Pittsburgh Penguins v New Jersey Devils

Last night I had the distinct pleasure of attending a hockey game with some excellent seats, and over the course of the game, I thought some thoughts. Because I write for a living, I thought “Hey, maybe if I jot down these thoughts, I can write said thoughts in a post about my thoughts.”


Anyway, the game was between the New Jersey Devils and the Toronto Maple Leafs.

These are those thoughts.


Anthem time

I can’t help but think how absolutely overwhelming (and awesome) it must be for the boys and girls who get to skate out before the game, cut a lap with the flag, and stand on the blueline for the national anthems in Toronto (or anywhere). I played in front of some sizeable crowds over the years, and I gotta say, I never really got over that part. It’s always cool. You can hear the whole crowd sing along to the anthem, which is better than being in the crowd, in which case you can only hear the terrible person behind you. Also, you get to rock on your skates, which is a pretty fun habit to get into. (Just don’t forget to take off your helmet like I did in North Dakota, cage and all. I was a little preoccupied thinking about my first shift.)

Has to be a lifelong memory for those kids.

The Grocery Stick Skate during TV timeouts

For those of you who don’t know, “grocery stick” refers to a player who gets off after a shift, shuffles towards the middle of the bench as players roll out, then doesn’t get his number called for a long time, so he ends up just being the divider for the d-men and forwards.

Anyway, when that guy doesn’t get to play for long enough, you’ll occasionally see him jump the boards during a TV timeout and go cut a mini lap of the neutral zone to “stay warm.”

This can do one of two things: 1) let the coach know that you’ve “still got your head in the game,” and remind him that you haven’t been used in awhile, thus getting you another shift, or 2) let the coach know “hey I haven’t been used in awhile,” when he f*****g knows, and there’s a reason for it, and piss him off even further. Incidentally, were I coach, it would piss me off, because it’s really just a way of grovelling for ice time, given that it’s not like that damn half lap actually warmed you up or anything.

Frazer McLaren did this last night, and it annoyed me.

Hard passes

Until you see a game in person (obviously good seats help with this), it’s tough to understand how hard NHLers pass the puck. First off, there’s no such thing as a pass that’s “too hard” in the NHL. There are situations that call for touch, and there are spot passes, but in general, you want to get the puck to your teammate ASAP so he has more time with it to make a decision. As Chemmy tweeted last night, a series of hard NHL passes can sound like gunfire. The Gordan Bombay “soft hands, cushion the puck when receiving it” idea is nonsense. Put the eggs away. Just get ready, enjoy the slap sound, corral it, get your head up.

It’s one of the most-used expressions in a hockey practice (usually joking/teasing): “HANDLE IT.” They say you can’t give a good player a bad pass, so if a guy pulls the pin and throws a grenade your way, you should be able get it flat and ready to move again, whether it was neck height or not.

Fits ‘n’ starts

Last night was the first time I’ve seen Ilya Kovalchuk live, and it was mind-blowing how he operates, seemingly in “fits ‘n’ starts.” He’s so in control of his body, so in control of everything, that he doesn’t often have put the throttle down. But when he does, you’re like “oh, yeah, he definitely has a gear other guys don’t.” And he’s got that gear in every way – foot speed, physical play, shooting, whatever.

Because they use him so much, he seems to operate so as not to burn himself out (I doubt this is a conscious decision, rather just the way he chooses to play) in case he needs to go throttle down later in a shift. Other players seem to accelerate and decelerate more smoothly, where he seems to, as I said, literally switch gears.

He’s eight in the NHL in time-on-ice, and first among forwards with a few seconds shy of 26 minutes per game (last night he played 27:37). The next closest forward is Steven Stamkos, who averages 22:07. Kovalchuk is also first in powerplay TOI by a forward with 135:29 minutes played, nearly 20 more than the man at #2, Sidney Crosby.

He will be included in my “N(ext-level)HL” when I get around to naming the rosters of my six team league later this month.

And finally, a funny moment:

Randy Carlyle tried to embarrass his fourth line last night

Not in some overt, offensive way, just in the way that coaches like to do.

After the fourth line gave up a goal off a d-zone faceoff, they found themselves back on the ice when a bad, bad thing happened. Frazer McLaren turned the puck over high in the offensive zone, which is a thing coaches hate-hate-hate from their top lines, let alone their bottom ones. Just get that sucker deep and don’t take risks by the blue line.

Anyway, McLaren loses the handle, then apparently misses his clutch and has trouble starting his engine on the backcheck, and the Devils score again. The grinders know they’re coming off the ice (Mark Fraser headed off too) after that, so they skate towards the bench, only Carlyle doesn’t move. He doesn’t call another line, and leaves the fourth line to go line up for the next draw, like they may be having another go at this. It’s such an awkward moment for a player, just repeatedly circling around the neutral zone and looking at the bench and the coach (who in this case has his arms folded across his chest) waiting to see other bodies rolling over the boards.

Was he really going to leave them out there?

No no.

He just didn’t want to let them come back to the bench with their tails between their legs to hide. He wanted to leave them out there so everyone could see them while he decided who to call next. It got awkward. It was only a few seconds all told, but I have no doubt he made those moments excruciating on purpose.

Comments (19)

  1. The one year I played goalie (must’ve been ’78 or 9 and I around 8 or 9) we got to do a shootout in between periods at the Igloo for a Pens/Kings game. Much of it is a blur – don’t remember the crowd so much as the one goal (five hole) I allowed. I stopped 2 out of 3 (one guy fumbled the puck IIRC) for the win. But the one thing I recall most clearly was when clearing the crease of snow before the first shooter and the mounds of snow on either side of the posts were fricken HUGE! And solid. Like hard packed mountains of ice and not the wispy little things that would accumulate when I played. They’d never get away with that now. Odd, the things one remembers.

  2. Excellent take on the Carlyle and the fourth line; a little confusing to understand but it’s an interesting view and explanation.

  3. Like this idea for an article. Hope you can do it more often.

  4. Nice one- You are seeing a LOT of things during the game that most people wouldn’t, so kudos.

  5. Someone needs to do a Thoughts on Thoughts post for this.

  6. Liked this a lot, JB.

    It’s probably not the case, but IMO, Kovalchuk and Shelden Souray just have the most impressive “in-person” shots to actually witness. Everyone in the NHL can really shoot but when they bomb it you can just tell when it comes off their sticks that it’s got more heat on it than the average shot.

    I was wondering who passes it the hardest the most consistently. Again, they all really bring it, so it’s tough to say. For money I’d say look at how hard Subban and Gonchar pass the puck in the zone on the PP next time. It looks harder than most shots from other players.

    • Kovalchuk scored on one the other day that he literally flung his whole body into. The slow motion replay looked like full speed. I couldn’t even see it.

  7. Good call on Kovalchuk. He does seem to have another gear (or three) that a lot of guys don’t. You see it in his speed and in his stickhandling (which is crazy, if you’ve never seen it before). I do worry that the Devils are playing him way too much though…some of it is that he plays full powerplays, which shouldn’t be super draining, but still…By the way, did you see Kovy go back and dive to block a shot on the empty net even though the Devils were down by two with less than a minute left?

  8. “so if a guy pulls the pin and throws a grenade your way, you should be able get it flat and ready to move again”

    Thank you for once again giving me a great colloquialism for the godawful lobs that guys in my pickup hours *try* to get to.

    • i suppose you think you’re better than those guys in the gym bro? well you’re playing there for a reason, so you either need to stop running your mouth, or move up in the ranks, try playing in a hockey / lacrosse box with the big boys if you’re so good

  9. Re the hard passing thing – I got to witness this at ice level and had my mind blown. We had a group of players (mostly AHL/ECHL or CHL players given) come to New Zealand for a USA v Canada game, They were training at our local rink and I was helping out with the benches/waters. First guy out out on the ice was Kyle Quincy (then of the Avalanche)…hardly a ‘top name’ yet watching him shoot the puck was incredible. Once they started the passing drills, watching the puck move as fast as some beer league shots on a pass…just incredible.

  10. I too was very impressed when I saw Kovalchuk live, from the 5th row. Just the sound his skates blades make on the ice was different than anybody else, and that includes Crosby and Malkin, when he was crossing over. What a great push, it was amazing to watch and hear…

  11. I too once forgot to take off my helmet during the anthem. First ever shift playing high school hockey. we were up against our biggest rival in a barn that we shared. Could hold about 700 people but 2000 usually showed up. It was my first ever game of organized hockey and I was going to be out for the opening face off…so i stood on the ice, at our blue line, helmet on during the whole anthem. Worst. Experience. Ever

    • thats what you get for just starting to play hockey when you’re in high school, start earlier like the rest of us.. so you wont embarrass yourself in front of the chicks you think you’re gonna score from ( spoiler alert, you didnt )

      • For how much you’re talking on here I’d like to see you play in the Ralph, and watch your jaw drop, the place takes most off their game…

        Bourne was that your first game in grand forks or just your first time starting? Also we went to college during the same years, at the time I thought UNDs pregame ceremonies was probably the best in the WCHA rinks I went to

  12. Your helmet story reminds me of a time, when I was about 9, and was named captain for the game. (rolling captain for kids that tried hard in the last game…not talent/leadership based!) Well no one had ever told me the purpose of the ceremonial face-off, so as the town Mayor dropped the puck to open the new arena, I took to the draw like a defensive zone faceoff in Game 7 for the Cup. Pulled the puck all the way into the corner of the rink. Then had to skate back and get it…in front of a packed house….standing-O. I still laugh at every single ceremonial puck drop I see.

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