“The one major event that the NHL can fully brag their success is the 'NHL Winter Classic'." Claiming New Year’s as their own, the NHL’s outdoor spectacular is popular fans and non-fans alike.
It takes the game back to its roots, taking it outside into the snow and ice. Anyone who grew up in America’s Midwest and North can tell you the emotions of the winter season. It’s a harsh environment to play in but it can be so fun. Playing outside in the winter was fun for many reasons…snowball fights, snowmen, sled rides, and making snow angels. Right up there is skating on a frozen pond. Some of my fondest memories were getting new skates and sticks on Christmas morning then getting the neighborhood kids to play a big outdoor game on Christmas afternoon. We’d play for hours with snow banks in place of boards and homemade nets the target for goals.
The Winter Classic is a one of a kind event. Or should I say, was a one of a kind. This winter will find 5 NHL games scheduled outdoors. On New Year’s day in Ann Arbor, Michigan, upwards of 110,000 fans will jam into “The Big House.” Michigan Stadium is the venue where the University of Michigan Wolverines play NCAA football. Original 6 clubs, the Detroit Red Wings and the Toronto Maple Leafs will add another chapter to their long-time rivalry that day. It will set an all-time hockey attendance record.
There will be a second rink at the Detroit Tigers' Comerica Park in Motown. This will be the site for a Red Wings, Maple Leafs Alumni game, as well as hosting college hockey, junior, and minor league games during the NHL’s hockey festival. It should be a lot of fun everyone, whether attending in person or watching from home.
Four other NHL games are scheduled. The Kings and Ducks will meet at Dodger Stadium on January 25th. This will be a big test building a rink with good ice in a warm weather climate. If it is a success you may see outdoor games in Texas, Arizona, Florida, and Northern California in the coming seasons.
Yankee Stadium will be the site for two games in the Big Apple. The Rangers and Devils square off on January 26th. Three days later, the Rangers will square off against their rival NY Islanders. I’m sure the setting will be stunning. It’s hockey in the House that Ruth Built.
On March 1st, Chicago gets into the act. The Blackhawks will host the Penguins at historic Soldier Field. The very next day BC Place will stage the Ottawa Senators/Vancouver Canucks game.
Is this too much too soon? Perhaps. Is the NHL watering down a signature event? Maybe. But equally important is that more fans at more outdoor events with more viewers is good for hockey and good for the NHL. Stretching these events into more venues could be tempting the gods of weather. What if the ice is unplayable in Southern California? What if the winds are too strong in Chicago? What if it rains in Vancouver? All are valid questions and if so, the NHL outdoor brand could be damaged. Let’s hope the weather cooperates and that fans and non-fans have the appetite for more than just the New Year’s game. I, for one, am looking forward to these events.
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.
A woman approached me at a charity event Tuesday and asked “What’s wrong with the Sharks?” I reminded her that they have one of the best records in the NHL and that while the loss in Chicago Sunday wasn’t pretty; it’s a long season.
But I do get what she means. When your team starts the season 6-0 for the second straight year you get used to it, and then you start to expect it to continue. When you put up a 9 spot against the Rangers, expectations get a little out of whack.
But the great thing about being an NHL fan is that every season is a roller coaster ride wrapped up in a soap opera. When you play an 82 game schedule in 30 cities from October through April a lot of stuff is going to happen. Times will go from great, to good, to not so great to ugly. If you can manage the not so great and ugly part and keep that to a minimum you’ve got a good chance to make the playoffs. And then a much more exciting roller coaster ride starts all over again.
Here’s the bottom line for the Sharks a quarter of the way through the season. They are a point out of first place in the toughest division in the league and two points away from claiming first place overall to themselves. Joe Thornton leads the league in assists and is one of the best two-way centers in the game. The Sharks have 3 legitimate scoring lines on most nights. The blueline is anchored by Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun who are having Olympic Team worthy seasons. The goaltending of Antti Niemi and Alex Stalock has been great to excellent. Special teams? Check. They are extremely well coached and most nights that is reflected in their detailed play. And they have the leading candidate for the Calder Trophy in Tomas Hertl.
Do the second periods need to get better? Yes. Can they do a better jog closing out games some nights? I think so. Would it be awesome if somebody other than Logan Couture scored a shootout goal every once in a while? Yep.
But looking at the big picture things aren’t so bad. Was the loss in Chicago disappointing? Of course it was. Maybe the outcome would have been a little different if the Sharks didn’t have to play the defending champions on the final night of a five-game in five time zones in eight days, west-to east-to west-to east, road trip. But that’s one of the obstacles along the way that must be faced.
As a group the Sharks ought to be pleased with the first quarter of the season but not satisfied. They’ve established a foundation for success going forward but there’s room for improvement.
No team wins them all and no team loses them all. It’s a roller coaster ride to be enjoyed. Enjoy.
I’m Randy Hahn
We’ve seen a variety of interesting travel stories over the years of San Jose Sharks history, including some memorable plane flights, interminable flight delays, and inclement weather tales. Some of the best have included: waiting until a playoff game ended in triple overtime to find out which way to fly, only to be delayed overnight by fog; being the last plane allowed to land in an airport due to snow, making it to the hotel, only to have the game cancelled because of the weather; having a delay of over 12 hours because the proper equipment was not available to change a tire on the aircraft; and so on.
But on the recent “criss-cross road trip” that started in Winnipeg and ended in Chicago, Sharks Hockey had another memorable run that has to go down in the logbook. Now, my broadcast partner Jamie Baker already mapped out the 5-game trip with a diagram that had so many crossing dotted lines, it looked like Gerry Cheevers’ old goalie mask. But here is a 10-step outline of one portion of that map, the trip between Edmonton and Chicago for the final stop on the trip:
- The game was originally scheduled at 7:00. After the game, the plan was to bus to the airport, clear customs in Edmonton, and fly to Chicago. That sounds simple, but….
- For Canadian TV purposes, the game was changed to an 8:00 Mountain Time faceoff, necessitating a later takeoff time from Edmonton International Airport.
- On Friday night, a snowstorm swooped into Alberta. Normally, the 35 kilometer trip from Rexall Place to the airport takes about 33 minutes. However, the storm slowed our path by about 15 minutes, in addition to the later hour due to the change of game time.
- While clearing customs in Edmonton is a good idea, a computer malfunction slowed the procedure for a number of minutes.
- Because of the snowstorm, once the team boarded the plane, another 15 minutes or so was added to the takeoff time. Why? The plane had to taxi to another part of the airport to be de-iced.
- Finally, takeoff occurred, approximately 2 hours and 40 minutes after the (later) game had ended.
- Flying from Edmonton to Chicago takes about the same time as flying home to San Jose. In addition, you have to add an hour because we were moving forward from the Mountain to the Central Time Zone.
- Once the plane landed, in this case at O’Hare International Airport, it was fortunate to note that there was lighter traffic due to the fact that it was a Saturday. However, the 18 mile trip takes about 27 minutes.
- It certainly was a weary group that checked into the hotel at approximately 6:20 a.m. Central Time on Saturday and some much-needed sleep.
- On Sunday, tornado warnings and major storms engulfed the Chicagoland area. At nearby Soldier Field, the NFL Bears game was actually delayed and the stadium evacuated when the storm raged in. Instead of being able to have the Formula One United States Grand Prix in the background of my hotel room, I had storm coverage instead. Fortunately, it all was over in a flash, and there were no other incidents other than the 5-1 loss in Chicago, followed by the late night flight home to San Jose.
All in all, the “criss-cross road trip” will be remembered for a 3-1-1 record, and a lot of travel stories. But the final 48 hours of the trip was one for the books. It’s great to be home! For sjsharks.com, I’m Dan Rusanowsky.
This past Monday, Tampa Bay’s super-sniper Steven Stamkos suffered a horrific injury breaking his right leg. While back-checking hard Stamkos lost his edge and appeared to be nudged into the right goal post. With nowhere to go his leg snapped back violently. Twice Steven tried to stand and skate, but the incredible pain was too much. The medical prognosis for recovery is from 3 to 6 months.
See the injury: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EIdZG3XGhys
It is always a shame when you see an NHLer go down, but in this case it’s one of the league’s marquee stars. Stamkos was selected first overall by Tampa Bay from the Sarnia Sting in the 2008 Entry draft. In his rookie season Stamkos notched respectable 23 goals in 79 games. From there the right-winger exploded on the big stage with goal totals of 51, 45, 60 and 29 in last year’s 48-game shortened season. This year he’s scored 14 goals in 17 games. That figure has him in a league leading tie with the Blues’ Alex Steen and the Caps’ Alex Ovechkin. He was on the road to a MVP season leading the Bolts to great start that has powered them to a 1st place position in the Eastern Conference. Stamkos will almost certainly miss the Olympics and perhaps the entire season. The best Lightning and Team Canada GM can hope for is perhaps a late season return just prior to the playoffs. Hurrying him back could be a huge mistake that could impact future of his career.
Yzerman knows from experience what it takes to recover from a severe injury. The date was March 1st, 1988. The Red Wings’ young captain went hard into the goal post in a game against the Buffalo Sabres Talk at the time said the injury could be career threatening, but after surgery Yzerman worked hard in rehab and was able to re-join the Wings in a 3rd round playoff series vs the Edmonton Oilers. The Wings lost that series but Yzerman never looked back and enjoyed some of his best seasons and led the Red Wings to three Stanley Cup Championships.
Stamkos’ injury happened in Boston and kudos goes out to Bruins fans that hushed with the injury and remained silent until Stamkos was wheeled out. It was then when they stood applauded to young star. Stamkos is known around the league as one of the most dedicated players in the league whose fitness level is at an elite level. Something tells me Steven will be in uniform and ready to go for the 2014 Playoffs.
It was a great sight for Sharks fans to see when Sharks’ veteran defenseman Brad Stuart banged in the overtime goal this past Tuesday in Calgary. The Sharks had again squandered a 2 goal lead taking the game into overtime. It was not difficult to imagine yet another overtime or shootout loss. Stuart’s goal gave his team the win and showed he can contribute to team success. Stuart is recovering from a preseason injury and was scratched from last Sunday’s game in Winnipeg for recent ineffective play. Missing that game by coaches decision had to hurt Stuart who a proud and professional athlete. Look for Brad to use Tuesday’s performance as a springboard going forward.
The Sharks have dropped 4 of 5 games decided in the NHL shootout so far this season. It may be that fact that makes me again question the league’s shootout format. I don’t feel that the outcome of a team game should be decided on a single one-on-one skills competition. NHL GMs met this week and are considering extending the overtime format and perhaps going to a 3-on-3 format in order to decide game outcome in a game format. I look forward to what they decide going forward.
Well that feels a little better, doesn’t it?
Tuesday night in Calgary the Sharks found a way to end their five-game winless streak and beat the Flames 3-2 in overtime. Winning is never easy in the NHL no matter who the opponent is. Forget that Calgary had lost 9 of their prior 12 coming in and had a power play in a 0-30 funk. What Calgary did have was Swiss goaltending sensation Reto Berra and a “no quit” attitude that kept them in the game and earned them a point.
But the Sharks were just a little bit better. In fact through most of the first two periods they were a lot better than Calgary. The Sharks dominated the first period, outshooting the Flames 17-3 and then held them to just 3 more shots in the second. In fact, a franchise road record was tied when Calgary managed only 13 shots all night. Logan Couture and Patrick Marleau both scored in the first period, ending goalless slumps. The team also played with a lot of energy. Credit Calgary for taking advantage of the great goaltending they were getting from Berra and when they scored twice in the third, including one on the power play, they had a shot at an unlikely win.
But in the end it was an unlikely sequence by the Sharks that ended the game in overtime. Joe Thornton who doesn’t shoot often, shot. Brad Stuart, who doesn’t end up at the front of the net often, went to the net. When Thornton’s shot hit Stuart under the arm and the puck slid underneath Berra, Stuart had an overtime winner, his first goal of the season, and his first goal as a Shark in 8 years! Unlikely indeed.
But a win is a win and the Sharks can now continue this road trip with a little bit of their confidence restored.
I’m Randy Hahn for SJSharks.com
I’ve never really loved the hockey statistic referred to as plus/minus. The basic idea is when playing at equal strength, if your team scores each player on the ice gets a +1. If your team gives up a goal each player on the ice gets a -1. Over time this should give you an impression of how well a player performs. The longer a player plays the more likely it is that plus/minus is an accurate reflection of his play.
Going through the all-time stats I noticed that one man stands alone as the greatest plus/minus player. Sharks co-coach Larry Robinson registered a mind-blowing +730 during his hall-of-fame career. Robinson was the number one defenseman for the dominant 1970s Montreal Canadiens. Those teams are often regarded as the finest teams ever assembled. 2nd in plus/minus is the great Bobby Orr at +579, followed by Ray Bourque at +528.
While on the subject, San Jose’s all-time top plus/minus men are Joe Thornton +140, Marc-Edouard Vlasic +79 and Nils Ekman +50.
Sunday’s game in Winnipeg will be the 1658th game in San Jose Sharks history. The club's all-time win-loss record is 767-688 going along with 121 ties, 61 overtime losses.
Sharks centerman Logan Couture is tied for the league lead with 3 shootout goals. The other snipers are Kopitar (LA), Vrbata (PHX), Oshie (STL), Ladd (WPG) and Moulson (BUF). The shootout has been part of the NHL landscape now for nine seasons. While I enjoy the competition and shooter/goalie battle as much as anyone, I don’t think the result of this exercise should go into a win or loss column. Let’s stick with wins, losses and ‘bonus points’. Bonus points being those earned in the shootout.
Congrats go out to Sharks radio man, Dan Rusanosky! The play-by-play voice of the Sharks was recently inducted into the Bay Area Radio Hall-of-Fame. His hard work and dedication have led him to this great honor. Something tells me that this might not be the last time Dan is inducted into a Hall-of-Fame.
Check out Dan’s postgame audio blogs following each and every game on sjsharks.com. Dan will get you up to speed in a hurry with a full game recap and audio highlights.
The Hockey Hall-of-Fame’s 2013 induction class will be one to remember. This season sees the induction of rugged defenseman Chris Chelios, power forward Brendan Shanahan, mobile defenseman Scott Niedermayer, innovative coach Fred Shero, and Gerladine Heaney, who has been called the "female Bobby Orr". The NHL Network will have coverage of induction ceremonies next Monday at 4:30 PM PST.
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.