Heard about Henrik Lundqvist yet? Fans in New York have Â– they’ve been chanting Â“HEN-RIK! HEN-RIK! during recent games at Madison Square Garden. And so, too, has Rangers goalie Kevin Weekes, who missed most of the first three weeks of the NHL season after getting injured. Lundqvist compiled a 3-1-2 record, 1.64 goals-against average and .936 save percentage while Weekes was hurt. Weekes is back now, but not as the bona fide No. 1. That title is up for grabs after Lundqvist, the leading contender to backstop Sweden in the Olympics, emerged as one the reasons for the Rangers’ hot start.
Another reason? Jaromir Jagr is a darn good hockey player again. He’s happy, and on a Czech-laden Rangers roster, he must feel like he’s still back in Kladno. Six Czechs, a handful of Russians, a Finn, a Swede, some Americans, and, yes, even a few Canadian hockey players make up a Rangers team that sits in first place atop the Atlantic Division (4-3-3). Jagr has a league-leading 10 goals and 15 points in 10 games, including an astounding 8 power play goals. Two of Jagr’s countrymen, Martin Straka and Martin Rucinsky, are in the top five in NHL scoring, largely due to power play assists they’ve accumulated on Jagr’s goals.
Three random Brett Hull memories: Fifteen seasons ago, Brett Hull was on his way to 86 goals. Last Saturday, he 86-ed his career, retiring five games into the 2005-06 season. He had 741 goals and 1,350 points in 1,269 games, plus 103 goals and 190 points in 202 playoff games.
Here are three Hull one-timers:
1. The Intro When I was growing up in a small town in southeastern New Brunswick, the NHL and its superstar hockey players seemed a long way away. And that’s why it was big news in 1986-87 when Brett Hull joined the Moncton (N.B.) Hawks, about 40 miles from my home, as a rookie pro. And Bobby Hull’s boy proved quickly he was more than just a name, becoming the first AHL rookie in ages to score 50 goals (in 67 games, no less).
2. The Inkling The next season, 1987-88, Hull made the Calgary Flames, a team on the verge of greatness. But to make it past the verge and into greatness, Calgary traded Hull (and forward Steve Bozek) to St. Louis for defenseman Rob Ramage and backup goalie Rick Wamsley. The Flames won the Cup the next season, so the trade can be justified. But even at the time, people wondered if Calgary was giving up too much. The 23-year-old Hull had 26 goals and 50 points in 52 games with the Flames, and it was plainly evident the best was still to come.
3. The Encore After less than three rockin’ seasons in St. Louis, Â‘Hull & Oates’ was broken up when the Blues traded playmaker Adam Oates to Boston in February of 1992. During the pre-game skate at the first post-trade meeting between the two teams, Hull was heading off the ice to go to the dressing room. He had to skate through the Boston zone and was at the top of the faceoff dot when he called out to Oates, who was in the slot passing pucks to incoming Bruins wingers. When Oates saw Hull, he smiled and sent over one more perfect pass. Hull made no mistake, ripping it top-shelf and then laughing and continuing on his merry way.
The Shootout: It’s exciting, it’s entertaining, it’s fun. So is stealing a car, but that doesn’t make it right.
Remember the Â“traditionalistsÂ”, those hockey-stick-in-the-mud types who get jeered for knocking the shootout? Well, like it or not, they had the last laugh in the Oct. 19 Islanders-Rangers game. Jagr was the second shooter for the Rangers, who were down a goal after Miro Satan scored for the Isles. Jagr wheels in, but as he’s flexing down on his composite stick to unleash a wrist shot, the stick shatters in half and the puck slowly slides into the skates of a pleasantly surprised Rick DiPietro. Michael Nylander hits the post on the final Rangers shot, giving the Isles the victory.
Best of the rest: How about Eric Lindros, on a five-game goal streak and with a total of seven goals and nine points in Toronto’s first eight games? And that’s on a line with Chad Kilger and Tie DomiÂ…Is Ottawa ever going to lose again? The Senators went 7-1-0 in the pre-season, and are a perfect 6-0-0 in the regular seasonÂ…Former Carolina Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice is the bench boss for the AHL’s Toronto Marlies (the Leafs’ farm team). He has caught on quickly to coachspeak in media-mad Toronto. Talking about defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo, a Leafs prospect with a lingering injury, Maurice said with a smile, Â“He’s got aÂ…what’s the phrase I’m supposed to use?Â…An upper-body injury.Â”Â…Since Wayne Gretzky came on the scene as a player, the hockey world has been on the lookout for Â‘The Next One’. Several have been anointed; only one has delivered. There can be no doubt about the greatness of Mario Lemieux, the No. 1 selection in 1984. But what about the other Next Ones who were first overall draft picks? There was Pierre Turgeon (1987); Eric Lindros (1991); Alexandre Daigle (1993); Vincent Lecavalier (1998); and, Sidney Crosby (2005). Turgeon, a creative offensive player who had 58 goals and 132 points in 1992-93, nevertheless did not reach the lofty expectations placed upon him. Lindros, obviously, has had stretches of complete dominance, but too often was out with a headache. DaigleÂ…no. Lecavalier has a chance, but he’ll need to play like he did in the latter stages of the 2004 playoffs. The Crosby Show has just begun; so far, so good. Alex Ovechkin, Washington’s No. 1 overall pick in 2004, is currently playing like he wants to join the debate. And then there’s Â‘The Â“NextÂ” Next One’ John Tavares, a just-turned 15-year-old rookie center with the Ontario League’s Oshawa Generals. Tavares, the subject of a recent Mike Brophy column in The Hockey News, has 12 goals and 18 points in his first 12 OHL games. Not bad, considering they had to change the rules to get him into the league this season. Born on Sept. 20, 1990, he’s draft-eligible in 2009.
Final thought: If NHL hockey is this good after a lockout, let’s have a lockout every couple of years.
The following editorial appears in the Oct. 25th edition of The Hockey News.