Monday, June 29, 2009

Good Riddance and Other Inanity...

In my attempt to sound all smart and savvy about the draft, I neglected to mention perhaps my favorite news of the weekend. It seems that Chris Pronger.You.Goon is no longer a member of the Anaheim Ducks. It's about time that waste of brain cells went to the Eastern Conference. He and his elbows have been a plague on the West for far too long. (Something I've always wondered: When he flies, do they make him pay an extra carry-on fee for his elbows?) I'd be lying if I said I didn't do a little happy dance when I heard the news. Granted, his legacy will still live on with the Ducks, as he's evidently rubbed off on his captain and GM (among others), but having him in the East means at least five fewer games every season which I'll have to spend screaming things like, "Look out, Pav!" and, "Nooooo, not Z!" It's to the point that I find myself ducking as I sat on my couch as though somehow one of his elbows could fly through my TV screen and nail me in the head. (Sorry, but I just had an incredibly traumatizing image of PYG crawling out of my TV like the girl from The Ring and I'm not sure that I can ever get that mental picture out of my head.) Much to my surprise, it turns out that there are people out there who actually like PYG. According to the writer, Proger's just a nice guy who's universally misunderstood. This quote literally made me laugh out loud:
At first blush, he can definitely come across as arrogant and prickly, but upon getting to know him, Pronger is unmasked as an extremely intelligent, articulate, candid and fun person to be around.
Seriously? For real? How am I supposed to take this "journalist" seriously when he writes things like that. It turns out that Mischa Barton really was the brains of the OC. I'm also quite fond of this little quote:
Despite having suffered a separated right shoulder, missing a portion of the game and needing multiple injections to get back into the clinching 6-2 victory over the Ottawa Senators, Pronger repeatedly raised the Cup for Ducks staff, family members and who knows who else to drink from during the boisterous locker-room celebration.
So I'm supposed to believe that PYG's a really nice guy based on the fact that he got drunk and hoisted the Cup for his friends and family after his team won? I'd venture a guess to say that *even if* he was a complete and utter douchebag, he probably would've done the same thing. It's just a hypothetical, though.

And then there's this picture. If that doesn't say it all, I don't know what does. This made me laugh even harder than the news article did. It's about time the forwards in the East found themselves in his elbow targeting radar.

Also of note is the fact that the Wings won't be bringing back Ty Conklin next year. Instead we'll be left with Jimmy Howard as Ozzie's backup. Hockey Gods forbid Ozzie goes down with an injury. I've never quite understood the organization's attachment to Howard, but I guess we'll wait and see what happens. Of all of the summers since the lockout, this is the one in which the salary cap has frustrated me the most. Anyway, 10 bucks says Conks ends up signing with Boston or Philly just so he can play in the Winter Classic.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Draft Nonsense...

So the draft happened this weekend. Like the NHL Awards, I've never felt compelled to watch the draft. In all honesty, I think I'd rather watch paint dry. Part of it is due to the fact that I don't particularly care about any of the players involved (yet). Another factor is that, since so many of them will barely accomplish anything career-wise, it hardly seems worth it to make time in my busy schedule to study prospects. I prefer to leave that to wiser minds. Truth be told, the Wings front office has never given me a reason to doubt their judgment (except maybe that time they traded for Todd Bertuzzi and I had repeated hissy fits). If Ken Holland, Jimmy Devellano, Steve Yzerman, Hakan Andersson, Jim Nill, et al announced that they wanted to draft my grandma, well, let's just say I'd be the first one on the bandwagon.

After the fact, I took a look at the Wings' picks (mostly just so I can say I remember when they were drafted should they end up on the NHL roster). Obviously, none of them are NHL-ready at the moment, but that's the way things go when you're successful. And, let's face it, if any team is likely to have mined a late-round gem, it's the Wings. The first player that stood out to me was Mitchell Callahan, an enforcer/fighter. It's not that they couldn't use a guy like him around, I just think it's going to be hard for him to make his way into the lineup what with all of the skill guys he'd have to beat out. I did like the one description that I read about him that said that he's the kind of guy who'd go to hell and back for his teammates. I like that quality in a player, and that kind of mentality seems like it would fit in well in the organization. If he does make it to the big show, there's no doubt that he'll be a crowd favorite. That's just how we roll in Detroit.

The other thing that stood out to me was Landon Ferraro's plus/minus stat. While it's not the be-all end-all of statistics, it just seemed un-Red Wing-like. On the other hand, if there's one thing the Wings organization has shown over the years, it's the ability to take an offensively skilled guy and get him to buy into a defense-first mentality.

So anyway, here's hoping that Kenny Holland and the boys worked their magic again this weekend and we'll be seeing a few of these guys in the Winged Wheel a few years down the road. Also, isn't it cute how I've spent the last three paragraphs pretending to know what I'm talking about?

One last note on the draft: The Islanders had a viewing party at the Nassau Coliseum that drew over 10,000 fans. Maybe I've just been living under a rock, but I don't ever remember hearing about something like that before. Did Pittsburgh fans do this when they drafted Crosby? Anyway, the crowd went absolutely nuts when Tavares' name was called. Seriously, it looked like they'd just won the Cup or something. Watch the video. People are hugging and screaming and jumping up and down. In all my years of fandom, I can't ever remember being that excited about a draft pick. Not when Datsyuk was drafted. Not when Zetterberg was drafted. Not ever. Don't get me wrong, I wish I had that kind of foresight, but the only reason I remember reading about Z's selection was because his last name was fun to say and I'm easily amused. Maybe it's just because I'm young enough that I can't remember anything but Red Wing domination and the low and obscure draft picks that that entails. From my limited frame of reference, they've never been in need of a "franchise savior" or hockey Jesus.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, Part Three...

The ugly:

The final installment of my season recap features the worst of the worst. It's the stuff that was too bad to make the cut for the bad post. Not all of it's nice, but (most of) it's all in good fun.

--The NHL has a long and storied history of featuring guys like Scott Hartnell. And I say, "keep it coming." There's nothing more beautiful in this world than seeing a guy like Hartnell step out on the ice in full hockey regalia. He wouldn't even need to play a shift. Simply sitting on the bench with that face would be enough.
--The Handshake Incident. I have nothing to add to this. I don't even care that Crosby didn't shake everyone's hands. I'm mostly irritated with the way the media handled it all. They somehow, I'm assuming through a great deal of effort, managed to be less professional than Sid the Kid. They should be ashamed of themselves.
--At one point during the regular season, I watched a game against Dallas on Versus with my brother. By the end of the first period, we weren't sure that the announcers were aware that they were calling a hockey game. We lost count of the outside sports metaphors that were used to describe plays being made on the ice. I don't remember all of them, but they included the announcement that someone had just tried to "alley-oop" the puck into the net, that the score was currently 1-Love, and several others that went beyond the standard "quarterbacking the powerplay" that's commonly used. Even better, later on, they described this save by Chris Osgood as "mastodonic." We still haven't figured out what that means. I'm assuming it was a compliment, but honestly, there's no way to tell. If you happen to know exactly what he was trying to say, by all means, enlighten me in the comments section. The highlight of the game, however, was when one of the Versus guys said that Pavel Datsyuk played with, "such fabulosity," thus introducing me to my new favorite word. There was a month there where my brother and I couldn't have a conversation without dropping "fabulosity" at least a dozen times. This is perhaps the only thing for which I've ever been grateful to Versus. Oh to have had my DVR back then...

--This picture will probably haunt me forever. Not to mention the fact that I can't even bring myself to post one of Crosby hoisting the Cup.
--The Goal that Wasn't. Things worked alright in the Anaheim series, so this goal won't cause Wings fans to convulse the way Buffalo fans do when shown this goal, but still... The worst part was the way the NHL closed ranks to defend Brad Watson and his patently obvious error. A few days later, an NBA referee blew a call that changed the outcome of a close game, and the league acknowledged it publicly. While it didn't change the fact that the mistake had happened, at least it gave the NBA the appearance of being a professional organization with standards and accountability, something the NHL is sorely lacking.
--Then there was the matter of the lowlife who stole Henrik Zetterberg's game-used stick from a kid after the Winter Classic. Seriously. Stories like that make me wonder what the world has come to. The whole incident had a happy ending, as the guy who bought the stick from the thief sent it back to the kid, and both ended up with something. Conclusions like that at least partially restore my faith in humanity. Props to the guy for returning the stick to the kid after he read about the incident. There need to be more people like that in the world.
--The saga of the Phoenix Coyotes and Jim Balsillie was timed perfectly so as to serve as a distraction from the league's showcase event: the playoffs. While I never bothered to delve into the financial/legal aspects of the mess, I have to admit that a little part of me wanted Jimmy Balls to come out on top, just so Gary Bettman would lose. I don't know, maybe that makes me a bad person or even worse, a bad hockey fan, but I'm not sure I care all that much. I couldn't shake the feeling that a Bettman loss would be the beginning of the end for the commish, and that's enough to get me to support just about any bandwagon.
--"The Beard is Back." It's entirely possible that this is the worst playoff slogan ever invented. When you combine it with the signs saying, "You're entering a no-shave zone," it's a complete and utter disaster. I love a good playoff beard as much as the next fan, but there's a difference between having something as a quirky hockey tradition and using it as a major marketing campaign. Mike Ilitch needs to fire his marketing team. I'm assuming that they're the same people behind those atrocious Little Caesar's ads. Find a new line of work, people. Please. You wouldn't think it would have been that hard to find a way to market the defending Stanley Cup champions. My kid sister could've come up with a better slogan. Ugh. And was it really necessary to adorn the Al outside the entrance to the Joe with a big fake beard? I tried one of those on, and I'm pretty sure I have black lung disease now from inhaling the pieces it shed. Al deserves better than that.
--Donald Brashear's hit on Blair Betts during the first round of the playoffs was another truly ugly moment from the 08-09 season. If watching this video doesn't make you shudder, you're probably a sociopath and should leave this blog immediately.

--Valtteri Filppula's hair continues to get worse and worse with each passing season. You'd think that with all of the money this guy makes, he'd be able to find a better stylist. Until this season, I was unaware that he had a little cult-like following of girls who find him sexy. I can only assume that these are the Michigan-born cousins of the Sidney Crosby fangirls that plague the Pittsburgh area.
--This video of a distraught Sharks fan after his team's elimination is pathetic in every way possible. (Make sure you stay with it until the parents show up. That's when it really gets good.) It's like a trainwreck that you just can't stop watching. And yet, strangely, watching it makes me feel a little bit better about myself. Not even in my lowest moment have I ever approached the level of...I don't think there's even a word for it...that he displays in this video. I sincerely hope that his parents got him some psychiatric help.
--Last but not least, the NHL's disciplinary process managed to devolve into even more of a complete and utter joke. I'd link videos, but honestly, there are too many to choose from. Coming up with a comprehensive and consistent policy needs to be the NHL's top priority before somebody ends up with a life-threatening injury from one of these nasty hits that are tolerated so long as the victim is able to skate away with his head intact.

On a personal note:
-I managed to sprain my toe whilst flailing around on the floor in front of my TV during the final minutes of Game 7. Clearly, this was not a high point in my life.

Part One: The Good
Part Two: The Bad

Friday, June 26, 2009

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, Part Two...

The bad:

This just gets more and more fun as it goes on. Stay tuned for the Ugly coming up soon. Why do I like this part better than the good? Do you really have to ask? Let's face it, it's a lot more fun to make snarky comments and mock things than to praise them. I'm not sure what that says about my personality, but I can assure you, it's nothing good.

--I'll start with the obvious: Game 7. This one needs no explanation. It's going to take a while to get over that one.
--In a related note: Max Talbot. I passed a street named Talbot yesterday, and I shuddered. I twitch when I hear someone say the name Max. At one point a few months ago, I was checking out at Target and my total was $34.70. I had to add a candy bar just so that number wouldn't show up on my credit card bill. Seriously. I think metro-Detroit area psychiatrists are going to be overwhelmed by an epidemic of Max-Talbot-induced neurotic disorders. And yet, I can't find it within myself to hate the man. That's incredibly strange considering how feisty I generally am, but it's probably a symptom of my recently acquired psychiatric disorder. At least I'll have good company when they finally throw me in the loony bin with all of the other die hard Wings fans.
--The penalty kill. All season long, this was an absolute disaster. And the worst part was that no matter how many hours I spent attempting to find a rational explanation for why it was so bad, I never quite found an answer. With their great defensive corps, combined with the top two-way forwards in the league, there's no reason the Wings' PK shouldn't have been number one in the league.
--The spectacular disappearance of the Wings vaunted secondary scoring during the Finals. I was betting on the Wings walking away with the Cup because I figured the stars would cancel each other out, making it a battle of the third and fourth lines. It turns out that I was pretty much right. The problem was that Pittsburgh's depth guys managed to get the job done when it mattered most whereas the Wings' didn't accomplish a whole lot. Part of me hopes that they all spend their summers wallowing in misery like I am.
--I keep waiting for a day when a player, disturbed by Pierre McGuire's lack of respect for personal space, finally cross checks him right out of his little "cubicle" between the benches and into the stands, where drunken fans will proceed to polish his head and spill nacho cheese all over him. Seriously. Has he never been introduced to the concept of a "bubble?" Watching his interviews made me shudder for the sake of the players involved.
--The NHL's officiating continued to decline in quality. I've already ranted about it in several different posts, so I'm not going to waste my time again. It's almost disgraceful at times. Suffice it to say that the NHL is the laughing-stock of professional sports leagues.
--On the subject of officiating, the failure to call Pittsburgh's too many men on the ice penalty still blows my mind. We'll never know for sure if it had a significant impact on the game or not, but my God. You'd like to think that the NHL would make sure its referees could count at least up to double digits before they were hired. And if it's true that instead of calling the penalty, they warned the Penguins to get their extra guy off of the ice, well, now we're opening doors to paths that I don't even want to think about.
--There's this guy named Cabbie who does interviews with the players. I have no idea how he got this job, but it makes me sad when I think about the number of really bright people I know who are unemployed. Even if you ignore the Terminator effects he used to spice up this interview with Nick Lidstrom, watching him grope the Swede toward the end did damage to my psyche that will never be quite undone. I would pay good money to know what was going on in Lidstrom's head at that moment.
--On the subject of Lidstrom, the quasi-suspensions he and Pavel Datsyuk received for not attending the All Star game were an absolute joke. Especially in light of the number of "automatic" suspensions that were overturned by the league during the playoffs. It's not that sitting out a game in the middle of the regular season was all that serious. If anything, it was probably good for them to get an extra couple of days to recuperate. It was the principle of the matter, and when people wonder why there are so many conspiracy theorists amongst the Wings' fan base, they need look no further than things like that.
--Then there was the loss of Mrs. Hockey. It was a sad day for everyone in the hockey community, and especially those of us in Hockeytown. Obviously I didn't know her, but I can't help but think that we would've gotten along. I've always liked trailblazers like her, and especially women who weren't content to just stay home and cook and care for the kids.
--Pavel Datsyuk's Dr. Rahmani ad. I love Datsyuk. I really do. But every time this ad came on, I couldn't help but laugh at the poor man. Please, Pav, next year, find something better to shill for.
--That 7-6 loss to the Penguins during the regular season. This remains one of the most spectacular third period collapses I've ever seen. Thinking about it still makes me a little bit angry.

On a more personal note:
--There is literally no one happier that the playoffs are over than my poor puppy. All through the playoffs, I seemed to come up with new and more humiliating ways to torment her. Due to my boredom as I waited out the break between the first and second rounds, one night I decided it would be a good idea to give her a haircut. Let's just say that there's a reason I'm not a dog groomer. At another point, my brother dug out his Al the octopus stuffed animal with velcro tentacles and strapped it around her back so we could take pictures. After attending a game during the third round, we brought our red and white pom poms home and stuck them in her collar, again to take pictures. During the Finals, I dressed her in my old Shanny baseball-style jersey and spent half an hour trying to convince her to chew on her squeaky penguin toy. I don't think I've ever seen anything as pathetic as when she curled up on the floor in miserable defeat because the jersey kept tripping her. All this was on top of us trying to train her to bark when the Wings scored. The poor puppy did not deserve any of this.
--One of the games I went to this season was a loss to Colorado. I know the rivalry's dead and all, but I came into my own as a Wings fan during the heat of the Wings-Avs rivalry, and a little part of me will always carry that with me. There's a reason I have a framed picture of Darren McCarty beating Claude Lemieux to a bloody pulp.
--Then there was the fact that I gave away work shifts (aka turned down money) in order to watch playoff games. Not that I would've been mentally functioning if I'd been working, but the teeny tiny rational part of my brain keeps reminding me how stupid that was.
--Being at the Hockeytown Cafe, again in the City Theater, for yet another potentially Cup-clinching loss. I don't think I'm ever going to go there for a playoff game again. Especially not in the Finals.

Part One: The Good
Part Three: The Ugly

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Season Review: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, Part One...

In order to avoid making this post epically long, I decided to break it up into three separate entries. Like the Unofficial Awards, this is a long-standing tradition in my life, with the title most likely inspired my my father's love of watching reruns of westerns with me as a child.

The good:

Despite the number of hours I spent screaming at my TV and mentally strangling the NHL (yes, it’s possible to strangle an organization) over the course of the last year, the 2008-2009 season turned out to be a pretty good one. It fell one game short of being great, but it’s not like I didn’t enjoy the ride. Here we have the best of the best, or at any rate, the best that I could remember off the top of my head. Please feel free to remind me of any highlights that I might have missed.

--The Winter Classic. Despite Pavel Datsyuk’s wind-aided goal, the Classic was an amazing experience and, quite frankly, one of the few things the NHL got right this year. It was so much fun that part of me felt bad for the fans of other teams who had no rooting interest in the game. You pretty much knew it was going to be epic when Mike Babcock and staff came out wearing fedoras. I think that was the moment when I realized that he was probably the only coach who could replace Scotty Bowman in my heart. The other highlight of the game: Henrik Zetterberg + eye black. I’m just saying… (Why are there not any better pictures of this? Seriously.)
--Possibly my favorite part of the playoffs was Ozzie semi-silencing his critics. He was supposed to be the Wings’ weak link, and he came this close to walking away with a well-deserved Conn Smythe trophy. Honestly, of all the Wings, he’s the one I felt worst for at the end of Game 7. It seemed like no matter how well he played, analysts kept saying he was going to implode and the next game would surely showcase the “real” Chris Osgood. But game in and game out, the man was an absolute wall. I’m of the opinion that the way a player performs when he’s under maximum pressure shows his true character, and this year, Ozzie did nothing but reaffirm my faith in him. Despite losing, the man has nothing to be ashamed of.
--I was also a huge fan of CBC’s Coldplay intro to the Finals. If ever there was a song that you wouldn’t associate with hockey, it’s “The Scientist.” Those Canadians made it work in a spectacular fashion, though. In moments like those, I almost wish that I was Canadian. Last year, when I didn’t have cable, my playoff mantra was TGFC—thank god for Canada!—and CBC was literally the only thing that kept me sane. Despite the fact that they lost their Song, aka the unofficial Canadian anthem, this year, those guys never let me down.
--In other random media notes, I was thrilled to see the reemergence of the Cup lift commercial. This is quite possibly the greatest advertisement ever made. It’s hard to believe that the NHL was responsible for it. That strange and pathetic sound you hear every time it’s played is thousands of grown men simultaneously bursting into tears. At any rate, it’s absolutely mesmerizing. I can’t tear my eyes away from it when it’s on, nor would I want to. When I missed games this year, I would stop fast forwarding through the commercials on my DVR just so I could watch this one. And there’s no greater complement that I can give to a marketing instrument.
--Speaking of mesmerizing, one of the Wings’ season highlights was Datsyuk’s epic shootout goal against Minnesota. Much like the Cup commercial, I don’t think I will ever tire of watching this replayed on youtube. It’s pretty safe to assume that at least 75% of the views for that video were from me. It was a Dangle Dangle Special of the highest order.
--Also on the subject of Datsyuk, few interviews could top his chat with Mickey Redmond while serving his quasi-suspension after the All-Star Game. It should be mandatory that he give interviews like that 365 days a year.
--Another of Mick’s finest moments was the interview he and Ken Daniels did with Gary Bettman in which Mickey “debated” (which is a kind way of saying that he delivered an intellectual ass-kicking) many of the issues nearest and dearest to Wings fans’ hearts with the commish. Because, clearly, I needed another reason to love Mickey Redmond. Not many people involved in the game have had the audacity to publicly stand up to Bettman and *gasp* question his actions, and you have to imagine that it took the commish a week curled up under his security blanket made from Sidney Crosby’s game-worn jerseys to get over the affront. I’m not sure whether I liked the look on Bettman’s face as he squirmed while Mr. Bingo Bango dared challenge him or the awkward look on Ken Daniel’s face as he desperately tried to find a way to rein Mickey in. I still haven’t found a youtube video of this “debate,” and that makes me sad on many levels.
--The fake Henrik Zetterberg ads. These things make my life. As far as I'm concerned, they're sheer brilliance on the part of the guys who created them. Also, this video. It should send chills down your spine if you're a true hockey fan.
--One of the best regular season things the organization did was begin the $15 student tickets around Christmas time. I realize that this was only in response to the lousy economy, and thus it’s a little hard to take joy in it, but it allowed me to attend more games that I had ever been able to before. I hope they continue this next season, because, let’s face it, Wings games are like my version of crack. The more I watch, the more I need to fulfill my craving.

And a few more on a personal level:
--I had the opportunity to meet Ted Lindsay at the Joe this year. I got his autograph, but more importantly, I was able to shake his hand. This was perhaps one of the finest moments in my career as a hockey fan (yeah, I said “career”).
--During another visit to the Joe, my friend and I were running late and arrived after the game had started. The concourse was pretty much deserted as we were running to our seats. As we passed by one of the pillars, I spotted something out of the corner of my eye. Sitting right there, 5 feet away at a book-signing table, was none other than Mr. Hockey. I stopped dead in my tracks and blurted out, “Holy shit, that’s Gordie Howe.” He then proceeded to look up at me and laugh. That’s right. Gordie freakin’ Howe looked me in the eye and chuckled at me. I stood there for a moment with what can be best described as a look of bewilderment on my face. Then I did a little half-wave, and ran away to find my seat. You had better believe that I’ll be telling that story to my grandkids some day.
--Going to my first playoff game was another personal highlight. I'll never forget rising to my feet in unison with the entire crowd as the Wings broke in on a 3-on-1 in overtime. While there is literally nothing that can ever be done to make me enjoy playoff OT, this was by far the greatest play I've ever witnessed in person at the Joe.
--Starting this blog has quite possibly saved my life. It’s hard to believe, considering the enormous amount of time that I waste on the internet every day, but for some reason, I was completely unaware that there was a vast hockey blogging community until halfway through this season. Once I saw the brilliance that was out there, it was only a matter of time until I felt compelled to join in and have my say. Putting my thoughts out here has been a wonderfully cathartic alternative to ranting and raving at (yes, “at,” not “to”) my friends and family who care about the Wings significantly less than I do. Mostly it's just good to know that there are other crazies like myself out there. Suffering alone is no fun at all.

Part Two: The Bad
Part Three: The Ugly

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

More Tuesday Announcements...

It wasn't an oversight that I didn't mention Stevie Y's stellar collection of HoF "classmates" in my last entry. I just felt like Yzerman deserved his own post. After all, as Puck Daddy said
Impact: Good lord, where do you start? How about here: The sight of a pristine red Detroit sweater with "Yzerman 19" on the back is known to bring grown men to tears.
That pretty much says it all, even if it's vaguely echoic of something I wrote in my last post.

Remember way back in 2002 when the Wings won with their who's-who of future Hall of Famers? Well, adding Yzerman, Brett Hull, and Luc Robitaille this year puts five members of that team into the HoF, if you count Scotty Bowman. Not bad, eh?

While I never developed a particularly deep affection for Robitaille as a Wings player, he always seemed like a stand-up guy. By the time he made it to Detroit, he was well past his prime, so my expectations were always set unfairly high for him, but unlike Marian Hossa, he chose wisely when seeking to win the Cup. (Please insert your own Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade joke here.)

Brett Hull, on the other hand, never ceased to amuse me with his various antics. Not everybody approved of his outspokenness and candor at times, but I always thought, even before he came to the Wings, that he was exactly the type of personality that the league needed. Plus, I don't think I could ever tire of watching the TV announcers marvel over the bend in his stick as they showed replays of shots in slo-mo. Not to mention that his self-titled "Two Kids and an Old Goat" line was my first introduction to Pavel Datsyuk, the only player to ever surpass Hull in terms of amusing me.

Every year it seems like the HoF inductions are more and more interesting to me on a personal level. When I visited the hall when I was younger, it always seemed somehow abstract and foreign to me (and I'm not even going to discuss how awful that "be a goalie" game was). It was like a shrine to a past generation, full of the names of players of whom I had heard or seen pictures, but I was never quite able to connect with them. Now, as each induction class brings in more players that I have seen first-hand, I feel like there is more meaning for me personally.

It's easy to discuss Gordie Howe and his legacy and impact on the game, but it's an entirely different thing to have watched him play game in and game out over the course of his career. It's not to say that I don't value Mr. Hockey as a player and ambassador of the game, but it's difficult to fully appreciate his greatness from a few grainy highlight reel clips and a biography or two.

On the other hand, seeing guys like The Captain, Hull, Robitaille, and Leech (although to a lesser extent) get named to the Hall feels much more concrete. It allows me to put their accomplishments into context and draw on my own memories. I can reminisce about spectacular plays or championships, and it almost becomes personal to me, as if those are shared memories that I can draw on because they were a part of my life. I have no doubt in my mind that someday in the future, I'm going to be leading my kids around the HoF recounting the defining moments in the careers of guys like Yzerman, Lidstrom, Shanny, and so many others until said children develop a nervous disorder manifested by beginning to convulse at the mere mention of the word, "hockey," or the phrase, "I remember this one time..."

In other news, it's sounding more and more likely that Mike Babcock is going to be Team Canada's coach at the upcoming Olympics. (Speaking of the Olympics, I'm pretty sure the entire Wings roster is going to be suiting up in Vancouver.) This should be fantastically fun to watch. Mostly, I can't wait until the Canada/Sweden game during which, in an ironic twist of fate, Babs is forced to watch Henrik Zetterberg render Sidney Crosby useless (again), but from the opposite viewpoint. Seriously, congrats to Babcock, though. If I was Canadian, he's the guy I'd want behind the bench. Actually, I think he should volunteer to coach Team USA just to prove, once and for all, that he's not anti-American. Someone should run that idea by him. I only want credit if he doesn't laugh in your face.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Steve Yzerman...

There are a handful of things in this world which are simply indisputable. They just...are. The fact that Steve Yzerman would be a first-ballot Hall of Famer was one of those things. I mean was there anyone out there who thought otherwise? I can't say enough about the man. Truth be told, I'm not sure I'm worthy. I honestly can't consider anyone who doesn't love Stevie Y to be a true Red Wings fan. Not to shame Nick Lidstrom, because he's doing a fine job filling some awfully big skates, but there are still moments when I catch a glimpse of the 'C' on his jersey and almost expect to see Yzerman propping himself up on his stick. The Captain's first season as such began just two months after I was born, and it still seems somewhat bizarre to see anyone else in that role. It took me an entire season to adjust to the dramatic realignment of my worldview that occurred when he retired. My biggest regret as a hockey fan is spending the last half of his final season in the hockey hell known as Florida where I was only able to catch parts of two games. I'm almost sad to admit it, but one of my most prized possessions is my #19 jersey. It's made from the good material they used to use, and as far as I'm concerned, it's priceless. I'll probably still be rocking it at Wings games fifty years from now when my hockey-obsessed grandchildren are pushing me to my seat in my tricked out wheelchair with Stanley Cup hubcaps.

I feel like I've been waxing nostalgic on this blog a lot lately, but I can't help it on today of all days. Steve Yzerman was one of my idols growing up. As a child, I once told my mother that if I ever got a terminal disease and Make A Wish wanted to grant me a wish, she had to tell them that I wanted to meet Steve Yzerman in case I wasn't able to talk for myself anymore. I was obviously a fun kid to be around. I'll also never forget the night he scored his 600th goal. Every single person in the arena stood and clapped when they made the announcement. We clapped and clapped and clapped through what must have been an entire commercial break. My hands were bright red by the time we finished clapping. And Yzerman simply stood up near the end of the bench, raised his stick up in the air once, and then put his head back down and went to work. Because that's what we do in Detroit. Nothing short of total amnesia could ever erase that image from my mind.

But seriously folks. There's literally no way to even begin to summarize what The Captain has meant to the Red Wings, and me personally. Players like him don't come around every generation, and he's part of the reason why I truly, deeply love hockey. And I'm not the only one. During his last six or seven years, it almost felt like he had a religious following in Detroit. Even now, I'm pretty sure I leave a trail of grown men crying in my wake when I walk around the Joe in my Yzerman jersey, so moving is the sight of his name and number set against the rich red background. When his name is mentioned in conversation by a Wings fan, it's said with a hint of reverence usually reserved for the Pope and heads of state.

So here's to one hell of a career from a guy who exemplified every aspect of leadership and class. Quite simply, he's the greatest Captain in the history of sports. It wouldn't surprise me if there were some people out there who might disagree with this last statement (six billion people in the world, there are bound to be one or two fools), but I'm fully prepared to shoot down every argument they might make with such vehemence and wit that their great-grandchildren will spontaneously burst into tears at random intervals in their lives.

It still sometimes seems weird that The Captain's not out there on the ice. As fans, we move on and find new players to obsess over, new agonizing situations, and new reasons to hop on board the stress train. The team's enjoyed success since he retired, and I believe that it will continue to do so for quite some time. It's not like Lidstrom hasn't done a bang-up job wearing the C. In fact, the only knock against him is that he's not Steve Yzerman. There's even a fine heir-apparent to the captaincy in Henrik Zetterberg, but as wonderfully talented as the current incarnation of the team is, there's a part of me that I think will always feel that something is missing. And that something is the player who was the heart and soul and even the knees of the single greatest love of my life for so many years. Steve Yzerman.

Monday, June 22, 2009

So Long, Cheli...

So no more Chris Chelios. I have to say that even though I'm not remotely surprised, I'm a little torn about this. On a personal level, I'm much more likely to survive the next season now that my blood pressure won't be spiking every time he sets foot on the ice. On the other hand, I have a lot of respect for the guy, and I think he's one of the last great "old school" players out there. Every time I screamed, "Chellllliiiiiiiiiiii!!!" at the TV during his playoff appearances this year, there was a little voice in the back of my head that was telling me that I should be nicer to him. I would never dream of apologizing for my words or actions during the heat of a playoff game, but sometimes I did feel a little bad. I certainly hope he ends up somewhere next season. Guys like Cheli deserve to go out on their own terms. I wouldn't be particularly surprised if he ends up as the 6th or 7th man on a young team that needs a mentor for their D-men. He did a pretty good job working with Kronwall and Jiri Fischer back in the day.

Seriously, one of the highlights of my high school days was when his son played travel baseball in the same league as my little brother. I got to meet him at games a few times, and he was just a straight-up nice guy. He actually reminded me of my dad a little bit. The last time I saw him was at the end of the second round in the '02 playoffs. He was listening to the Colorado-San Jose Game 7 on a Walkman (yeah, an old-school Walkman. In 2002.) waiting to see who the Wings would be facing. He was sitting in his son's dugout and someone asked him who he'd rather face. He said, "San Jose," without any hesitation. I remember finding it funny because earlier I had read the standard, "we don't care who we play, blah, blah, blah," quote from him in the newspaper (Quick nostalgia moment: remember when we used to get papers in Detroit?).

So anyway, I really do hope he ends up somewhere. I wouldn't even care if that somewhere was Chicago. Maybe then his mom could get rid of that god-awful franken-jersey she was wearing during the playoffs.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Are We Seriously Still Talking About This?...

For cryin' out loud, can we just move on already? It's been a little over a week now, and the Handshake Incident is still being discussed. Snapshots has a link to yet another media "analysis" of it. I mean, really, there's nothing else we can talk about? There's nothing else Nick Lidstrom could've been asked about at the NHL Awards show? Nothing?

I realize that I'm only continuing the discussion by contributing it, but there's a certain amount that I can take in silence, and once that level is reached, I have to have my say about it.

The general consensus is that this whole thing was started when Kris Draper called Crosby out for not shaking Lidstrom's hand after the game. One of the Pittsburgh writers described him as having "piggybacked his way to four championships," which is a funny way to describe a former Selke winner who's been a heart and soul guy on the most dominant team in the NHL for 16 years now. Granted, under any other circumstance, I don't think Draper would've spoken out that way, but the fact remains that he wasn't the one who started this whole nightmare. It was Crosby, out on the ice at Joe Louis Arena, not participating in half of the handshake line.

The standard Crosby defense from the adoring media is that he's just a young kid reveling in his first Stanley Cup. That's wonderful, but he's still the captain of the Penguins. I'm one year older than Crosby, but you don't see me tossing my relative youth around as an excuse for all of my failures. You can either be an overwhelmed kid who got lost in the shuffle, or you can be a man who displays leadership worthy of wearing the C. You can't have it both ways if you want to earn any respect in this world.

Also, you'd think that a guy who's been followed around by media for years would realize when he's about to put his skate in his mouth. His quotes about the expectation to participate in the handshake line being "unreasonable" and having the "right to celebrate" did nothing to erase his league-wide (outside of Pittsburgh and Gary Bettman's office) as being a petulant child. Who knows? Maybe he's really a nice guy. Maybe he spends all of his free time helping little old ladies cross the street with their groceries. But the fact remains that all he had to do is say something to the effect of, "I'm sorry. I honestly didn't mean to insult anyone. I got caught up in the moment and I know I was a little bit late to the handshake line. I certainly didn't mean to disrespect one of our great hockey traditions," and it all would've gone away. Just like when Chris Chelios had to apologize for not shaking the Ducks' hands in '07 (and for the record, I was pretty angry at him when he left the ice like that.)

It clearly was neither the end of the world nor a career-defining moment for Crosby, so at this point, why should anyone care? Nobody in their right mind is going to say, "Gee, I really liked that Crosby guy until he skipped half of a handshake line." For the rest, and I think majority, of us out there, it's just one more incident to file away with in our mental Why Crosby's A Classless and Miserable Excuse for A Captain files. Believe me, if this didn't sway you, the Handshake sure won't.

Honestly, the worst part of all of this is the fact that it's resulted in Draper, Lidstrom, and Henrik Zetterberg, who also made an uncharacteristically blunt comment, getting dragged through the mud by almost everyone. I'm pretty sure nobody before now has accused any of those three guys of anything remotely controversial. Let's face it, this guy had to use Terminator effects and grope his chest to make a Nick Lidstrom interview interesting. (Watch Lidstrom's face at the end of this interview. I don't think he even knows what to do.) Mostly I suspect they all just want this to go away. But if there's one thing reporters love, it's controversy and scandal, so you can be pretty sure that this is going to be rehashed over and over again until it makes you want to kick babies.

Like a Bad Blind Date...

I've never in my life watched the NHL Award show. People who know me find this strange because I spend almost every waking moment pouring over any NHL-related news that I can get my hands on. So you would think that I would love to see the players in a different setting and completely out of their element. Mostly though, it just comes across as awkward. Kind of like when Luc Robitaille had a cameo on Bones this year. I couldn't bring myself to look away and all I could do was sit there with a horrified grimace on my face.

So I prefer to stick with my annual Unofficial Awards, which this year managed to land me on both A2Y and Puck Daddy. I'm not ashamed to admit that this was the highlight of my day yesterday. Mostly I'm just amazed that anyone is reading my ranting and raving. So thanks, I guess.

As everyone not living under a rock knows by now, Dangle Dangle took home the Lady Byng and the Selke. I only watched the video of his awards and Vladdie's entrance, so I can't say for sure that his acceptance speeches were the best ones of the night, but I'm willing to bet they were. Why? Just because.

There weren't any real shockers on the night. The awards fell pretty much as I thought they would. I was disappointed that Lidstrom didn't win the Norris, but I wasn't remotely surprised. I had figured that one would be a toss up between Chara and Green, and I'm kind of glad that it fell to Chara. At least he appears to be a defenseman. Maybe next year Green will challenge Datsyuk for the Selke. I'm pretty sure Dangle Dangle would still win, though.

The highlight of the night was Vladdie's appearance. That and the Winter Classic are possibly the only two things the NHL did right this year. I still remember sitting in front of the TV watching the coverage of the limo accident with tears in my eyes. He's one of those guys who everybody except apparently Penguins fans can rally around. It makes me proud to say that he was/is a Red Wing.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

2009 Unofficial NHL Awards...

I hope nobody was expecting actual predictions or analysis of the NHL Awards show. If you did, clearly you missed the purpose of this blog. The truth is, I've never really cared all that much about them. While I'm sure they're fun to win, they're not really the trophies I'm after, and I think most of the players would agree with me. That being said, the thought that Mike Green is probably going to be taking home Nick Lidstrom's trophy makes me gag a little. I'm pretty sure they should re-open voting for the Norris just to take into consideration the testicle incident. (Once again, I find myself discussing this. I really did not anticipate ever having Lidstrom's genitalia as a conversation topic in my life.) The Unofficial Awards are a tradition started in 2002. They're very much Red Wing-centric, and I refuse to apologize for this. Also, a lot of the awards were stolen from my high school yearbook. You've been warned.

So, without further ado, I bring you the 7th annual Unofficial NHL Awards...

The Class Couple Award goes to...Gary Bettman and Sidney Crosby. Previous winners include Gary Bettman and Sidney Crosby. In fact, it should really be re-named after them, what with all of the discussion of renaming the real NHL awards to honor more modern players. It's fairly obvious why the commish and his Little Buddy won, so I won't go into depth.
Runners up: Tyler Kennedy and his stick, and my brother and Johan Franzen.

The Hatfield-McCoy Enemies Award goes to Mike Ilitch and Gary Bettman. Kudos to Mr. Ilitch for snubbing Bettman the same way the commish's Little Buddy snubbed Lidstrom. It's nice to see that at least one NHL owner has the guts to stand up to Bettman.
Runners up: Crosby and Ovechkin--this one isn't going away anytime soon, and me and Brad Watson.

Most Likely to Start a Revolution: Alex Ovechkin. Because, seriously, would you dream of giving this award to anyone else? Also, during my freshman year of high school, there was actually a crazy Russian kid who won this award. So there's some historical basis for my selection. Like his celebrations or not, his kind of personality is exactly what the NHL needs. Whether he's trying (and scoring on) absurd plays that nobody else would even attempt, pissing off Don Cherry, or stealing golf karts and almost decapitating himself, he is without question, the NHL's resident lunatic.
Runners up: Sean Avery and T.J. Oshie, mostly because I couldn't think of anyone else.

The Invisibility Cloak Award goes to Henrik Zetterberg for rendering Sidney Crosby absolutely useless for the second consecutive Finals. Crosby is going to be having nightmares about Hank shadowing his every move for the rest of the summer. Every time he sets foot near the Stanley Cup, he's going to be glancing over his shoulder just to make sure Z and his beard aren't there to take it away from him.
Runners up: Nick Lidstrom because he pretty much does that to anyone he faces, and Colin Campbell for shrouding the NHL's disciplinary process in a cloud of mystery.

The Golden Pretzel Award for Epic Choking goes to the San Jose Sharks. Remember when we thought they were going to be the Wings' biggest obstacle to repeating as champs? Yeah, neither do I. It was that long ago. I'm almost ashamed to admit that I was rooting for Anaheim to upset them, just so I could laugh. It was probably the only time I've ever wanted the Ducks to win a hockey game that didn't involve Charlie Conway.
Runners up: Marty Brodeur in the last 1:20 of Game 7 against Carolina and the Wings for failing to rise to the occasion during either of their two chances to clinch the Stanley Cup.

The Brainiac Award goes to the Wings' very own Ken Holland. I can't help but think that if he had gone into scientific research instead of hockey, cancer would've been cured, I'd have a flying car, and robots would run the Taco Bell drive through so my order would be made correctly.
Runners up: Mike Babcock and Rocky Wirtz.

The List Award (as in, "You're on my list.") is presented to the Freep's very own Drew Sharp. There's something utterly condescending in his tone when he writes about the Wings (and possibly anything else. I wouldn't know. The only time I bother to read his work is when it involves hockey.). You get the feeling that he really doesn't like hockey at all. Sometimes I'm sure he wants the Wings to lose. Like when he wrote this article. To be fair though, there were a lot of qualified candidates who could've won this award, and it was a pretty tough choice.
Runners up: PYG, Gary Bettman, Sidney Crosby, and the writers of the Pens Blog.

Mr. Invisible goes to Marian Hossa for completely disappearing in the Finals (and all but the preceding Game 4s). I was waiting to pass judgment on him because I had been saying that he looked injured since early on in the playoffs, but he claims to be healthy and thus lacks an excuse for his lousy production. You'd think that a guy on the verge of being an NHL punch-line for the rest of his career would've been able to muster a bit more of an effort when he was within reach of both the Stanley Cup and complete validation for his decision.
Runners up: Jiri Hudler because for the life of me, I don't remember seeing him on the ice at all during the last two rounds. The only reason he didn't win the award was because Hossa had much higher stakes. I almost went with Crosby for the second runner up, but I figured I pick on him enough, so I'll go with Patrick Kane. Aside from that time Franzen stole his mouthguard, Kane had an entirely forgettable Western Conference Finals series.

Speaking of the mouthguard incident, I'll go ahead and give the Mule the Class Clown Award. I've probably watched this video three dozen times, and it never fails to make me laugh.
Runners up: I'll go with Pavel Datsyuk for being an all around funny guy and that guy who plays Zetterberg in the fake NHL commercials.

The Apple Polisher Award goes to Sidney Crosby. We can all be pretty certain that apples aren't the only thing he's polishing for Gary Bettman.
Runners up: Pierre McGuire, who coincidentally appears to also spend a good deal of time polishing his own head, and Scott Walker because he had to do some epic sucking up to avoid getting suspended for his little sucker-punch.

In our first shocking upset of the night, I'm awarding the Golden Elbow Award to Scott Niedermayer. Believe me, wresting this one from the clutches of his teammate and 6-time winner, Chris Pronger.You.Goon, was quite a feat. Pretty much going after a Lady Byng winner/nominee who clearly didn't want to fight after a game that his team won was the only way anyone was going to defeat Pronger. Lo and behold, that's exactly what Niedermayer did after the Ducks won Game 6 against the Wings. He even threw in furtive peek at the referees before he landed his elbow. It was classic form.
Runners up: PYG just for being himself and Evgeni Malkin for his elbow that "kind of rode up" all the way into Franzen's face.

The Master Thespian Award goes to Sidney Crosby, just for that epic dive he took when Maltby tapped him in the back of the leg. Seriously, I stopped watching the game and replayed it on my DVR three times trying to figure out what he was doing. The fact that I skipped back from the live game for even a second is saying something because it's entirely possible that I would let my own mother die if she happened to choke during a Wings playoff game.
Runners up: Gary Bettman for coming this close to concealing his utter glee when he presented the Cup to Crosby and Chris Osgood for sparking the scrum that led to the Zetterberg/Malkin fight.

And finally, the Unsung Hero Award goes to Darren Helm. On a team highlighted by superstars, this kid who spent the majority of the season in the minors not only looked like he belonged, but oftentimes like he was the best player wearing a Winged Wheel. His epic penalty kill during Game 5 of the Chicago series was one of the highlights of the season. There were games during which I'm pretty sure he never left the ice because it seemed like he was hitting someone or beating them to a loose puck every 10 seconds. Surrounded by Lidstrom, Zetterberg, Datsyuk, Rafalski, Franzen, Hossa and the rest of the bunch, it's easy to overlook him, but man he had a hell of a playoff run.
Runners up: Chris Osgood for never getting one tenth of the credit he deserves and Justin Abdelkader for knocking in twice as many goals as Sidney Crosby during the Finals.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Life Goes On...

After my little love-in with myself over my superior taste in hockey teams, I thought I was done for a while. I'm actually surprised to discover that I still have the desire to write about it. I guess it shouldn't be that much of a shock considering how hard it's been to get me to shut up about hockey since I was about nine.

After writing my last post, I went upstairs and buried myself in the TV for a couple of hours. And then all of a sudden, I heard some pleasantly familiar sounds. I looked out my window, and there, in the middle of the street, were four kids playing street hockey. It made me smile. A couple of hours later, I took my dog for a walk, and two blocks away in the back of my subdivision, was another group of kids just setting up a net in the street. The thought that at this time next year I'm going to be searching for a job in a place where this wouldn't be completely normal makes me sad. There's just no place like Hockeytown.

There's been a lot written over the last couple of days implying that this is the end of the Wings' dominance. I disagree. Just like I've disagreed with every article that's been written at the end of every year for as long as I can remember. Between the core of talent they have locked up long-term, the flood of rookie talent they've got lined up, and the enduring brilliance of Ken Holland, there's absolutely no reason that we can't expect this team to make deep playoff runs for years to come. Do you honestly imagine Henrik Zetterberg, heir apparent to the C, retiring in 12 years with only one Stanley Cup ring to his name? Yeah, I don't either. Even now, I firmly believe that the Wings would've come out on top but for their injuries. I know people will say that that's petulant and sore-loserish, but it's true, and I'll stand by it no matter what. I also believe that the Wings would've run right through any other team in the Eastern Conference this year if they were at 100% (or even 80% for that matter). The Anaheim series was by far the toughest battle that any team faced in the playoffs, and there's no way you can convince me that scratching and clawing their way through that mess didn't take its toll on the boys. It might not be next season, or even the one after that, but the Wings will be back. Mark my words. The boys aren't going anywhere.

There's also been some disappointment expressed that they blew their chance to secure their dynasty. I don't buy that crap. I was sold on the whole dynasty thing after 2002. The fact of the matter is that, with the exception of maybe the Lakers, the Wings have been the most dominant professional sports franchise in the country for the better part of my lifetime. And if people aren't willing to recognize that now, then one more championship wouldn't have made a bit of difference anyway.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Hell Yeah, I'm Proud...

At the end of my last post, I wrote something about being let down by the Wings. I don't know exactly what I said, because that would require me to go back and reread the most painful thing I've ever written in my life (and that's saying something coming from someone who's written 25-page papers on the prison system before). But over the last couple of days, I had a chance to do quite a bit of solo driving, which is always when I do my best thinking. And the more I thought about what I had written and the fact that I really had lost my faith during the second period, the worse I felt. I couldn't wait to get back to my computer and "make amends." I actually thought of being late to my camping trip so I could go back and write some more.

The truth is, I am proud of my boys. In the heat of the moment, while I was mourning the loss, I was angry and upset and miserable and mean. But in all honesty, this particular playoff run exemplified why I truly love the Wings (except for the part where they were supposed to win...).

They fought and they battled, seemingly uphill at times, and they carried an entire devastated region on their backs for two months. And that can't have been easy considering the amount of injuries they were playing with. (Kris Draper had torn neck cartilage? Seriously? I didn't even think that that was something that was possible. Also, I've never seen the word "testicle" tossed around in news coverage as frequently as I have the last few days. I'm completely astonished that Lidstrom had surgery on his balls during the third round and only missed two games. And I'm not even a guy. In the words of my brother, "What kind of a man does that to another man?" regarding the spearing incident. And those are just the beginning of the list.) I also once read somewhere that Detroit was the most overweight city in America, so that probably didn't help matters either.

It's not just the injuries that they battled through that make me proud, though. One of the moments that defines the playoff run in my mind was The Goal That Wasn't. A lot of lesser teams would have just called it quits and said, "this isn't our year," but the Wings battled back and won that series. They just put their heads down and went to work on the ice.

Mostly, though, I admire their class. I know it's talked about a lot in sports, and it's often irrelevant, but it seems like it always comes back to that for me. It's part of what makes me thank the Hockey Gods for the good fortune of growing up a Wings fan. It's also why I was so upset when they traded for Bertuzzi and was so glad when he left. While I have no idea what the players are like privately, it's nice to at least be able to admire their public personas, which is more than I can say for a lot of other teams out there.

This was most noticeable during the second round when it had been fairly well established that the refs were going to follow an "anything goes" policy. Anaheim had proven in the past that this was an effective way to win in the playoffs and seemed determined to do so again, but the Wings never stooped to their level. While Anaheim felt it was necessary to start after-game scrums (games they won, which I still haven't figured out) and rough up players, the Wings stuck to their tried and true "between the whistles" schtick. One of my brothers kept screaming for them to just do it back, and maybe that would've made the series easier to win. But I liked the fact that they didn't. Maybe that makes me less of a fan, but I'll go head-to-head with anyone else's rabid devotion if you want to make it a contest of who likes the Wings more.

The same thing was showcased during their blowout victories in Game 4 against Chicago and 5 against Pittsburgh. They just kept playing their game and let the other teams make fools of themselves as they paraded to the penalty box. Even when the Wings arguably lost their composure in Game 4 of the Finals, they never sank to the childish antics and vicious attacks that so many other teams resort to when faced with the frustration of being dominated.

There was an article linked to on Snapshots that claimed that Franzen would've become the poster boy for obstruction if the Pens had ended up losing. Which is really funny considering the egregious amounts of obstruction that were ignored against them. Especially when there's a guy on Crosby's team who somehow only managed two penalty minutes during the entire series. coughHalGillcough

I'm going to stop myself before this spirals out of control into an officiating rant. That's not what this post is supposed to be about. As much as I'm disappointed that they came up one game short, I really am proud of what the Wings did this season. They were counted out of every series, including the one against playoff-virgin Columbus, and went further in the playoffs than any other Cup-defenders since...themselves in 1998. Nobody expected that to happen, and in all honesty, neither did I, especially during the doldrums of February and March.

Over the course of the last two months, I've spent way too many hours pouring over every word of hockey coverage and run up more credit card bills at bars than I care to think about. I've drank approximately 687 gallons of Slurpees, and cut at least 17 years off of my life expectancy. But man, did I ever have a good time doing it.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Pain: Emotional and Physical...

This is something that I thought of at the beginning of the series, and I hoped upon hope that I wouldn't have to use. But here it is.

Regarding Marian Hossa:

Not only did he not come home with the Cup, but after his lackluster performance in the playoffs this year, his value as a free agent has to drop. Which sucks for him, because after last year he finally managed to shake the label of playoff-underachiever with his spectacular Finals, and now that label will probably follow him around for the rest of his career.

I actually took notes for a recap tonight. I don't think I want to put myself through that. Not that you want to read it either... So I'm just going to start typing, and see where it takes me.

This is all very disappointing. Pittsburgh already won the Super Bowl. I just thought it'd be nice for us Michiganians (I refuse to refer to myself as a Michigander. It sounds like a male goose.) to have something happy in our lives for a change.

It's possible that I will never forgive Brad Stuart. I realize that it's not all his fault, but I need a scapegoat right now, and he pretty much volunteered himself for that role.

And since his last-minute tying goal during Game 5 last year wasn't cruel enough, Max Talbot decided to play hero and score not one, but two goals tonight. So, good on him, I guess. That's the stuff that playoff legends are made of. I guess he got the childhood "pond hockey moment" he's been dreaming of his whole life.

All things considered, I'm handling things pretty well. I'm currently icing my foot down. It's possible that I sprained my toe while flailing around on the floor in front of my TV during the final minute. It probably wasn't my best moment, but things happen during the playoffs. I stayed to watch the Cup presentation, and I made it through most of the Pens' turns with it before I had to shut it off. (Random side note: Why did it take so long for it to get to Malkin? I'm just saying. It was weird, what with him being the MVP and all.) Then I took my dog for a long walk around the park. I realize that going for a walk alone in the middle of the night with only the world's most cowardly puppy to accompany you probably isn't the best thing for a female to do, but I needed to be alone and outdoors. And at that point, if someone wanted to stab me and hide my body in the bushes, well, I wouldn't have put up much of a fight anyway. It was only when I got home and took my shoes off that I realized I had done serious damage to my foot, and couldn't walk without shoes. So that was fun. Then I pulverized an entire package of Oreos with a meat tenderizer. This sounds irrationally aggressive, but I had reasons, and it would've happened win or lose. It's actually not a bad way to relieve stress. If you have some spare Oreos laying around, I recommend trying this.

My dog began the game gnawing on her squeaky penguin chew toy. I thought it might be a good omen. Even more promising was Darren Helm speeding into Pittsburgh's zone to negate an icing early on. For a while, it seemed like that set the tone. The Wings pressed early, but then the Pens took over around the 10-minute mark and never let up for the next 20 minutes. I spent a significant portion of the first period jumping up and down on my couch and screaming. The PK scared the living daylights out of me. I thought for sure that the puck was going to end up behind Ozzie when the Pens had possession for such a long time. They managed to kill it off, and I started to wonder if maybe it was a statement kill like in Game 5. It turned out to be more like a carbon copy of Game 6, though.

The Datsyuk-Zetterberg-Cleary line looked particularly good early on. They were really the only bright spot for the Wings. Even Darren Helm looked like he was dragging a little. Lidstrom made a bunch of straight-up solid defensive plays that, of course, flew under the radar.

Does anybody know why the icing was negated right before the first goal? I would go back and look at my DVR recording, but I'm not in a place where I'm ready to look at any of it.

The Wings gave up three goals on ugly 2-on-1s during this series. Just when they figured out their PK woes, that issue reared its ugly head. In the Stanley Cup Finals, no less. Honestly, for the first 40 minutes, it looked like they were playing a game in mid-November.

On a side note, did anyone else fully expect Crosby to not miss a single shift after his injury? I seriously thought he was just putting on a show to sell it to the refs, just like so many other times. I have to say, though, there was actually a moment when I respected him just a smidge when he came and sat on the bench with his team and even attempted to take a shift. That all evaporated when I realized that I'll be spending at least the next three seasons being inundated with marketing featuring his smug face with the Stanley Cup. On the other hand, maybe next year, the NHL marketing team will make an ad featuring a guy in a Lidstrom jersey cheering to all of the Wings highlights. Wait, who am I kidding?

It was also really nice of Homer to negate their first powerplay by taking a stupid penalty. I know the man puts up with a lot in front of the net (and was apparently playing hurt), but Game 7 of the SCF is no time to be screwing around.

After they went down 2-0, I sat back and relaxed. I'll admit that I lost the faith. Deep down, I knew it after the first goal, but after they were down by two, I started cutting my losses emotionally. I began to feel nauseous. I sniped at the players. I criticized their every move. I yelled frantic instructions as if they could actually hear me or would listen to me if they did hear. I predicted that they were going to get shut out in their own building in Game 7. The only thing keeping me from going absolutely crazy-nutso and dropping language like I was in a Quentin Tarantino film was the fact that I was watching with my little brother.

I knew that the Wings needed a goal by the end of the period if they were going to make a game of it. Datsyuk looked like he was trying to do everything himself. This spawned an instantly legendary quote from yours truly when I screamed, "Pavel, assists are yummy!" in an attempt to get him to pass the puck. When the Wings were still scoreless after two, I knew it was over. I just did. Maybe some will say that that makes me less of a fan, but hidden beneath my obsessive Wings fandom is a fairly rational mind. Also joining the ranks of legendary hockey quotes was my brother's response to my screaming, "How was that NOT a penalty?! How do you not call that?" He said, "He can't call those penalties. Gary Bettman has his children." So you pretty much know that that one's going to be tossed around for a long while.

When the third period started, I said that they needed to score within the first three minutes if they wanted to have a chance. I found myself wishing for that which I dread most: overtime. They got a couple of powerplay opportunities, but they didn't even look good. I'm not sure what that's about, but you had better believe that I'm going to drive myself to Hasek-like levels of insanity trying to figure it out over the summer.

Then, like in Game 6, the Wings scored. My brother and I shared an awkward moment where we actually hugged each other. We're still not sure what was going through our minds at that moment, but I suspect it wasn't much at all. It was just enough to give us hope, but it was too little, too late.

The last few minutes of the game nearly killed me, as evidenced by my tragic toe injury. There was actually a moment when I thought that maybe it would be the Wings' own little form of payback for Game 5 last year. I prefer not to speak of the post. Or that moment when Lidstrom swooped in on the loose puck sitting just to the right of MAF as time wound down. Those images will haunt my memory for the rest of my life, I assume in the same way that Pens fans are tormented by the picture of the puck sliding through Ozzie's crease as the last seconds ticked off of the clock in Game 6 last year.

Right now all I want to do is rip on the Wings. There are any number of points of criticism which I could detail right now, but what really hurts the most is that they once again failed to show up for the first half of a game. I realize that I should be jaded to this problem at this point in the season, given that it's been a major plot line since October, but I honestly expected better from my boys in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals. When they finally release the full injury list, it had better be longer than Santa's if they want to use that as an excuse.

The Wings had the Pens down and out. They had 2-0 and 3-2 series leads, and each time, they failed to seal the deal. It came down to the simple fact that the Pens wanted it more. And that depresses me more than a loss following a stellar effort by the Wings ever would have. Going into the game, I had a terrible paranoia that the Cup would be decided by some fluky bounce that bounced off of three skates, the post and someone's pants or a bad call or a poorly-timed broken stick. I was wrong. It was decided by a team that came out and played its game in our building and left everything it had on the ice.

Am I proud of the boys? Maybe after a few days of reflection, I'll find some positive things to say. Objectively speaking, two consecutive trips to the SCF in the salary cap era is something most fans would be ecstatic about. I just can't shake the feeling that they let us down. When things were on the line, it just seemed like they couldn't be bothered to show up. Maybe it was partially due to injuries, maybe they ran out of gas, maybe it was just fate. But the bottom line is, the guys who rise above all of that and find a way to get the job done are the ones who get to spend the summer partying. If you can't get up for Game 7 of the Finals, then you don't deserve to win anyway.

I'll have more in the future. I'm going camping tomorrow, so I'll be offline for a while, which might not be the worst thing in the world. But I've got some stuff planned, and I'll be right here for the summer. Here's to a hell of a run. I needed this, even if it almost killed me. More importantly, here's to next season. May the Hockey Gods be with you.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Night of A Thousand Heart Attacks...

I know I said I was done until the game was, but it turns out that I just can't stay away.

2.5 hours until game time. How's your day been? So far, my biggest accomplishment has been forming coherent sentences. I lost count of my near-death heart stoppages once I hit triple digits at approximately noon.

There was a moment earlier in the day when I felt a tinge of jealousy for those "fans of the sport" who had no vested interest in the outcome of Game 7 and just wanted to see a good game. I thought how nice it would be to casually tune in and enjoy it with a blissful sense of detachment, sans life threatening blood pressure issues. Then I snapped out of it faster than a Nick Lidstrom slapper from the point. I realized that this is what I live for. This is how I get my kicks. It's like my own special version of the runner's high. So what if it's literally melting years off of my life expectancy as I type this very sentence? Without days like these, moments like running down Woodward in an early June rainstorm wearing my brand new Cup t-shirt, my hair still shedding confetti from the Joe, screaming at the top of my lungs last year would have no meaning. (It's also important to note that while I was doing this, I was stone-cold sober. I think it provides a better perspective on the effect that the Wings have on my emotional state.)

What really strikes me the most is the finality of it all. I've never been in a situation where I know that it's the absolute last game of the season. There have been games when I expected the season to be over, but it was never a sure thing. Even in the Game 7s I've lived through in the past, there was always wondering when the next round would start if the Wings won or clearing my schedule for the next game a couple of days down the road. I'm not sure I like finality. I'm one of those people who likes to keep my options open and make plans on the fly. This is an entirely new experience for me. May the Hockey Gods help us all.

Going into Game 7, there's very little that I know for sure. And I don't just mean related to hockey. I don't think I could even tell you my home address at this point. I am, however, 100% positive about these things:
-The Joe will be absolutely crazy-nutso tonight, if it isn't already. I wouldn't be surprised if banners start falling from the rafters before the opening faceoff, like some kind of red and white rain of triumph.
-At the end of the game I will be crying, regardless of the outcome. They'll either be tears of joy or sadness, plus a little relief from having survived the ordeal at all. I'm not the slightest bit ashamed to admit this.
-Careers will be defined tonight, one way or another. There are guys on both sides who stand to cement their legacies with a victory tonight, and some who may be made eternal goats if they fail to show up to play.
-My puppy is going to be cowering in a corner before the first intermission. If she can escape the headlock I'm going to have her in, that is.
-The neighbors (if they don't already) are going to question my sanity thanks to my tendency to scream at the top of my lungs. A lot. If they thought Game 7 against Anaheim was obnoxious, they have no idea what's in store for them now.
-These guys will decide which city gets to party: Henrik Zetterberg, Chris Osgood, Nick Lidstrom, Pavel Datsyuk, Marian Hossa, Johan Franzen, Darren Helm, Evegeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby, Jordan Staal, Rob Scuderi, Marc-Andre Fleury, Paul Devorski, and Bill McCreary.

Yeah, I literally have nothing else to say. Somewhere, Dan Bylsma is finishing off his imported lucky burrito. I hope the man enjoys it, because it's been my experience that burritos are not meant to be reheated. I'm too nervous to eat dinner, so I'm going to go commence my traditional fetal position/nausea/bartering with the Hockey Gods routine until it's time for my pre-game Slurpee run. If I never post again, it's fairly safe to assume that the game killed me.

Friday June 12th, 2009...

The last 48 hours have been pretty rough. I'm not ashamed to admit that. But it's nothing compared to what tomorrow's going to be like. Got a barf bag? Better take it to work with you. Co-workers, customers, clients beware. This is not the day to mess with a Wings fan.

Road rage? Check. Irrational outbursts? Check. Random fits of sobbing? Check. Inability to control basic bodily functions? Check. Nothing is out of line tomorrow. People who don't understand may judge you. It doesn't matter. One way or another, barring a cruel, cruel torment by the Hockey Gods, it will all be over in less than 24 hours.

At this point, I really have nothing left to say. And that's the way it should be. It doesn't make a bit of difference what I want or what I do. This game's going to be decided out on the ice based on which team wants it more. It's already been demonstrated that both teams are capable of winning when they show up and play their game. All we can do is hope that the Wings are the ones who bring it at 8pm. Not 8:30 or 8:45. They need to be firing on all cylinders right from the opening faceoff. There simply is no other option. There's no tomorrow. Nothing to save their energy for. It's do or die or ten million other sports cliches and it's in their hands now.

I know a lot of people hate the Wings. On some level, I even understand it. It's for the same reasons that everyone seems to hate the Yankees. But everyone outside of Pittsburgh should be rooting for the Wings to win. Why, you ask? Because if the Wings fail, every single hockey fan is going to have to endure at least 3 seasons of being inundated with commercials showing Sidney Crosby hoisting the Cup. Remember how much you hated that stupid commercial with the Pens fan and the penalty box TV? It would be 1000 times worse. Every single time you sat down to watch a hockey game. There's no way you could escape it. It's been fairly well demonstrated that if the Wings win, you won't be forced to relive their victory five thousand times over the course of the next few years. It's something to think about, even if it makes me gag a little bit.

Over the last couple of days, I've been having periodic moments of terror in which I envision the Penguins winning. There are many reasons for this. Chief among them is the fact that weird things happen in Game 7s. The thought of the Stanley Cup being decided by a point shot that deflects off of three skates and someone's pants or one bad call or a turnover or a broken stick scares the living daylights out of me. It's part of what makes hockey such a compelling sport to watch, but it's no fun at all if you have a vested interest in one of the teams involved. And I haven't even mentioned Malkin yet. I don't care that he hasn't been putting up points the last couple of games. Every time the man touches the puck, I start to cry. There's also the Wings inexplicable failures on both sides of the special teams equation. I'd go more in depth on that aspect, but there's really nothing left to say, and I'm pretty sure you'd have to be as loony as Dominik Hasek to make sense of it anyway.

And then, occasionally, I have moments in which I envision a Wings victory and all of the glorious fun that would accompany it. I push those images out of my mind as quickly than Darren Helm chasing down a loose puck, lest I somehow offend the Hockey Gods with my presumptuousness. There are many reasons to feel confident, but let's face it, I've woken up with a bad feeling and sense of paranoia every single game day since April (Man, that seems like a long time ago.). The Joe's been good to the Wings during this postseason. Also, it helps that the game's not being played on Tuesday. (They've had 5 Tuesday night games that conflicted with my softball team's games, and they're 1-4, with the only victory coming on the day I didn't play because I was at the Joe.) Then there is Chris Osgood. And Henrik Zetterberg. And Nicklas Lidstrom. And Pavel Datsyuk. So there's reason to believe. I just refuse to allow myself to get my hopes up, because that inevitably leads to crushing despair.

Other random thoughts:
-I refuse to read the Freep tomorrow on account of being terrified of what Drew Sharp might have to say.
-Now that most people think the Pens have the edge, maybe the Wings will play well. They seem to do their best when everyone counts them out. (See Games 1, 2, and 5.)
-Mike Babcock continues to be a press conference all-star.
-There are a couple of good interviews here. Although the part in the Babcock one where the interviewer points out that the Wings have lost 3 out of the last 4 games almost made me vomit. So be prepared for that.
-It will be a miracle if I survive tomorrow.

And finally, since it seemed to work before Game 5, a cut and paste from my pre-game post:

Hockey Gods, if you're listening, just about anything is up for grabs. My car, my Scotty Bowman bobblehead, my soul, my rally rag/security blanket from last year. My Steve Yzerman jersey stays with me, but you're free to claim dibs on my firstborn child, if you're interested.

Heck, now that it's Game 7, I'll throw in the jersey plus Nick Lidstrom's used beer bottle. That's everything I have to give. It's actually kind of sad to consider the fact that most of my prized possessions are related to the Wings. I feel like this would be less weird if I were male, but it is what it is, and I can't help who I am.

Nothing pre-game tomorrow, unless something major comes up. I'll see you on the flip side. One way or another, I'll probably be crying. Joy or despair? Only the Hockey Gods know for sure.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Nothing Good...

So it turns out that only mustering three shots on goal in the first period is not a good way to win the Stanley Cup. Who knew? Also, there's apparently something about Mellon Arena that's like Red Wing kryptonite. It looks like Drew Sharp got his wish

I'm back in that valley of despair that inevitably follows any playoff loss. This one just seems worse than usual. It's worse than Game 5 last year, worse than Game 6 of the Anaheim series, worse than when our hamster died. This is just my way of saying that this is going to be another post filled with excessively angry attacks on my boys. Also, I'm never, ever going back to the Hockeytown Cafe for a Finals game again. The Wings are 0-3 when I'm in attendance during the Finals, and I want no part of it.

The afternoon started out fairly well. We visited the Spirit of Detroit statue and met this guy:

We're pretty sure that wasn't water in his bottle there, but I liked his spirit. And he made us laugh. We were pretty sad when he skateboarded away down Jefferson leaving us alone with a homeless dude who wanted us to take his picture. Then we headed over to Hockeytown and almost didn't get in. They closed for capacity at 7. The evening was pretty much all downhill from that point. We should've taken it as an omen and headed over to Cheli's.

The Stanley Cup was in the building tonight. It was within their reach. And they didn't show up to take it. It was entirely up to them to decide whether they wanted it or not, but apparently they hadn't made up their minds yet.

The first few minutes seemed alright. There were good chances both ways, and neither team seemed to have momentum. Then Zetterberg got called for goalie interference. While the call wasn't as obnoxiously bad as the one against Hudler in Game 7 of the Anaheim series, it was clearly a joke. Although I have to say that the part where Z was literally swinging from the crossbar was fairly amusing.

The rest of the first period was not worth mentioning. I didn't see the play that resulted in Pittsburgh's powerplay, thanks to NBC not bothering to replay the incident, so I don't really have much insight on it. When the Wings killed it off, I started wondering if maybe it was another statement, like the kill at the beginning of Game 5. However, the Wings finished the first having been outshot 12-3. While that stat hides a few good chances that the Wings just sent wide or had blocked, it's still pathetic. They were extremely lucky to survive the first period tied at zero. You can only live dangerously like that for so long until it comes back to bite you.

It seems like whenever the Wings get the media behind them, where everyone's praising them and saying that their victory is inevitable, they play like crap. Maybe we should be glad that the media outside of Detroit seem to anticipate failure at every turn.

It was during a commercial break near the end of the first that I looked around at the crowd in the City Theater and realized that it felt a little bit like a support group. Like AA for Wings fans or something. It didn't do me a whole lot of good, but it felt nice.

After the Pens scored at the beginning of the second, I started mentally preparing myself for Game 7. I knew that things were far from over, but the Wings just didn't look good. They showed a little bit more spark in the second, but it wasn't enough. There were a few pretty obvious interference calls that could/should have been made against the Pens. Even the NBC guys were pointing them out, so you know they were flagrant. When the national guys are going against Crosby and his annointed buddies, it's pretty safe to assume that the refs are screwing things up. Considering how much success the powerplay had during Game 5, it would've been nice to have seen it get a chance to go to work before the third period.

The Wings looked pretty good at the start of the third, but it was too little too late. Giving up the second goal was a backbreaker. I had pretty much resigned myself to three days of agony at that point. Then Kris Draper scored and gave me hope. I have to say that the Hockeytown crowd was incredible from this point on. The City Theater went nuts, and the chants started right back up. The powerplays were insane. (Is it bad that I really, really wanted Drapes to be bleeding when he got high-sticked? The rational side of me says that there's something very wrong with hoping for a man who you adore to stand up with his face looking like a red fountain, but I was seriously calling on the Hockey Gods to cause his face to start gushing.) Everyone in the theater stood for the last two minutes of the game. I don't care that the Joe didn't sell out during the regular season. The crowds and fans during the playoffs have been fantastic.

During the first half of the game, the turnovers and lack of intensity that have plagued the Wings since October came back to bite them. I thought they had worked that out of their system after Game 5, but it turns out that I was sadly mistaken. They threw everything they had at the Pens during the third period, but it just wasn't enough to overcome the hole they had dug for themselves.

Datsyuk, Helm, and Zetterberg played like crazy men again. Zetterberg, in particular, was brilliant on that play where his stick broke and he smacked the puck out of the zone as he dove to the ice. It was a relatively minor play and could easily go unnoticed, but it's just another example of how hard the man's working to win the Stanley Cup. It looked like something right out of the Steve Yzerman playbook. It might sound trite, but I just don't see Sidney Crosby making that play. And everyone knows that but for Ozzie, this score wouldn't have been close. On the Pens' side, Rob Scuderi just earned his place on the list of hockey players who make me shudder. I was surrounded by 300 people jumping up and down and screaming the the last minute of the third. I was pretty sure that the floor was going to collapse, and it all would've been his fault.

The most frustrating part of the first half of the game was that I could see the Wings doing the exact same things they had been doing during Games 3 and 4. They were making pretty passes, but only taking perimeter shots. They were "one and done" as Mike Babcock likes to say, whereas Pittsburgh was consistently able to establish control in the zone and get several chances. The Wings weren't driving to the net until the third period. It's been proven over and over again: if you get traffic in front of MAF, you will have success. Plain and simple. Eventually, you're going to get a juicy rebound that even a toddler could smack into the net.

Also, during the second intermission, the NBC guy who was doing the "you be the coach" thing was way intense. It was like he was yelling at us through the screen. We felt like we should go sit in a corner after his little rant.

Now it's down to one game to decide who gets the Stanley Cup. It's winner-take-all, and I don't like it one bit. Over the next couple of days, I'm going to age approximately 37 years. I normally would have more to say, but everyone knows what Game 7 means. Also, I'm not in a very happy place right now, and I'm going to try to sleep tonight without having nightmares of Sidney Crosby hoisting the Cup.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

We'll Know Soon Enough...

There isn't really much to say today. Everything meaningful's been covered by the players and other bloggers. I really have very little of consequence to add.

If you read nothing else today, read this. The Chief sums it up better than I ever could. And if the part about Dominik Hasek doesn't make you laugh, then you either have no sense of humor or you're a good-for-nothing bandwagon fan. Either way, please leave.

It sounds as though everyone on the Wings is good to go tonight. As important as it was to get Datsyuk back for Game 5, it means so much more heading into a road game. Even though he and Z are playing on the same line, his presence has a trickle down effect that makes every line combo better top to bottom. This is especially important with the Pens getting the last change. On a side note, I don't think I've ever heard so much about the importance of getting the last line change as I have in this series. Ditto on the JLA boards. Can we please find something else to talk about? Or just sit in pleasant silence and let the players do the talking?

The key to the game, other than the standard platitude about getting off to a good start is going to be special teams, special teams, special teams. Why? All you need to do is look at Games 4 and 5. If you can't figure it out, please join those who didn't laugh at the Chief's bit on Hasek and leave. One of the big moments in Game 5, although it flew under the radar what with the Wings' offensive show and Pittsburgh's penalty "troubles," was that first PK when Kronwall (once again) got whistled for an early penalty (seriously, he's turning into this year's Jiri Hudler). Naturally, I was terrified, sure that it spelled doom for my boys, but they put together a wonderful kill and kept the Pens off the board. Not long after that, Cleary put the Wings ahead for good. Those are the little things that win championships. The things that have been sadly missing for much of the season this year. If we're lucky, the boys will show up for Game 6 with the determination and drive that they need to win.

This is major gut-check time for Marian Hossa. He needs to come out and play like a man possessed. I can guarantee you that he doesn't want to spend the rest of his life second-guessing his decision to come to Detroit. Two assists in Game 5 were nice, but I want more. I want the boos to rain down on him as he holds his hands up in celebration. I want his name called over their PA system multiple times, again to a chorus of boos. But most of all, I want him holding a shiny silver trophy over his head at the end of the night as a deafening round of boos rain down again. And if he plays like he did in last year's finals, his chances are going to be a hole lot better.

My anxiety level is increasing exponentially as game time gets closer and closer. I'm heading down to Hockeytown to watch the game tonight, and all day I've been replaying memories of filing out of the City Theater in the middle of the night after Game 5 last year. It's silly, because I've been there a handful of times since, but it was a traumatic incident in my life and it's going to stay with me for a while.

Speaking of Game 5 last year, rumor has it that Petr Sykora might be suiting up for the Pens tonight. While we all still shudder at the mention of Maxime Talbot's name or the number 34.7, it's often overlooked that Sykora was the one who scored the OT goal. And not only that, but he called his shot to Pierre McGuire. This still makes me nauseous. I'm not saying that he's in for a repeat performance, but dragging myself through those memories is not something I need to be doing at this particular moment.

The bottom line is that if the Wings want it, it's theirs to take. If they show up and play their game to the best of their ability, there's not a team in the world who can stop them. On the other hand, if they play like they did in Games 3 and 4 (and, really, stretches of 1 and 2), then it's going to be ugly.

PS. Dear Hockey Gods,
I've already promised you my first-born child, so now I'm offering up the second-born. Screw it, take 'em all. I just want Stanley.