22 Oct 2013 Auf Wiedersehen, Sturmface

The Classic Sturmface

Marco Sturm announced his retirement from the NHL this week, and devotees of the Sturmface mourned.

I’ll admit that as a Bruins fan, I knew next to nothing about Sturm when he was traded from San Jose to Boston in November 2005, along with Brad Stuart and Wayne Primeau, for Joe Thornton. It was a trade that in the short term rattled the Bruins to the core and ended up hastening the exit of General Manager Mike O’Connell, but also ironically laid the groundwork for their playoff success and Stanley Cup championship in 2011. And Sturm was a big part of that success, even if, sadly, he wasn’t around to hoist Lord Stanley’s chalice himself.

Sports franchises are like ocean liners; it takes time to turn them around. O’Connell was fired a few months after the trade, the Bruins missed the playoffs, and Peter Chiarelli was hired in May as GM. The Bruins acquired free agents Marc Savard and Zdeno Chara, and after stumbling under coach Dave Lewis and again missing the playoffs the following year, fired Lewis and hired Claude Julien. Team construction continued under Julien’s stewardship, as Chiarelli traded Stuart and Primeau to Calgary for Andrew Ference and Chuck Kobasew. But he held on to Sturm. Like a man discovering a $50 bill in a pair of rummage sale blue jeans, he knew a bonus when he found one.

Some observers may scoff, but hockey players talk about chemistry and the culture of winning as a tangible thing. The culture of losing is just as tangible, and it takes hard work and the right people to turn that ocean liner around. For the Boston Bruins, Marco Sturm was one of those people.

Sturm scores the OT game-winner in the 2010 Winter Classic at Fenway Park.

 

In 2008, Boston finally returned to the playoffs, sneaking in with the eighth seed and pushing top-seeded Montreal to seven games with a Game 6 that is widely seen as THE on-ice turning point for the modern manifestation of the Bruins. And leading the charge was Sturm, who scored the winning goal by knocking Roman Hamrlik off the puck, skating through the crease  and cold-bloodedly beating Carey Price with less than a minute left on the clock. The Bruins lost the next game, and lost in the semifinals in 2009, but that key first step had been taken.

David Krejci’s injury in Game 3 of the 2010 Eastern Conference semifinals was widely regarded as the death blow for the Bruins’ hopes, but what is often forgotten is that the Bruins lost Sturm just seconds into Game 1 of that series, one of several critical injuries in that postseason.

The injury, to his MCL and ACL, ended up being crucial not just for the Bruins but for Sturm, who underwent his second knee surgery in two years. He worked doggedly to return to the lineup the following season, but was traded to Los Angeles in December in what was essentially a cap move for Boston.

Never the same player, having lost one of the key parts of his game – his speed – he played his last game with the Panthers in 2012. he played in Germany during last season’s lockout and now lives in Florida with his family.

When I think of Marco Sturm, I naturally think of the Sturmface, and the Game 6 against Montreal, and the Winter Classic, and his obvious chemistry with and love for his teammates, and his joy in the game and being part of the Boston Bruins. But the one signature Sturm moment for me came in Game 4 of the 2010 Eastern Conference semifinals, when Miro Satan scored in double overtime for a victory over the Buffalo Sabres.

Sturm didn’t pick up a point on that play. But, emblematic of his tenure in Boston, his participation was crucial. He drove to the net and took two Sabres defenders with him, allowing Satan to walk in and score. I was in the stands, right behind the net, about 15 rows up, and saw it all unfold as if was drawn up on a coach’s whiteboard. Sturm heading right for Ryan Miller like a runaway train is an image that will remain with me forever, and it will always be linked in my mind with the celebrations that erupted across New England one year later.  Danke shon, Marco, and God speed.

 



08 Oct 2013 Philadelphia Flyers: It’s OK to be stupid, as long as you’re bold

Just not bold enough, Peter.

The reaction to Monday’s firing of Philadelphia Flyers coach Peter Laviolette three games into the 2013-14 season was predictable: Shock at such a quick exit; questions about why it was done three games into the season, and not at the end of last season; and most of all, fingers pointed at general manager Paul Holmgren and owner/chairman Ed Snider. After all, Laviolette isn’t the guy who put this team together.

Our culture is to win,” Snider growled at Monday’s press conference announcing the firing of Laviolette and the promotion of assistant Craig Berube.

“We don’t need a fresh perspective. We have a pretty good culture and we know what we’re dealing with.”

Other than the obvious reaction – what head of any sports team is going to state at a press conference that “our culture is to lose”? – you have to wonder what on earth Snider is getting at, besides being reactionarily defensive.

Not to worry, Ken Campbell at The Hockey News explains it to us: The Flyers are BOLD.

As a fan you have to ask yourself the following question: Would you rather see your team be proactive and perhaps foolish once in a while in the process of making firm, bold and risky decisions or would you rather your team take a slow, methodical and safe approach. The Flyers are nothing if not compelling all the time. They are willing to throw the dice more often than most teams and are a big market team that is unafraid of paying for its mistakes and paying more to try to fix them.

As a fan, I’d prefer that my team be proactive and intelligent, thanks. Those two concepts are not mutually exclusive.

Dealing for Chris Pronger in 2009 was not a bad move, though the price (Joffrey Lupul, Luca Sbisa, two first-round picks and a third-round pick) was extreme. After all, Pronger helped them make the 2010 Stanley Cup final. But signing a 35-year-old, injury-prone defenseman to a seven-year contract extension? You didn’t have to be Cassandra to foresee trouble down the road, and it came sooner rather than later when Pronger was lost for good early in the 2011-12 season with post-concussion syndrome.

But the Pronger situation was just prelude. In the wake of the Flyers’ 2011 post-season meltdown vs. Boston, Holmgren made a series of stunning moves:  Forking over a  third-round pick in the 2012 draft, a minor-leaguer and future considerations for the rights to free agent goalie (and professional flake) Ilya Bryzgalov, who signed an absurd 9-year, $51 million contract; dealing forwards Jeff Carter (for Jakub Voracek and the draft pick that became Sean Couturier) and Mike Richards (for Brayden Schenn, Wayne Simmonds and a 2012 pick); and signing FAs Jaromir Jagr, Maxime Talbot and Adreas Lilja.  Notice anything odd about the return on all that dealing? Only one player – Lilja, who’s 35 years old – was a defenseman. And though drafting for need is debatable, you can be certain that Bruins fans danced for joy when the Flyers passed up on Dougie Hamilton to select Couturier, making him the heir apparent to Zdeno Chara rather than Chris Pronger.

The Bryzgalov signing was probably the biggest shocker.  We’re not talking about a perennial Vezina Trophy candidate here. He had some decent seasons in Phoenix, but nothing earth-shattering. But the unseen shark in the water is that the Flyers neglected to shore up their defense. And the results were predictable: 20th in the NHL in the regular season in goals-against, and a 4.0 GAA in 11 games in the playoffs.

Sure, some of the mess can probably be blamed on Laviolette. Defense is a team concept; even the greatest defensemen (and goalies) need full and active participation from the forwards. From what I’ve seen of the Flyers, Laviolette either didn’t emphasize defense, or his team had tuned him out. Either way, the result was the same. And as everyone always points out, you can’t fire the players (nor the owner/chairman). You have to wonder, however, what it’s going to take for Paul Holmgren’s job to be on the line.  I guess as long as he keeps being bold, he’ll be OK.

 



02 Oct 2013 Yay, hockey is back!
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Aiiieeeee! My eyes, my eyes!!

 

Finally.

Though watching opening night gave me decided mixed feelings. Toronto vs. Montreal? Can’t they both lose? Chicago raising its Stanley Cup banner. Ack. And Andrew Ference wearing the “C” for Edmonton. ::weeps::

Oh well. A few scattered thoughts from the summer as we dive into the season:

Nathan Horton signs with the Columbus Blue Jackets and some Bruins fans go off their rockers.

I was sad to see him go, no doubt. But I don’t blame Horton one bit. He’s suffered a couple of concussions in the past couple of years, he has a chronic shoulder problem (for which he had surgery in June), and Columbus offered him $37.1 million for the maximum seven years. He never would have gotten that deal in Boston (nor should he). Saying he went from a “sure Cup winner” (competitive, certainly, but who is ever “sure”? [insert Penguins joke here]) to a bottom-feeder is grossly unfair to Columbus, which is a young, rising team. And labeling Horton a “traitor” (which I’ve also heard) is laughable. Not just that teams won’t hesitate to trade anyone at any time, but do people not know that Horton was drafted and developed by the Florida Panthers, not the Boston Bruins?

Best to you, Nathan. I’ll never forget that 2011 Cup win. Thanks.

Andrew Ference named captain of the Edmonton Oilers.

No-brainer. Though the whining about it from Vancouver and Montreal fans is priceless.

Phil Kessel gets an eight-year, $8 million per year contract.

HAHAHAHAHAA.

Ahem, but seriously folks….

No, it’s really not that bad. He’s a great goal-scorer. And the contract goes into effect next year, when the cap is due to increase. This is probably one of the first signs of a significant salary escalation. But just as I believe sports Halls of Fame should recognize only the absolute elite, budget-busting salaries should be reserved for franchise players. Crosby, Malkin, Ovechkin, Perry… and Kessel? OK, I guess. One word of warning for Mr. Kessel, though: with great contracts come great responsibility.

The NHL adopts hybrid icing.

This is not a big deal as far as game action goes, though it could save careers. Predictably, some fans are getting their knickers in a serious twist about it. As Justin Bourne pointed out, those fans have never suffered a broken femur while chasing a puck. ‘Nuff said.

George Parros suffered a concussion when he banged his chin on the ice during a fight with Colton Orr.

A terrible injury, but obviously an accident. So the HNIC Canada panel spends 15 minutes whining that “nobody will talk about great opening games because all they’ll be talking about is this.” Um, guyz? Pot? Kettle? Mirror?

The Sabres named co-captains even though the NHL says you can’t. The Oilers follow the Bruins’ lead and split one of the “A’s.” And John Buccigross goes off:

John Buccigross ‏@Buccigross 22h
NHL has watered down the distribution of C’s and A’s so much that I would be in favor of just doing without them all together. Meaning lost.

I get the feeling that Buccigross is the father who punishes everybody when one kid does something wrong.

There are 30 teams in the NHL. Despite the insistence of the conformity police, when it comes to designating leadership, they all have the right to do what they deem appropriate for their own team.

With the Olympic Games in Russia this year, steel yourself for a flood of complaints about games played at 4 a.m. Eastern Time.

One word, folks: DVR. Get one, and enjoy.

 

 Photo by Keith Schultz 

 



23 Sep 2013 A plague on both your houses

Men can be so childish sometimes. Take, for example, Sunday’s preseason line brawl between the Buffalo Sabres and the Toronto Maple Leafs.

It’s not the fight(s) I’m talking about, though. It’s the aftermath. The finger-pointing, blaming and chorus of “They started it!” and “No, THEY started it!!”

It all started, the Sabres say, when Corey Tropp was knocked out by Jamie Devane.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lKYQx3W-H8g

Au contraire, say the Leafs:

Chris Johnston
‏@reporterchris
Ron Rolston said the #sabres were upset about Corey Tropp getting knocked out by 6’5 Jamie Devane. The #leafs say Tropp started that fight.

So the Sabres send out Scott to avenge his fallen teammate. Toronto coach Randy Carlyle, trying to “defuse” the situation, sends out Kessel’s line. Scott and Kessel exchange words, Kessel gives Scott a poke, and all hell breaks loose.

http://video.nhl.com/videocenter/console?id=446674

“You started it!” “No, YOU started it!” “It’s not my fault, honest! HE STARTED IT!”

According to the Maple Leafs, John Scott “broke the code” by fighting with a skill player. Now I’m not a Scott fan. I don’t think he belongs in the NHL, because he can barely play hockey. But as Sean McIndoe pointed out, Scott didn’t actually fight Kessel. In fact, he didn’t do much of anything.

‏@DownGoesBrown
Given the mismatch in lines, Scott could have done real damage. Instead, he barely touched Kessel and friends. Never went full Girmson.

Kessel, OTOH, slashed Scott not once, but twice. The first slash was perhaps excusable, but the second was most decidedly not. As a fan old enough to remember when Teddy Green was almost killed by Wayne Maki, I’m nauseated by the sight of a swinging two-hander. Kessel should be suspended for that, though there are rumblings that the NHL won’t punish him beyond a fine, as they worry about sending some kind of message that skill players can’t defend themselves. How about sending a message that swinging a stick will not be tolerated, no matter who you are?

(And that third poke at Scott, really, Phil? He’s tied up with an official and another Leaf, and you throw a little spear at him like a kid poking at a caged tiger? Talk about childish.)

Another stupid moment came when David Clarkson left the bench to join the fight. You’d think after Paul Bissonnette was hit with an AUTOMATIC 10-game suspension for doing the same thing that Clarkson would know better, but he obviously wasn’t signed by the Maple Leafs for his smarts.

Toronto goalie Jonathan Bernier is a MENSA member compared to Clarkson. Nothing like making yourself noticed/taking the lead in the goalie competition by beating up Ryan Miller, who on a good day probably couldn’t outfight a chipmunk. I think the most nauseating moment of this entire stramash was listening to the announcers howl with glee over Bernier pounding on Miller (who OMG is so much TALLER! Like that makes a difference?), even while noting that Miller has suffered more than one concussion. I’m not a Miller fan myself, but if I was a Buffalo fan, I’d be covering my eyes at that moment (not to mention muting the sound).

So you know what, guys? You’re ALL wrong. You all did dumb things (yes, even you, Mr. Bernier. Goalies should only fight when their guys are outnumbered. Ryan Miller had about as much interest in joining that brawl as he did in running naked down Bloor Street.).  I suppose you’re being punished, though, by the fact that everyone thinks you’re hilarious.

As far as real aftermath goes, there’ll be more “code” talk, a lot of  ”we wuz wronged!” talk, and a lot of  ”Circle the date!” (Nov. 15) on the calendar when these two teams meet for real.



16 Sep 2013 Training camp pictures!

Bruins training camp, to be precise. Welcome, Bruins fans. Welcome, fans starved for hockey who’ll look at any photos/read anything to do with the NHL. Sorry, those of you who loathe Boston.

The usual M.O. for the Bruins in past years has been to close camp and practices held at the TD Garden in Boston, and to open them at Ristuccia Arena, their practice facility in Wilmington (about a 20-minute drive northwest of the city). This year, however, they flung open the doors to Saturday and Sunday practice at the Garden, splitting the team and their hopefuls into two sessions (10 a.m. and 12:15 p.m.) and inviting the public. That includes opening concessions (though only two stations were open, and mobbed – I think they’ll remedy that next time) and offering $15 Garden parking (it’s more than twice that for a game).

Sunday’s session was extraordinarily well-attended; if they’d had that many in Wilmington, they would have been turning them away at the door.

If line combinations are your thing, the early session featured David Krejci, Milan Lucic and Jarome Iginla continuing their getting-to-know-you process. The second session belonged to Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and Loui Eriksson. Those will undoubtedly be the top two lines for the Bruins, 1a and 1b, if you will. The so-called Merlot Line (named for the color of their practice jerseys) of Danny Paille, Shawn Thornton and Greg Campbell was together again and at times appeared in mid-season form, though Campbell still isn’t 100 percent after suffering a broken leg in the playoffs. Still, it was great to see them together. The lone line question is the third, where Chris Kelly will team with (probably) Swedish import Carl Soderberg, leaving a dogfight for one wing spot.

Thornton may come between Krejci and Lucic, but only temporarily.

Thornton may come between Krejci and Lucic, but only temporarily.

On defense, Dennis Seidenberg was skating with Dougie Hamilton, Zdeno Chara with Baby B Zach Trotman, and Torey Krug with Adam McQuaid.  I love seeing the veterans with the kidlets.

The vet and the kid (Seids and Dougie).

The vet and the kid (Seids and Dougie).

Actually, I just like seeing the kids.

Now coach, now? Kidlets  Alexander Khokhlachev and Justin Florek wait for the go-ahead as coach Geoff Ward looks for a friend Patrice Bergeron apparently pointed out in the stands .

Now coach, now? Kidlets Alexander Khokhlachev and Justin Florek wait for the go-ahead as coach Geoff Ward looks for a friend Patrice Bergeron apparently pointed out in the stands .

Oh, did we mention that Krug paired with McQuaid is only slightly less funny than the idea of Krug paired with Chara? Because Torey is listed at 5-9. But he’s more like 5-8. And Adam is 6-5. Adam was also smiling almost all the time Sunday. He looked happy as could be to just be on the ice, and healthy.

Krug and McQuaid remind me of Merry and Boromir. Yes, I'm a geek.

Krug and McQuaid remind me of Merry and Boromir. Yes, I’m a geek.

Meanwhile, just the thought of  Krejci, Lucic and Iginla, if Jarome is anywhere near his old self, makes me tingle.

Some are calling this the KIL line. That's certainly better than ILK, or LIK.

Some are calling this the KIL line. That’s certainly better than ILK, or LIK.

I would have a hard time in an NHL practice mainly because the drills confuse the hell out of me.  Lots of criss-crossing, jumping into and out of processions up and down the ice, etc. etc.

 "Hey Loui, we're over here!" But that's OK, he's new.

“Hey Loui, we’re over here!” But that’s OK, he’s new.

Zdeno Chara makes it a point never to call anyone a “rookie,” because they’re all teammates, and all in this together. That even includes goalies.

Tuukka Rask and coach Claude Julien enjoy watching everyone else skate.

Tuukka Rask and coach Claude Julien enjoy watching everyone else skate.

But even the different or the young or the new guys are welcomed with open arms. They even get the honor of leading the post-practice stretch.

"It's OK, Loui, you don't have to sing."

“It’s OK, Loui, you don’t have to sing.”

It was a fun day. I wish I was a better photographer and could take some nice action shots, but that’s beyond me. Hope you’re all looking forward to the season as much as I am!

 

One more for the road:

Everyone is sure to look interested because Coach is speaking, except Tuukka, because he's Tuukka ****ing Rask, and don't you forget it.

Everyone is sure to look interested because Coach is speaking, except Tuukka, because he’s Tuukka ****ing Rask, and don’t you forget it.

(Photos by savvy)

 

 

 



11 Sep 2013 Remembering Ace
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I became a hockey fan in 1970. That was the same year that Garnet “Ace” Bailey played 58 games as a rookie for the Boston Bruins. He was young, he was blonde, he was beautiful. I was 12 years old, and I was in love.

Bailey helped the Bruins win their second Stanley Cup in three years in 1972, then was traded to Detroit the following year. I was heartbroken, and though I remained loyal to the Bruins and developed other loves (if not crushes), I never forgot him.

More than a decade later, I saw Ace Bailey, who was at the time working as a scout for the Edmonton Oilers, at a high school hockey tournament practice. I wanted to go up to him, say hello, introduce myself, tell him that he was the reason I became a hockey fan.

I didn’t. I didn’t dare. I have never had a problem talking to any professional athlete before or since, but I couldn’t gather up the courage to speak to Ace Bailey. Was I afraid that he wouldn’t measure up to the stature he held in my mind? Was I afraid he’d be brusque and unfriendly? I don’t think so. I think I was afraid I wouldn’t measure up, somehow. That I’d come across as a blithering fangirl. I didn’t want Ace Bailey to think of me that way, so I left him alone.

I regret that decision to this day.

Ace Bailey died on Sept. 11, 2001, when United Airlines Flight 175 crashed into the World Trade Center. He was director of pro scouting for the Los Angeles Kings, and was returning to the west coast from his home near Boston. His family has since created the Ace Bailey Children’s Foundation in his honor. It assists hospitalized children and their families.

Miss you, Ace. Thanks for all you did for me, even if I never let you know.



04 Sep 2013 A salute to Captain Planet

 

Wikipedia cites Leo Rosten, author of The Joys of Yiddish, in describing the term “mensch.” “Someone to admire and emulate, someone of noble character. The key to being ‘a real mensch’ is nothing less than character, rectitude, dignity, a sense of what is right, responsible, decorous.” The term is used as a high compliment, expressing the rarity and value of that individual’s qualities.

Andrew Ference is a mensch.

Of course, he is a hockey player, so we must bear in mind that on the ice, such things as rectitude, dignity and decorousness often take a back seat to ferocity, bullheadedness and the will to win.

But even considering his on-ice malfeasance (more on that later), Ference is one of those guys who, as the cliche has it, will walk the walk, not just talk the talk.

It’s impossible to discuss Andrew Ference without mentioning how he earned his most popular sobriquet, Captain Planet. In 2008, he began the NHLPA Carbon Neutral Challenge, in which NHL players purchase credits to offset the carbon footprint produced by their travel schedule. More than 500 players signed up within the first year, and the challenge continues today.

Ference doesn’t just think globally, however; he acts locally, from visiting schoolchildren to talk up the glories of composting and recycling, to riding his bike when it’s possible and driving his Prius when it’s not, to promoting and shopping at the local farmers’ market.

And it’s not just environmentalism. Ference has visited Africa with Right to Play. He combined two more of his pet projects, You Can Play and the November Project, to productive and hilarious effect. He and his family were regular visitors to Boston’s Pine Street Inn, a homeless shelter, and of course, he was always at the forefront in the Bruins’ visits to local hospitals. When he won the Stanley Cup, he partied with his neighborhood in Boston’s North End.

And doing the right thing doesn’t stop outside the locker room walls.  Ference isn’t afraid to criticize his own teammates, as he did when Danny Paille was suspended for a head shot.  He received heavy criticism in turn from Don Cherry types who insist it should always be “my teammate right or wrong,” but his own teammates had no problem with what he said. They know who Andrew Ference is.

And then there’s the Rangers jacket.

In 2011, when the Bruins went on their Stanley Cup run, the Bruins used a circa-1980s Bruins jacket Ference had purchased on eBay to give to the player of the game. When the run was over, Ference gave the jacket to retiring veteran Mark Recchi, who in turn gave it to the team. It is now immortalized under glass at TD Garden.

During the 2013 Cup run, Ference offered another jacket, given to him by Army Rangers he had befriended. After the Bruins lost to the Blackhawks in June, and he signed with Edmonton in July, Ference decided the jacket should go to a friend.

On the ice, Ference is the epitome of ferocity. Despite his relatively small (5-11, 190 pounds) frame, he never hesitates to come to the defense of a teammate. He has played through extraordinary pain (a groin that needed surgery following the 2010 playoffs, for example) without complaint. And though he’s not much of a goal-scorer, he always seemed to have a knack for the big play; as just one example, he scored the first goal against Vancouver in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup playoffs, opening the floodgates.

And then, of course, there was “the finger.”

The Bruins were trailing the Canadiens 3-1 in Game 4 of the 2011 Stanley Cup quarterfinals when Ference scored on a shot from the point, then turned around to the crowd and defiantly flashed his middle finger. The Bruins went on to the win the game, and ultimately, the series, and the Stanley Cup.

After the game, Ference claimed because of a “wardrobe malfunction” (new gloves), the finger had been inadvertent. Of course nobody bought it, and he was fined $2,500, but not admitting that it was purposeful probably saved him a suspension. (A distinction that Canadiens fans to this day can’t seem to understand.)

A year later, Ference’s conscience apparently caught up with him and he apologized. But Bruins fans who loathed the holier-than-thou Canadiens for years upon years will never forget: That middle finger was a cathartic moment for all of us, a grand, glorious, “EFF YOU MONTREAL,” on a par with Nathan Horton’s game-winning overtime goal in Game 7. The only thing better than winning the Stanley Cup was going through Montreal on the way.

The outspokeness, the competitiveness, the humor, the good works. Now Andrew Ference takes it all to Edmonton, a victim of the salary cap. If we (and the Bruins) had our druthers, he’d retire in Boston, but the world doesn’t work that way. He’s on Twitter, at @Ferknuckle, and he continues to tweet enthusiastically about the November Project, which he’s brought with him, and about the upcoming season with his new teammates. And every time I read his tweets, I cry a little inside.

Take care of him, Edmonton. Hopefully in four years we’ll see him back home in Boston, where he belongs.



26 Aug 2013 An open letter to Pavel Datsyuk
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Pavel Datsyuk

Pavel Datsyuk

Oh, Pavel.

I’ve admired you for years. Not only for your grace and amazing ability on the ice, but your class and good works off the ice. You run a hockey camp in your hometown of Ekaterinburg that utilizes the North American style and consequently, had reportedly has not endeared you to the Russian hockey establishment. You also probably haven’t endeared yourself to that same establishment by re-signing with the Detroit Red Wings, rather than joining the KHL.

And now you’re stuck between the proverbial rock and hard place. The Olympics will be held this winter in your home country, and instead of allowing you to look forward to it with pride, all everyone seems to be talking about is Russia’s draconian anti-gay laws. It must be frustrating for you.

But Pavel, really? This?

Pavel Datsyuk on Yelena Isinbaeva words regarding anti-gay law: ‘I’m an orthodox and that says it all’ – Igor Eronko, via Twitter

I understand where you’re coming from, Pavel. We in North America may see you as untouchable, but you grew up in Russia, and you know better. You understand how the Establishment can grind up and chew out even the biggest stars on the planet. You know the power of Putin and his cronies, and how life in Russia can be as easy or as difficult as the authorities want it to be. You know you’re not immune.

And I know that your faith is important to you, and that it undoubtedly helped you through some very difficult times. As a Catholic myself, I’m well aware that individual religious leaders often do not follow the church’s official dogma, and do God’s work day in and day out. I don’t doubt that you have received succor and spiritual counsel from your local church.

But Pavel, stating that you are “Orthodox and that says it all”? Surely you are aware of violence, not only preached, but  aided and abetted by Orthodox religious leaders? How can you, as caring and generous as I know you to be, condone such behavior, even obliquely? Especially when your teammate and friend Henrik Zetterberg spoke out against Russian homophobia?

Yes, I know – Henrik lives in Sweden, which might as well be another planet. He doesn’t have to deal with what you do.

I’m not demanding that you stand up to Putin, Pavel. I’m not saying you should be leading an anti-homophobia charge. Nobody should expect you or even want you to do such a thing.

Perhaps you are pulling the wool over everyone’s eyes by telling us that being “orthodox” means you are “Christian,” and actually following the words of Christ, who said “love one another, as I have loved you,” and “judge not, lest ye be judged,” and got in trouble with the religious authorities by befriending undesirable people, such as Samaritans and tax collectors. “The law was made for the man, not the man for the law,” he said, rejecting much of the Old Testament, and never saying one word about homosexual relations. What Would Jesus Do? He certainly wouldn’t be leading a stone-throwing mob against fellow humans asking for civil rights.

I find it difficult to believe that anyone who doesn’t carry hate in his heart can be homophobic. Hence I don’t think you are, Pavel.

I’m not angry with you for what you said. You have to live in Russia. I don’t, and neither do the majority of your Olympic compatriots.

What I am is sad, and disappointed.

I understand, but I wish that instead of understanding, I could stand and applaud.

Sincerely yours,
Savvy

 

Photograph:  Geneen Pipher/Hockey VIPs Magazine

 



07 Jul 2012 Seeing Red Over Semin Slams
Alexander Semin

A face the (Canadian) media loves to hate — why?

It looks like TSN/NBC analyst Pierre McGuire is up to his old tricks.  Once again he has taken the opportunity to lambast long-time Capitals winger Alexander Semin.

On the July 1 “Free Agent Frenzy” show on Canada’s TSN (and simulcast on the NHL Network), McGuire and the apparently anti-Semin panel launched a blistering attack on the Russian, who is now a free agent.

The firebombing started with ex-NHL coach-turned-analyst Marc Crawford who referred to Semin as “a loser,” without giving a single reason why he deserved such an appellation (barring Crawford’s own disdain for him).  He continued the barrage, saying that although Semin’s point production was greater than fellow UFA Zach Parise’s, he does not help his team at all, while Parise helps “in every way.”

Marc, could you be a little more vague with those comments?  Is there any proof to this accusation, or did a Russian rub you the wrong way at some point in your career?  Because, calling somebody names on a national network simply isn’t professional journalism.

Not wanting to miss his chance to bash Semin, McGuire eagerly jumped in with equal venom, saying he  ”is not a great teammate” and describing him as the “ultimate coach killer.”  Aren’t you being a bit melodramatic, Pierre?

Clearly, McGuire has a short memory.  He sang Semin’s praises during one of the better playoff runs the Capitals have had in years.  In fact, Semin was the talk of the NHL during the first round as we reported on this website in April.

Playoff performance aside, lets look at the stats.   Semin been an amazingly solid producer since he arrived in Washington.  Looking at his numbers, one would never guess that he has been riddled with injuries each year.  He has done everything his coaches have asked him to do.  And he has even been hailed as “caring too much” by his former general manager George McPhee.

He has been a loyal teammate.  He is never late to practice.  He does what is asked of him and doesn’t argue with the coach or management.  He’s not a prima donna with huge demands, nor does he expect special treatment.  One can’t even accuse him of being a one-way player, as he’s proved that this certainly isn’t the case.  No, he simply wants to play.

Why then, do members of the Canadian media wage war against this player?  They certainly would never talk about one of their “own” this way, no matter how detrimental that person was to their team.  It would be unacceptable.  Why is this any different?

Pierre McGuire

Members of the Canadian media, including Pierre McGuire, seem to enjoy denigrating Russian players.

Maybe Semin turned down a request for an interview or perhaps he refused to give McGuire his private mobile number so they could exchange text messages and give Pierre another name to drop.  Or maybe his discomfort with the English language makes him somehow less human and, therefore, easier to excoriate.  Or, as I’ve often thought, there may be a more sinister reason for trying to ruin his reputation.  The NHL is still very much an Old Boys club, and anyone different is not well received.

Whether they are motivated by xenophobia or some other reason, the attacks on Semin’s character are unacceptable and unethical behavior on the part of TSN’s “expert” panel.  Yet I don’t see it stopping any time soon.  Bashing Russians seems to be a time-honored tradition in certain circles and it seems the people who do it will not be happy until all of the Russians have gone home to the Kontinental Hockey League.  And while Semin is far too talented to play in that league, Sergei Fedorov, the new GM for CSKA Moscow has said he will make a play for him.

Yes, the Cold War still rages on the ice.  It’s time for a change.  It’s time for the old ideas of what a Russian player is to change.  It’s time for some in the Canadian media to forget the contentiousness of the 1972 Summit Series, get with the times and do some rethinking.  Do those old stereotypes of the stoic, unfeeling, passionless Russian still apply?  And, perhaps more importantly, did they ever?  Until this relatively small, but influential segment of Canada’s press corps is willing to look at their own biased attitudes and commit themselves to a little fairness, I fear hockey slip further into the realm of “niche sport.”  Certain big name, absurdly suited and coiffed commentators are already laughingstocks.  It’s time for a change, before the sport we love becomes one too.

Photographs:  Alexander Semin by Geneen Pipher/Hockey VIPs Magazine; Pierre McGuire from Wiki Commons. 


03 Jul 2012 Why the Stars Really Signed Jagr
Jaromir Jagr

Bust out the 10-gallon hats and whoop it up — Jaromir Jagr is going to Big D.

On learning Jaromir Jagr signed a big one-year deal with the Dallas Stars, most hockey watchers seemed either confused (Why would the Stars bring in yet another player over 40?) or snide (Ha! Another has-been player for an irrelevant team in a city that doesn’t care anyway). As a Texan, born and bred, I get my back up when anyone starts in on our fair state. And, as a hockey fan from Texas, I feel the Northern media has once again missed the point.

The Stars are not bringing Jaromir Jagr to Big D expecting him to be what he once was. They aren’t expecting him to win any scoring races. Heck, I’d argue they aren’t even bringing him in for leadership or to share his Zen philosophy of training or eating. Dallas has secured the services of Jaromir Jagr for one reason: Star Power.

It’s no secret the Dallas Stars have suffered in recent years. Times have been hard, with the team coming oh-so-close to the playoffs and petering out at the bitter end.  The reasons (excuses?) are many:  Ownership difficulties, bad marketing, loss of focus, exorbitant ticket prices in a dreadful economy, and competition with collegiate and NFL football and MLB, as well as a popular championship-winning NBA team …  Really, the list of the Stars’ woes seems endless.

All of these factors have contributed to the franchise’s downward spiral, but none of these has hurt more than the loss of the face of the franchise, Mike Modano.  In Dallas, star power is required to get the public’s notice.  It is football country and in order to turn heads away, a team needs to either win or have a true super star (preferably both).  That person must have the cocky swagger we Texans like, but he also must be humble and human (see Michael Irvin, Deion Sanders, or, say, Matthew McConaughey).  He needs to have a presence that demands notice and skills that make people say, “you gotta see this guy!”

Jaromir Jagr meets all of those criteria.  He has the kind of personality Texans adore.  He has massive talent that he attributes to a higher power.  (Texans doubly love that.)  He is confident in himself and his skills.  He works hard. He’s personable, quirky, has a good sense of humor and is quick to laugh.  And he is the kind of player who flirts with the media.  He winks and smiles and teases — and Texans like their personalities big — the bigger the better.

Is he slowing down?  No doubt.  Will he shine like he did in his mulleted glory days?  Perhaps not.  But he is almost guaranteed to provide enough dazzling moments of otherworldly brilliance to get people in Dallas talking about hockey again.  He is the kind of  player who transcends the sport he plays.  He is the kind of player people mark their calendars to come and see.  He is the kind of guy you want to see before he retires.

He is what hockey in Dallas has been missing:  He is a true star, now with a capital “S.”

Photograph:  Geneen Pipher/Hockey VIPs Magazine


28 Jun 2012 Bure: More Russians Deserve Call to the Hall
Editor’s note:  The following is a rough translation of an interview with Pavel Bure on his election to the Hockey Hall of Fame.  The interview appeared in the Russian publication Sovietsky Sport.
Pavel Bure

Bure joins six other Russian-born players in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Q:  Are you surprised that in 2012 you were elected to both the IIHF Hall of Fame and the Hockey Hall of Fame?

Pavel Bure:  Oh, for sure. I did not even care!  So, I made a double?  A funny coincidence!

Q:  Do you think the Hockey Hall of Fame’s decision was affected by Igor Larionov’s presence on the selection committee?

Bure:  I have seen Igor often in recent years — in Helsinki, when I was accepted into the IIHF Hall of Fame, at the funeral of [Russian hockey great] Vladimir Krutov … On this subject he did not say for sure. But I have many things in common with Larionov. I lived in his house when [I] first came to the Vancouver Canucks.  Igor was a great player and a very good man.

Q:  For you to get into the Hall of Fame, where only six Russian players have been accepted, is very prestigious?

Bure:  Yes, it is very honorable. I know that the NHL Hall of Fame is a conservative organization. They consider greatly before making a choice. But, [if] I had my way, I would have even more of our [players] in the museum.

Q:  They are mostly taking those who distinguished themselves in the NHL?

Bure:  Not a fact. What?  Vladislav Tretiak and Valeri Kharlamov played for the Montreal Canadiens?  Or  Anatoli Tarasov coached the Toronto Maple Leafs? Look at what they contributed to the development of hockey.

Q:  What do you say to critics who write that Pavel Bure has no business in the Hockey Hall of Fame without a Stanley Cup?

Bure:  To be honest, I do not read them.  And the attitude is simple — do not change the past. Some things happened, some things not. This is life.  And I’m glad it worked out that way.

Photograph:  Wiki Commons



18 Jun 2012 NHL Hopeful Nikita Jevpalovs Ready to Shine

Nikita Jevpalovs

Jevpalovs is ready for his closeup.

Nikita Jevpalovs will not be on many fans’ radar on June 22.  That is because the young Latvian was not even ranked in the NHL scouting report until January, when he made a big splash at the IIHF World Junior Championships.

Not even 18 years old, he is one of the youngest ranked players in this year’s draft.  But don’t let that fool you.  His rise up the list of top-ranked European prospects for this year’s NHL Draft is the result of a quickly maturing young man.  He has skill, drive and hockey sense well beyond his years — something that has not gone unnoticed by scouts.

Jevpalovs first began to turn heads in this year’s World Junior Hockey Championships where, despite being the youngest player on Latvia’s squad, he was the team’s captain and leading point getter.  Scoring at crucial times — such as the game-winning overtime goal against Denmark to keep Latvia’s position as a top-tier country in the World Junior ranks — he proved he can not only rise to such challenges, but thrives on them.  He has a nose for the net, yet is known as a solid two-way player, playing what many would consider “North American style” hockey.

In spite of his recent success, he is skeptical he will be drafted this year.

“I really, really hope I do,” he said eagerly.  He was quick to add that he knows not playing in North America is something of a disadvantage.  Playing far from the eyes of most scouts, he has not had the exposure many others have gotten.

Perhaps it is not his time — yet.  Already a big boy, chances are he is still growing.  Already 6’0″ and 181 lbs, he almost certainly would come into the 2013 draft bigger still.

Those worried about the “Russian factor” can relax.  It is not an issue for Jevpalovs.  Born and raised in Riga, Latvia, he is part of a new wave of talented Latvians who are far more European than Soviet.  Although he speaks both Russian and Latvian, he is also fluent in English, picking up the language quickly during the year he spent in Toronto where he played for the South Muskoka Shield of the GMHL (Greater Metro Jr. A Hockey League).

Though he returned to Latvia to play in the MHL, the Kontinental Hockey League’s Junior development league, he said the move was a practical one — giving him the best opportunity to develop his skills.   But back in Riga, North America was constantly on his mind — especially Toronto, which he called his “favorite place in the world.”  He said he has no desire to play in the KHL, as Russia is as foreign to him as it is to most North Americans.

He stressed that while he knows he isn’t ranked as high as many other Europeans, he holds out hope that he will be drafted so he can return to North America and live his dream of one day playing in the NHL.

Given his age, Jevpalovs is the best of both worlds.  He has the finesse of a European skater and the tenacity of a North American.  He already possesses an amazing amount of leadership ability and talent and has only just begun his development.  Combine that with a humble, positive and eager outlook, Jevpalovs just may be one of the draft’s dark horses.

Photograph:  Courtesy of Nikita Jevpalovs


10 Jun 2012 Fedorov an Army Man Once More
Sergei Fedorov

Sergei Fedorov will retire from professional hockey.

Hockey super star Sergei Fedorov will skate no more.  As we speculated several weeks ago, the former NHLer retired to take the helm of CSKA Moscow, the Russian club where he first honed his craft playing on a line with Alexander Mogilny and Pavel Bure.

One of the most colorful and decorated Russians ever to don an NHL jersey, Fedorov is returning to the team from which he defected in 1990.

Fedorov had been skating for Siberian powerhouse Metallurg Magnitogorsk since leaving the NHL for the KHL in 2009.  In that time, his popularity soared in the country he once believed he would never set foot in again.

Officials hope Fedorov’s Red Army homecoming heralds a change in fortune for the once-dominant Russian squad.  The club has struggled in recent years, and many in the Russian media believe his name will attract the top free agents the team has been unable secure in recent years.

A large jersey-shaped banner showing the club's many championship teams hangs in the CSKA Ice Palace in Moscow. It reads "Champion USSR."

A large jersey-shaped banner showing the club's many championship teams hangs in the CSKA Ice Palace in Moscow. It reads "Champion USSR."

In its heyday during Soviet times, CSKA — which stands for the Central Sports Club of the Army — crushed all who stood in its path.  If there was a good prospect to be had, that player was simply drafted into the Soviet Army and was, thus, compelled to play.  The names associated with CSKA are staggering:  From Sergei Makarov, Vladimir Krutov, Vladislav Tretiak and Valeri Kharlamov, to Bure and Mogilny, to the players comprising the Detroit Red Wings’ vaunted “Russian Five” (Fedorov, Viacheslav Fetisov, Igor Larionov, Vyacheslav Kozlov and Vladimir Konstantinov) — the powerful CSKA had them all.

Fedorov has been quoted in the Russian media indicating the team will pursue big-name free agents, including Alexander Radulov, with whom the Nashville Predators are parting ways.  He has indicated Radulov — who has won the Gagarin Cup (the KHL’s version of the Stanley Cup) — would be welcome in the CSKA camp.

Fedorov’s retirement from competitive hockey seems to finally close the book on an exciting, intriguing, sometimes frightening chapter in hockey history.  When Fedorov was young, the world was a very different place and players who defected, left home and family expecting never to return.

Fedorov, like Mogilny before him, helped pave the way for the Russians coming to the NHL today. Unlike Fedorov and Mogilny, today’s Russians leave of their own free will and are free to return at any time.  It is hard to contemplate the life-and-death decisions these early Eastern-bloc players were forced to make.  Fedorov has said he didn’t know how his family back home would be treated, didn’t know what would happen to him if his escape plans were uncovered, and had no idea how hard it would be to suddenly find himself a stranger in a foreign land who no longer had a country to call his own.

Despite the hardships and heartache, Fedorov thrived in Detroit, becoming a star on and off the ice.  While Fedorov electrified hockey fans with his otherworldly skills, his good looks and off ice courting of famous beauties kept the gossip page editors drooling.  He glimmered and shone in the glare of the limelight and somehow seemed destined to eventually end up in California among the “beautiful people.”

He played almost a full season for the Anaheim Ducks, maintaining the level of play observers had come to expect.  Following the NHL lockout, which killed the entire 2004-05 season, Fedorov’s offensive production fell off.  He was traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets early in the 2005-06 season.  Though his offensive output was no longer what it once was, Fedorov brought some much-needed star power to the fledgling Blue Jackets.  And though the team struggled, fans in Ohio were treated to the hockey stylings of one of the best to ever play the game.

Sergei Fedorov

Fedorov provided a solid veteran presence in Washington in the waning days of his NHL career.

Fedorov finished his NHL career with the Washington Capitals who, at the time, were a run-and-gun, offensive juggernaut.  Fedorov brought veteran leadership and a calming presence to a group of exuberant, budding young super stars — particularly countrymen Alexander Ovechkin and Alexander Semin.  The team made the playoffs each of his three years with the club, but was never able to reach the Stanley Cup Final.

In 2009, with a loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals, Fedorov’s NHL career came to an end.  The following year, Fedorov was at last going home, signing a contract with Metallurg Magnitogorsk, where he could fulfill his dream of playing alongside his younger brother Fedor.

In 20 NHL seasons Fedorov played for four different teams, skating in 1248 games, and amassing 483 goals and 1179 points.  He is a three-time Stanley Cup champion (1997, 1998, 2002).  He won the Selke Trophy twice (1994, 1996) and captured the Hart Memorial Trophy in 1994 and the Lester B. Pearson Award in 1996.

Photographs:  Fedorov with Magnitogorsk by Tatiana Markina/The Hockey Goddesses; CSKA Ice Palace by Geneen Pipher/Hockey VIPs Magazine; Fedorov with Washington by Shannon Valerio/Hockey VIPs Magazine

 

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28 Apr 2012 Cap Finally Gets His Feather
Semin is getting noticed for his post-season play.

Semin is getting noticed for his post-season play.

If you’re familiar with our blog, you know that I’m an unapologetic Russophile. And there is no Russian more deserving of my love than Alexander Semin of the Washington Capitals — especially during this post season.  In fact, he’s been so dominant in all aspects of the game that sportscasters, play-by-play and color commentators alike have been forced to acknowledge his stellar play.

You’d think I would be happy that he is finally getting his due, but I’m not entirely pleased.  As a matter of fact, I become a bit more exasperated every time I hear his name, because you never just hear what a great job he’s doing.  Rather, it’s always preceded by something like “not known for his defense …”

Maybe he’s not “known” for his defense but he’s not known for his lack of defensive play either.  He has been a plus player for most of his career and, while he was a mere +9 this year, he was a +22 in 2010-11 and a +36 in 2009-10.  Mike Greene has made more defensive errors in half the games this year and he is a defenseman!  Do you hear the experts make such qualified statements about him?  No.  Am I surprised?   Not at all.  The bias against Russians has emerged in this absurd, covert and undeserved bashing of Semin.

“In a rare effort, Semin dives for the puck,” the NBC Sports team raves.  Rare effort?  Let’s face it, Semin is never going to be an overly physical player.  It’s not his style.  He is deceptively fast as he is a smooth skater trained under the Soviet sports system, and could most certainly out skate the majority of current NHL players.  Yet for whatever reason, the rough-and-tumble skating style of most North American players gives spectators — and even Semin’s former teammates – the idea that these players are trying harder.  If you’re not willing to put your body on the line every shift, you’re accused of not putting out a decent effort.  Again, I’m crying xenophobia.

Then there’s the age-old accusation that Semin just doesn’t care.  Case in point:  “Semin one minute looks like a complete player, then the next looks like he’s not interested in the game,” a color commentator opined during the Boston series.  Earlier this year, his former coach Bruce Boudreau said Semin really does care, claiming no one on the team takes losing as hard as he does.  Taking a two-minute penalty is so devastating to him because of the consequences it might have on the team, Boudreau asserts, that he has a hard time not letting it affect the rest of his game.  This is an insight those highly critical of him apparently choose to ignore, forget or simply not believe.  After all, he’s not Sidney Crosby!

Maybe the North American media are coming around.  Before game one of the second round, they highlighted Semin as the top Cap the playoffs — without a hint of criticism.  I’m not ready to completely forgive the folks at NBC Sports just yet though.  If he fails to live up to his performance in the first round, I’m willing to bet he’ll be the first one blamed.  Still, with his contract up at the end of the year, the long-overdue positive PR can only increase the value of the overly criticized and extremely underrated Alexander Semin.

Photograph: Shannon Valerio

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24 Apr 2012 Sergei Fedorov’s Next Big Move
Sergei Fedorov

Could Fedorov return CSKA to its former glory?

Reports out of Russia indicate former NHLer Sergei Fedorov will retire from competitive hockey and take over as general manager of the venerable CSKA Moscow hockey club.

Russia’s Sport-Express reports that “reliable sources” have Fedorov taking the helm of his old club as soon as May 1.

The once-dominant CSKA Moscow — the feared Red Army team to people of a certain age — has struggled in recent years. No longer the juggernaut it once was, the club is looking to regain some of its lost luster. The Sergei Fedorov brand is big in Russia and a CSKA homecoming would bring some much needed panache to Russian hockey’s grande dame.

In taking the position, Fedorov would unseat Sergei Nemchinov, another former NHLer and contemporary of Fedorov’s.

The newspaper speculates that the addition of Fedorov, along with the freshly inked — and vastly monied — corporate sponsor Rosneft, could enable the team to at last secure big name free agents “including even Alexander Radulov.”

Those hoping to see Fedorov in the GM’s seat might cool their jets a tad, as until a few weeks ago the Russian media had ex-NHLer Pavel Bure all but assured of the CSKA spot.

Fedorov left the NHL in 2009 to join Metallurg Magnitogorsk, where his brother Fedor was signed, saying he was helping fulfill his father’s dream of seeing his two sons on the same team. In 20 NHL seasons Fedorov played for four different teams (Detroit Red Wings, Anaheim Ducks, Columbus Blue Jackets and Washington Capitals), skating in 1248 games, and amassing 483 goals and 1179 points. He is a three-time Stanley Cup champion (1997, 1998, 2002). He won the Selke Trophy twice (1994, 1996) and captured the Hart Memorial Trophy in 1994 and the Lester B. Pearson Award in 1996.

Photograph: Kontinental Hockey League



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