SIX THOUGHTS ON A WEEK THAT IS
1. The Rangers were playing possum for a week. Proof: Down 2-1 to Detroit after two periods. Final score Rangers, 8-2.
2. Too bad Connor McDavid can't play goal. Then again, neither can the Oil Cans' goalies. Proof: McDavid scores, but 7-2 for the Canes.
3. Jack Eichel shuffled off to Buffalo, leaving the Sabres all Buffaloed. Proof: Jumpin' Jack's hat trick making it 7-4 for Vegas.
4. The Devils and Nico Hischier are for real. Proof: New Jersey has won eight straight and are 10-0-0 when the captain gets a point.
5. Craig Berube figured out how to save his job. Proof: his Blues harpooned the Sharks 5-3 down in the subterranean depths.
6. John Tortorella made the Blue Jackets respectable. The BJs showed their disrespect last night. Proof: 5-2 over Philly.
BEWARE, BROTHER, BEWARE
CAUTION is the order of the day.
Justifiably, I admit, we get all hot and bothered by the first month-and-a-half of the NHL season.
And, why not?
We waited months for the opening faceoffs in October, and now we're galloping, hellbent to a point where prognosticators are telling us who'll win the Cup, me included.
But we really should restrain ourselves from becoming mad, impetuous boys and girls because there's so much hockey to be played and so many strange things can happen.
Perhaps the strangest of all took place during the 1966-67 campaign, the last season before the glorious expansion from The Original Six to a Dozen-Team NHL.
That year holds particular significance for the lads and lassies of Toronto because it was the last season when the Maple Leafs won the Stanley Cup.
But it's the circumstances behind that Cup year that bear recollection here and now.
The Leafs were in revolt against coach-GM Punch Imlach whose club lost 10 straight games after the new year. Imlach was hospitalized and replaced by his trusty aide King Clancy. The Leafs rallied under Clancy, and when Punch was released from the infirmary, Toronto made the playoffs. They then knocked off Montreal in the final for the Leafs’ last champagne sips 55 years ago, although – as pal Sean McCaffrey says – “It feels like 75 years.”
MIKE EMRICK REMEMBERS PETER MCNAB
Hall of Fame broadcaster – the recently retired Mike Emrick – worked broadcasts with the late Peter McNab. Here, ‘Doc’ tells a neat little story about his first episode after meeting his new color commentator, McNab, in frozen Montreal. Take it away, Doc:
The McNabs – Peter, David and dad, Max – comprised as universally an immersed hockey family as I have met. Plus, Max's wife, the delightful, demure, cordial June. They were just wonderful and hilarious.
Peter loved to laugh, and he would laugh at your (Stan’s) stories as well as his own even though his never made him the hero, but always got you laughing at his perspective.
The first year we worked together, ’93-94, the Devils were playing in Montreal. We met in the lobby of the Sheraton Centre near where Bell Centre is today, and we decided to walk three blocks up to St Catharine Street West and then well over a mile to the Forum for the morning skate. It’s winter. I am wearing an overcoat, a scarf, and a hat. Pete has on the blue blazer he will wear that night, no scarf, no hat. We start walking. It’s all storefronts.
I begin by asking him about his memories of Bruins games in Montreal. Talk about a blind pass at center ice.
As during his playing days, he handled it skillfully. He tells story after story all ending in a Bruins disaster at The Forum.
Meanwhile, I am freezing. McNab is fine. Seeing my red face, twice we ducked into shops so I could get warm.
As we could see the Forum in the distance, he told the famous too-many-men 1979 semifinal playoff game saving the most catastrophic for last.
When we arrived at the rink, we went straight to the Devils dressing room where the team’s new assistant coach, Larry Robinson, was sitting calmly, near the corrugating gate leading to the ice. Robinson had been on the winning side of every one of the last half-hour of Boston disasters as a Hall of Fame Canadiens defenseman.
“Hey coach,” I said, “Peter’s just been telling me horrific stories of games he played against you right here.”
Big smile from the former adversary. Then a chuckle:
“Aren’t they great?!”
A PERSONAL TRIBUTE TO MIKE EMRICK
Our own Irad Chen is a lifetime Mike Emrick fan. Here he explains why:
It has been said that you can not hear a picture. But that's not entirely true. When the sight of Marc-Andre Fleury making a save in the dying seconds of the 2009 Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final came on my screen, all I could hear was Mike Emrick calling “the horn sounds, and the Penguins have won the Stanley Cup.” Or the picture of the Devils’ Adam Henrique scoring the OT series-winning goal in 2012 versus the Rangers reminds me of Doc yelling “They score! Henrique, it’s over!”
My list of favorite, spine-tingling Emrick calls is endless. And, frankly, I miss him quite a bit.
‘Doc’ made so many moments for fans simply iconic. His calls brought so much excitement, and not merely for goals but for saves, and rubber hitting the pipes with his inimitable, “He hit the post with the shot.” Likewise, I savored his pregame intros – the hockey appetizer before the main course – as well.
One also could say that Emrick re-invented the hockey vocabulary and, in a sense, he did. What matters is that every one of his broadcasts was a gem.
Since I live in Israel – and we have a seven-hour time difference – there was nothing better for me than to wake up at 2 a.m. to watch a game and discover that Doc was delivering the play-by-play. (And it didn't matter if my team lost – just hearing him call the game was worth the sleep-breaking wake-up.)
Should you want to re-visit Mike's stentorian tones – as I do – just go to YouTube and check out the one-of-a-kind "Mike Emrick Best Calls" video. You won’t regret it.
DIVISION PRECISION – GEOGRAPHY AND THE NHL ALIGNMENT
Mike (I'm Not a Geography Major) Rubin knows his North from Dixie, and because of that, wonders about location and NHL conferences. Here's why:
The NHL has done a good job of aligning its Eastern and Western conferences, but how in the name of Ponce de León did the Panthers and Lightning end up in the same division as Montreal, Ottawa, and Toronto?
Fear not, Sunshine Staters, there’s an easy fix: Let’s move your two teams to the more southerly Metropolitan Division and relocate the Penguins and Blue Jackets to the Atlantic.
I did some research and found the league can save about $50,000 a year in airfare by cutting travel time to and from Tampa, Miami, Columbus, and Pittsburgh. Then, all we’d need is better names for the two Eastern divisions. How about re-using 'Atlantic' for coastal clubs – Islanders, Rangers, Devils, Capitals, Hurricanes, Flyers, Panthers, Lightning – and 'Northeast' for the rest? That would make sense from Montreal to Margaritaville – which, by the way, is somewhere in the New York State Catskills.
ARE WINTER OLYMPIC GAMES MELTING AWAY? COULD BE
The fuss over whether the NHL should be involved with the Winter Olympics may be solved. There may no longer be any Winter games. Sports business expert Evan Weiner has this update.
As far as sporting events go, the Olympic Games can be a marvellous experience for athletes, particularly those who participate in relatively obscure sports. But the business of the Olympic Games is a massive problem. It costs taxpayers too much money to build venues for a two-week sports orgy, and the return on the investment is minimal if there is a return.
The Olympic Games business is a black hole for most municipalities, and that is why Vancouver is all but out of the running for the 2030 Winter Olympics. Provincial leaders have said no to investing money in a 2030 Winter Olympics bid.
“I just think it’s the wrong time,” said Lisa Beare, British Columbia’s minister for tourism, arts, culture and sport. “It is an extraordinary expense for the people of British Columbia.”
She added that, other than the backers in Vancouver, there was a lack of public enthusiasm.
“You need to have broad overwhelming support from the public, and that hasn’t been demonstrated with the 2030 Winter Olympics.” Provincial officials could not “justify the $1.2 billion in direct costs and $1 billion in liability risk at a time when people are concerned about health care, public safety, and inflation.” The Canadian dollar is around 73 cents against the US dollar, and building costs are rising.
British Columbia is just the latest area to say “no thanks” to the International Olympic Committee, the Olympic Games governing body.
Where does this leave the IOC in finding a 2030 venue? Two areas still want the Games: Salt Lake City, Utah and Sapporo, Japan. The mayor of Sapporo cancelled a trip to meet with the International Olympic Committee in Lausanne, Sui, because of opposition in the city to the bid. Taxpayers are not interested in subsidizing the event.
ALBERTA SKATERS AND COLLEGE HOCKEY – A GOOD MATCH
The path leading from the province of Alberta to NCAA Division I men’s hockey has arguably never been more smooth, prolific and productive. Nor has it ever been so easy to traverse. Our friends at College Hockey, Inc. sent this hunk of info:
This season, there are 102 total men from Alberta playing NCAA Division I hockey, which is the most ever. In fact, Alberta trails only Ontario (161) among Canadian provinces that send men to NCAA Div. I hockey. And if you consider population, there are more Albertans playing NCAA Div. I men’s hockey in 2022-23 than any other province on a per capita basis.
Why are so many men from Alberta playing Div. I hockey? It seems the answer is rooted in simplicity: the path is laid out for the player and is easily understood. Of the 102 Albertans playing men’s Div. I, 92 of them played in the Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL).
“Aspiring players from Alberta should take comfort in knowing that they can play minor hockey and college-eligible junior hockey in their home province and be seen frequently by coaches throughout college hockey,” said Calgary native, hockey coach and former University of North Dakota player Chris Leinweber. “Literally the only thing a young player from Alberta needs to do is play well.”
Besides the record number of Albertans playing NCAA Div. I hockey this season, other noteworthy themes emerged from the Alberta study:
· The average age at which an Albertan commits to his NCAA school is 19.3.
· The average age of an NCAA Division I freshman from Alberta this season is 20.5.
· The average age of all NCAA Division I players from Alberta this season is 22.1.
· Every AJHL team has at least two former players playing NCAA Div. I hockey this season.
Considering that the average age of an NHL rookie is older than 23, the typical NCAA timeline for a player from Alberta meshes nicely with professional hockey.
I'M JUST SAYIN'
* Darryl Sutter's admiration of washed-up Milan Lucic is indicative of the coach's one weakness. Lucic gets way too much playing time.
* Wake up, Darryl. This is not the same Milan Lucic who once steamrollered over NHL rinks.
* Sooner or later, the Big-Not-So-Bad Bruins will come down to NHL earth with a thud. Sort of like Calgary.
* The Global Series games have been so successful that an American-Israeli group is aiming to have the next round in September held at Jerusalem's 10,000-seat arena.
* The Play It Abroad outfit, headed by Alex Braverman, is dead serious about having a couple of NHL squads introduce the major league game to the Holy Land. Good idea, perhaps, but the obstacles are many.
* It previously was mentioned here that Penguins' right wing Kasperi Kapanen is an example of a vastly overpaid player. Now he's morphed into a vastly overpaid NON-player. On Wednesday night – in a crucial game against Washington – he was a healthy scratch. (I wonder who blew that signing.)
THE GOALIE WATCH – FOUR GOODIES WITH THE PADS
The reason I know that the estimable George (Find Me A Goalie And I'll Find You a Book) Grimm knows all about The Padded Ones is from his superior work, Guardians Of The Goal. Thus, when he was asked to pick four good, young, NHL crease-watchers, he came through as you now will see:
The assignment was to come up with three or four young NHL goalies to keep an eye on this season. But with 32 teams and so much turnover in the crease, it’s hard to keep track. So, I turned to my own goalie guru Jerry Hack, of British Columbia, a former senior league netminder in Western Canada and author of Memoir of a Hockey Nobody for his input. Go, Jerry, go:
“I really like Jeremy Swayman (23 years old, 6-foot-2, 184 pounds) from Boston, Spencer Knight (21, 6-foot-3, 192 pounds) from Florida and Joel Hofer (22, 6-foot-3, 160 pounds) who played for the Swift Current Broncos in the WHL and is currently playing in the St. Louis Blues farm system,” reported Hack.
“Also, the Canucks just traded Michael DiPietro (23, six-feet, 200 pounds) to Boston. I think the Canucks really missed the mark on this one. He has a ton of talent, but he's not a typical butterfly goalie. I'm hoping he connects better with the Bruins goaltending coaches. The kid is great in front of a microphone too, very upbeat,” Hack added.
A SOLUTION IN SEARCH OF A PROBLEM
From his perch atop the Santa Barbara Ice Rink's Zamboni, Joltin' Joe Dionisio sees all and hears much, especially when the Z's motor is off. Listen up, folks, our Joe is hot under the collar:
Dumb rules, the sequel: The Los Angeles Kings recently lost a game arguably due to well-intentioned yet overzealous rulemaking. While pinned into their defensive zone late in a tie game, a Kings defender lost his helmet. He headed to the bench and watched his shorthanded teammates near-instantly give up the game-winning goal.
He was obeying NHL rule 9.6, launched in 2019-20, which declares: “A player whose helmet comes off during play must exit the playing surface, or retrieve it within a reasonable period of time."
The goal only took an instant. Had the defender not exited the ice, the score remains tied, and the Kings might have won the contest.
Although I’d never minimize the reality of head injuries, NHL rule 9.6 is my definition of “A solution in search of a problem.” The NHL went helmet-less for nine decades, so I don’t see the harm in allowing a player to perform for a few seconds, to avoid handing the opponent a freebie scoring chance. Before this rule, was there any track record of an NHLer suffering an injury in the brief 10 seconds after he lost his bucket?
Try this scenario: Stanley Cup, Game 7. In a corner scrum, a savvy veteran surreptitiously dislodges a foe’s helmet and avoids a roughing penalty for purposely removing an opponent’s helmet, as per rule 9.6. The hat-less skater leaves the ice as his team allows a Cup-clinching goal. It’s hardly a stretch of the imagination.
I say let the helmet-less player fulfill his on-ice defensive responsibilities… and when all is safe and his sextet goes on offense, then he’s obligated to leave the ice.
This rule is wildly inconsistent with NHL policy. If the league truly seeks a hard-line, zero-tolerance policy on head health, why is fighting still permitted? There are myriad instances of players losing their helmets and suffering injuries during fisticuffs. But during quick snippets of normal gameplay? That, I don’t recall.
And never forget how glorious it is for hockey photographers to capture a star skater, sans chapeau, in the heat of the action with flowing hair and every inch of his facial expression on display. That was proven by the halcyon days of 1960s NHL photography.
YAYS AND BOOS
YAY TO CHRIS NEIL: A Senator through and through – all 15 years of them – he'll have his No. 25 retired on Feb. 17. GM Pierre Dorion put it well: "Chris was the ultimate character player."
BOO TO TIMOTHY LILJEGREN: After his Leafs lost to Vegas and goalie Erik Kallgren made a measly 16 saves, Liljegren had the nerve to declare that his goalie was "unreal." (Yeah, un-really bad.) Then, the defender added: "(Erik) played a great game." (He must have meant grate game.)
YAY TO THE DEVILS: New Jersey was picked seventh in the Met. Right now, Lindy Ruff's sextet is aiming for the stratosphere.
BOO TO HARD-TO-DEFINE HOCKEY WORDS: The latest – beaten to a pulp – is structure – as if anyone really knows what it means other than "structure," as in CN Tower or Empire State Building.
WHO SAID IT? "It's like I've been put in a closet and stowed away."
COACHES ON THE SIZZLING SEAT
Our Gus Vic has plugged in his heating pad to determine which NHL coaches can best handle the November heat. Gus feels that warmth is rising for the following bench bosses:
Craig Berube is all but done. At the beginning of the week week, his Blues did some good things in Boston but lost and then got crushed on Tuesday night, so this could be a case of a team wildly skating in all directions at once.
I also believe that Brad Larsen is in trouble in Columbus, and the slope has become a bit slippery for Bruce Boudreau in Vancouver.
Funny how the October reports of Lindy Ruff’s imminent demise have been premature – by miles and years, take your pick.
ANSWER TO WHO SAID IT? Arturs Irbe, on being the third-string goalie for the San Jose Sharks.