WAKE ME WHEN SEPTEMBER ENDS

(or HOW TO THWART HOCKEY WITHDRAWAL PART 3)

 

I look forward to it every year.  The anticipation of a new season, the drop of the puck – 30 teams doing it all over again.

Just like the Green Day smash hit, I would like very much if I could just fast forward through September and get the new hockey season underway already.  Summer, as the song says “has come to pass”, training camps are getting ready to open, kids are going back to school, and the weather is getting a little cooler.  It can only mean one thing – it’s time to drop the puck already!

Yes folks, I am back after a very eventful summer which saw me purchase my first home (no more rent!), learn new skills at work, and of course, I became yet another year older (and hopefully wiser).  There have been times when I haven’t even had time to think, hence the lack of updates on the Blog and in this spot.  But I’m back now, the season is about to start, and hockey is the subject du jour.  I’ve been working out on one of those Tony Little Gazelle machines and recently I started incorporating one of his abdominal workouts into the mix and I must say, I’m becoming a lean, mean hockey machine (no I’m not about to tryout for the Ottawa 67s or any team for that matter).  If for nothing else, I definitely have more energy for walking up those arena steps! 

I had the great fortune (or misfortune depending on your perspective) of witnessing my favorite team make it to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals.  Even though they lost, the ride was beyond my wildest dreams, and all I can say is thanks Edmonton for the memories.  I recently went through some highlights of the playoff run from the NHL Network and was almost brought to tears.  I can’t bring myself to watch the Stanley Cup celebration even to this day.  My computer’s wallpaper is a picture of Jason Smith and Ryan Smyth wearing their “2006 Western Conference Champions” hats on the ice in Anaheim, and for all intents and purposes, it’s staying put for the time being.  I’m still searching for one of these hats, or a T-shirt, but apparently the Oilers haven’t thought much of their fans east of Alberta, and if they have, I’d like to know short of Ebay where something like this might exist.  Speaking of Anaheim, have I mentioned how much I dislike Chris Pronger nowadays?

OK – enough.  It’s time to move on.  Better luck this season.

Many of you loyal readers out there have responded quite well to my methods of getting through the days until hockey is back – I feel as though my words are makeshift therapy.  Many of you have told me you didn’t even realize some of these options existed.  Well, here I am again with some more ways to pass the time before our favorite pastime starts up again.  There isn’t too much new here, but I figure, why mess with a good thing, and quite frankly, like it or not, I find it to be the perfect bridge into the new season.

Very soon, the new EA Sports NHL 07 video game will be out in stores, but so far I have mixed thoughts on this as they are planning something real big for the new Xbox 360 and from what the forums are saying the rest of us may be just as happy searching for roster updates for NHL 06.  As always, I will have my annual in depth take no prisoners review on the year’s most anticipated game (as far as I’m concerned anyway).  For you PC gamers, a demo is expected any day now, although for some reason, Xbox 360 users win again as a demo has been out now since Labor Day.  If you’re exclusively a console gamer, NHL 2K7 from 2K sports should be out any day now as well, however, I don’t care what they say, the digitized pictures of Joe Thornton look nothing like him.  For my money, NHL 06 with an update to facilitate the actual salary cap will do it for me.  Hopefully EA doesn’t disappoint me by trying too much of a facelift, because there is no way I’m going to even consider buying a 360 just for one game.  And please, EA, bring back the zamboni!

A couple of more movies for you check out.  Recently released on DVD is the 4th installment of Les Boys aptly titled “Les Boys IV” – most of the usual characters are back, and this one includes cameos from Guy Lafleur and Martin Brodeur, just to name a couple.  If you don’t understand French, if you don’t mind subtitles, this is a great series.  Think about it as a French version of Slap Shot with three sequels instead of one (if you can even call Slap Shot 2 a sequel).  On September 19th, just in time for exhibition play, “The Rocket” will be available to rent, and on an unrelated note, so too will be Season One of “My Name Is Earl”.  I’ve spoken before about how karma relates to hockey, and even though there’s no reference to the sport, it’s one of those feel good sitcoms the airwaves have been missing.  I often wonder if Randy was ever checked into the boards when he was younger, and if so, how many times?

With fall comes a lot of new television shows, movies, video games, and most importantly, music CDs!  Our great friend Michael Cretu, otherwise known as Enigma, is back with a sixth installment of his special brand of new age mixed with techno pop, and even the odd Gregorian chant mixed in for good measure.  Although long gone are the days of Sadeness, the new CD “A Posteriori” includes a track entitled “Hello And Welcome”, which was originally recorded for a Boxing match – but if you listen to it carefully it could easily pass as a hockey anthem, and I hope all of the arenas take notice.  I know I have and cannot wait for September 26th or an Internet leak – whichever comes first!  (And don’t worry Michael, I have all of the CDs, I will be buying it regardless – you da man!).  Another CD on my want list right now is Meat Loaf’s third installment of “Bat Out Of Hell”, set for release on Hallowe’en October 31st.  The third and final Bat is appropriately titled “The Monster Is Loose”.  By the time the CD is in stores the monster which is the NHL will already be 166 games into the regular season (out of 2460).

So let’s talk some hockey, shall we?  Needless to say I am chomping at the bit for the new season to get underway, have I mentioned that yet?

ALONG THE BOARDS

Making the news more than Paris Hilton these days is the increasing number of NHL players in trouble with the law.  Most recently, Mark Bell of the San Jose Sharks pulled his own Hilton stunt as he was arrested on suspicion of drunk driving and an alleged hit and run.  It puts the icing on the cake of a summer full of troubles for more than a few players, namely Rangers’ Jaromir Jagr (IRS troubles) and Minnesota’s Derek Boogaard (bar fight resulted in an assault charge).  Mike Danton’s former agent David Frost was recently arrested for sexual exploitation and assault, while Danton himself continues to serve time for his own bizarre plot against Frost.  Paris Hilton even managed to get Colorado’s Jose Theodore in trouble with his wife as someone in the media suggested the two were having an affair.  A defamation lawsuit is pending and the writer of the article has since printed a retraction.  Not too long after this, Hilton announced her celibacy.  Coincidence?  It’s been one crazy summer.

Speaking of crazy summers, who could have predicted Jacques Martin would start the new season as both general manager and coach of the Florida Panthers?  Mike Keenan stepped down from the manager’s role, but conventional wisdom will tell you there’s more to this story than meets the eye.  This is vehemently denied by all involved, as Martin continues to maintain a good relationship with Keenan, or so he says.  His story (and he’s sticking with it) is he was approached by ownership about the possibility of maintaining the dual role.  The question I have which nobody can answer with anything but sheer speculation is why did Keenan just all of a sudden resign when he hasn’t ever quit anything in his life?  There’s a reason they call him “Iron” Mike – it’s because if you wanted to get rid of him, you had to fire him – end of story.  Unless their friendship is so great that Mike wanted to give Jacques every opportunity to pursue a dual role, I can’t even imagine what took place here, and so far Keenan isn’t talking.  I have to wonder how much money was involved here, it’s the only logical explanation I can think of.  Should Martin get too overloaded undertaking the dual role, he could always decide to assume the general manager’s job exclusively and hire his own coach.  Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but how strange would it be if he decided to hire former provincial rival & Team Canada colleague Pat Quinn for a little reunion?  I can hear them on the Team 1200 Senators pre-game show now, and I can just imagine the Ottawa Sun headlines.  Hey Jacques, just a question, how do you like your goaltending situation for next season?  Just curious.

On a happy note, it seems Owen Nolan was able to resolve his differences with the Toronto Maple Leafs and is looking forward to revamping his career in Phoenix.  While he alone won’t do much for the desert dogs, I like some of the moves they’ve made and I expect the Coyotes to be in contention for at least a playoff spot.

By the way, can somebody please tell me just how Brendan Shanahan will benefit the New York Rangers?

I’ll tell you what, if I have to read one more article about the Russian transfer agreement, or lack thereof, I will personally write a plea to the powers that be to come to some sort of agreement, one way or the other.  It’s pretty sad when a player, let alone a first round draft pick from two years ago has to sneak out of his own country just to be able to sign a contract with the Pittsburgh Penguins of all teams.  And don’t think the Evgeni Malkin situation is over just yet.  Even though he’s inked his entry level contract, expect legal action stemming from the way Malkin made his way over to North America.  I don’t care what laws are in place to protect Malkin or any Russian player, if you sign a contract, you honor it.  End of story.  On the flipside, I can already see the media drooling over Malkin and Crosby and training camp hasn’t even started yet.  How about getting an actual goaltender in Pittsburgh?  Just a thought.

As teams finish rounding out their rosters, one thing is becoming very apparent – the Stanley Cup is up for grabs, more than ever before.  The dynasty days are over – with all due respect to the Carolina Hurricanes, too many other teams have improved through free agency and the draft to make even the most remote chance they may repeat all that much tougher.  While we know only 16 out of the 30 teams will get a legitimate shot at it, I predict at least 23 or 24 teams will be fighting for it right down to the final week.  Well, you may say, so what, the playoff races are always interesting right down to game 82 anyway?  Right, but think about having five or six teams per conference with a legitimate shot for eighth spot?  Before this new CBA, you’d be lucky if two or three teams were in contention by the last day of the season.  Given what happened last year, anything is possible.  Parity is a beautiful thing.  I’ll delve more into this as the season gets going, the teams I think will make some noise, the teams which will be most improved and why.  Stay tuned, the roller coaster is loading up fast, so reserve your seat at the front and get ready for one hell of a ride!

Finally, a big Puckin’ Around salute is in order for Cassie Campbell, the only Canadian hockey player, male or female, to captain two Gold Medal winning teams at the Olympics.  Campbell, 32, has retired after an illustrious career in which Women’s Hockey was effectively put on the map. Often labeled “the poster girl of women’s hockey”, the speedy 5’7” defenseman wants to have children and put the finishing touches on not one, but two books.  She is also considering a career in broadcasting. Thanks for the memories, Cassie, you will be missed on the ice, I can assure you.

An even bigger salute goes out to Steve Yzerman, a man who needs no introduction.  As captain of three Stanley Cup winning teams in Detroit, and countless trips to the finals, his grit and scoring prowess will be severely missed, not just in Detroit but throughout the Western Conference.  My lasting memory of Steve will be watching him hoist what was his second Stanley Cup in 1999, and immediately handing it to Vladimir Konstantinov as he sat at centre ice in a wheelchair.  Yzerman is the all-time leader in Red Wings playoff scoring, and ranks second only to Gordie Howe in overall franchise points.   His #19 will be retired in a pre-game ceremony January 2, 2007, just before the Red Wings take on the Ducks.  Way to go Stevie – it’s no wonder they named the Nepean Sportsplex after you, as fitting a tribute as one can get.

As the countdown is on for the new season, you can be sure I’ll be there to highlight what should be another stellar season of hockey.  You can count on it.  Opening night features yet another incarnation of the Battle of Ontario (on back to back nights no less), and the Oilers will raise their Conference Banner, as well as Mark Messier’s #11.  Carolina will also have a banner of their own to raise – their first Stanley Cup.  Oct 4th will be a special night and on the 7th, all 30 teams will be in action.  Just promise me somebody out there won’t forget to wake me when September ends.

 

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