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02 Jul 2010 Columbus Calling: Dan Hinote’s New Career
Dan Hinote

Hinote joined the Columbus Blue Jackets coaching staff Thursday.

Amidst the July 1st free agent signings was one that was of particular interest to me.  That’s because it involves my friend and former Avalanche player Dan Hinote. Well, he isn’t really a friend.  I mean, we don’t keep in touch or anything, but Dan has a way of making everyone he meets feel like his friend.

I met Dan a little more than three years ago.  We were both rehabbing at the same physical therapy practice: He after yet another shoulder surgery and me after surgery for a tri-malleor fracture of my ankle. By then, he was a member of the St. Louis Blues, but living in Denver in the off-season, he chose to rehab close to home.

Honestly, I hadn’t been all that star-struck.  After all, one of Denver’s “Most Eligible Bachelors” (as voted by a local magazine) wasn’t what I considered a dreamboat, nor was he someone that did much for me on the ice.  Yet after spending many hours working out, rehabbing and chatting with him, I realized what all the fuss was about.

Dan is one of the most genuine guys I have ever met.  He takes great interest in everyone he meets.  He never forgets anyone’s name.  He asked me a lot of questions about speed skating, about my competitions, my injuries.  We had a common friend on the Avalanche, and he had nothing but glowing things to say about him.  Every time I saw him, he’d come sit on the treatment table next to me and ask me how I was doing.  Elderly women would come in and Dan would remember all of their names and give them a big hug.

He was humble, and talked about how lucky he was to have broken in when he did — when it was still a trapping, clutch-and-grab league because he was just scrappy, and guys like him were no longer being drafted or given a shot in the NHL.

He was in love.  We got to hear all about Amy, his then-girlfriend (now wife).  He talked about taking her to the Sushi Den for her birthday.  He told us all about his trip to Las Vegas with the guys where he would relax and decide if he really was going to pop the big question.  When he got engaged, we all knew the next day.

It wasn’t hard to see why he was so well loved in Denver.  He was very social, being seen out and about the city, having a great time with whoever was willing.  Back then, you might see him hanging out at the famous country bar Stampede with Peter Forsberg, partying downtown or dining with John-Michael Liles in the ritzy Cherry Creek area where he lived.  He became a media darling, a fan favorite, and women and men alike just fell in love with him.

Then in 2006, he signed with St. Louis, but no one felt ill feelings towards him.  You just couldn’t.  He was cheered when he returned with his new team to play the Avs.  People still followed his social life and his lavish wedding back in Colorado was an item of great interest.  And, of course, we all cheered when he reunited with Peter Forsberg this year to play for Modo of Sweden’s Elitserien.

Today, we again applauded Dan when we heard he would become an assistant coach with the Columbus Blue Jackets. I can’t think of a better guy for the team.  He’s smart. Very smart.  After all, very few get accepted to West Point.  More importantly however, is his personality.

Much like Ted Nolan, Dan cares about people.  With a young, budding team like the Blue Jackets, he will be the perfect man to nurture these kids, to instill confidence in them and to give them advice.  He will be a shoulder to cry on, a confidante and a great role model.  He will quickly learn what makes each player tick and will know how to get the most out of them.  For now, he’s only an assistant, but I predict he is going to have more of an impact on this team than anyone is expecting.

Just ask anyone in Colorado.  Because we all know him well.

He’s our friend.

Photo: Dan Hinote by Goddess Sasha. Copyright 2008-2010. All Rights Reserved.

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28 Jun 2010 Draft Day – Perspective From a Goddess

Team scouts fill the floor of the Staples Center on draft day.

Well, it’s been a whirlwind two days for this goddesses, with non-stop draft action.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.  This is by far my favorite NHL event.  To see these young kids having their dreams come true is just awesome.  Sure, some will make it to The Show, others may not, but this weekend, those that are selected by an NHL organization have every chance to play professional hockey.  My only regret is that goddess Kaat was not here to share in the excitement.

Mr. Goddess and I went down the hotel lobby just before noon to see an anxious Pierre McGuire.  Most of the media were already checking out, as they would only be there for the first day.  Mr. Goddess approached him and asked if he was ready for a big day.  He responded with “It’s already been a big day.”  By then, rumors of a Ballard trade with the Canucks were widely circulating.

While the draft didn’t start until 4PM local time in Los Angeles, doors opened at 2PM so we went down to Casey’s, an Irish pub and bar just down the street from the Biltmore.  More agents and consultants were on hand, trying to get a bit to eat.  Phones were ringing and guys were looking stressed out.  I noticed they all ordered salads.  Ah, the joys living on the road and eating the food that goes with it.

Just before 2PM we hopped on one of the buses that the hotel was providing for the Biltmore and Hilton.  Just a few staff members were on the bus, as well as a handful of Russians that I assume were team staff as well.   Upon our arrive to the Staples Center, we began to see prospects and agents filing in.  Most of the scouting staffs were already set up and were already at work.

Finding a seat wasn’t bad even though we were relegated to the 3rd level with the rest of the commoners.  Going to see the NHL draft on a beautiful Friday evening in LA isn’t a big attraction for most Californians.  However, I was disappointed that they didn’t at least have a flyer with the final prospect rankings to give the fans.  Although I followed many of the prospects closely, I hadn’t memorized the rankings and it would have been nice to give people something to look off of – at a small cost.

Taylor Hall becomes an instant celebrity after being chosen first overall

We watched with great anticipation for the first pick.  It was no surprise that Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin were picked one and two.  For most, seeing the first pick is the highlight of the day.  Instantly, Taylor became a celebrity and had a small mob following him around, asking for autographs and photos.

I’ll talk about specific picks in a follow-up post, but suffice to say there were some surprises, including Stanislav Galiev not being picked in the first round.

The pace of a professional draft is slow, so the NHL tried to show general profiles of the kids and some other little snippets of interviews.  These were actually very entertaining, and there certainly would have been plenty of time to show perhaps a more detailed profile on each pick with interview clips and narrated highlights -  a thought for future drafts.

The interviews were short compilations where they would ask kids a question and show several answers.  It was a great way to get to know these prospects and I found myself pulling for a couple of kids based on their answers.

The newly dedicated "Rush" star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame - Maybe Alex Petrovich visited it too.

One such interview clip asked the question “If you could play in any band, what would it be?”  Alexander Petrovich, who was eventually taken by Florida (man did they have a lot picks this year) said “Rush!”  It warms me to see the younger generations discovering such a classic group.  Oh, Alexander, you have a couple of fans for life in the goddesses.

Another “awww” moment came when prospects were asked what was one thing they couldn’t live without.  Among the “iPod” and “xbox” answers was Phoenix Coyotes pick goalie Louie Domingue’s awesome response.  “My cats,” he said. “I love my cats.”  He has officially earned a spot in my heart.  Who doesn’t love an emo French-Canadian boy?

After everyone had been picked, we sneaked down to speak briefly to Ron Delorme, old friend and chief scout of the Canucks.  The scouting staff had had a quiet day as they had traded their first round pick to Florida in a trade that gave them Keith Ballard.  Ron admitted it hadn’t been a very exciting day for the scouting staff and they’d do a lot of sitting the next day as their first pick now wasn’t until the 4th round.

Fourth overall pick Ryan Johansen outside the Staples Center

Leaving the arena, most people had left but we did run into Ryan Johansen, the 4th overall pick by Columbus.  He was still on an adrenaline high, so I stopped to chat for a few seconds and snap a picture.  He said he was super excited to be drafted by Columbus.   He had been courted by them and fell in love with the organization and said he was totally psyched to have been picked by them.  In fact, he was so excited he asked me to take a picture with him.  He really wanted to share his excitement.  What a great day for a great kid.

While waiting for the bus we saw another mob scene.  It turned out to be Sidney Crosby literally being chased by a large group of autograph seekers.  He was smiling, waving and signing as he rushed to his limousine.  It was oddly reminiscent of a movie star being caught outside a restaurant.  I’ve gotta give it to the kid – he’s got it down.

The ride back to the hotel was interesting, as I ran into Slava Malamud from Washington D.C.  For those of you who don’t know him, he’s the bald guy with glasses that interviews all the Russians in D.C. in the locker room.  He works for Sport-Express and was there for the first round before running up to San Jose to cover a fight.  We talked about Russia, Moscow and the Russian language.  I have to say, he was a great guy.  There was absolutely no pretense or attitude that many members of the media have and I really enjoyed our conversation.  No wonder he’s so successful.

After getting back to the hotel and downloading some pictures, an exhausted duo headed to dinner at an expensive seafood restaurant near the hotel, then back to Casey’s for a drink.  There, we saw three of the Thrasher’s scouting staff.  I stopped on my way back to our table that was right next to theirs and congratulated them on picking Alexander Burmistrov.  Maybe the day hadn’t gone how they planned, but they looked at me as if I was from Mars, arms crossed and sarcastic responses to my questions.  Maybe it’s because I was woman, and we certainly don’t know anything about hockey.  Or perhaps they’re such celebrities that they get bothered all the time and get tired of the attention.  Maybe, it’s because they’re the peons of the scouting staff.  Whatever the reason, my 30 second conversation clearly was something they had no tolerance for.  It’s too bad, because the Thrasher’s already have problems with getting fans.  You think they might at least humor one of their few supporters.

The night ended far too late as we had to get up and do it all again early the next day, but it was lots of fun.  So much so, I think I’ll try to do it again next year.  This time – with goddess Kaat in tow.

Photos:  NHL Entry Draft weekend by Goddess Sasha. Copyright 2010.  All Rights Reserved.

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25 Jun 2010 I Love L.A.: Live from the 2010 NHL Draft

I Love L.A.!Well, day one of this goddess’ coverage of the 2010 NHL entry draft is over and the actual draft hasn’t begun.  It was a tiring day, after being up late last night, dealing with business this morning and then flying into Los Angeles and driving to our hotel downtown.

We walked into the [hotel name not revealed] to a lobby filled with prospects, agents, families and God knows who else.  By the front desk was a young Russian prospect, sitting on a couch with a teenage girl on each side of him and his father (presumably) on a chair next to them.  Had I not been totally haggard from a delayed flight from Denver and an hour drive from LAX to downtown during rush hour, I would have been bold and asked who he was and taken pictures.

Throughout the evening, we found ourselves in the company of team personnel, most notably the pack of Thrashers staff that we took the elevator with.  I was still a bit overwhelmed, so I was unable to come up with my usual witty one-liners to start a conversation.  Maybe tomorrow.

We must be staying at the host hotel, as there are NHL Draft banners throughout the building as well as a schedule for the shuttle to the Staples Center.  The draft starts at 4:00 p.m. PT and doors open at 2:00 p.m., so tomorrow we’ll probably just hang out tomorrow after sleeping in.  If we get there early enough, we’ll meet up with a an old friend who, incidentally, happens to be the chief scout for an NHL organization.

I’ll be tweeting from the HockeyGoddesses twitter account tomorrow as only a goddess can, so check it out at www.twitter.com/hockeygoddesses.

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24 Jun 2010 Stanislav Galiev has one goal: The NHL
Stanislav Galiev

Stanislav Galiev and his mom have the NHL set in their sights

Call me a bit biased, but there is no better wisdom than a mother’s.   And it could be that very wisdom that makes Stanislav Galiev the best Russian a team could place their pick on this draft.

While other picks are surrounded by drama and uncertainty, Galiev has been quietly absent from controversy.  He doesn’t have a strong willed father or an uncontrolled ego.  Instead, he has his widowed mother who has been  protective while promoting what she thinks is best for her son.  She moved to the US after Stanislav’s first year here, then to Canada when he was drafted by the Saint John Sea Dogs of the QMJHL.

Both she and Stanislav have been very clear that his ultimate goal is the NHL, something that is strongly supported by his move to play in the USHL at only 16 years of age.  No games, no posturing:  Just honest sentiments from a family who has many reasons to want to live in the United States.  It’s good both for mom and son –  Stanislav, who can play in a league that suits his North American style, and for his mom as the quality of life for a single woman is by far superior in North America.

On the playing front, Galiev may not be as big as Burmistrov, may not have as much flair as Tarasenko or may not have the touted talent of Kabanov, but he isn’t far behind in any of those categories.  Best known for his creative play and intelligence on the ice, Stanislav models himself after Alexander Semin.  His style of play, strength and power all lend himself to such comparisons.  However, most scouts have noted his exception defensive play, leading them to comparisons to Pavel Datsyuk.  Although he’s still physically young, needing to fill out, he’ll do so naturally as he progresses as an athlete.  With his talent and potential, there’s no rush as his 6’1” frame will gain the necessary mass.

Playing in the shadow of Burmistrov, many people will be surprised to find that he’s ranked just eight spots behind his fellow Russian in the North American rankings at 20th and will most likely go in the first round.  His steady play, natural talent and gregarious and easy-going personality have placed him higher than many people had initially anticipated.  Yet make no bones about it, this kid is incredibly talented and is maturing as a player every day, having the potential to be one of the best in the best league in the world.

So while this somewhat dark horse of a draft pick, like all Russians, is no guarantee to stay in North America and play in the NHL, if he listens to his mom, chances are pretty darn good.

Photo:  Stanislav Galiev at Indy.com.

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22 Jun 2010 Vladimir Tarasenko: The Next Ovechkin?
Vladimir Tarasenko

Vladimir Tarasenko might be the best Russian you've never heard of.

Vladimir Tarasenko isn’t a household name -– yet.  And it still might be a while.

What? You haven’t heard of him either?

With the 2010 NHL draft just around the corner, other Russian names might stick out more.  The drama surrounding the former potential number one selection in Kirill Kabanov, or Barrie Colts standout Alexander Burmistrov, have thrust other Russian names into blogs and other news sources throughout North America.

Ironically, however, the first Russian to go in this year’s draft will most likely be someone who has never played in North America, and whom many people have never heard of.    That’s because Vladimir Tarasenko has been quietly tearing up the ice half a world away in Russia.  During his second year in the Kontinental Hockey League, he scored 13 goals and 11 assists in 42 games on a struggling team — HC Sibir Novosibirsk. Not bad for a 17-year-old playing in a league filled with seasoned veterans.

A young man in the KHL, Tarasenko has chosen to stay close to home.  Very close.  In fact, his father is also his coach in Novosibirsk.  Recognizing that his son needed the support and, presumably, the supervision of his family, Tarasenko’s father advised him to stay in Russia, play with men and have the support structure he needed to develop.   I’m sure many of you parents out there can relate.  The hesitation to send your child relatively unsupervised halfway across the world to a foreign country where he has no relatives seems like a rational, and even preferable decision.

Has this hindered his chances of a high draft spot?  To both Tarasenko and his father, such talk of draft placement is irrelevant. What is most important is the young Tarasenko’s development as a player and a professional, not what number he is selected.  After all, he is still under contract with Sibir next year and won’t be looking to move to the NHL any time soon.  The irony is, despite this casual approach to the draft, it just may manifest itself in Tarasenko being the first Russian to be chosen. He’s had both a great year in Sibr and at the World Junior Cup.

Vladimir Tarasenko

Vladimir Tarasenko impressed scouts at the WJC this year.

Ultimately, the big question in scouts’ minds will be what most of us wonder:  Will he take the big step to the NHL once his contract with Sibir is up or remain in the KHL like many kids these days?  The fact that he hasn’t exactly been beating down the door to play in North America may be a deterrent to many teams.

However, we have to remember that Vladimir’s father is a former Soviet professional hockey player who didn’t have the chance to play in the NHL.  He has coached Vladimir for a long time and knows that the best league in the world is the ultimate achievement in any hockey player’s career.  My thought is that he is right on track to produce a very successful NHL product and while it may be a year or two down the road, Vladimir Tarasenko will soon be one of those Russians that NHL teams will hate facing due to his propensity for exploding out of nowhere and finding the back of the net.  Given his talent and style of play, he is sure to be a fan favorite wherever he lands.

Take a chance on this Russian?  You bet!  The NHL will be a more exciting place the day Tarasenko joins the league.

Photos: Vladimir Tarasenko by Elena Rusko (rusko.fishup.ru), Copyright 2010. All Rights Reserved.

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17 Jun 2010 Prelude to NHL Free Agency
Jaroslav Halak

Jaroslav Halak will don the blue note this season.

It’s not even July 1 yet the frenzy has already started.  June 15 marked the first day teams could begin to buyout contracts, and indeed no time was wasted with Montreal buying out Georges Laraque.  And that’s not the only frenzy.  Teams are either signing or releasing prospects left and right, trying to make some financial decisions before free agency begins.

One thing none of the goddesses banked on was the potential for some big trades prior to free agency.  Yet that’s exactly what has happened.  I mean, who would have thought Jaroslav Halak of all players would be traded?  Being a restricted free agent, Halak was going to get a raise and playing in the salary cap era I guess Montreal figured he wasn’t worth it with Carey Price waiting in the wings.  In their defense, they got a highly touted Swedish prospect in Lars Eller, so perhaps it will prove to be a shrewd move.

As usual, the Avalanche have continued to offer one-year deals to no-names and mediocre prospects, so I’ll have to continue to live vicariously through other teams that are making real moves.  I can still pretend they’re going to go after Ilya Kovalchuk on July 1.

Speaking of Russians, there has been little news on other UFAs such as Slava Kozlov and Maxim Afinogenov.  Kozlov is rumored to have a KHL deal in the works, while Afinogenov has been mysteriously quiet, apparently refusing the one-year deal the Atlanta Thrashers offered him.  Of course, we have to remember they’re all still under contract and won’t be available until free agency officially starts.

And let’s not forget the NHL draft is now just a week away.  Not only are we looking forward to our teams drafting some hot prospects, but many a big trade has been made on draft day and we are hopeful that there will be some additional excitement.

So maybe it’s not July 1, but we goddesses are enjoying the little bit of foreplay before the main event.

Photo: Jaroslav Halak by Goddess Kaatiya. Copyright 2010. All Rights Reserverd.

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12 Jun 2010 NHL Prospect Zaytsev not so ‘Green’
Nikita Zaytsev

Russia's Nikita Zaytsev is wowing NHL scouts.

He’ll never be an Alexander Ovechkin or an Ilya Kovalchuk.  Heck, he won’t even be a Maxim Afinogenov or a Ruslan Fedotenko.  After all, in 40 games for Sibir of the Kontinental Hockey League he had no goals and just one assist.  But given a chance, he just might just join the ranks of Slava Fetisov and Sergei Zubov.  That’s because Nikita Zaytsev is a defenseman.

Amidst all the hype of the Russians in this year’s draft, baby-faced Zaytsev has flown under the radar of most fans.  In fact, even sports writers have misrepresented him.  One article from NHL.com headlines a story saying that he patterns himself after Mike Green, based on Nikita’s statement that he thought Green was one of the most exciting defensemen to watch.  Certainly not something many of us who value defensive defensemen find all that appealing.

However, one only needs look at his international statistics to see what kind of player he really is.  A +7 with 5 points, 4 being assists, at the U18 Worlds a year ago show the caliber of Rob Blake, rather than a Mike Green.  Talk to his teammates and opponents both internationally and in Russia and they will tell you that his defensive zone play is impeccable.  His speed, skill and hockey intelligence are already proving him to be one of the top in the KHL, making him a tough opponent — all this from a kid who is only 18 years old playing against men twice his age and with the twice the experience.  I know, what else would you expect from a Russian-lover like me?  Still, I’m not the only one excited about him.  He may be flying under the average NHL fan’s radar, but the scouts are definitely talking.

Not only does he have the skill and speed of a seasoned professional, but he is quickly adding size and strength to his overall resume.  Despite only being 176 lbs at 6’ 1”, he scored in the top six at the NHL combine in both jump tests and bench press (including the push test), demonstrating all-around power and strength.  Not bad for a skilled, agile defenseman who still has some growing to do.  These numbers, no doubt, did not go unrecognized by many of the organizations.

As a Colorado Avalanche fan I can only dream of landing such a fantastic prospect.  Unfortunately, though, the Avs will probably be drafting another tiny offensive defenseman.  It’s really too bad, because this kid has all the tools to become one of the great all-around defensemen in the NHL.

With Rob Blake retiring this year, someone needs to step in and be that type of player in the league.  Nikita Zaytsev just might be the one.

Photo: Nikita Zaytsev by Elena Rusko (rusko.fishup.ru), Copyright 2010. All Rights Reserved.

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08 Jun 2010 Chicago Blackhawks Logo: Should it Stay or Should it Go?
Chicago Blackhawks logo

Chicago Blackhawks logo

Last week, Damian Cox published an article in the Toronto Star discussing the Chicago Blackhawks’ logo suggesting it was perhaps time to abandon the stereotypical image.  Since I am of Native heritage, Goddess Kaat suggested that perhaps I weigh in on the topic.  We have had numerous conversations about sports teams and the use of Native names and mascots and she thought it was finally time for the Goddesses to address it.

Initially, I was hesitant.  After all, we have much larger issues that are pressing to First Nations peoples, but upon further investigation I was shocked to find that Cox’s article had spawned a racist backlash on numerous message boards.  This is not uncommon when people feel their sports team’s history is being threatened.  Nothing gets people as riled up as their home sports team and its traditions.  Yet the misinformation and racism that was being thrown out on various forums was too disturbing to ignore.

Let’s briefly address the issue that has caused the big uproar.  Cox claims that the Indian head logo is much like the cigar store Indian and that the time has come to stop using ethnic groups as mascots.  He erred on the side of caution – by proposing the removal of the Indian head on the Blackhawks’ jersey.

This is a legitimate debate.  Indians have had their names and likeness appropriated by the dominant culture for years.  Yet whereas some issues seem pretty cut and dry (the nickname “Redskins” or the caricature Cleveland Indian,) the Indian head logo is not.  Some Native tribes actually use this same logo for their own sports teams.  When asked about the logo, Blair Atcheynum, a Native and former member of the Chicago Blackhawks, said it didn’t bother him.  But to other Natives it is still a symbol of the European conquest and hegemony.

To me, the real issue seems to be the fallacies in arguing for keeping the logo and the racism that has reared its ugly head in response to such an article. Such as:

-       “It’s the third most popular jersey in the league!  Thousands of people spend their money on team apparel because they like it.  It’s stupid to get rid of it.”

This is the ever popular “bandwagon fallacy.”  Think 5 billion Chinese people can’t be wrong?  Why not?  Guess what folks, they can.  The thousands of Nazis all thought they were right too.

-       “I don’t see it as insulting. I see it as honoring Native Americans.”

Great.  But this isn’t about you.  It’s about the group that is being represented.  They should be the ones determining what is honoring and what is insulting.

-       “Other teams are named after ethic groups.  What about the fighting Irish?”

Ever hear the term “two wrongs don’t make a right?”

-       “People are too PC anymore.  Indians need to get thicker skins if they’re offended.”

Well, we have pretty thick skins as it is.  We wouldn’t have been able to survive 500 years of conquest if we didn’t.  It’s not being PC. It’s common sense.  I think we can all agree that if a team logo was an Arab man with stereotypical Arab features wearing a Muslim headdress there’d be trouble.

-       “I’m from (such and such) tribe and don’t find it offensive.”

We’re getting closer.  If the people that are being represented are not offended, then perhaps it’s not an issue.  But if some are, then clearly it is.

-       “That’s not offensive.  Offensive would be a dirty Indian huffing glue … even though it would actually be more correct.”

Wow.  Really?  And this was one of the tamer of the racist posts I saw.

Unfortunately, what this post really brought to light was that Native Americans are the one ethnicity that are still allowed to be represented without their consent.  It also revealed that such ugly racism is accepted when it comes to certain ethnic groups.  And while I was initially on the fence about this particular team identity, I am beginning to think that the casual acceptance of such logos only tells people that it’s ok to be not only culturally insensitive but outright racist about that particular group.

Don’t get me wrong.  I am a sports fanatic and can appreciate the tradition behind many teams.  I understand that many people’s identities are largely based on their sports teams.  I’m more than willing to engage in an intelligent conversation about the topic at hand.  I simply think that in today’s society it’s become an all about “me” scenario and what might be disappointing to an individual fan of a sports team, rather than the good of an entire group of people.

Seems a bit petty when put that way, doesn’t it?

Image: Chicago Blackhawks logo from NHL.com.

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02 Jun 2010 Kroenke Buying Rams Causes an Avalanche of Emotions
Stan Kronke

Stan Kronke

Hello Colorado Avalanche fans and those interested in stopping the uncontrolled monster that is Kroneke Sports Enterprises.

Yes, that’s right, our buddy Stan Kroenke, who owns not only the Avalanche, Denver Nuggets and the Pepsi Center but also the Colorado Rapids professional soccer team, the majority of the English football team Arsenal and a new ticket agency called TicketHorse, is at it again. This time, he wants to become majority owner of the NFL’s St. Louis Rams.

But there’s a catch. To become a majority owner of an NFL franchise you can’t own another major sports franchise (including an MLB, NBA or NHL team.) Hence, Kroenke would have to sell the Avalanche and the Nuggets if he wants to join the big boys in the NFL game.

If you’ve been following Hockey Goddesses, you’ll know my disdain toward the current Avalanche regime, which I believe comes from the top. There is not a team in the league that is less fan-friendly than the Avalanche. A dismal 3rd from last in ticket sales last year from an organization that previously held the record for most consecutive sellouts (which in itself is questionable, but that’s a whole other post) has revealed this neglect for the fan experience. So, you can imagine the excitement I initially felt. Kroenke gone! A change in the guard! More fan-friendly! Is this too good to be true?

It turns out it just might be.

See, Kronke has tried to get the Rams’ ownership transferred to his wife, who would then become the majority owner, hence allowing him to keep the Avs and Nuggets.

Yep. That’s right. He is pulling out all the dirty tricks in an attempt to continue to expand his evil empire, which means the Avs will slip even lower in priority. We already have seen what happens when you own an NBA team as well as an NHL team. The NHL team will always be the redheaded step-child. With all the big contracts the Nuggets had to fill this past season the Avs were sacrificed, falling well under the league salary cap because, presumably, Kroenke didn’t want to dig too deep in those pockets.

Thankfully, the NFL said “no” to the transfer of the Rams to Kroenke’s dearly beloved, but that doesn’t necessarily preclude other family members from “purchasing” the Avs and Nuggets. So, unfortunately, there’s a very good chance we fans may actually be stuck with the same old Kroenke, the same old philosophy and the same ol’ poor treatment.

Sigh.

But a girl’s allowed to dream, right?

Photo: Stan Kroenke from daily.com.

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01 Jun 2010 Kirill Kabanov: The New Tsar of Russia?
Kirill Kabanov

Kabanov from his photo site in which he adds the tongue-in-cheek title, "Kirill Kabanov the new tsar of Russia."

As promised, it’s time to start highlighting some of the Russian prospects you may not have heard much about –guys who will be available for this year’s draft.  And since it’s the first of several posts, we might as well start with the most controversial Russian eligible for the 2010 NHL draft to pique your interest.

Kirill Kabanov is riddled with controversy.  Google his name and you’ll find rumors that make Alexander Semin’s early NHL drama seem like kids play.  I won’t bother to take up room with extensive details, but after a buyout with the KHL, he came to Moncton of the QMJHL this year only to run back to Russia for the under-20 World Championships when faced with little playing time in Moncton.  When the coach there didn’t like what he saw, he was essentially cut from the Russian team and left in limbo.

The details are sketchy and rumors abound.  Some say his dad is controlling and forced him to abandon Moncton and go back to Russia.  Other say Kabanov’s cocky and needs to be brought down a notch.  Still others, like his coach in Russia, say that he thinks he’s better than he really is and needs to learn a lesson.  Whatever the truth, his stock in this year’s draft has declined greatly.

However, at this year’s combine, Kabanov gave one of the most impressive interviews I’ve ever seen from a guy his age.  Maybe he was groomed for the interview by his father or his agent, but it’s hard to pull off sincerity in a foreign language unless that’s exactly what it is –- sincere.  Take a look at the interview and I think you’ll see a humble, intelligent and honest 17 year old who seems wise beyond his years. Let’s not forget — he’s just a kid!

He admitted he made a mistake leaving Moncton and that he was stupid.  He emphasized that point with a Russian proverb, which personally I found quite thoughtful and endearing.  He declared his intention to play in the US, wherever that might be.  I know we’ve all heard that before, but there was no attitude in his voice, no sneer on his face.  He said it all with a genuine smile and the heart of someone who reflects on their mistakes and tries to become a better person for it.

I admit I’m biased.  I love the Russians.  But I’m also a chronic cynic and have found nothing but honesty and maturity in this kid.  Whatever he has gone through this year, he has grown tremendously and will be far ahead of many other picks in that respect in this year’s draft.  And let’s not forget, Kabanov is smart, both on and off the ice.  Yeah, I know I’ve said I love the personality and cockiness some of these guys bring to professional hockey, but in this case, I’ll take him just the way he is.

Good luck to Kirill in this year’s draft. The goddesses will be wishing him the very best.  I predict he will become a star in the NHL and sooner, rather than later and it’s a savvy team that takes a chance on him.

Photo: Kirill Kabanov from his own photo-sharing site at flickr.com.

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27 May 2010 New Wave of Russian Talent?
Nikita Zaytsev

Nikita Zaytsev is an exciting young Russian prospect. Look for him at this summer's NHL draft in Los Angeles.

The 2010 National Hockey League Draft Combine is underway in Toronto and the Goddesses are following the news closely. “What is this combine she speaks about?” some of you might ask.  Well, for those unfamiliar, it is the annual pre-draft evaluation of NHL prospects.  The top 100 prospects are invited for fitness evaluations, testing and interviews with general managers and scouts.

While the top North Americans are always discussed, many a Russian player has been neglected in recent years.  The fear of drafting a Russian who will ultimately decide to play in the KHL instead, as well as some general xenophobia, has contributed to this.  Unfortunately, this often leads to mention of our beloved Ruskies as a mere afterthought, with a simple glance at the “Top European Skaters” in the Central Scouting Final Rankings.

However, these journalists often forget to do their homework.  If they had, they would see that most of the top-ranked Russians are currently playing junior hockey in North America and don’t get ranked under the European category but are ranked with the other North American skaters.

The Goddesses will try to highlight the Russian prospects in the days leading to the draft with interesting anecdotes and details as these players don’t often get their fair share of publicity.  We believe this latest crop of Russian players are very talented and will make a huge impact in the NHL given a chance.

Alexander Burmistrov is one that has been particularly impressive and is currently ranked No. 11.  Others slated to go in the first couple of rounds are Stanisvla Galiev (ranked at No. 20 among North American skaters) and Kirill Kabanov (at No. 31).

Of course, we can’t forget those Russians playing overseas such as Vladamir Tarasenko and Evgeny Kuznetsov, ranked No. 2 and No. 3 among European players respectively.

As far as the combine is concerned, Russians invited to particapate were Burmistrov, Galiev, Kabanov, Tarasenko, as well as Nikita Zaytsev who is currently playing for HC Sibir Novosibirsk of the KHL.  Such talent has not been seen in some years and I will be excited to watch the draft in person to see where these young players are picked.

So stay tuned for more posts about these talented malchiki (boys).  We Goddesses think you might find them as interesting as we do.

Photo: Nikita Zaytsev from life.com.

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26 May 2010 One More Year of Foote-steps
Adam Foote

Adam Foote wears number 19 on Joe Sakic retirement night.

I try to be kind in my posts. I really do. But I can’t hold back on commenting on the insane decision both Adam Foote and the Colorado Avalanche made. Yesterday, the Avs signed Footer to a one year, $1 million deal.

Nothing too personal Adam, but it’s time to retire. The Avalanche have a plethora over overpaid defenseman and given that this was probably the weakest part of their game this year (oh the ugliness had we not had Anderson in net) it seems like starting fresh might be the way to go — especially with the number of young defensemen in the system.

That extra $500,000 or so would look awful tasty on a talented, skating free agent this summer. Yes, the Avs have plenty of cap room, but to land a couple of high-scoring forwards that extra might just come in handy.

Foote has definitely lost a step the past couple of seasons and his decision making has been questionable. As I said — nothing personal. We sat next to his wife and kids all last season and they were quite nice. I’m just surprised given his declining performance (and his wife’s apparent boredom as she could be seen texting on her BlackBerry throughout the games) that he’d sign for another year.

A friend suggested that perhaps the signing was more about a roof over Matt Duchene’s head (he lived at the Foote residence all last year) and keeping a close eye on the young starling. Given the nature of this signing, it’s as good an explanation as any.

Photo:  Adam Foote by Goddess Sasha. Copyright 2009. All Rights Reserved.

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22 May 2010 They’re (Not Always) Coming to America
Alex Ovechkin

Russian Alexander Ovechkin is one of the NHL

While perusing the web yesterday I came across an article at Bleacher Report by a “Featured Columnist” that I just couldn’t ignore.  The claim was that Russia is no longer producing quality hockey players.  The author’s proof?  There are very few Russians and even fewer Russian superstars in the National Hockey League.    He supports this claim with a superficial glance at recent NHL draft history, and the fact that Russians aren’t being highly drafted, if at all.

And I thought only First Nations hockey players were victims of such bigoted and irresponsible “journalism.”  Pretty shallow reporting from someone who has written for NHL.com and other big online sites.

Anyone who follows the NHL, the draft and developing talent is well aware of the shift in the paradigm in international talent.  The talent in Russia is obviously still there.  Newer players such as Alexander Ovechkin, Ilya Kovalchuk and Alexander Semin are clear examples of the type of talent the Motherland is still producing.

So why are there fewer Russians in the NHL? The answer is simple:  The Kontinental Hockey League (KHL).  Unfortunately, the author tries to deflect any attention from the KHL by saying that he doesn’t want to hear that there is talent in the KHL, because it’s not the NHL, the best league in the world.  This superficial claim insults the intelligence of knowledgeable hockey devotees and only serves to feed the xenophobia of lay hockey fans — something that does not behoove a sport that is trying to grow its popularity in the United States.

Dmitry Kulikov

Russian-born Dmitry Kulikov, a first round pick of the Florida Panthers, plays in the NHL.

To refute these claims, one doesn’t have to look too far into the dynamics between the KHL and NHL.  The KHL may not be quite NHL caliber (as I discussed last month in another HockeyGoddess.com exclusive) but the money is, and that has kept many a Russian NHL prospect at home.  Why leave the comfortable confines of your homeland, where your dollar goes further, you don’t have to worry about learning a language you have zero knowledge of and your chances of getting hurt are a fraction of what they would be in North America?

Similarly, if you are an NHL general manager drafting talented hockey players why take a chance on a guy who might look at his options: To scratch and claw in the AHL for a couple and make a whole lot less money, or to stay home and have a higher salary?  Why squander a high-round pick on a player who may never come play in North America? (Ever hear of Ilya Nikulin, a highly touted defensive prospect who was drafted by the Atlanta Thrashers?  Didn’t think so.) Even some of the young kids who have come and played Junior hockey in North America, claiming the NHL is their end goal, have bolted back to the KHL after being sent down to the minors.  And really, I can’t completely fault them for that decision.

Remember, Russia is no longer the Soviet Union.  Top talent doesn’t have to defect to America to make their millions — they can do it at home.  While the standard of living in most of Russia is still well behind North America, it’s a familiar and stable culture.  Why not stay there?

Of course, we have seen some financial difficulty in recent times in Russia, with teams folding or merging under the stress of the international economic crisis.  We’ve heard rumors of some teams unable to pay their players.  This all may contribute to an increase in Russian talent in the NHL.  And while I wish the best for the Russians, I secretly hope to see more of them here in North America.  We have large Russian-speaking communities, a great standard of living, health care that far exceeds the level in the former Soviet states and a fair system to live under.  So you may not be a big fish in a little pond, but you’ll have a chance to prove you’re one of the best hockey players in the world.

Photos: Alexander Ovechkin and Dmitry Kulikov by Goddess Sasha. Copyright 2009-2010. All Rights Reserved.

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17 May 2010 Smokin’ Semin Has Team Russia Under Fire

Alexander Semin

The Russian press caught Caps LW Alexander Semin enjoying a smoke.

The Russian tabloids went crazy this week after several members of the Russian national hockey team were captured on film smoking outside a restaurant in Germany at the World Championships – the most familiar being Alexander Semin of the Washington Capitals.  Other “guilty” parties shown in the video are Ilya Nikulin, whose rights belong to the Atlanta Thrashers, and 2002 NHL draftees Sergei Mozyakin (Columbus Blue Jackets) and Vitaly Atyushov (Ottawa Senators).  Late in the video one can also see soon-to-be UFA Ilya Kovalchuk hanging out with the naughty smokers and acting a little “off” while being escorted into a waiting car.

It seems ironic that in a country where just about everyone smokes that something like this would spark such controversy and outrage.  Or not.

During Soviet times, Russia took its athletes’ development very seriously.  Hockey players were closely monitored and were strictly forbidden from smoking and drinking.   Athletes were highly revered and their jobs were taken very seriously.  They were seen as more than just mere mortals, having an amazing ability and will to resist outside distractions.  After all, they were living representations of the Soviet ideal. Most of the players from that era still maintain a strict policy of abstinence when it comes to tobacco and alcohol.

Of course, there are always the exceptions.  We’ve all heard the stories about Sergei Zubov smoking in the showers between periods or Nikolai Khabibulin having a clause written in his contract allowing him to smoke, but the majority of the old-school players didn’t and still don’t.

Alexander Semin, left, lights up with his Russian teammates.

Yet in the new Russia things are different.  While players are still closely watched by their teams, attitudes definitely seem to have relaxed in many areas.  Smoking, it turns out, is one of them.  A current KHL player told us it’s the nature of being a hockey player:  You either smoke or dip (chewing tobacco).  In Russia, smoking is definitely the mode of choice.  Still, hockey is one of the most popular sports in Russia, with world competitions being big news.  So much so that in response to the media frenzy, the team has decided to boycott the press, a move which, of course, has created even more controversy in the Motherland.

Yet to be fair, we have to mention that smoking and chewing is also part of the scene in the NHL, the minor leagues and college in North America.  Don’t let the media fool you.  It may be more hidden these days, but believe me, it’s quite pervasive –- especially chewing tobacco — at just about every level.  Even superstar Alex Ovechkin has been known to indulge in a little bit of snuff.

While the Russian population is shocked, North American fans seem to be saying “big deal” (although I wonder what the reaction in Canada would be if, say, Sidney Crosby was caught doing either). Here, we have to shake our heads at the stupidity, naivete or audacity of these players: Standing outside a restaurant smoking in full view of the public practically begging someone to bust them; and then give a little chuckle when they boycott the media for daring to report it when someone catches them red handed.

Poll-o-Rama: What Do You Think?



Talk Back!
What do you think? Much ado about nothing? Or something worth talking about? Leave a comment and tell us what YOU think!

Photos: From LifeSports.ru.

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28 Apr 2010 The Great Twinkie Controversy

Twin brothers Daniel and Henrik Sedin of the Vancouver Canucks.

I know I should be talking about something Avs related, like where Paul Stastny went during the first (and only) round of the Avs playoffs this year, but something more intriguing has me itching to blog.

For those who missed the big (snicker) news, some Canadian blogger named Gordon McIntyre lashed out at Darren Pang for calling twin hockey stars Daniel and Henrik Sedin “The Twinkies.”  McIntyre claimed that the term “twinkies” somehow questioned their playing abilities, their characters and their status as real men.

The debate has been raging ever since.  Did Panger really mean to use the term “twinkies” as a humorous nod to their, in fact, being twin brothers? (In my day, “twinkie” was very often used to describe, for example, two people who wore the same shirt to a party: “Oh look! We’re twinkies!”) Or was it something more sinister?  Most people laughed, with the majority of readers believing he really did mean nothing more serious than that, yes, they are twins.

Does anyone else see something wrong with this picture?

Let’s assume for a moment, that Darren Pang really did mean to refer to the twins as “twinkies” a term often used by the gay community.  Is this a bad thing?  Despite what McIntyre was able to dredge up from the oh-so-credible source, Urban Dictionary, the term “twinkie” is not necessarily, or even usually, meant to be derogatory.  Its origins in the gay community refer to a certain type of man -– one that is pale, slender and good-looking with boyish features.

Henrik Sedin, Darren Pang

Was broadcaster and former NHL goalie Darren Pang just stating the obvious about the Sedin bros? We think so, yes.

So, let’s continue down this road and say that Darren Pang really was using this particualr definition of “twinkie” to describe The Twins.  Does that put him in the wrong?  Does that mean, as McIntyre suggests, that the slender, boyish, handsome men dubbed “twinkies” do not possess “character and altruism?”  Or, that they aren’t capable of such feats as winning the Art Ross trophy or playing all but ten games in the last nine seasons as the Sedin brothers have?   Or, even worse, that these men are “sissies” simply because they might be gay? Or at the very least, possess a certain look that the gay community finds attractive?  Is our friend Gord so homophobic that he can’t stomach the fact that an NHL player might be attractive to other men? Or God forbid, even –- dare I say it Gord –- be *gasp* gay?

Well, Gord, I have some news for you.  Studies indicate that 1 in 10 people in this world are estimated to be homosexual (and that estimate is now, generally, seen as low.)  That means statistically, there are at least 30 (and probably closer to 50-60) gay men in the NHL. In fact, I’ll go out on a limb and suggest that at least a few gay men have won an award, title or Stanley Cup in the past 100 years or so.  Think men tough enough for hockey can’t be boyishly good looking, pretty or even gay?  I would think an educated Canadian like you would know better.

So really, the controversial character shouldn’t be Darren Pang at all. Regardless of what he meant, he said nothing wrong.  Rather, the odd, seemingly homophobic implications of one McIntyre should be what is in question.

Let us know what you think.

Photos: Daniel and Henrik Sedin by Goddess Kaatiya. Copyright 2007-2010. All Rights Reserved. Darren Pang from his official Twitter page.

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