Thursday, January 31, 2008

Calgary Flames' captain comes full circle

Jarome Iginla has come full circle. Along with Mark Recchi, Darryl Sydor, and Shane Doan, he became a co-owner of the Western Hockey League Kamloops Blazers in October 2007. All four players are ex-Blazers, and Iginla had won two Memorial Cups with the team.

Vancouver businessman Tom Gaglardi, also a part-owner, handles all the day-to-day operations. Since the new ownership took over, Head Coach Dean Clark was replaced with Greg Hawgood. When asked if Jarome had a stake in the conclusion to fire the coach, he kept in touch via emails. “Tom has been watching the situation a lot closer than we’re able to. All of us do keep in contact.”

Certainly, Iginla’s schedule doesn’t allow him to be a hands-on owner. “In the off-season, there is more chance to be involved. There are certain things we talk to Tom about.” Some of those issues were in place when the four NHL players were there: the tradition, culture, discipline, school.

Iginla describes how the ownership opportunity came about. “The first time around, I knew they were making the bid, and I was hoping they would get it. I like the group, and I thought it would be a good direction change to get things flowing back on track. I was kind of busy at the time and had some different focuses. My son was being born. I had another opportunity. And I’m 30; you realized things go fast. We talked more about what would be involved as far as commitments and stuff. I was happy they gave me an opportunity to get involved with them.”

The group approached Iginla. It helped that he had known them for years – playing with and against them. Part of the attraction was to help get a storied franchise back on track.

“The people that were there did a good job. There were a lot of different stories about a lot of unfortunate things that happened over the last 10 years that took some of the focus away from the young guys, development, some tough situations. I think there are some things that we do share – all of us played in similar times.”

Iginla adds, “You want to win, but it’s not just about winning. There’s a huge responsibility in junior when you take the young guys at that age from 16 to 20, an impressionable time. I’m thankful that I had a lot of direction. To be honest, some of those days, I don’t know if I would have gotten off the bus to go to school. I wouldn’t have graduated. They definitely pushed me, and there were some tough times. You move on and realize a lot of it was very helpful and made it a lot easier for that transition. In Kamloops, they really treated us like young professionals.”

As to whether he has solicited advice from a couple other NHL owners: Scott and Rob Niedermayer, who own the Kootenay Ice, “Not lately. At times, I have. I played with Rob Niedermayer. He was always very positive about it. He really liked the role they have in Kootenay.”

The obvious question is whether being a junior team owner will impact his thoughts about the business of the NHL. “It’s still pretty early. I guess now with the coach being let go, it’s a more personal thing. You realize people have tough decisions to make. On our side, when we see players get traded away, we see families. You see coaches over the years have gotten fired. It’s always tough. We all want to win on the ice and do well. And when that’s not the case, you feel like you let things down, but also on the personal side, where you realize it’s pretty tough days for a little bit for family.”

Monday, January 14, 2008

Jamie Storr: Seeing is believing

(From Positive Sports, Freelance Communications, 2003)

He was the Los Angeles Kings’ first round pick in the 1994 NHL Entry Draft (chosen seventh overall). Jamie Storr has played backup to some of the league’s best goalies and puckstopped for his hockey hero—Wayne Gretzky. His summer hockey school calls for celebrating pride in one’s heritage.

“I’m trying to defeat racism in sports and the general community. It’s impossible to do, but role models on professional teams can definitely have an affect on a community in a positive manner. It’s something I take very seriously.

“I’m half Japanese. It’s important for athletes, especially in high-end sports, to take a serious approach in their own community. The Japanese community I feel a real strong bond with because of my heritage. It gives me an opportunity to work with a lot of people who have no idea what hockey’s all. It broadens the horizon, not only on the diversity issue, but also by giving them positive feedback on the sport of hockey. It’s a part of NHL Diversity, but it’s a separate program run through the LA Kings and myself. This isn’t something that we have to do. I just have the privilege of going in and being the spokesperson. I don’t have a lot of time during the year to focus on anything but the game so any time I have, it’s already set up and ready to run, and I just step in and talk to a lot of people who I have a very special bond with.

“I never had that so that’s why it’s very important. I had the face, as does every other child growing up, of diversity throughout schools and the community. It’s something that I approached as a professional athlete, to be the role model I never had. I never had a Japanese-Canadian person to look up to other than my mother. I was ashamed, when I was a kid, that I was half Japanese. That’s probably one of the biggest letdowns I look back on. If I could change one thing it would be, not to look at what other people see you as…the color of your skin or your heritage. Instead, be proud to be unique and stand up for it. It’s something I’m trying to teach these kids. When other people look at you a little different, stand up for yourself. Be proud of who you are. Paul Kariya’s playing in the NHL. I’m playing in the NHL. Some of the best baseball players in the world are from Japan. Be proud of your heritage. Not because there are role models out there that are the same as you, but you could be one of those role models down the road. They can have something to look up to. They can say it’s cool to be half Japanese instead of running away from it. Even if it helps one child to look at being proud of who he is, it’s worthwhile for me to do it.

“As an adult, you’re able to overcome any prejudice—not letting it affect you in a negative manner, realizing, I can choose the people I hang out with, the people I talk to. I choose to choose people who are a positive influence on me. I know there are negative influences out there. The people you surround yourself with are the people you are most like. If you’re successful, a hard worker, and positive, you’re a positive influence, not only on yourself, your family, and your community, but mostly the people you hang around. If you’re a negative influence, negative person, you’re going to tend to hang out with that kind of crowd. There are a lot more actions you can take as an adult than there are as a child. I played with Nathan Lafayette, who was half African-American and half Irish. He said the hardest thing for him was, he wasn’t accepted by the white community because he wasn’t really white. He wasn’t accepted by the black community because he wasn’t really black. There wasn’t a community for him. I think it’s important for those people, especially as role models, to step up and be a positive influence. There are a lot of kids out there like them. Stepping out to talk about it or talk to the community that they feel positive about it…it has a big effect.

“I do this because I get enjoyment out of it, not because I have to. My mother passed away eight years ago and the only Japanese trace I feel is through her. Now that she’s passed away, I feel even stronger about reaching out to that community. Every time I’m able to talk to those people, it’s from the heart. It has a meaning.

“My brother is a teacher back home in Ontario. Sometimes he has good classes. Sometimes he has bad classes. It’s tough when you have kids that don’t want to listen or learn. I said, even if you can get one child in class and make a difference in his life, you don’t have to make a difference in 29 children’s lives. So when I do the diversity training, if one person picks it up, it’s worthwhile. It makes me feel even closer to my heritage. That’s important for me. Hockey’s just a game. We’ve got the luxury of making a lot of money. There are a lot more things out there that are important in life. To be a positive person, the community is a lot more important.

“People listen to sports athletes and people with a little bit of power behind them a lot more than they listen to the average person walking on the street. I think it’s, not only opportunity for an athlete, but it’s something you have to do for the influence on young children today. Those are the next great people in the world. My child will have a role model to look up to when he gets older.

“I had a little girl, the first time I ran the diversity clinic, who was half Japanese and half American. She came up to me and said, “Hey, Jamie, I’m just like you.” I asked what she meant by that. She said, “I’m Japanese. I’m just like you.” She felt important because of that. That’s what it’s all about. It’s just realizing it’s not the color of their skin. It’s not their heritage or what they’re going to become in the future. It’s what’s inside of them. It doesn’t matter if you’re black, white, Asian—any type of race. They can succeed in life if they sacrifice and work hard. You realize if children can put those excuses aside, instead of saying, “Well, I didn’t get a fair chance because I’m Asian,” then they realize it’s up to them. So then they can look themselves in the mirror and be proud of who they are and work towards goals they feel are achievable and cut the crap aside. Don’t feel sorry because they were born into this world under their heritage. We’re trying to make them realize, when they’re born into this world, they’re given an opportunity to do something in life and if they take a positive aspect to it, work hard and be determined, they will have the same opportunities of any child of any heritage. You can see that through the NHL. Jarome Iginla is one of the best players in the league right now. He’s one of the few African Canadian players in the league.”

What would he be doing if sports wasn’t apart of his life? “I’m a very determined person and a very hard working person. I have no idea what I’d be doing but I would like to be doing something that would be making a difference. I like positions of high pressure. I like being in control. I’d rather own a small company, make a small salary, and be in charge of everything than be at the bottom of the food chain of a big company and have everyone tell me what to do. I feel you make more of a difference when you’re in control. That’s basically what I’m going to look into doing after hockey—to have something that I choose to do will be my own and I’ll be able to run it.”

Stepping into a dynasty

When a young man uses a heavy steel puck to develop his hockey skills, you know he is destined for greatness.

Lemaire played all of his youth in Montreal.

In two seasons with the Montreal Junior Canadiens (then part of the Ontario Hockey League) from 1964-65 and 1965-66, Jacques Lemaire honed his craft and learned that it took more than skill to further a career.

Major junior hockey has been a main breeding ground for up and coming National Hockey League players. It’s where young men learn to excel through perseverance, discipline, work ethic, and sometimes pure adrenaline. There is a strong emphasis on education in today’s junior hockey ranks. But back in the early 1960s, that wasn’t always the case.

“It was different in our days,” admits Lemaire. “It was not as well organized as today, the school and hockey. It seemed kind of hard to do both because of traveling. We were a Canadian team from Quebec playing in Ontario so all the teams we played against were in Ontario. There was quite a bit of travel.”

At the time, players almost had to make a decision between playing hockey and going to school. Those that made the decision to play, if they wanted to go to school, they had to find time during the summer. For the rest, they took advantage of making a little bit of money and worked, like Lemaire.

“I played hockey in the winter, and I was working for Coca Cola on the delivery as soon as the season finished. At training camp, I stopped. I worked for Coca Cola, then after I worked for Labatt Brewery, then Molson a bit.

“Hockey-wise, I found it was a little hard at times. We had no money at home. I think in those days they were giving us $18 or $16 a week. I remember when Scotty Bowman was our coach; he made us work at times in the winter at the arena. We’d clean the old Forum. We used to sweep the stairs and wash the stairs. They were paying us 50 cents an hour for that. We had to work hard for what we got. A lot of guys appreciated it at the time when they got a good job.”

Lemaire admits there is a lot more teaching in today’s junior ranks than there was in his days. He says the coaches didn’t have the know-how that they do now.

“We went on the ice and did what we had to do. If you’re not good enough, you’re not playing. That’s it. You’ll learn from better players. You’ll learn from watching the NHL. You’ll learn from other guys that were good on the team.”

Lemaire played a total of 104 games for the Junior Canadiens, posting 66 goals, 99 assists, and 165 points. He only clocked in penalty minutes (69) in his second season.

There is one fact of hockey that transcends every generation of player, particularly in junior: the myriad of stories. Although, considering this is an age where young testosterone-filled adolescent males are establishing their manhood, sometimes one can pry a “printable” story.

“I remember when Scotty Bowman was our coach,” says Lemaire about a road trip, “he put our curfew at 10:30. He said, ‘I don’t want any TV on past 10:30.’ He went to get a key to get into all the rooms. So he would open the door quick and go over to touch the TV, because if you were watching TV, it would be warm. A guy put a cold towel on the TV so the TV stayed cold, and he put the chain on so Scotty couldn’t get in. When he tried to get in, he’d say, ‘Open the door quick!’ So he took the towel off before Scotty could check the TV, and it was okay.”

He tells another story about the team meal. “When we had our team dinner on the road, we had one dollar. We had to get lunch with that. If it cost $1.05, you had to bring the bill plus five cents and give it back to the manager.”

Lemaire played the game of hockey because it was fun. He thoroughly enjoyed the game. But he could never have predicted how much fun his NHL career would prove to be.

After 69 games during the 1966-67 season with the Houston Apollos (19 goals, 30 assists, 49 points, 19 penalty minutes and six playoff games: 0-1-1, 0 PIM), the NHL beckoned and he never looked back.

His rookie 1967-68 season culminated with his first Stanley Cup.

The Montreal Canadiens were rich in NHL history long before the young center suited up his number 25 jersey. Its first Stanley Cup win was March 30, 1916 following a 2-1 victory over the Portland Rosebuds in five games.

The second Cup came in 1924. Howie Morenz scored at 4:55 in the first period to cement a 3-0 win over the Calgary Tigers. In 1930 (third Cup), Morenz scored the game winner at 15:43 in the second period to defeat the Boston Bruins 4-3. In the 1931 Cup final (fourth Cup), the Habs won 2-0 over Chicago; won (fifth) 5-4 against Chicago in 1944 (Lemaire’s future head coach Toe Blake scored the game winner at 9:12 in the first overtime); won (sixth) 6-3 versus the Bruins in 1946 (Blake scored the game winner at 11:06 of the third); won 1-0 (seventh) against Boston in 1953; (eighth) 3-1 against Detroit in 1956; (ninth) 5-1 versus Boston in 1957; (10th) 5-3 against Boston in 1958; (11th) 5-3 against Toronto in 1959; (12th) 4-0 over Toronto in 1960; (13th) 4-0 over Chicago in 1965; and won its 14th Cup with a 3-2 win over Detroit in 1966.

The home of the Habs, The Forum, was built in 1924 and accommodated 10,000 and opened its doors November 29, although an ice problem delayed it becoming the team’s permanent home until November 18, 1926. It was renovated up to 13,551 seats in 1949 and to 16,003 seats in 1968. It proudly and prominently displayed the team’s 14 Stanley Cup banners.

So for any player coming to Montreal, the weight of previous Stanley Cups permeated the room. Fans expected more, so did the organization, and the media. There was no place to hide if you didn’t perform.

Lemaire realized right away, from his first day in rookie camp, that Montreal did not approach hockey the same as other organizations. There was more scrutiny and more demands. Fortunately for Lemaire, his stick found the back of the net a respectable 22 times that season. In 69 games, he also recorded 20 assists for 42 points and 16 penalty minutes. His team had finished the season in first place in the East Division with 94 points.

But it was Lemaire’s playoff record that left a more lasting impression.

En route to the final, the Habs eliminated Chicago and Minnesota. It faced the St. Louis Blues in the Cup final (which finished third in the West Division with 70 points). The Blues were stacked with a roster of former and soon to be Habs, such as Red Berenson, Doug Harvey, Bill McCreary, Dickie Moore, Noel Picard, Barclay Plager, Jacques Plante, Jimmy Roberts, and Jean-Guy Talbot, plus coach Scotty Bowman and scout Cliff Fletcher.

Game one of the Stanley Cup final was played on May 5, 1968. The score was tied at 2-2 and the teams had just returned to the ice for the first overtime period. Lemaire felt his coach Toe Blake tap him on the shoulder. He was next on the ice.

Lemaire had been following the play from the bench, so he was able to jump into the flow of the game right away. He took a pass at the St. Louis blueline, let his shot go, and then saw the goal light go on behind Blues goalie Glenn Hall. The next thing he knew, his teammates were congratulating him. The goal was unassisted at 1:41. It was also his second overtime goal of the playoffs and a record for NHL rookies. The Habs went on to defeat the Blues in four games, with each of those games won by a goal, plus two were decided in overtime.

In 13 games, Lemaire’s playoff record stood at 7-6-13, and six penalty minutes.

One would think a rookie year like that would be hard to top. Fortunately for Lemaire, it was only the beginning.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Who'd have thunk that the Phoenix Coyotes and "hot team" could be uttered in the same breath?

January 8, 2008, the Coyotes just surpassed the total road wins from last season (13) with a 3-1 win over another hot team, the Calgary Flames. The club is 16-2 when ahead after two periods. The Phoenix Coyotes were on a five-game winning streak before losing to Edmonton 5-2 on January 10.

So what's the secret? Most players say the same thing: we play simple.

Derek Morris admits, "We don't have a lot of guys on defense or on forward that can score a lot of points. We have a lot of guys in the bottom of the system that want to win." And they have found a way to win, although with much help from the new puckstopper Ilya Bryzalov, who is 13-9-1 since being plucked off waivers.

"I think I found a home. I feel here it's my best year in the NHL. I feel trust. I believe in the guys. The guys believe in me. I think we have a great future if we continue working hard and believe in ourselves."

The win in Calgary was also coach Wayne Gretzky's 200th game behind the bench.