Archive for the ‘hockey’ Category

The greatest player to ever lace up the hockey skates died on Friday.

Legendary Gordie Howe passed away at age 88 and if Wayne Gretzky says someone is the greatest ever to play the sport, count me in.

The timing of Howe’s death didn’t allow him to receive its due. Friday just happened to be the day-long remembrance of Muhammad Ali and ESPN was just a tad busy providing excellent coverage of Ali’s funeral.

That meant the network most people watch for sports news wasn’t in position to do Howe justice. He was a big-time star back in the day when people had to learn the hockey scores by listening to the radio broadcast or by reading the morning newspaper.

Pretty sure nobody has counted on the local newspaper for a score in about 25 years.

Anyway, Howe was known as “Mr. Hockey” and that alone should tell you about his stature with the sport.

The Detroit Red Wings’ star won MVP honors six times and scored 801 goals during a 26-year NHL stint.

He retired from the Red Wings in 1971 after 25 seasons and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame the next year. But he wasn’t done playing, not at all.

He joined forces with sons Marty and Mark and played six seasons in the World Hockey Association – four for the Houston Aeros and two with the New England Whalers.

And that is when I saw Howe play a game. The San Diego Mariners were part of the WHA for three seasons and I recall it being a big deal to go see Howe play since he was a legend and was also pushing 50.

I cannot tell you how Howe fared in the game but I do recall Mark Howe scored a goal. No idea why I remember this. I definitely wasn’t taking notes at games at that age.

Maybe I will make an exhaustive search of the storage shed and go through the old ticket stubs box and see if I can pinpoint a date, research the game and re-live the results.

Howe played one last season in the NHL in 1979-80 and scored 15 goals for the Hartford Whalers before retiring at age 52.

Either way, it is nice to know I saw the greatest hockey player play a game.

“Unfortunately we lost the greatest hockey player ever today, but more importantly the nicest man I have ever met,” Gretzky said on his Twitter account. “Sending our thoughts and prayers to the Howe family and to the millions of hockey fans who like me loved Gordie Howe. RIP Mr. Hockey.”

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steelheads.2014

Ever do something different and out of the ordinary on a Saturday night?

I sure did – I was live and in the flesh at a minor-league hockey game in Boise, Idaho on Saturday night.

The Idaho Steelheads took advantage of the big occasion by posting a 6-3 victory over the Bakersfield Condors behind three power-play goals at cozy CenturyLink Arena. William Rapuzzi scored two goals for the Steelheads and goaltender Pat Nagle made 34 saves.

Most people in the vicinity of the arena were watching a free concert by the Goo Goo Dolls on a downtown street. But I was indoors catching my second hockey game in my four-plus years of living in the fine city of Boise.

I attended three NHL games in the past six or seven years – I went to NHL games in St. Paul, Minn., (great arena) and Nashville, Tenn. (dumpy arena) while on road trips when I was covering the San Diego Chargers for a living and also caught a game in Anaheim (another good arena) – and a few things were still the same.

The players wore skates and helmets, there was a fight (not a good one so no highlights, sorry Ted Leitner) and I couldn’t tell you any of their names.

The night I hung out at the Minnesota Wild game was the first time I had ever heard of Marian Gaborik (two goals and one assist in front of me against Calgary) and everybody in the Twin Cities forgot his strong performance by the following day when Adrian Peterson set an NFL single-game rushing record against the Chargers.

So it is a bit interesting to attend a minor-league game in a sport in which I couldn’t name 10 players who play at the highest level even if you were to put a million bucks on the table and dared me. I assume there was a prospect or two on the ice as the Steelheads have a working agreement with the NHL Dallas Stars but there really wasn’t anyone who jumped out as being on a different level than the rest of the players on the ice.

And, of course, I’m not totally clueless about the sport’s nuances. I covered the minor-league San Diego Gulls when I was breaking into the business. That team was filled with former and future NHL players and set a professional hockey record for wins (62) in a season and matched the mark for most points (132).

No records appear to be on the agenda for the Steelheads but the atmosphere was nice and the fans seemed to have a good time. The venue of just over 5,000 capacity is solid – though trying to buy something on the jammed-up concourse is a bit of a pain in between periods.

I’ve covered a half-dozen or so basketball games in the building over the past few years – including an NBA exhibition game in October – and the facility is much better suited for watching people shoot pucks and commit crosschecking penalties as opposed to shooting 3-pointers and slamming home dunks.

Sure you’re all wondering when I will again return to the rink. Good question.

The only other time I attended a hockey game in Boise was during the NBA’s 2011 All-Star break. So considering this weekend was the 2014 All-Star break and I assume that means I’m scheduled to go back in 2017.

But perhaps I will target the 2015 All-Star break … after all, it never hurts to occasionally do something way, way out of the ordinary.

Had a rare Monday night without work duties and was looking to do something different.

So I did – I stayed home and watched Game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals.

Yes, I watched an entire NHL game from start to finish and was rewarded by seeing a stunning accomplishment. Or if you prefer, a horrendous collapse that the San Antonio Spurs can surely relate to.

The Chicago Blackhawks defeated the Boston Bruins 3-2 to claim the Stanley Cup by scoring two goals in 17.7 seconds, the latter coming with just 58.3 seconds to play.

You don’t see too many classic endings like this. With less than 80 seconds to play, Chicago appeared headed to a stressful home Game 7 on Wednesday.

With less than 60 seconds to play, it was Boston in desperation mode.

Bryan Bickell tallied the tying goal with 1:16 to play and Dave Bolland slapped in the game-winning goal to stun the fans at Boston’s TD Garden.

Patrick Kane won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the top player throughout the playoffs as the Blackhawks won their second Stanley Cup crown in four seasons.

The late-game collapse was ironic for Boston. In the first-round, the Bruins trailed by two goals with fewer than 90 seconds to play before rallying to force overtime against the Toronto Maple Leafs before prevailing in overtime.

But now the Bruins will be lumped in with the Spurs, the NBA team that blew a five-point lead with 28.2 seconds left against the Miami Heat to lose Game 6 in overtime. Miami ended up winning the series.

From the Chicago viewpoint, it is simply a spectacular comeback. You seldom see this type of stunning rally, particularly when the championship of a sport is on the line.

Count me glad that I stayed in to watch a hockey game. Yes, really.

Some things just make you feel old and this has nothing to do with counting down the hours toward another birthday dinner.

I’ll be 29 forever. I know that because my seven-year-old nephew says so. Cool kids never lie.

But on the night of August 31, just hours before I turned 29 again, I saw something that made the bones creak, the teeth ache, the knees squeak and the carpal tunnels shake.

I noticed that long-time National Hockey League defenseman Chris Chelios had retired after 26 seasons. At the age of 48.

“I guess I’ve been dreading this day for a long time,” Chelios said during a press conference in Detroit.

No, Chris, the rest of us had been dreading this for a long time.

I can remember feeling old when baseball great Nolan Ryan retired because Ryan had always been pitching since I was old enough to know the sport existed. If definitely was a weird feeling to recall quarterbacks like John Elway and Dan Marino enter the NFL and seemingly play forever and then eventually retire.

A major dose of weirdness occurred when I was a working journalist and covering an NFL team and realizing that reporters would outlast every player and coach who came in and out an NFL team’s revolving door (except for San Diego Chargers long snapper David Binn).

Culture shock occurred in the summer of 2004 when I interviewed a swimmer who was headed to the U.S. Olympic trials. The girl was born in 1991. Something about interviewing an athlete born in the 1990s was unsettling.

Particularly since I had covered a San Diego State basketball player born in the 1970s just a few years earlier.

But while all the other athletes have come and gone – even the great Tony Gwynn of the San Diego Padres couldn’t hit line drives forever – there was always Chelios to keep you feeling young.

Chelios was in the NHL even before I knew I was destined to become a sports writer.

He lived in San Diego County prior to entering the NHL, and shortly after I entered my profession, I was working on a story about an ice arena in Mira Mesa, located about 15 miles north of downtown San Diego. People at the rink told me stories about a teen-age Chelios riding his bike several miles one-way from nearby Poway to skate or play hockey at the rink.

The kid was that dedicated to making it in a sport where sun-baked youngsters hardly had a chance to be discovered when you consider all the Canadian teenagers playing in junior leagues.

Eventually, he became a major NHL star and won three Stanley Cups. He played for the Montreal Canadians, Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings. He became a legend and a certain Hall of Famer after he becomes eligible.

All along, he kept playing … and playing … and playing.

And he played so long, you kind of forgot he was still around.

But hey, old kids still get birthday wishes, right?

Hey Chris, don’t retire. Please!

Any chance of Sidney Crosby retiring soon? What’s left to prove after winning a Stanley Cup and a Winter Olympics gold medal by age 22?

Life has to be all downhill from there.

The Pittsburgh Penguins star is already a legend in his homeland of Canada but he notched up the idolization factor another 10 levels or so on Sunday after scoring the decisive overtime goal that lifted Canada to a 3-2 victory over the United States in hockey’s scintillating gold-medal game.

Crosby beat USA goaltender Ryan Miller on a quick wrist shot after teammate Jarome Iginla did some nice corner work and threaded a sweet pass to Crosby, who was streaking toward the net.

Scoring the winning goal to get your country the gold medal on home soil in Vancouver has got to be hard to top, eh?

“It’s a pretty unbelievable thing,” Crosby told reporters afterwards. “You know what? Every kid dreams of that opportunity. Being in Canada, that’s the opportunity of a lifetime. You dream of that a thousand times growing up. For it to come true is amazing.”

Crosby’s game-winning goal came 7 minutes, 40 seconds into overtime and crushed the dreams of the United States, which settled for the silver medal despite a stirring run through the Olympics.

That there even was an overtime was a testament to the Americans’ refusal to give up — with help from Canada goalie Roberto Luongo, who displayed that he’s no Roberto Clemente or Roberto Alomar when it comes to using a glove.

The United States had pulled Miller for the extra attacker while trailing in the final minute and Luongo failed to glove the puck, keeping a U.S. possession alive. About 10 seconds later, Patrick Kane’s shot on goal hit teammate Jamie Langenbrunner and Zach Parise was there to slap the puck past Luongo to tie the game with 24.4 seconds remaining.

I’m sure many Americans were thinking “Miracle on Ice Part II” with the late-game reprieve but it wasn’t to be despite another impressive goaltending performance by Miller, who was named tournament MVP in defeat.

Regardless of the outcome, it was a terrific hockey game to watch and a boost to the sport in the United States. Americans seldom plan their Sunday afternoons (or any other morning, afternoon or evening) around watching hockey and a large majority of them couldn’t have told you what NHL team Miller plays on – the Buffalo Sabres – when the month of February began.

It will be interesting to see if the NHL gets a spike of interest after the fine performance by Team USA. Miller’s Sabres visit Crosby’s Penguins on Tuesday night but the game isn’t on national television. The Sabres host reigning NHL MVP Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals on Wednesday but that game is on Versus and those of you with DirecTV know all too well the frustration of wanting to watch a sporting event on Versus and being unable to due to the bitter dispute between DirecTV and Comcast (which owns Versus) over rights’ fees.

One last thought – how spoiled are the hockey fans of Buffalo when it comes to goalies? Dominik Hasek for all those years and now Ryan Miller? That’s living the good life.

About the only guy living better is Crosby. He’s already got nothing left to prove at age 22.

It’s not often that I plan my evening around watching a hockey game. Blue moons reportedly happen just as often.

All it does is complicate life. I have to figure out things like, “What channel is MSNBC?” and also have to remind myself that each of the three hockey periods are 20 minutes long.

Then the game begins and I have to use Google to find out things about players I’ve never heard of before. Yeah, that was me Googling Brian Rafalski only to become disappointed to learn his career high for goals in an NHL season is just 13.

But all Sunday afternoon, I was anticipating that evening’s Winter Olympics hockey showdown between the United States and Canada and it was can’t miss TV in my world. It became the first televised hockey game I watched from start to finish since the Anaheim Ducks won the 2007 Stanley Cup over the Ottawa Senators.

I didn’t see Jean Sebastien-Giguere in goal – the name itself tells me he’s Canadian but there was Martin Brodeur guarding the net for Canada – but better than that, I didn’t have to watch 10 to 15 minutes of commercials every period. You have to love those commercial-free periods to go along with a crisp, well-played game. Glad I found you MSNBC.

The United States pulled out a tremendous 5-3 victory over the powerful Canadians behind two goals from the aforementioned Rafalski and splendid goaltending by Ryan Miller. Chris Drury – now there’s someone I’ve heard of – put the U.S. ahead for good late in the second period as the Americans advanced to the quarterfinals.

Think of all the pressure on Canada’s collection of stars with the Olympics being staged in Vancouver. Canadians go nuts over hockey the way I do over pepperoni pizza and you could almost sense a pall immediately gripping our neighbors to the north similar to the way I felt when the Round Table Pizza place in the neighborhood of my youth closed.

Canada now needs to win a play-in game on Tuesday to reach the quarterfinals, a highly disappointing predicament after Sidney Crosby and Company were tabbed as the goal-medal favorites prior to the start of competition.

The United States doesn’t have such lofty expectations placed on them after failing to earn a medal four years ago. But if Miller can tend goal in the same miraculous fashion he did Sunday night – he made 42 saves, including several big ones in the final period – who is to say the U.S. team can’t crash the medal stand?

I heard some pundits comparing the victory to the famous Miracle on Ice accomplishment in 1980. Settle down — the two wins aren’t even close in comparison. The Miracle on Ice team was a bunch of college kids that somehow upset the supposedly unbeatable Soviet Union on its way to winning the gold medal, while Sunday’s win over Canada came in pool play with the U.S. loaded with NHL stars.

That’s not saying it wasn’t an impressive win. It was a very remarkable victory but the triumph isn’t on the same level as 1980.

What this victory does do is whet the appetite of the casual American sports fan who tuned in just because it was the Olympics. You know, the type of person who has to search the television to find MSNBC or Googles Jamie Langenbrunner to see if he’s still on the New Jersey Devils (yeah, I remember his name from when the Devils beat the Ducks in the 2003 Stanley Cup Finals).

Hockey will now be in the forefront of the American sports world for the rest of the Olympics and that’s not all bad. Just imagine some of the things you might learn.

Just two weeks ago, I learned what team superstar Alex Ovechkin plays on. Oh no, not his Olympic squad – I already knew he played for Russia. But now I know that the MVP of the NHL the last two seasons plays for the Washington Capitals.

Who knows what else I might learn before the Winter Olympics end? I can’t wait to tune it to the Americans’ next game so consider my plans as a warning to Google’s search engine to be well-rested.

And we all know that I eagerly anticipate watching a hockey game about as often as … well, a blue moon occurs.