This might date myself a tad, but I recall where I was in 1994 on May 24th. I was at home in New Westminster, tightly clenching my hands together in a tightly clenched prayer style shape. What happened to make me do this? The Vancouver Canucks, the local NHL team here was in double overtime against the hated Toronto Maple Leafs in game 5 of a best of 7 series we were leading 3-1. If we scored, we went to the finals for only the 2nd time ever (the first time I too lived thru, but didnt really understand the severity of it at the time since I was of an age still in single digits, we would lose in 4 straight games in the finals that year to the New York Islanders). A B.C. boy by the name of Greg Adams, whom we obtained in a trade with the New Jersey Devils several years prior would score the eventual winner 14 seconds into that 2nd overtime on a backhander that he slipped by future Canuck Felix Potvin. We were headed to the Stanley Cup finals. It was monumental in this cities sports history. We eventually would lose in the finals to the New York Rangers in game 7 by a narrow 3-2 score, but that moment is to many in Vancouver, 1 of the cities biggest in sports history.
So imagine the shock to Canucks fans who have endured that once before, when 17 years later, we found ourselves on May 24th, in a Western Conference finals, with a 3-1 series lead, in double overtime at home...again. by now, every die hard Canucks fan, casual fan, fairweather fan & even some non-fans know how that game ended. It ended with 1 of the zaniest series clinching goals ever, as Kevin Bieksa knucklepucked a shot from the point past an unaware Antti Niemi of the San Jose Sharks. Of the 18000+ fans in attendace, 2 TV crews & dozen players on the ice, it seemed maybe a 1/2 a dozen people total were aware that after an Alex Edler dump in off the boards that the puck deflected off a stanchion & back out into the middle of the ice. 1 of those rare people, Kevin Bieksa. The Canucks defender moved in towards the puck that gifted itself to him & drove a hard slap shot towards the Sharks net that wobbled & skipped its way past a confused Niemi. Fans were so unaware of what was going on, they only reacted when the likes of Alex Burrows & Henrik Sedin, near the net reacted. Sharks players reacted, but far too late, even Kevins own teammates were not all aware of what was about to happen. Another generation of Canucks fans will remember that moment, regardless how the finals end. Its 1 of those moments that sticks with you. Just like Greg Adams in 1994 on the very same date.
Of course, after the win, while the players partied in the dressing room together, fans did the same, out in public on the streets of downtown Vancouver. Granville street was completely closed off to traffic, as fans poured out to high five other strangers, wave their towels & flags & yell any & all phrases they could think of to express their jubilation. I saw a faux greenman, I saw an even sadder imposter- a blue man, I saw 30+ Stanley Cups of all types roaming the streets, being hoisted high & I also saw 2 creatures (pictured below) that I still dont have an explantion for, dressed in Henrik Sedin jerseys, sporting what I can only describe as some type of weird egg type head gear.
A couple of observations. The crowd seemed quite content & happy. Never saw even 1 angry look from 1 person to another. Im sure there were some mild issues, but they were few & far between...unlike when I was in Edmonton during their Cup run where there was stabbings almost nightly it seemed. There was also sadly for us guys (and girls here wonder why the world over consider girls here "snobby") no Red Mile action like in Calgary during their Cup run. The boobs in this town refuse to come out. To be honest, the overall electricity & excitement of the crowd, while high, was still short of anything I have seen in Edmonton, Calgary or even Vancouver during the 2010 Olympics. Will it be different if they win the Cup??? Perhaps. Starting June 1st, the Vancouver Canucks will try to do something they havent done in 39 previous seasons, 23 playoff appearances & 2 Finals appearances. Win the Stanley Cup. The oppnent, yet to be decided. Either the Tampa Bay Lightning, the team that crushed the Calgary Flames hopes last time in 2004, or the Boston Bruins, the team that last lost a Championship to 1 of the Western Canadian teams in 1990 to the Edmonton Oilers. One thing is certain, Canucks fans probably are pretty thrilled, it wont be a team from New York.
I will be the first to say, I didnt know Derek Boogaard at all. I thought I did a bit, but reading articles on the 6'8 NHL enforcer today, I really wonder "who is the man that I met so many times?".
Of course, most of you reading this will already be aware of the tragic news that Derek Boogaard was discovered in his Minnesota apartment yesterday dead of still unknown causes.
Boogaard was known on the ice as a tough as nails fighter who was arguably known around the league as perhaps the toughest player in the league. The "Boogeeyman" as he was known by fans & foes was a menacing force on the ice. Few if any opponents wanted to face him in his specific role as enforcer. In his chosen role, he was extremely good. Of course, he did lack other hockey skills that made him a limited range player, but he understood what was going to keep him in the NHL & didnt try to play too much outside of his skill set.
Off the ice, the Boogaard I had seen over the years started off as a pleasant, personable enforcer (as many are actually), but had at some point become less friendly with those of us on our side of the fence. He was terrible at engaging with autograph hounds, and no better when it came to fans. In his defense, his treatment of us, the professionals, quite warranted. We did probably give him his jaded outlook about interacting with fans by continually having a multitude of items for him everytime he came here. Fact was, he was a popular commodoty in Minnesota, and we knew it. So, as time would go on, Derek started to become less receptive to any requests. However, like many who get that jaded over autographs & photos with, he took the same approach to fans as well. Everytime the Wild came to Vancouver, there was 1-2 devoted diehard Wild fans there, at least 1 or the other came every game & Boogaard treated them with the same respect as us, despite it being abundantly clear, they were not like the rest. Its THAT Boogaard that most people here remember unfortunately.
Usually, this type of attitude off the ice is a strong indicator of the type of person someone generally is. Sure, you always hear all the great things about someone after they pass away. I mean I am sure even Sean Avery would have great things said about him if he died, maybe even Gary Bettman. Fact is, unlike them, Boogaard probably is/was a good guy, we just got a bad vision of him because frankly, we probably took advantage of him some. The fact that I can actually recall him being good with fans & hounds alike is something that I cant say of others. Somewhere deep down, he was probably still "that guy", we just never got to see it.
Boogaard will be missed. Fans of the New York Rangers, who enjoy tough guy hockey players will miss him. Many Minnesota Wild fans, where he developed his game & became a popular figure for some years will miss him. His team mates & ex-team mates surely will also miss him. His fans from across the league, who appreciated the type of game he played, will miss him. Hockey as a whole, will miss him. He afterall is 1 of a now rare breed of true enforcer. His loss is truly a loss for hockey as well. He wasnt just a player, he was a character, a player with moderate name recognition, a fancy nickname & 1 of the few remaining pieces in the NHL who still played hockey the way many remember & miss, with unabashed toughness.
Reading an article by Minnesota area writer Michael Russo today on the death of Derek Boogaard titled "So Long To The Boogey-Man" http://www.startribune.com/sports/blogs/121826023.html made me doubt I really knew the Boogeyman at all. His story about the 28 year old Saskatchewan native made me honestly well up a bit, something I would have bet money someone could not make me do. Its hard to envision a softer side story to Boogaard, yet Russo managed to put one together. He talked about various charities that will also be missing Derek, about how funny he was to talk to & about how he understood what his role was & was fine with it. I really wish we got to see this Derek Boogaard more, and not the one who would walk by us stone-faced & ignorantly ignoring everyone, including some of their most die-hard fans. Now we will never get that chance.
Of course the people who will miss Derek Boogaard the most are not the fans who only know him from his on ice work, its his friends & family who knew him off the ice. His 2 brothers, sister, parents & other family have lost a part of their family today. His friends have lost a part of their daily lives.
You did not have to be a fan of Derek Boogaard to appreciate the efforts he made on the ice & off it. He will be missed by family, friends, fans & the sport as a whole. Rest in Peace Derek.
When the 2009-10 NHL season started, I can say with fair confidence, 1 of the teams in the finals was NOT on my radar. The Philadelphia Flyers.
While the Chicago Blackhawks were my strongest consideration for my Western Conference finalist, the Flyers to me were nothing more than a playoff spot filler. To me, the East ran thru Washington or Pittsburgh. With outside chances to Buffalo, Montreal and Boston.
That is all you really need to know of the Philadelphia Flyers right there. They have proven a lot of people wrong. Including me... 4 times now this season.
They made the playoffs on the last chance they could this season. They got in with a shootout win to eek into a playoff spot that I boldly told my friends in March there was no way they could win. Down the stretch this team, which seemed destined to a solid top 5 or 6 placing in the conference just weeks earlier, had plummeted & on some days, was out of the playoff race as teams like the New York rangers & Atlanta Thrashers kept poking their head into the final playoff spot momentarily. Yet, in the final week they fought back & dragged themselves to a do or die, winner take all affair with the NY Rangers on the very final day of the season. To the loser, a long frustrating off season of what could have been. To the winners, a date with the Atlantic division champs, New Jersey Devils. Hardly a great reward for such a triumph. The Flyers & Rangers played to a shootout. With Claude Giroux scoring on the 3rd shooter for Philly, it was up to unlikely hero Brian Boucher, an after thought to most analysts this season, and probably even that week, to make 1 more save. With the Rangers picking top end scorer Olli Jokinen, the challenge was going to be big. But Boucher did it & the Flyers would be moving on to the playoffs, proving me wrong once.
Playing against the Devils, after narrowly making it. I was confident the Flyers season would end here. They had to have emptied their gas tanks to get here. But the Flyers found a way to not just get by the Devils, they handled them quickly in 5 games. If anything, it seemed Martin Brodeur, and the Devils forwards were the ones who had run the gas tank to empty in the regular season. For a 2nd time, the Flyers proved me wrong.
In round 2 they got the Boston Bruins, a team I was less sure of, but still liked their chances over the Flyers. Where the Devils seemed to be struggling down the stretch behind the suddenly average goaltending of Martin Brodeur, the Bruins had young stud Tuukka Rask in net & he wasnt faltering. The Bruins rushed out to a 3 games ot 0 lead over the hapless Flyers. This series was over. So much for the cinderella Flyers. Then it happened. Something changed. The Flyers came into game 4 with a "we have nothing to lose" attitude, and guess what?? they didnt lose. With an OT winner from Simon Gagne, the Philadelphia Flyers moved from clinically dead, to on life support. But it was impossible to believe they were going to become the 3rd team in NHL history to return from a 3-0 deficit, right??? Game 5, they won as well, 4-0. In that game, their band aid solution starting goalie Brian Boucher (who took the role as #1 when Ray Emery went down 1/2 way thru the yr with a season ending injury) himself went down with an injury, meaning barely known Michael Leighton was thrust into the spotlight. From there on, it was the Leighton show. He would backstop games 6 &7 wins & the Philadelphia Flyers would make the Eastern Conference finals somehow. Proving me wrong for a 3rd time.
In the Eastern Conference Finals they faced another cinderella team, the Montreal Canadiens. While Michael Leighton was becoming a notable name in Philly, and really in tune hockey experts, the Habs had their own goalie of the moment backstopping them. Slovakian Olympian, Jaroslav Halak. With championship knowledge in his resume (he was on the Hamilton Bulldogs Calder Cup championship team a few yrs ago) & already having carried 1 underdog team to near greatness this year (Slovakia finished 4th at the Olympics, despite being on few if anyones radar going into the tourney, as a medal contender)Although the Flyers came in as the statistical "favorites", most people seemed to give Montreal the edge, myself included. With the exception of the game 3 in the series, the first game in Montreal, the Habs seemed dead in the water. Their gas tanks emptied like the Devils in round 1 & the Bruins in the last 1/2 of their series, and the Flyers just ran them over, finishing the series off in 5 games. Proving me wrong for a 4th time.
So here we find the Philadelphia Flyers, a team who driving down the stretch of the playoffs race lost 9 of 11 games thru March & early April, in the Stanley Cup Finals. More amazing is, with the exception of the 3-0 Bruins series lead, this team has won 12 of 14 games to get to this spot. Now, the Flyers face a team from the West that was expected to possibly be in this position, the Chicago Blackhawks.
Once again, goaltending for the visitor is expected to be strong. The Devils had Brodeur, the Bruins had Rask, the Habs had Halak. All have fallen to this sudden power house team. Will the Haws Antti Niemi falter too?
The Flyers are getting great performances from their top guys. The team is offensively being lead by Mike Richards, Daniel Briere, Claude Giroux, Simon Gagne & Chris Pronger. The guys you expect to lead, are. With the addition of Jeff Carter, this looks more like a cup contending team than the 1 that limped into the post-season without Gagne or Carter. The Flyers have been getting good support offense from defenders Kimmo Timonen & Matt Carle, as well as forwards Ville Leino and Scott Hartnell. Tough as nails checking specialist Ian Laperriere is back in the fold, giving other hard nosed players like Dan Carcillo and Arron Asham some back up on the defensive side of the forward unit.
This team really should be proud of everything they accomplish, wiin or lose. This is a team who realistically wasnt on many experts radar for a Cup berth, and certainly werent expected after losing notable names like Gagne, Carter, Emery & Boucher thru the journey. Yet somehow, they are here. They SHOULD be proud, regardless of the outcome. But you look down that roster, with guys like Pronger, Laperriere, Richards and Carter & you realize that this team is full of guys who wont be happy losing. This team will fight right to the bitter end, even if they are down 10-0 in game 4 of a series they are already down 3 games to 0 in. Winning the Prince of Wales Trophy isnt even a consolation prize to this group. With the higly competitive league the NHL has created, where teams rarely have chances to develop a dynasty, this very well could be the 1 and only shot for many of these guys. They wont want to waste it.
I dont think the Philadelphia Flyers will win. I think Chicago is the better team and they want this just as badly. I am picking Chicago in 6 games. But if the Flyers do win, after all they have done this year in proving me wrong...it shouldnt shock anyone, most of all...me.
One of my most detested teams was in town. Bringing with them the rotting feces underbelly of hockey like Sean Avery & Donald Brashear. Two of the most pathetic losers to ever become contracted pro athletes. Even with shedding underachieving whiner Markus Naslund, this is still one of the most detested bunch of people ever.
So maybe this is why I didnt do well with them as a whole, I didnt like them....or, perhaps its because the team has too much ego?
HENRIK LUNDQVIST- 2 autographs. Still an ok signer, Henrik has become much harder than the happy to sign star he was last time he was here. He how treats it like a chore & Theres only a 70-30 chance you'll get him if the crowd is more than 6 or 8 people. Still, for a team full of unenthusiastic signers, he was ok.
STEVE VALIQUETTE- 0 autographs. I was impressed to hear he signed for a handful of people. This was a HUGE step up from the non-signing (WHAT?) career back up, lucky to have a job goalie that was here last time. He still didnt sign a lot though & didnt seem to go out of his way to do it.
MICHAEL DEL ZOTTO- 2 autographs. Quite accomodating. One of the brighter lights with the team. Michael generally seemed willing to do multiples, even in moderate sized groups. Once the group gets too large though he does trim back to 1 understandably, and the signature, which is already abbreviated, becomes even moreso.
WADE REDDEN- 2 autographs. His last couple years in Ottawa he had soured on signing some. Seems the sourness has worn off, he was once again willing to do multiple items.
MICHAL ROZSIVAL- 1 autograph. Didnt generally go out of his way to accomodate, but if you caught his attention & could get infront of him, he would do it. Not terrible, but certainly didnt look thrilled to do it.
DAN GIRARDI- 0 autographs. Had nothing for him, but can tell you he was more than willing to sign multiple items without hesitation.
MARC STAAL- 1 autograph. Didnt seem overly thrilled to sign, but put in a 1/2 assed effort after practice the day of the game to get everyone. Outside of them, he did seem to put in an effort to not sign.
MATT GILROY- 2 autographs. Willingly signed multiple items.
MARIAN GABORIK- 2 autographs. Started off good, but cooled quick. On gameday he claimed he signed "Thousands" for me the day before. Apparently "thousands" is Slovak for "2". Nowhere near as good as he was in his Minnesota days.
VACLAV PROSPAL- 0 autographs. Was only sporadically asked, and willingly did it when asked.
BRANDON DUBINSKY- 1 autograph. Jekyl & Hyde. One interaction he was fine & respectful, next interaction he was evasive & griping about people asking him.
ENVER LISIN- 2 autographs. Happily did multiples.
ARTEM ANISOMOV- 3 autographs. Willing to do multiples still for now.
CHRIS DRURY- 2 autographs. Usually always friendly. Chris had a touch of Jekyl & Hyde this trip. Pleasant & did multiples day before. But game day he was non-responsive & beelined for the bus.
CHRIS HIGGINS- 0 autographs. For such an average player he certainly carries the attitude of a multiple time all-star. Signed a few, but more often than not, avoided signing where he could.
BRIAN BOYLE- 2 autographs. Very nice, did multiples without hesitation.
DONALD BRASHEAR- 1 autograph. I literally couldnt believe he signed. I mean its not impossible, he has signed other trips. But hes generally non-responsive to such requests. Still an utter trash scrawl of a signature.
AARON VOROS, DAN BYERS, PA PARENTEAU, ALES KOTALIK, RYAN CALLAHAN & EUNICH AVERY- no reports
Total autographs for NY Rangers- 21
+ 1 Luongo autograph
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From time to time I have something to say on hockey. Whether its the Vancouver Canucks, NHL in general, Womens Hockey or International Hockey...if I have something to post, it will be in here.