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Saturday, April 25, 2009

John Tortorella VS Saddam Hussein

Last night, John Tortorella scratched Sean Avery for Game 5 against the Caps. Seems the sloppy-mouthed Avery has been a little undisciplined in his play lately.

What to do then to fire up your team as the Rangers are losing to the Capitals in DC and no Avery to get under the skin of the Caps' players? Have the coach challenge the fans to a stick-duel! Unfortunately, only Torts has access to the sticks. Ripping one out of Aaron Voros' hands, Torts threatens to get none other than....Saddam Hussein!

Watch the video for proof - the fellow in the white t-shirt behind the glass, jawing with the New York Rangers' coach. If that ain't proof Saddam is still in hiding, I don't know what is...in our nation's capital, nonetheless!

Below, a different view of the incident including multiple replays of Torts Tossing the alleged 'water bottle' at the beginning of the incident.

No wonder Saddam was pissed!

Hey, coach, we like the fire - but since the incident may get you suspended for a game perhaps that whole 'lead by example' thing comes into play on a night like last night.

Or perhaps, we truly are seeing that everything old is new again!

But will the Rangers fans at MSG want to play, too when the Caps visit on Sunday? Let's hope not. In a eerily similar (although reversed role-players) incident, the Rangers fans have their own history of non-skater-related hockey stick dueling. Watch the guy in the stands grab a Bruin's stick here and start whacking the player on the head with it. But this was a different day and age and the Bruins players had no issue taking the battle into the stands.

I'm guessing last night's little drama will simply add to the flair that will be Game 6 of the Eastern Quarter Finals that is New York Rangers vs the Washington Capitals. Should be a good 'un.

Now, can somebody explain what the heck Saddam is doing w/ glass seats at the Verizon Center?

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Friday, April 24, 2009

Starring the Columbus Blue Jackets as Rocky Balboa

Watching Game Four unfold in Columbus last night, I realized early in the second period that I’d seen this movie before. The year was 1976, and the movie was Rocky. The 2009 version was recast thusly:

ROCKY (2009)

The Columbus Blue Jackets as Rocky Balboa
The Detroit Red Wings as Apollo Creed
Ken Hitchcock as Burgess Meredith...I mean, Mickey
The Columbus Fans as Adrian

Despite the rather radical recasting, the producers (The Hockey Gods) stayed true to the original script: A nobody, from nowhere, steps into the ring with The Champ. It’s supposed to be a glorified exhibition (and with the Jackets down 3-0 going into the game, it was a foregone conclusion, so the analogy holds), but Rocky didn’t get the memo. After Apollo Creed knocks down Rocky early (with a PPG by Lidstrom at 2:58 of the 1st), Rocky picks himself up and lands a solid blow of his own (Huselius PPG at 6:12).

This only serves to anger The Champ, who unleashes a combination and floors Rocky again (Holmstrom at 7:09 and Cleary at 10:02). Rocky struggles back to his feet and holds his own against Apollo until the bell.

Between rounds, Mickey slaps Rocky around a bit and gives him what for…but only because he sees the Rock’s potential and believes in him. Though he’d never admit it, Mickey loves the big lug.

Rocky answers the bell and comes out swinging; now it’s Apollo Creed’s turn to taste the canvas (Nash at 1:44 of the 2nd, followed by Umberger’s PPG at 5:38). There’s a reason Apollo Creed is the Heavyweight Champion of the World, however, and he again demonstrates his powers, administering a beating Rocky won’t soon forget (Hossa at 6:59 and again at 11:26 on the PP). The Rock climbs up the ropes and onto his feet as the ref counts nine, then reaches deep within himself and steps back into the fray…and surprises everyone by dropping The Champ again (on goals by Russell at 15:45 and Modin at 18:04). As the bell rings, Rocky has Apollo on the ropes and is working him over.

More encouragement/tough love is forthcoming from Mickey between rounds, as he has to cut Rocky’s swollen eyelid so the Rock can see. Meanwhile, Apollo Creed’s trainer is asking him why he hasn’t finished the kid yet.

The two exhausted pugilists step back into the center of the ring for the final round. They eye one another warily, an air of mutual respect between them. Suddenly, they lunge toward each other, fists flying. Back and forth, the momentum swings. The crowd roars, and Adrian is one of the loudest. In a flash, they both go down. As the referee counts, both fighters slowly pull themselves back up. The bell rings, ending the match…and Rocky gets jobbed by the officials (who, after simply letting the two teams play throughout the 3rd period, whistled Columbus for a very marginal Too many men penalty with 1:34 remaining, allowing Franzen to win the series for Detroit with a PPG at 19:13. Methinks a certain linesman didn’t want to work OT). Nonetheless, both Rocky and Adrian now know that he has what it takes to go toe-to-toe with The Champ (and The Champ has a newfound respect for the Rock), and they emerge from the arena, bloodied but unbowed, their love for each other stronger than ever.

It was a great movie in 1976, and a great hockey game in 2009. Congratulations to Adrian...I mean, the Columbus fans – after all these years, now you know what playoff hockey looks and feels like. While it ended on a less-than-satisfying note, wasn’t it worth the wait? You should be proud of your Blue Jackets – they played their hearts out in Game Four. Just think of what you have to look forward to in 09-10…remember how Rocky II ended?
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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

What Are The Odds?

Depending on what your favorite team’s record is when they are one game shy of elimination, what are the odds of the next game knocking them out of the Playoffs? Based on Playoff results since the Lockout, they are:

When 0-3: 10-6 / 62.5%
When 1-3: 8-19 / 29.6%
When 2-3: 10-12 / 45.5%
When 3-3: 7-8 / 46.7%

So the chance of going 0-4 is the most slim and the reason everyone in Hockey says it is very hard to get that fourth ‘W’ and clinch any series.

The chances, however, once you begin a series 0-3 and win Game 4 of going on to win Game 5 constitute the lowest percentage of success in comparing ALL possible elimination scenarios. And when you team is either 2-3 or 3-3 in a series, the next game is almost a toss-up.

So where does that leave us in the next two days?

For tonight, odds are just in favor of Montreal winning the game. Face it, Boston has got Montreal’s number. What is likely to kick in to support the odds is a combination of home ice and Canadien pride. Look for the Habs to play at the top of their game and if they don’t win, everyone’s fear of Boston is likely to be justified.

On Thursday night, the odds are decidedly against Philadelphia. Again, they are playing a team that has their number to some extent and going onto opposing ice. The intangible in their favor when looking a decade backward is that it has been 10 years since a team in the finals has gotten out of the second round. If Philly wins tonight, it is on character and a better performance by Biron than Fleury.And the odds are in favor of Columbus pulling off a win in Game 4, but not by much.

As with the Flyers, they need to play flawlessly and their goalie needs to be better than the Red Wings’. And while Detroit has some chinks in their armor, they are not showing them right now. For us to see Columbus win with the odds, they are going to have to play a perfect game. Expect a donnybrook right out of the chute on this one.

Stay tuned to www.ongoalanalysis.com and the OGA Blogs and we will continue to update the percentages through the ’09 Playoffs.
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Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Capitals’ Psychological Thread

Hockey is combat. Do not let anyone fool you. That means its success is subject to the effects of many intangibles. Let’s take, for instance, the New York Rangers and Washington Capitals’ series. By all rights, the Caps are the favorites. They should, based on improvement in order of magnitude from last season to this one, be whipping the Rangers’ butts. And yet, they aren’t. Why? I think it speaks to a psychological thread that defines the overall character of team play.

What the heck is that? Since it is my phrase, I’ll define it as the manner in which the team as a whole knows how to win. In the case of the Capitals, their psychological thread as it relates to team play is completely different this season than it was at this time last year. Back then, they had just completed transformation from a 6-13-1 start into the most prolific comeback since the Lockout. By the time they ended the season 15-4-1 in their final 20 games to qualify for their first Playoff berth in years, Coach Boudreau had infused the team with a new attitude. They worked hard, as underdogs, and battled for each win.

That transformation became the very mindset and effort that was their normal way of doing all things Hockey as individuals and as a team. In my line of work, it is like going into combat for the first time, choking down the fact that you harbor thoughts that you could die in this business. Then you are fired upon in anger by the enemy for the first time and make it through successfully, which steels your personal confidence. The more you go out to do it, the more you learn to manage your personal emotions and actions to get the mission done – you learn a different character that is the sum of your efforts with your unit. That character continues to evolve into a collection of reflex feelings for your environment that you can sense either are, or are not, present. Once you have that thread ingrained, you automatically feel uncomfortable when your sense of normal is not present. It is as if a program is recorded in your brain and you play it in the background as a measuring stick of normalcy every time you go out on mission.

What is interesting here is the Capitals’ overall team play character this season is not the same one as last year. They have been VERY successful in comparison, and they play games as a team differently. Just take a look at how they played against the Rangers during the 2008/9 regular season:

They went 3-0-1 against the Blueshirts

In three of those four games, the Rangers scored first

In their three wins, the Capitals scored a pair of goals, beginning no later than the 11th minute of the 2nd period, and including at least one PPG

These facts speak to four characteristics of the Capitals’ team play when they stepped out onto the ice to play the Rangers in the regular season:

1) The team fed on the energy required to play comeback Hockey

2) They regularly pushed the tempo of the game in order to score early in a period

3) They gained confidence and elevated their level of play as they scored on the power play

4) And they ended the regular season not having lost to the Rangers in regulation time

That is the sum of their overall team play character going into this series with New York, and it is their tape recording – the psychological thread – of what is normal for Washington success when it comes to skating with the Rangers.

In Game 1 of this year’s playoffs, the Capitals scored first, on the power play, and at 6:40 of the second period. Seeking that thread indicating team success, ‘normal’ for the team would have been a second goal within a few minutes of play. Instead, 1:09 later the first Rangers’ goals was scored. It was followed by two more, both from the League’s 29th ranked power play in the regular season. In the words of The Robot from Lost In Space, “That does not compute.” The mental thread that tells Washington they will win was sending up alarm bells because it was not working, they were then forces to alter their normal output on the ice, but still could not quite get to the “W.”

In Game 2, the Rangers got that early 2-on-1 goal and the Capitals scored nothing through two periods. By the third period, they are again completely off their game and pushed until they began trying too hard to make things happen. And all of this with Lundqvist at the other end of the ice, standing as a living, breathing structure of frustration after you pushed through a tight checking, hard-hitting forward and defensive corps.

So how in this battle that is the Stanley Cup, do the Capitals find their thread and Win? In combat, we tell Soldiers to snap out of it, take stock of their surroundings, focus on where the ‘enemy’ is weak, and attack. It is also that easy – and difficult – for the Capitals to do. They are still four Wins away from the second round and are most likely in need of five games to make that happen. A combination of Coach Boudreau and key player leadership with a healthy dose of team confidence in their ability to Win is needed to snap them out of their funk, orient them toward where the Rangers are weak, and focus their attack.
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Saturday, April 18, 2009

Has it Already Been TEN Years?

Ten years ago today, The Great One played his last game. I'm not ashamed to say that I watched the whole game with a lump in my throat and, in the end, with tears in my eyes. Take a few minutes to relive and remember; you won't regret it:

Wayne Gretzky was, without question, the greatest talent I've ever seen on the ice. He's the reason 1st overall picks in the draft inevitably inspire the question, "Is (insert name) The NEXT One?" The truth is, while we're fortunate to have some great talents in the game today - Ovechkin, Malkin and Crosby lead the way - I don't know that we'll ever see someone put up the numbers that Wayne Gretzky did. I could sit here and type up the highlights, but I think you should see for yourself here.

Thanks for the memories, Wayne.

Take me back to On Goal Analysis
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Dear NHL, Let Hockey Happen

Dear NHL,

We fans appreciate messages.

Daniel Carcillo (PHI) gets Nasty and gets a 1-Game suspension. Butt-end of the stick to the head of the opposing player on a faceoff with 6 seconds left. Okay, we get it...kind of. Seems to me, it should have been a 2 minute minor called ON THE ICE and the issue is settled. But no call was made and the 'powers-that-be' review and suspend the fellow for a game.

The message sent by the NHL: We already sent a message to the coaches and the GMs; NO MESSAGES when the game is already decided.

Colin Campbell clarifies as such,
"With six seconds left, you have a player who never kills penalties, a player who never takes faceoffs, coming out on a five-on-three (manpower disadvantage) and doing what he did – a repeat offender. So there are a number of criteria there that satisfy doing what we had to do ... I don't want to filter everything out of the game. But we want to take the dumb stuff out of the game."
Well, I also watched Game 1 of Montreal at Boston and there was some general nastiness and ill-will exhibited at the conclusion of this game as well. I believe it was the Canadiens sending a message to the Bruins that Game 2 will be an answer to Game 1.

The pundits and hockey-talkers wondered, "will the NHL have something to say about this? After all, Carcillo received a one-game suspension for 'message-sending' and certainly this game was already decided when Kessel scored the empty-netter"...and the two teams met to exchange...pleasantries...? No, my friends, it's called a message. (Are you listening?)

Disciplinarian Colin Campbell had this to say about the conclusion of the Montreal@Boston Game 1:
"People take things out of different incidents last night (and say:) 'Oh boy! Same thing (as Philadelphia-Pittsburgh)! How many games are you going to suspend him?' You've got to let the games unfold. You've got to let hockey be hockey, playoffs be playoffs. You've got to let the energy flow. And then, when they cross that line, you do what you have to do."
So, Friday night, I watch Game 2 of St. Louis@Vancouver and see the messages at the conclusion...tussles....a near-fight with near-punches thrown and a sweaty bunch of anger, and I think, "Dang, (it's a family-friendly blog) I frakkin love hockey!...and I LOVE THE MESSAGE!"

Dear NHL,

We watch, we love and we listen.

At the conclusion of Game 2 between St. Louis (in the playoffs a year or two early!) and Vancouver, we see men who have concluded 82 regular season games and have earned the right to play for the Cup. They begin the dance - the battle.

And if I am a Blues fan, I WANT my team to send a message in BC: "We are not done and we'll see you when you come to OUR HOUSE."

If I am a Canucks fan, I WANT my team to answer the message sent by the Blues this way: "Message received, Blues-Boyes...now we bring it to the Gateway Arch!"

And so it goes.

Dear NHL,

We fans live for this.

It's hope for the team down 2-0 in a series. It's vim and vigor and vitality for our team UP in a series. Bring it.

Cheap shots are cheap shots. Making the boy sit - 2 minutes will suffice. But sending the message that the message will not be tolerated...?

The fans LOVE messages. It's how we communicate. Broadcasters...Email...Twitter...Message Sent, Message Received. Message in a bottle?

Not with NHL hockey. Breakneck speed, baby. You can't take the toughness out of hockey. And we, the fans of the Great Game don't want you to.

Now...back to Campbell's statements. In the general spirit of things, the Frozen Pill agrees. Carcillo was sent out onto the ice in a situation where he would normally not be utilized. For Campbell to note this as a factor when discussing the decision handed down by the league (in contrast to what happened at the end of MTL@BOS) is actually well- reasoned.

If he reverses course and lays suspensions after Friday night's tilt between the Blues and Canucks, we should demand some dang (PG-13, folks!) good explanations.

There should be nothing of the sort. Just let the players play, let the zebras do their job on the ice and, to quote The Man, '...let the games unfold.'

And let the players settle this in Game 3. The toughness will always exist with hockey.

And I believe Campbell is square and on the right track with his comments.

Of note: By issuing a suspension to Carcillo in the opening night of Game 1, the league sent a message that it's message to the GMs and coaches about 'sending a message' not being tolerated is, in fact, a consistent message.

(Reread the sentence above if necessary...it does work)

But faith in Campbell is warranted, although we fans may be wondering what the future of hockey 'toughness' looks like, when one considers his further statements to these matters while discussing Martin Havlat's game-winning goal in Chicago Thursday night:
"Things in hockey or in life never happen in slow motion or in replays. They happen live ... When the foot-in-the-crease rule was taken out – one of the worst rules in hockey – it was taken out with a couple of factors in mind: One was that there are two referees now and one is always around the net. He gets a good look at what's happening and he makes a judgment. Quickly. He's there to protect the goalie in the blue, but also to let hockey happen."
(Note to Sabres' fans: Brett Hull just muttered, 'Amen'.)

For now, one must conclude the game is in good hands. Presumably, the best refs and linesmen have been brought to the task of calling the games between this NHL season's best teams and players. If the NHL trusts them to do their job, let's let them all do the job - coaches, players and officials, alike. And after the conclusion of Friday's game between the Canucks and Blues, I trust we, the fans of this Great Game, are in for one glorious Stanley Cup race.

Consider the message received.

Dear NHL,


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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Good, The Bad and The Fugly

Well, it is now April 15th, 2009. How to handle such a dichotomy like today?

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.

The 2009 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs (finally!) begin tonight. The Dance is ON! And yet, for those of us south of the 49th parallel, it is Tax Day. Time to render unto Caesar what is his. And Caesar keeps getting bigger and aksing for more. Emperor, meet Jenny Craig.

Didn't think so.

I think I will celebrate the day by filing for an extension on the taxes if at least ONE of the games Wednesday night goes into overtime. That makes sense, right? Extend the joy for both occasions?

Lordy, it's good to have a plan.

And now, time to register for the NHL's Playoff Challenge. Then pick a fantasy team for the OGA pool. After all, the work's already done and the Frozen Pill's Predilections are available to see at the OGA homepage.

You folks need to check out the Staff picks vs. The OGA Experimental Playoff Calculator. And we would love to have your feedback, as well. Comments go below, emails go to shotongoal@ongoalanalysis.com

Happy Tax Day, Americans! And Merry Stanley Cup Playoffs to all of us!
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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

New York Islanders WIN LOTTERY!

And even scored the power ball, too.

NYI gets first pick....now, waiting for June.

All those folks who bought the Islanders Tavares sweaters this regular season are breathing a sigh of relief...
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Sunday, April 12, 2009

Calling All Ranger (and Stars) Fans!

First, a bit of important background info:
For those of you who haven't read my profile, here's the Readers' Digest Condensed Version: I was born and raised in Texas, but I've been a proud fan of the New York Rangers since 1980, and a Stars' fan since they moved to Dallas in 1993. I have enormous respect for the history and traditions of The Great Game, and as a Native Texan, I'm proud of the New York Rangers' historic ties to The Lone Star State. How many of you are aware of the fact that the Rangers were founded by George "Tex" Rickard, who earned his nickname from his time spent as Town Marshall of Henrietta, TX? Today, the rodeo arena in Henrietta is named in his honor, and The Colonel and I made the pilgrimage last August:
I'm the rather handsome bald spot on the right

As the story goes, Rickard's New York NHL franchise was dubbed "Tex's Rangers" by the local media, and the name stuck. For those of you who haven't yet guessed it, my screen name is a play on both Tex Rickard and that icon of the State Fair of Texas, the "other" Big Tex. And yes, the photo I use is Rickard, himself.

The reason for the background info is simple: If you're a fan of either the Rangers or the Stars, I need your help in correcting a serious oversight. You see, there's another Texas tie to the New York Rangers: Brian Leetch was born in Corpus Christi, TX, and was just the second Native Texan to play in the NHL. He's had his jersey retired by the Rangers, been enshrined in the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame, and he's a shoe-in for the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. Despite his many outstanding achievements, however, Brian Leetch has not yet been inducted into the Texas Sports Hall of Fame.

I've already started the ball rolling by nominating Leetch for induction into the TSHoF. I have received assurances from the staff there that multiple nominations are NOT necessary. The way you can help, and what I'm asking each of you to consider, is to become an Official Voting Member of the Texas Sports Hall of Fame. Yes, it does cost money, but for just $25, you'll be able to vote this June to put Brian Leetch into the (Texas) Hall. I've already signed up and forked over my $25, and you can do the same here.

I'd like to state the following for the record: Other than purchasing a membership in order to have voting privileges when the ballots are mailed out this June, I have no affiliation with the Texas Sports Hall of Fame, nor do I stand to benefit - financially or otherwise - from your membership. I'm doing this simply because I love The Great Game of Hockey and I want to do what I can to both recognize one of the Rangers' all-time greats and help grow the game in my home state by raising awareness of Texas' contributions (however small) to the NHL. If you'd like to join me in my crusade...thanks, and welcome aboard! If not, just ask yourself this: Was the joy of watching Brian Leetch skate at MSG for all those years - hoisting the Stanley Cup and becoming the only American-born player ever to win the Conn Smythe Trophy - worth $25?

Thanks for your time, and LET'S GO, RANGERS!!!

Take me back to On Goal Analysis
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Friday, April 10, 2009

OGA Road Trip II: Post-Game Activities

Friday, 10 April, 12:21am – I am now home from Toronto after flight delays in Dallas for weather, but owed those of you following the OGA Road Trip II a wrap up of the last portion of my trip.

As I packed up to go and wandered up the steps to the TSN booth, I got there in time for Gord Miller and crew to tell me we have to stand by for one last interview. I stepped back to get out of the way and watched as they brought Buffalo goaltender Ryan Miller on the air. On cue, Gord opened up the interview by saying, ‘…We are here now with Buffalo Sabres goalie Ryan Miller. Ryan, you survived for another day with the win. How do you like your chances (of making the playoffs)?...’ I could not hear Ryan’s response as it was feeding through Gord’s headphones, but Ryan spoke the team’s line that if they continue to win and have a little luck, they just might make it. An interview that took only about a minute to complete, Gord signed off with, ‘…Congratulations on the win and good luck….’ Some luck will be necessary along with Sabres wins for them to make the show. But one of the things I liked is that, with no malice intended, the broadcasters ask the hard question and put the players on the spot. Because there is no malice there, the players accept the query and provide the best answer they can for the moment. Gord said the players all understand how it is done, and they are well-grounded, which is why you don’t get the same ballyhoo of the NHL, NBA and MLB for the most part. He said even Sean Avery is, in person, a good guy.

Before we walked out, I heard Gord ask, “…Hey, Joe. Wanna go get a drink?...” I turned around to see it was Joe Nieuwendyk, a Stanley Cup winner. He politely declined as he had early morning business. I shook his hand and didn’t have time to say anything pithy, but he is one of my heroes from 1999 as well. A note about him later, too.

We walked down to the elevator, grabbing a former member of the Dallas Stars management. I fully admit I did not recognize him until Pierre told me who he was, strictly because I haven’t seen him play in uniform on camera. But I know he was one of the architects that helped get the Stars to their 1999 Stanley Cup victory, a personally rewarding experience for my brothers and I because I was living in Dallas at the time. You cannot talk of Dallas Stars' glory and fail to think of him.

We made our way to the elevators, jamming in tightly. I drew a snicker when I said I already sucked it in by starting to lose my hair 20 years ago and a receding hairline should count. On the bottom floor, we made our way down the concourse, linked up with Pierre, and passed the lucky fans waiting outside the Leafs' locker room for players to emerge. Lots of kids there, which is important to the future of Hockey. I have a soft spot reserved for kids because I learned in Germany, Iraq and Japan with the military that kids are kids the world over and despite what language they speak. We adults teach them to soar or fear, and for my part, I vote on soaring.

As if on cue when we stepped out of the Air Canada Centre, a man with his son on his shoulders and sporting Maple Leafs jerseys mixed in with us next to Pierre. He immediately patted the youngster on the shoulder and talked with him for a good portion of our walk to the hotel.

As we walked, I talked with Gord. He asked me questions about what I do in the military and spoke highly of those who serve in uniform. They all did, for that matter. But I got to tell him how much we enjoy them bringing us The Great Game. I know if they shut off the sound and just ran the tape, and if you know Hockey, you could tell yourself what is going on. But I found as the conversation continued later, it would be the intangibles we would miss were they not there.

Once we sat down for a drink, several different discussion threads came up. Those intangibles I mention above were an interesting story in styles for how broadcasters keep up with the play while on the air. They spoke of one old veteran broadcaster. His method for keeping up with which lines were on the ice was to have a sheet of paper with the line combinations on it that he marked as the game was in progress. When Gord said the game moves so fast these days, Pierre chimed in to say it is difficult to follow a sheet of line combinations as coaches are not shy about mixing them up as the game is in progress. He said your color man does that for you these days.

The boys told lots of stories, some of the highlights were:

I offered that the GM’s position has to be one of the toughest ones in Hockey right now what with the cap and all. I said I thought it was a reason more players did not get moved at the Trade Deadline and asked if it might impact off-season trading. One of the guys said there will still be movement despite the cap, it just makes getting the deal done a bit tougher. Speaking of deals, the Jarome Iginla to Calgary for Joe Nieuwendyk trade came up. Everyone at the table said that was a brilliant trade all the way around because it solved Dallas’ short-term need, brought them the Stanley Cup and provided Calgary with a franchise player. (You may or may not recall, but at the time, the phrase was ‘…Iginla who?...’ What you may or may not know is he was NOT the player Calgary was trying to get from Dallas for Joe. Dallas won that battle at that time and sent Iginla instead.) I also asked what team management looks at as they watch their team on the ice? The answer was that it depends on the time of the season because the team’s – and players’ – character change over the course of 82 games. We see that as scoring streaks and slumps, for example. This runs contrary to the coaching staff who are concerned with who immediately hits the ice for each game.

There was a conversation about how tough Hockey players are. The guys told of a certain Sutter brother playing for Chicago in a Playoff Game Four taking a slapshot from a teammate that ran up his stick, hit him in the face and collapsed his sinus cavities. They told him after the game that he could not travel with them on the plane as the pressure would put him in so much pain he would not be able to stand it. He insisted otherwise. So they put small balloons up his nose and inflated them to keep the pressure from collapsing the sinuses and cut back on the pain a bit and he flew out with the team. He missed Game 5 – you can guess with a lot of protesting – but was in the lineup for Game 6.

That brought up a sidebar commentary from Pierre and Gord about character. Hockey players, unlike a lot of other athletes, when asked what needs to happen for the team to win begin their answer with, “WE need to….” This is one of the reasons I love the sport – it is about selfless sacrifice for the good of the whole. Locker rooms in the NHL are less opulent than ones right down the concourse for other sports. I was told Dallas’ room was designed by Bob Gainey without dividers between players’ stalls and with everyone’s bench facing inward. In that space, they are family. I have thought for a long time that the ONLY player that can win a game single-handed is a Goalie. That’s really wrong because there IS a team out in front of him, and at least one of his teammates has to score (never mind Billy Smith and the handful of other goalies who scored into empty nets). I also know it is a TEAM that raises the Stanley Cup and skates it around the rink.

We had a brief discussion about Montreal. Just about everyone at the table agrees they need to pull up their boot straps and win to keep the team management around. All at the table, however, agree THAT is the place to take in a game and get the feel of how Canadians love Hockey.

Pierre speaks highly of Luke Schenn, the rookie defenseman for Toronto, saying exemplifies Hockey character. Keep an eye on this player in the future as you might see the makings of the next Pronger/Lidstrom hybred.

Lastly, the Playoffs. For a quick insight into how these guys work, think of the consummate road warrior about to gird himself for battle. The regular season will end Sunday evening, and the NHL will be on the phone with all of the networks, working out who has what game and when. Sometime very early in the morning on Monday, the guys will get emailed what their schedule will be and they will set all of their travel plans on Monday, hitting the road on Tuesday. All with families, they and their team will be on the road for all but perhaps a couple of days from mid-April until the Cup is raised. Gord and Pierre, for example, covered the three preceding series and then did the coast-to-coast-to-coast runs back and forth from Ottawa to Anaheim. There should be a new frequent flyer class for these guys…

It was time to break up the group at the bar. Everyone had morning flights and, at a bit after midnight, Pierre still had to get up and start his morning radio show appearances. I cannot say enough how honored I was to walk among these men last night. They are nothing if not classy, and the kind of down-to-earth folks anyone could talk with.

Until then, safe travels, boys!

In closing, I would like to say to those reading this that I know I probably sound like one huge, name-dropping SOB. If you knew me, you’d know two things: 1) I am enthusiastic about things and people I believe in; and 2) I wanted you all to know a bit more about why this game, and the folks associated with it are so great. Frankly, I could have been anybody they invited up north and they would have treated them the same way. I appreciate the experience, I hope I did you all justice, and I am looking forward to another run...
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Thursday, April 9, 2009

OGA Road Trip II: The Game With TSN

...In my seat before the game, I jotted down the notes that were in the last post. I also got ready to follow the game.

I DID forget to mention one note in the conversations Pierre and I had pre-game. Not everyone necessarily knows Scotty Bowman gave Pierre his coaching break after seeing him run a practice and they are close personal friends. OGA's Big Tex wanted me to ask him what is the biggest lesson Scotty taught him. "...Don't let your anger get the best of you...." Sage advice for life right there as it has helped both of them be successful in life. I know for me it was a conscious thought when in front of my troops to always attempt to maintain calm no matter what was going on as it is 1) infectious, and 2) lets people know YOU know what you are doing. Both of those outcomes create a cycle that can put you past adversity and on to success in anything you do.

Down on the media level, I met Rob Del Mundo, a reporter for The Fischler Report which is, of course, Published by Stan Fischler. Rob and I spoke for a few minutes and he gave me copy of The 7 March - 13 April report. It is a great read! It's byline is "Hockey's Weekly Think Tank" and it has some great insights into the Great Game. I believe you can get to them by going to http://www.maxhockey.com/ but if that does not work, drop an email to rob_del_mundo@hotmail.com .

Fiddling with notes, I needed a drink, so went back up the stairs to grab some water. There in the concourse. locked in conversation was Brian Burke. I hoped to run into him because I wanted to ask him what in Toronto is hard to do as a GM that was easy in Anaheim, and what is difficult that was easy out West. I was resigned to only passing by, however, because he was busy. When our eyes locked for a second, I simply stuck my hand out and wished him well for the night. He smiled warmly and grasped my hand saying 'Thanks' and then was back into his conversation. Just short of a goal for the night, but there will be other opportunities.

Back down in my seat again, I pulled out my stat study I wanted to confirm or deny. I had run the gaol scoring for Toronto and Buffalo over their last ten games to come up with a profile of play of sorts I wanted to confirm or deny. The quick basics were:

1. A period of scoring for and against for the two teams from 16:59 - 10:59 in Period 1 (not validated tonight)

2. A spike in scoring from 20:00 - 16:59 in Period 2 (validated as POMINVILLE scored)

3. A scoring spike from 20:00 - 16:59 in Period 3 (validated as VANEK and GAUSTAD scored with GUASTAD also scoring during a stretch from 11:59-9:59 of this period in which he had previously scored two goals)

4. And a last scoring spike in the last three minutes of the game which was not validated.

I mention this study I had out because it is what caused Jim "Boomer" Gordon from XM Radio to sit down next to me, asking "...What do you have there?..." We talked through most of the game about Hockey, Football, Baseball, Texas and XM. I had to say, on behalf of we XM Radio fans out there, that they are awesome for what they put on the air for us. Some of the highlights of the conversations:

1. XM Radio's numbers for listenership just came out and were good numbers. Important to the show, but it is another reminder to us all that Hockey is slowly growing in importance. (If only we could find a lake Placid moment for the U.S....).

2. I asked what he looks at when he comes to a game. One of the first comments was that he has sat all over the arena and believes up there on the 6th floor is the best vantage point because there is not anything that is obstructed. This was not the first time I heard this tonight. So those of you who rue the empty seat next to the glass from the upper deck should know the professionals like your vantage point. Reference the game, he said it depends. Sometimes he is there to see a particular player. When Columbus came into Toronto last, it was to see Steve Mason in goal. And sometimes it is to get an impression of overall team play.

3. We had some sidebars about the Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers as he is a real Steelers fan. I had to admit I do not follow football as much anymore. I am an old, Tom Landry/Roger Staubach Cowboys fan and have not been as much of a follower since Jones came in, bought the team, and fired Coach Landry in the media before personally going to see him. Of note was the upcoming opening of the Cowboys new stadium which has a reported, $20M big screen in HD. What do you say to that, other than you want one in your own, private theater?

4. He pointed out how bad VANEK's performance for Buffalo was. After two periods, the $7M man had no SOG and only 7 minutes of ice time. Right after Boomer left - must have been within two minutes of playing time - VANEK's first SOG from the side of a sprawling Cujo was a goal. Drew Stafford seemed to be slow as well. Boomer will talk about them on air later on in the week.

5. His favorite segment of their shows is the one he does with Rob Higgins for the fantasy hockey hour on Fridays. I personally like catching the show as it provides insights into what is going on in my own pool.

6. I mentioned my favorite, out-of-the-box idea that intra-divisional games should be done by three's, half before New Year's and the other half to close the season. They should be played in three game sets, however, as a mini-series in order to give teams and fans a playoff atmosphere for weeks during the season. He said he noticed on rare occasions that they have put three games together, and it has made for interesting play.

7. We also had an interesting conversation about the validity of 45-second, flat-out shifts versus Phil Esposito's 75 percent power for two-minute shifts. Boomer said he actually did a lot of study into how the players train, eat and practice for the 45-second shift and that the game would be entirely different if you could somehow mandate that teams roll lines after every two minutes. It would make the rink 'bigger' if that was the case because the speed at which players move from point-to-point right now makes you either decide and move the puck faster, or be in conflict with another player because you were too slow. If players went at 75% speed, they would not cover the ice as well, making more space and time to observe, orient, decide, and act (that's right, military folks, the OODA Loop). Great observation!

Boomer has great insight into the game as anyone with all of his experience should. He also enjoys the off-season with a chance to recharge the batteries, much like a lot of the Hockey crowd does. Booms, it was my pleasure spending the game talking with you about a myriad of subjects. You are one of the great reasons to subscribe to XM!

The game ended 3-1 Buffalo, with the Sabres still alive for a playoff berth. As I picked up my notes, I glanced up at the Retired Number Banners to my front with such names as Mahovlich, Clark, Apps, Clancy, Broda and others staring back at me. Peeking between this awesome row of canvas are multiple Stanley Cup banners everyone fights to add to the rafters again. This place IS history.

The last post, the post-game drink with the guys, will be posted when I get home this evening. I have to pack and get to the airport. Sorry to keep you on a string, but I won't be leaving Toronto if I do not get moving.

More in a few hours...
1. 4.

OGA Road Trip II: Pre-Game With TSN

...I left the hotel in a taxi for Air Canada Centre and was dropped off near the scaffolding where they are improving the west side of the building. After a question to one of the guys helping folks along out of their vehicles, I made my way into the building to Gate 1 to seek information. I found the gentlemen helping make things run smoothly on the concourse because he looked official and then saw him wearing the black blazer with the facility's logo over the left breast pocket. After inquiring, he pointed me along to Gate 2 where they sent me downstairs to the press entrance. At the press desk, I grabbed the press pass Pierre left for me which and rode the elevator up to the 6th floor.

I followed further directions around the concourse until I found the TSB booth where they were setting up and conducting camera checks. While I waited, I looked around a little. Next to the TSB booth was the booth reserved for the Buffalo Sabres' broadcast feed, and then rooms for Toronto, Buffalo, and other VIPs. On the credenza between TSN and Buffalo's booth, they had the broadcasters ready to go with various press releases and stat packs to grab, along with chips, popcorn, ice cream, soft drinks and water. I would find out later a small platoon of interns would run to all media and the VIP booths copies of the final lineup and period-by-period stats. Of interest with the releases was the fact that Toronto Winger Brad May was celebrating his 1000th career game with the Leafs tonight, a feat done by only 20 other Maple Leafs. A nice ceremony was planned before the game.

TSN's lead camera man in the booth grabbed me after a few minutes and took time to take me back down to the media level to find Pierre. Enroute, we began meeting so many folks that I could not keep up with who everyone is. Two people of note, however, were Gord Miller and his neighbor. This was a quick hand shake as they were coming out of the media cafeteria and we would talk more later. But in meeting them, you could tell they walk with a swagger that says they have personal confidence in what they are doing. This is what we often refer to as a veteran's gait in my line of work.

We inquired and were told we could find Pierre finishing his pre-game dinner. We actually found him in a side room preparing to mic up for the game. When he came out of a side door, he grinned and extended his hand with a slap on the back saying it was good to finally meet me. I am one in a sea of folks Pierre knows and works with daily, but throughout the evening, he never made me feel like I was anything less than an old friend. The same can be said for Gord and everyone else they introduced me to. Very down to earth, they are all classy guys.

Once Pierre found out he didn't have to do any pre-game TV spots for about 30 minutes, he told the crew he would be back in 15 minutes and grabbed me to show me around. The clock, you see, was already ticking for the show, they just weren't in the anxious phase of lights on and tape (digits) rolling (running). He took me around to the ice and up on to the Maple Leafs' bench and then over to his battle station for the game. Once there, I now know why he has taken a few pucks and sticks in his broadcasting career. He has the glass down between himself and the home team bench here, one reason he stays so connected during the game. He has a monitor in the booth so while in commercial, they can review something of note for we fans watching along on TV.

Off the ice, we walked toward the TSN's production trailer for a short tour. Enroute we stopped and met Larry Quinn, Managing Partner and Minority Owner of the Sabres. As he stuck out his hand first to Pierre, he said he bet Pierre was going to dump on his team during the game. Pierre responded dryly with, "...Hey, I'm bullish on the Sabres...." The head manager was there with us as well, and when asked, I commented on how Clarke MacArthur has been impressive with five goals in the last four games. We would find out later he was a scratch. When the guys inquired, Coach Ruff said between Connolly and MacArthur, they have one upper body and one lower body injury and he wasn't going to specify who was who. Without further confirmation, I would flip the coin and bet MacArthur had the lower body tweak.

When we turned right off the concourse, we stepped up into 'Spirit,' TSN's best production trailer. The crew to the right side work their butt off editing the digits on demand to produce the replays and highlight clips that are seamlessly infused into the game feed. This was the largest single part of the trailer and looked to be manned by three gentlemen who Pierre likes to see before each game. Each screen they have up has at least six camera views on it. So if you have the Center Ice Online package like I do, your four screens are for rookies! This group of gentlemen and Pierre make each other look good, so, like me when I was a battalion commander, you stop in to show you give a damn before GO time. To the left side of the trailer, we met the show's Producer and his crew of three. They sat in front of a wall of multiple flat-panel screens, all in HD. If this was in your man cave, you would never come out. Of interest to the Producer and his second with Pierre for a couple of minutes was the scuttlebutt of what games he and Gord might be working for the Playoffs - more about this later. But for your knowledge, they had 15 different cameras following the game for the night and these gentlemen who see a game completely differently than we do in order to package what comes out on your screen can follow all of them, sorting through just what a view means to the story that would be April 8th, Buffalo at Toronto.

My impressions after talking to these men tonight were:

1. A show starts with knowledgeable Hockey people placed in the right position who know their own jobs and those of the others immediately around them to secure broadcast flexibility.

2. These knowledgeable folks know how to take a fast-tempo game and periodically slow it down like Gretzky crossing the blue line and starting to curl. In the next few moments, they can take you through the steps that explain the split-second muscle twitches that create two passes, a shot on goal and a goal or save, like the swirling Gretzky who measures where to place the puck. When they slow it down, this is subliminal to the viewer because, in the course of the game, it never really feels like the game has slowed. And after that review of what happened, like Gretzky hitting Coffey's tape for a slapshot, the game slides back into real time motion. This is not necessarily appreciated by the viewer, but it is just like getting into Gretzky's (or pick your name here) head.

3. And pre- and post-game, they know how to hang loose and enjoy themselves. Lots of ribbings about who buys their clothes at the bargain basement, who couldn't put a puck in the net if it was twice the size, and the like all sandwich in around those moments where they intensely are in the game for us.

I say we do not know out in front of our television how lucky we really are.

After we were done at the trailer, I went with Pierre back up to the 6th floor for the game. Because the booth was crowded, he put me in a media chair right under and just to the left of the TSN and Toronto boxes.

More coming in the next post about the game, and then, the post-game story...
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Wednesday, April 8, 2009

OGA Road Trip II: A Night With The TSN Crew (And Others)

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I apologize for bowing out at the moment, but I have just returned to my computer after post-game activities with members of the TSN, NHL Network and St. Louis Blues. That, coupled with only a few hours of sleep on Wednesday, means I need a little sleep before I can properly do justice to a game blog behind the scenes.

Let me, however, drop some names you will read about tomorrow when I launch the final blog on this awesome trip:

Pierre McGuire (TSN, NBC)
Gord Miller (TSN)
Jim Gordon (XM Radio)
Brian Burke (Toronto Maple Leafs)
Joe Nieuwendyk (Toronto Maple Leafs)
Doug Armstrong (St. Louis Blues)

It may sound arrogant to drop those names, but those who know me understand I am doing this blogging for the love of the game. All of those gentlemen gave me more reasons to love this Great Game because they added color and character to a sport that is all about that.

So I promise, more in the morning when I can do this experience justice.

Stand by for more...
1. 4.

OGA Road Trip II: On The Ground In Toronto

Wednesday, 8 April, 4:29pm (EST) - I landed at Lester B. Pearson Airport at approximately 2:15pm local and zipped through customs slicker than spilled Wesson on linoleum. Once through there, I had already been clued in to the Airport Express shuttle bus, so slid on over to the desk to secure my round trip ticket to and from the airport and my hotel. If you plan on coming to Toronto for a game one day and are not renting a car, take the Airport Express and get the round-trip ticket to save some beer money.

We hoped up on the Queensland Expressway and made our way into town pretty well - more cars were coming out than going in. For an American, it could be any town in our country with a few exceptions:

1. There is Lake Ontario to the SUD;

2. SUD is, of course South in French (and German, I remember form school and deployments), which is indicated on the bilingual English and French signs;

3. And your speed is in kph and distance in meters. I have done this with the U.S. military as a normal course of events. If you think it is going to throw you off, just go with it - your exit is still marked.

I am also reminded as I look at the French commands that there are many words we have adopted from them in English. EXIT from the highway, for instance, is SORTIE. Of course, in my line of work, SORTIE usually means jets or helicopters involved in helping you line somebody out. But a good word nonetheless.

I checked in at the hotel where the guys made the reservation. Very nice room. They live comfortably enough on the road - not a palace (I have only slept in a palace in IRAQ), but comfortable, and who needs more than that?

I promptly turned on TSN to the World Curling Championships. Don't let anyone fool you - there is a fine art to hurling your rocks down the ice and having them come to rest just exactly where you want them to.

I will have to give you more later. It is time to get ready for the game and I need to make myself presentable. More late tonight from the Colonel...
1. 4.

OGA Road Trip II: Changing Planes in Big D

Wednesday, 8 April, 9:37am - Almost halfway there (sort of), I'm now at DFW airport, waiting to board for Toronto.

As we flew in over Dallas at about 8:15, I was reminded to be thankful. While we have drivers in Louisiana who sometimes don't know how or when to yield, Dallas has it's traffic. If it was dusk, Tim McGraw's "...Red ants marching into the night..." line would definitely apply. Still, it was nice to come in over DFW and recognize some familiar landmarks like Lewisville High School and some of the local businesses.

The flight here was smooth, uneventful and roomy - we had less than 20 on our aircraft. When I got to my gate, I invoked Road Warrior Rule Number 2: check for an open bulkhead seat. This gives you more leg room. Mission accomplished.

Road Warrior Rule Number 1 I learned from my grandfather: carry with you what you need. So I have my computer with some key peripherals and a hanging bag with all the stuff tied to my slacks, coat and tie. I land in Toronto at about 2:45 and want to get from the airport to the hotel, get cleaned up and changed, and get to the Air Canada Centre by about 5:30. In almost 25 years of military service, I have learned to make the most out of whatever I'm given. So arriving at 5:30 means I have to maximize the 5.5 hours in the broadcast booth, along the press concourse and in the locker rooms.

Pinch me.

More from Toronto...
1. 4.

OGA Road Trip II: Leaving Louisiana

Wednesday, 8 April, 5:59am - Here I sit at the airport, awaiting time for the security check. The drive in was quiet as my VERY supportive wife is not a morning person. I am glad I was not catchin' it since she had to wake up so early (while she is on Spring Break from Nursing School )just to get me here.

It is a chilly (for Louisiana) 39 degrees but the sky is perfectly clear as evidenced by the huge, setting yellow-orange and full moon that kept us company on the way in.

Security is fun for all. My friends call it "The Show" because I had hip replacement surgery and my titanium bionetics gets a courtesy wanding every time. I already know and assume the position so it goes faster.

Going on in now as this is the first hop into DFW enroute to Lester B. Pearson International Airport. A nap on the plane is in order since I only got about two hours' worth of sleep last night.

More from Dallas...
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OGA Road Trip II: A Night In The Life of TSN

Wednesday, 8 April, 4:15am - Like a kid on Christmas morning, I am up for the third time overnight. This time, however, it is for the actual alarm to start this incredible day where I am traveling to Toronto to join Pierre McGuire and Gord Miller as their guest for tonight's Buffalo and Toronto game telecast.

As I update the web page, I feel like I am starting a mission. A mission to bring a night in the life of TSN to you, the Hockey fan. I will be behind the scenes with Pierre and Gord, so I intend to tell you how it is they do what they do. With the help of modern (cell phone) technology and hotel high-speed Internet access, I will blog about the experience in the hope of bringing you along with me on this great opportunity.

Come back to this link often so you, too, can be a part of Hockey Night In Canada. Buckle up your seat belts - this is to be a tale of planes, automobiles and behind-the-scenes access...
1. 4.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

It's Just About Done - Or Is It?

Only two weekends left in the 2008/9 regular season. Wow. The season is just about history, almost a reason for celebration for the Mrs. (If it weren't for that pesky two months of Playoffs...)

BUT, 'done' is a relative term. Almost season end is definitely not season concluded this year.
In the east, it remains to be seen in their next contest if last night's OT win for New Jersey is enough to pull them out of a playoff performance threatening slump or not. There's still a little jockeying to go to see if Philly holds on to the Number 4 seed or concedes that to a surging Pittsburgh. And a reinvigorated Montreal leaves the contest for the 8th seed now between the Rangers and Florida. This race just became exciting as the Rangers' loss to Boston Saturday afternoon sets up the Panthers for a point-tie with New York if they pull off the must-win on Sunday against Pittsburgh. Add to that the Rangers have to play Montreal next, and close out with two against Philadelphia while the Panthers get Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Atlanta and Washington to end the season and you have a Donnybrook on your hands. (I personally feel the Rangers will have one Win and one OTL in their last three, which means Florida needs three of their last four as regulation wins, or it was just not to be this season.)

Out West, we are likely to come down to next weekend for our final answer although some things are shaking lose. Or at least as lose as they can be when the distance between the 7th and 10th place teams are three points. Is Detroit finally letting a Cup Hangover chink in their armor show? We think the answer is yes considering four losses in the last five games have not come because of injury to Lidstrom, Rafalski, Zetterberg, Datsyuk and/or Hossa. Will the battle in the Northeast division have The Canucks or Flames come out on top? Calgary's 4-in-the-last-6-games' losses, and Vancouver's 20-5-2 record since 3 February seems to point toward the Canucks for that answer. And who are the last two IN out West between Anaheim, St. Louis, Nashville and Minnesota? The Ducks' back-to-back weekend with San Jose will tell their season's story by Sunday. The highly motivated Blues have a favorable schedule with rest in between games that allows them to maintain a proper tempo for sliding into the post-season. (Get ready to welcome them back to the Playoff picture!) Nashville? Ouch. Several key injuries and a remaining schedule that includes tonight's contest against Columbus, an upcoming Detroit matchup and the season-ender against Minnesota who sits one point behind them does not bode well for their chances of continued play on into late April. If they make it in, it will be because of a lot of character and Pekka Rinne in goal. And Minnesota must win-out to go on into the post season. So Sunday's NBC Game of The Week is their potential swan song.

Done? Not yet, and aren't we the better for it?! Keep your eyes on the screens and your heads in the WHOLE game picture for the next few days to see how it all shakes out...
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Thursday, April 2, 2009

Dinner Out, CGY @ DAL