Lockout Over: Hockey Fans Everywhere Rejoice!

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“So you’re saying there’s a chance?” asked Lloyd Christmas.  That’s a special feeling Lloyd.  However, It’s far better than one in a million which is a surprise because a few weeks ago it looked to be impossible.

In the wee hours of the morning on January 6, 2013, Gary Bettman announced to hockey enthusiasts everywhere that the National Hockey League will lace up the skates and hit the ice.  In cities like Boston, Detroit, Montreal, Toronto, New York, and Chicago fans will be rushing to StubHub and arena box offices to get their hands on tickets, despite the grudge against the owners.  However, in markets like Phoenix, Columbus, Carolina, and Florida most people probably shad no idea there was even a lockout at all.

The season is rumored to be underway on January 15th or 19th sending the shortened season into an interesting schedule conflict.  In fact, the East and the West will not face each other until the Stanley Cup Finals.  The most likely scenario is that each team will play the majority of their regular season games within the division while playing some home-and-home match-ups to round out the regular season.  My league source predicted that the Stanley Cup Champion this year will most likely come out of the East due to the heavy travel that will be required in the Western Conference in such a consolidated amount of time.

What does this mean for the Boston Bruins?  They may very well benefit the most from this debacle.  They had the most players playing in Europe of any NHL team and the majority of their roster has played together the last couple seasons.  Fairly fresh legs, and everyone knows each other.  The major question mark is the goaltending.  With Tim Thomas taking a year off in his bomb shelter in Colorado many are asking if Tuukka Rask is ready to take over the crease full time.  I’m president of the Tuukka fan club so, I will always say yes and have been waiting for this moment since 2006. However, there are many in New England who will argue otherwise just because the whole team collapsed in front of Rask in the 2010 playoffs against Philadelphia blowing a 3-0 series lead.

Another question about the Bruins is 1st round draft pick, defenseman Doug Hamilton.  It’ll be interesting to see if the Bruins elect to keep him for the shortened season or send him back to Juniors after his 9 game trial to avoid using up a contract year for the promising youngster.

Here’s how the roster looks at the moment (line condos subject to change):

Forwards:

Lucic–Bergeron–Seguin

Marchand–Krejci–Horton

(Caron/Spooner/Knight/Bourque)–Kelly–Peverly

Paille–Campbell–Thornton

Defensemen:

Chara–Boychuck

Ference–Seidenberg

McQuaid–Johnson (Hamilton)

Goaltenders:

Rask

Khudobin

I, myself, will probably not attend a game in person this year unless i’m given a free ticket.  However, the players have my full support.  It’s Jacobs and the owners around the league that I despise.  If you do go the Garden this season please support the players, management, and arena employees.  When you see Jeremy Jacobs, Donald Fehr, or Gary Bettman be sure to curse and boo at them until their tail gets tucked between their legs.  They’re the one’s that messed things up for all of us.

DROP THE PUCK!!!

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Bruins Snag 2OT Thriller

So there it is.  Haters go home.  We don’t need your down 0-2 negativity.  Tonight, and for the last three games really, the Bruins played like an actual playoff hockey team and came away with a 2-1 double overtime victory against the much hated Montreal Canadiens at The Garden.  This is one of those games that you look at and see why this team is playoff worthy.  Last game, they were able to keep up with a high scoring affair and this time, the high-end defensive pressure-packed game.

Brad Marchand looked like he has been playing in playoff games in the NHL for years.  He was making crisp passes, in the lanes he needed to be in, and just grinded every shift out.  Both goals for the Bruins for garbage goals but, the way that these goaltenders were playing it was the only way and rubber was crossing a goal line.

Tim Thomas didn’t look un-easy at all tonight for the first time in playoff game that I can remember.  I think it’s finally the time that we can tell Michael Felger that Thomas stole a game for the Bruins.  That save that he made in the second overtime where he had to sprawl to his left and flash the pad left me (and scottie) leaping off the couch.  Those are the kinds of saves that keep teams alive.

Game 6 is in Montreal on Tuesday.  All fans are welcome to enjoy this recent success but, for the ones that poo-pooed the Bruins when they went down 0-2, the criticism was deserved but shame on you for jumping of the playoff parade.  This is a big night from Boston hockey.  However, the series is not over and this team has a ways to go before we can all finally exhale.

GO BRUINS!!!

More Proof That The League Hates Matt Cooke

Matt Cooke continues to be a cheap shot artist and his repertoire does occasionally come back to bite him.  There are a few things that I’d like to point out.

1. Matt Bradley probably wouldn’t have went after just any body with their head down there.  Chances are he would have went in for a hit but kept it pretty tame and done just enough to rub Player X off of the puck.  Instead, he noticed it was Cooke with his head down and lined him up.  The hit was possibly worthy of a charging call (not sure if there were penalties handed out or not) but either way this was well deserved.

2. Even the Penguins didn’t really want to stick up for Cooke.  Jordan Staal went at Bradley and just kind of laid on top of him.  Staal must have realized he had to make it look like he was sticking up for his teammate but clearly knew Cooke had a hit like that coming.

3.  I love how Matt Cooke got up with that “what the hell?!” look.  Most goons like him are definitely the ‘dish it out but can’t take it’ type.  I also love how Scott Hannan jumped in and pretty much told Cooke to just back off because everything was over.

Thank you for your services Matt Bradley.  The NHL and fans alike approve of your actions.

Bruins Make Pre-Trade Deadline Splash

Earlier today the Boston Bruins made a pair of deals to help net them the puck-moving defenseman they were looking to acquire in Tomas Kaberle (Toe-mahs Cab-ur-lay).  The Bruins were able to shed some baby fat and beef up their line-up in preparation for their playoff run.  Here is a breakdown of the deals…

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To Boston: Kaberle (D)

To Toronto: Joe Colborne (C), 2011 1st rnd pick

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To Boston: Rich Peverley (C), Boris Valabik (D)

To Atlanta: Blake Wheeler (F), Mark Stuart (D)

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So, what does all this mean?  Plain and simple the Bruins got better.  They have a veteran who makes an excellent first pass out of his defensive zone to start the rush, they got rid of Blake “I can’t hit the net” Wheeler, and they gave up a defenseman in Mark Stuart who was struggling to crack the line-up the last few weeks after returning from injury.  The center they picked up from Atlanta has won 55 percent of his faceoffs this year and has very good speed.  He’s also scouted as someone who has a very quick wrist shot and someone who likes to shoot as often as possible.

The Bruins also picked up center Chris Kelly from Ottawa the other night for a second round draft pick.  Kelly is very similar to what Greg Campbell brings to the table.

This team is definitely better but, are they a cup contender?  I don’t feel it.  They need a sure-fire sniper on the top line if they want to do any damage past the second round of the playoffs.  This team will need a full effort night in and night out if they want any chance of making a run.  Either way, I’m excited about the direction the front office has put this team in.

Savard Shelved For Season

From ESPN Boston:  Today the Boston Bruins and Marc Savard announced that the 33 year-old center will be put on long term injured reserve (LTIR) which will leave him out for the remainder of the season and any playoff games the Bruins would play.  The announcement came today during a press conference with teammates Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, and Mark Recchi present.

“I think when that hit happened against Colorado, I said to [athletic trainer Don DelNegro], ‘Why? Why again?'” Savard recalled. “So it’s tough. I guess things happen in hockey. It’s a fast game and it’s something that I’ll just have to get over.”

The decision made was an expected one and has created some interesting talk over the past week or so.  What should the Bruins due with the newly opened cap space now that Savard is officially out for the season.  I’m in the mindset that there is a couple things they need to do.  If you go with common thought, you’d think the Bruins now have $4 Million to spend now.  However, after reading Matt Kalman’s article it has made things a little more difficult on the mind.  If you click on the article you’ll discover that they can’t spend all of that cap space because of performance bonuses of other players on the team (Tyler Seguin, Steven Kampfer, and Recchi).

So, I’m going to throw out a hypothetical question here….

From ESPN Boston: A Hockey Purist’s Dream

This is an article about UMass graduate Scott Crowder.  Many people from around the country (including myself) will be playing in this tournament this coming weekend.  It’s an epic weekend of hockey, beer, a small town, friends, and strangers sharing a common bond, a love for the roots of the game of hockey.

Stop by any pond hockey tournament, and you’ll witness a frosty tableau of giddy, puck-loving weekend warriors reliving glory days, enjoying the great outdoors and knocking back a few carbonated beverages. Draw composite pictures of those players, and the images would break into two distinct camps. First is the grizzled 35-year-old or 40-plus hockey veteran, who grew up on the ponds, with a quaint beer belly stretching his jersey but still with good wheels and a good idea of how to use them. The second is the under-30 player raised on indoor ice, drawn more by the sheer novelty of the event.

That’s what roughly 500 participants and another 1,500 or so spectators found on the seven “rinks” that dotted New Hampshire’s Lake Winnipesaukee during the inaugural New England Pond Hockey Championships on a sun-splattered weekend last winter. At the center of this perfect pond hockey storm, corralling these two disparate groups, was a 24-year-old University of Massachusetts graduate, Scott Crowder.

“We had guys who played for Stanley Cups and we had guys who didn’t even play high school hockey,” Crowder said. “I think the common theme is getting together with four or five or six buddies, coming up and having a weekend, playing a little pond hockey, drinking some beers and having some laughs with some friends.

“People are still talking about last year and the experiences they had last year. That’s something I want to capture.”

[+] EnlargePond Hockey Classic  

PondHockeyClassic.comThe Pond Hockey Classic attracts the over-40 beer-leaguer and the younger hotshot intrigued by the challenge of outdoor ice.What Crowder captured was the imaginations of hockey players from coast-to-coast. Though the majority of the participants in the inaugural Pond Hockey Classic came from Greater Boston and Southern New Hampshire, Crowder said he also had teams from Chicago, Colorado, California, Utah and all along the Eastern Seaboard from as far as Florida. The event was such a success that this past fall Crowder received the Lakes Region Association’s Tourism Award, recognizing “an individual or business that has made a difference during the past year to bring visitors into the Lakes Region and Central New Hampshire.” 

“There were two reasons I wanted to do the tournament,” Crowder said. “One was to give the hockey community of the region a big-time pond hockey tournament to call their own. Plus, I also wanted to bring people into the Lakes Region in the winter time, because I know those businesses could definitely use it, and it worked out.”

Turns out, Crowder was the right guy to bring everyone together, even if he’s half the age (or less) than many of the participants. Most players, frankly, resemble his father. Bruce Crowder is a University of New Hampshire graduate who played 248 regular-season and playoff games for the Boston Bruins from 1981 to 1984 (51 goals, 48 assists, 99 points) before embarking on a college coaching career that included three seasons at the helm of UMass-Lowell and nine as Northeastern’s bench boss. But the elder Crowder knew his youngest son, a sports management major at UMass, had the right mix of entrepreneurial spirit and sweat equity to make the Pond Hockey Classic a winner.

“He’s not married, he doesn’t have any commitments, he doesn’t have a mortgage, so he could be a little carefree,” Bruce Crowder said of his son. “But the thing that really worked for him is that he’s a kid who thinks outside the box.”

In 16 months, Scott Crowder has laid claim to the title of New England’s Pond Hockey Impresario. This year, he and his event staff — consisting of sports management interns from Southern New Hampshire University and Plymouth State College — will be running three tournaments over the first three weekends in February, starting with the 2nd annual New England Pond Hockey Classic in Meredith, N.H., on Feb. 4-6.

The following weekend, on Feb. 12, Crowder is running the one-day, 32-team Monarchs Pond Hockey Classic at Dorr’s Pond in Manchester, N.H., on behalf of the Los Angeles Kings’ AHL affiliate, the Manchester Monarchs. Then, Feb. 18-20, Crowder is hosting the Lake Champlain Pond Hockey Classic in Burlington, Vt., which can handle upward of 70 teams.

All the games feature teams playing 4-on-4 in two 15-minute running time halves with no nets and no goaltenders. The target is actually two mini-goals, each with a 6-by-12 inch opening, connected by an 18-inch pipe. Last year, Crowder used wooden boxes with roughly the same dimensions, but the tournament proved so popular that he had to buy the pre-fabricated goals produced by Nice Rink.

“I’m extremely passionate about the sport of hockey, and I love hockey in the pure forms,” Crowder said. “Sometimes the game gets carried away; it’s become a circus at all levels. [The outdoor game is] how a lot of people played growing up. When you see the passion that these guys have when they’re out there — there’s no structure, there’s no whistles, there’s no horns, there’s no time — this is just pure. It’s raw.”

Last year’s inaugural event on Lake Winnipesaukee was an unqualified success, exceeding all of Crowder’s expectations. Crowder brought in 77 teams and could have had more than 100. He also got lucky with the weather, as Mother Nature delivered an ideal winter weekend.

“Last year, we proved ourselves. This year we can’t have a sophomore slump,” he says. “I could grow it to 250 this year, if I wanted to. But I’d rather have 150 teams leaving saying they had a great time, instead of 250 saying that we sold out, or that it was shoddy.”

This year’s New England Pond Hockey Classic sold out last June, and as of the second weekend in January Crowder had a wait list of some 90 teams. That makes sense. He has a terrific location and the perfect commodity — one that attracts old and young. For the over-40 beer-leaguer, it’s the nostalgia. For those younger than 40, who grew up playing indoors on the pristine sheets, it’s the originality of outdoor ice.

[+] EnlargePong Hockey Net  

PondHockeyClassic.comThere are no nets or goaltenders in pond hockey but rather two mini-goals, each with a 6-by-12 inch opening, connected by an 18-inch pipe.

“Even when I coached at Northeastern or UMass-Lowell, I’d try to get my teams to go out and skate on the ponds,” Bruce Crowder said. “One year, we took all the kids down to the Frog Pond in Boston. It was a Sunday and we did the whole skates-over-the-sticks thing. They put four teams together and we had little games going, but I was amazed at the number of kids who came up to me and said, ‘Coach, thanks. I’d never skated outside before.'”

However, Bruce Crowder’s son wasn’t one of those kids. Scott Crowder was a rink rat, but he was also a pond rat. Any sheet of ice was a good reason to lace up the skates. Crowder grew up in Nashua, N.H., and was always looking for friends to skate with, inside or out.

“My best friend had a house in Windham [N.H.], and his dad built a phenomenal backyard rink,” Scott Crowder said. “We’d go right from hockey practice in high school to the backyard rink and we’d play into the night. He had lights and music; he had heaters; a bonfire pit. It was heaven. We’d be out there cleaning it off before the first snowflake hit.”

That high school buddy, Chris MacPhee, is still one of Crowder’s closest friends.

“Scott was the kid always trying to make stuff happen, even on the weekends during the hockey season,” said the 24-year-old MacPhee, who played at St. Anselm College in Manchester. “There was this park in Nashua, called Roby Park, and they had a little skating rink, and Scott was always trying to organize pond hockey games there.

“And then I had a rink in my backyard. And even though it was my rink, Scott was always trying to get kids to come over there and play.”

Crowder’s dad sees a direct lineage between his son’s early pickup skates and his role today as a tournament coordinator.

“He was always the kid who was organizing the street hockey game and calling people to play roller hockey, like it was when I was growing up, neighborhood kids getting together,” Bruce Crowder said. “Now, they don’t do that.

“In general, how many kids do you just see outside, period? Whether they get five kids together to play soccer or hoops, you just don’t see that stuff anymore. It’s part of the environment we live in, where parents say, ‘I can’t let Johnny outside, somebody might abduct him,’ or something crazy thing like that. We were never that way. I think that’s why he gets the flavor of both groups.”

The Pond Hockey Classic relies on a simple formula: Get a decent sheet of ice and a bunch of guys together, and drop the puck. The concept is so simple, Scott Crowder said that many would-be entrepreneurs have told him they had the same idea.

“And I tell them, ‘That’s great, but I’m the one doing it,'” he said.

The idea took shape in the summer of 2009, when the newly minted graduate was working on the waters of Lake Winnipesaukee ferrying visitors around the lake or giving water skiing and wake boarding lessons. However, the weather didn’t always cooperate that summer, giving Crowder plenty of down time to consider other ventures.

“I was just thinking, it’d be really neat if there was a pond hockey tournament here,” Crowder said. “The lake freezes solid; the town has hotels and restaurants; people know the area; it’s close to Boston. I had no idea [it would be so successful], I didn’t plan that. It was probably the first of July when the idea popped into my head & ‘Why not here?'”

[+] EnlargeMakeshift Goal 

PondHockeyClassic.comLast year they used wooden boxes for goals, but the tournament proved so popular they bought pre-fabricated ones this year.

First, though, was the matter of a hockey career. After a solid, if unspectacular, four-year career with the Minutemen (6 goals, 14 assists, 20 points), Crowder earned a contract to play with the Stockton Thunder in California, so he went west. Crowder was released at the end of preseason, but Thunder coach Matt Thompson told him there might be a couple of teams on the East Coast interested in him.

“I said, ‘Thanks but no thanks,'” Crowder said. “I was 24 years old and had a good education. I wanted to start my life, and I knew pro hockey wasn’t going to hold much for me. So I ended up coming back from California on Oct. 15 and thought, ‘OK, what am I doing now?'”

Crowder seized on his idea for a pond hockey tournament, even though he had only three months to put it together. Admittedly, he had a few key elements working in his favor right from the get-go. First, he would be dovetailing off the NHL’s Winter Classic, which was set for Fenway Park, focusing even more local attention on the outdoor game. He’s from a hockey family and was able to take advantage of the connections that he and his father had made over the years. Plus, he was familiar with Meredith and the Lakes Region, having visited since he was 8 years old and helping to build a family home on Bear Island during his teens.

“I called the town of Meredith, went to town meetings, met with town managers, met with the fire chief, the police chief, all those people from the town, and pretty much ran with it,” he said. “I made a website; I sent out e-mail blasts. Really pounded the pavement trying to promote it. It was pretty grassroots.”

All those things helped get Crowder’s foot in the door, but it was his determination and willpower that pushed it open. He saw a classic win-win scenario, where summer-based businesses such as restaurants and hotels could get a mid-winter bump. It didn’t hurt that he didn’t know any better. Meredith, Crowder said, is a classic conservative New England town — slow to embrace anything new.

“It was like pulling teeth working with the town of Meredith, trying to tell them I had the vision in my head what this was going to be,” Crowder said. “It’s a small town with a small-town mentality. They don’t always like things that change their way of life.

“Now, the town is great. They’re behind it. Like anything else, the first year, you have to prove yourself.”

But not even Crowder could predict the response he got.

[+] EnlargePond Hockey 

PondHockeyClassic.comTournament founder Scott Crowder, 24, said last year’s inaugural event was a success way beyond his expectations.

“By Thanksgiving he had 20 teams, and the next thing you know he’s got 70, and he had to shut it off and wound up with a lot of people on a waiting list,” said his father, chuckling. “He didn’t want it to get too big the first year, just because he didn’t know what he was doing.”

Crowder still had to convince area merchants to buy into the concept, and it wasn’t always an easy sell. He had lined up a major sponsor in Labatt Blue beer and had to lobby local taverns to stock up enough to keep hundreds of hockey players happy.

“The funny thing was, he was jumping through hoops, left and right, and the town of Meredith didn’t know what to make of this 24-year-old kid saying he was going to do this and that,” Bruce Crowder said. “When it was all said and done, by Monday of that weekend, he could have been mayor of Meredith. I lost count of the number of people who came up to me and said, ‘There’s never been anything like this in Meredith in the winter time, where we’ve had this type of excitement.'”

The response was nothing short of astounding. Teams rushed to sign up. There were old-timers from the over-50 league at Hockeytown in Saugus, Mass., to absolute beginners. Among the old guard were Bruce Crowder and his Essex 73’s squad, named after his old junior team in Ontario.

“In the round-robin, we were 4-0, which wasn’t bad for a bunch of over-50 guys playing in the over-30 division,” Bruce Crowder said, laughing. “But we got our asses kicked in the playoffs and we were gone. We just got too cocky.”

But the elder Crowder will be back, along with two former teammates traveling in for the tournament. So will everyone else, as Scott Crowder said the tournament is boasting a 100 percent return rate. Again, it speaks to the draw of hockey in its purest form — the same hockey that Scott Crowder and MacPhee played as kids.

“It’s sad, because there are so many rinks, and they’re open summer and winter. It’s crazy how many rinks there are now,” MacPhee said. “People don’t need to play on the ponds, which is too bad, because that’s when it’s really a lot of fun.

“You just go out there and have a good time. You can play until it gets dark out or until you get blisters or your hands get numb. It was a great thing. I think everyone felt a little nostalgic going out and playing at Meredith because it is a lost hobby.”

Scott Crowder’s father said he loves the nostalgia, too.

“The best thing about the tournament was watching the smiles on the guys’ faces when they left the rink,” Bruce Crowder said. “There was one competitive division that got a little crazy, but for the most part everybody was just having fun. Winning and losing wasn’t the most important thing. It was just the camaraderie.”

Expect more of the same this February.

“Scott started something special, there’s no doubt about it,” said MacPhee, who is returning to avenge his Winnipesaukee Whalers semifinal loss last year. “This is going to be huge. It’s the weekend of the winter.”

Bruins Hit All-Star Break In First Place

Last night, following a 2-1 victory over the Florida Panthers, the Boston Bruins found themselves sitting atop the Northeast division with 63 points and 4 points ahead of the Montreal Canadiens.  They are also perched in 3rd place in the Eastern Conference.  The best part about this game was not that the Bruins won or that the Bruins head into the All-Star break leading their division but, that I was there in person for the first time since the 08-09 season, and damn did it feel good to be back.  The girlfriend came through hard for my birthday getting seats 5 rows behind the Bruins net and even though she wasn’t feeling well she still went all out to make sure we had fun.  Clutch.  Here is where our seats were…

You can also see me at the 34 second mark on the replay of the Lucic goal sticking my goofy arm up in the air (black shirt, grey long sleeve underneath, on the aisle).

Last night was just an awesome night overall and it was nice to see the Bruins grind out a win, albeit an ugly one.  My upcoming work schedule may prevent me from doing a post on this weekend’s All-Star game/skills competition but I want to try and do one because of the new fantasy draft format.  The NHL doesn’t always do things right but they aren’t the ones threatening a labor stop (I’m looking at you NFL and NBA) so, they may be one of the cleaner dirty shirts out there in terms of professional sports…but they are still cleaner…or something…right?