A GAME FOR THE AGES            

 

Well, was the Heritage Classic Mega Stars event a game and a half or what?  If you missed it, shame on you!  For those of you who were there, I envy you, ten times over.

I want to share with you an e-mail I received from Gordie McKercher, a regular reader of Puckin’ Around, who had this to say about the whole experience:

“WOW, what a game!  Our seats were on the 50 yard line and about 40 rows up underneath the deck.  It was fantastic.  We could see everything without binoculars and the place was phenomenal.  For the alumni game, when they were introducing both teams, everyone was cheering, and for Mark Messier, Guy Lafleur and Wayne Gretzky the place went absolutely nuts.  Imagine 57000 people in a standing ovation for the Great One, it was enough to bring a true blue hockey fan to tears. We were all screaming our heads off and cheering and clapping, it was fantastic.  Everyone was just great.  The game itself was wicked.  When Grant Fuhr made the big save, the whole place went nuts when the replay went up on two giant screens.  In the second period when Bill Ranford was standing on his head the venue went nuts again.  It was the best hockey experience I’ve ever had.  The crowd was fantastic.  It didn't matter what team won.  Everyone was just out to enjoy the game and the atmosphere.

When the regular season game started, people started to leave, because it was -20 degrees Celsius with a wind chill of about -28, but all of the diehard fans who stayed enjoyed every minute of it.  I was really thankful to the players just because they wanted to play even though it was damn cold.  Jose Theodore played with a toque on over his helmet which was awesome.  I liked that.  The game was pretty good, it was really fast paced because it was so cold, but it really didn't matter.  Everyone that stayed was cheering hard to keep warm, and it was just the best.  When either team scored, everyone cheered, although when we were chanting for the Oilers the Habs fans were chanting just as hard back, if not harder.  They were outnumbered by a lot, but both sides were having the time of their lives.

Most of the game stuff you can get from the television broadcast, but the crowd was phenomenal.  I heard a lot of people saying it really didn't matter who won, the experience was one-in-a-lifetime, and I agree.  It was good the game was close, it helped a lot.   I think that everyone had a great time.  I only heard one person complain, but that guy was kind of a monkey.  He wasn't a fan, he just wanted to be able to say he had been there.  The real fans, and even the not so real fans were having the best time, chanting, and just remembering the game for what it was, the greatest hockey day ever.

Anyway, I just got back, and I am tired, but I wanted to give you guys a good description because I know you are part of the diehard contingent that would have given anything to be there and can appreciate the whole experience.  I just want to say that it was the best time I ever had, just in case you didn't get it from what I said about the game.”

I’ve had many great hockey e-mail conversations with Gordie over the past year and I’m grateful for his having been there and thank him very much for his input.  Personally, I would have sold my soul to the Devil to have been there (but only if it was a New Jersey Devil and only if I get a day with the Stanley Cup or box tickets to an Edmonton vs. New Jersey final series).  All I’m waiting for now is a special DVD to commemorate the event.

UPDATE - April 2004: Our prayers have been answered!  Warner Brothers has released a special 2 DVD set in March which includes the original CBC broadcast of both outdoor games as well as plenty of behind the scenes stuff that you won't find on any sports highlights show.  The disc is entitled "Heritage Classic - A November To Remember".

Order this and several other hockey DVDs here: http://www.prohockeydvd.com - the DVD itself can also be purchased at Best Buy, Wal-Mart or wherever DVDs are sold.  I get the sense there are only so many of these that were pressed, either that or they're selling like hotcakes, because you may or may not see it on the website.  If you enjoy this DVD, the Ultimate Gretzky as well as the 2003 Stanley Cup New Jersey Devils DVD I highly recommended!

LINE CHANGES

Here we are a mere week removed from the outdoor Heritage Classic in Edmonton and already everybody and their dog want a piece of the action.  While I wouldn’t mind seeing other outdoor games, maybe we should limit them to special events like the All-Star game or maybe the odd exhibition game.  While I still have goose bumps from the Mega Stars alumni game, the whole day was an event which would be hard to top unless you could somehow convince #99 and #11 to show up as part of the New York Rangers alumni.  I personally can’t see it happening again.  As Gretzky said afterwards “it would be like trying to replay the 1972 Summit Series all over again”.  Hopefully the hockey powers that be will listen and take heed of the Great One’s words.  Then again, maybe they can find a way to incorporate this with what has become an annual event, Hockey Day In Canada.  Flip a coin, pick a location and play the entire tripleheader on the pond, or turn the tripleheader into a shinny tournament.  Maybe the Habs would even consider making Joe Juneau a healthy scratch.  Another idea to coincide with the All-Star break is stage an annual outdoor alumni game between the current NHL All-Stars and the Stanley Cup Champions from ten years ago.  The whole idea sounds so crazy it just might work.

I saw this comment posted in a hockey forum somewhere and it’s worth repeating here because I agree wholeheartedly.  The Edmonton Oilers Mega Stars alumni team could beat (and beat soundly) the 2003/04 Pittsburgh Penguins on any given Saturday on any ice surface, indoors or outdoors.  Think about it for a minute.  The original commentator went so far as to say they’d bet everything they own on it.  I wonder what sort of odds Las Vegas could conjure up.

With November finally over, it’s time to nominate another bonehead of the month.  This time around I’ve decided on two: Mike Comrie and Magnus Arvedson.  Comrie, only because he missed playing in the biggest game in hockey history, and Arvedson for comments he made to reporters about why he didn’t return to Ottawa.  In case you missed it, Edmonton boss Kevin Lowe came right out and said Comrie should have been on the ice for the outdoor game.  As for Arvedson, he was quoted as saying the reason he signed with the Vancouver Canucks and not the Ottawa Senators was because “I wanted to come back but they wouldn’t even offer me $100”!  The sad thing here is I had a great deal of respect for both of these players until now.  Who said it’s not about the money?

Last time around I commented on how San Jose was on pace to qualify for the post season by virtue of ties and overtime losses.  Well somebody within the organization must have printed my article and pasted it on the walls of the Sharks’ dressing room, because ever since I made this observation the team is undefeated.  Was it me or just an amazing coincidence?  I'd be interested to know if my words had the ability to fire up the team.  If they did see my words, I myself admit they were a tad premature, but it was frustrating to see them play so well and only get rewarded with one point or none at all, which leads into my next observation.

It’s unbelievable the amount of flack the Ottawa Senators have taken from fans and media alike over their recent mini-slump.  Is this what fans are really like in Montreal or Toronto?  How soon they forget how November has never been friendly to this team.  I’m not sure what it is, but traditionally Ottawa gets off to a great start out of the gate, only to come back to earth during the month of November, even during games they should have won on paper.  If the fans had their way, half the team would have been traded to a Western Conference team by now, and Jacques Martin would be head coaching another team in about 2.5 seconds flat.  If the fans think this mentality will win their team a Stanley Cup, they’d better think again.  During times of adversity, a team needs their fans to stand behind them more than anything.  From what I’ve observed by taking in a few live games this year, the fans only cheer when the team wins, and the rest of the time are acting like a bunch of crybabies.  Another thing to consider is the officiating, or lack thereof in many of the games.  The Senators offensive firepower is no secret around the league, so if you can’t beat them, get in their way, hook them, trip them, cross check them, whatever you have to do, just don’t let the referee catch you.  One of the more frustrating things to see is two referees on the ice turning a blind eye to this.  However, as they say, what goes around comes around, and the calls seem to finally be coming around for Ottawa.  I heard a fan on the air blaming Martin Havlat for the slump (if you can even call it a slump), when he along with Jason Spezza has been nothing short of offensive spark plugs.  The season is 82 games long for a reason, they’ve only played 23.  And don’t forget they still have games at hand on most teams in the east!  With the exception of what I refer to as a practice game at Madison Square Garden (and not a very good one either), the bulk of their losses have been by one goal (three of these games overtime losses, so they still earned a point!)  Throughout all of this their special teams rank among the top three teams in the league, if not number one.  If they can ever get an undefeated streak of three or four games together they’ll be back on top, the conference is that close.  Relax Ottawa, it’s only a game!  At the end of the day, they’ll be there, just like the experts predicted.  The team as a whole knows they have to get it going, and they will, no point in placing blame on one particular player or coach.  Whatever they do, they’d better not be looking for any sympathy from any other team’s head coach, especially Bob Hartley, Ken Hitchcock, Doug Maclean or Paul Maurice.

Fast forward now all of a sudden to the beginning of December, the Sens get a sixty minute effort, they get their power play going and they win to snap Philadelphia’s best start in five years and all of a sudden the so called Ottawa fans are once again back on the bandwagon?  I don’t get it.  I have a question, however, does Patrick Lalime really have the flu or is it just an excuse for Jacques Martin to shake things up?  Whatever the case, it's working.  Up next for the “Ministry of Offense” is just what the doctor ordered, a trip to the Sunshine State, and I know two things: 1) they’ve been saving a big can of you know what for the Florida Panthers to avenge an October home ice loss, and 2) if John Grahame plays in the Tampa Bay game the Bolts will most likely crazy glue his goalie stick to his gloves so he can’t get caught throwing it, again.  Look for Ray Emery to get a start in net as he’s been called up from Binghamton, something the fans have been asking for.

Often opinionated, never duplicated, Philadelphia Flyers forward Jeremy Roenick spoke his thoughts about the whole collective bargaining impending doom in 2004 in a recent interview on Sportsnet, saying everybody involved “needs to get off their high horse” and while he believes a lockout must be avoided at all costs, is not optimistic things will play out as such.  He further went on to undermine NHL commissioner Gary Bettman by saying “don’t believe a word he’s saying”.  I’m really beginning to wish I was a fly on the wall during some of these NHLPA meetings.

While we’re on the topic of labor strife, has anybody else noticed the trade flood gates have started to open?  Recently Atlanta and Nashville made a two for two deal which saw defenseman Tomas Kloucek and forward Ben Simon headed to the city of music, and heading to the home of the Braves, er Thrashers, was forward Simon Gamache and defenseman Kiriil Safronov.  My only question is who’s dumping the salary here?

There's no question Pittsburgh was not only dumping a salary but saving some money when Martin Straka was shipped to Los Angeles and Mario Lemieux refused a pay raise.  How much longer can this team survive?

The Jaromir Jagr to the New York Rangers rumors have surfaced again, giving columnists in the Big Apple something to write about again.  It’s been suggested some writers in New York have kept copies of their original Jagr rumor articles archived on their laptops so they can just regurgitate them as needed.  Sounds like a good idea to me.  Funny how Jagr has all of a sudden snapped his scoreless drought.

Now there’s talk Edmonton’s Mike Comrie could be packaged up with another big name or two for two or three players who won’t break the bank.  Ryan Smyth, Eric Brewer, Jason Smith, George Laraque and Brad Isbister are all names who are all of a sudden on the trade block with the Oilers riding yet another losing streak.  You’d think with all the money made from the Heritage Classic they could cut a little slack to the players they have and allow them to turn it around themselves, but something tells me the pressure will be on.  I know Adam Oates has only played three games, but how long does it take a player to get their timing back?

We can expect to see some more movement and even more dumb rumors as we approach the holidays and get closer to the All-Star break, not to mention the trading deadline.

Marc Savard of the Atlanta Thrashers needs to stop hanging around with Mike Tyson as he’s started biting players.  The victim was Darcy Tucker and the incident earned Savard a one game unpaid vacation.  How long before “Darcy Tucker Glove Style Buffalo Wings” are deemed a staple food in sports bars all over Atlanta?  So much for floating like a butterfly and stinging like a bee.  On an unrelated note, how on earth did Marc make it back on the ice in three weeks when initially he was supposed to be out eight to ten weeks?

And finally, if anyone knows where I can find a McFarlane Patrick Roy Colorado alternate jersey variant action figure, please notify this avid collector.  They’ve been seen selling on E-bay for no less than $400 US, for a toy you can purchase for $13.92 at Wal-Mart, if you can find it.  I always knew Roy was popular with hockey fans, but this is ridiculous!  Furthermore, if I had known the toques the Habs wore at the Heritage Classic would be as hot a commodity as Roy once was in Montreal, I would have bought a few and put them on E-bay.  And all because Jose Theodore didn't want to get in trouble with his mother.

For Sports Byline, I’m Adam Hill blowing the whistle on yet another issue.  Stay tuned for the ever popular report cards, coming soon to a website near you!

 

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