Archive for the ‘Insight’ Category

sestito orr

I know, I know, the fighting “debate” sucks, so I’m sparing you that. Instead of engaging in that cesspool I just want to lay out a reality so you have more information: fighters often fight for selfish reasons, not for the good of the team. GASP. It may sound like common sense to those from within the game, but I don’t think your average fan believes that’s true. I think the majority believe the Selfless Warrior stuff – to serve, protect and defend and all that.

The common conception seems to be that heavies do it because it sparks a team, that it keeps stars safe, that the adrenaline overtook them, or that they do it to defend teammates. In many cases, those are legitimate reasons for fighting, and I’ve got no issue with them. In fact, I took them up whole-heartedly as a player (who was sh**ty at fighting).

One of my two fights that was on YouTube (apparently stricken to save people from losing their lunch while watching me dish out such savage beatings) shows one of our best defenseman getting kneed while cutting across the blueline, and I come from out of the shot with gloves already off, because damned if we were going to be a team that let people take liberties on us. That was our “identity” of sorts. You hope that by establishing the clear message that this group sticks together - mess with him and mess with us - that people are less inclined to take a passing shot at someone because they know it won’t end there. There’s something to this, no doubt about it, but even if the message isn’t sent to other teams it’s sent within your own locker room that I got your back, and your team gets (and stays) close and gets better together. Success comes easier when everyone is out for the team, like at any workplace. (By the way, slow motion replay revealed that, nope, guy didn’t even come close to kneeing our guy. My b.)

Gillies never eclipsed the 100 PIM mark.

Gillies never eclipsed the 100 PIM mark.

And so, cut back to the “glory days” of fighting. I think a lot of the love for tough guys came from the era when players like Clark Gillies scored a crapload of points, but was also so feared that opposing players genuinely gave more room to his linemates, Bossy and Trottier. It’s such a clean, easy to understand picture. And around that time, the Boston Bruins were tough…but they could play too. Dave Semenko played with Wayne freaking’ Gretzky, which sent a pretty clear “Don’t f***ing touch that guy” message, but also meant he played a regular shift.

From those heroes of yore, things started to drift.

Junior hockey coaches watched that “protect the stars” model work, and started grooming tough guys in their teen years. Goals became secondary to punches. To go back to Clark Gillies, the dude had 112 points one year with the Regina Pats. He was hockey first. The guys who admired him and his ilk from their living rooms growing up didn’t have the same focus, nor were the coaches who were so enamored with the punchy-punchy part. Somewhere we came to believe that teams need an assigned protector, so some teams began wasting roster spots on them, and so the arms race began.

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Steven Stamkos3

There are many more-pacifistic people out there who don’t support the biblical “Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” belief, but I assure you that in professional sports, hockey in particular, those folks are few and far between. Sometimes you’re in a vulnerable position and you’re banking on your opponent to recognize that and be human. Usually, people are – peace, love and happiness, bro. When they’re not…

When they’re not you tend to get a little upset. You can forgive some accidents, and you can excuse guys playing hard, but you can’t excuse a guy recognizing you’re exposed and still trying to hurt you, legal play or not. This even applies to rec hockey, because for lack of a better way of putting it, “f*** that guy.” Nobody needs to get unnecessarily hurt. Even if it’s legal you don’t really want to establish yourself as someone who takes abuse well, so you may feel the need to get back at him. It’s not fun getting smoked in any situation, and when you get hurt in the process, double-f*** that guy. Hockey can be pretty, but it can also be pretty ugly if you don’t stand up for yourself occasionally.

Along a similar vein, a small digression: Steven Stamkos is back walking. Without crutches, without a boot, two weeks later, just…walking. It’s pretty incredible. He gave a press conference about it today, and said something fairly innocuous: “It was kind of a routine play, just a backcheck, I knew I had to catch a guy who was skating pretty fast, and…I think it was Hamilton in front of the net there, and…I think there probably wasn’t any intentional contact, but there was a little contact there, and I lost my footing, and those are the areas that as soon as you go down it’s an “uh-oh” moment.” Read the rest of this entry »

Alexander Sulzer watches as the Red Wings take a 2-1 lead with eight minutes to go in the third.

Alexander Sulzer watches as the Red Wings take a 2-1 lead with eight minutes to go in the third.

As things currently stand, the Buffalo Sabres have lost four straight games and sit a full five points behind the second-worst team in the league. They are in the basement, and the door to the main floor appears be padlocked and guarded by a Cerberus with the heads of John Scott, Patrick Kaleta and Steve Ott. Their goal differential is -35, with the league’s next worst total being -20. We are 25 games in. They are bad.

The team’s star Thomas Vanek has been dealt, the GM and head coach have been fired, and they’ve made no bones about the fact that they’re looking to make more changes, which drastically changes the daily tone in the dressing room. Things are tense from daily arrival to departure, both at practice and in games, and each loss only makes things worse. They say winning heals all, and Buffalo isn’t doing much of that.

All of which is to say, when I was watching the Red Wings and Sabres do battle on Sunday and the camera panned to the Sabres bench after a beleaguered Ryan Miller (31 saves on 33 shots) had been yanked in favor of a sixth attacker with 90 seconds to go in a 2-1 game, I was a little surprised to see to a couple Sabres on the bench looking up at the jumbotron and having a giggle with the trainer, while Miller and his .919 save percentage (with 3.11 goals-against and four wins in 18 starts) contemplated faking his own death to escape the misery that has become his hockey life.

I tweeted this: Read the rest of this entry »

Flames timeout

We were losing badly, and the sound wouldn’t stop.

*BANG* *BANG* *BANG* *BANG*

It was a home game in playoffs, and it wasn’t supposed to be going like this. Somehow the opposing team’s mascot had acquired a ticket directly behind our bench, and though he wasn’t in full garb, Chief Wannawin had managed to get his drum in the building. Our coach was about to boil over.

I’m not gonna say if he ordered the Code Red or not because it’s now a legal issue and the police were involved, but he called timeout to get the boys to regroup. As the man with the drum stood up to make hearing hard for our team during the break, he was promptly grabbed by our stocky equipment manager, who ended up on the other side of the glass on top of him going Ralphie from A Christmas Story on his face. Meanwhile we’re all in the timeout half-trying to listen to our coach, who is somehow not looking at the commotion directly behind him. Cool guys don’t look at explosions.

Needless to say, if the purpose of the timeout was to get the boys to settle down, this did not get the job done. That’s not how timeouts are supposed to go.

***

Of course, they don’t usually go like that (though maybe more should, it was pretty entertaining).

Timeouts are usually called for one of a handful of reasons: a team is getting shelled and needs to regroup, a coach wants to draw up a specific play late in the game because the team is behind, or a group of players is stuck on the ice after an icing asnd need some rest. There are a couple other reasons, but those are the most common.

What takes place inside those timeouts varies, so for our purposes today I thought I’d highlight a typical play that coaches draw up at the end of the game in the offensive zone to try to get that one big shot off.

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Claude Giroux

I’ve written about slumps in the past, so I thought I’d update one of those given the mess Claude Giroux is in. (Originally ran in The Hockey News in 2009, reprinted here with permission.)

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Slumps are a bitch.

During the NHL’s last full season Claude Giroux tallied 93 points. He got the better of Sidney Crosby in a playoff series that made his coach call him “The best player in the world.” He’s on my pre-season Team Canada roster under a category called “The Definitely, Yeps.” The Flyers made him captain.

He now hasn’t scored in 20 games dating back to last season. Seven points in 14 games.

Did I mention slumps are a bitch?

It’s amazing how recognizing you’re in a goal drought makes the problem feed on itself. And unfortunately, no matter who you talk to, there’s no easy solution to your problem.

I went through stretches of legitimate success in college and pro hockey, tying together point streaks of double digit games on multiple occasions. As you may have guessed, I also went through prolonged stretches of great misery, tying together streaks of punching walls and pulling my hair out at the root for double-digit games…on multiple occasions.

The standard song and dance about slump breaking is, in my opinion, what prolongs them.

“Keep it simple. Shoot from everywhere.”

No.

Garbage. Read the rest of this entry »

File this observation on "soft spots" under "Purely Anecdotal" for the time being.

File this observation on “soft spots” under “Purely Anecdotal” for the time being.

I have this distinct memory of being in my late teens and watching Mario Lemieux sit on the powerplay, as so many players do today, with his stick cocked above waist height, inviting his teammates to get him a puck. Basically, just stuff a bullet in this gun, and I promise to shoot it and shoot it well. Ovechkin does it, Stamkos does it, just about everyone playing the point on the powerplay does it. …The thing was, Mario Lemieux was on the goal line.

Lemieux’s skates used to essentially touch the icing line on the left side, his right-handed stick sitting a foot or two above it. Sometimes he was deep enough to touch the boards in the corner if he reached. He didn’t have the game’s hardest shot, but goddamn if he couldn’t place a one-timer accurately enough to kiss the inside of the far post and put one on the board for his team. Whether that was a skill other players didn’t have, or whether they just lacked the confidence to try it, you didn’t see it much around the league then.

This isn’t the one I’m thinking of, but you can see where he’s shooting from. Read the rest of this entry »

Tim Jackman

The title of this post should really be “How desperate coaches huck s*** at the wall and hope something sticks.” I’ll explain.

When it comes to managing your forwards during a game, here’s a rough look at how the ideal game goes:

* The top couple lines show they have legs early, create some chances, hopefully score.

* The third line is swarming, playing responsible, being hard to play and staying out of the d-zone.

* The fourth line is banging, forechecking hard and making life miserable for your opponents.

* The team gets a lead and is able to roll four lines so nobody gets overextended, everyone is rested when their center’s name is called (which is how a line knows they’re up).

* The game is out of hand early and the usage of skill players goes into decline, and the clock, she goes tick tick tick down to zero.

What you may know from your experience as a hockey fan is that things don’t always work out this way. Okay, they almost never do.

Instead, there were two penalties called early, your third line PK specialists are wiped off the bat, and your top lines are basically cold seven minutes into the period. Your fourth liners are disconnecting from the game. You’re behind two goals and one of your forwards is hurt, so now you’re running three centers through four wing pairs, only one of your other centers is in the box and you don’t trust your fourth line wingers to not give up another one, so…I dunno, you, you and you, you’re up.

Who’s playing left? We’re all left wingers.

You.

Alright, I guess?

You get the idea – the best laid schemes of mice and men, and all that.

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