Tag-Archive for ◊ National Hockey League ◊

03 Jun 2010 Pronger’s Head Games — Amusing ‘Little Minds’
Chris Pronger

"Look into my face and know, to look into my face is to look into the face ... of EVIL!" so said comic Kevin McDonald of The Kids in the Hall as Sir Simon Milligan. Does the same go for Chris Pronger?

Oh Chris! Yes, I mean the Chris of the Philadelphia Flyers: Pronger. I have to hand it to him for bringing the controversy to the Stanley Cup Finals. I love that in losing efforts he raced over to snap up the “winning” (er, losing?) puck after both games in Chicago, then claimed he threw them in the trash can “where they belong.” Total asshole thing to do? Maybe. But it’s also a dash of genius in a weird, twisted Dr. Evil kind of way.

Pronger has always known how to poke and prod and push his way onto the “hate” lists of opposing players on the ice. Now, here he goes doing the same thing skating off the ice — and I love it.

I am a firm believer that pretty much any press is good press. If this gets people talking about the NHL — great! If it fired up the Flyers for Game 3 (which they did win in overtime) — also great! If it got under the skin of the Blackhawks and caused them to lose focus — way to go Chris. The mind of an NHL agitator works in mysterious ways.

NHL players say Pronger is one of those guys you loathe — unless he’s on your team. Now he’s making off with pucks and infuriating certain members of the Blackhawks (hello Ben Eager!), going so far as to remark to the media (in regard to Eager’s eager interest in his puck-snatching ways) that “apparently, it got him upset. So I guess it worked, didn’t it? It’s too bad. I guess little things amuse little minds.”

Oh Chris! You are truly evil! With such a remark, you zing not just Eager, but all of us who find your unique brand of gamesmanship so amusing.

(No word yet on who grabbed the Game 3 puck.)

So gamesmanship or disgrace? We want to know what YOU think!

Photo: Chris Pronger by The Associated Press.

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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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24 May 2010 Some Guys Have All the Luck

Thrasher fan on Heatley trade.

A Thrasher fan simultaneously expresses his thoughts on Dany Heatley and Marian Hossa.

My dear Marian (Hossa, of course!) has once again made it to the Stanley Cup Finals. That’s three years in a row, with three different teams — and that’s a pretty incredible feat. As someone who was lucky enough to get to watch Marian for many years in Atlanta, I know how good he can be. It’s time for him to step it up in the playoffs and get over the yips or whatever it is that has him underperforming. He’s better than his playoff stats show. He’s magical when he’s on. It’s time for him to bring out the magic stick and show everyone what I think we all know he’s capable of. I can’t help but think that, although the Blackhawks got this far in the playoffs without — for the most part — his otherworldly skills, Marian has to be more than a mere mortal before the hockey gods (and goddesses!) will allow him to lift the Cup. He just seems to have a curse on him.

I find it rather intriguing that Hossa, who was signed by, and traded from, the Ottawa Senators (to the Atlanta Thrashers) before the ink was even dry on the contract, was going up against the guy — Dany Heatley now of the San Jose Sharks — he was traded for way back when. For all of the gaffes Marian has made in the media over the last several years and for all the things he’s said that have pissed people off, I think he’s been nothing if not honest and hard working. I will sound like a bitter Thrashers fan but I think the exact opposite of “the Heater.”

Marian Hossa

Is this Hossa's year -- at last?

I’ve always understood Heatley’s desire to depart from Atlanta and try to cobble his mind back together without the daily, sorrowful reminders the city held for him. But he’s shown himself to be kind of a louse. Quitting, not just on the city of Atlanta and the fans who stood so firmly behind him, but on the Swiss team he signed with during the NHL lockout (to head to Russia to play for Ak Bars Kazan, a team loaded with NHL talent), then on the Senators last year, demanding a trade after signing a big old contract, which, of course, contained the dreaded no-trade clause. I’m not going to go so far as to compare him — either jokingly or seriously — to Stalin as one somewhat amusing columnist did back during last summer’s “Dany-gate.” But maybe the hockey gods have spoken after all. Hossa’s in, Heater’s out.

Or maybe I am just being ridiculous. Maybe it’s just the way Lady Luck danced … the cookie crumbled … the puck bounced. Whatever it is, I have always admired Marian Hossa as a person and a player. As a Thrasher fan, it sucks he’s gone and it hurts to know he didn’t want to be in my city on my team, but he didn’t choose Atlanta and I respect his decision to seek his fame and fortune elsewhere. In short, I wish him well and hope that, the third time is, indeed, a charm. There is a Russian proverb that asserts “God loves the number three.” Maybe this is Hossa’s year after all.

Photos: Thrasher fan by Goddess Kaatiya. Copyright 2007-2010. All Rights Reserved. Marian Hossa by Chris Stanford, chrisstanford.com.

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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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21 May 2010 Get. A. Grip.

Boston Bruins logo

It's going to be OK.

Seriously, Bruins fans. You’re embarrassing me.

I knew when the Bruins lost four straight to the Flyers in the Eastern Conference semifinal that a significant percentage of  Bruins fans were going to go off the deep end, but it’s gone beyond ridiculous. Blogs calling for GM Peter Chiarelli and/or coach Claude Julien to be fired, half the team to be traded, HAVEN’T WE SUFFERED ENOUGH?

Enough already.

What short memories people have. How quickly they forget how mired in mediocrity the Bruins were before the Chiarelli/Julien administration. How many other teams would give anything to be in the Bruins’ situation right now?

I certainly expected frustration and disappointment. I didn’t expect the hysteria and stupidity that is running rampant in New England right now. Even the media has succumbed: Kevin Paul Dupont of the Boston Globe (sorry, I’m not going to link his joke of an article) wanted nothing less than an abject apology from Chiarelli at his end-of-season press conference. An apology for what, exactly? A team that was within a hit goalpost (by Milan Lucic, late in Game 7) of moving on to the EC finals despite its players dropping like flies? For not trading half the farm for Ilya Kovalchuk? (Fat lot of good he did for the Devils.) For trading Phil Kessel for Taylor Hall/Tyler Seguin?

I heard a caller to sports radio (yeah, stupid me, but I figured they would have moved on to baseball by now) complain that the Bruins were steamrolling the Flyers in the first three games, and then choked. Already with the revisionist history: The Bruins won the first game 5-4 in overtime, the second 3-2. The score of the third game was 4-1, but that was misleading; it was a one-goal game until late in the third, when a fortuitous bounce put the puck on Mark Recchi’s stick for the third goal, and then Patrice Bergeron added an empty-netter.

Game 4 was a 5-4 Philly win, and the turning point in more ways than one: the Bruins lost David Krejci and the Flyers regained Simon Gagne. Game 5 was the only lopsided game of the series, 4-0 Flyers; then back to one-goal games: Flyers 2-1, and 4-3. Bottom line, this is a series that, with a lucky bounce here or there, could have gone either way. I’m amazed that nobody in the hockey media seems to have pointed this out; guess they’re all too gleeful about the OMG THEY BLEW A 3-0 SERIES LEAD. Yeah, whatever. To paraphrase that noted hockey observer Getrude Stein, a loss is a loss is a loss.

Life goes on. You cry, you pick yourself up, you move on. You don’t let a loss, no matter how devastating, define your career (believe it or not, I actually got into a back-and-forth with a Bruins blogger who is certain this is going to RUIN THE FRANCHISE FOREVER. Seriously.)

Krejci: “It seems like every year we’re getting much closer. We were really close this year but it didn’t happen. Next season everybody is starting from zero points. It’s going to be a new season, new year and everybody’s going to have the same chance, so obviously we’re going to have a good year again, make the playoffs and make a good run.”

Well said. At least the players have some sense, if nobody else does.

Image: Boston Bruins logo from NHL.com.

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12 May 2010 A Troubling Question

An Internet aquaintance just told me she supports the players on her team no matter what they do on the ice. This was in regard to a discussion about dirty players.

Wow, really?

Do you, as hockey fans, support your players no matter what? If one of your players deliberately injures an opponent, do you firmly stand behind him?

I hope I’m not the only person who doesn’t.

Discuss.

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07 May 2010 Here We Go Again

Yet another “mainstream media” guy decides to rag on the NHL. So what else is new, other than the “No Olympic bounce!” bonus this season?

This time around, it’s Mike Freeman of CBSsports.com who is providing us such gems as:

I’m not certain how it happened and don’t know if it was possible for the NHL to stop it from happening but that once-captured post-Olympic hockey glow is now gone. It has dissipated into the ozone and the NHL is back to being ignored by most sports fans.

For the rest of his rant, mostly about how the NHL needs more scoring and is less popular than SpongBob SquarePants, here you go: NHL toils in anonymity

Hockey fans

What do these fans know that the rest of America doesn't? The thrill of an NHL playoff game (let's keep it that way!).

Anyway, my own reaction to this isn’t umbrage that the dedicated sports fans of the United States are stupidly missing out on something great, or that the mainstream media are disrespecting the greatest sport on earth. My reaction? Let them miss out. Please. And mainstream media? You too. Go stalk Tiger Woods or cover the NFL draft like it’s Armaggedon.

Hockey doesn’t need validation from the casual sports fan. It doesn’t need explosive growth. It doesn’t need 24/7 coverage on ESPN (don’t bother them – they’re busy lining up another interview with Pacman Jones).

And as hockey fans, we don’t need to have our sport endorsed by ignoramuses who think a 10-9 game would be more entertaining than a 2-1 game.

And if mass popularity is the measuring stick of success, then shouldn’t “The Dukes of Hazzard” be held up as a shining example of great television?

I cherish my fandom of a “niche” sport, and you should too. The “average” American sports fan is drinking rotgut, while we’re quaffing (and discussing the quality of) the finest wines the world has to offer.

But mum’s the word, OK? Let’s keep this to ourselves.

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04 Apr 2010 From Russia with Love: Tales from the KHL
Members of Ak Bars Kazan and the legendary CSKA Moscow.

Members of Ak Bars Kazan and the legendary CSKA Moscow.

Goddess Kaat and I were in Russia last month and between studying, working and playing, we managed to get in four KHL hockey games.  We went to three different venues and saw six different teams in total.  With five teams in the Moscow area these “devochki” could have seen twelve games in the fourteen days we were there!

We also got to take a trip outside Moscow to visit a friend who used to play in the NHL but has now found a home in the KHL.  Listening to his experience was fascinating, and something that goddess Kaatiya will publish a feature in a major online news site.

We quickly discovered that Russia is a different world.  Whereas Americans have seemingly endless amounts of disposable income, Russians have very little. The middle class is almost non-existent.  People either have money or they don’t, and even with the top end tickets going for a mere 500 rubles (that’s about $16 US) few people can afford to spend that kind of money on a regular basis.

So how is the average KHL team financed? We’ve all heard about the insanely high salaries these former NHL players are getting and it certainly isn’t from game revenue.  No, KHL teams are hobbies of Russian Oligarchs who gained control of the oil industry after the breakup of the Soviet Union.  There’s some advertising and sponsorship as well, but the low attendance certainly isn’t a concern.  Yet let’s not write off the fan experience, because it’s something everyone should enjoy in their lifetime if they can.   Here are some observations as a fan that I found interesting and vastly different from the NHL:

1.)  Going to a KHL game is like stepping into a time warp.  Imagine a 1970s NHL game – minus the beer (No alcohol is sold in any of the arenas.)  If you miss the organic experience with small, but hardcore, audiences, you will love most KHL games.

2.)  Most arenas are small and old.  Most seat less than a decent college arena.  Even the new ones are quite small by NHL standards, maxing out at 8,000-10,000 seating capacity and at best two-thirds of the seats are sold.

3.)  Security is tight — in some respects.  Guards dressed in intimidating military-type garb are quite prevalent in some arenas, sometimes requesting to check your bag 4-5 times before you get to your seat.  However, once you’re in, no one cares if you sit in an open seat that’s not yours and people are very respectful of other people’s seats.

4.)  Food and drink are not allowed in the stands.  At all.

KHL Cheerleader

Cheerleaders, some more professional than others, are a staple at KHL games.

5.)  Concessions are more like that at a high school football game: A couple of stands with candy or bread with salted fish and usually a table in the concourse with a woman pouring hot tea for around 25 rubles a cup.

6.)  At most arenas, both teams enter and exit at the end of the ice where the Zamboni doors are.

7.)  There are no rink-side seats.  Instead there is a walkway for rink/team personnel behind the glass.  Also, no one wants to sit low. The higher the better, and seats are sold from the top down.

8.)  Fans may be sparse, but they are extremely knowledgeable and are into it!  It’s like a European soccer match with organized chants, drums, bells and whistles.

9.)  Each arena reserves a section for the opposing fans that can also bring drums, bells, etc.  That section is understandably carefully guarded.

All this isn’t a negative from a fan’s perspective.  In fact, as I’ve said it’s a blast.

Now to the part you’ve all been waiting for and, of course, the hockey player in me won’t let me go without talking about the game.  As with the fan experience KHL hockey is really quite different than the NHL.

What makes it different?  It’s hard to grasp at first.  Our first game was CSKA (the famed Russian Red Army team) vs Ak Bars Kazan, a perennial contender in the KHL (and in the former Russian Super League.)  Talk to a few NHL players who play or have played there and they’ll give you contrasting opinions: “It’s slower, but more skilled,” or “It’s not as physical, but it can’t be because guys are so much faster.”  After watching, I don’t dismiss that these guys are fast or skilled, but as goddess Kaatiya artfully described, there was an awful lot of loitering at the blue line.

Like most of Russia, walking into the Ice Palace where CSKA plays is like walking into a time warp so perhaps the “ambiance” affected my perspective to an extent, but the first thing that struck me is how slow the game was.  It really looked like my husband’s recreational hockey team.  Sure, the guys were skilled and maybe the ice was a bit bad in the old arena but still, even sitting down low the play just looked slow.

Chris Simon

Chris Simon, former NHLer and one of the KHL's most popular players, has found a home on Vityaz Chekov.

The other thing that became immediately apparent was the lack of hitting.  Guys seem to go out of their way to not hit or get hit.  Seriously, I’ve seen more physical play in a women’s game, where hitting is illegal, than I saw in the KHL.

I have to say it was quite a shock.  I had heard so much about the league and the level of play. It has been touted by many players and staff as close, if not equal, to the skill of the NHL.  I often wonder if this isn’t wishful thinking, or some kind of justification for jumping ship when you just can’t hack the NHL.  Nikita Filatov of CSKA (and still property of the Columbus Blue Jackets) definitely stuck out as probably the most talented on the team, but even he has learned the art of slacking in the KHL.

I don’t doubt that the talent and skill are there. In Dave King’s book “King of Russia” he talks about the incredible training the teams do year round and the demands these players are met with every step of the way.  So one has to wonder where this tremendous skill is during the games.

The answer became clearer at our last game.  It was in Mytishchi, Moscow Oblast where Atlant plays.  This arena is new, built in 2007 and hosting that year’s World Cup.  Although small, it is incredibly modern for Russia.  One could enter from the lower level or above the seats and security forces were minimal.  More women and families were in attendance that night and the crowd was at near capacity.

Yet is the product on the ice that impressed us most.  Atlant was hosting Dynamo Riga of Latvia.  For those of you who know little of Soviet history, Latvia was once an unwilling republic of the USSR and now that they have their independence, hostilities run even deeper.  Of no coincidence is that two-thirds of the Riga players are Lativan and much to the annoyance of the Russians have added the Cyrillic “c” (which translates to a latin “s”) at the end of their surnames (e.g. “Janis Sprukts”).  Of course, these are displayed on the backs of their jerseys and are a proud statement of their Latvian ethnicity.

Such a rivalry produced a far better product on the ice than even the proclaimed “super match” between Moscow Dynamo and Atlant we had seen earlier that week.  Tempers ran high with former Columbus Blue Jacket, New York Ranger and current Atlant player Nikolai Zherdev playing an NHL-style, physical game.  Riga boasted former NHL players Sandis Ozolinsh and Marcel Hossa, clearly the best players on their team.

The pace of the game was fast and furious and, while still far less physical over than the NHL, we could finally see the speed of these players.  Atlant quickly got up 3-0, but Riga eventually found its wheels and began firing back, winning 4-3 in overtime.  It was by far the best game we attended, yet we were left wondering why it took four games to finally see the talent shine though.

All that being said, KHL hockey is a great product.  If you long for the nostalgia and  down-to-earth feel of the WHL days, this is the place for you. 

Nikita Filatov

Goddess Sasha with Nikita Filatov at "Red Machine," the pub at the Ice Palace.

Like much of Russia, the production is a bit 1970s. Pre-game skates are rather informal and each team has its “puck bitch,” who has to collect the pucks at the end of the warm-up.  The same songs — pre-hair band, mid-eighties metal — are repeated throughout the game.  Both teams stand together patiently at the entrance of the ice during the pre-game festivities.  You can even see big stars like Nikita Filatov hanging out post-game at the pub adjacent to the arena with the few fans who can afford a beer out.  The big difference is, the talent on the ice is definitely 21st century, even if you don’t always see it.

That being said, we love Russia and its hockey-crazed fans, so much in fact that the goddesses are making a return trip next fall for more fun and hockey.  Heck, if I could land a job as a strength and conditioning coach for a KHL team I’d do it in an instant.  I love Russia and its people that much.  It’s not the fans’ fault they can’t attend more games.  And while the league is not dependent on ticket sales for revenue, perhaps it is going to take more fans to bring up the level of excitement and play in the league.  It may not be NHL quality, but it’s the closest you’ll find anywhere.

Only time will tell if they can compete with the NHL.  But don’t let anyone fool you.  It is a far cry from what the NHL is now and anyone who bolts from the NHL is doing so for the money, not for the level of play.

Photos: By Goddess Sasha and Goddess Kaatiya. Copyright 2010. All Rights Reserved.

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04 Mar 2009 Hockey Drama – Nothing Like It!

Yes, the trade deadline is upon us. By this time tomorrow we will see many teams completely changed. While we all are going to have a few “they did what?” moments about our favorite team, and some of us are going to shed a tear for our non-playoff contenders who will inevitably been blown apart, but I have to admit, I still love the excitement trade deadline brings.

If we’re talking about drama, we can’t ignore that the Drama Queen himself is back in the league.  Am I the only one that is actually glad to see Avery back?  I hope they haven’t beaten the personality out of him. Does he go too far sometimes? Perhaps. But I do enjoy a bit of drama he brings to the squeaky-clean NHL. What will be more interesting is to see how John Tortorella, who said Avery shouldn’t be allowed to play in the NH after his incident in December, handles him.

Speaking of hockey drama, I am digging Ovechkin and Crosby’s little tiff. People around the league are picking sides, with no clear-cut majority. A little rivalry never hurt anyone, in my opinion. Don Cherry? I agree with you many, many times, but I have to side with Bruce Bourdreau on this one. You’re just wrong. Let the guys celebrate. Let them have fun. Give the American fans the excitement they want. It is about entertainment after all, isn’t it?



04 May 2008 Rolling With Changes

My ex-best friend forever, Marian Hossa, had the game winning/series clenching OT goal today for the Penguins (versus the New York Rangers). I miss him! He’s been a monster this playoff season. All true Thrasher fans die just a little bit every time he scores a goal for another team.



17 Oct 2007 A Moment of Silence

For Bob Hartley, who took the fall today for the Thrashers’ 0-6 start. He didn’t deserve it.



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