearing Hockey Heroes

Soon either Pittsburgh with Sidney Crosby, Geno Malkin, Phil Kessel and company or Nashville led by P.K. Subban et al will find their way to a Stanley Cup.

When they win they know they will skate around the ice and hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup drowning in accolades and praise.  Many thinking back to junior hockey or the hard work in the minors that took them to the peak of greatness.  For some, this is the hardest trophy in sports to win-beyond maybe the World Cup.

After the celebration in the locker room with champagne and showers of beer, they’ll relax for a while knowing they’ve brought that trophy home with them for one day.  They can show it off to their hometown for 24 hours or take it to a party or anywhere they want-as long as they don’t lose or destroy it.

But the other perk of winning the prize is eternal recognition in the form of a square on the side of the Cup.  Each year another team gets put on the ring that goes around it forever displaying those that worked so hard to bring home the championship.

You may not know that Lord Stanley’s Cup is almost 125 years old.  It was first given out in 1893 in the form of the bowl you see on top of the trophy now.  As the years progressed and the NHL was formed they needed more room and added the bottom or the base that it currently sits on.  In pictures the rings with the engraved names can be seen along that base.  

125 years is a long time to keep a running record of who has won and at some point time catches up.  After this year, the ring from 1953 to 1965 will have to come off to make room for the next batch of champions.  Included in those years are Gordie Howe, Rocket Richard and a host of other Hall of Fame players.  Imagine the talents during those years that many of us never got to see.

I think about the famous picture of 11-year-old Wayne Gretzky meeting the late Gordie Howe when “Mr Hockey” visited the young player’s hometown.  Who would have guessed that those two would change so much about the game?  Eventually we will have to take “The Great One”‘s name off the Cup to make room too.

I can’t imagine what the future will be like in hockey, there’s the Matthews, Marner, and McDavid future.  But who else is out there that we don’t know about?  Will there ever be another iconic photo like those two legends of the game?

The last time I went to the Hockey Hall of Fame, my daughter and I went into the Esso Great Hall where the Cup is displayed.  She wandered right off to the shiny trophy on its magical perch.  I immediately made my way to the vault where the rings are held.  Not the winner’s rings but the rings that had been taken off the Cup to make room for more Champions.  I wondered about those men that had been engraved there and what they went through.  The struggles and the pain to win this elusive Cup.  It’s been said that once you win you are winner forever because your name is engraved on the side.  But tell that to those men who will find themselves tucked away in a vault on 30 Yonge Street in Toronto.  One day Wayne Gretzky will find himself there too.

2017 Quick Stanley Cup Playoff Predictions

April 12, 2017 marks the opening night of the Stanley Cup playoffs, with the hope that one of the 5 playoff bound Canadian teams will win the Cup.

Sadly – I’m not sure that it is going to happen.

EASTERN CONFERENCE-

Montreal(47-26-9, 103 points) vs. New York(48-28-6, 102 points)

The Rangers are one of the NHL’s highest scoring teams (253 goals, 4th in the league) and the Canadiens are one of the stingiest teams at (198 goals against or 4th best).

Montreal is lead by 29-year-old goalkeeper Carey Price whose season Goals Against Average, 2.23, and Save Percentage, .923, are better than his career averages.  Price’s health, the trade of P.K. Subban for Shea Weber and the firing of Michel Therrien on February 14 and subsequent hiring of former Bruins coach Claude Julien have all led to Montreal’s success.

New York on the other hand, has seen goalkeeper Henrik Lundqvist, 35,  struggle at times.  His 2.74 Goals Against Average and .910 Save Percentage have left Rangers fans wondering if the King is showing weakness.

The King is a money goalkeeper in the playoffs but so too is Carey Price.  These two have little to separate them but looking back to their March 4th match-up, the Canadiens won 4-1.  I’d like to think the Rangers could take this series but Price and company are going to have more than Lundqvist can handle.

Ottawa(44-28-10,98 points) vs. Boston(44-31-7,95 points)

Between these two Boston has the best Penalty Kill percentage and the 7th best power play percentage.  Boston is coming into the play-offs hot winning 5 of 7 in the two weeks leading up to the season finale that they lost at Washington.  Included in that span is a loss to these same Senators.

Ottawa has beaten Boston the last three games the teams have played but they went 9-10 during that span struggling against non-playoff teams Tampa Bay, Winnipeg, Philadelphia and Detroit.

Ottawa’s struggles to score and defend will likely be their downfall – especially since Boston is hot.  Ottawa’s 2.51 Goals For a game is 22 and their 2.56 Goals Against Average proves this team relies on getting timely goals and defense.  To be fair that 2.56 GAA is 10th in the NHL.

Boston will eventually come out on top but it’s going to be tight.

Washington(55-19-8,118 points) vs Toronto(40-27-14, 95 points)

I want to pick the Maple Leafs – I do but I simply cannot.  The Capitals are just that good and the Maple Leafs are in Year 2 of their rebuilding effort.  As a Leafs fan, I didn’t expect them to make the playoffs but now it’s time to enjoy the fact that it’s the second week of April and they are still playing hockey in the ACC.

I don’t see the Leafs slowing down the Capitals for maybe more than 1 or 2 games but it may be the time to see Auston Matthews’ star shine.

Pittsburgh(50-21-11, 111 points) vs Columbus(50-24-8, 108 points)

It would normally be a pretty easy pick to say the Penguins would take the series however the loss of Kris Letang is devastating.  Letang’s role in the Pens’ Cup run last season cannot be understated, his goal clinched the trophy for the skating birds.

On the other hand, Columbus brings a wild card in coach John Tortorella.  Torts and Pens’ head coach Mike Sullivan are ironically friends.  Torts brought immense changes to a team that under achieved in the prior season.

I think Pittsburgh have just enough to push past the Jackets.

2nd round – Montreal vs Ottawa

The battle of two Canadian hotbeds of hockey that will come down to goaltending – something that is always the story in the postseason.

The Canadiens are also built tougher and deeper to progress through the playoffs. Ottawa’s scoring from the blueline and struggles to score will be their downfall in this series.

Washington vs. Pittsburgh

The year that Ovi finally passes Crosby to get to the Eastern Conference Finals.  The Capitals are going to find their way past the depleted Pens.

Eastern Conference Finals – Montreal vs. Washington

Washington not only has a great goalkeeper but they have strong defense and incredible scoring.  While it may be a lengthy series, Ovi will get the monkey off his back and take his team to the Stanley Cup Finals.

Western Conference

Chicago(50-23-9,109 points) vs Nashville(41-29-12, 94 points)

The number 1 seed in the Western Conference takes on the team that just made it into the playoffs.  That being said at the beginning of the season it was questionable whether Nashville would even have the chance to make it this far.  The off-season trade of former Nashville captain Shea Weber to Montreal for P.K. Subban didn’t start off well for the Preds.

Once you put the Blackhawks in the playoffs they turn into a juggernaut.  This season will be no different.  As much as I’d like to think Subban will spark the Preds, the Blackhawks are led by arguably the most talented playoff duo in Kane and Toewes as well as the best coach in Quenneville.

Chicago will come out on top thanks to all of these factors.

Minnesota(49-25-8, 106 points) vs St. Louis(46-29-7, 99 points)

There is something to be said for a revenge win in a series and for coach Mike Yeo of the Blues there has to be some desire to beat the Wild after years of coaching there.  Yeo says his focus is not on revenge but on the playoffs but I think he’ll have his team fired up.

I’m going with the Blues.

Anaheim(46-23-13,105 points) vs Calgary(45-33-4,94 points)

Every year it seems there is one team that falls apart in the playoffs and doesn’t live up to their ranking or expectations.  For me, that team is Anaheim and the team that takes them out is Calgary.  Of course I have a thing for Canadian teams so take it for what you will.

Edmonton(47-26-9,103 points) vs San Jose(46-29-7,99 points)

Welcome to the year that Connor McDavid wins the Hart Trophy and pulls the Oilers through the playoffs starting with the first round series win against San Jose.  Edmonton buckle up, you are in for a long ride.

2nd round – Chicago vs St. Louis

An immense rivalry that Chicago will come out on top thanks to their stars – but don’t believe that it’s going to be easy.

Calgary vs Edmonton

This my friends will be a dandy.  I can’t wait to see these two Western Canada teams play this series out.  However for Calgary, Connor McDavid and company will be just too much.

Chicago vs Edmonton

Did I say Edmonton fans were in for a long ride?  It’s going to keep getting longer after winning this series against the Blackhawks.

Stanley Cup Finals -Washington vs Edmonton

As much as I’d like to pick the Oil to be the Cinderella and win it all, Washington is just too much.  Ovi will get over the hump and cement his legacy as one of the best players to ever suit up in the NHL.

 

Time To Pay The Players

With the NHL playoffs upon us (and the Maple Leafs hopefully being in them), I’ve been playing NHL ’17 on Xbox One to deal with the fever.  As a gamer and sports fan, the greatest addition to games is the “Be A Player” mode where I created myself as a young center in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

My virtual self suits up for the Sherbrooke Phoenix, because my favorite hockey player of all-time, Jocelyn Thibault is the General Manager.

Anyway, as the season progresses your general game play is “graded” based upon certain categories and of course your skills develop based upon the grade.  The end goal being that you get a call that you’ve been drafted into the big show to play for the grand prize – the Stanley Cup.

Along the way you are given the chance to fight if you are challenged (or you will be pushed into fighting if you deliver a brutal hit on a defenseless opponent), the opportunity for more ice time if you are passing and scoring well, a disappointing paragraph on a menu from the coach if you don’t defend and other chances to make an impact.

Midway through your draft-able season, you may get the call to the CHL top prospects game as my player did.  I was assigned to the white team and I drew the top line against the red team.  Somewhere during the first period after a stoppage in play, I began to look at the “Be A Player” mode differently.

One of my linemates must have disliked someone on the other team and a fight broke out.  Hey – old hockey joke huh?  All I could think about was 17 year olds fighting in front of NHL scouts to show that they should be drafted.  I have never been or seen the real CHL top prospects game but I know that as a teenager you want to be in the NHL and you’ll do whatever it takes to get there.

But these aren’t just any teenagers.  These kids are being paid a stipend and they cannot accept a scholarship to an American school because of it.  Think about that for a moment.  This is a double edged blade.

It’s wonderful that they are getting paid for bringing in revenue for their club but at the same time it comes with a consequence.  They must now realize they can’t go to the States and play college hockey.  Most realize their options are better in the CHL, however should that not pan out, there has to be some consideration for the future too.

This past week I saw former Houston Texans running back Arian Foster talk about the NCAA and how he can’t even watch college football anymore.  The NCAA system is broken.  In March, billions in revenue are generated for the NCAA by advertisers in what is known as “March Madness.”  The basketball players for the schools do not see any of that money but some of the coaches at these schools are paid millions to do one thing: teach x’s and o’s.

Then there is college football.  The college bowl system is the same way and some coaches are the highest paid state employees.  They also get athletic gear contracts and some coaches even have radio shows.  Meanwhile, athletes on scholarship can’t participate in work study or accept the same things that normal students could.

In fact, Foster has spoken in the past about asking his former coach at the University of Tennessee Phillip Fulmer to bring him something to eat because the dining hall was closed and he had no money.  This was against the NCAA rules but Foster came from a family that was poor – if it wasn’t for the scholarship he wouldn’t have had the funds to go to college.

We hear the stories of athletes going from college or high school to the NFL or the NBA and blowing it all.  They end up being broke but why can’t they get a stipend in college to help them understand how to manage it?  Getting that money in the CHL helps the young players know that when it is gone, it is gone and no one is going to give you anything.

The NCAA is no longer an amateur league and it’s not going to go back to being one.  With advertisers involved and athletic companies sponsoring everything there’s no way to believe that money doesn’t run college sports.  It’s long past time to let the kids who help print the cash for the “amateur” system get their piece of the pie – or else we need to take the money out of the system.

The Brutality Of Hockey and The Acceptance Of Fighting

Since purchasing the NHL Center Ice package from my cable overlords, I’ve had the pleasure of watching as many Maple Leafs games as I can handle.  There’s never enough trust me!  I’ve also seen Jayson Megna play a fantastic offensive game in Tampa – I think he needs to sign with a Florida team because he’d be a 20-goal scorer.  I’ve also noticed that for as much as I’d like to believe, there is not a good game on every night.  Sometimes there are relatively few on and they are rather random and strange.

Take for example December 14th’s matchup pitting the San Jose Sharks taking the ice against the Senators in Canada’s capital, Ottawa.  Now normally, I would not pay this matchup any mind or even pay to watch it.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s a hockey game and I’m down for hockey, but I don’t have a dog in the fight.  However, with time on my hands and the Pittsburgh – Boston game on commercial I took up the challenge.

Somehow I got taken in and didn’t go back to the Pens but that’s not the story.  I watched a guy take his stick and cross check another man to the back of the head.  Senators forward Mike Hoffman skated up behind Logan Couture and cross checked him to the back of his head, dropping the Sharks forward to the ice.  Couture unstrapped his helmet, lay on the ice and then was helped up gingerly by a trainer to the locker room.  Hoffman’s hit was deemed to be retaliation for a high stick on Sens’ all-star defenseman Erik Karlsson by Marc-Edouard Vlasic that was not called/seen by the officials.  Karlsson wasn’t injured on the play and had no visible marks from Vlasic’s actions if they were intentional or not.

Now, I’ve seen brutality in hockey.  I grew up in the time of Washington Capitals’ Dale Hunter checking the New York Islanders’ Pierre Turgeon after scoring a goal.  Something I was completely unprepared for and I know Turgeon wasn’t either.  I remember the battles between Detroit and Colorado that turned into a bloody conflict with names like Draper, Lemieux, McCarthy and Maltby.  These were games where every hit seemed to push the game closer and closer to a full-out brawl.  I can remember seeing Kris Draper get checked into the boards by Claude Lemieux breaking bones in Draper’s face.  Or the blood left on the ice when McCarthy took revenge on Lemieux the next year – even after the Zamboni went through the stains were visible.

Maybe I’m getting older and starting to misunderstand things.  I understand when guys take up with the player that caused the injury – the Sens going after Vlasic or the Red Wings going after Lemieux.  I’m not even condoning their action but I understand. However, when everyone that is on the ice becomes open game to cross checks or slashes or high sticks that can cause permanent injuries then the league has to reel in the players.  The league has been trying to curb fighting for some time now but the problem with that is that the guys who fight are there for a reason.

On the same night when Chris Neil was honored for his 1,000 NHL game, Hoffman’s actions proved that men like Neil are necessary for this game to continue.  Neil, who has never scored more than 33 points in a season, has stood up for his teammates and led by doing what others won’t.   Hockey is a rough sport, I understand that and I think everyone who steps on the ice gets that as well – you don’t put on all that gear for nothing.

However, if you are a guy who can score there are going to be people who are going to go after you to put you off your game.  As long as checking is legal, someone is going to try to push that limit.  When they go too far and knock the leading scorer out of the game, what is the league going to do about it?  Suspend the other guy?  What does that harm the other team at that point?  That’s why teams have “enforcers.”  A team says “hey you want to push my guy I’m going to push your guy.”

Guys like Neil, Bob Probert, Tie Domi and Tiger Williams are remembered for their ability to fight but that doesn’t account for what they did for their teammates.  The name in the lineup shows that their teams weren’t going to allow opponents to push around the stars. When Hoffman hit Couture no one was there to go after him, San Jose had no Chris Neil. Hoffman wasn’t afraid of being knocked down by a guy like that so he could freely go after one of the opposition’s best players.

However, for the tough guys there is a tremendous toll this takes on their body and their mentality.  It isn’t easy for them to gear up every night to take on the other big guy in the opposition’s lineup or even to know that they are the target of the next up-and-coming rookie who wants to make a name for himself.  Derek Boogaard struggled with his role as a strongman during his time in the NHL with stints in Minnesota and New York.  Boogaard masked his physical and emotional pain with the pills he was given to sleep and pills he bought from dealers.  Boogaard would eventually succumb to his demons but not before leaving a lasting impression on those around him and leaving me to question what guys like him go through.

What is it about a hockey fight that people enjoy?  The brutality?  Going back to the root of human violence?  We preach to our children not to take out their differences through fisticuffs but it’s okay in hockey?  I struggle with the balance in hockey because I’m not a violent person.  Just like anyone else I enjoy watching a great hit or perk up when I see two guys drop the gloves.  However, after seeing Mike Hoffman drop Logan Couture I wonder how someone can do that to another human.  What goes through your mind?  Do you think “I’m just going to hit him in the back of the head?”  Maybe I’ve just never been put in that situation.

I know I’ll never play in the NHL and understand the pressures they go through but I can’t see myself ever hitting another human in the back of the head with a stick.  It’s disturbing.  I’m not disturbed by a lot and I am prepared for violence in hockey but I’m not prepared for someone trying to kill another human being.  If Hoffman hit Couture hard enough in the head could he have caused brain damage?  Could it have been deadly?  Possibly.  It’s bothersome to think that was the true intention of Hoffman.  I’d like to think these guys respect each other, but I’m not so sure anymore.  I can’t say I appreciate you if I chop you in the back of the head.  It’s a troublesome conundrum and I’m not sure which way to go, all I know is that I’m not in the NHL.  If I was I would hope there would be a Chris Neil there to watch my back, if the NHL gets rid of guys like him, it’s going to get worse.

Auston Matthews and Humanity

Auston Matthews.

Auston Matthews.

Auston Matthews.

Auston Matthews.

Four goals in a debut NHL game.  No rookie in NHL history has every done it before.  The second goal looked like Matthews was playing a video game.  Swiping the puck from a defender and skating in on the wing and shooting.

Come on kid.  Give the league a chance.

Auston Matthews.

Get used to it.  He’s finally in Maple Leaf blue and white.  The Gardens don’t buzz anymore and Foster Hewitt doesn’t broadcast from the gondola but the Maple Leafs are forever.

I wonder what went through his mind after the game?

Did he stop and look around at his teammates and think “I did something these guys couldn’t?”

Is he like that?

Or did he stop and say, “I couldn’t do it without these guys?”

I hope that he’s not one of those guys who felt like he’s the man.

“Just put it all on my shoulders I’m gonna save this team.”

But isn’t that the kind of superstar the world loves?  The fiery, ambitious young man who longs for the spotlight?  The one who calls out his teammates in press conferences and interviews because they don’t play at his level?

Is that the nature of sport?

What is it that we want from superstar athletes?  To celebrate their talent?  Or to stroke their ego?  Or do they both go hand in hand?

When we see a superstar athlete in the street do we stop and stare?  If you saw Austin Matthews would you stop and ask for an autograph?

Okay.  Maybe you might not know his face.  Yet.

But if you saw Wayne Gretzky would you stop and stare?  Maybe get an autograph?  A picture?

Or what if you had a seizure while waiting for that star?  Like the man waiting for Tim Tebow?  Imagine if the star actually helped the man.  Do you think all the stars would do it?

The same Tebow the New York Mets took so much flak for signing because critics called it a “publicity stunt.”

Sure.  Aren’t most players signed for some kind of publicity?  Michael Jordan wasn’t Babe Ruth on the diamond for the Birmingham Bulls.  If I came out the stands, the Chicago White Sox organization would not sign me to a contract.  It was because it was Jordan of course.

Tebow, because he CARES about people, stayed with the fan until help could arrive becuase he knows life is bigger than the game.  Whatever his religious beliefs, he truly believes in the wellbeing of people and at some point everyone needs to adopt that belief.

I wonder if Auston Matthews stopped in the locker room and questioned the gravity of the situation.  Did it all fly by in the blink of an eye?  After everyone left, did he look around and wonder what he just accomplished?  Or did he just leave?

Just another day at the office for him?

Some players have talked about that life changing moment going by without them soaking it in.  No time to look around.  Next thing they know they are retired and looking back on a championship or a record or a key victory with regret.

Time.

Every day we talk about it.

“What time is it?”

“I can’t wait til the weekend.”

“Time heals all.”

“Wait til next year.”

“When we all look back on it.”

Why?

All it does is remind us that time saps us of our energy, our youth, our strength and our talents.

While we look to the future we lose sight of the present.  This game, this inning, this shift sometimes we forget that one builds for the next.  Or even this day.  We get so caught up looking forward to the next.  One sun-up leads to the next sun-down and the next thing we know it’s the start of another season.  Ten seasons later we don’t know the players.  We don’t know where it all went.  There’s a 19 year-old Auston Matthews scoring four goals and a warm-hearted player dwelling in instructional league baseball that cares about people that is criticized for his intentions.  Is that the nature of sports or the nature of humanity or do those lines cross?  Maybe that’s why we like sports so much?

Light Up My Hundred Dollar Bills

Lavish life of luxury. Big cars and homes. Swimming in money like Scrooge McDuck.
That’s what I think of when I think of owning a sports team. Maybe that’s because you have to stock multiple armored trucks with cash in order to be able to afford one.

I can’t imagine the men who ran the early instances of the Toronto Maple Leafs or the New York Yankees would have envisioned the state of the franchises now. Who knows if they even saw them being what they are now – or if they could believe they’ve lasted this long?

I don’t believe being an owner is always a picnic but from the outside it looks like a game played by rich men funded by those who have less.

That’s right – local governments give tax breaks, citizens vote to finance a stadium (they pay for it in taxes but it’s sold as “bonds” or outright donation), fans go to games, buy all kinds of things (including things they don’t need) and the athletes earn tv contracts and other revenue for those owners. Light those Cuban cigars with hundreds boys!  Forget bottles – we’re buying the bar tonight!

Am I missing something?  All this money comes in and they are paying for what? Contracts, salaries and then what?  Stadium upkeep?  There’s sponsorship deals for that. So where is it all going?  Oh right – in their pockets.  I imagine they have to go to their tailor every couple of months to get the pocket on their jacket redone so they can fit more cash in it.  It gets pretty stuffy in there.

Does it not seem like a rich club? There’s about as many people in that club as people in the mountains that have high-speed internet.

I enjoy playing the sports video games that have owner mode or GM mode. The new version of the NHL franchise for Xbox One has an in-depth GM mode with goals that are set by a CPU owner.  There are some that I happen to really enjoy:

“Make X amount this year.”
“Keep salary at X% of the profit this year.”

Yes Mr McDuck.  I’ll make sure to keep the funnel from the arena to the vault at your home running Mr McDuck.

As a player I am given the option of adjusting sliders for the cost of jerseys and shirts in the club shop. I can choose to upgrade bathrooms or club seats and even buy new parking.
However, I go into the club shop section and adjust the price of clothing so that fans can afford it. If a shirt costs the club $20 why am I charging $45? So that the owner can make $68.5 million this year? Get out of here. I’m going to adjust the cost of everything – this makes no sense.

There’s even an option to relocate the team – you know, just in case you AREN’T making ENOUGH money. It’s too bad they don’t give you the option to relocate the New York Rangers to one of those upstate New York casinos they keep talking about. They probably could get some tax breaks and incentives. There are no options in the game for tax breaks. Maybe next year. Too bad they don’t have a button to light up that cigar with a hundred-dollar bill.

Moving on.

I don’t see sports clubs that look like towns in rural areas. There are no owners who are travelling in Geo Metros wearing the same clothes day in and day out.

They aren’t like the mayor of a town with buildings that are condemned, stores closed and a handful of restaurants that are barely edible. Imagine the problems that person must face?

It’s certainly not what Jerry Jones is facing with his mammoth monument to himself that sits on the Texas plain. A giant screen in the center, players walk through a fans area (let’s sell that at high prices!), a pole dancing area sponsored by beer! great!, tons of flashing lights and eye candy that all screams “drop your money!”

Billion to Billions to build the stadium. Tax breaks. Incentives. You know, it’s the NFL. Don’t fight it. We need it. Besides, it’s Jerry! Oil man. He doesn’t have enough money, let’s give him some more.

I get it though. This is a Capitalist system. (Big C.  Whoever has the cash makes the rules. Basic break down – but much more complicated than that.)  It was set up that way from the foundation of the country. We’ve come so far and pushed our ideals throughout the world. It’s now a world economy, not just a national economy. There’s talk of jobs and companies moving here and there – it’s a part of a world economy.

Though some parts of our country can’t communicate with the world because they don’t have access to phones or internet but let’s build Texas Stadium!

I’m getting off topic again.

All that being said – we have to keep paying and giving them what they want. Ya know – the green.  The system is going to keep eating itself, like a snake eating it’s tail. Will it ever catch itself? That’s the question that we may or may not ever see the answer to. Until we come up with a better solution than capitalism we have no choice than to hold our lit hundreds up every time some rich person passes with a cigar. Here’s mine – light ’em up. Just don’t tell Mr McDuck the shirts are half off in the club store!

Teamwork – What A Concept !?!

Hockey is a beautiful and delightful game when it is played like it is meant to be played. When a team passes a puck around the ice as a unit.

It’s no different in any other sport.  A running back doesn’t gain yardage in football without the offensive line in front of him.  Do you think that Marcus Allen would have won the Heisman Trophy without a great line in front of him at the University of Southern California?

A basketball team needs to be able to spread the floor to find the open man.  Phil Jackson’s triangle offense wasn’t complicated – it was about passing from one guy to the other to get someone a clear look at the basket.  Most of the time the guy with the clear look at the basket was one of the greatest players of all time, Michael Jordan.  When you give him that much time he’s able to bury a shot.

In baseball it takes a shortstop and a second baseman to efficiently turn a double play.  If the shortstop tries to take the ball on their own, it’s going to be difficult to get the out at first.  Watch Ozzie Smith flip the ball to second and see the St Louis Cardinals turn two.  As great a shortstop as Smith was, he didn’t try to do it all on his own.

Those two-on-one plays in hockey where the offense makes a great pass to score the goal – it’s all because of teamwork.  Working with those around you makes your play better.  Those that figure that out are the ones that go far.  Wayne Gretzky knew how to make those around him better which in turn made him better.  Mark Messier made those on the New York Rangers team better on the way to the Stanley Cup.

Current Stanley Cup holder Sidney Crosby’s Pittsburgh Penguins were filled with guys that played for each other.  Penguins coach Mike Sullivan preached teamwork until he was blue in the face and filled the bench with guys that most pundits would say might not belong in the National Hockey League.  These were men that might be labeled “character guys” but in reality are “team players.”  Watching that team compete for EACH OTHER in the playoffs it was clear that they knew what it took to win.  It’s not always about the skill on the ice.  It’s not always about the size of the contracts on the team.  It’s about the heart, the desire and the guys that want to pass and play for each other.

There have been many guys drafted or signed that have had loads of talent but lacked the ability to comprehend what the rest of the skaters on the ice were there for.  Alexandre Daigle and Patrik Stefan come to mind as number one draft picks but sure there are others.

There will always be others.  The slick skating forwards who can skate around the offensive zone with the puck not looking to pass.  The ones who think it is funny to zing a shot past someone’s head and not bother to say anything it.  Teams are like a family and if a family is full of malcontents, the family becomes dysfunctional and will turn on itself.  It will gang up on itself and want to fight itself.

Players can be told to pass and be told that they need to look out for others – but if they don’t have the ability to care it can be a pointless venture.  It’s amazing that some can step on the ice not looking to pass or not be courteous- but then again teamwork isn’t something that can be taught. Teamwork has to come from within.  Maybe one day they’ll understand – but it will be too late and by then it will have all passed them by.

P.K. Subban’s Departure Is Proof The Montreal Canadiens Are Living In The Past

To say that P.K. Subban was run out of Montreal might be unfair.  That would imply that everyone in bleu, blanc et rouge was placing him on an Air Canada flight to Nashville from Montreal’s Trudeau Airport.  I’m sure, however that Subban wasn’t surprised by the trade on June 29, 2016 that sent him to Nashville for the Predator’s defenseman and captain Shea Weber.  On July 1, 2016 the Montreal Canadien’s Norris Trophy winning defenseman would have had his no trade clause kick in on the remaining  6 years of his contract at $10 million US dollars a season.

Leading up to the National Hockey League entry draft, rumors swirled that Canadien’s General Manager Marc Bergevin was looking to trade Subban because either he “didn’t fit in with the rest of the club” or because of his contract.  Bergevin denied these reports but it seemed clear that something was going on.  Last season there was talk that he wasn’t in tune with some of the other veteran leadership, Subban wore the A on his sweater and Captain Max Pacioretty was thought to be one of main proponents of his dismissal.

Head Coach Michel Therrien was known to rip into Subban during this past season, especially after one loss to the Colorado Avalanche when the creative skater attempted to make a play in the Avalanche zone and lost an edge while possessing the puck.  The Avalanche took the puck the length of the ice and scored the goal that would go on to win the game.  Therrien would go on to throw Subban under the bus the team rode to the Pepsi Center on, “ an individual play that cost us the game tonight.”  Never mind that the Canadiens offense last year ranked 16 in goals for in the entire league even with offensively gifted Subban in the lineup.

I’m sure that Subban could clearly read the writing on the wall when Bergevin did not stand up to Therrien or back the Canadiens star player.  Subban was playing his game, the one that the Canadiens had signed him to play.  He was aggressive on the puck, maybe sometimes to a fault, he was boisterous, but that’s P.K., he was creative, he had flair and most of all, he gave 100 percent on the ice.  At the end of the 82 game season when the Canadiens finished 38-38-6 and missed the playoffs without firing Therrien, Subban had to know that he was going to be on his way out.  The two of them could not exist under the same roof.

It was a reminder of the Patrick Roy situation in 1995 when he fought with head coach Mario Tremblay. Canadiens management decided then as well that Roy was the one who had to leave shipping him off to the Colorado Avalanche, the previous Quebec Nordiques.  How ironic is it that Therrien blew up at P.K.’s play in Colorado?  It all comes full circle I suppose, especially considering that trade brought Montreal one of my favorite hockey players of all-time goalie Jocelyn Thibault.  As the history books have shown us, the long list of goalies that followed in Roy’s crease were never able to replicate Roy’s success as he went on to win a Cup with Colorado.

Subban to his credit, had adopted Montreal as his new hometown.  He donated $10 million dollars to the Montreal Children’s Hospital, a figure that the Children’s Hospital called the “biggest philanthropic commitment by a sports figure in Canadian history.”  The star athlete set up a fund known as P.K.’s Helping Hand that works with the Montreal Children’s Hospital and helps parents pay bills when their child gets sick. Subban was also seen many times in restaurants around town and posed with fans for pictures and stopped for autographs.  The mood after the trade was described by one person on Twitter in three words: “Torches and pitchforks.”

The Montreal Canadiens are an Original Six team with so much history and mystique.  I know when I took a tour of the Centre Bell, or Centre Molson when I went, the team was so proud of where it had come from.  The legends that you see in the locker room up on the walls from Plante to Bouchard to Savard to Roy and in between.  They even ask you if you know what the “H” stands for in the middle of the “C” in their logo.  (Do you know by the way?)

The NHL awards trophies that are named for Hall of Fame players from the Canadiens.  The “Rocket” Richard Trophy, the Vezina Trophy and the Hart Trophy are all named for men who were Canadiens.  The Canadiens fill the Hockey Hall of Fame with plaques, busts and memorabilia.  There’s no doubt that this is one of the greatest clubs in NHL history.  Not to mention the 24 Stanley Cups.

What the Canadiens have to realize however is the last Cup came on June 9, 1993 and the world is a different place – hockey is a different place.  As much as we can celebrate the past and cherish those men that built the franchise, we can’t let them haunt the building.  Subban’s departure is another example of running a star out just because they may not always “fit the mold.”  Subban isn’t like the rest of the players and that’s okay, not every championship team is built like those old Montreal Canadien teams.  You need guys like P.K.  You need guys like Patrick Roy.  Unfortunately the Montreal Canadiens still haven’t learned the lessons, they still hear the whispers of Richard and Bouchard and Plante.  When the time comes and they realize it, it’s going to be too late.  It may already be too late.

Theo Fleury Is Burned Once Again By The Hockey Hall of Fame

I’ve written a lot about learning to play ice hockey at an advanced age and how I’ve struggled with my physical conditioning and my mind’s ability to comprehend what I can’t do.  When I go to training sessions, I’ve had the full backing of the instructors, who are there for me on the ice and I trust them to give me the right advice off the ice.  If I need a piece of equipment or if I’m struggling with keeping my head up after training I know they’ll point me in the right direction.  That is what a coach and a mentor is supposed to do.

Imagine a young player who is trying to learn the game and he puts his faith and trust in his coach.  He starts to get good at the sport and his coach tells him that he’s going to be there for him but the coach takes advantage of his trust and abuses him.  You don’t have to imagine that, it’s happened.  Among the many that it’s happened to is Theoren Fleury, a former NHL player who would go on to score 1,088 points in 1,084 games but would drink and party his way through multiple seasons until he finally was able to find himself.

At 5 foot 6 inches, not many gave Fleury hope of fulfilling a career in professional hockey along with the fact that he came from aboriginal family.  Born on June 29, 1968, to Wally and Donna Fleury in Oxbow, Saskatchewan, Fleury struggled with a challenging home life. He took out his frustrations wherever he could, sometimes on others in school, but his passion was in hockey once he finally picked up the stick.  He almost lost his career at 13 when an errant skate cut deep into his arm forcing him to miss almost a year of development.  After this the community of Oxbow, Saskatchewan decided to send their native son to hockey school where Fleury would meet Graham James, the man that would ultimately coach him and plead guilty to charges of sexual assault.

Fleury, however,  would thrive in junior hockey and in 1987, at the age of 19, he was drafted in the 6th round by the Calgary Flames.  At the start of the 1988 season he was sent down to the Flames’ minor league affiliate in Salt Lake City where he recorded 74 points in 40 games.  Looking for a spark, the Flames brought him up and spark he did – registering 34 points in 36 games and then 11 points in games on the way to winning his first and only Stanley Cup.  That had to be a hell of a rookie year – winning the Cup and thinking that there had to be more championships on the way.

What was on the way for Fleury was points, penalty minutes and what he wrote about in his autobiography – alcohol, women and drug abuse.  Fleury got through 16 years in the NHL by doing what he knew best, being a pest and not letting his lack of size get in the way.

Fleury wrote Playing With Fire: The Theo Fleury Story in 2009, six years after he left the NHL. Fleury’s courage to pour out the demons that have haunted him since the incidents with James that left him searching for an outlet only to find drugs and alcohol.  His failed drug tests and the suspensions that went along with it.  His sinking depression and the dark holes that he fell into.  Through all that Fleury was able to find something inside himself and maybe if nothing else he was able to find himself.

Now that his playing career is done Fleury helps others who have gone through abuse and those who are looking for someone who understand the struggle.  As someone who grew up watching Fleury I know how great a hockey player he was, and for that he deserves to be in the HHOF.  His life can teach younger players a lesson about speaking out against abuse by coaches, mentors and even family members.  He can show us that even though you are small or come from a place where there is nothing you can be someone.  He can show us what drugs and alcohol can do and the dark places that they can take you.  In many ways Fleury can be a role model, an idol, an example, someone not to follow but most importantly he is a human.  For Fleury not to be in the Hockey Hall of Fame is a question that needs to be asked.  Is it because he was a fighter?  Is it because he was aboriginal?  Is it because he was sexually abused?  Is it because he talked about his problems in his book?

We should respect and cherish all the things that he has given to the game and let the younger generation learn and understand what this man went through, for he is part of our past and they need to learn to make a better future.

Two Great Passes and Some Burgers

About a week ago, on the day before the Penguins clinched their fourth Stanley Cup, I played one of the best games of my young hockey life.

Okay, it was my best.

To be fair, it was just open hockey and no one was watching or even paying attention.  No one but me.  The guy who has been judging himself  all along hoping that he’d be able to somewhat keep his head above water.  I doggy paddled throughout the session, but I wasn’t worthless out on the ice.

Recalling what might be one of my best passes ever, I think about one of my two best plays from open hockey that day.  A swift tape to tape cross ice pass hitting a streaking teammate.  I think I was so proud of the fact I actually completed the play I stopped skating and stared at it.  I know that’s bad but I’m not used to being productive on the ice.  Hell, I’m now able to somewhat skate for a while without getting tired.  Although half the kids are 20 years younger than me.  I feel like one of those old dudes from Scooby Doo, “I would’ve gotten away with it too if it wasn’t for you meddling kids!”  

Then there’s the other moment that I’m proud of.  While it really makes no sense and I have no idea how I made it, I wish I had instant replay .  I was along the boards and I, of course, fumbled the entry but somehow recovered.  I think everyone knew I wasn’t going to do anything with the puck but my teammate was perched on the crease. She was all alone and I knew it.  I sensed a defender coming and I had no time to turn and make a good pass.  So I just backhanded a pass toward the net.  I whipped myself around, instantly cursing myself for making a stupid decision only to see her top shelf it on the crossbar.  Lucky.  Pure luck.  I guess sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.

Other than those two things I was pretty normal.  Normal for me means I get beat a lot, get run around the ice and try hard.  It’s fun don’t get me wrong.  

I’ve been watching Showtime’s series about the Stanley Cup Finals and I see frustration happens to everyone, even to the guys in the National Hockey League.  You just have to fight through it and play your game.  I suppose if nothing else I can always build on the fact that i impressed myself.  Plus it takes time, speaking of which, it’s about time the hockey gods granted Phil Kessel his Cup.  Cheers, if I ever run into you, the burgers are on me.