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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!
 |  Category: NHL  | Leave a Comment

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
 |  Category: NHL  | Leave a Comment

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
 |  Category: International Hockey, NHL, Olympic Hockey  | Tags:  | Leave a Comment
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

 



24 Jan 2012 Disappointing? Yes. Surprising? No.
 |  Category: Uncategorized  | Tags: ,  | 5 Comments

The Boston Bruins with President Obama

I had a co-worker a couple of years back who was one of the nicest guys you’d ever meet. Friendly, genial, helpful. And every once in a while he’d go off on a diatribe about liberals that would make anyone near him  raise an eyebrow, if not two.

I have a notion that’s how it is with the Boston Bruins and their teammate Tim Thomas.

If my co-workers and I were invited to the White House, I have no doubt whatsoever that my aforementioned co-worker would decline the invitation, and none of us would be surprised. According to media reports, Bruins’ management was aware that Thomas would not attend the White House reception for the Stanley Cup champs on Jan. 23, but the players were not. But it’s almost impossible to believe that they didn’t see it coming.

Here’s the statement from Thomas:

“I believe the Federal government has grown out of control, threatening the Rights, Liberties, and Property of the People.

This is being done at the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial level. This is in direct opposition to the Constitution and the Founding Fathers vision for the Federal government.

Because I believe this, today I exercised my right as a Free Citizen, and did not visit the White House. This was not about politics or party, as in my opinion both parties are responsible for the situation we are in as a country. This was about a choice I had to make as an INDIVIDUAL.

This is the only public statement I will be making on this topic. TT”

and the statement from the Bruins:

“As an organization we were honored by President Obama’s invitation to the White House. It was a great day and a perfect way to cap our team’s achievement from last season. It was a day that none of us will soon forget. We are disappointed that Tim chose not to join us, and his views certainly do not reflect those of the Jacobs family or the Bruins organization. This will be the last public comment from the Bruins organization on this subject.”

Full disclosure: I am a dyed-in-the-wool liberal. And I adhere to Voltaire’s dictum: “I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

That said, it was not the time nor the place for Thomas to make a political statement. An invitation to the White House is an honor that should be accepted no matter who’s in charge. We’re not talking about canoodling with Robert Mugabe or Momar Ghadafi here. This is the president of the United States – OUR United States (Tim Thomas is an American); I was no fan of George W. Bush, but I know he’s an inherently decent human being who was doing the best job he could, and if he invited me and my co-workers to visit, I’d put politics aside and visit.

(And for those who wish to point out that Theo Epstein didn’t visit when Bush was in office and the Red Sox were invited, he was wrong too.)

What really bothers me about this whole stramash, however, is not Thomas’s politics (though really, if you want to live in a country with boundless freedom and no taxation, I hear Somalia is the perfect place), it’s the fact that he called attention to himself on a day that was meant to honor and celebrate his team. That’s a selfish, self-centered act, and is absolutely contrary to what the Bruins stand for.

And for that, I’m disappointed in Tim Thomas.

(Photo courtesy of Getty Images)

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22 Nov 2011 The Return of the King
 |  Category: Eastern Conference, NHL, NHL player(s)  | Tags:  | Leave a Comment

Sidney Crosby arrives at the Consol Energy Center

November 21,2011 wasn’t an ordinary day in the NHL. November 21 marked the retun of the greatest player in the history of hockey – nay, the greatest player in the history of any sport! The only reason the NHL exists is to provide a platform for his awesomeness. The King has returned: Sidney Crosby.

But it’s not only for a lowly hockey goddess to remark upon the blessedness of the return of Sidney Crosby, which has saved the NHL from the End Times. There are many in the chorus of the lowly peons who are dancing in joy and weeping in ecstacy.

Versus spokeman: Of course we dumped the Bruins-Canadiens game for The Return. After all, who cares about the greatest rivalry in the history of sports when you can show The King scoring at will against the sorriest team in the NHL? It’s a no-brainer!

ESPN spokesman: Hockey? What’s that? Oh, Crosby’s back? Hey, we love hockey!

Tim Thomas: Yeah, I know Cary Price and I were both coming off shutouts, and I extended my personal shutout streak to 133 minutes in a nail-biting 1-0 win in Montreal, but Sidney Crosby is much, much more important than the defending Stanley Cup champion playing a team that had beaten them twice last month.

Anders Nilsson: I may be a 21-year-old rookie who was making my first NHL start, but I’ll put my 4.25 GAA up against anyone in the league! Oh, um, sorry. Ahem. I’m honored to have been the worthy challenger for His Majesty in his return.

Pierre McGuire:  You talk about the all-around superstar that Sidney Crosby is, it’s been a Crosby-palooza tonight.*

NHL: Let’s hope every player in the league has learned an important lesson. Headshots were fine as long as the targets were guys like Marc Savard. But Sidney Crosby is our bread and butter. He and Ovechkin are the only players ESPN viewers can name. It behooves us all to pay proper tribute. All together now!

NHL players: Hail Sidney! All hail The King!

* I am not making this up.

 

Photo by Terry Moore



28 Oct 2011 There is No “Debate” — Make Visors Mandatory
 |  Category: NHL  | Tags:  | One Comment

They obscure a player’s vision. They’re uncomfortable. Tough guys don’t wear them. Hockey is becoming overprotective.

Sound familiar? Those were the arguments used by hockey “purists” not so many decades ago against goalie masks.

Fast forward a couple of decades, and you can trot out the same old arguments against helmets.

Fast forward a few more, and now it’s visors. Some things never change.

It took the visionary Jacques Plante to make goalie masks acceptable, and it didn’t hurt that he was one of the best at his position. It took the death of Bill Masterton – and ten long years of debate and heel-dragging - for the NHL to bow to the obvious and protect the players’ craniums. Will it take the death of another player to finally convince the league and its players to protect their eyes?

Perhaps it will, because it didn’t take this:

Manny Malhotra after being hit with a shot. He might as well have BEEN shot.

And it didn’t take this:

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Johnny Boychuk’s slapshot has been clocked at 105 mph. Everyone praised Stamkos for returning to the game after the shield dug a substantial chunk out of his nose, but everyone seems to have dismissed or not even considered the very real possibility that if he had not been wearing it, the puck would have struck him right between the eyes, and it’s very likely the Lightning would have been dedicating this season to a dead teammate.

The NHL is the only hockey league in the world that does not require its players to wear visors. Rookies come into the league today having worn visors their entire lives. Thankfully, the majority of players are keeping them on – the NHLPA, according to the Associated Press, says more than 65 percent of players under 30 wear visors. But if one player is killed or disabled because he doesn’t wear a visor, that’s one too many.

Visors aren’t magic. Nobody believes that wearing one will keep a player safe from all harm. But protecting eyes, like protecting genitals, should be a no-brainer. Anyone want to suggest players forego playing with a protective cup?

And to paraphrase Mae West, macho (like goodness) has nothing to do with it. A puck, stick or skate doesn’t care who is or isn’t a tough guy. If a player wants to fight, he can take a second to flip his lid, just as he drops his stick and gloves.

The CBA is up for renewal this summer, and hopefully the leadership will take these warnings to heart and protect the players from themselves. If a few holdouts are adamant, follow the protocol established by the helmet rule and grandfather visors in. And hopefully a couple of decades from now, we can all look back and laugh at the idea of NHL players not protecting the most valuable of God’s gifts – their sight.

 

Photo via Getty Images

 

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05 Jul 2011 An open letter to the NHL Marketing Department

Dear Sirs or Madams:

A couple of weeks ago, the Boston Bruins won their first Stanley Cup in 39 years. More than a million fans packed

Imagine if everyone bought a DVD set.

the streets of Boston to celebrate, and many more longtime fans from all over New England, the Canadian Maritimes, North America and around the world, reveled in the victory. Reports are that Stanley Cup champion gear flew off the shelves, with stores barely able to keep up with demand.

But this fan wants more. And this fan believes that many of her fellow Bruins fans want the same thing: A boxed DVD set.

I don’t want a highlights DVD. The one you’re selling appears nice, and I’ll undoubtedly purchase it. But what I want is a boxed set, like the ones sold by MLB for their World Series winners. As a Red Sox fan, I own the 2004 and 2007 sets, which include not just the World Series games, but the ALCS wins as well (alas, not the ALDS. Tsk.)

This is where the NHL can do MLB one better. Give Bruins fans a DVD set with all 16 victories. And make them complete games, start to finish. None of this editing the games down to two hours, as you’re doing on the NHL Network. I want every moment, start to finish. I want every glorious second of the victories over hated rival Montreal. Every glorious second of the revenge match (sweep! sweep!) against Philadelphia. Every glorious second of their grind-it-out wins against Tampa Bay, up to and including Tim Thomas embracing a tearful Marty St. Louis.

I don’t want just the final against Vancouver. That’d be like receiving nothing but steak in a four-star restaurant. I want the fine wine, the garlic-mashed potatoes, the fresh asparagus.

And for the homemade chocolate cake, I want a bonus DVD of the celebrations, from Zdeno Chara hoisting the Cup to the parade.

You’re on the right track with the Blackhawks DVD set from last season. But five games isn’t enough. Not remotely enough.  

I want 16 games. I don’t care whose feed you use, though if you’re asking, the enthusiasm of Doc Emerick or Jack Edwards would be preferable to Bob Cole’s “meh, the Bruins win in OT,” though his calls do offer comedic value. The production effort is minimal – just chop out the ads (and the between-period analysis if you wish); no other editing required. Charge $150 for the set, and have it on the shelves before Christmas. It’ll sell itself.

Please, NHL, I’m asking you nicely. If that’s not good enough, I’ll beg. I want this with the burning heat of a thousand suns, and if you consider the number of Bruins fans out there, you’ll be making a profit on this faster than you can say “fat free-agent contract.”

Sincerely yours,

Savvy

Photo from boston.com

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16 Jun 2011 Bruins win Stanley Cup as Nemesis claims another victim
 |  Category: NHL, NHL playoffs  | Tags: , ,  | 5 Comments

Destiny's darlings: The Boston Bruins

 

One May 29, venerable hockey writer Stan Fischler tweeted the following:

The Bruins have less of a chance to win The Cup than Atlanta has of retaining the Thrashers.

He wasn’t alone. The vast majority of hockey experts, from Puck Daddy to ESPN to THN, picked the Vancouver Canucks to easily skate off with the Stanley Cup against the overmatched Boston Bruins. After all, the Canucks had scoring powerhouses Henrik and Daniel Sedin, Selke Trophy finalist Ryan Kesler, and Olympic gold-medal winner and Vezina finalist Roberto Loungo. The Bruins? Sure, they had their own Vezina candidate in Tim Thomas, but their top regular-season scorers (Milan Lucic and David Krejci) had totaled just 62 points each. Zdeno Chara was a Norris finalist and former winner, but had been panned by some as overrated and overhyped. Thomas? A freakishly lucky goalie whose success rested largely on the Bruins’ defense-first system. Or so many said.

The Canucks, NHL royalty as the Presidents Trophy winner with the best regular-season record, looked down their noses at the rag-tag Bruins as the media all but crowned them champions before the first puck drop.

The disrespect manifested itself in Game 1, when Alexander Burrows bit Patrice Bergeron’s finger during a scrum, and continued in Game 2, when Max Lapierre taunted Bergeron by shoving his fingers at the Bruins center’s mouth.

And that’s when Nemesis stepped in.

Today, nemesis refers to someone’s particular enemy, but in ancient Greece, Nemesis, according to Wikipedia, “was the spirit of divine retribution against those who succumb to hubris (arrogance before the gods). The Greeks personified vengeful fate as a remorseless goddess; the goddess of revenge. The name Nemesis is related to the Greek word νέμειν [némein], meaning ‘to give what is due’”

Nemesis showed up at the TD Garden with revenge on her mind; the Bruins blew the Canucks out in Games 3 and 4 by scores of 8-1 and 4-0, respectively, to even the series.

The Canucks pulled ahead 3-2 in the series after returning to Vancouver and winning 1-0, but apparently hadn’t learned their lesson. Loungo criticized Thomas’s goaltending technique, calling the one goal allowed one he himself would have stopped due to his superior positional play. Given a chance to clarify his statement the next day, he plaintively said he had “pumped (Thomas’s) tires all series,” and that Thomas has said nothing nice about him.

What kind of professional athlete, one making $10 million per year, needs validation from his opponent? As Thomas said after Game 6, “I didn’t know it was my job to pump his tires.”

Perhaps Loungo took his cue from his coach, who whined that Thomas played too far out of his crease and made a formal complaint to the NHL about him. Or Daniel Sedin, who allowed a 5-foot-nothing rookie (Brad Marchand) to use him as a speed bag late in Game 4. What kind of a man – what kind of a hockey player? – allows that to happen? What member of the Bruins wouldn’t have knocked Marchand into the middle of next week?

So Nemesis had to be smiling on Game 7 as Thomas solidified his Conn Smythe trophy, as Marchand and Bergeron scored two goals each (talk about divine retribution!), and Chara lifted the Stanley Cup to the rafters as  the Bruins celebrated their first Stanley Cup since 1972.

Postscript: The night of Game 7, there was a total lunar eclipse over parts of Africa and Asia. The last time the world witnessed a lunar eclipse was Oct. 27, 2004, the night the Boston Red Sox defeated the St. Louis Cardinals to win their first World Series since 1918.

Photo from boston.com

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08 Jun 2011 On Hypocrisy and Dirty Hits

Nathan Horton

Nathan Horton displays the "fencing response," a sign of neurological damage.

On Monday night at TD Garden in Boston, Boston’s Nathan Horton was knocked out of the game and into Massachusetts General Hospital by a vicious late hit from Vancouver’s Aaron Rome.

On Tuesday morning, the Bruins announced that Horton would miss the rest of the playoffs with a severe concussion.

Tuesday afternoon, NHL disciplinarian Michael Murphy announced that Rome would be suspended for four games.

So we are supposed to feel sorry for… Aaron Rome?

According to Manny Malhotra, we are:

“It’s devastating,” said center Manny Malhotra. “To be so close, to be playing in your dream, to now have it taken away, it obviously hurts a lot. That being said, he’s still a huge part of our team in that room. Just his attitude, his mentality, his focus, he’s going to help our guys a lot. I think as a group we don’t agree with the suspension.”

Here’s an idea: You don’t want to miss the Stanley Cup playoffs, don’t leap off your skates and drill a guy in the head more than a second after he’s released the puck.

Canucks coach Alain Vigneault says Rome “isn’t a dirty player, never has been, never will be.” Whether he is or not is irrelevant. It was a dirty play.

Here’s Andrew Ference in February, after teammate Daniel Paille (not a dirty player; never disciplined before) was suspended four games for a head shot on Raymond Sawada (who was unhurt):

“It’s a bad hit, right?” said Ference. “You hear it from every player after they do it, they feel bad, and same thing, I talked to Danny [Paille] and he feels bad.

“You can’t be a hypocrite about it, though. I’ve thought about this a lot and had plenty of time to put things in perspective over the last year. Sidney Crosby has been very vocal about the head shots and blindside hits since he suffered one in the Winter Classic, but what did Crosby say after Cooke hit Savvy last year? Nothing.

“I thought a lot about that. You want to be a good teammate, but you shouldn’t be a hypocrite about it.” 

So here’s the question: If that was Henrik Sedin being strapped to a backboard and carted off on a stretcher, would Alan Vigneault be protesting that it wasn’t a dirty hit?

Photo: Nathan Horton from Getty Images

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30 May 2011 It’s Never ‘Just a Game’ When You Win

The Bruins celebrate around (but don't touch!) the Prince of Wales trophy.

The Bruins celebrate around (but don't touch!) the Prince of Wales trophy.

Riddle me this: Why are the Stanley Cup playoffs like old age?

The answer: Because neither one is for sissies.

It’s been a couple of days since the Boston Bruins beat the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals. I think I’m starting to recover. I can actually watch the DVR now (for the fifth time – or is it sixth?) without twitching and flinching at every Tampa shot.

But Friday night almost did me in.

I was at work. I’m a newspaper editor (yes, we still exist!), and at times I work in news, at times in sports. In the sports department, we watch games on TV. In the news department, those of us who are fans watch surrepticiously. Unfortunately, I can only see the TV in the news department if I turn and crane my neck. Once, when I did so earlier in the playoffs, my co-worker across the desk got up and turned the TV off. I managed not to kill her (she is a nice person, really; she just has a blind spot when it comes to sports).

This time around, I didn’t chance it, just followed the game on NHL.com’s Icetracker, and via the Bruins’ Twitter updates (turning the notification sound so low that only I could hear it). I stayed busy, keeping the nerves at bay by throwing myself into my work.

Unfortunately, work petered out just after 10 p.m., as the scoreless game moved well into the third period. I picked up my phone, announced I was going outside for a break, and headed for the parking lot.

9:00 to go. Timeout Bruins.

I sat on a bench, hunched over, staring at the phone, as the seconds crawled by.

Shot toward Thomas. Deflected wide, but not far off.

Oh, thanks. Very reassuring. I leaned over, muttering, c’mon guys, c’mon, c’mon…

Bruins score! Horton!

I leaped off the bench, cheered, danced.

1-0 BOS. Horton (Ference, Krejci)

“When?” I asked the phone. Usually Bish (John Bishop, the Bruins’ PR man) gives the time of the goal. Not this time. I imagined the Garden, the noise, the crowd going wild, Krejci and Horton celebrating… I got up to pace. Surely there must not be much time left. Surely. Back and forth I went, back and forth…

6:00 to go.

SIX MINUTES!?!!?

Huge save by Roloson on Ryder.

Rydes!! Gah!!

Tampa Bay continues to be relentless.

OK, I didn’t need that.

Just under 2:00 to go.

I paced maniacally, watching the digital numbers change in the upper right corner of my phone, trying to prove to myself that time had not stopped.

Stoppage with 44 seconds left in regulation.

My heart was ready to burst out of my chest.

B’s control…. win!

I screamed up at the cloudy sky. I danced a quick jig, then ran inside, to the TV in the sports department, and watched the Bruins celebrate. I cried a little.

Then I went back to my seat. The editor across from me looked up. “Are you OK?” she asked.

“I had to go outside. I was too nervous to watch the game,” I said.

She shook her head and laughed. “It’s just a hockey game.”

No, no it isn’t. Trust me on this one. It isn’t.

Photo: Boston Bruins courtesy of slidingsideways at bestlaidplans.org

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