Do You Have The Confidence of Matt Murray?

He’s probably got some puck luck and skill too..not to mention a talented team in front of him.

Watching Game 3 of the Pittsburgh Penguins – Washington Capitals series, I realized that I look at hockey so much differently than even a few weeks ago.  I feel like I can “read” the game better than ever before – almost like I understand where the guys on the ice are going to go.
Hearing Pierre McGuire talk about how rookie Penguins goaltender Matt Murray goes to hang out at the Pens’ bench during television time-outs and jokes with the rest of the team just reinforces one of the major lessons that I’ve learned on my own: confidence. It’s the hardest lesson that I’ve had to learn, even more so than keeping my back straight so I don’t keep falling on my face.

If I don’t keep a good posture I have this terrible habit of bending forward and crashing forward onto the ice.  Once I fall, I do my best to get up as fast as I can and correct it.  Although after a couple of weeks of skating with my head up and back straighter, I can feel that I’m getting it.  I understand it.  I’m confident in my skating. Well to a point.  I’m not confident in stopping.  I’m not confident that I can get there fast and I’m certainly not confident that I can go backward.  I might be able to go backward for a couple of strides, but I am not going to be the last D man on the break.  Otherwise you can be sure I’ll be on my ass sliding the whole way down the ice.

With 19:00 minutes to go in the third period of Game 3 young goalie Murray has a shutout of the Caps going (I know I’m going to be the one to curse him by saying this – i’m not superstious or anything but I know some players are).   To be fair, you can see his confidence has been growing since the New York Rangers series, when he strolled into Madison Square Garden and shutout the Blueshirts and King Henrik Lundqvist.

It’s amazing to me what confidence can do, I remember when I first stepped back on the ice for the public skate with my daughter.  It had been almost 20 years since I had been in a pair of ice skates and I sure as hell was not confident as I nervously got onto the ice at the Rev. All those little kids who were out there were much more confident prancing around doing all kinds of moves and showing their moms and dads their best tricks.

Meanwhile I’m taking a short stride and feeling like there’s two sticks of butter on my feet and I’m skating on a pan covered in non-stick cooking spray.  I was able to skate from one side of the ice to the other and skate down to the far end of the rink where no one was – that felt like a huge victory for me!  Looking back at it, it makes me laugh.  I do that as soon as I make a lap now.  Can you imagine?  But back then, I had no confidence in my skating and my legs just shook.

Under 13 minutes to go in Murray’s shutout bid and the kid is seeing the puck really well. Uh oh.  I just did it.  So much for that shutout.  Then again, the Penguins gave Ovechkin all the room in the world to shoot.  Come on, even I know you can’t do that!  

I think confidence is the reason that I have spent money on new skates and sticks when I’ve still got so far to go.  I think part of me feels like if I have good skates then I can’t blame them for me not being able to skate well.  It makes me work harder or push myself harder at skating because I know it’s not because the blades can’t handle it.  Or if I stick handle or shoot at net, I want a great stick because it’s going to push me to work on making my passes better and my accuracy better.  

Even the little details I have to tell myself to do, like when I receive a pass to cradle it like an egg, thanks Steve, or that movement of the stick to top shelf a shot.  If I’m confident I have the gear to do it in then I have to be confident in me, which means I have to go get on the ice and just do it.

That’s easier said than done of course.  If confidence came in a bottle I’d buy all the cases I could find. I still remember the first time I went to skills class and how nervous I was because I didn’t know anyone.  I thought I’d hold up the drills when I fell and went slow.  But everyone was cool and I gained so much every time I went out.  I’ve come so far but have so far to go.  Murray told his mom he’d be an NHL starting goalie when he was an 11 year old, so I can be a better player one day as long as I have confidence.




So You Think You Have The Confidence of Carey Price?

It’s ironic that Montreal Canadiens’ goalie Carey Price made me reflect on hockey.  An injury to the franchise player on November 25, 2016 was initially thought to be just a “week or two” thing.  Price hasn’t seen a game since that day and isn’t sure he will before the end of the season or the playoffs, if the Canadiens make it – things aren’t looking good for him or the team.

Skate backwards twenty-plus-years to when I played roller hockey in the sunny Southern states with a group of loyal compatriots and thought that I was pretty good at what I was doing.  I could go side-to-side, change direction in a flash, skate backwards, I could go pretty fast and I damn sure wasn’t afraid to stop on a dime.  There was also the roller hockey side – I could dish, I could put the puck where I had to (ok, the roller hockey ball). I was also “that kid” out there with the ice hockey gloves, yeah I know, but I went to Pennsylvania for a wedding and made my dad go to a hockey store. Hell I even played goalie pretty damn well – my one memory is stopping a penalty shot by using my forehead to block the ball.

We weren’t organized and didn’t put money into much, just sticks and the ball when we could.  We didn’t care about wearing masks and this was before Bryan Berard  and Marc Staal had eye injuries (sorry guys!).  We didn’t know any better either, we just did it for the typical “love of the game.”

We didn’t have any ice either – the NHL was just realizing that Northern “snowbirds” were screaming for hockey in Florida so they were installing two franchises in Tampa Bay and Miami.  A kid we went to school with, thought he was going pro (we might have been a little jealous), toted around a hockey stick and ice skates because he went to a rink that was an hour and a half away to play ice hockey. None of us could afford to either drive that far away or buy all that ice hockey equipment, nor would our parents take us.  Okay we were a lot jealous.

We did have a local hockey team in the East Coast Hockey League, the Hampton Roads Admirals, that our pro ice hockey kid learned from.  That’s where I learned my love of ice hockey, that and our local cable channel Home Team Sports that showed almost every Washington Capitals game.  Joe Beninati and Craig Laughlin taught me a lot about the game because they were the only ones I had to learn from.

Locally the Admirals were coached by John Brophy, the same John Brophy who melted down on the bench of the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 80’s.  Good times.  He did his fair share of melting down in the ECHL.  It was quite comical.

But we played probably ten games max of roller hockey at a tennis court on the edge of town.  A nice barely used tennis court, well-lit and out of the way but the Southern sun made it ridiculous to use during the day, so we played at night.

Until one summer night when some guys came out of nowhere with trouble on their mind.  I’ll tell you, there wasn’t much to me – 5-foot-10, 150 pounds max with skates on.  It was probably 9 or 9:30 at night and we had the lights on skating and I notice them, that’s always been something that I was good at was noticing my surroundings, and I noticed these guys coming up that obviously did not have skates.  One goes up to the breaker box for the lights and I’m planning my exit the whole time.  No one else had any clue what was about to go on.  Lights go out and I’m gone like the Russian Rocket.  I don’t know if I’ve ever skated or ran faster in my life.  Ten minutes later it was over and we hauled ass out of there never to return.

We still wanted to play and we tried to play at the tennis courts at the high school in town but the one night we tried someone called the cops on us – citing the trespassing sign.  I got tossed in the back of a cop car with skates still on my feet along with my fellow hockey players.  Imagine that, instead of bringing drugs or weapons to school we were playing hockey on the tennis courts!  Priorities.

After that, the most roller hockey I played was in my driveway with a goal I built from two-by -fours and a net I bought at a sporting goods store.  I skated so many times in the same circle that I wore the wheels down on an angle and I worked on a slap shot that broke the window of my parent’s garage door at least twice.  But I had nowhere else to go “for the love of the game.”

Finnish flash twenty-plus-years to Carey Price, “I want to be out there playing the game I love.”  Price continued, “that’s been the goal this entire time, to be able to come back with 100 per cent confidence, I didn’t want to come back at 90 per cent and still have that mentally kind of shadow overcast. We wanted to come back and make sure that I can compete at 100 per cent and lay it all out there because if you still have that mental block, you can’t play at your best.”

I followed hockey for those 20 plus years, even though I was introduced to hockey by the Admirals and Capitals (and early 80’s with Macgyver’s Calgary Flames hat) I was always a Toronto Maple Leafs fan.  Being a Buffalo Bills fan I guess it’s something about the area – or maybe it’s something about lovable losers, I can say it I’m a fan.  I wrote Doug Gilmour when he was at the Leafs and was sent back an autographed picture.  I still have it to this day.  I always admired the goalies, don’t ask me why but Jocelyn Thibault has always been my favorite player (I’m ducking – I know I know but Felix Potvin was never far behind).  These days Henrik Lundqvist gets the nod, and I support Jayson Megna since I’ve seen him skate at Wilkes-Barre Scranton.  Which brings me full circle.

So after seeing hockey live, I decided maybe it was time to get back on ice skates and roller blades and see what I could do.  Looking up ice rinks it turned out that the one near Wilkes-Barre Scranton was the closest one.  My daughter wanted to skate too, at 10 years old she decided it was time for her to learn to play hockey.  Ice hockey.  So now, we’re both learning.  We both have to learn to skate – I have to “re-learn” and she has to start the process.  For me, it’s getting back and believing in myself, that I can do it.  For her, it’s believing that her skates won’t fail her, that she can stay balanced. Carey Price talked about it, the confidence – you have to have it.

There’s something about that rink, along with the smell of the ice – you know?  You look at it and first maybe you are thinking “ok it’s not so bad, all these guys and girls are doing it.”  But then you step on it and you fall.  Then you fall again.  When you are a kid it’s not a big deal you have all these years ahead to learn.  But as an adult you are thinking “I should know how to do this,” especially if when you are younger you knew how to roller blade like a champ.  But this is so different.  The ice will eat you up.  There’s nothing like getting on that ice.  It’s so intimidating.  Especially if you see other people out there skating with sticks and pucks and they make it look so damn easy.

Guys or girls your age or younger.  I skated from one side to the other and considered it an achievement until I saw a young lady skate backwards faster than I skated forward.  How the hell do you do that?  And don’t get me started on bending my knees.  How do I stay so bent?  And puck handling?  Try to shoot the puck and fall on your face.  It’s ridiculous.  I just feel like a failure.  Then I watch someone else zing them in.  Then I try to pick myself up the ice and slip again.  It’s a natural thing isn’t it?

Or go watch the NHL and they make it look so easy and get paid half as much as baseball players.  Hell, that’s not right.  I’ll never complain about a hockey player being terrible.  I’m terrible.  Don’t pay me.  Pay me to stay off the ice.  I’m awful.  They say you just have to keep going back and training and training.  I get how people with so much talent wash out now.  I understand.  If you lose confidence it’s going to eat you up.  It’s tough.  I gotta get back on the skates – I think?

Tryin’ To Reason With Trade Season

Tryin’ To Reason With Trade Season

It’s only been a few days since the NHL Free Agency Period began but it feels like my head is spinning with all the trades and signings like no other season that I can remember in recent history.  It’s like when Jimmy Buffett sang about Hurricane season in his song “Trying To Reason With Hurricane Season”:

And Now I must confess,

I could use some rest.

I can’t run at this pace very long.

Yes, It’s quite insane,

I think it hurts my brain.

But it cleans me out and then I can go on.

We’ve seen contract buyouts and strange contract drops, LA Kings releasing Mike Richards for who knows what.  The Rangers signed my two favorite Scranton Pens, Brian Gibbons and Jayson Megna to deals.  However they shipped out Talbot and Hagelin.

T.J. Oshie went to Washington in what I think will be a major deal for them.  Not because I think it will make them into an instant contender but because I think they will miss Troy Brouwer.  I think his heart and determination will be missed hugely.  Their signings of Niskanen and Orpik were huge gets from the Pens.  The backline was greatly improved and the Pens never recovered after losing those two.  Yes the Pens had great depth in Scranton with young studs, but they were a long way away from being ready to play at the NHL level and this has severely limited their ability to go far.  More on that in a bit.  I’m not entirely convinced either that T.J. Oshie is Washington’s missing link either, or that Washington had to do much.  Washington had the Rangers on the brink, in fact as I’ve stated before, Ovie turned a corner in the playoffs.  Ovie had me a believer.  They built something last year and I think Brouwer was a part of that.  Watching the Road to the Stadium Series special you could see what Brouwer brought to that team.  I’m thinking this is going to affect chemistry more than many might believe.

Brandon Saad went to Columbus from the Blackhawks yes, but Anisimov is going to be a monster in that Chicago system.  I know he’s going to play well as that third line center who can dominate and score.  He’s not the young winger that they are giving up but Chicago is good at finding people to replace and retool.  They are good at working within the confines of the cap.  If they had to give up someone they got a great piece in return.  They got many pieces in return.  The obvious pieces at the top are what are keeping them there.  The two big guns and their top D men.  You can talk all you want about what they’ve given up here, but that D depth is huge.

I know there were a few other trades that made headlines for a few days, Dougie Hamilton from Boston to Edmonton, Milan Lucic to LA and Robin Lehner to Buffalo but the biggest deal for me was the Phil Kessel deal to Pittsburgh.

The Maple Leafs were looking to go in a new direction with a change in management and a need to shake things up after years of not making the playoffs.  A new coach has come in and time has shown that Kessel isn’t working in the Leafs uniform.  For such a talented player he’s been traded multiple times already, it’s unfortunate.  Lots newspapers and blogs have said that the Leafs got the short of end of the stick because all that they got in return was Scott Harrington, Nick Spaling,  Kasperi Kapanen, a 2016 third round pick and a conditional first round pick while giving up Kessel, Tyler Biggs and Tim Erixon.  The truth is folks, Scott Harrington is a young consistent D man who played the power play at Scranton and picked up points while being solid at his own end.  He will shake out to be on the 2nd D line, which isn’t a bad pick up.  He’ll be solid and contribute.  Kaspi has a world of potential.  If he comes into his own he will be a top tier player.  The Pens organization had designs for him.  He was celebrated when he made his debut in Scranton in the playoffs.  This kid has serious star power.  As for the picks, if done properly, we all know what can be gotten in the draft.  Do I think the Leafs got robbed?  Definitely not.  I think the Leafs have done themselves a world of good.  They’ve gotten younger and gotten assets to build with.  They are working for the future.  Kessel wasn’t part of that future.  The Pens have to wonder with all the money tied into the top tier players if they have the depth to compete, especially considering their goalie situation and the defense needs some serious work.  From my perspective, I believe the Leafs made themselves way better.

But what do I know?  I can’t reason with trade season.

Another Dynamic Duo?

Filip Bondy of the New York Daily News wrote that Henrik Lundqvist needs a sidekick like Batman needed Robin in order to win a Cup.  Bondy reasons that Chicago has Toewes and Kane and the Penguins have Malkin and Crosby.  Toewes and Kane’s Blackhawks are set to face off against three young stars from Tampa Bay known as the Triplets.

Sure the Rangers won the President’s trophy en route to the top seed in the playoffs but they lost in a Game Seven at home where they were supposed to be unbeatable.  At some point luck is going to run out.  They’ve gotten the right breaks at times this playoff season, but they’ve also had injuries that have hurt them, unlike Chicago and Tampa who are now in the Stanley Cup Finals.

If we go back to last year, look at the Rangers and Kings.  Two teams that almost mirrored each other in the Finals at the time.  Two goaltenders that were hot at the time that lead their team to the championship of each respected division.  Lucky bounces at the right time, the ability to score on the power play and the teams were healthy through the playoffs.  The last part can’t be understated enough.  Look at the Rangers in the Eastern Conference Final, the loss of Mats Zuccarello was tough for the offense to overcome in the Washington series but somehow they were able to overcome there.  However when Ryan McDonagh broke his foot in Game 4 of the ECF, he was pretty much less than 50 percent for the rest of the series.  It’s tough when the captain of the blueline can’t do what he’s supposed to do, especially when you are funneling everything into Lundqvist and getting no offense.  I know every team struggles with injuries but if the Blackhawks had Duncan Keith break his foot and lost Kane, I doubt they’d be in the Final.  I realize hockey is about next man in line, but it’s hard to replace your top D man and one of your top wingers.

There is something to be said however for having a team that can score and that’s something that the Rangers need help with.  There’s plenty of youth on this team, so I don’t think there’s a need to go with a younger set of players.  Maybe a shake up at the top by sending Nash out and replacing St. Louis and possibly Dan Boyle?  There certainly are some options available in the trade market to be explored in the offseason as well, and I think that’s more than likely going to be address by Glenn Sather.

Speaking of Sather, Bondy had a lot to say about Sather when he criticized the trade making abilities of the Ranger’s GM.  However, had the Rangers made it back to the Cup again I’m not certain Bondy would have spoken so harshly of Sather.  I’m not going to say that the St. Louis trade looks wonderful in hindsight but it was a deal that was made in the short-term not for the future.  Sather knew that Callahan wasn’t going to resign and was trying to get something for nothing while trying to push the Rangers through the playoffs for the next couple of seasons.  As for the various trades: Yandle and company, they were done to add pieces to an already strong core.  I don’t believe Sather’s job is safe just because he’s a friend to the owner, he did put together a President’s trophy winning team.  Plus let’s be fair, only one team can win the Cup, and it’s a very difficult market.  Sather has won Cups before, yes this is a different time, with free agency and salary caps but everyone has to play by that rule too.  If we all followed that mantra, GMs would be fired every single year when they didn’t win the Cup.

I am a Ranger fan, but I haven’t been convinced that altogether this team is as good as Chicago or Anaheim.  Those two teams have depth upon depth.  While Lundqvist is a better goalie than Crawford or Anderson, the forward depth and defensive parts that those two teams roll out I believe can’t be matched.  In a seven game series I believe it would be the Kings series all over again, with Lundqvist having to play every game on his head trying to keep the Rangers in the game while hoping that the power play could score.  As a Ranger fan I don’t want to see that.  I don’t believe that’s Vigneault’s fault as much as it is the need to cut some of the dead weight.  It’s time to shake up things.  Is the window closing?  I’m not sure the window was open.  The West is dominating things.  If it’s not the West, it’s Boston or Pittsburgh.  It’s hard to accept but maybe there are only so many dynamic duos to go around.

Rollin’ Sevens

About the time the puck dropped on Game Six of the Rangers-Tampa series that everyone interested and involved had heard the stats: 14-3. The Rangers were 14-3 in their last 17 elimination games. It’s an amazing stat when you think about it, talk a team that’s incredibly tough to close out, this is it.

But these are the Rangers, the team that one game looks like it could steamroll you out of the building and in the next has no idea where the net is. Turnovers have been a killer and the power play can’t score but somehow and someway this team has found a way to keep it going.

When the game started so did the Rangers and after the first period they had control with a 2-1 lead. The funny thing is that I thought that maybe it was going to be one of those low scoring games where the Rangers lean on Henrik and he has to carry them. But in the second period they seemed to be on their back foot letting Tampa come at them. They handled the pressure as best as they could allowing no goals in the second but it was painful to watch. It had that feeling that if Tampa scored one it was just going to break open.

Thankfully they didn’t and what happened in the third was something no one could have predicted, 5 Ranger goals! Brassard ended up with three goals and 2 assists, Nash had a goal and 3 assists, J.T. Miller had a goal and 3 assists. That line had 13 points combined, and it was a huge story of Game Six. They didn’t sit back and let Tampa come at them, they took the game to them.

But Hank also played a role, stopping key shots. He stopped 36 of 39 shots and made them when the team needed them. The Rangers needed a good game out of Lundqvist and they got it. This team doesn’t go anywhere without Lundqvist , he’s won 6 straight Game 7s. But these are just stats and it has to be played on Friday.

So now the 15-3 in the last 18 elimination game Rangers go home to MSG to a Game Seven. They have to take the game to Tampa by hard hits and attacking play. They have to make sure they don’t give Tampa any space and I can bet that Hank will give them solid goaltending. I’m sure Game Seven will be a nail biter but I’m sure the Rangers will be ready. They rolled seven in Game Six to get to Game Seven let’s see how they get to the Finals.

Playoffs?  You kidding me? Playoffs?

I’ve kinda been swirling this idea around and giving it thought the more I watch the Rangers  in the NHL playoffs.  I keep thinking to myself that I must be into punishment especially after watching them in the first two rounds muck their way through.

I know it’s not just Rangers fans though, it’s every sports fan.  There’s some bit of us that must enjoy the misery of the ups and the downs of the season.  While your team is winning the championship mine is sitting in the dump but I’m coming back next year.  Why exactly is that?

Is it the promise of another year?  I could know my team isn’t going to win again but I’ll be back.  Is it because I’m a “true fan?”  What does that even mean?  What does that even give you?  The right to thump your chest loudly?  We are all fans of our respective teams differently and we show it in our own ways.

I’d like to believe we come back each season because there’s something addictive about the game.  There’s something that tied us to our team and to a player and every year that player is doing their best to win.  But there’s always someone else trying to make their own name on the scene.  No one plays forever, injuries occur frequently and popularity fades.  Sports can be such a nasty demanding industry.

But as fans we eat it up.  Every day on our tvs and cell phones and computers and Xm radios and tablets.  We play it on the consoles and fantasy sports.  We wear jerseys and other gear.  There’s magazines and books and trading cards and those oddly addictive Panini stickers!  How much can we want?  More!  We want interviews and quotes and videos and behind the scenes and highlights and specials.  We’re so addicted to these sports and athletes that maybe we live our dreams through them?

Do we come back every year to win with our team?  Wishing it was us?  Do we even think about it?  Or do we just slip on the jersey and turn on the game?  What’s there to think about right? It’s our team and we have to support them!  I just wonder if you knew now that your team was never going to win a Championship in your lifetime would you still support them?  There’s lots of people who would say yes right off the bat without thinking about it.  Playoffs are one thing but knowing for one day your team could claim the title, something that you could celebrate, but knowing it would never happen would you still support that team?  Sports is funny like that cause you never know do you?

King Me

I hesitate to write this, much like the normal superstitions I’m starting to feel like maybe it’s not a bad thing to keep silent after Games 5 & 6.  But then again maybe the Rangers didn’t need luck, maybe it was that scary man in the mask between the pipes.

On a weekend when the first Atlantic tropical stormmade landfall, the Canadiens silenced the Thunder two straight games to crawl back to a 3-2 deficit, the Rangers stormed their way back into the series and tied it on Sunday night in Washington with a 4-3 win.  

On Friday night, King Henrik allowed only one goal in the Blueshirts 2-1 overtime win that they desperately had to have at the Garden.  Lundqvist stopped 28 of 29 shots, cementing himself between the pipes for the home squad.  It seems at times the Rangers give everything they can to block shots and dive in front of passes or break up whatever they can, they are giving up anything and everything for the cause.  I believe that’s what playoff hockey is all about right?  

Much has been made of the two goaltenders in the series, especially Holtby because he wasn’t expected to play as well as he has.  It’s forced the Rangers to maybe try too hard at times, play too cute passes or take the difficult shot.  But they’ve calmed down and gone back to their game, tried to reduce turnovers, put pucks on net and made Holtby work.

Ovechkin now says “we’re going to come back and win the series.”  It’s a bold, big mouthed prediction for a guy who seemed to have let his game talk for the most part in the series.  At times he did disappear and make it difficult for me to justify my feeling about him being a team player.  I don’t know that momentum exists, many times I think it’s just a made up word for a certain mindset.  I think for the most part any sporting event has an ebb and flow it’s about who takes advantage of the other teams’ mistakes.  

At this point the Rangers are doing just enough, and holding the Caps back from making their own advantages.  Some say “work hard and you shall be rewarded.”  Quite simply if you don’t give your all, go home and play golf.  The playoffs are gonna be tough, that’s the point but for the Rangers they have a King who trumps every card, he’s 13-3 since 2012 in the Stanley Cup playoffs in Game 7 elimination games.  Yeah Henrik’s got the Rangers going, another round another Game 7…Lets Go Rangers!