Greetings from Tampa, Florida, where the air is warm, the trees are palm, and I got sunburned yesterday walking a few blocks to CVS to buy a Diet Coke. It's what Tampa mayor Bob Buckhorn warned against as he stood on the tarmac at the Tampa Jet Center to welcome the Union and Ferris State teams who flew in on Tuesday afternoon to compete in the NCAA Frozen Four.
"I see some pale faces," Mayor Buckhorn told the Boston Herald. "They'll probably be sunburned in about five minutes."
Tampa isn't exactly a location synonymous with college hockey. But it's a fitting venue for this particular Frozen Four, which features a mix of old-timey powerhouses (BC and Minnesota) with newcomers (Ferris State and Union) seeking to establish their names in hockey circles — in much the same way that Tampa itself has. (The city won the bid to host the event based in large part on the Tampa Bay Lightning's successful 2004 Stanley Cup run.)
So far, Tampa has been thrilled to show itself off. When the teams touched down on Tuesday, it wasn't just the mayor waiting for them — also on the tarmac were a reggae band and a sea of Florida youth hockey players holding up their sticks for the players to walk underneath.
"We weren't expecting the arrival we had," said Ferris State's senior co-captain Chad Billins on Wednesday. "You do feel kind of like an ambassador to younger hockey or youth hockey."
Minnesota head coach Don Lucia had a similar reaction: "We got off the plane last night and there's a band sitting on the tarmac waiting to play, and those things certainly didn't take place years ago," he said. As for the location: "I think it's important to have it in traditional areas, but I think it's great to have it in some non-traditional areas at times, too, because it does open up some eyes."1
The Frozen Four won't just feature local fans looking at the spectacle with wide-eyed awe: Neither Ferris State nor Union has ever made the event. (BC and Minnesota have combined for 43 appearances and nine titles.) All four teams were the regular-season champs in their respective conferences, something that hasn't happened since 1996.2 But only Boston College really comes in with experience, having made it to the Frozen Four five times in the last seven seasons and winning the national championship in 2008 and 2010. Minnesota, on the other hand, won back-to-back titles in 2002 and 2003 but has gone relatively cold (for them) since: The seniors on this squad had never even made the NCAA tournament before this year.
While the early semifinal (between Union and Ferris State, with a 4:30 start) certainly lacks the name-brand punch of, say, BC-Minnesota in prime time, Union and Ferris State players and coaches all bristled on Wednesday when asked whether their game has a "junior varsity" element to it. (The reporter asking made sure to blame the question on what "people on social media" have been saying.)
"I would certainly like to see Ferris State and Union's varsity teams," deadpanned Union coach Rick Bennett, who is in his first year as head coach. "They must be pretty good if we're JV."
I'll have full reports from tonight's two games tomorrow, varsity or not. For now, a few words about those other hockey games — the ones that lack the soundtrack of a good old college marching band — that have been going on. And then I'm off to buy some SPF 60.
Lighting the Lamp: The Week's Sickest Snipes
One of Patrick Kane's two goals in the Blackhawks' 5-4 shootout loss to Minnesota on Sunday was this velvety and nonchalant wrister. I feel like if the net didn't get in its way, the puck would have just continued to gain speed until it ended up in orbit or something.
And here's a kinda similar setup from Wednesday night's game between the St. Louis Blues and the Detroit Red Wings. The Blues came out to a 2-0 lead, but Detroit came back to tie the game with this pass from Pavel Datsyuk to a waiting Johan Franzen. The Wings would go on to win in a shootout.
Alex Burrows scored the goal here in the Canucks' Tuesday game against Anaheim, but it was Henrik Sedin's play that led to the phrase "a little whoop-de-doo around Saku Koivu" being spoken aloud, and for that we are thankful.
Piling on the Pylons: The Week's Worst Performers
For the evil schadenfreudists among us, administrative mishaps by NHL front offices have long been a delightful sidebar to the season. From the botched free agency filings in Chicago (and Nashville!) to the "smudged fax" in Tampa to Ottawa apologizing, hockey has a long and inglorious history of these sorts of mistakes.
The latest whoopsie-daisies moment come courtesy of a franchise that has essentially been one large administrative snafu for the better part of a decade: the Oilers. Under the NHL's collective bargaining agreement, teams can only make four transactions with their AHL affiliates after the trade deadline. Edmonton tried to make a fifth, calling up Magnus Paajarvi from Oklahoma City on Friday and then, upon realizing their mistake, sticking him right back on the plane like a weary traveler turned away at customs. Oilers president of hockey operations Kevin Lowe later complained that the rule was "ludicrous," as if that absolved Edmonton from having to play by it.
The essential reaction to this whole affair comes from Tyler Dellow. A sampling:
John MacKinnon at the Edmonton Journal basically handwaves all of this away: " the Paajarvi 'easy-come-easy-go' fiasco is mighty small beer in the overall scheme of things. It's embarrassing, but everybody lived, for example."
He has a point: If you have "death" as your standard of failure, then yes, it's like the 32nd successful season in a row for the Oilers. Sure, it's six years without a playoff appearance and they're within spitting distance of clinching the title of "Worst team since the lockout," but NOBODY HAS DIED. For those of us who aim slightly higher, who think "not making the playoffs for six years" should be a measuring stick rather than "nobody died," this is another sign the people in the front office have no idea what they're doing. Picking Hall and RNH is the easy part.3 Actually, complying with the rules in the CBA is pretty bloody easy too. The hard part is moving from "having a bunch of talented young players" to "being an elite hockey team." I've no idea why, other than hope, people would expect that of this group.
The comments are worth a read as well, if you're the kind of person who gets off on the misery of others. My favorite line: "I can't wait till Lowe is the GM of Team Canada at the Worlds. I assume he will declare the fact that we can only have players from Canada as 'stupid' when told he can't have Malkin on his team."
Taking It Coast to Coast: A Lap Around the League
- Next time I write this column, it will be THE PLAYOFFS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
- Sporting News's Jesse Spector notes that there are 14 NHL games tonight, and all but four of them (TB-TOR, WPG-NYI, MTL-CAR, and ANA-EDM) have playoff implications of some sort. Perhaps the biggest is tonight's contest between Washington and Florida, with the Caps sloooowly inching closer to making the postseason in spite of themselves4 and the Panthers hoping to clinch their first playoff berth since the Clinton administration. (I wrote a little bit about the team yesterday here.) Also active are the Sabres, who are hoping for a win over Philly and a Florida victory over the Caps.
- By now you've likely seen the video of the fight(s) that took place in the closing minutes of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia's fifth game of the season (if you haven't, it's right there). The two teams could now potentially face each other for eight straight games: They meet again on the last day of the regular season in a game that — depending on the results of the teams' contests tonight — could determine home-ice advantage in what will almost certainly be a first-round series between the two rivals. (I could not be more excited to settle in for that one, although as Colin Horgan warns, there's a danger the series could become "overly chippy right away and devolve into just a punch-out between the two.") Looking on the bright side, two amazing things came out of last week's Flyers-Penguins game:
1. The enduring image of Pierre McGuire looking like a cross between Bill Clinton standing between Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin and a frightened child watching his parents fight (as you can see, this isn't the first time he's been in this position), and
2. The sublime absurdity of Peter Laviolette crediting the Flyers' success in Pittsburgh's Consol Energy Center to the postgame meal of ribs they always order from a place in West Virginia. "No more ribs for them," the owner of Dee Jay's, a Penguins fan, solemnly vowed. The Flyers may have to make some calls to Dave Chappelle.
- In the Western Conference, what was a four-horse race for three playoff spots is now pretty much just a three-way battle for playoff seeding. (Too bad so sad, Dallas!) Currently the L.A. Kings and Phoenix Coyotes are tied in points with 93, but the Kings own the tiebreaker; the Sharks are right behind with 92 points. Suffice it to say that tonight's Sharks-Kings game ought to be quite the battle.
- When the Ducks won the Cup in 2007, Teemu Selanne nearly retired. Now, at 41 years old, he's not only still playing — he leads Anaheim in scoring. So will he be back next year? No one really knows yet, including Selanne himself. "I don't see any reason why I couldn't be playing," he said. "But it's got to end somewhere. I'd like to go out on my own terms and feel that I'm not in that surviving mode." (Highly recommend that article, by the way: From the photo of the sign-holding fan to the comparison of Selanne and The Beatles to the story Ron Wilson tells about the trade that brought him to Anaheim, it's a beauty top to bottom.)
- Everybody, yeaaah, rock your body, yeaaah, everybody, rock your body right. Backstrom's back, alright!
- But not Jonathan Toews. :(
- Or Daniel Sedin. :(
- Here's a very cool post by Mile High Hockey's Cheryl Bradley about some of the prop-assisted drills — tires are usually involved — that Colorado's Ryan O'Reilly has been teaching some of his teammates after practice. When I got to the line "just imagine Cam Fowler as a stick propped up on a tire, and you get the idea," I thought about my fantasy team and nodded sadly.
- This video of the Coyotes' Boyd Gordon has it all: There's the initial blocked shot, the interim period in which he tries to get back up to his feet and looks like Bambi on quaaludes, and then the second blocked shot. I bet if I turned up the volume a little bit higher I could hear him moaning, "It's only a flesh wound!"
Chirping Like a Champ: The Best Mouthing Off
You know the playoffs are quickly approaching when everyone in and around the NHL just utterly loses their minds. There are so many choice bits of commentary from this past week that we're going to play a good old-fashioned matching game called "WHO SAID WHAT ABOUT WHOM?"
1. "I thought Dan Bylsma should have taken off his skirt and gone over there."
3. "Maybe you need Hollywood in the playoffs. I'm not sure."
4. "What Jeff Vanderbeek has proven after five years of trying to work with him [is] that he is a highfalutin, high-class huckster and hustler. He came into the city with a mouthful of promises, but a pocket full of lies."
5. "Little goody two shoes He's not the perfect gentleman. He's not the sweet kid you see in interviews with his hat pulled down over his eyes. I'd say screw him, hit him."
6. "It's my money, and I need it now!"
7. "I don't think he's Mark Messier."
8. "Everyone in boston! I would love u 2 know COREY SNYDER'S girlfriend fingered me and told me off about my bruins hat today she is from BOS! And incase you don't know SNYDER he is the Canucks loser back up goaltender ! I guess haters are guna hate! Big F U Snyder. I guess haters are guna hate but keep your girl in line Vancouver is my home ! Corey Snyder control your broad because she is straight classless, rude and acts like a trucker !! FYI I was at the game and around Vancouver and she was the ONLY one with a problem people actually were VERY kind ! She only had a problem!"
9. "Let's go Blue Jays!"
10. "Pat ran for the hills. Pat ran for cover. It was cowardly, and it was terrible."
A. Oilers coach Tom Renney, sounding mighty Tortsesque in suggesting that officiating decisions are being orchestrated from on high, in this case in order to help the Kings make the playoffs. (I would do anything to see Gamemaker Gary Bettman sporting some Seneca Crane–style facial hair.)
B. Milan Lucic's bananas-footwear-wearing girlfriend Brittany Carnegie letting loose on Twitter about her hatred for "COREY SNYDER'S" "broad." Presumably she's referring to Cory Schneider and didn't mean fingered in that way.
C. Newark mayor Cory Booker, raging lyrically against New Jersey Devils owner Jeff Vanderbeek after an arbitrator ruled that the city owes the Devils some dough. MAN, that's some good stuff. I'm going to start using those exact words every time I feel I've been done wrong.
D. Glendale, Ariz., mayor Elaine Scruggs, lambasting the NHL for their part in the ongoing Phoenix Coyotes saga. (I may have paraphrased her remarks.) (Also: How on earth did she think an escrow account worked?!) (Also also, this is a highly enjoyable read from a blog with a highly enjoyable name.)
E. Mike Milbury, suggesting that Dan Bylsma is a woman for not leaping over the boards during the aforementioned heated Penguins-Flyers exchange and beating someone with his shoe or something. (Hardy har, it's funny — still — because women are the inferior sex, you see?)
F. Mike Milbury, on Sidney Crosby.
H. Peter Laviolette, on Dan Bylsma.
I. Sabres goalie Ryan Miller, pointing out that the Washington Capitals' Brooks Laich comment that "we're making the playoffs" sure ain't no Captain Courageous "we'll win tonight." (The Sabres and Caps are essentially battling for the last Eastern slot.)
J. Toronto Maple Leafs fans during a Maple Leafs game.
ANSWER KEY: 1-E, 2-H, 3-A, 4-C, 5-F, 6-D, 7-I, 8-B, 9-J, 10-G. Hope you got a perfect score!
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