Thin Air – Coaches Comma

A few thoughts from around the league.

– There’s a lot of hand wringing over the Vancouver Canucks and John Tortorella. The question is whether or not he is the right coach for the Canucks considering their current slide and doubtfulness of making the playoffs. Frankly, Tortorella is one of many problems the team has, which started after game seven of the Stanley Cup Final in 2011. Note that I did not say game six. The slide of the Canucks started with the mishandling of the Luongo situation, and only got worse as time went on.

I’m not sure Tortorella is the right coach for most teams. You had better have the right mix and type of player to deal with him. He might be a brilliant hockey mind, but he brings his baggage with him, and expects everyone to be his bell hop. I don’t believe that his antics behind the bench, in the press conferences, or near the Calgary Flames locker room helped his cause at all.

– One of the things that works against Tortorella is something I think every coach at the NHL level fights: every coach that has come before in the player’s lives. By the time a player has reached the NHL, how many coaches have they had? If they were lucky enough to crack an NHL roster in the early stages of their career, they might not have the lineup of minor league coaches that most of your lower draft picks have had. Still, no matter the player, they have had a bunch.

Kids are coached in hockey starting around age five, and I believe that most coaches, systems, and even parents would start earlier if they could. Every aspect of their game has been criticized, refinded, taped, played back, discussed, evaluated, and most likely shoved down their throats. It’s like that guy at the office who has been there for twenty years, and some new manager comes in to really shake things us. And all that guy is thinking is, you’re just the next guy who is going to tell me I don’t know what I’m doing, and I’m going to still be here after you are long gone.

The player’s know how to play hockey. They also know when a coach is full of it, and when they actually know what they are doing. I’m not so sure it’s a matter of a coach losing the room. I think coaches in general are losing the room, because there is way too much coaching. They have practically lost the room as soon as they gained it.

Maybe it’s time to have a three coach rotation. One a hard ass, one a player’s coach, and one in the middle. Rotate them every few weeks. You know, a Coaching-Go-Round. When players tire of one, bring in the next type.

– Can we talk about two rules everyone hates, but I think are absolutely necessary? The first is Intent to Blow. You know, that maddening moment when a puck crosses the line, and the ref says the play ended moments before? I think it’s a generally good rule, even while I understand why it pisses people off.

The two issues with the rule is that it is only used in circumstances when something is going to be waived off like a goal. The other is it brings into question the integrity of the ref. Only they really know when they decided to blow the play dead.

Perhaps we can solve this issue with a sort of video replay. When Intent to Blow is the ruling, play a video of the scene for the ref to watch, and ask him specifically when the play was blown dead. If the puck is in the net after he says the play is dead, you have a goal. Also, the apparent grey line of exactly when the intent was is eliminated. I’m sure it isn’t as simple as this, but why not give it a shot?

– The other one is the delay of game penalty for the puck over the glass. From a pure safety standpoint, I like this rule. I don’t know if a single puck has not gone into the stands because of this rule, but it stands to reason that players think a little more about not putting it over the glass.

I don’t like games being decided on this penalty, but I don’t think anyone enjoys a game ending on a power play of any sort. The rule here to stay. The refs tend to get the call right, and that’s the important thing.

I talked about the #ImagineAvs video already. But the tl;dr version is this: I would not compare it favorably to the fashion show in Slap Shot. But at least they are trying something.

– Elliotte Freidman, in his 30 Thoughts column, mentioned that Ryan Kesler penciled Colorado as one of six destinations he would have allowed a trade to. So let me get this straight. Kesler wanted to go to a Patrick Roy coached team from a John Tortorella coached team. I think that says a lot right there, about both coaches.

But actually, what surprised me was that he thought there was a place on the roster he would fit. The Avalanche are carrying enough centers, so many that they had to move Nathan MacKinnon to wing. Where would he have gone? Fourth line? I’m guessing the only thing the Avs would have been willing to give up would be Paul Stastny, which did not happen, and wouldn’t be enough to land Kesler anyways.

– How much depth do the Avalanche have? How about this: Paul Carey was called up from Lake Erie. Who is Paul Carey? Beats me. Lake Erie have been to the playoffs once since the team was formed, and didn’t make it out of the first round. The depth issue needs to be addressed soon. You can’t carry just enough forwards forever.

Thin Air: Tort Reform

- Elliotte Friedman called Winnipeg Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec a below average goalie. He’s right, but let us get something clear here. This is real life, not Lake Woebegone, where all the children are above average. Everyone can not be above average. That said, he still is under-performing for a starting goaltender, and needs to up his game. If he can.  Any holdover from the days of the Thrashers should be subject to change, just like a terms of service.

– If Semyon Varlamov is proving anything, it’s that working with a goaltending coach (or at least, the right goaltending coach) can pay off. Development and improvement doesn’t end when the training wheels come off.  But how is that trade with the Capitals working out?  Would the Avs fans take that first round pick back now?  And keep in mind who was available at the time.

– In Justin Bourne’s column commenting on Elliotte Friedman’s 30 Thoughts column (did you catch all that?), Bourne talks a bit about Paul Stastny:

I swear if you have 25 smart players you’ll be damn near impossible to beat. Some guys believe in just drafting the most skill and/or size available – “Look at that monster, he can fly!” – then leaning back in their chair and hoping those players figure it out. I’ll take your turnover-prone brain-dead team against my group of Paul Stastny-level thinkers any day (think about the things Stastny does well. He’s kinda small. Doesn’t skate great. Doesn’t have a great shot. 432 points in 510 NHL games. Dats brains, my friend.)

When I was taking a hockey skills class for beginning adults (aka I suck at beer league hockey and I want to suck less at beer league hockey), one of the instructors was talking about handling pucks that come at your feet or behind you. If you can imagine, passes in rec hockey, if they happen at all, are rarely tape-to-tape. He pointed out how Stastny can just dig a puck out of anywhere if you put it near him. Sure enough, the next game I watched, players were dropping bombs at his feet and he was scooping them up without letting them slow him down. Part of what makes him so good is how he can make something happen with the puck quickly and when it’s not the perfect situation. Do not discount that ability.

– I think we need a plus/minus scale for fighting incidents in hockey. Not just plus one or minus two, but something that looks like those betting odds I don’t understand. For instance, out of ten, the opening play of the Canucks / Flames game might have been +2 / -4. So that’s two points for fighting (if one team puts out goons, you should too), and four points against (staged fights don’t get much bigger, the game went on, lots of ejections, Torts in the hallway). This way, there can be some grey area in the discussion, which is where debate should be. It’s rare to have a nuanced conversation about fighting in hockey, and yet, I don’t know anyone who is 100% for or against it. We’ve heard the extremes of the conversation, let’s get to the real discussion of it.

– Still waiting to hear how long John Tortorella is suspended for trying to get to the Flames locker room at the first intermission. I would like to think the league really calls him on the carpet for his overall behavior. As much as the hockey fan base may like the Tortorella presser (and I am not among those), I doubt the league liked them very much. The NHL can only suspend him for this incident, but Torts doesn’t do himself any favors with his previous behavior.

– I don’t think Tortorella will change his stripes, but I bet he doesn’t do this again. I can see him blaming the NHL for being overzealous with it’s fine and suspension (whatever it may be), but at some point, he has to look at his own bottom line. Before whatever the league does this time, he has already lost $60,000. How much more until he gets it? (source on those figures)

– ESPN also posted the longest suspensions of coaches over the last 40 years. I had no idea about this one:

January 2000 Herb Brooks, Penguins: suspended 2 games for going after Avalanche TV play-by-play announcer John Kelly after a game.

Who knew? Not me.

– Side note: My laptop does not recognize Tortorella as a word. It’s suggestion for correcting it? Turtler. No, really. My laptop is smart.

How Not to Break Up a Fight

Last night, in Vancouver’s loss to the Minnesota Wild, linesman Darren Gibbs (and thanks to Puck Daddy for pointing out the name, and the videos) took a fist to the face while breaking up a fight between Cal Clutterbuck and Maxim Lapierre. Here is the Minnesota Wild video of the ‘head shot:’

It’s easy to look at this and say that Clutterbuck should get the book thrown at him, or at least a one game suspension out of it, but I disagree.  No fighter is going to stop while still entangled with his opponent, but the bigger issue here is what the linesman did.  He went in alone to break up the fight.

USA Hockey has put their officiating training manuals online, and the basic manual states about ‘Altercations’ (page 58):

Never enter an altercation by yourself. You are putting yourself in danger of being punched by a player and may also give a player a free shot at the player you are holding onto. Always wait until your partner is there to go in together.

USA Hockey should ask the NHL if they can use this video for training purposes, as this was a textbook example.

What you can’t see in this video is that there is a second ‘altercation’ going on between Keith Ballard and Minnesota’s Kyle Brodziak.  While this had turned into a wrestling match, the Clutterbuck and Lapierre fight was turning into the more serious incident.  You can see a bit of it here:

Choices have to be made, and with two tussles going on, there are only so many linesmen to go around. The difference between the amateur ref and the professional ref is that the pro is trained a little better in handling themselves in breaking up a fight.  Still, USA Hockey is correct in asking two linesmen (or refs at the amateur level) to go in at the same time to break up a fight.

Why doesn’t the referee next to the fight intervene and help out the linesman.  Part of the answer lies in what Dan Hamhuis of the Vancouver Canucks did.  Right after Darren Gibbs gets socked in the jaw, Hamhuis grabbed Clutterbuck’s face and pulled him back a bit (or at the very least, restrained him a little).  It didn’t last long, but this isn’t tag team wrestling.  You need your referees to be able to hand out the penalties and see what is going on.  Had the ref intervened, they would have never caught this.  Whatever Hamhuis’ intentions (I’m SURE he was just trying to keep the linesman from getting hit again), you have to keep your hands out of the field of play while you are on the bench.  He got a misconduct for it, which is the right call.

So while some may look at the punch and say that Clutterbuck (a favorite of fans from all thirty teams) should get a game or two, hopefully cooler heads will prevail and the blame will be spread around a bit.  And as much as a mistake as it was to go in alone, good for Darren Gibbs for doing a tough job.  I’m sure he will be ready to bob and weave a little more next time.

Thin Air: Sunday Hockey Thoughts

The draft is over, the bloggers are back home, nursing their hangovers, and the draftees are admiring their new swag from their new team.  I hope everyone had a good time.  The draft is mayhem on the first day, but then things settle down on the second, despite the much faster pace.

So here are a few things I’ve been thinking about, with only five more days until free agency, and four more left on this challenge.

 

- Ryan Smyth: Real Denver Sport has a good roundup of what Smyth left in his wake after each team he served time with (and served time is fairly accurate, considering how bad a few of those teams have been).  I don’t think it’s quite the contrail of disaster that happens when Pronger leaves a team, but it’s pretty interesting.

I remember getting caught up in the excitement when Ryan Smyth and Scott Hannan were signed in free agency to the Avalanche.  I thought it was a bold move, when a bold move needed to be taken.  Unfortunately, neither player are still with the Avalanche, and neither are the players who came in after Smyth and Hannan were traded away.  Tomas Fleischmann is set to become a UFA on July 1st, and as usual, all is quiet from the Avalanche camp with their desire to sign him.  He’s worth the money if he’s healthy.

- Realignment is going to be the topic of the season, and I don’t think any scheme will make anyone 100% happy.  I’m ready for it to happen, and would be perfectly happy to see the Canadian teams in the Western Conference split up. Keeping Vancouver out of the Pacific and Dallas in has always been a bit of a stretch.  After that, the eastern-most Western teams (get all that?) get screwed over for about half the season.  Aligning closer to time zones makes much more sense. But if this plan involves four divisions, I expect the league will do everything they can to shoehorn the Canadian teams together.  It makes business sense, even if it doesn’t make much hockey sense.

- Hand Paul Stastny the captain’s “C” and be done with it.  The guy is staying around, and he is the closest thing to leadership the Avalanche have right now.  Much like any goalie that has to play in the shadow of Patrick Roy, the captain will always be judged by how they perform in comparison to Joe Sakic.  It isn’t fair, but that’s how it goes.  Stastny is the most deserving, and no one else is ready to take up the job.  As good as Matt Duchene is on the ice, he isn’t ready to be captain yet.  He’s still growing, and needs the time to grow into the hockey player he has the potential to be.

- The Canucks are going to be interesting this offseason.  How do you blow up a team that came within one win of the Cup (I think of it as two games, since they had two opportunities to win it all)?  I don’t think you can, but you need to figure out what went wrong with the Sedin line quickly.  If you can’t, history is doomed to repeat itself.  There can’t be that many changes needed.  Perhaps they just need to avoid Boston next season.

- In the next CBA, the league needs to either create a wider gap between the cap floor and the cap ceiling, or increase revenue sharing, and how that sharing can be used.  Too many teams are being forced into salary structures they simply can not afford.  And the ceiling is too high anyways.  How many smaller market teams are losing money, while the bigger markets are getting richer and richer?  The revenues the league proudly states as growing aren’t coming from the smaller markets, but the smaller markets are just as important to the league as the larger ones.  It isn’t about the GMs saving themselves from themselves, it’s about the league saving itself from the first iteration of the cap era.  This thing needs to be refined.

- Also for the next CBA, I would love to see a limit to the number of no-trade clauses that a team can hand out.  Maybe five per team.  Maybe even shorten the term of a no-trade, perhaps to 2/3 of the contract length (if a player signs a 3 year contract with a no-trade, the first two years are covered by the clause, but not the third).  I don’t like seeing players treated like property, but the amount of no-trade clauses out there are staggering and barely managable.  Teams need options, and no-trades take away those options.

- Brad Richards is going to be the most watched UFA on July 1st, but I’m more interested in what will happen with goaltenders.  There are a few holes out there needing to be filled, and only so many people out there to fill them.

 

That’s about it for now.  To borrow a phrase from Buddy Oakes, more later….

It’s All Over, Except the Montage

Until a few years ago, I didn’t know about the magic of the montage produced by the CBC to close out the Stanley Cup Finals.  That’s how it goes when you’re stuck with Versus and NBC as your hockey providers.  You don’t get gems like this.

Stick with it to the very end for some beautiful shots of Vancouver.  Last summer, I stood on the platform next to that bridge, and got the same bay view you see there.  Simply gorgeous.  That’s how I see the city.  That’s my Vancouver.

My Vancouver 1

That is how I want to remember the playoffs.  A series of slow-motion shots, showing the heart and soul of the game.  Not the angry festival of fans, the biting and punching, or the aftermath of Vancouver.  Not the articles from bloggers and MSM writers bashing the other team, the other fans.  I want to remember the battles that had to do with the puck.  The ones that had to do with speed, positioning, and skill.  And I think that is what I am going to take away from this season, that the best two teams went all the way to the last game possible to determine who would raise the Cup.  And there isn’t much more you could ask for.

The 2010-11 season was a weird one.  For Avs fans like myself, it was a hard ending to swallow, after the promise at the start. It showed that nothing is ever a guarantee, and nothing is ever over until the final buzzer.  But the playoffs, the second season, and in some ways the real season, with real hockey that transcends the regular season, well…. they were pretty damn good.

The Cup

On Rioting

Queen Elizabeth Theater on the right

(image source: yfrogniamhsays)

The building on the right is the Queen Elizabeth Theater.  I was lucky enough to work there for five weeks last summer.  It didn’t have burning cars and rioters outside when I was there.  Wicked the musical is playing there now.  Here is an account of what it was like for a theater-goer when the riot was going on, from the Globe and Mail:

Heather Bourke was attending a performance of Wicked at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre with her husband, right next to where the riots began. Ms. Bourke, 32, is 5-1/2 months pregnant, and the mother of a two-year-old boy.

The play started a minute or two after the game ended. It was quite calm. No one was concerned. At intermission the curtain went down and someone came on the p.a. and said, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, due to a situation outside, please remain inside the building.’ Everyone just froze.

Then everyone went to the windows and stared out. It was unbelievable. Right in front of us: cars on fire, people being beaten up all around us, every direction you looked – smoke. When I went back to my seat, I noticed that I was trembling a little bit. I’ve never felt the baby kick so much in my life. I think the baby was in distress because of my hormones.

After the play was over, we were told to remain seated while Vancouver Police worked out a safe way for us to leave. Everyone was pulling out cells and getting updates. We had no idea what was happening. It’s kind of scary when you don’t know how bad it is. Before we left, we got specific directions: You must turn right, do not turn left. A man sitting beside us with an 11-year-old daughter asked how we were getting home. He drove us right to our door.

When we would leave the theater via stage door, which is on the far side of the building, we would turn right, which would take us directly into the rioters in that photo.  We would take another right, which would put us onto the street with the burning car in that photo.

Walking Home in Vancouver

At that intersection, with the burning car, we would often take a left, and walk through the plaza of the CBC.

CBC on the Left

(Source: twitpic/@chriswalts)

That’s the CBC on the left.  We would walk by because I was always amazed that we worked right next door to it.  I wanted nothing more, during our stay in Vancouver, than to get a tour of that building, especially the radio studios.  It turns out, they don’t offer tours.  There’s a coffee shack at the far end of the building (from our perspective) that poured a damn fine cup of coffee, always made to order.  It was some of the freshest coffee I have ever had.

We would turn right on to Robson, walking past the library, and sometimes stop at the liquor store on the corner of Robson and Homer to puck up some beer, perhaps some Growers Peach, or my favorite Canadian beer, Thirsty Beaver from the Tree Brewing Company. Then down to Richards Street, sometimes diverting to the Red Card, a sports bar with some tasty pizza.

Red Card

(Red Card photo courtesy of Ryan Classic / @ryanclassic)

Or, even better, we would divert over to Granville for some five-pin bowling.  Five-pin bowling is a very Canadian type of bowling, a mashup of Candlepin and Duckpin from New England, and the standard 10-pin that ESPN seems to be enamored with.

The Lane The Pins

 

Ryan Classic Bowls My Lovely Assistant

(My lovely assistant on the right is Alix from The Humming Giraffe@alixiswright)

From our balcony at our apartment, we could see Granville Street.  The occasional drunk fool would stop in the alley our balcony overlooked to relieve his bladder, and you could hear the noise on the streets from the party crowd.  You could see the Comfort Inn and it’s attached bar, Doolins, from our balcony as well.

Comfort Inn and Doolins

(source: twitpic@chrissychrzan)

If you were to walk straight past that car, down the street two blocks, you would be at my apartment at the time, my temporary home.   This guy is having a rough go of it right next to my building.  And this ass wasn’t there when I was around.  There wasn’t tear gas or fires.  There was just a great city, with fun people, that I want to go back to.

You can imagine how the riots make me feel.  Every picture I saw, I wondered if I had run into those people.  I looked to see if I had been in any of the places that were being looted (Chapters, yep. Crepes, yep. Coffee shop, yep).  I felt sad to see a beautiful city like Vancouver destroy itself, for people to turn against their own.  The people who will suffer most from this are the business owners and workers who have to rebuild.  And all from an attack from it’s own citizens.  The pointlessness is deep.  It makes no sense whatsoever.  And the way I feel must pale in comparison to the way the people who live there feel.

Vancouver is at worst an expensive place to be.  But so much about the city is charming and wonderful.  Taking the mail run on a sea plane, or bicycling near the water.  Getting on a ferry to see what is around, or standing next to the bridge you may have seen in the closing credits of the CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada.  Playing street hockey for charity, or even trying atrocious ketchup potato chips.  Walking along Canada Place and watching the planes land in the water.  There was so much to Vancouver, and so much more to see.

It’s a city that the locals are in love with.  That love runs deep, and you know it when you talk the the people who live there.  I wish Denver had that kind of love.  I hope it’s getting there.  I’d love to help get it there.

The riots can’t be simply explained away by talking about a few bad elements.  If you look in the pictures, you see all kinds of people, instigators, onlookers, encouragers, and yes, hockey fans.  They cheered, they cried, they tore apart their own city, and posed for pictures while doing it.  There were all kinds of people, and they came together first for a hockey team, and then to rip their own homes apart.  There is no explanation for it.  There is no covering it up with a few excuses, or that only a bunch of anarchists and thugs are responsible.  There were all kinds of people there.  And yes, even some true fans caught up in the moment.

You get a sense of how the reasonable fans feel now, their embarrassment over the actions of the rioters pour out on the web.  They keep apologizing, and trying to explain things.  But they shouldn’t have to.  We all know it wasn’t the majority of Vancouverites that turned downtown into a DMZ.  We don’t hold them accountable.  They feel the need explain it because they care.

In the end, it leaves a scar on the city.  They will clean up the mess, and they will rebuild.  A few stores will close down, burdened by the financial strain.  People will move on.  But they won’t forget.  They will walk by the rebuilt areas and remember what happened.  They will see the broken glass, smell the tear gas, and feel the heat from the fires.  And just like me, they will want to remember Vancouver as it was.

Game 7: Over and Out

My feelings about game 7 are a little bit tempered by the rioting that went on in Vancouver.  I will put up a separate post about that later.  For now, my thoughts are with my friends in Vancouver, like @ryanclassic, @alixiswright, and @alanah1.  I feel bad that they can’t celebrate a Cup win, and that they have to endure the aftermath on the streets.

___________________________

[blackbirdpie url=”https://twitter.com/#!/Tapeleg/status/76069193568624640″]

I tweeted that June 1st.  Hey, they don’t call it blind faith for nothing.  And that’s all I really had, faith.  It wasn’t knowledge, it wasn’t expertise, it was faith in the face of the evidence against, and defiance.  I knew the Canucks could win it, but I never believed the Bruins would lose it.

I’ve told this story before, but I’ll do it again, because it fits.  I was in Boston a little over a year ago, during the Olympics and regular season, and the talk of Bruins fans kept to leaning toward how the Bs had made a huge mistake signing Tim Thomas for as long as they had.  The consensus seemed to be that he was washed up, and the contract was a huge burden.  I told those fans to wait.  I told them you didn’t go from being a Vezina winner to washed up in one year.  Something was wrong, and it was obvious.  Thomas had hip surgery in the offseason, and came back.  A career year, and no real end in sight.

Smilling Tim Thomas

I was a sort of bandwagon fan for the Bruins throughout the playoffs.  I’d been looking for an Eastern Conference team for a long time, and kept coming back to the Bruins.  I tried to make it the Capitals, but that never really fit.  I spent eight months in Boston during the lockout, and learned to love that city (I really like Vancouver, but for all it’s beauty, it loves to take all my money).  Since the Avalanche never had a remote shot at the playoffs (when you hear fans bragging about having the second overall draft pick…), I was free to pick and choose who I wanted to win each round.   I have my own biases (as does every fan of the game), so there were a few teams that would never make it into my favorites, most notably Detroit and Vancouver.  My choices round-by-round were:

Round 1
Bruins
Capitals
Tampa Bay
Buffalo

Chicago
Nashville
Phoenix
San Jose

Round 2
Bruins
Tampa Bay

San Jose
Nashville

Round 3
Bruins
San Jose

Finals
Bruins

In the end, the thing I really wanted to see was Tim Thomas raise the Cup.  If there was a guy in the playoffs who deserved it most, it was Thomas.  While Roberto Luongo won a game or two for his team, he also was the reason they lost at times.  Thomas never lost a game for his team.  You could argue the wrap around goal scored on him eleven seconds into overtime in game two was his fault, as he was way out of position, but there were several things that went wrong on that play.  And in their losses, Thomas deserved more than he got from his teammates.  He got it in games six and seven.

Thomas was the clear Conn Smythe winner even before game seven.  I remember being at game seven in 2003 as the New Jersey Devils beat the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim to win the Stanley Cup – which was where I learned to dislike the Devils – and watching losing goalie JS Giguere collect the Conn Smythe.  You could see how sad he was as he took his shinny trophy back to the room where his teammates sat in defeat.  It’s a great honor, but nothing like the trophy your entire team worked so hard for.  It affected Giguere and his game the next season.  He was a goalie that has always brought his emotions to the game, both positive and negative.  I didn’t want to see the same thing happen to Thomas.  Thomas always seems like calm and collected guy, until you piss him off.  I have been a huge fan of Thomas for a while, and want to see his continued success.  And even though it will never happen, he sure would look good in an Avalanche jersey. :)

Quick hits:

– Roberto Luongo is going to get blamed and called a choker.  He will, again, be called overrated.  Luongo was a great goalie through most of the playoffs.  He has a few bad games every so often, but he always springs back.  That he got scored on three times in the final game doesn’t make him a choker, it makes him human.  He has his faults, not the least of which is hubris, but he is still a good goalie.  If it weren’t for him, the Canucks would never have gotten as far as they did.  He won them games, and he lost them games.  But he won them a lot more than he lost.

– I took in the game last night at SoBo 151, Denver’s Czech hockey bar, and had a blast.  Wearing my Bruins colored Johnstown Cheifs jersey brought a few fans over to talk hockey and hang out.  Brian Engblom was there, fans of both teams were represented, and the mood was generally jovial.  The Canucks fan next to me was tense for most of the game, but wound up chatting more as the game wore down.  When the Canucks raised their sticks to the fans, the crowd, including the Bruins fans, applauded the team.  I shook a few hands and offered condolences to the Canucks fans in attendance.  The only indication of any animosity was the bottom line on the NBC broadcast, saying that rioting had started in Vancouver.  It’s what hockey should be like.

– Good for Coach Vigneault pulling Luongo near the end down by three goals.  Even if it looked like the game was over, he didn’t give up.  You have to give him credit for that.

– The handshake that happened on the ice was great, and is a wonderful tradition in hockey.  But the handshake on social media sites like twitter was just a good.  Fans that had been thrust together on opposite sides of the game were patting each other on the backs, congratulating and sympathizing, burying hatchets, and generally getting along for the first time in two weeks.

– The Canucks oscillated between looking beaten and being on the verge of taking over the game.  There were several times the Bruins let them back into the game, and they made some good plays along the way.  What took the Canucks back out of the game, over and over?  I really don’t know.

At the end of the season, it’s almost like there should be poetry.  Maybe I’ll try a crack at that tomorrow.  For the moment, wow, what a season.  October can’t come soon enough.

I am still collecting my thoughts on the rioting.  I’ll probably post about it later.

________________________________________

The Stanley Cup Dead Blog Challenge rolls on for some of us, while others have completed the first part that they committed to.  To those who made it to June 15th, congratulations. You should be proud of your work, and hopefully will continue to write, if not post, daily.  You have a good block of work that you can build on, and keeping with it is the best thing you can do for your writing and your blog.  Thanks for coming along for the ride.

Me, and several others, are continuing on until at least July 1st.

Up Here

On this flight, there is no sign of the tension below. Thousands of feet above the world, the only sports represented here are the University of Wyoming wrestling team, and my lacrosse jersey. You wouldn’t know that the greatest trophy in sports was going to be handed out tonight. I’m on an Air Canada flight to America. How fitting. But here, there is nothing.

There was always this promise of air travel, that it would take you from your life at home, and transport you somewhere else, away from your troubles and concerns. I’ve taken a lot of flights over the last decade and more, to places across the United States and Canada. The travel, it was a function, and most of it was fun. Now, it’s a burden. But today, it feels serene. It feels different.

I don’t fly as often as a hockey player must. Every away game means at least one flight. I used to fly at least every other week. I remember a few years ago walking up to the Au Bon Pain in the Atlanta airport, and finding the familiarity comforting. That’s a sign, isn’t it?

But here, on this flight, the tension is washed away. I can watch Johnny Depp play a ridiculous lizard on a small screen in the seat back in front of me. I can type away at my little tablet, and listen to the radio. And game seven? It doesn’t exist. For a moment, I had forgotten that it was even going to be played.

Tonight, after the Cup is handed out, as one set of fans become insufferable for one reason, and the other set of fans become insufferable for another, we will go on. Lebron James was kind enough to remind us that after the games, we common folk will still have our personal problems, and we can go back to our small lives. Which I think we will all be a little better off for.

I’m leaving behind, in Toronto, a temporary home. I never got the feeling I had the last time I was there. I never felt like I could make room in my life for that city. Much has changed there, and the direction it’s gone, either positive or negative, is arguable. It’s a matter of taste. As great as parts of the city are, there are parts I can do without. Every city is like that, but Toronto wore both on it’s sleeve this time.

I’m happy to be watching the game in Denver tonight. I talked about the new Canucks jerseys you saw everywhere in Toronto. It’s a different kind of bandwagon fan in Canada right now. I hate the term bandwagon, but I’m struggling to come up with a different term. The fans who just want to see Vancouver win to see the Cup in Canada. And really, am I any different, hoping for a Bruins win? I have more invested in being against Vancouver, but I’ve liked the Bruins for a while now, and Tim Thomas is…. well, he’s Tim Thomas.

Up here, 35,000 feet above Colorado, it doesn’t feel like game seven. It doesn’t register that fans – and friends – in distant places don’t like each other because of things they are wildly out of their control. Up here, you wouldn’t even know that the hopes and dreams of the players, things they have worked for their entire lives, will be summed up in one game, only a few hours long, and only a few hours away.

I can’t wait until we touch down.

__________________________

I wrote this post on my flight to Denver, and edited and posted it from Denver International Airport.

Game 6: Can I Get a Hey Now

My plans for the night were initially to watch game six with an aquaintance here in Toronto.  I wasn’t looking forward to watching the game in Canada, as I figured it would be fraught with the classic signs of the Canucks fans already tasting silver: the call of the Lou for every save made, complaining that the refs were against the Canucks (which is a suckers argument), and hockey entitlement like you wouldn’t believe.  I put the call out to twitter, asking where I should watch the game, and was invited out by Thomas Drance.  He warned me that he was a major Canucks homer, and he was right.  But it was I cheering him up later on, as the game turned against the Canucks.  Still, I had a great time, and would hang out with him again.  Thanks, Tom!

NOTES FROM THE GAME:

– The media kept asking the players before the game what it was like to have the Cup in the building.  And all of the players blew it off, saying it didn’t matter.  Still, the media pressed.  And you have to wonder, what are they looking for?  I’m guessing a better story than the one they have.  It’s more exciting to write about the players having the jitters.  The classic storyline of the childhood dream of winning it all in game seven will be the next one pressed on the players.  But if they aren’t buying what the media is selling, then quit trying to force an answer out of them.  I’m convinced that half of the reason for some of the jerky quotes is just to give the media something so they will leave the players alone.

-Yesterday, I said this:

I thought about what I would do in the situation the refs are in, and concluded that I would put the first pair of over-actors in the box for two each, and warn the benches that there will be no tolerance for diving or post-whistle antics.

And I didn’t see the refs go to the benches, but this happened:

Penalty

After this, I saw one fake head-snap.  The diving went down, the douche factor went down, and the play was clean enough.  I didn’t really think Henrik Sedin warranted a diving penalty, but the message was sent.

– Yes, I said the douche factor went down.  But man, Johnny Boychuk, what were you thinking?  I don’t for a moment think that Boychuck meant to injure Mason Raymond, and the check he finished (which he didn’t have to finish, nor make in the first place) didn’t look that hard.  Still, that is no excuse for taking a guy into the boards in an awkward position, and putting more into the check than the simple collision.  That’s how it looked to me, that he shoved harder than he needed to, and Raymond was in a vulnerable position.  It happened fast, and there wasn’t much Raymond could do, after being taken off balance by Boychuk putting his stick between Raymond’s legs and spinning him around.  The fault on this one, even though the outcome didn’t seem like it would be as bad as it is (compression fracture in a vertebrae), is completely on Johnny Boychuk.  The speed of the game, the hitting, all of it adds to the risk of these kinds of injuries.  But Boychuk should be more responsible.

– The Bruins fans were taken to task for chanting at Raymond that he was faking his injury.

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/bruce_arthur/status/80617394623619072″]

Considering the way the rest of this series played out, and that the play itself didn’t look terribly destructive, I don’t think this was maliciously taunting a player with an obvious injury.  And when you think about how most people watch hockey, they were probably focusing on the puck, which wasn’t near the hit.  Many of the people at the Garden didn’t even see the hit happen in real time.  I doubt it’s anything more than unfortunate circumstances combined with the poor taste of a few.

– What a drop pass by Peverly on the Lucic goal.  It surprised me was how fast it happened.  I don’t think I was the only one.

– Ference scores a goal? Ference?  If that doesn’t tell you the Canucks were snakebitten tonight, nothing does.

– Cory Schneider didn’t have a chance on the goal scored against him in the first.  I’m not sure anyone was going to pick up Ryder in front of the net.  There was nothing Schneider could do on the deflection, though he probably would have stopped the shot if it hadn’t been tipped..

– Hanson celebrating before the whistle was bad enough.  But the puck went past him on the rebound.  That has to be embarrassing for him.  This is why you play to the whistle.

– Everyone got their free penalties tonight.  Neither team got all the calls they probably could have gotten, or even deserved.  They both got their chances, and the calls that were made were valid.

– I didn’t know that Patrick Roy has the best save percentage of a finals series.  Thanks, TSN.  Tim Thomas, third.  The things you get from the broadcast networks when they treat hockey fans as though they understand what’s going on.

– Alain Vigneault has the easiest decision with who to start in goal for game seven, even though that decision could hang him out to dry.  You have to go with Luongo, in my opinion.  He is the guy who got you to this place, on both sides of the coin.  He has lost games for you (and no one else has contributed to those losses as much as he), and he has won games for you.  This isn’t a coin flip.  This is what you do.  Schneider looked great in goal in this series when he has come in, but it isn’t his net right now.

___________________________________________

Game 7.  I can’t tell you how excited I am for this.  I fly home in the morning on Wednesday, unless there are more problems with Air Canada than just a simple strike, and then plan on watching the game at SoBo 151.  See you there.

Why Milbury Has A Job

Last night, I got home from work and turned on the Tony Awards. Yes, that’s right. I rarely watch the Tonys, but there was no hockey on, basketball holds no interest for me, and I am a theater person. It also helped that Neil Patrick Harris was hosting, and Sutton Foster was nominated for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical (and won!). I was privileged to tour with her 11 years ago, and she is an incredible person. You can find all the Tony award winners here.

But this is a hockey blog, and a deal is a deal. One a day. Here is what I was thinking about.

__________________________________

Larry Brooks almost completely nails it in his write-up of Mike Milbury’s taunts towards Daniel and Henrik Sedin. Almost 100%.

Listen, we’ve all heard this sad song before from Mike Milbury, the ugly American who apparently thinks it is insightful hockey commentary to mock the manhood and masculinity of Henrik and Daniel Sedin.

Of course, Milbury was once coached by Don Cherry, the jingoistic Canadian who has spent decades polluting the air by defaming athletes whose first language is something other than English.

Dead on. It’s the Milbury way, and it has it’s roots in what Don Cherry spews every week on the CBC. Remember he works for NESN, the network Bruins games are broadcast on in Boston. He knows who his audience usually is, and who cuts the checks. He was just doing what he always does, playing to the usual audience.

This is the part that Brooks gets wrong:

So the question is, what on earth is wrong with the North American television network executives who make the decisions to hire these people to spew their ignorance?

Brooks should know where it comes from, and he probably does. It comes from the audience, and it comes from the ratings.

Think back to the regular season, and the intermission reports on NBC. On one side of the table, Mike Milbury. On the other side, America’s other hockey talking head, Pierre McGuire. And the excitement of the day was seeing what one person – usually Milbury – was going to call the other. There wasn’t much analysis that you couldn’t get elsewhere, but it was a grudge match. Two people who deserved the barbs and anger they leveled at each other.

Audiences couldn’t wait. They were practically in ecstasy when the first intermission rolled around. After the back and forth dullness of a Versus intermission, NBC was showing flair and guts by putting on this spectacle. NBC knew exactly what they were doing. They were hiring two people who didn’t mind slinging a little mud while tossing in a little hockey.

Like I said, you could get the same kind of analysis online, from a number of sources. If you’re reading my little blog, you probably already find it on other blogs. What you don’t get is the theatrics. It’s the theatrics that people would tune in for, and it’s the theatrics that people want. They want to see the blowhard talk to the jerk, and on a weekly basis, you got exactly that. Read a blog, listen to a podcast, and you will get many different angles on the topic, many of them more considered, more informed, and more interesting that the few minutes you would get from an NBC intermission report.

But it might not be as titillating. It might not have the drama. And NBC, or any sports broadcasting network, wants you to have a reason to stick around for the few minutes of content they are going to show you between commercials at the breaks. If titillation and drama do the job, hire two guys who kick each other in the groin. It works for America’s Funniest Home Videos, and it will work between periods of an NHL game.

Present that argument to Larry Brooks, and I bet he would agree. People tune in to the Brooks / Tortorella show for the exact same reason.

________________________________________

For those of you doing the Dead Blog Challenge, a quick note: The important part of the challenge isn’t that you write your best stuff ever. It’s that you write, and that you post. Take pride in the fact that you are posting. That’s something worth crowing about. You guys inspire me to keep going. Thanks.