Archive for October, 2011
By Stu Hackel
Fasten your seatbelts: The NHL’s greatest, most passionate rivalry resumes tonight when the Canadiens visit the Bruins for their first encounter this season (NHL Network in the U.S., 7 pm) and they play again on Saturday in Montreal. The six regular-season and seven playoff games these two played were some of the most exciting — and nasty — of the 2010-11 campaign and there’s no reason to believe they won’t continue in that vein.
By Stu Hackel
On Monday night, I just caught the tail end of the Winnipeg Jets’ game against the visiting Rangers, which, by all accounts, New York was lucky to win, 2-1. In many NHL arenas, frustrated fans would have booed the home team, but in what will almost certainly be a year-long love-in at the little arena on the prairie, Winnipeggers applauded their club for its effort.
Everyone, it seems, loves the Jets. I’ve been giving my Minnesota North Stars hat a rest and wearing my Jets chapeau lately (the old logo, thank you) and getting compliments from hockey friends about my good taste. I can’t recall where I heard this, perhaps it was the CBC’s Elliotte Friedman on a radio interview, but it seems that our neighbors up north, apart from those in Winnipeg, have made the Jets Canada’s second favorite team. Fans in the rest of the country cheer for their team and then for the Jets, the refugee franchise whose transfer north is celebrated as a symbolic “Screw you!” to the NHL’s Sunbelt strategy.
The embrace of the Jets, not just on the ice but also at the cash register, has some people wondering: Can the nouvelle Nordiques be far behind?
Well, no one is reserving moving vans so quickly. We know that won’t happen until Quebec City gets an arena, which is not looming. It has just formed an engineering/architecture group for the $400 million proposed project that was first announced two years ago. No rush, especially because any new building with that price tag is going to draw some fire for being one of the league’s most expensive arenas in what would be the NHL’s second smallest market after Winnipeg and, inevitably, a drain on taxpayers. In fact, the legal wrangling on the new building is just beginning.
And we know that new arena won’t happen until — and unless — there’s a team that is out of options and has no choice but to relocate to Quebec. There are no expansion plans, at least none that are publicly known. Is an NHL team destined abandon its current market and wear a redesigned Nordiques sweater?
Gary Bettman apparently doesn’t see the Islanders as being the team to wear that uniform.
By Stu Hackel
Player safety may be the theme of this NHL season — or, at least, an important emphasis in the first couple of weeks — but the sight of a visorless Chris Pronger rushing off the ice bent forward with his hand clutched to his eye reminds us that in this area, the NHL and NHLPA have not been effective forces for needed change.
During Monday night’s Maple Leafs-Flyers game in Philadelphia, Pronger caught a stick in the right eye from Mikhail Grabovski and let out what Frank Seravalli in The Philadelphia Daily News called “a blood curdling scream that could be heard, loud and clear, throughout the Wells Fargo Center. For that moment, as the Flyers’ captain skated right to the bench and fell over in the hallway on the way to the locker room, time stood still. Stomachs turned over in fans and players alike.”
While the first reports had Pronger not in danger of losing his sight, that’s not entirely accurate. The severity of this injury won’t be fully known for another few days. Pronger is on strict bed rest with a cut on his right eyelid, which caused swelling to the area.
“Now, the biggest fear is that blood could build up behind his eye in the form of a clot, which could cause permanent vision damage,” Seravalli reported.
By Stu Hackel
One downside to having an enchanted, storied past is that when things turn wrong, the picture looks ugly. That’s where the Montreal Canadiens find themselves in this young season.
The Habs currently sit at the bottom of the Eastern Conference and only the winless Blue Jackets are keeping them from occupying the league’s basement. Going into tonight’s game against the Florida Panthers, they are 1-4-2, the legendary club’s worst start in (get ready) 70 years. You have to go back to 1941 to find an edition of Les Habitants that stumbled out of the gate worse than these guys.
That was before Maurice Richard became The Rocket. In ’41, Frank Calder was the President of the NHL and Franklin D. Roosevelt was the President of the U.S., just to provide some perspective. So, yes, it was a long time ago.
But “long time ago” is also where the Canadiens glory days reside. They last won the Stanley Cup, their 24th, in 1993, and an entire generation of their fans has never experienced anything more exhilarating than a run to the conference championship round. That might be commonplace elsewhere in the NHL, but in Montreal it has become an annual shame.
By Stu Hackel
They won’t be looking ahead of themselves, because the undefeated Red Wings must first host the Blue Jackets on Friday night, but we can look ahead for them because Detroit’s next foe comes on Saturday night when they visit Washington for a date against the unbeaten Capitals at 7 p.m. Eastern time (and televised on the NHL Network in the U.S.).
By Stu Hackel
Defenseman Hal Gill will play his 1,000th NHL game tonight when the Montreal Canadiens take the ice against the Penguins in Pittsburgh. It’s a real accomplishment for any player to skate in that many games in this league — only 265 have done it — but perhaps more so for Gill. His first NHL coach, the late Pat Burns, didn’t want him on the Boston Bruins back in 1997. When Gill later played for the Maple Leafs, the fans regularly booed him for his obvious lack of speed and offensive flair.
By Stu Hackel
My Tuesday nights don’t vary much. Our group assembles at an old prep school barn of a rink and airs it out as best we can. We’ve got an exceptional early evening time slot, which most recreational skaters know is a real luxury. So for one night, watching NHL action gets relegated to Priority Two. Not that we don’t talk about the NHL while we’re dressing for the skate.
Detroit Gary and Jay converse reverently about the Red Wings. The Rangers fans, like Crack, Lacey, Dr. Dave, Cohen, Toddzilla, Eric and Matty long ago stopped trying to convince everyone — and each other — that their team could be real a Stanley Cup contender. Berube gets ragged on because every time he buys a Flyers jersey, the player whose name is on the back gets traded (Eric jokingly brought in an old Jaromir Jagr Rangers jersey for Berube to wear this week, knowing full well that Berube would never put on a Rangers sweater). And the Bruins fans like Frankie, McFall, Lee, Brian and James (not to mention Phil, whenever he’s back from Abu Dhabi) still can’t quite believe that their team actually won the Stanley Cup last season.
After the skate comes the inevitable question. “You goin’ down?” by which the guy who is asking wants to know from the guy being asked if he’s driving to the local grille for a late dinner and to watch what he can of the NHL – often the third period of an Eastern time zone game featuring one of the New York teams, or whatever game Versus is showing. It’s either that or beer in the parking lot.
I always end up at the Grille and I’m always the last guy there, so the later the TV game starts, the more I can catch. Some nights, I have to be content with only seeing highlights before heading home and watching a game I’ve recorded or something on Game Center Live. But last night, with an early Versus game and a Rangers game in Vancouver, in addition to lots of highlights, there was plenty to chew over with my turkey sandwich, sweet potato fries and club soda.