ALL I WANT FOR 2009

 

Heathcliff - December 22, 2008

Not so long ago, I may have started this column by singing the old “Two Front Teeth” song, but, thankfully, the teeth were fixed quite some time ago.

I always use this time of year to reflect on many things, and I once again have come to the realization of just how lucky I am, to be alive, healthy, employed and living comfortably.  Time is going a lot faster than I’d like it to be, but in general, I count my lucky stars quite often.  How many of you out there can honestly say you’re happy with your life, your home, your occupation, etc, etc, especially now, in a time when the future has never looked more bleak?  Once and awhile, one needs to take some time to count their blessings.  Of course, an economy on a downward spiral means nothing is for certain and nothing can be taken for granted, especially on the ice with our favorite sport.  But, we can all dare to dream, right?

So, with it being a brand new year and all, here are a few things I'd like to see happen in 2009: 

-          I wish people would stop picking on Sean Avery (and I promise to do the same) – seriously, the guy has his issues, and while anger management may not be what the doctor ordered, who are we to criticize?  My wish for Avery is if he can’t find a team in the NHL who will put up with him, perhaps he will find success at the various minor leagues, or even overseas.  Surely a struggling team somewhere must be able to find room for an agitator who sometimes steps over the line?  No?  Seriously, though, what was so bad about what he said other than the fact it was caught on camera for all to see after he was warned to keep his yap shut?  It certainly wasn’t any worse than anything I ever heard in high school or out on the street.  So, six games and banishment from Dallas, for talking smack while the cameras were rolling?  Are you kidding me?  Has anybody involved in NHL discipline ever seen what goes on in the NFL or NBA?

-          I want NHL officials to get their act together once and for all.  Not only have I watched the IIHF Junior tournament with great interest, I’ve even attended a couple of OHL games, and the difference is night and day – everything is called – including the head shots – imagine that?

-          I want someone to tell the San Jose Sharks it’s OK to go on a 2 game losing streak once and awhile – and while you’re at it, tell the Boston Bruins too.

-          As much as the fans in Montreal love their team, they have to understand not every player on their team is All-Star worthy!  (Meaning, stop stuffing the ballot box, don’t people know the NHL can trace votes by IP address?)

-          I want someone to tell Ty Conklin it’s not necessary to be a goalie of record in every NHL outdoor game, although it has to be a pretty cool accomplishment!

-          I’d like to see Columbus make the playoffs.  Seriously, I would.  If not, I’d like to see Rick Nash get traded to a contender – it’d probably never happen, but can you imagine him in Chicago?  OK you can stop drooling now…

-          I’d like to see Team Canada’s Juniors win a Gold medal in prime time - oh wait, that already happened!!

-          I’d like to see a Canadian NHL franchise other than Calgary or Montreal dominate the standings.

-          I’d like to see hockey rinks everywhere boycott Joe Satriani’s “Crowd Chant” until he drops the ridiculous lawsuit against Coldplay.

-          I want to see John Tavares get drafted in a city where they actually get snow in the winter (and for a full three-four months).  An Original Six team would be ideal too (although unlikely if the final standings play out similar to what they look like today).  Atlanta, one of the more likely scenarios, would be good fit considering the Thrashers already employ his Team Canada line mate Angelo Esposito, but the question is, would anybody outside of Georgia watch?  One other thing to consider, if Ilya Kovalchuk isn’t traded before the draft, just imagine a top line with him, Tavares and Esposito.

-          If Sidney Crosby truly is “the next one”, I’d like him to start proving it (and stop hot dogging).  As far as I’m concerned, Tavares looks way more promising, but I’m still not sure who’d be better in a fight…

-          I’d like for people to stop spreading the ridiculous rumors about Alex Ovechkin getting traded out of Washington – trust me, hell will freeze over first (or the Capitals will win the Stanley Cup, one of the two – which may not be such a bold statement).

-          I want everybody to acquire a copy of Don Cherry’s book “Don Cherry’s Hockey Stories And Stuff”, and read it.  Report is due Monday, April 13, 2009 (and just to show you I'm serious I may have one of my own before long).

-          I'd like to see more junior hockey - looks like Ottawa's OHL team is going to end the year on a higher note than its NHL counterpart in Kanata.

-          I want Jarkko Ruutu to explain to me how it’s possible to get suspended for “biting” somebody – even Sean Avery doesn’t have that on his record – what next, Mike Tyson and Hulk Hogan at opposite ends of the rink in full goalie gear!?!?  (Don’t think the Tampa Bay Lightning haven’t considered it!)

-          I need Brian Burke to explain why it was necessary to reacquire Brad May, again.  And he has the audacity to rip on Kevin Lowe?

-          I wonder how long it will be before the Vancouver Canucks continue their quest to reassemble the Swedish National team and get the likes of Daniel Alfredsson and Peter Forsberg into their dressing room?  Mats Sundin has already arrived, much to the chagrin of Maple Leafs fans everywhere.  I’m not wishing for this to happen, just wondering – hey isn’t Tommy Salo still playing hockey somewhere?

-          Above all – I want to see another great finish to what promises to be yet another great season.

 

ALONG THE BOARDS

Not only do I want everybody to get their hands on Don Cherry’s book, I also want everybody to head to Sportsnet.ca and read Georges Laraque’s blog, his first and last by his own admission.  In it, he talks about “the code” and who he feels are the league’s best heavyweights, past and present.  It’s a great read from one of the most down to earth players in the NHL.  For my money, Laraque, definitely earns a spot in my top three of all time enforcers.

While we’re on the topic of black players in the NHL, it almost brought a tear to my eye to see Willie O’Ree receive the prestigious Order of Canada award last month.  O’Ree was of course the first African American hockey player to make it to the big league, paving the way for not only Laraque, but countless others.  It took a little longer to break the Colour barrier in our sport than in other sports, but we’ll always remember and respect O’Ree for his determination to play the sport he loved.  Well done, Willie, and a well deserved honor.  So, let's see if I can get this straight in my mind - it was 50 years ago when Willie broke the NHL Colour barrier, yet it's 2009 and the United States of America are just now swearing in their first ever African American President?  Another story for another day, and definitely not a story for this forum...

Very nice to see Steve Sullivan back in the NHL, after the better part of two years nursing a surgically repaired back injury.  He looked very good in an important divisional game against Chicago and scored a goal against another one of his old teams, the Toronto Maple Leafs.  Obviously, he doesn’t want to rush things, but expect him to be back playing full time minutes in no time.

I really don’t know where some of these stories get started, and I know with the salary cap you rarely, if ever, hear of a good trade rumor, but come on people – Vincent Lecavalier?  Alex Ovechkin?  We’re talking players here with long term contracts who are both the face of their respective franchises, there is absolutely no way these players get traded.  I don’t know if they’re trying to hype up what will in all likelihood be a very boring trade deadline, but give it up already.  Put it to you this way – Tampa made their bed, they’ll lie in it.  Even though as of this writing the Lecavalier rumors are still out there, the brass of the Lightning would be committing suicide if they trade away "the Michael Jordan of Hockey".  Then again, somebody mentioned Boston the other day and how they managed to make San Jose into a contender by trading Thornton, and subsequently cleared up cap space to turn them into the powerhouse they've now evidently become.  OK - enough - I'm not going to convince myself this will ever happen - for now let's just say I'll believe it when I see it.

I love this one – this just goes to show how rabid the media is in this country over anything hockey related (or how much of a dweeb I am for reporting it).  Of course over the years I’ve made no secret in this column and in my blogs where my hockey allegiances are, so you know anything and everything to do with my favorite team, positive or negative, I have to respond to.  Let’s rewind 2 ½ years to the Stanley Cup Playoffs of 2006 – a great run for Edmonton and the rabid fans on Whyte Ave during the Oilers improbable run to the finals.  Everyone can probably remember the stories of “fandemonium” as it became known as.  Well, unfortunately some took things a little too far.  One such fan, Theresa Simone Schneider, 55, recently pleaded guilty to two counts of communicating for the purpose of prostitution and one count of failing to appear in court.  Say what?  Evidently, defense lawyer Warren Smith told the courts his client admitted making illegal propositions to an undercover police officer (Ooops!), but in her testimony said she got “carried away” due to the “festive air” on the street.  And of course, she had apparently been drinking at the time.  So, living in the hockey mad country we live in, Judge James Wheatley accepted the guilty plea and sentenced her to a $700 fine along with a slap on the wrist.  I guess this fan is going to think twice this spring, provided Edmonton makes it to the big dance again.  At the very least, save the $700 for playoff tickets, please!  Folks, please, do me a favor and obey the label – there’s a reason why it says “Please Enjoy Responsibly”.  And another thing – when they say let’s get Cup Crazy, they don’t mean it literally!  Only in Canada does a story like this see the light of day on the national news front.

And finally, this time around we’re fresh from watching the Junior tournament, and the NHL’s annual outdoor game.  After another immensely successful outdoor game between Chicago and Detroit at Wrigley Stadium, speculation is already rampant on where the next game will be.  If recent history is any indication, look for an Eastern Conference team to host it.  The so-called experts are saying Boston or New York, probably either at Fenway Park or Yankee Stadium (too bad they couldn’t have in the old one).  I have a suggestion – what about Central Park?  We’re sure to find out in due time.  Other things to look forward to: the All Star Game in Montreal at the end of January, and the annual trade deadline.  These are fun times to be a hockey fan.

 

WHO IS THIS GUY?

If you watched any of the World Junior tournament (and if you didn’t, Shame On You!), you probably were wondering who is this Eberle kid?  Jordan Eberle, a forward with the WHL’s Regina Pats, and a first round draft pick of the Edmonton Oilers last summer, was instrumental in helping Team Canada win their fifth Gold medal at the recent under 20 tournament.  While John Tavares can be considered a finisher, a pure goal scorer, or as Macleans magazine put it “the kid with the magic hands”, Eberle can be considered the spark, the flame, the set up man, the one player you’d want to have on your team in crucial situations.  And how much more crucial can it get than the dying seconds of a semi final game where the difference between playing for Gold or Bronze is on the line?  In case you missed it, and again, shame on you, after it looked as though Canada would be relegated to playing for bronze when Russia scored the go ahead goal with two minutes remaining, Eberle managed to do his best impression of Paul Henderson and scored the tying goal with less than five seconds remaining in the semi final game against Russia.  The Canadians would later win in a shootout, with Tavares and Eberle putting the icing on the cake, and paving the way for Canada to win its fifth straight Gold medal. 

Having watched him play the entire tournament, and after having seen him play in his first full training camp, I have to say it looks as if Edmonton has their replacement for Ryan Smyth, if he can crack the lineup next season, and all indications are he will.  The kid goes to the net unlike any young player I’ve seen, and seems to always be in the right place at the right time.  If it wasn’t for Robert Nilsson, with all due respect to him, Eberle probably would be playing now.  The Oilers could sure use him, but I will be patient.

Well, can you believe we’re already halfway thru the season?  I’ve really enjoyed what I’ve seen so far, and we should be in for a real treat down the stretch, both in the NHL and in the junior leagues.  What can I tell you, time flies when you’re having fun (watching hockey)?  I have to say, more than any other year I’ve been keeping my eye on the junior ranks.  In Ottawa, the man, the myth, the legend, Brian Kilrea, will be stepping down as coach of the 67s at the end of this season, and it’s looking like his squad this year will send him out with a bang – which is a good thing with their NHL counterparts in Kanata looking like they’ll end up in the NHL’s basement.  In any event, for me, coming soon, a website redesign and more Puckin’ Around than you can shake a stick at.  So stay tuned, and keep checking this spot for more, especially if I can get out to few more 67s games.  The kids are definitely alright, and win or lose, they always put on a show.

 

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