Next Season’s Travels

Hello from Calgary, where I got to go to the Hockey Canada Junior Showcase.  Hockey in August.  Add to that the Oilers rookie camp I saw and this will have been a year of hockey in every month.

I’ve been looking ahead to next season, seeing what hockey games are near where I am scheduled to be, and things are looking interesting.  I start the preseason in San Jose, move down the coast for the start of the NHL season to Costa Mesa, then Denver for a month, and finish the year in Chicago.  Then I head east to Tampa, Durham, and finish the regular season in Schenectady.  For the playoffs, I’ll be in Richmond and Madison, WI.   Some hockey hot-beds and some not.

There are some interesting possibilities for hockey this year.  A few SPHL venues, some AHL teams I’ve never seen at home, my first WSHL games, and hopefully, a return to the GLHL.

Often, when I go to a game and post about it here, things are rather quiet.  Some of you are die-hard, and I truly appreciate it.  But getting the word out is hard.  There isn’t a lot of space to promote these days.

Also, that doing this costs money can’t be ignored.  It’s a labor of love, but when I hear from very few people after I post a game, I wonder what the real reach is, and who likes what I am doing.  It puts the money I spend on going to games and getting to games in perspective. Would I go to games without doing the posts?  Maybe some of them.

So I would like to hear from you, either here in the comments or on twitter, about what you like or don’t like about the travel posts, or if you like them at all.  What would you like to see more or less of next season?

I’m also considering moving the travel posts to a new site.  The JAHL site is great, but it has a voice of its own.  I would like to do more photo essays on the places I go, and I don’t think JAHL has the right voice for that.  A different space and a bit of a relaunch might be appropriate for next season.

Thanks, and I look forward to hearing from you.

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Thin Air: 1-800-SCRUM-STOPPERS

Look who’s back, back again.

– In the triple OT Blackhawks – Predators game 4, I don’t recall a single scrum in front of the net.  Maybe a shove or two, but nothing even remotely violent.  Hmmm…..

That points to the real value of these scrums: almost none.  No one wants to go to the penalty box when the next goal might cost them the game.  Not that these post-regulation scrums would cause a power play.  At best, we would see coincidental minors (unless something truly violent happened), as the refs don’t want to cause the game to be won on the power play.  The refs have put their whistles away, so why not have at it?

Maybe everyone is just tired.  They could have a lot more hockey to play and don’t want to use up the energy.  Perhaps the message – whatever message that is – has been sent.

Or maybe, there isn’t much of a point to it in the first place.

Would anyone miss them?  After a few gatherings of little consequence, no one in the stands is excited for them.

Going back to calling cross checks and stick infractions for a moment, maybe the players being afraid of a penalty call and putting their team down a man in the playoffs is enough to change behavior, unlike being punched in the face.

If you call the cross checks, you won’t see them, as the stakes for being in the box during the playoffs are so large.  In the regular season, forget about it.  The fate of teams won’t be sealed by one game in the middle of the season.  At least, not in their minds.  One game in the playoffs?  You bet they pay attention.

– The value of staying out of the penalty box is obviously higher in overtime, since the stakes are so high.  But what about the value in regulation?  There may be time to get a goal back, but what is at stake when you go to the box in the first sixty minutes?

Of the 27 games of playoff hockey so far, 14 have ended as a one goal game.  Seven of those ended in OT.  Also, in the other 13 games played that ended with more than a one goal deficit, six of those featured an empty net goal from the winning team.  That means that the losing team felt they still had a chance to win enough to pull the goalie.

Twenty of the twenty-seven games played could have been swung by a goal or two.  That same goal that is prized so much in overtime could have settled things in regulation.

The argument could be made that if a team didn’t score a power play goal, the penalty didn’t matter in the end.  Not true, since two minutes of killing a penalty is two minutes you aren’t in control of your own destiny.  You have to defend, when you could be controlling the play.

The value of regulation hockey doesn’t seem as big since it is spread out over so much time, and the stakes seem lower.  The regular season proves that.  4,920 minutes of regulation hockey is a lot of hockey.  There are Meat Loaf albums that are shorter than that.  Not many, but they exist.  Spread out a lost point here or there, and you don’t even see it.  But it can bite you in the end.  Ask the Bruins or Kings.

Teams that take silly penalties might want to think this one over.

– If the same Islanders team that started last night’s OT loss to Washington has stayed on the ice the entire game, they could have destroyed the Capitals.  They were fast, passed the puck well, and constantly attacking.  Instead, they changed their tune after Washington got on the board.  Playoff hockey is a hard pace to keep up.  That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t, or can’t.

–  I just wrote a whole draft about Dustin Byfuglien and his press scrum after game 3 of their playoff series against the Ducks.

Instead of all that, what I really want to say is, nice one, Dustin.

Thin Air – What’s This?

It’s been a while since I’ve used this blog to talk, you know, hockey.  Hockey that’s actually happening right now.  Or the NHL.  But hey, let’s give this a shot, eh?

– The NHL is getting two things very wrong in the playoffs.  Letting the post-whistle scrums happen as often as they are, and not calling cross-checking in front of the net.  We don’t either of these happen as often in the regular season, and there is no reason to have it here.

First, the scrums.  Once or twice, the fans of the game don’t mind.  It’s a little exciting.  It’s violent and passionate, without being too violent.  After a few times, the message is sent.  No, you ain’t gonna take it.  We get it.  I think this should be treated by the officials like they treat bean balls in baseball.  You get one.  You might get two.  Then the refs send the warning to the benches, and start handing out penalties.  Matching minors isn’t going to get the job done, so start shortening the benches.  Start sending guys for two and a ten-minute misconduct.  That will put the cramp on things.  You start a scrum, two and ten.  Pop a guy in the face with a glove, two and ten.  Try to shove off a ref to keep a scrum going, two and ten.

This means players may try to get a star player to engage in a scrum to get him off the ice for ten minutes.  That just means stars have to stay out of it and the refs have to protect the players who don’t want to engage by getting the instigators sent off the ice.  A few of those and you can kiss many of the scrums goodbye.

Second, the cross-checking.  This has to stop.  Battles are fine, but using the stick to clear a guy out is cheating.  It’s cheap.  Most of the time, it’s at the least interference.  Start sending guys to the box for it.  It’s already a penalty.

In these playoffs, we’ve seen a few cross-checks called, and almost universally, the player sent off complains in some fashion about the penalty.  NHL players complain about almost every penalty (stop it, we know you’re embarrassed and don’t want your penalty to be a liability), but here I think they have a point.  If the refs are only going to call the most obvious cross-checks and not the ones that still knock a guy down but seem incidental, it isn’t consistent enough.  Call them all.  Set the tone, and keep the tone.

– The Winnipeg Jets are now down 3 games to none.  It’s not surprising, considering they were the last wild card team and Anaheim is tops in the West.  Still, they aren’t doing themselves any favors.  They can’t seem to stop doing dumb things like punching Corey Perry in the back of the head.  Sure, lot’s of people want to do that, but if you are Dustin Byfuglien, you could have picked a better time than immediately after he scored a goal.  It was the definition of the undisciplined play that held Winnipeg back in the regular season.

Somehow, the Ducks did not score a power play goal last night.  That honor went to the Jets, but if you want to put yourself in a bad position, keep taking useless penalties.  Shake your head like it’s not your fault.  Guess what.  It is your fault.

– There was a time when the most overused phrase was “active stick.”  Someone must have pulled Eddie Olzcyk aside and told him to give it a break.  This year, it’s “big boy hockey.”  OK, we get it.  It’s funny for a moment.  Then it isn’t.  Let’s retire this one after this round of playoffs.  Or even sooner.  It’s already overused.

– Josh Cooper of Puck Daddy called Patrick Roy’s coaching style “nutso.”  No, really.  Of course, that’s not what the players say.  They say he is positive.  They say he is calm.  When they are expecting him to blow his top or scream at them, he doesn’t.  He explains, he teaches.  This is from the players.  Other than shoving the glass in game one of his first season behind the bench, where does the “nutso” thing come from?

– I’ve seen it before, but the claim that Connor McDavid should have gone to Toronto, and that it would be the best thing for the league, is completely ridiculous.  Why would you want the best player in the draft, the best draftee available since Sidney Crosby, to go to hockey hell?  Why would you subject him to that kind of media attention, which TOTALLY isn’t the problem in Toronto?  Why would you want to ruin him by putting him in that environment?  Instead, he will be in a city that doesn’t question his every move, that doesn’t demand an explanation for every step or misstep, that doesn’t slag him at every turn.  Hockey entitlement isn’t exclusive to Eastern Canada, but there’s less of it.

It sucks that the Oilers get the number one pick again simply because they have done so little with their string of number one picks in the past.  They haven’t gotten the goaltending they need, even if they have thrown every goalie they can against the wall to see what sticks, then thrown them under the bus when they don’t.  They haven’t made moves that have dug them out of the basement, and they get another shot to draft a very good player and do nothing after.

I believe they are going to finally start moving some pieces around, now that McDavid is in the mix.  First, Nail Yakupov is probably trade bait.  Why would you keep him around?  He hasn’t worked out, he could use the change of scenery, and you aren’t going to be able to pay him once you give McDavid a big fat contract in a few years.  Flip him for a solid defenseman and a potential defenseman or prospect and you have started to right the ship.  Then go shopping for a goalie.  The Oilers are about to have some serious goal support.  They are about to become a destination, not purgatory.  They might even get a good head coach this season, considering all the firings that have happened this summer.  McDavid is going to be a draw, for fans and players.  Everyone will want to play with him.

– All of that is contingent on McDavid transitioning smoothly to the NHL, and some fourth liner not taking his head off in a “welcome to the NHL” moment.  Ben Lovejoy on Nathan MacKinnon in the first game last season, anyone?  That kind of garbage has to stop.  I wouldn’t mind the NHL doing some unfair and uneven protecting of it’s stars and top draftees.  Throw the book at players trying to injure the new kids.  The bias needs to be in favor of the talent.

As for making the transition, we’ve seen this take time.  The leap from the minors to the NHL is large enough.  From juniors, where you might be the only player worth a damn on the ice on any given night, to the NHL is a gigantic leap.  It can take time to get used to adapt to having teammates that can catch passes, or how fast the league is.  You are used to bouncing off of boys in their teens.  Now you are slamming into men at high-speed, who have done this for years.  Be prepared for it to take some time for the adjustment (another reason putting him in Toronto would be bad for him).

– If and when the Penguins are eliminated from the playoffs, there will be a search for a scapegoat.  This season, it will not be Marc-Andre Fleury.  He’s been solid all season, and he has been good in these first few playoff games.  His problem is that he hasn’t been this good every year.  He is a question mark because he used to be a question mark, and some day, he will be be one again.  For now, he is playing solid hockey.  Were his star forwards playing the same way, they would be in command of this series.

– My buddy Bill Rob asked me who was going to win the Cup this year.  I told him the same thing I will tell everyone: who knows?  Too many toss-ups in the first round.  We will have to see how this shakes out.  There are a few certain series, but most of them are too close to call.  That’s part of the fun.

Indy Fuel vs. Evansville Icemen: Back to the Future

If memory serves, the last time I was in Indianapolis for a game was 2008, when the team was the Indiana Ice of the USHL.  Before that, it was 2004 and the Indianapolis Ice was in their 15th season and playing in the UHL.  Ah, the old Pepsi Coliseum.  It was a barn.  A shed.  Heck, it was barely four walls and a roof.  It was barely a floor and an ice surface.

Ah, there it is.  In all its municipal glory.

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Well, might as well head in.  It’s raining outside and I’m sure there are mice in the place waiting for me to drop a little snack or two for them.  Just try not to touch anything too grimy and keep your hand sanitizer close.

Wait… What?

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What is this?  Where am I?  This can’t be the old Pepsi Coliseum, can it?  Where is the pro shop stocked with years-old Jofa gear?  Where are the tiny bathrooms?  What do you mean I have to go upstairs to get to the seats?  WHEN DID THEY GET AN UPSTAIRS?!?!?

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Wait, you can see in here now?  There’s a roof?  The paint on the outside glass isn’t peeling?

IS THAT A SCOREBOARD WITH VIDEO?????

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You see where I’m going with this, right?  This is quite a transformation.  Because believe me, there wasn’t a bar like this here before.  I would have known.

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The whole place was renovated and renamed in the last few years.  They gutted the building and in it’s place, installed what looks like the worlds largest Larkburger.

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I was gobsmacked.  That’s the only word I can use to describe it.  This is so different from the old arena.  It looked like somewhere people would actually want to be.

We will get back to the old place in a bit, but first, the players are taking the ice, and WHOA!!!!

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I can not guarantee that the player in the picture is not on fire.  But he isn’t.  So relax, kids.

ACTION!!!

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I just really like this photo for some reason.

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This was the theme for the night.  Pucks at the Evansville goalie.

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Sometimes, it’s the simple solutions that work the best.

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It was superhero night at the game, so we all got a free comic book.  It was more like an Indy Fuel coloring book, but it was a nice gesture.  Some fans got in to it as well.  This gentleman is the ever popular, fearful defender of truth and justice, Tough Guy On This Side Of The Glass Man.

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Let’s just get back to the game.

This is the Evansville goalie ducking a shot.  Yes, he is wearing a mask, but Evansville is nowhere near the playoffs.  Why take one in the noggin if you don’t have to?

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Check out this guy’s skates.  I think those are pads for shot-blocking, not just the tongue of his skates.

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Fancy Dan (his name is not Dan).

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I mentioned it was superhero night, right?  How hard was it to find a Batman mask that fit the mascot?

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Is there anything more demoralizing to a hockey player than a cleverly written message on a dry-erase board?

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I love this sequence of events.  Yes, it’s a goal, and yes, these photos are in the right order.  The glove isn’t fast enough, but that shot was in and out of the net in a hurry.

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At the other end, another glove save.  I’m sure there is something in the fundamentals of catching pucks that you watch it all the way into your glove (like my Dad always tried to teach me catching a baseball… tried), but the way the goalie held it there several times, you got the impression that someone criticized his glove hand recently, and he was trying to make a point.

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NO! YOUR SECRET IDENTITY IS REVEALED!

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Not the Batmobile.

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I will call him Orf.  (Sorry, inside joke)  Evansville should have signed this guy and taken him home with them.  They could have used him the next day (and you will see why in the next post).

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You can still see some of the old arena.  This wall used to have a Gretzky banner hanging on it.  If you aren’t sure why they would have a Gretzky banner in Indianapolis, you can find out more here.

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The bones of the place.

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This guy loves to smile.  I just saw him play in Cincinnati, and he was smiling.  It stood out.

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I’m a sucker for a flexing stick picture.

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The final, Evansville is shut out by the Indy Fuel, 3-0.  Here is the game sheet.  That seems bad for the Icemen, right?  It would be nothing compared to what happened the next night at home.  Stay tuned, true believers.

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As for Indianapolis, good for them for the improvements on the arena.  They managed to do something very few new buildings do, combine character with modern conveniences.  Part of that is because of the older parts of the arena that are still exposed, and partly because they made some good design decisions.  I like the place.  I look forward to going back when I am not so stunned by the remake.

Gatineau Olympiques vs. Rimouski Oceanic: In Quebec

I had originally tried to write something somewhat poetic about the differences between my experiences in Quebec and Ottawa.  Something about Parliament overlooking the town of Gatineau, about leaving the shiny polish of the country’s capital to the more working-class feel of the city in Quebec.  I even tried to quote the movie Goon.

None of it fit.  Crossing the bridge into Quebec, we were leaving a city and entering a town.  The main road was lined with houses and smaller businesses, not condos and department stores.  Gatineau was grey and piled with snow along the streets.  We finally got to our destination, and it didn’t look like much.

 

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When we told people we were coming to a game in Gatineau, everyone said the same thing: the fans are passionate about their hockey.  We didn’t know what to expect.  Was it going to be rough?  Were we going to be in the middle of another Danbury, home of the roughest fans I’ve ever seen?

Stepping through those red doors, we knew we were in for something different.  When we showed up to the Ottawa 67s game, we were at the wrong end of the building.  They escorted us through the building to will call to pick up our tickets.  Here, I decided to buy them at the box office.  So, apparently, did everyone else.

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When I go to new arenas, I have to rely on the people there to fill me in on what is normal for the place and what is not.  According to those I talked to, this was normal.  We only had half an hour before game time to get to our seats, and I didn’t know if we were going to make it.

This is not a big space.  The lines are ten deep and you could hardly squish any more people into the area.  As we waited, the team mascot Hully worked the crowd a little.

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Yes, those are bulging googly eyes. They make for an interesting effect when you see it live.  The kids loved Hully.  You could buy a mascot doll and take him home with you.

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We got out ticket, and headed in to the arena.

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At the Robert Guertin Centre, the walkway around the arena is behind the seats at the top.  There is some room to move around next to the rink, but everything you want is above and behind.  The place reminded me of Germain Arena, home of the Florida Everblades.  There is a dark and well-worn feel to the place.

A few things to note.  The benches and the penalty boxes are on opposite sides of the ice from each other.

The seating is steep, so sitting a few rows back still provides a good view.  But it’s the back row that’s really unusual.  I like to sit around 10-15 rows back.  This put us in the last row.  Not a big deal, but our center ice seats were between some of the structure of the building.  To get to them, we had to walk through the row in front of ours.  Here is what it looks like after the game.

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The ceiling over that back row is low.  How low?

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Is that duck face? I think it is. I’m not sure.

Yes, that’s a plywood ceiling.  And the lighting is pretty basic.

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This is an old barn.  There’s nothing wrong with that. Talking with a few of the fans, there is an expectation that a new arena will be built soon.  But there are, as with anything involving arenas, plenty of hold ups.  I didn’t do a lot of research, but it seems that the local government may have something to do with it.

But barns like this have character.  I have yet to see a modern arena that has constructed character.  That takes history, inconvenience, and no small amount of discomfort.

But man, what a view.

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This is Quebec, so all the announcements are in French first, and occasionally English.  The penalties and game-related info is in both languages, everything else is only in French.  What I found out was that it didn’t matter.  Most hockey games follow the same structure.  They all follow the same basic script.  Besides, most of what happens off the ice for a game can be ignored.  If there was something really important, like an evacuation, panic is the same in any language.

Hully get’s the pregame ceremonies out of the way…

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Man, those eyes.

Let’s get to some action.

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Rimouski was the best team in the league (they finished the regular season as the top team and just won their first playoff series).  The Olympiques are not doing so hot in the standings.  This game was on Sunday, February 22nd.  They had beaten Chicoutimi on Friday, but there may have been some shenanigans going on after that game.  From Buzzing the Net from Yahoo! Sports:

The issue of young athletes and sexual entitlement has come to the fore once again following disturbing allegations against several members of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s Gatineau Olympiques.

On Monday, Le Droit’s Louis-Denis Ebacher reported that Gatineau police have received a formal complaint about indecent acts involving “at least six” players and an intoxicated woman at a Boston Pizza restaurant last Friday, following the Olympiques’ win over the Chicoutimi Saguenéens.

There was more allegations to come, from things that may have happened a month before.  You can read about that here.

We knew none of this.  The article above posted the day after this game.  I don’t know if the fans knew anything.  We were there for a hockey game.  I have no idea if any of that carried into this game, but it was one of the most physical games I’ve ever seen.

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Rimouski got 22 minutes in penalties, Gatineau had 20.  Somehow, Gatineau only registered seven hits and Rimouski seventeen.  That feels a bit low.

(some of these photos look a little pixelated small.  I don’t know why.  They look better bigger.  Click them if you want better versions).

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The fans absolutely loved it.  While Ottawa was a social gathering, this was a party.  The fans knew their hockey and they let the players and the refs know it.  They booed, they cheered, they were into the game in a way that Ottawa wasn’t.

Glove save and a beauty.

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That’s a goal.

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With the first period done, let’s head to the concourse.

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If everything seems a little drab and grey, that’s how the place is.  The lighting is all fluorescent tubes, the walls are grey and blue, and the ceilings are low.  There isn’t a lot of room to move around.

Box seats over the crowd.

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There is some history here.  Check out the photos from the 1997 Memorial Cup championship.

A few of the banners flying over the ice.

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The flags.

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The thing that stood out to me about how different hockey was here than anywhere else I’d been was one of the smallest things.  It wasn’t the French PA announcer.  It wasn’t the fans.  It wasn’t the arena.  It was the kids skating between periods.

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You know how it goes.  The kids come out, the Charlie Brown music plays, and everyone gets a good laugh as they run around the ice, chasing the puck, clumps of kids crashing into each other.  It’s cute.

Not here.  These kids could skate.  I don’t mean they could stay on their feet.  I don’t mean they could run on their skates.  No, they could SKATE.  They didn’t all chase after the puck, they played positions.  These were hockey players.  This is not what we see in the states.  All I could do was stare.

Back to the game.

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If there is an obvious fan favorite for the Olympiques, it is number 71, Tommy Veilleux.  He was a first round draft pick of Victoriaville and a sixth round pick of the Nashville Predators.  The crowd loved him.  They chanted his name.  They wanted him to take care of the rough stuff.  In this game, he would take three penalties, two for roughing and one for checking from behind.  He was scrappy. Here he is, ready to go.

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This led to a roughing penalty and roughing and checking from behind penalties for Dunn of Rumouski.  Veilleux did not appreciate any of it, and let Dunn know.

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Back to the action.

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That’s a goal!

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Good to see some hockey being played and… Oh come on!

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This was how the night went.  Hockey, roughing, hockey, scrum, hockey, roughing, repeat.  Meg said to me, “Can you imagine if this was your first hockey experience?”  If this were someone’s first game, I don’t know what they would think of if.

This was not a goal.

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Second intermission.  At least this one didn’t feature eight year old kids who put my skating to shame.  It did have the popular shaved ice stand.

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Some good deals at the concession stand.

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Back to the third period.

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That’s a broken stick.

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GOOOAAALLLL!!!!!!

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This put Gatineau up 2-1 with about 7:30 left to play in the game.  Rimouski brought everything they had.

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It was not enough.  Gatineau wins the game, 2-1.  You would have thought they won the championship, they way they acted after the game.

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The photos don’t do it justice.  It was a huge celebration for a regular season win.  I asked the people sitting next to me why, and all they said was that it was a big game for them.

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What would come next for Gatineau?  The next day, there would be controversy.  Soon after, major problems.  For this night, an intense game of hockey.

 

Ottawa 67s vs. Saginaw Spirit: Space Oddity

They say that in space, no one can hear you scream.  If you find yourself at a Ottawa 67s home game, you don’t have to worry about it.  No one is making much noise at all.

One of my bucket list items / dream vacations was to go to Ottawa and skate the Rideau Canal.  It’s a wonderful experience, and if you are a skater, pencil it in on your itinerary.  Treat yourself, and treat it like a ski vacation.

We flew in on a Friday with enough time for a brief skate and take in a 67s game.  The arena itself makes going to the game worth it.

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This is TD Place, the home of the Ottawa 67s, as seen from the Rideau Canal.  But let’s look at it from the side.

(And as ever, click the photo to make it bigger)

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That’s a little odd, it looks like grandstands.  Outside.  That’s because TD Place is also where the Ottawa Redblacks, the CFL team, play.  And yes, they play outdoors.  So what is going on here?  So glad you asked.  Step inside to find out.

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I’ve never done this before, but I think this needs a little markup to see all the weird stuff going on here.

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First, the red arrow.  TD Place is a few venues in one, but this takes it to a whole new level.  It’s not unusual to see the underside of the stands overhead in the concourse of a hockey arena.  It is unusual to see the underside of the stands for a FOOTBALL STADIUM poke into a hockey arena.  Huh?

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Let’s talk about the green arrow.  That’s the main lighting for the ice surface.  Mostly on one side and fairly low. It creates a strange look for the game.

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You might think, well, that sucks for the people who have to face those lights.  Yes, but at least there aren’t that many of them, and that leads us to the yellow arrow.  Those seats are under the football stadium seating, and therefore can only go so high.  So they are covered by a false ceiling and limited to ten rows.

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Note the scoreboard on the TV.  The rest of the arena can see the large screen mounted over the short side seating (I don’t know what else to call it), but the people sitting here can’t.  This is a decent solution, but I wonder how many TVs have been damaged by flying pucks.

There’s a nice food spread on this side.  Possibly an all-you-can-eat setup, but I’m not sure.

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Other food options on this side.  The garlic fries were excellent.

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From the far corner under the ceiling.

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You can see how lopsided this arena is, but to truly appreciate it, the side view really shows it off.

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Here is the view from our center ice seats.  The lighting is less oppressive on this side.

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Let’s get to some game action.

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At the top of the post, I said no one could hear you scream.  Here, no one screamed.  Hardly anyone yelled.  It was one of the quietest games I’ve ever been to.  When I say that, keep in mind that I’m a Colorado Avalanche fan, and I’ve compared the atmosphere at the Pepsi Center to a wine and cheese party.  I had to ask the people sitting next to me if it was always like this.  Turns out, it is.

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During the game, the arena staff had to fix the netting.  But why is this guy being held up rather than standing on a ladder? Because they only had one ladder and needed it for another part of the netting.  Remember folks, safety first, and if not, safety second.

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Back to the game.

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The 67s have a raccoon as a mascot. But they also had the Redblacks’ mascot in attendance.  Hey, I didn’t name them.

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Oh, this will end well.

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It didn’t end well at all.  The raccoon mascot decided to ‘check’ the lumberjack mascot head first.  It was not a good idea.  I got the impression there was some pain involved, but neither one of them showed it.

Nice big hallways.

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There are some luxury boxes, but they aren’t in use.  Need a little work.

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Second period action.

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Glove save.

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Let’s all go to the snack bar and get ourselves some… poutine.

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Third period action.

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Your final, the 67s handed Saginaw their backsides, 4-1. The game sheet is here.  You can read it as a bedtime story.  It will put you to sleep.

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A weird arena and a tame game.  Two days later, things would be very, very different.

Mississippi Riverkings vs. Pensacola Ice Flyers: Pink In The Rink

This weekend, the Riverkings held their Pink in the Rink game, to support breast cancer awareness and donate to local cancer charities.  They wore pink jerseys that were auctioned off at the end of the game, with proceeds going to charity, and held a raffle to shave player’s heads.  More on that in a bit.

This was a return to the scene of the crime.  The Riverkings faced off against the Pensacola Ice Flyers, who the Riverkings beat 6-2 last week in Mississippi, and 3-1 in Pensacola the night before this game.  The Ice Flyers were 0-6-1 in their last seven coming into the game, and this was the ninth of ten meeting between these teams.  Needless to say, Pensacola wanted this one.

I’ve been to a few pink jersey games.  I even own a pink jersey.  These are the pinkest jerseys I have ever seen.  Ever.

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Wow.  Seriously pink.  I had a moment of cognitive dissonance, simultaneously wanting one of these and never wanting to wear one.  They are quite something.

The fans brought out their pink jerseys from previous games.   As with any photo, click it to get a better look.

But we came for a game, so let’s get to it.  Action!

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Yes, that’s Flemming, from the 6-2 loss last week.  He faired better this time, but he faced a “measly” 26 shots compared to 50 last game.

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Sometimes this is what they mean by paying the price in front of the net.  Just staying there can be a challenge.

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That’s a goal.

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We head to intermission, which featured a youth hockey shootout.  Love this stuff.

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The fans love it too.

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The first intermission also featured a wedding proposal.  Unlike the AHL All Star game I went to in 2005, she said yes.

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Back to the game.

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Bodies everywhere!

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And a fight.

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This eventually went it.

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At the second intermission, the Riverkings led 2-1.  The coach for Pensacola didn’t agree with a face off location and wanted to discuss it with the refs.  He didn’t care for what he heard.

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Second intermission featured a diamond giveaway, which this guy won.

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Third period action!  That’s a goal, and the Ice Pilots tie it up 2-2.

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The Riverkings would get it back shortly, and pull ahead 3-2 with plenty of hockey to play.

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Daniel Sobotka of the Riverkings is listed as 6-6.  He is the tallest guy on the ice.  Remarkably so.

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This didn’t go in.

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The final, the Riverkings beat the Pensacola Ice Pilots for the third time in a row, 3-1.  A more evenly matched affair, Pensacola turned up the effort in the end, but could not get one past the ‘Kings.

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BUT WE ARE NOT DONE!  We still have a jersey auction and a post-game skate.

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Here’s how the Riverkings run their jersey auction.  The bidding would start and the highest bid would win a jersey.  That winner would get their pick of jersey, then the bidding would start again.  The next high bidder got to choose from what was left.  I thought this was a cool way of doing it, so you could pay a little more to get the jersey you wanted, rather than wait for a player’s name to come up and a bitter bidding way to start.  It kept the pace of the auction moving along as well, unlike San Antonio where it took a long time to get though.  If I remember correctly, highest bid was around $700 and lowest was around $250.  The auctioneer wasn’t well prepared and had to be coached along as to what was going on, but once he got on board, things picked up nicely.

While that was happening, there was a skate with the players going on.

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Every so often, they would come off the ice to give up their jersey to the auction.

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If you are a pure NHL fan, I hope this illustrates how close the fans are to the players, both in terms of proximity and of connection.  There are a lot of good reasons this sort of thing doesn’t happen with players earning millions of dollars.  There are many more good reasons it happens at this level.

The players take time to skate with the younger fans.

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Then it was head shaving time.

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Not all the players were so “lucky.”

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And that does it from Mississippi.  One more Riverkings game to go.  Looking forward to it.

Mississippi Riverkings vs. Pensacola Ice Flyers: What Is That Thing?

Sometimes, a game is simply a game.  There isn’t a lot of depth or wackiness to the thing.  You go, you have a good time, you see a hockey game.  Not every game is a transcending experience.  They don’t all have something you have never seen before, or something so remarkable that it requires some long exposition.

This is one of those games.

Rather then make it out to be something it isn’t, let’s simply enjoy the experience of a fun hockey game together.  This coming weekend is the Pink in the Rink game, and I will have more pictures from that.

Welcome to the Landers Center.

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For all the talk I do about cookie cutter arenas, the Landers Center is not that, at least, not on the outside.  It looks like it tries to honor some of the southern Antebellum architecture style (yes, I had to look it up).  There are even some highlights of that in the concourses.

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It looks completely cosmetic, but it’s great to see a building try to be somewhat modern while being stylish as well.

Let’s head inside.

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This was taken at the second intermission, so no snarking on the crowd.  The crowd was great.  They had more life than I’ve seen at some NHL games.  They love their Riverkings.

We got to the game a little late, due to some work scheduling issues (not mine, as I don’t have a job (but if you have one for me, that contact page is here)), so we missed a few goals, and the Riverkings led the game 2-1.  Right after we sat down, the Riverkings made things interesting my maybe scoring.  At least that’s what the goal judge thought.  Not so much the ref.  In the minor leagues, they don’t have the sort of setup as they have in the NHL.  There is no War Room to call, and the ref’s decision is the final say.  That said, a call was made.  To the goal judge, to see what they saw.

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I admit, I had never seen this before.  There was no goal, so play moved on.

Action!
(click any picture to make it bigger)

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Yes, the lighting in the corners does leave a little to be desired.

There are a few photos and sequences I have here that I call, “what is going on there?”  Such as the legs of the player to the left.

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Or what is the goalie doing here?

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I guess that works.  Here is the goalie making a save and batting the puck away.

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The mascot for the Riverkings is a turtle.  Here is the turtle mascot scaring a kid.

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I’m with you kid, I’m with you.

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This goalie looks almost too perfect for a goalie.  He looks like a drawing or a graphic of a goalie you would use on something that you wanted to convey, “this is what a hockey goalie looks like.”  If you made a silhouette of this guy, he would be the perfect hockey goalie clipart.

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Let’s head to the pro shop to get our puck.  And some… hockey socks?

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Yep, those are hockey socks, and I guess they are for sale.  They look new and unused, maybe overstock from previous games. I like it.

Here is the pink jersey they will wear for their game this weekend.

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That could be the most pink jersey I have ever seen.  Wow.

It was military appreciation night, so there were charities set up in the concourse.  The support dogs were the hit of the night.

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Here are a few Riverkings alternate jerseys for you.

Wait, is that last guy on the wrong side of the glass, or am I?  I am, and I will get to that in a moment.

Back to the action!

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Go Kings Go.

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A few nice goalie sequences.

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And on the other end…

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And back…

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And one more time…

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And that ends the second.  Let’s see what the booster club has.

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You don’t see this often at minor league games, an all you can eat option.

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That includes beer.  If this were an NHL game with NHL prices, you would jump at that price.  Here, it’s a little more friendly to your budget (but not that much more), so if you are hungry, it makes total sense.

Back to the third period!

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Backup goalies.

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The final, YOUR Riverkings 6, the Ice Flyers 2.  Shots on goal were 50-29 favoring the Riverkings.

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But we aren’t done yet.  We get to do a post game skate.

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They actually have a pretty good setup for a post game skate.  This is why I was on the ice side of the glass for that autism jersey above.

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The bench.

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Banners.

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And that does it from the Landers Center.  Yes, it was JUST a hockey game.  But just a hockey game is still a hockey game, and I love a hockey game.  I had a good time, and I’m looking forward to doing it again this weekend.  It’s going to be hard to bring you much that is new from the game on Saturday, other than a lot of pinkness, but I will do my best.

Until then, happy hockey.

Wysh and a Prayer: Clever Headline, eh?

Last night, flipping between hockey games in my current hovel in Memphis, TN, I saw this tweet come across my twitter feed.

And my immediate thought was this: You better tell him who the hell you are.

Greg Wyshynski has been the editor of Puck Daddy for Yahoo! Sports for years, leaving AOL Fanhouse to start the site.  If you are reading this blog, you probably know who he is.  He’s orbited some blogging controversies lately, like the removal of Harrison Mooney from the blog.  He’s criticized often, sometimes pretty rudely.  His mentions on twitter usually feature the words “idiot.”  He takes a lot of crap.

He is also a friend.  Well, friend might be a strong word.  We have walked in the same circles for years, but I don’t call him up to chat and visa versa.  I really like Greg, I have hung out with him, seen a Washington Capitols game with him, and if I’m around, he tries to make time for me.  Better than acquaintances, but not quite call you up friends.  I don’t know what you call that.  Stephen King says in his book On Writing that you should think of an ideal reader and write to impress them.  When I was writing regularly on this site, I had two: Eric McErlain and Greg Wyshynski. If something I wrote was enjoyed by both, I had the perfect post.  I have a ton of respect for both those guys.  Love them to death.

My problem with Greg (or more accurately, my issue with what Greg does on his blog) has been what I considered an unnecessary meanness to the tone of Puck Daddy.  I didn’t like some of the directions the humor on PD went, and some of the choices in posts were maddening (the one with the kid picking his nose at a game was one of the worst).  Mind you, some of those posts are not ones Greg created, but he sets the tone of the site.

Some of it has come from Greg.  I took an exception to one of his jokes in a post a while back and said something about it (it was a throwaway fat joke).  I said something about it, Greg and I had a few (respectful) tweets back and forth about it, and that was it.  After that, I noticed a slight shift in tone in PD.  I don’t know if I had anything to do with that (I kind of doubt it) or if it’s simply a perception on my part, but I haven’t seen the kind of cruelty I used to see in their pages.

Back to the moment at hand, Greg and NHL Ref Tim Peel.  Peel has been an object of scorn for a long time on Puck Daddy.  He receives quite the thrashing on the site, and if something about Peel comes up, I tend to skip it.  I know the gag.  After a while, it’s wash, rinse, repeat.  It’s the same with a few of the recurring columns over there.  Nothing to see, move along.

Wysh and Peel in a bar.  It sounds like the setup to a gag, but no, they were meeting to have drinks and finally get some face time with each other. Greg wrote about it:

NHL referee Tim Peel and I are at Foley’s pub in New York, which is the only logical place for a hockey summit. He’s between games, having officiated in Washington the night before and headed over to New Jersey on Friday night. He’s affable, engaging, the kind of guy who gives you a tap on the knee before hitting a punchline in that “you’re going to want to hear this one” way.

And he’s sitting across from a guy who’s ridden his ass like a jockey for the last two years.

If you are in to verbal bloodsports, this is where you lick your chops and sit on the edge of your seat.  Here comes the smack down.

Anyway, here’s Peel, beer in hand, explaining that for all the derision, all the criticism, there was one thing that really hurt.

It was when he was named to officiate the Sochi Olympics hockey tournament in Dec. 2013, and our response was to publish a laundry list of his mistakes in the NHL. But it wasn’t so much that as the headline that got to him: “Tim Peel is an Olympic referee; what’s Russian for ‘blown call’?”

It was at that point, he tells me, when he realized that there was this permanent stigma attached to his name; that when his two young children are old enough, that they’ll search out their dad on the Internet and this is what they’ll find.

Yeah, that.  No smacking around, no sparing, just two people talking about the one connection they seem to have, the critic and the subject.

Whenever I think about PD, I have to remember that it was started in the era of the “snarky hockey blog.”  Sites were springing up left and right with a new model of success: we are snarkier than the last guy.  For a while, it works.  Heck, maybe it still does work.  Some of those sites are still around.  Some are doing really well.  Some simply burned out and faded away.  It’s a race to the bottom.  The problem with a race to the bottom is you might just win (h/t to Seth Godin for that).

Many of them deal in what I like to call “artless snark.”  Doesn’t need much explanation, does it?  Maybe a better way of putting it is the mean and cruel joke.  The throwaway.  It isn’t really snark, it’s just an excuse for a cheap shot.  And PD has peddled in those wares plenty of times.

So what next?  From the post on PD:

I couldn’t quite tell if he ultimately found our coverage amusing. I got the sense this meeting was so I could put a face to the name and he could do the same. That it was an informal request for fairness in criticizing him, and maybe not to be so abjectly nasty about it.

The former, frankly, I think we’ve done for years. Tim Peel can be a bad referee. His mistakes aren’t just goofs, they’re glaring, embarrassing moments. There’s a reason fans know his name, and it’s not because we write blog posts about him. It’s because he makes questionable calls, be it because he’s serving the League’s best interests or because he just didn’t get it right. If there’s any caveat I’d offer here, it’s that he’s not the only NHL referee to make these calls, although you’d think it based on fan reception.

That said … yeah, we could be nicer. Admittedly. He’s a good guy. He’s trying. Maybe we drop the banana peels at the very least. Because ultimately the goal is to criticize his performance, not crush his soul.

Nicer is a good start.  Even better would be dropping the meanness.  Or at the very least, make better jokes.  Evolve from the standard gag.  If you can’t make a new and better joke, maybe you shouldn’t make one in the first place.  Running gags are great, but has the gag worn thin?  It’s worth asking.

We like to think that the hockey players, refs, executives or anyone we write about shouldn’t care about what we say, and if they do, that’s their problem.  Free country, free speech, blah blah blah  (if the best defense you have for what you say is free speech, upgrade what you say).  But we know that isn’t the case, ala Phil Kessel for example.

I know I couldn’t take it.  I’ve shut off comments on the blog, taken social media hiatuses, and even thrown friends to the lions because I tend to be too thin-skinned around that kind if derision.

PD has gone away from criticism plenty of times.  While he says “ultimately the goal is to criticize his performance, not crush his soul,” Greg possesses the self-awareness to know this hasn’t entirely been the case.  He has defends his work enough to know where he strikes a chord and where he doesn’t.  He has also made editorial decisions to remove some of the bad choices and address them head on with the readership (case in point, the nose picking post mentioned above).

My hope is that PD moves away more from the cheap shot and mean streak the blog has been infused with for so long.  I believe Greg and his group are capable of better.  Not everything he does has to be a perfect journalistic output or a crusade for social justice.  But I would love to see the tone of the blog even out a bit.

Good for Greg for meeting with Tim Peel.  He said some things that were pretty mean about Peel, and he faced him.  It can be uncomfortable to do, but I believe when you write something about someone, you take your licks.  I did the same with Adrian Dater, and Greg did it here.  It is a surprisingly liberating thing to do.

It’s going to be interesting to see what happens the next time Peel makes a mistake.  I’ll certainly read that article.

Kessel and the Lack of Kindness in Hockey Coverage

Did you see Phil Kessel lash out at a reporter yesterday after Randy Carlyle was fired from the Leafs?  The Toronto Star’s Dave Feschuk asked Kessel if he was uncoachable.  It’s a pretty rough question to ask.  Kessel, obviously miffed, answers, which takes some courage and anger management skills.  Then Feschuk presses and asks again, which is where things go awry.

It reminded me of something I saw in the Edmonton Sun after Viktor Fasth was pulled from a game and yelled at the Oilers bench:

There was a scene in the Oilers dressing room as the media headed to the goaltenders corner.

“What was your mindset when you can off the ice?” came the first question from Mark Spector of Sportsnet.

“I gave up three goals,” said Fasth. “It’s not good enough.”

Your correspondent then asked him what he screamed at the players on the bench.

“Is that really the story, you guys are looking for?” said The Professor (apparently of journalism), Ben Scrivens, sitting beside him.

“Yes,” your agent replied.

“Stay out of our scrum. That’s the story we’re looking for. We’ll ask the questions here,” said Spector.

To me, that’s crazy.  This is how you talk to people you cover?  This is how it works in a locker room?  It’s amazing players keep their cool at all.

Let’s go back to Kessel for a moment.  He is the poster child for what is wrong with the Leafs, fair or not.  He is the guy who was traded for by a previous regime to a team that made the most of that trade.  And it’s the Leafs, which means that the media coverage, and therefor the beatings in the press, are constant.  Warranted or not, that is the hot seat he sits in.

Greg Wyshynski at Puck Daddy had some background on Dave Feschuk’s history with writing about Kessel (sorry for the lengthy quote, but I think it’s needed here):

This isn’t just some random reporter asked Phil Kessel, essentially, if he killed his second coach in Toronto. This is a guy who has written in the last two years that:

The Leafs should trade Kessel while his value is high. Also, David Clarkson had “a Bruins-worthy heaviness and has scored 30 goals in a season.”

The Leafs might not be able to win with Kessel; or as he wrote, “Can the Leafs win anything of significance if their pudgy designated goal scorer happily sports multiple chins in a league dominated by gluten-free, goji-berry-favouring fitness nuts? Can the Leafs win if their best player, the fastest skater on the team when there’s a goal in his sights, becomes a slow-as-anything laggard when coach Randy Carlyle asks for extra effort near the not-so-merciful conclusion of a long practice?”

– Having exhausted his “the Leafs lose because Phil Kessel is fat” ammo, Feschuk used an anecdote told by assistant coach Steve Spott as a coaches’ clinic to paint Kessel as an un-coachable prima donna.

That’s a lot of pushing from one guy towards one target.  Is anyone shocked that Kessel would push back?  Does anyone think Kessel has no right to push back?

It gets me thinking about compassion and kindness in the reporting we see.  I am trying to remember the last time we saw something that wasn’t snarky (which was the quality so many hockey blogs prided themselves on to be different and edgy), mean, entitled (including these-millionaires-aren’t-performing-to-expectations), or cranky when dealing with players that aren’t perfect or preforming well.  Aside from articles surrounding tragedy, there doesn’t seem to be much.  But you can easily find a link to some unnecessarily cruel shot at a player or coach.  That’s easy.

Maybe I’m looking at it because I finished reading Boy on Ice recently, which was a very unflinching look at Derek Boogaard.  I didn’t know what to expect from his life and career, but it certainly wasn’t that.  It certainly wasn’t someone as shy and quiet as that.  I can’t imagine how, after reading the book, he handled the New York media.

This isn’t hug-a-player month.  I’m not saying we should be all Kumbaya and start asking why we can’t all just get along.  But does it have to be this tough all the time?   How hard is it for players to sit there and take it, day after day?

There is a certain meanness that sells in hockey and sports reporting.  Some of the writers I respect the most don’t travel in those realms (I’m thinking specifically of Roy MacGregor).  I’ve been guilty of it myself.  I’ve made jokes that aren’t the kindest things to say.  I also know that I don’t say them out of meanness.  Maybe that’s an excuse.  It’s something to look at.  But as I’ve said in the past, when you say something about someone, you take your licks for it.  You can’t disparage someone taking a shot back at you.

It’s refreshing to see a player push back.  Especially one so maligned as Phil Kessel.  He may deserve criticism, but there is a line I feel Feschuk crossed.  I would love to see Kessel not take any more of his questions, or tell the Leafs PR department not to allow Feschuk into his scrums any more.  I don’t know if that is a doable thing, but wouldn’t it be nice?

That is a media scrum I would love to see.