ALL-STARS, RANTS & RUMORS - IN HD!!!

 

I’m always amazed at just how quickly an 82 game season goes by – at the beginning it always seems like way too many games, but next thing you know, it’s Christmas, then the All Star break, then the trade deadline and – then the playoffs are just around the corner?!  No way?!  Way!!

It’s a never ending vicious cycle – and this year, for those of you who don’t already know, I finally got on board with High Definition – the latest and greatest television technology.  Simply put, if you haven’t as of yet seen your favorite sport in HD yet, you’re missing out, plain and simple.

So when people ask me “what have you been up to lately?”, instead of my usual smartass remark “oh about five foot eleven”, I can say “when I’m not working (or shoveling snow!), I’m watching the big games, in HD”.  It’s not meant to come across as bragging, but I’m sure at some point it has sounded that way – and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.  In all honesty, I think it’s made the season go by all the faster, not to mention I’ve missed less thanks to the pause/fast forward/rewind technology on the personal video recorder.

Since my job outside of this article and this website puts me at the forefront of cable television, among other technologies, I hear a lot about what’s coming and what to expect in the near and distant future.  I read something a few weeks ago that just blows me away, the report later confirmed by a CBC National news report – by February of 2009 (yes, that’s less than one year away!), every American channel is expected to either be exclusively HD, or have at the very least an exclusive digital feed.  Plain and simple – the analogue cable you screw into the back of that old 20 year old tube television in the room you use the least?  It will become obsolete, necessitating either a TV with a digital tuner or terminal from your service provider (in most cases the latter will be the only option).  The company I work for doesn’t even offer analogue as an option on new connections anymore – there’s just no point when an upgrade is going to be inevitable.

From a hockey (and sports in general) perspective, it’s very simple – it will mean (hopefully) every game will have an HD feed.  I’m already seeing it on my Centre Ice service – more and more the games are being broadcast in HD.  While there's still room for improvement (ie. more HD!), it most certainly has improved my enjoyment of the game this year, that’s for sure.  Anyone who didn’t get to go to Buffalo on New Year’s Day to see the outdoor game live, for me the next best thing was sitting on my couch and watching it in HD – I’m not kidding when I say this – I had to keep checking to make sure the snowflakes weren’t actually falling in my living room – the picture was that good (forget the fact the snow is piled up to the roof of my shed).  The television sets themselves are way more affordable now too (but yet the service is becoming more expensive – go figure) – so, when you get the opportunity, don’t give it a second thought.  Or, maybe start heading out to see some live action – I’ve been noticing giveaways galore lately – particularly a recent game in Florida against Vancouver, where they were giving away four plasma TVs for every goal the Panthers scored against Roberto Luongo – now talk about generating buzz for a game!  I love it!  Now if only the Panthers can actually make the playoffs so I can actually see hockey when I’m on vacation.  More to come…

IS IT LIVE, OR SATELLITE RADIO?

It may have taken me a little longer to get on board than most, but this past Christmas I got one of those neat little Sirius Stiletto radios – and I finally got around to activating it.  I have to say – I’m really impressed, not just by all the music and Howard Stern I can handle, but also all the sports coverage.  If the Sirius-XM merger is ever approved, we’ll get way more hockey too, as XM has exclusive game broadcasts.  For now, Sirius has Hardcore Sports and Hockey Night In Canada radio – not to mention Sports Byline.   And people wonder where I’ve been?  You know the old saying about not having enough hours in a day?  Don’t even get me started on the record breaking Ottawa winter…OK, well since you asked, keep scrolling...

Look no further than this hi-definition photo of me shoveling snow in my backyard (yes, that is the top of my shed) to get a better idea of what I've been doing all winter...Florida here I come!!!

Click here for more pictures of what has been an absolute brutal winter in Ottawa.  You'll need to close the new browser window that opens to return to this page.

WAS THAT REALLY ALL-STAR WEEKEND OR ARE YOU JUST GLAD TO SEE ME?

OK, so All-Star weekend sucked royally again, with two exceptions – 1) The Shootout competition which Alex Ovechkin won hands down without actually scoring a goal – and 2) There was actually some hitting in the game itself – albeit late in the 3rd period, but at least the players showed some emotion – particularly Ilya Kovalchuk!?

Oh yeah, somebody tell me how it is Tomas Kaberle won the shot accuracy competition, yet he rarely, if ever, shoots the puck in Toronto?

Getting back to Ovechkin, he must have thanked his lucky stars Sidney Crosby was injured and couldn’t make it to the event, because if he (Sid) would have pulled some of the moves he used to pull in junior hockey, he would have won the shootout competition in a landslide.  It was really too bad there were so many players who couldn’t make it due to injury – while Crosby was the biggest name, the likes of Dany Heatley, Roberto Luongo, Henrik Zetterberg, Sergei Zubov and Paul Stastny all couldn’t make it due to various ailments/personal reasons.

My lasting memory of the entire weekend came weeks before – it was the dumbfounded look on Wayne Gretzky’s face when they asked him his opinion on the shootout competition.  Having seen it first hand, though, it wasn’t too bad.  At least the NHL is trying.  That being said, here we are barely a month and a half past the event and I’m hard pressed to remember the final score in the skills or the game itself.  A quick check at NHL.com found it to be one of the lowest scoring All-Star games in recent memory, if not ever.

ALONG THE BOARDS

I mentioned briefly the Florida Panthers – as of this writing they are still hanging in there in the Eastern Conference playoff race.  I wonder how quickly they can give their lineup and fans a boost by getting the likes of Richard Zednik back on the ice?  I dare say I don’t need to repeat what happened in Buffalo thanks to what was literally a freak accident where Zednik somehow ended up getting Olli Jokinen’s skate in his throat – shades of Clint Malarchuk from 1989 – the only difference was he was back on the ice four days later practicing – something Zednik’s doctors wouldn’t allow.  Richard will play again, it’s just a matter of when.  I’m hearing he’s allowed to skate, but not much more.

With or without Zednik, the Panthers are making a final push to the postseason – it’s certainly not the first time a team led by Jacques Martin has accomplished the feat.  If they can get there, as luck would have it, I’m actually going to be vacationing in Florida when they would potentially play their first home playoff games since 2000.  It would probably be the only hockey news I hear while I’m away.  And you know what?  If it gets me away from the big white mountains outside my door (that keep growing), so be it.  Although, something tells me I’m going to hear more about the Orlando Magic than I’ve heard since Shaq was drafted.  I heard something about them potentially winning their own division – although for all I know it could have just been a rumor started by one of those basement dwellers who remain anonymous for the purposes of national security (or was that personal security?!).  Anyhow, I digress.

As lucky as Richard Zednik is to be alive, the news wasn’t so positive for junior player Mickey Renaud, a centre with the OHL’s Windsor Spitfires, and a fifth round draft pick of the Calgary Flames.  On February 18th, the 19 year old future star passed away suddenly, after collapsing at his Tecumseh home.  The Spitfires captain was in his third year of junior and had 21 goals and 41 points in 56 games.  It was a sad day indeed, not just for the two teams, but for the families, team mates, and for the game.  For the time being, autopsy results have only been released to his family.  It was reported further tests could take months before we know what took Mickey away far too early.  The Spitfires dedicated the rest of their season to his memory.  Goodbye and Good Luck Mr. Renaud.  Another painful reminder of just how short life really is.

Now for all you folks out there who hold the belief pro sports players are overpaid, well, you might actually be right!  The media was all over this story during a recent visit to Ottawa from the St. Louis Blues.  The word on the street was the front office of the Blues had consulted with head coach Andy Murray in an attempt to find out why rookie David Perron hadn’t cashed his paycheques.  As it turned out, they are sitting on his dresser.  It all raises the million dollar question, just how much money does a 19 year old really need? – especially one used to receiving less than $50 a week for gas, not to mention, someone who, with the rest of his team, hasn’t actually been home in a month?  The Blues, by the time you read this, will have finished off a grueling 9 game road trip which has taken them all over North America.  As of this writing, their only win on the trip came in a shootout against Les Glorieux – the Montreal Canadiens.  Needless to say, it’ll be another season of singing the blues in Missouri this spring.  But don’t blame Perron for not actually earning the as yet to be deposited funds – he has been nothing short of excellent in his first NHL campaign.

While I’m on the topic of the St. Louis Blues, I have to chime in on a former Harford Whaler, Blue, Edmonton Oiler and current Anaheim Duck, none other than Chris Pronger.  Is it just me, or is it fair to see him receive an 8 game suspension for a stomp when Chris Simon received 30 for a similar play!??  OK, so maybe I’m a little naïve in trying to compare the two players given they both have completely different histories.   I guess perhaps what I’d like to see is a little more equality and consistency in the discipline department.  Far be it from me to criticize Colin Campbell, who has probably the hardest job in the NHL, but is it asking too much to institute a weighting system per infraction, with extra games added due to repeat offenders?  I mean, using this specific example – if you stomp on somebody with your skate, make the infraction itself an automatic 10-15 games (the numbers I’m using are arbitrary), and then depending on how many times the player has been disciplined in the past, add an additional number of games as needed.  I figure given the history of both players, if Simon got 30 games, Pronger should have been good for at least 15-20 – seriously – am I missing something here?  Why the double standard for defending Stanley Cup Champions?!!?  And don’t even get me started on officiating again – if you read my articles or blog enough, you clearly know where I stand there.

I’m going to put forth yet another plea to the NHL for automatic icing after the last exciting rush for the puck in the end zone ended Minnesota Wild’s Kurtis Foster’s season.  I’m also going to ask somebody to look into putting some more padding in the Pepsi Centre in Denver – the Colorado Avalanche are lucky Ryan Smyth wasn’t hurt worse after literally getting knocked out cold after hitting his head against the edge of the glass between the bench and the end boards.  I wouldn’t have mentioned it if it was just a one off freak accident, but Brendan Morrow got hurt on a similar play in the next game.  Automatic icing, and more padding in every arena – is this too much to ask?  Since they don’t seem to be listening to the likes of Don Cherry, maybe they need some more people to speak out about it.  The good news is, most players are in favor of it happening, so it’s just a matter of making it happen.

This one just sends chills up my spine – the Hockey Hall of Fame has honored rookie Andrew Cogliano of the Edmonton Oilers for scoring the overtime winner in three straight games, now an NHL record.  The morning after he scored against St. Louis, a representative from the Hall was on the phone with Cogs looking for the puck, his stick and gloves to put on display – the only problem is he still needed them to play through Edmonton’s ensuing road trip!  As soon as the season is over though, he’ll gladly send them to Toronto (after all, who wants to break in a new pair of gloves when their team is in a playoff race?!?).  I think the moment when the 3rd game winning goal went in was best described by former player turned color commentator Ray Ferraro – “Are you kidding me?!”  It was just another one of those moments where you just had to be there.

As a little warm up to the marathon we call the Stanley Cup Playoffs, I came across an article on ESPN.com about a recent high school hockey game which was decided by – get this – a tie?!?!  Marquette & St. Mary’s high schools made hockey history as they now share the 2008 Michigan State Division I High School Championship after officials called the game in the interest of safety for the children.  It was an epic game which went into the books as a tie after both teams battled it out for 8, yes that’s 8, overtime periods.  Apparently a shootout or a suspension of the game until the next day wasn’t even an option as evidently there’s a league rule which prohibits any school sporting events on a Sunday (the game obviously on a Saturday night).  As expected, the decision was met with mixed reviews from both family and fans alike.  But let’s put this in perspective – the record in the NHL is 6 overtime periods (and was literally 3 minutes away from being 7), and it’s a record which to this day continues to stand the test of time – it’s been 72 years since Detroit beat Montreal 1-0 at 116:30 of overtime.  Just a thought – don’t let the NHL catch wind of this because it will needlessly reopen the silly debate on whether or not playoff games should be settled by shootouts.  I mean the line has to be drawn somewhere - pun intended – we got rid of the red line, at least let me keep my spring marathon overtimes.

OK, so first the Great One himself, Wayne Gretzky, anoints Sidney Crosby as the Next One, and probably with good reason.  Now he’s come out and given Alex Ovechkin a task he thinks he can actually complete – he’s predicting the Russian phenom can reach the 90 goal plateau.  Whoa, Wayne, better not give him any ideas – he (or any player for that matter) may never be able to get 50 in 39, but I have a feeling if A.O. can ever get 90, he won’t stop there until he’s at least got 93 (the record is 92).  So why does Gretzky think he can do it?  “He's just a bull, He's got a little bit of everything. He's got the release and the hands that (Mike) Bossy had, the quickness that (Jari) Kurri had and the toughness that (Mark) Messier had. He's the whole package and he loves to score goals.  The thing about scoring goals, it's one thing to score but there are some guys that really enjoy scoring goals more than other guys. He's one of those guys that likes to score. If he could he would keep the puck for every one. But it's great for the game, he brings excitement to the game, he's fun to watch. He's a good player.”  No argument from me.  He certainly put on a show in a 10-2 romp against Boston recently to get his 50th, 51st and 52nd goals of the season.  By the time we finish he should have at least 65-70 goals, if not more (as of this writing he has 60).  Nobody’s done that since Mario (Lemieux) played.

So here’s the deal – my vacation runs from April 3 – April 20 – in all likelihood, I won’t be around for the entire first round of the playoffs – but believe you me, I will be watching whenever I get a chance!!!  Supposedly there will be a computer available, so I should be able to get a first round preview out there before the playoffs start – my plan will be to keep my blog updated too, but no guarantees.  I’ll be back in time for the second round when we’ll separate the pretenders from the contenders.  There’s still a lot of hockey to be played before then, although I said the same thing in December, and yet here we are.  As everybody plays everybody in their division, there is still a lot to be decided.  In any event, enjoy, and I’ll talk to you sooner than I did this time – this much I can guarantee.

 

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