If you watch and listen to our broadcasts on Comcast Sportsnet California, you may have heard me mention Sharks Video Guru, Brett Heimlich.
Brett and I are kindred spirits because as some of you may know I was the video guy for the team when we first started this little adventure called San Jose Sharks Hockey.
Now when I was doing video, I was referred to as "The Vidiot". For "Bretzky" that is not the case. The kid is a Wiz when it comes to computers and game analysis.
Brett is the operating master behind a system that collects, stores, analyzes, edits and shares digital video and statistical evidence in all of the hockey categories you can think of and some you haven't.
The Sharks made that hefty investment because it is the lifeblood of information for the coaches, management, scouts and players. With the desire being the more you arm an individual with visual facts and figures, the better that individual will become. If your entire hockey department is plugged into that information super highway, then your team and organization will be successful.
Information is power.
However the XO System is mainly used by the coaches to to breakdown games, scout opponents and compile video to improve player performance.
Under the guidance of Todd McLellan and working closely with every member of the coaching staff, Brett diligently produces clear concise video vignettes that help drive home salient points the coaches need to make.
He also pours over voluminous numbers and says to either affirm or dissuade opinions on players, opponents, special teams, faceoffs, shootouts, hits...well you get the picture.
Remember though that any piece of equipment is only as good as the person operating it.
Brettster is about as good as it gets.
But besides his work ethic and technical know-how, I have become a fan of how Brett has grown into a "Hockey Guy".
He breaks down a game as good as anyone I know. He has gained insight working with the great coaches.
He has learned the tough lessons of what it takes to be great working with Todd McLellan.
But you can learn a lot by watching how he works with and interacts with his co-workers. Put aside the pranks, jokes and good natured name calling. Brett treats and is treated with admiration and respect. Admiration and respect that he has earned.
When The Best of The Best team is named there is always controversy that follows.
But When the US named their Men's Olympic Hockey Team, they really stepped in it.
First off as a Canadian, I'm very happy Team USA didn't pick Ottawa's Bobby Ryan. He is a tremendously dynamic goal scorer, a game breaker and I'm glad he won't be able to torch my country's team.
But where Team USA management made the mistake was allowing embedded reporters in on all the selection process.
Noted sports journalists were able to listen to, record and eventually report all the discussions and debates.
Unfortunately the wonderfully opinionated and unfiltered Brian Burke was quoted post selection on his views of Bobby Ryan's intensity.
It wasn't complimentary and it was disrespectful and it was put in print for everyone to read. Including Bobby Ryan.
Brian Burke wasn't trying to be a jerk. He was doing what he was supposed to do. Passionately defending and critiquing all the players considered for Team USA.
In this instance he used rather blunt language.
But that is what happens in those types of meetings. I've been in those scouting and coaches meetings. I've been in those debates. A lot of stuff gets said that is between those in the room and nobody else because sometimes unflattering descriptions of players abilities and personalities are debated.
Nobody is trying to be mean or nasty but discussions get intense.
Sharks GM Doug Wilson and I disagree on many issues. However one issue DW has a solid standing with me is on how he does not make public any player discussions, negotiations or analysis from the team. There is nary a peep from the Sharks GM that could be construed as disrespectful. He protects his players.
That's where Team USA failed. They failed to protect an American player.
I applaud the idea of transparency and a unique Insider approach to the selection process. But the smart veteran hockey minds of Team USA should have known that No Good Deed Goes Unpunished, (my life motto by the way).
As unintentional as it was, the Management Team has to accept they screwed up and disrespected a great player and from all reports a wonderful young man.
Over the last few years there has been a growing murmur regarding the novelty of the NHL's Winter Classic. The "Oh it's been done" crowd has had its share of the New Years Event.
Many times they argue that the game doesn't Live up to the hype.
I ask you, what does live up to any hype nowadays?
The Super Bowl? Nope
Big UFC fights, rarely
Stanley Cup Finals, sometimes.
The Winter Classic is less about the hype and the spectacle and more about the one glowingly wonderful aspect of the game.
It's played outside in the cold.
That's where we all grew up. Well most of who lived in the colder climates.
As you all know I grew up in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Cold, Flat, wonderful and oh yeah did I mention COLD?
But that cold had its advantages mainly outdoor rinks. We had a small rink in our backyard and four outdoor school rinks within walking distance.
I would get to the rink, sit on the snowbank and strap on the blades.
Sometimes other kids would be there, sometimes I was by myself.
On nights my team wasn't playing I was at any one of those rinks, in the cold, in the dark playing out my hockey fantasy. I was always Bobby Orr scoring the winning goal to win the Cup.
I would play until I shot the puck over the boards and couldn't find it in the snowbank or until "the streetlights came on" as my Grandmother would say or until my Mom or Dad would drive over to the school and tell me to "Get Home!"
They wouldn't wait for me either. So back on the snowbank, out of the skates, slide my freezing feet into a frozen solid pair of boots, sling the skates over my stick, stick over my shoulder and head home, smiling all the way.
The "ODR" (as my boys call it) is where I fell in love. . It's where you just PLAYED hockey. No structure, no coaches, no drills, just a raw naive innocent unabashed love for the game.
So when I ignore or strip away all the hype, the spectacle, the fans, the TV, the names, the everything of the Winter Classic, I am left with the game I love played in its simplest and most wonderful form.
Last month Sharks Director of Broadcasting and my boss, the great Frank Albin, wrote a piece about all he was thankful for. I recommend you check it out.
It is always a wise move to take a step back and realize all of the good things you have in life.
His Great White Bite inspired this very blog in a weird way.
Not to be a contrarian or just a simple jerk, but let me express some of the things that I can't stand in this great game of hockey.
"He Left His Feet"
And just pump your brakes right now. I know that I've gone on this rant before. However I am on a lifelong quest to eradicate this ridiculous inaccurate saying from the hockey vernacular. It is a stain on, dare I say, a scourge on this great game. He leapt, He jumped, He ascended. He elevated and his feet left the ice are all acceptable replacements.
"The Fly By"
After a player scores everybody's happy they hug on the ice and then like a Human Centipede they skate past their teammates on the bench who had nothing to do with the goal and "high five" each other. It's like the Ice Capades.
"Protecting the Goalie"
Spray a little snow, hack at a rebound near the goalies pads or gloves, brush past or Heaven forbid, make actual contact with a guy that is more heavily padded than a shopping mall Santa and watch a group of seemingly well adjusted individuals go crazier than Jack Nicholson in The Shining. Relax boys, your poor defenseless goalie is fine. Kevlar is an amazing product.
"The Pro Fighting Arguments"
It keeps the "Rats" from going overboard. It polices the game. It's a frustrating game and a physical release is needed. It has always been a part of the game. It protects the Stars. It can change the complexion of the game. If you eliminate fighting the stick work and cheap shots would send the game into chaos. The PFC's (Pro-Fighting Crowd) hang on to these myths like a baby clings to his "Binky". Like I've said before, I don't care what side you're on. I just care that you're intellectually honest. I'd have a heck of a lot more respect for the PFC's if they would just admit they LOVE watching two guys punch each other in the face.
What I call The "Adam Oates"
An "Adam Oates" is anyone who criticizes how a goal is scored or an exuberant celebration or if a team "runs up the score". Anything of the "oh, we can't hurt the feelings school of thought out there. Full disclosure time. I pulled an "Adam Oates" last season when I criticized the Edmonton Oilers Nail Yakupov for a wild celebration when he scored a game winner. Unlike the Fonz, I can admit when I was Wwrr..Ww.. Wro...Wrong! You young people Google It. The "Oatsies" of the NHL talk about respect for the game or the opponent. They hide behind tradition and lament about the "kids these days." As the Great Igor Larionov once told me, "Drew, you don't work hockey, you play hockey."
So let the boys play, have fun, score as many ! between the legs 9th goal in a 9-2 win as you can. Pump your fists, slide on the ice, pull a Selanne and shoot your glove. Why are so many Tough Guys so thin skinned? They're more sensitive than a non-praying mantis in church.
..and yes I do realize that this clearly contradicts my earlier thoughts on the "Fly By"
But hey, I'm not perfect, I just act that way.
A few thoughts this morning.
Tonight (Thursday) Jamie Baker will take my place on the broadcast. I am taking a game off to be at home in Saskatchewan with my family. My Boys are turning 17 and thanks to the Sharks and Comcast I'm able to celebrate with them.
Anyway...Bakes will do a bang up job.
Speaking of my Boys, they are referees! Yes my sons are refs, officials, zebras, stripes!
This is their first year officiating. So far so good. They tell me that the players are great, the parents haven't said much but some of the coaches are a bit too vocal for minor hockey. I'm trying not too look too guilty in that regard because I've got a bit of history with a few (very few) refs when I was coaching.
I was reading a sports column today and some puck pundit was handing out the NHL Individual Awards at the quarter point of the season. A ridiculous premiss I know. Sticking with the ridiculous, the three defenseman he suggested for the Norris Trophy were all cited for their offensive output. Truthfully only one of them could check his coat!
Isn't it time that the league added a new award. First change the Norris Trophy to the Bobby Orr Trophy for the Defenceman with the most points.
Then award the Norris Trophy to the best Defenceman. The guy who actually plays D-Fence.
Speaking of Defenceman how great is it to witness two of the best defenders in the league playing for the Sharks.
Marc Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun have taken their games to a new level of BlueLine Brilliance.
Do me a favour next game. Watch 44 & 61 next game. Notice how they use their sticks, skate and take away angles, communicate, work the net front and efficiently they move the puck out of the zone. I'm sure you will be impressed.
From CBC's Elliotte Friedman after talking to Mike Murphy from the NHL
"[Referee Mike] Leggo waves it off when the puck hits the post and starts to come to the net as a scramble develops. [In the NHL's video review room in Toronto] we're still looking at the puck off the post, then see the play with Leggo approaching net, putting the whistle in his mouth and he waves aggressively.
"The optics would have been better if we got him to put on the headset and asked what he was seeing... We spoke after the game, I told him it did go in, we probably would get some pushback and should have gotten him over [to the headset] for the optics of the review."
Interestingly, the review would have happened before the league office actually knew the puck was in the net. It's not uncommon to review shots off the post or wild scrambles near the line, but like San Jose's broadcast team (Buffalo's didn't show it), Murphy and his mates didn't realize it was a goal until after play resumed. A goal cannot count in that situation.
Despite all this, Murphy is adamant it was the right call under Rule 78.5.
"Had we called a goal against Buffalo it would have been wrong, because it shouldn't have been a goal," he said. "We should have done the headsets, because any controversy would have died. This type of play is not a rarity."
Now from me..
...you see Rule 78.5 states a goal shall be disallowed when,
(xii) When the Referee deems the play has been stopped, even if he had not physically had the opportunity to stop play by blowing the whistle.
The whole "well I meant to or I was intending to blow the whistle."
The NHL's version of a Cover Your .. Well you know.
Mike Murphy's explanation of Mike Leggo's reasons for not calling a call that should have counted doesn't come close to what I saw, but 10 people can watch a play and come up with 10 different versions of the event.
However one time I would love the NHL to "own it". Just one time admitting that they booted the call.
It starts right after a game and goes right up until the next game. It's the work that the coaches put in breaking down video, scouting opponents and putting into detail what will help carry the Sharks to success.
I will give you the play-by-play:
The team has just boarded the plane for the trip back to San Jose after a tough loss in Los Angeles.
Before the equipment is loaded into the cargo bay, Todd McLellan, Larry Robinson, Jay Woodcroft, Jim Johnson, Wayne Thomas and Brett Heimlich have their individual computers out watching video.
They all watch the scoring chances for and against from the game they just coached. They will also watch for plays both good (foundation plays) and bad (breakdowns) that need to be highlighted and corrected before the next game.
The next step for the respective coaches is to go to work getting ready for the next opponent. Larry Robinson may be scouting the next game while Jim Johnson is analyzing the special teams. While that is happening Jay Woodcroft is scouting the first game of the opponent a game away.
Depending on the schedule, the coaches try to scout a minimum of two games of an upcoming opponent. Very often because of their work ethic they get in three or four games.
Tomorrow morning the coaches will meet early, (before 7AM) and as a group breakdown the scoring chances and tendencies in the previous night's game.
Collectively they will discuss highs, lows, good plays, bad plays and top performers and players that need some extra time with the coaches in order to meet performance expectations. It is important that they do this together, so that everyone is on the same page.
In other words, the players are being held accountable, but in a very honest and positive, "we're all in this to get better" approach.
After the video they practice plan and head out on the ice and put the guys through a fast paced, intelligent skate. Once again, focusing on getting better, everyone on the same page, let's keep pushing forward mentality.
This tireless work ethic and dedication is not uncommon amongst NHL coaching staffs. In "The Show" the coaching staffs are at the top of their game like the players.
What is uncommon from the Sharks perspective is the fun this particular coaching staff has working with each other and the way they process/share information amongst each other and with the players.
I have been privy to the laughs, jokes and good natured chirping that goes on between them. But with the jocularity is a high level of respect for each other, a passion to succeed and a deep love of the game.
So as the Sharks enjoy one of the best starts in franchise history, let's remember to pat the coaches on the back for a job well done....and trust me their continuing on the job right now.
Eight days ago Dan Boyle was carted off the ice on a stretcher after a chickenyouknowwhat hit by Blues forward Maxim Lapierre.
Since then there have been four more dangerous head shots and/or dirty hits from behind.
Cody McLeod from the Avalanche runs Nick Kronwall from the Red Wings Michael Grabner from the Islanders catches Nathan Gerbe on the jaw.
Ryan Garbutt's feet leave the ice, (note he didn't leave his feet) and KO's Dustin Penner.
AND .. .tonight I'm watching the Bruins Loui Eriksson being helped off the ice after getting his head snapped by the Sabres John Scott.
Are these guys a wee bit slow on the uptake?
Don't get me wrong I still don't fret and worry or wring my hands about theses poor boys getting hurt or the NHL looking bad or the long term effects of concussions. Callous?
I know but who is more callous and uncaring, me or the meatheads that continue to allow and perpetrate these idiotic hits?
It's not the Head Honchos in the NHL's offices who are at fault.
I believe that 100% of the blame should be placed with the players union and it's administrators.
Until the NHLPA members demand that all the union members treat each other with respect, nothing will change and guys will continue to be carted off the ice wondering what day it is and if the day will ever come when they can get back on the ice.
The fires of the fighting in hockey debate were fanned on opening night when George Parros of the Montreal Canadiens fell to the ice face first and was knocked unconscious.
Parros was not hit with a punch. At the time he was in a scrap with Colton Orr. Parros went to throw a punch as Orr was already falling to the ice, Parros missed and his momentum carried him to the ice as his hands were tied up with Orr. Face...meet ice.
So here it comes again. We all expected it but just not this early in the season.
It is a debate that happens very season and it is a debate that has largely initiated by the sports media, in print or as I can tell you from experience radio talk show hosts. If you want to get the phones ringing, just say, " Fighting in Hockey....".
"Hi, Line one".
One of the arguments to keep fighting in hockey is, its always been part of the game. It's always been in the game therefore it belongs is an appeal to antiquity that is a fallacious argument.
Everything evolves including hockey. The game from year to year has changed with new rules and style of play.
The game used to be played 9 on 9.
Goalies weren't allowed to fall to the ice to make a save.
A player couldn't carry the puck over his own blue line, he had to pass it.
Tradition doesn't make something right.
OK on to argument two.
I've never seen the fans walk out during a fight. That is absolutely true. The NHL knows this and until the fans start walking out or stop buying tickets you won't see the league put "Ban Fighting" on the top of it's "To Do" list.
Argument number three is the most compelling argument. In a player poll, February 2012, 98% of the NHLPA said fighting should not be banned.
These are the guys who are out there very night, who understand the risks and don't seem to care. So why should we?
Mind you out of those 98% I wonder how many of them fight on a regular basis.
I would wager that most are more than happy to watch Parros and Orr duke it out night after night but are more Phil Kessel than John Scott.
Every sport and every league , heck life is full of hypocrisy. When it comes to fighting, and the eagerness to make the game safer for players from visors to the much hyped crackdown on head shots, the NHL looks downright silly.
Yup we're going to suspend you 5 games for cracking a guy on the jaw with a shoulder in a split second reaction but you'll only have to sit in the penalty box for five minutes if you drop your gloves and punch your opponent repeatedly in the face.
Yeah that makes total sense.
I have gone back and forth on fighting in hockey. I used to like it, I used to be a regular in dropping the gloves playing Sr. hockey back home. I believed it was needed.
That changed as I got older and when Don Sanderson a 21 year old playing for the Whitby Dunlops in Ontario died in a fight when he fell and his head struck the ice.
What more does anyone need to know to fight against fighting.
However my anti fighting stance was met with hostility from almost every level of the game. Coaches, Managers, colleagues, fans and players. Now my concern for the players has turned to apathy.
I am indifferent to the noise. However I am not to the future. I believe that with the way the game is going. With the players getting bigger and stronger that one day there will be a catastrophic ending to another fight in the NHL.
Then the entire league will react but in most reactions it will come too late for somebody.
For years now I have been contemplating a career change. I have a yearning to coach again. I believe coaches are always coaches, no matter how long they are behind the bench or how long they have been away.
I have talked to my family about it and they are very supportive. I have talked to several of my closest friends and allies in hockey and they have all urged me to jump back into the coaching ranks again.
But, here is the conundrum. I really love what I do and the people I work with. Next to playing, coaching is the best, next to coaching you can't beat broadcasting hockey. Especially if its Sharks Hockey and on Comcast Sportsnet California.
I work for two great organizations. I have been with the Sharks for the better part of twenty years. I have had the great fortune of working with a wonderful group of people who I consider gifted professionals and outstanding human beings.
My second group of co-workers are from Comcast. A like-minded gang that may have our quirks but when it's time to put on a first class NHL broadcast, they are as good as it gets.