Monday, October 30, 2006

Watching the Rangers/Kings-

The game is on right now, and even though I was eagerly looking forward to the Ranger's west coast swing, daylight savings time is kinda kicking my ass-

Dang- Shanahan just blocked a shot, came in on a partial breakaway and just barely got denied.

What a great pickup for the Rangers.

I gotta say that I like the way the Kings are playing, when you shoot the puck from anywhere, a lot, good things happen. Still, the Rangers have been playing really sloppy in their defensive zone, and my guess is, daylight savings time isn't doing them any favors either, especially after playing a game in Phoenix two days ago. Remember, for them, that game is starting at 11:30.

It's nice to see Kopitar again, the kid seems to have some skills, and this game also marks the first time I've really gotten a good look at Sean Avery. I'm not sure what all the hubbub is about, on the ice he seems like a real hard nosed, tough, skilled hockey player. I guess he shoots his mouth off, and is obnoxious, but shit- he looked pretty good out there to me.

I'm looking forward to some good hockey this week as Lord knows, I love a late game and the Rangers have both the Ducks and the Sharks coming up. From what I read, those seem to be the two teams that the rest of the league is using as a barometer, so it should be fun.

Boom- Shanahan just scored, maybe tied for the league lead in goalscoring now?

I think so.

Yep.

Damn.

They may still have life.

Oh, and before I go, a big shoutout to my street hockey team, the Mighty Squirrels of the Blacktop Street Hockey League , who finished up our season on Sunday with a big 1-0 win. We were a far shot from a winning record, but that never affected the temperature of the beer at the bar afterwards, and everybody on the team played hard, with a good attitude. Hockey is supposed to be fun, and by that barometer, we were undefeated. But it still was fun to go out with a win.

BANG!
And there's Avery answering for LA!

Can I call it, or what?

4-1 Kings, and I'm guessing Jagr's done skating for the night.

We'll see.

Either way, I think I'm heading to bed.

Big ups to the Squirrels.



Go Nuts!

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Sunday, sunday sunday.

Well, it's Sunday today, and if you're a serious hockey fan in America you gotta love Sunday, as it's pretty much the only day of the week that you can count on a small dose of extended, thoughtful hockey coverage in your local newspapers.

Hockey journalism in conventional newspapers is slipping fast, with many papers relying on AP feeds and many refusing to even send reporters to road games. The logical response to this by levelheaded hockey folks all over the country is to embrace hockey bloggers, which, I admit, makes a good deal of sense. Guys like Eric over at Off Wing and Paul over at Kukla's Korner have picked up that banner and run with it nobly, with both the excellent blogs they maintain and the cherry gigs they've picked up over at NBC Sports and NHL.com respectively. And while that's great news for both those guys personally and for fans of the game everywhere, at the same time, I'm a bit of a conservative, and I weep for the loss of newsprint.

So on the one hand, while I feel uniquely blessed that live in a world where I can pop over to the Battle of California and watch Derek Boogard cleaning Todd Fedoruk's fucking clock, I'm also painfully aware that I can't really do so while taking a shit.

So it's Sunday today, and I give thanks for both Larry Brooks and Kevin Paul DuPont.

in fact. I'm gonna print both of those out right now, and recuse myself for, oh- say, 15 to 20 minutes.

It's Sunday- and a man cannot be rushed.

Don't worry, I'll light a match.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Played hockey last night.

You heard me.

Ice Hockey.

Boards, goalies, sticks and pucks all on a killer outside rink in the northern most part of Central Park. I haven't played ice hockey for a couple of years, it's tough to get the ice time and the legalities sorted out here in New York City, but god damn is it worth it when you do.

I'll tell you, if there is a better sensation than hitting the ice, taking a few hard strides for the first skate of the season and hearing and feeling that nice thick, heavy smack of a fast hockey puck hitting your tape with a fast moving pass, I don't know what it is.

Wait.

Lemme rephrase that.

I'll tell you, if there are two better sensations than hitting the ice, taking a few hard strides for the first skate of the season and hearing and feeling that nice thick, heavy smack of a fast hockey puck hitting your tape with a fast moving pass, I don't know what the second one is.

I can think of one, but I'll thank you to remember, I'm a gentleman.

So, I'll probably get a ton of new readers today, as Pronger played the Ducks last night, and everybody will be googling him and his wife again. Those posts, are here and here if you're concerned, but if you're interested in the present, any predictions for the Atlanta/Buffalo game on Saturday?

That should be a barn burner.

Monday, October 23, 2006

The Buffalo Sabres-

-are for real.

I mean, no joke here, and I know it's early, but I saw the game on Versus tonight, and they were superior to the Montreal Canadiens in every way possible.

But before I get too sloppy about the Sabres, (and I'll let my buddy Jack and the guys from Bflo blog do the gloating for now) can we take a moment and address this "Versus" shit?

Don't get me wrong, I'm glad they are there, it was nice to hear former Bruin Andy Brickley doing a Yeoman's job from the broadcast booth, and I was thrilled to get a look at the hottest team in hockey right now.

But I swear to God, who in the name of Christ thought that renaming your network "Versus" was a good idea?

I know, I've railed against this before , but what I forgot in that last post was the fact that if you are looking for a game on "Versus," if you do the natural thing and google some variation of "vs. hockey schedule" look at what you get.

That's right, every single internet mention of every game mentioned on the internet that is listed with the word "vs."

Which is everything.

All hockey games.

Ever.

Including field hockey, for Christ's sake.

This season, last season, everything.

I mean, I love this game more than any other, so much so that I'm even reluctantly willing to enjoy the success of a Buffalo sports team , and I know that others feel the same way I do.

So why is it, that at every turn, this league makes marketing decisions that literally make it difficult for people who already want to watch to do so? I mean, if it's difficult for people who already want to watch, what are your chances for new viewers?

Here's a radical idea NHL- a nightly wrapup show.

Every night when there are more then 2 games, rent a studio, get a few talking heads and syndicate it on Fox Sports.
I'm getting email after email from people out there who want to put this blog on people's iPods, and I'm drunk for half the posts I put up. So here's a radical idea, put some hockey on television. And make it easy to find on Google.

I mean Jesus, Christ, "Versus?"

They might as well have named it the "And" network.

Damn- I'm amazed that this shit still riles me up.

Did you know that on Halloween, Conan is doing an all skeleton show?

How sweet is that?

Sweeter than anything the NHL has done to promote itself in 30 years, I can tell you that much.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Well, the bastards got me again.

Yes, of course, I'm talking about the Boston Bruins, the team of my youth, the team that taught me to love the game, and the team who has never won a Stanley Cup in my entire fucking lifetime. Anyway, yeah- the same Bruins who won their home opener last night against the Calgary Flames and who, according to my brother, reportedly looked pretty good.

I'll tell you though- if they woulda got beat, it would have been a tall order to keep me interested.

I didn't watch the game of course, as if you've been reading lately, I can't get the goddamn hockey package this season. I'd keep bitching about it, but the humor of the situation has matured into a deep, lasting sadness. Regardless, last night was a must win for the B's, and as they'd already blown leads this year, I watched the score update live during the 3rd period on the Yahoo ticker with baited breath.

I don't know if you've ever tried to monitor a hockey score like that, but it's updated really sporadically. Yahoo broadcasts some games live, but never the games I want to see of course. What do you guys think about someone from the Boston area taping the whole game plus pregame and postgame, and putting it up on YouTube for a late broadcast? I think that would be fucking totally sweet, and I might have an inkling of guilt over it if the NHL and the Center Ice Package weren't as well known for never missing a opportunity to miss an opportunity. Seriously, as much fun as the porno music is, if you're a hometown fan, you not only want to see the pre and post game, but if you have an inkling of a life, it's nice to catch the game on a late night replay.

I'm not saying I DO have an inkling of a life, but- you know?

Still, it's hard to say- if the YouTube was choppy it could make the game hard to follow. I'd appreciate any ideas on this problem.

Anyway, the B's had a one goal lead, and as the time agonizingly slid away on the ticker, I was relieved to see them hold out for the win; two goals from Glen Murray was nice to see as well.

On the other hand, Kevin Paul DuPont over at the Globe had my mouth watering a bit with his suggestion of Murray and a high draft pick going to the Sharks for Nabakov. They know that Murray and Joe work well together, and they have two goalies hanging around.

Plus, in one of the lamer scheduling decisions this season, they don't play each other this year, or at least not in Boston, which as stupid a decision as that is by the league, at least clears the decks for players coming back to hurt them.

Oh, and having Joe Thornton not come back to Boston this year is a stupid, stupid move by a league almost legendary for it's stupid moves. Lemme walk you through it:

- Joe Thornton got traded by the B's last year
- gets scapegoated for the losing season
- goes to San Jose and catches fire
- came back to Boston once last year, but got pitched out in the first minute for boarding Hal Gill
- wins the MVP in San Jose

Now they don't have him back in Boston the next season?

At all?

And why? So there can be more intra-conference games, to quote "build rivalries."

Because Joe Thornton and the Bruins doesn't qualify as a rivalry at all.

I'm sure that extra game against Toronto is totally going to be worth it.

But, for a real rivalry, I'll pull the Youtube that Doogie stuck in my comments section this week and really deserves to be out here in a post for all to see:

As he said in the comment, if you want to skip the interviews and get right to the uninterrupted hatred, skip ahead to the four minute mark, but I recommend the entire thing.

Enjoy:

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Goddamn, I'm tired.

-and a little drunk, too.

I had that big second glass of scotch tonight, you know the one?

The one where you have one glass of scotch, and it treats you right, so when you go for the second, the glass fills up to the proper level, and there is so little left in the bottle that you think, "Well, Christ- I can't leave that little in there, it's a waste."

So you top it off, and damned if that isn't too much scotch.

It's funny how with milk, that tiny amount always ends up back in the fridge, but with scotch, it's in your belly.

Ah, well.

Anyway, I'm drunk, and when I made a move for the wine my girlfriend got angry, so now I'm pissed off for two reasons, one that I can't have another drink, and two that she's totally right that I shouldn't have another drink.

Fuck, me.

My new job started last week, and it's not that it's that hard, but it's just new, andthat costs a certain amount of mental energy. Also, with the Bruins sucking and all, I haven't really had the energy for much hockey blogging.

Still, despite my exhaustion, inactivity and relative intoxication, I do have the energy to let you know that none of these obstacles in my path have deterred, even for a moment, my passionate belief that the Montreal Canadiens are immoral bags of human filth.

While I'm at it, I continue to hate the Penguins as well, just on general principle. I hope they don't move, if for no other reason than if they head to Canada, I'll end up rooting for them. That's the good thing about hockey, it gives you a venue to displace the hate in your life.

Anyway, I went to the garden last night and saw the Rangers beat the Devils 4-2, thanks to my pal Eric, a corporate lawyer with great company hockey seats and the spirit of an old school Blueseats brawler. It was him that made the comment that the famous "Blue Seats" in Madison Square Garden are now painted a shade of light purple. I mean, that's a problem, right?

I'll tell you, there aren't enough Ranger fans like him, especially in the corporate seats. Did you know that when you sit down there, they have a lady that will bring you beers in your seat? It's awesome, but based on the company in the corporate seats, including several unmolested Devils fans, I suspect that some of those dudes could learn a thing or two from the conversation in the beer line. Still, Eric does it right. I had the pleasure of watching the game with another friend of his, an old timer who was in the building back when Bobby Orr won the cup over the Rangers in 1970.

I'll tell you, the original six teams have some fans who go back, boy.

It's a shame that the NHL can't market that.

Time for bed, kids.

Gotta get up for work in the morning.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Hockey doesn't live here anymore- The RCN Chronicles (Part Two)

10/07/06: Day Four without the hockey package.

It's Saturday, so I wake up early and head to my teaching gig on Staten Island. I am mocked by a teenaged teacher's assistant and Devils fan who knows I like the Bruins, and was aware of the massacre on opening night. I graciously accept the mocking. One of hockey's great benefits is the way it allows you to befriend others by making them feel bad. I admit that I've been nervous about how many penalties Chara will draw in a league more dependent on speed than size, and we discuss it. I know that Chara has skills, but I'm still nervous after watching him in a preseason game against the Rangers. They shouldn't even put preseason games on TV- the urge to watch them is too strong.

I arrive home after a full day of teaching, and can't watch the Bruins play the Lightning. Instead, the lady and I go out to celebrate our good fortunes with a nice dinner at Churrascaria Plataforma, a Brazilian restaurant where you pay a flat fee, and waiters with swords walk up and slice huge pieces of meat right onto your plate. It's all you can eat, and by the time the guy came around with chicken wrapped in bacon, I thought I would die of joy. Or gluttony. It's easy to confuse those two sometimes.

On the one hand, I missed the the Bruins beating the Lightning, but on the other hand, I ate skirt steak off a bloody sword.

I'd call it a draw.



I ate this. All of it.


















Still, I'm damn curious how Kessel played. He picked up his first assist of the season, and I'm looking forward to watching this kid.

I contemplated this the next day as well, while taking a nine pound dump.

They play the Islanders next week.

I'll get my chance.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Hockey doesn't live here anymore- The RCN Chronicles (Part One)

A recap of the sad situation I'm living in, starting at the beginning of last year's hockey season:

10/10/05: The lockout ends, and after spending a wonderful week watching the free preview of NHL Center Ice from my couch in Brooklyn, I decide not to order the full season package. The bloom is off the rose, and based on the officiating from the first week back, I didn't feel like paying 75 bucks for three months of powerplays awarded for "unnecessary stretching out of the delicate shoulder straps of an opposing player's sun dress." Seriously, the penalty calls were out of hand last year. I figured that once we got three months into the league, both the refs and the players might have it figured out a little better.

FLASH FORWARD THREE MONTHS

01/01/06: I move in with my girlfriend in Manhattan who has RCN cable. It seems nice at first, offering assloads of HBO, Cinemax, Showtime and Starz channels, music channels, free on demand stuff, as well as internet and telephone service. I considered ordering the midseason hockey package, but seeing as she doesn't watch hockey, I was kind of broke, and the Bruins were god-awful, that was three compelling reasons to wait till next season.

FLASH FORWARD NINE MONTHS

10/4/06: It's Day One without The Package, and I'm in shock. I really wanted to order it this year. How did this happen? Well, I called RCN cable to ask which channels the NHL package were on, and it turns out they don't offer it. At all. I stew in my own juice, but there are still two games on OLN that night. I make do.

10/05/06: Day Two without The Package. So far so good. I am offered a ticket to the Rangers home opener, and it's a really good time.

10/6/06: Day Three without the package. Friday. I had planned to watch the Bruins home opener tonight, but both New York baseball teams are in the playoffs, so even a sports bar isn't an option. Still, there are plenty of good distractions. My fantasy hockey league has started, I'm back on the freelance list for Weekend Update over at SNL and I get offered what looks to be a killer new writing job at Court TV. I'll start on Tuesday, and that's about all I'll say about it. I've read about people getting fired from their jobs for yammering about them on their blogs, and I figure better safe than sorry. Either way, what do you care? It's not like the gaping hole the Atlanta Thrashers have at center is getting filled by Nancy Grace.

Anyway, I'm pretty much through with my responsibilities for the day, so I head to the movies to check out the prequel to the remake of the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, a film I'm eager to see mainly for it's ability to take a film called "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" and complicate the premise. They really ought to have taken a page from the second sequel of the original, a splendid little toe-tapper called "Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III," whose title actually uncomplicates the premise so much that it sounds like someone is winning a game of Clue. "I'd like to solve the murder! It was Leatherface, in Texas, with a Chainsaw!"

Pretty sneaky, sis.

Either way, it was a good time, and I apologize in advance for this huge spoiler:

He totally chainsaws the fuck out of a bunch of people.

Sorry if I ruined it for you.

I get home, and the lady and I are celebrating our good fortunes by making a nice dinner, but I still feel pangs. I'm missing the home opener of the Bruins game. I periodically check in on the Yahoo ticker, and if you haven't seen the score, I apologize in advance for this huge spoiler:

The Florida Panthers totally chainsawed the fuck out of them.

It was ugly.

I was bummed, but relieved that at least I didn't ruin my night by watching it, making my inability to order the package that much easier. For one night at least.

For one night.

TO BE CONTINUED....

Friday, October 06, 2006

Welcome to New York, Shanny.



A funny comic and writer pal of mine named Jonathan Corbett used to have a bit about how nobody ever says the words "Welcome to New York" in this city sincerely. The only time you ever hear it is right after something awful, disgusting and embarrassing has just happened. Step off the bus, suitcase in hand and a car drives through a nearby puddle, soaking you with oily, disgusting water?

"Welcome to New York, dickhead!"

Get used to it.

I was lucky enough to score a ticket to the home opener of the New York Rangers last night, and for new blueshirt Brendan Shanahan, the same principle did not apply. The Madison Square Garden faithful greeted him with a huge ovation, and after Jagr showed everyone in the building that he deserved to wear the C, scoring in the first 30 seconds, it seemed like- Shanahan took over, knotching two goals, the 599th and 600th of his career.

Just like that, New York City had a new favorite son.

I can't think of a better start of the season for Ranger fans, who've had a pretty tough decade. In fact, it's been a pretty hard 10 years for pretty much every original 6 team that didn't have, well- Brendan Shanahan. Either way, Madison Square Garden was rocking, the Potvin family was once again put in it's place, and there even was a chant of "We want the cup" towards the end, which I still feel is kind of optimistic considering that the team they defeated was the lowly Washington Capitals, who all seemed to be trying to win the game by themselves. Still, it was fun to see Ovechkin skate, and I'll tell you, it's even more impressive to see this kid live, mainly because (and this is a skill he shares with Crosby) he just never gives up on an offensive bid. When the play is on his off wing, he hovers- waiting for an opportunity, timing his rhythmic loops like Pat LaFontaine used to do, hoping to be in the right place at the right time to grab a loose puck.

But unlike LaFontaine, who mostly did this in the offensive zone, and scored innumerable goals by just hanging around the back door and knocking it in, Ovechkin does it all over the ice. He lays back, doesn't expend energy, then explodes. When he gets the puck the air goes out of the arena, and everybody just watches. He breaks down the ice, and doesn't so much beat guys as just outwork them. If they sweepcheck it from him, he follows the puck and gets there first. If they hit him, he absorbs it, rolls off and stays with it. Then when he is surrounded by players, he time and time again makes something out of nothing. Miraculously, he gets off a shot or a pass where for the average player, there was nothing.

Sadly, for him, he's on a line with two other average players, and they, and him, had nothing last night.

But the Rangers looked good.

I won't say that the Rangers are "back" until you walk around that building and start seeing fans wearing jerseys of players who actually still play there, (It's still a sea of Richter's Messiers, Graves', Leetches and Gretzky's) but I feel that Shanahan's tour de force performance will do quite a lot to change that.

Tonight we see if the Bruins can climb off the mat as well.

Christ, I wish I could watch that game.

F- You RCN Cable.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Two out of three ain't bad-

Well, I got a minor shock last night as I sat down to watch hockey, and discovered that my well thought out plan to flip between the OLN (I'm still having a trouble calling them "Versus") coverage of the 'Canes and Sabres and the free preview on NHL's center ice package (which featured the Sens and Leafs last night) was not to be.

This is because I am a subscriber of RCN Cable here in Manhattan, a system that my girlfriend already had when I moved in last January, and they do not offer the NHL package.

You heard me.

1000 channels, at least 15 of which are exclusively devoted to Korean folk music, but nope, you can't get a goddamn hockey game.

I always watch the free preview of the NHL Center Ice package, and based on how much I love it, and how much the Bruins suck that year, I decide if I will buy it right then, or wait until the all star break, when you can get it for half off.

So I called RCN, and asked why I couldn't seem to find the channel that had the NHL package, and surprise- they passed the buck.

"Well, it looks like the NHL was unable to get this deal done."

Yeah, with you!

What a prick.

Oh, and I'd love to change cable systems if RCN didn't already do our phone, cable TV, internet service, and two email addresses that my girlfriend uses for work.

I'm sick about this.

I mean- I really wish I could do something about it, but the argument with my girlfriend goes like this:

"Yeah, we should totally go through the hassle of canceling and resigning up with 3 utilities and two email addresses, which entails a lot of time, energy, waiting on hold with faceless scumbag companies and composing and sending out 2 large group emails. Why? Well for one thing, I'm pretty sure that Chara and Savard are gonna turn the B's around this year. Oh, and when we do this, I'll also be watching hockey almost every night, even the teams I don't really care that much about, and will get a pained expression on my face everytime you suggest we just 'pop in something we got from netflix tonight because let's remember we're paying for that too.'"

The bottom line, is I'm fucked.
If anybody has a good idea on who I can blame for this, I'm all ears.

How about the NHL?

Let's try it:

It just vexes me that the NHL would let this happen. Of all the fans you could potentially lose, I wouldn't have thought they would have lost me. I mean, fuck- I have a blog called American Hockey Fan for Christ's sake- yet the NHL has found a way to even lose my 150 bucks.

Amazing.

They have just enough money to paint "Thank You Fans" on the bluelines, but not enough to MAKE THE GAMES AVAILABLE TO PEOPLE WHO ALREADY WANT TO WATCH!

I mean, Christ!

These assholes never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.

Anyway, I'm only as pissed as a guy can be who not only saw some great hockey last night, (what an ending of the Stars-Avs game!), but is heading to Madison Square garden tonight to see Alex Ovetchkin and the Caps take on Brendon Shanahan and the Rangers for opening night. There was a brief "I might not be able to get the tickets" scare yesterday, but my pal Eric came through, God bless him.

Also, if you have to go without the hockey package, New York city isn't a bad market to do it in- I have all the OLN games as well as all the Rangers, Isles and Devils games on basic cable for nothing. That oughta be good for at least 20 Bruins games this season.

Sigh.

Oh, and one other thing: When your favorite team is not involved, shootouts are boring.

I know the point is important, blah blah blah, but during the first half who cares? One team will get one extra point, and one won't. Huzzah. When you see 8 breakaways in a row they start to lose their effect, which in turn takes some of the thrill out of watching a real penalty shot, which is a shame, as there are few things as awesome as a penalty shot.

Like what you ask?

Oh, I dunno- how about having a cable system that allows me to pay money and watch hockey games?

Seriously, nice work RCN.

No really, you're doing a great job.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to flip over to channel 643, where RCN's got the Spanish language edition of the making of the Gus Van Sandt remake of "Psycho."

F#*K YOU, FANS!

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Hockey starts tonight-

But before all that, Steven Colbert marked the beginning of the season last night on his show with the teaser "I'll give you a reason to watch hockey- and it's not the hockey."

I can't find a current clip, but basically, what was suggested in this clip from his show from a while back has come to pass:



It was announced on Colbert's show last night that the Mascot of the Ontario Hockey League club Saginaw Spirit has been named for Colbert. The new mascot, "Steagle Colbeagle the Eagle" is notable for me, mostly for the bitter, drunken hate mail Steagle is sure to recieve from the recently unemployed "Wild Wing Duck" from the formally Mighty Ducks of Anaheim.


Wild Wing: Distraught


The only current NHLer to skate for Saginaw is Chris Thorburn, who was put on wiavers by Buffalo last year and was just picked up by the Pittsburgh Penguins yesterday.

It looks to be a cup of coffee with the big club for Thorburn, but who knows? If the Penguins perform anywhere near last year's record of 22-46-14, well- wherever Thorburn ends up, my guess is it'll be funny.

The Colbert Report re-run, with it's "Steagle Colbeagle the Eagle" footage, airs today on Comedy Central at 10:30 AM and 2:30 PM and 8:30 PM.

I heartily recommend checking out the first two.

At 8:30, I'll be watching hockey.

You know, for the hockey.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Penultimate.

Well, here we are- the day before the hockey season starts, and it's going to be a fun, fun week.

I just got word that I've been invited to opening night over at Madison Square Garden Thursday, so this week will progress very nicely for me.

Here's how the week is shaping up:

Wednesday: A great opening night double header on the couch, with the Hurricanes and Sabres game 7 rematch early and Colorado and Dallas late, divided nicely by the season premiere of South Park on Comedy Central. A better night of television is hard to imagine.

Thursday: A nice, up-close and personal look at both Alex Ovechkin and Brendan Shanahan in a Rangers sweater live at the garden with my pal and Street hockey compatriot Eric Breitman. Bless his heart for thinking of me.

Friday: Back to the couch for the debut of my new look, "Post-Joe" Boston Bruins. I'll be keeping a special eye on Zdeno "Brand New Captain" Chara, Phil "Great New hope?" Kessel, and Marc "Christ, I hope he can set up someone besides Kovalchuck" Savard.

I'm also very much looking forward to seeing how hockey friendly the new Tony Luke's is going to be.

If you're in New York City, Tony Luke's has, hands down, the best fucking cheesesteak in town, a sandwich easily good enough that it was well worth heading to their off-the-beaten-path location behind the Port Authority Bus Terminal and enduring a decor that made me long for the charm of a urine soaked Off Track Betting outlet.

Tony Luke's rules.

Reportedly, they ship all of their ingredients up I-95 from Philly every day, and here's how good they are: They're not paying me to write this, although it occurs to me that maybe I should ask them to, if for no other reason than some store credit. Jesus, they make a good sandwich.

Now, having the best cheesesteak in New York City is awesome enough, just on general principle, but now, just in time for hockey season, they have FULLY RENOVATED their space, cleaned it up, added 3 huge HDTV's, a bar, buffalo wings, and a motherfucking happy hour cheap enough to be in accordance with a bar behind a bus station. What I'm saying is, the best sports food you've ever had, in a great environment with booze and HDTV's, all out of the way enough that it might not be too crowded. Sure you might get stabbed stumbling out of a bar behind the bus station in New York City at 11:30 PM, but I'm here to tell you, you'll get stabbed happy.

I'm sure they'll be busy on Sundays and Mondays with football, and probably while the Yankees and Mets are in the playoffs there won't be much chance of getting a hockey game on, but I'll keep checking in.

If they don't mind putting a hockey game on, there is a chance this could be the best hockey bar in town, and if someone knows a better one, you better already be thinking about posting a comment or sending me an email.

The thing is, it's always been tough to watch hockey in New York. Deep down, despite how much New York likes a winner, and yes, they loved their '94 Rangers and their Islander dynasty, but New York City has always been a basketball town. I've seen it happen- this city gets more excited about the Knicks getting close to winning than the Yankees winning it all three years straight. This is good for hockey fans because from what little I understand about basketball, Isaiah Thomas has fucked up the Knicks so badly that it might actually be possible to get a hockey game on in a bar in this town.

You know, once the baseball playoffs are over.

And if there isn't a football game on.

Or, you know- a US Open tennis re-run.

*Sigh*

Either way, today, Tuesday October 3rd, 2006, marks the last time I will be even remotely giving a fuck about baseball until a week or so after the Stanley cup is raised in mid-June.

So in that spirit, enjoy my pal Sully's great baseball blog today, as he breaks down the playoffs for you. If you're a fan of the Red Sox, or HBO sports, you may recognize him as the guy from those "Curse of the Bambino" and Reverse of the Curse of the Bambino" documentaries on HBO. Plus he's funny as hell, and his blog features one of the best fan photos I've ever seen, a picture he took himself, which I have pilfered from his blog and reproduce here. I hope you enjoy it:



Hockey starts tomorrow, kids.

Enjoy the season.

Monday, October 02, 2006

The NHL is back- Um, again.

But what does it all mean?

This Wednesday, as the Buffalo Sabres and Carolina Hurricanes open the 2006-2007 National Hockey League season with a rematch of the Eastern Conference finals, it makes sense to look back and reflect on what it means that hockey is back.

Really, this time.

Of course, nothing will compare to last season, when the phrase, "hockey is back" meant "back from the lockout," "back from the grave," or possibly even, "back from the grave?" Despite the return to action, we wondered at the time, was hockey really on the way back, or was it merely a sport without an audience gasping for one more chance to redeem itself? All things considered, the game made some splendid strides forward last season, especially seeing that at this time last year, (and pardon me as I lay yet another two-hander across the spine of one of sports journalism's favorite dead horses) the National Hockey League was on very thin ice.

As fans prepared for the opening of the season last year, times were dark indeed. The game that we loved to play and watch above all others had inexplicably cancelled an entire season due to a labor dispute, had been dropped from it's television contract on ABC and ESPN, and was only to be shown nationally in America on OLN, a virtually unknown basic cable network best known for bicycle racing, Survivor re-runs and a reality show starring Ted Nugent. Worst of all, the mainstream sports media here in America relished in telling us over and over again that not only did the majority of American sports fans not miss hockey, but they didn't even notice it was gone.

It was discouraging, but to the true fan, there was reason for optimism. As the new salary cap system came into effect, fans were treated to the most exciting free agency period in the history of the game, superstars swapped teams, exciting new rules appeared for debate and the lowly Pittsburgh Penguins were awarded the most heralded first overall draft pick in years in Sidney Crosby. There were also some
typically ham-fisted attempts at public relations, first and foremost, the "Thank You Fans" messages, written large enough on the bluelines to be seen even from the building's cheapest seats, whose prices had been reduced from 2003's "ludicrously expensive" down to merely "ridiculously expensive." When compared to how hockey fans felt at having an entire season cancelled, it was a pitiful, empty gesture.
But we'd take what we could get; we missed our game and it had been returned to us.

So, on October 5th, 2005, as we collectively huddled around our TV sets or filed into arenas to watch all 30 NHL teams return from the longest, coldest off-season in history, there was joy and relief, but along with it came anxiety. There had been a lot of tough talk from the league about how scoring would be up, shootouts would be thrilling and the much maligned "clutch and grab" would be banished forever. Which was fine, but there were also quite a few purists, myself included, who thought- "Well, they score a lot in the NBA, and that sport sucks." So yes, while it was great to see the Boston Bruins angling up for an opening face off against the Montreal Canadiens, a match-up we'd seen hundreds of times in the past; we wondered- would we recognize it?

As it turned out, it took a while.

In the first weeks of the 2005-'06 NHL season, there was a parade to the penalty box like nothing we had ever seen. Players, coaches, officials and fans debated what was a penalty and what wasn't, what was holding and what wasn't, and how to correct a growing epidemic of diving so insidious it seemed like every player in the NHL had the number 66 on his back.

Yeah, I said it.

Oh, c'mon Penguin fans, I'm not saying Mario wasn't one of the greatest ever, I'm just saying in addition to the Calder, Hart, Ross and Smythe Trophies he's won, he's embellished his way into enough calls over the years that his trophy case might not be diminished by, say, a daytime Emmy or two.

Admit it, you'll feel better.

Either way, my point is, it took a while for the "New NHL" to find it's legs, a task made even more difficult by the rash of groin, ankle and back injuries, an unforeseen casualty of the long layoff. With the exception of the Ottawa Senators, who seemingly couldn't lose in the first half, the game limped along through the end of 2005, and in January 2006 was denied what could have been a great opportunity to sell itself at the Olympics when uninspired play and a horribly timed
gambling scandal combined to embarrass hockey in the national spotlight once again.

Then, all of a sudden, it happened.

As we got into February and March, hockey got it's footing. Yeah, there were some new rules we might quibble with, but overall, the game had improved for the better. But where was the line? When and how exactly did the NHL turn things around? I guess to use a player as a metaphor, one might logically say that the NHL, both last season and now, is Patrick Elias.

Sidelined for most of last season with Hepatitis, Elias, like the NHL, was sick with something that no one had ever seen before and there wasn't a hell of a lot of confidence that either of them would be the same. The illness lasted through the entire first half of the season, but when Elias returned for the final 38 games, everything started to turn around. He went on a tear, scoring 16 goals and 29
assists, averaging just under 2 points a game.

As this was happening, the national scene began to realize players like Eric Staal, Dion Phaneuf and Cristobal Huet were for real, playing thrilling hockey and making the game exciting again. As the race for playoff spots began, we started watching as speed became king, and young, fast teams like the Hurricanes and Sabres exploited the new rules to their advantage. We watched a rejuvenated Joe Thornton make Boston fans ache as he turned Jonathan Cheechoo from a second line winger into the Richard trophy winner, and we were thrilled to watch Miikka Kiprusoff rack up shutout after shutout up in Calgary. OK- we didn't actually "watch" Kiprusoff, OLN was pretty light on the Flames games out east, but you know what I mean. We read about him, and wished we could have watched.

It was a thrilling spring.

Meanwhile, the Devils were being led by Elias on a stunning 16 game winning streak down the stretch run, adapting and excelling under a system of new rules that were pretty much designed to stop the New Jersey Devils. And it didn't work. Any American hockey fan should be proud as hell of the Devils, and if you're the kind of person who bitches about how the trap was "boring," I'll tell you this- you'd
love it if your team was as consistently good as them.

And then- the Stanley Cup Playoffs. What can one say about the Stanley Cup playoffs? I've never done heroin, but I've known people who have, and the way they describe it, they say it's just the most exhilarating, intense rush of pure joy they have ever experienced.

Of course, they also don't wash much.

It's a toss up.

But let's be clear- I'm not advocating heroin; at 33 years of age, I'm a little old for new drugs. Still, I will go so far as to say that if I ever heard about an illicit substance that made me feel half as good as I feel watching playoff hockey, well- you couldn't watch the sensationalistic evening news story on this dangerous new street drug, because I would have already broken into your house and stolen your TV to buy more of it. The Stanley Cup playoffs are something special, and last season, they did not disappoint.

Elias, like the NHL, stormed into the playoffs with a head full of steam, fueled by the conviction that even though the future was a question mark at the beginning of the season, hard work, passion and drive can turn things around. In the first round of the playoffs, Elias faced a much-improved New York Ranger team full of his own
countrymen, and was the best Czech player on the ice. The Devils dominated the slumping Rangers and the injured Jaromir Jagr, beating them in four games, and despite being swept by a regional rival, the fantastic hometown hockey fans in New York stood and applauded their team. The Rangers had been an embarrassing mess for far too long, and last year their team turned it around and made the playoffs, giving a great fan base something to cheer for the first time in the new
millennium. Remember, the fans had plenty to boo that team for given their play down the stretch run, but when the season was over, they didn't. They rose as one and thanked the team for the year.

As for Elias and the Devils, well, they were eliminated in 5 by the eventual
Stanley Cup champs. But it didn't matter, the ball was rolling, hockey was back, and the playoffs had moments as memorable as any in history. We had R.J. Umberger getting his bell rung, Michael Peca dislodging the net with his throat against the Ducks, Dwayne Roloson in double overtime catching a bullet of a slap shot from Jonathan Cheechoo in the slot, and Steve Yzerman's last game in the NHL.

In the finals, we had Fernando Pisani's shorthanded OT game winner, Ty Conklin's Steve Smith moment, and Rod Brind'Amour making out with the Stanley Cup. It was a great final series, and a great win for the Hurricanes, particularly for veteran D-man Glen Wesley, who was not only the last active player from the great Boston Bruin
teams who challenged for the cup in '88 and '90, but was also the only man left on the 'Canes who had made the original trip down south from the Hartford Whalers, giving three great American sports cities a reason to cheer.

And as for hockey, where are we now, as opposed to where we were? We're in much better shape. Patrick Elias is as healthy as ever, and ready to start the season strong. And hockey is right there with him.

Welcome back hockey, We missed you.

Again.