Tuesday, February 26, 2008

NHL Trade Deadline Stream of Consciousness Diary

February 26, 2008

6:50 AM: Wake up and head downstairs to brew Starbucks’ Christmas Blend before breakfast. Wondering if Calgary Flames’ GM Darryl Sutter has had any sleep at all. Turn on the TV, which is on CNN Headline News, then scroll down to The Score. Mats Sundin is all they can talk about – what ifs. Get a life! He said no to waiving the no trade clause in his contract days ago. Get over it. Five-plus hours of those guys will make me want to slit my wrists.

Quickly flip to TSN, but then check out Sportsnet – who are those guys? Ugh, more Mat Sundin. Sheesh. Is he the only freaking player in the league these days? Back to TSN and reality. The only trade so far came in last night: Vaclav Prospal to Philadelphia; Alex Picard to Tampa Bay.

Looks like the word of the day will be NTC: No Trade Clause.

8:30 AM or thereabouts: After completing a few important tasks around the house, hear about Bryce Salvador to New Jersey and Cam Janssen to St. Louis before stepping in the shower. Get out of the shower and Cam Janssen is already on the phone with TSN.

9:03 AM: Speak with a client about their annual report and take care of other business.

9:40 AM: The big trade so far: Steve Bernier to Buffalo and Brian Campbell to San Jose. Scrap that – Brad Richards and Johan Holmqvist goes to Dallas for Mike Smith, Jussi Jokinen, and Jeff Halpern. Getting my files and such together to head to the rink for the day.

11:52 AM: I’ve been at the rink for nearly an hour and half. First stop into the Flames’ locker room, where I spoke with Jim Vandermeer about his trade to Calgary and some of the trades in the past, particularly about what goes through the thought pattern, what does he do when he gets home – madly throw what he can find into a suitcase?

Found a plug-in at the media lounge and got the laptop going. Took a l-o-n-g time. Almost as fast as dial-up. Need a new laptop for next season.

12:30 PM: Back in the media lounge from the Avalanche locker room, where we spoke with Milan Hedjuk, Joel Quennevelle, Ryan Smyth, and Joe Sakic about Peter Forsburg and Adam Foote rejoining the team, and maybe a little bit about Ruslan Salei. Smyth talked about how last year was one of the toughest days in his career, as he expected to be an Oiler for a very long time. Chatted with Ian Laperriere off the record about his family and kids’ antics.

Seems to be a record number of female reporters at the rink today. Remember the days when it was just me.

12:45 PM: Everyone congregating the media lounge waiting for the next moves and anticipating some food. The Flames are usually gracious in feeding the throngs of media who are parked here for the day.

12:55 PM: Chowing down on some very welcome pizza. Always starving when I come to the rink.

1:00 PM: Looks like the winners of the day are the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals.

1:15 PM: Post – deadline -- Darryl Sutter has already addressed the media and Calgary made no deals. He just said he could have made a couple of bad ones.

1:36 PM: The media lounge and the whole rink quiets down. Just a few of use left finishing up their reports, and others, like me, who will likely stay here until game time.

3:30 PM: After completing my game notes in the media lounge, shut down the computer and moved operations upstairs to the press box. Have the TV on TSN, catching a few of the GM interviews while the ice gets flooded down below. It’s freezing in here, but the advertising band around the rink and the Jumbotron have the simulated fire going on. I’m pretending it’s warming up the rink. No lights on my side of the press box. Have a flashlight to see where all the plug-ins are. Always need the flashlight for pre-puck drop as they always seem to turn off the lights in the press box for the anthem. Not sure why. That’s usually when we do the call-in with the scratches and goalies.

5:29 PM: Working on what I think is hour number seven. Just four more to go. Did a bit of manuscript editing on a client’s book and watched the Young and the Restless. Fireball tests have warmed up the rink somewhat, but my fingers are frozen and operating stiffly. Lethal combination with a old and slow laptop. Time for supper. My back is killing me from these plastic chairs. Back down to the media lounge. Arnie and I discuss strategy as to getting interviews after the game. Not a lot of time to reach either room as the attitude is, if you’re late, too bad. Arnie will go into the Avs with two recorders; I go into the Flames with two recorders, and we switch after we come back upstairs to transcribe. Well, he files audio, I transcribe.

6:52 PM: Back in the press box getting ready to call in the starting goalies, scratches, and officials.

7:50 PM: First intermission. Have been instant messaging the updates to PA Sportsticker, emailing the editor, and instant messaging my assistant all at the same time. Adam Foote’s plane arrived just after 7:00 and he made it onto the Avs bench with 6:26 left in the first period. No stretch, no warm up. He is probably one of the very few NHL players who could do that.

8:58 PM: After second intermission, sent in this game recap:

Because Pepsi has coined the ad campaign of “forever young,” the fact they sponsor the building the Avalanche play in, it’s probably no coincidence the team’s desire to turn back the clock in resigning veteran players Peter Forsberg and pick up Adam Foote in a trade this morning with the Columbus Blue Jackets.

These two clubs haven’t met since November 24, when Calgary beat the Avalanche at the Pepsi Center 5-2.

The subject of last year’s trade deadline, Avs Ryan Smyth, popped in a backhand shot at 4:08 into the first, from inside the circle that sailed over the left shoulder of Miikka Kiprusoff about 15 feet.

Calgary’s Dustin Boyd tied it up at 15:35. The puck went from the corner, passed up the boards, back to the corner then to the net.

Flames’ Robyn Regehr was credited with a short-handed goal at 12:58 of the second. His shot went off Scott Hannan’s foot into the net.

Dion Phaneuf took a shot that hit John-Michael Liles, who was carried off the ice about a minute and a half into the second, but he did return.

Adam Foote arrived in Calgary just after 7:00 and made it to the ice with 6:26 left in the first.

9:00 PM: Fifteen minutes left in the game and I’m working on hour number nine, I believe. Can’t wait to get into the comfortable seats of my nice big car.

10:07 PM: Back in the press box from the rooms. Working on the game notes, getting Avs clips from Arnie.

10:24 PM: I’m totally dragging. Sent off the game notes, got the clips from Arnie, and now ready to transcribe.

10:56 PM: Still transcribing

11:18 PM: Finished filing. Checking last minute emails.

11:21 PM Called the Ticker to see if received everything.

11:31 PM: Go home.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

When trauma reaches the big leagues

After more than 15 years of direct access to NHL dressing rooms, this is my truth: regardless of how well you know a player, a staff member, fellow media, there is one underlying fact. When something serious happens, we are one fraternity.

You don’t have to know a person well. Sometimes, you may have barely encountered them, but the emotional tug is the same.

I didn’t know Ace Bailey or Mark Bavis well when their United Airlines flight 175 was hijacked and driven into the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. I barely encountered them at many a Calgary Flames home game, when they sat just a few seats down from me in the press box. Their sudden and violent deaths shook me to the core, compounded by the enormity of the event. I felt as connected to them at that moment as I would have with my closest friend.

When Detroit Red Wings’ defenseman Jiri Fischer went into cardiac arrest and collapsed on the bench with his life hanging in the balance, I felt more connected because I had a one-on-one interview with him the previous season. We talked about some very personal topics, such as his decision to come to Canada from the Czech Republic to play junior hockey, how he dealt with the language, the culture, and some other elements of his experience.

Jiri admitted the main reason for his move was to get noticed enough to increase his chances of making the National Hockey League. He knew some English from taking it in grade nine, but German was his second language. However, when he arrived in Montreal, he had yet another language to navigate. He was glad that coach Claude Julien ran most of the practices in English.

“There were always a few guys who didn’t speak proper English, but during the year, Claude wanted us to have the best possible chemistry we could have, so I was learning English, and the native Quebecers were learning English…obviously the guys from Ontario were picking up some French.”

The lifestyle changes he had to make upon his arrival were the toughest adjustments for Jiri. His billet, Linda Landry, became very important to him. He continued to visit with her often after he made the NHL.

Florida Panther RW Richard Zednik and I spoke one-on-one in the same season about the same issues. He wanted to stay in Slovakia, but others convinced him to move to North America, where he could also be seen.

As far as understanding his coach or his teammates … “The only language we had was hockey.”

The hardest adjustment for Richard was food. He hated the typical pre-game meal of chicken and pasta. He didn’t like the sauce. Over the years, it has become his favorite food but he missed his mom’s cooking in the first couple of seasons.

“At home (in Portland), the lady where I was staying, I ate everything. She was a great lady but she didn’t cook much. I was always starving. We always went to Taco Bell or something like that.”

Through those interviews, Jiri Fischer and Richard Zednick had created a soft place in my heart.

So when Richard’s Florida teammate C Olli Jokinen was pushed off balance and his legs came up from under him, with his skate blade catching Richard in the throat, partially severing his carotid artery, I personally felt his fear, pain, and trauma. Like everyone else, I held my breath until learning he was stable; shed a sigh of relief when he was moved from the Intensive Care Unit; and felt absolute joy when he was released from the hospital. I also felt Jokinen’s anguish.

As much as there is sometimes a “we/they” thing going on at the rink when reporters are madly trying to reach their deadlines, players are trying to get out of the venue as soon as they can, and staff members are trying to appease both sides, when something happens, you can’t be human and not feel something. But when you have even just a tiny or passing connection to one of those people, it keeps you grounded amongst all the pomp and fluff.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Iron Mike versus NHL goalies

Iron Mike Keenan has always had the reputation of pulling goalies, no matter how big their names are. In his first year with the Calgary Flames, he’s already yanked netminder Miikka Kiprusoff at least twice from a game.

He admits the mathematical equation he has established with all his top goalies, including Grant Fuhr and Eddie Belfour, is to tell them, “The odds are if you play 95 or 70 percent of the games, you’re going to get pulled two or three more times than if you play 60 percent of the games. Are you comfortable with that?”

The goalies will undoubtedly respond: “Absolutely. I prefer to play a lot more games.”

Keenan will pull a goalie whether it’s a psychological move to jumpstart the team, whether a goalie is a little bit off because he’s playing so much – or a combination of both, or maybe he’ll yank the goalie to throw the opponent off a little bit.

“Probably the biggest incident I can remember pulling a goalie was on a five on three on a power play in 1987 against the Edmonton Oilers. I took Pelle Lindbergh out and put Bob Froese in. I remember Wayne Gretzky spent the entire two minutes trying to figure out why we did that. The power play was over and we went on and won that game. I remember Wayne came over to Sather, asking, ‘What’s he doing? What’s he doing? What should we do?’ I don’t know how often I’d ever do that again. They had such a good team, we had to do something.”