Friday, September 30, 2011

Preseason: Rangers 4, Frolunda 2

Swedish Elitserien fans aren't likely to enjoy this analogy but they are not unlike the diehard fans of collegiate or major junior hockey. Win or lose, they are fiercely proud of their boys. And when those boys move on to other teams in other leagues, that pride does not go away. When I went to Everett ahead of the Vancouver Olympics, the Silvertips fans came up to talk to me about Ivan Baranka - where he was, how he was doing. He was one of theirs. They were saddened to hear that he couldn't make it in the NHL but were happy he tried because, gosh darn it, he was one of their boys. Now take that pride and multiply it. Then multiply it again, and again, and again. And maaaayyyyybe then you have reached the sheer adoration that Gothenburg hockey fans have for Henrik Lundqvist.

Their passion for the boy they watched become a King was rewarded on Friday when the Rangers came to town. Hank turned back into Henke as the Frolunda folks were able to bask in their pride and joy one more time. They sang, they clapped, they made him hop. And they had a helluva time doing it. That their team lost was utterly inconsequential. That our team won was just as inconsequential.

The Rangers' fourth line and the top three lines of the Connecticut Whale showed up to face Frolunda and escaped with a weak 4-2 victory. The Blueshirts were sloppy, they were slow, they were undisciplined. But they brought Henke home and that is all that mattered - to everyone. A happy King will be a good King this coming campaign and you could tell Lundqvist was loving the limelight. Sure he also seethed when he gave up the two goals but hey, no one was smiling more at the end so who cares?

While it would be nice to wrap things up there, I did come all the way to Gothenburg so I guess I will throw some observations out there:

*As you surely saw, Hank wore an A - which was AWESOME. Honestly, how many of you are getting one stitched on your sweaters now? I would if I had a Lundqvist to put it on.

*You might not have seen that when they called Ryan Callahan to come over and take the ceremonial faceoff, Hank reached over and said something to Boyle (the other A wearer) before tapping him towards the carpet. Our goalie may not wear a letter regularly but make no mistake, he is a leader on this team.

*And even he needs some reassurance sometimes. Just as he surely was getting a bit overwhelmed by the pregame ceremony, Sean Avery skated over and gave him a pat. That's what friends are for.

*The Scandinavium is still McArena with the Golden arches everywhere but they did add a Subway franchise inside so at least they now believe in healthy alternatives.

*In Prague they sold special one-game-only tee shirts, scarves and banners. Here they just had the generic NHL Premiere merch that you can buy on I was hoping for a Henke Comes Home line.

*Frolunda fans really love to do the wave. Prompted by the PA announcer, twice they did the wave and it went around the arena several times before stopping.

*Frolunda fans have no patience for commercial breaks or, as it was announced 'media breaks.' They booed and whistled several times when the shovels came out at stoppages.

*They also expressed their unhappiness for the scratching of the Rangers' non-Lundqvist stars, the fact that it wasn't a total sell-out (but close) and Sean Avery. No surprise there on any of those counts.

*Hope Sean is alright, the replay in the building made it look like he was kicked in the face and he didn't play a single shift in the third period.

*Was told to calm down by a Swedish fan next to me when I got worked up over the penalties the Rangers were taking because 'our power play, not so good, you have no worries, relax.' He was right, the poor guy.

*Believe it or not, everyone around me seemed impressed with Erik Christensen. Perfect, they can have him. He is perfect for them - he can dangle to his heart's desire and get away with being defensively deficient and soft as a pillow in the Elitserien.

*For the second straight game I met up with other fans from New York and even some season ticket holders (section 402 represent!). We Blue Bloods are passionate people too, even if we don't sing or do the wave.

*Late hits: MDZ was woeful one day after I gave him praise. Carl Hagelin and Tim Erixon both had a few good moments but definitely need work. Brendan Bell keeps showing how comfortable he is on the big ice. I like yelling STUUUUUUUUU every time Bickel hits someone. Kris Newbury's shot that opened the scoring was sad, it seemed to wobble its way into the upper corner. Brian Boyle was definitely still suffering from flu-like symptoms - he was in bad shape getting back to the bench after all of that penalty killing, and that was before he got a shot to the head. His linemate Brandon Prust is the man - 'nuff said. Ryan Bourque continues to surprise with strong play. Dale Weise ... did he even play? McIlrath was sucked into a tussle with a Frolunda player and took a penalty - he needs to mature. I felt bad for the Frolunda backup as he gave up a goal on the first shot he faced. I mentioned it up top, Hank hopped. The Frolunda fans chanted something like 'we want to see you jump' and he gave a little hop, once in the first and once in the third. It was hilarious and great at the same time to see him respond.

The Rangers have Saturday off to go around Gothenburg before heading to Bratislava Sunday. I will not be at that one as I go right to Switzerland but I am hoping to catch a feed to do a wrap-up. No guarantees. If I was to do Scotty Hockey Three Stars then they would be 3-Henke, 2-Henke and 1-Henke - it was his night.

Peepin' Foreign Foes: Frolunda Indians

After beating Sparta Praha 2-0 last night and subsequently getting their flight cancelled, the Rangers headed to Gothenburg this morning for a go against Frolunda. While the other three European preseason games likely were set up based on revenues, this one is for the heartstrings - the hero Henrik Lundqvist returning home.

Believe it or not, the Rangers have faced off against Frolunda once before - in 1981 during a preseason tournament. I love the internet because I was able to find someone who posted all of the details and Szymon Szemberg posted this scan of his ticket. The Rangers won 7-1 thanks to a hat trick from Ed Johnstone as well as a goal and four assists from Reijo Ruotsalainen. Bobby Hull - yes, that Bobby Hull - assisted on Reijo's goal (he was attempting a comeback after being retired three years but got hurt and called it quits after the tourney).

Arena: The Scandinavium, which I think is Swedish for Golden Arches or something. I had the pleasure of going to see Frolunda play Modo back in December and it was an odd experience - it's a big McDonalds with a ice sheet inside. The evil arches are everywhere and the Swedes swallow that fast food like it is going out of style during the game. There is one regular McDonalds in there with seats and all, there is another that is just a sales counter and all of the other concession stands are called McSnacks. It was bizarre. The place holds around 12,000 fans who were pretty quiet the night I was there.

Team History: Well, the reason why they weren't particularly enthused was because the team was pretty bad last year, finishing ninth out of 12 teams in the Elitserien. They have a year-by-year on their website in English but you just need to know that they won the league in 2003 and 2005. In '03 they had some fellow in the net named Henrik Lundqvist.

Familiar Foes: Hank's bother Joel, who had a cup of coffee with the Dallas Stars, is the team captain. Joel was injured for much of last year and should be raring to go against his twin. Former Ranger Christian Backman is on their blueline (haha) while 36-year-old former Bruin PJ Axelsson is, in fact, still playing professional hockey.

Who To Watch For: Frolunda's top three scorers from last season Niklas Andersson (former Islander), Tomi Kallio and Riku Hahl are all gone. The Indians signed Magnus Kahnberg and Fredrik Pettersson, who both played in the AHL in '10-11 - Pettersson leads the team with five points (all assists) in six Elitserien matches. Former Ranger goaltender Johan Holmqvist was Frolunda's starter but he moved on to Brynas. In his place is Frederik Andersen, a Danish netminder drafted in the seventh round by Carolina in 2010 (you know Hank was picked in the seventh round too, right?). Andersen is red hot right now - he's allowed just three goals on 125 shots in five games.

Where They Are: Thanks to Andersen, top of the Elitserien table at 5-1.

What Can We Expect: A Henrik love-fest. While I am willing to bet that the Indians will put up a bit of a fight, they have an away game Saturday against Skelleftea so I don't think they will go to the wall the way Sparta did. The Rangers, meanwhile, have Saturday off to have Hank show them around town but hopefully they will not check out early.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Preseason: Rangers 2, HC Sparta Prague 0

Mmmmaaarrrtttyyyy, Mmmmaaarrrtttyyyy ... no, I'm not jeering the jerk that sat five rows in front of me wearing a Brodeur sweater, I am cheering for Mr. Biron, who saved the Rangers in Prague tonight. The Blueshirts stumbled out of the gate and the patchwork defense struggled to contain the Spartans for much of the night. The Ranger performance, while not great, not as bad as that sounds - it was actually a terrific match, for both the fans and for the players. There was tough, physical, back-and-forth action with good scoring chances on both sides of the ice, something that shocked me after expecting a thrashing on the order of the 8-1 beating of Bern a few years back.


*I wonder what games were like at Tesla before the movie the 300 came out. Guys dressed as Spartans - cloaks, hats, speedos and shields came out and held torches as their team took the ice. Afterwards they grabbed their spears and came back out to 'defend' the national anthem singer. Neat stuff. Oh, and the official team mascot was a Spartan - a gold version of Michigan State's Sparty.

*The Czechs skated off the ice with heads held high, and not just because of the positive reinforcement their fans gave them after the loss. None of the Spartans really stood out but they had a good team form, showing the work they've put in opening up their Extraliga campaign. They just couldn't get the puck past Biron over the first two periods, not with good wristers, deflections or high slap shots. Biron's lateral movement was terrific and he showed the veteran poise that we knew he had.

*Michael Del Zotto made a fantastic cross-crease pass on the power play to set up Ruslan Fedotenko's goal. MDZ had an utterly atrocious start where he did exactly what I said in the Peepin' Foes, "just think how Michael Del Zotto was thrown out of position on a small rink, in this one he might end up in another country." But whatever he changed during the first intermission paid off as he was a different player, one far better. He started gambling a little bit late which fried my nerves, but overall this was a very good performance for a kid very maligned in this space.

*Tim Erixon also had a decent turnaround. Erixon had an awful giveaway in the Ranger end and slammed his stick down near the end of the first but he recovered from it. He even unleashed a good shot a few times (and I believe one of them was the one that set up Arty's goal).

*Speaking of shooting, Mats Zuccarello! Zuke shot the puck twice on the same shift. I nearly fell down from shock. The Rangers' Rudy was all over the ice and had a strong showing. Sadly it wasn't one that seemed to get Torts to put him on the power play but he still saw some good ice time.

*The power play, aside from Feds' goal, was woeful. Five forwards doesn't work when the two point guys are not capable defensively and the penalty killers put on good pressure. Wolski simply doesn't belong back there.

*The Rangers penalty kill was terrific - Dubi, Cally and Biron. Enough said.

*Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik were completely underwhelming. Richards turned the puck over several times and Gabby missed several gimme goals. Still have three games to get those two going so no panic yet. Yet.

*Brandon Prust looked positively winded after his first few shifts but he eventually got his legs under him and was the Prust we know and love. He gave a Spartan an extra shove, gave another a facewash, forechecked well and was responsible defensively.

*Stu Bickel did a pretty good job on defense despite a clear deficiency skating. He is big, tough and actually showed a decent first pass to get the puck out of trouble. He also was the only Ranger to come over to a small group of fans after the game to sign autographs. Too bad no one was able to recognize who he was.

*Hard to recognize Artem Anisimov on the ice because Arty scored the game's first goal by going to the net and knocking home a rebound. Always said that when he gets his confidence up and uses his size and strength he can be a great player. And this time it wasn't because of the confidence from his usual linemates as Torts spun the wheel o wingers throughout the night. The kid went to the crease and gave the Rangers the all-important first goal.

*Quickies on the rest of the guys: Rupp missed a good scoring chance and his size and skill set didn't work in this game. McDonagh was rock solid. Eminger had a few bad plays but was overall ok - and he got a stinger or something because he went off the ice doubled over at one point (but later returned and choked up the puck). Cut Christensen now, he is useless. Brendan Bell made a few really good, sexy rushes up the ice ... then turned over the puck or missed the net.

*The game was definitely shot for television, if it was not broadcast live. They had a small scorebug on the game feed, which was shown on the big board hanging over center ice. The board which, by the way, was nailed by a Praha clearing pass at one point. Don't see that too often.

*Good moment after the final buzzer: after the teams shook hands Dubi headed right off the ice. The guys called him back and the team went to center ice and did the signature stick salute. Loved it.

If I was to do Scotty Hockey Three Stars then 3-Cally, 2-Dubi and 1-Biron.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Peepin' Foreign Foes: HC Sparta Praha

The Rangers will open up their Eurotrip in the Czech Republic against HC Sparta Praha tomorrow.

Team History: Sparta is older than the Rangers, having been founded in 1909. The team has a small historical guide on their website if you want to check it out. Last season they were 12th out of 14 teams, which is bad but what is even worse is that they were seven spots below their cross-town rivals, Slavia Praha.

Arena: The Rangers faced off against Tampa at the O2 Arena - Slavia's home - and this time are four kilometers away at Sparta's home rink, the far older Tesla Arena. Tesla was opened back in 1962 - by comparison MSG opened in 1968 - and this place needs a renovation far, far worse than the Garden did. It sits about three thousand less (13,995 total) but they are some hard rocking, diehard fans who sing, sing and sing some more.

Where They Are: Four games into their season. They stumbled out of the gates but are coming off of their lone win, a 6-2 trouncing of Pardubice on Tuesday.

Familiar Foes: A number of their players were drafted by NHL teams and several played in the AHL but just spent any real kind of time in the NHL - Petr Tenkrat. Tenkrat played a total of 177 games for the Ducks, Preds and Bruins. He has been in Europe since 2007 bouncing between the Extraliga, Elitserien (Sweden) and SM-Liiga (Finland). Tomas and Ivan Rachunek are the younger brothers for former Ranger Karel (who passed away in the Lokomotiv crash, RIP). Former Blue Jacket David Vyborny had played for Sparta for years but transferred to Mlada Boleslav this summer.

Who To Watch For: Petr Ton was their leading scorer last season with 36 points in 52 games but Tenkrat and Tomas Rachinek each are averaging a point per game so far. Alex Foster was the captain of the AHL's Toronto Marlies and signed to play in Prague this summer; he is the lone North American on the squad. Michal Sersen, a defenseman, played junior with Crosby in the Q - all the more reason to hate him.

What Can We Expect: Probably nothing like this, at least physically. You have to figure that Sparta will try to use the larger ice to their advantage. They can stretch the Rangers defense in the wider rink - just think how Michael Del Zotto was thrown out of position on a small rink, in this one he might end up in another country. But, given how impressed several of the Praha players were watching the Ranger practice, they may just sit back and get trounced 8-1 the way Bern was by the boys a few years back.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

And So, It Began

The Scotty Hockey Eurotrip 2011 got underway yesterday. It would be easy to rant about the horrors of travel but let me just put it this way: left my house at 12:45 Monday, got into my hotel room around 2:30 Tuesday. Even with the time change, that is atrocious.

The one good thing is the sunrise over Spain that I was able to witness (the shot above doesn't do it justice). Luckily the start of Tuesday and the end to it was both fantastic.

During the planning stages of the excursion many minutes were spent combing international sports schedules to maximize this trip. And yet still, I missed something so obvious as a hockey game in Prague the night of my arrival. By sheer dumb lucky I stumbled around the interweb and found that there was a match at the odd start time of 6:15 tonight. Slavia Praha, the Prague-based Extraliga team that the Rangers aren't facing Thursday, was at home at the O2 Arena to face HC Verva Litvinova. The O2 was where the Blueshirts took on the Bolts two years ago and it really is a nice facility.

So, of course, I rushed out of my room to head to the game. And what a good move it was. The match was a real wild one, wild one. Given that I haven't really slept in more than 32 hours, I will just throw some random thoughts out there:

*The cheapest seats in the house were behind the away net, in the fan section where they sang and clapped all game long. Could you imagine that being the case in the Garden?

*The beautiful, relatively new arena holds just over 17,000 and yet there was less than 4,000 in attendance. Felt like a non-Rangers Devils game.

*Slavia's sweaters are jersey fouls - the front is a frankenjersey, half white and half red.

*Rosi Ruzicka is their head coach, he is a hero to the fans and he is a slob. The guy took the bench looking like he left a wine bar at 4am.

*Speaking of fashion, I wish I had a good picture of Slavans mascot because it is horrifying. The ice girls, however, make up for it by wearing even less than the tainted ladies employed by the Islanders.

*The one and likely only player you would recognize on either team's roster was Litvinova's Marty Rucinsky. Yes, Marty Rucinsky - the two-time Ranger - is still in action. He has still has the ice sight and some hands but the rest of the game has clearly suffered with age. Marty is slower than ever, he tries to do too much by himself every shift, and he was foolish enough to take a late penalty that set up the game-tying power play goal with seven and a half minutes later. His teammates were able to bail him out by regaining the advantage less than a minute later on a laser of a shot but the days of Marty being a star are sadly gone. He had his good moments with the Rangers.

*The only other name I recognized was Petr Kalus, a former Minnesota Wild prospect. Kalus ended up in an exciting brawl with five seconds left. A couple of guys started shoving after the whistle and that turned into a pair of great fights - one while the gladiators were both wrapped up by linesmen but still landing huge punches. I hope that ends up on Youtube.

*All fans had to go through metal detectors to get in - not just that half-assed wave-around the Garden gives to a few random people, but legitimate metal detectors. I asked the guard about it and he said the Prague fans are usually good but the ones from Greece have caused trouble in the past. Greek hockey fans? What? Maybe something was lost in translation. (Just a note, not every Czech speaks English despite what your friends say.)

*Having the fans singing, banging drums and clapping all game is really a neat experience but it was too bad I had no idea what they were saying and that they had to be led by some dude with a bullhorn and his back to the game.

*After it was over the teams saluted each other, then shook hands, then turned around and saluted their respective fans. I can't imagine that happening in North America - the away team wins, then slides across the ice in unison to mug for their fans. Someone would get hurt.

I'm sure there was more but the Rangers have an open practice in the morning (and, of course, are charging admission) so I will be on my way. Y'all take care of things on your side of the pond!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Preseason: Rangers ?, Flyers ?

As I mentioned the other day, I am en route to Europe on a mediocre airline so I am unable to watch the game. So with that being said, please use the comments to point out what you saw, who impressed, who did not and all of that. It would be much appreciated.

Talk to you guys again from Prague later this week!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Preseason: Rangers 4, Devils 3

It was absolutely wonderful to be back at a hockey game on Friday night. And a good friend set me up with a seat in a suite which was absolutely delicious ... get it? Suite/sweet = delicious? Cut me some slack, I'm giddy hockey is back. The fare turned out to be a sloppy, wild, wildly entertaining and utterly ridiculous Ranger win in MSG West. Preseason doesn't mean much but if this game is any indicator of the action that we are in for this season, someone get me the Maalox. Not a lot of time to expound upon this so just some notes:

*Ryan Callahan looked good with that C on his sweater.

*Gaborik should have easily had a hat trick. Easily.

*Not sure if Wolski is the answer on the wing with Gabby and Richards but he has definitely raised his game from where it was at the end of last season. He was involved offensively and, more importantly, he was good away from the puck. Richards wasn't 100% and it showed, and yet he was still dangerous every time he was o the ice. It could be a delight to watch him once the games get real and he gets fully fit. If Wolski can start clicking with him and the Slovak we could have some serious success.

*The other Gary Roberts guy on the ice was Michael Del Zotto, or as he will be known here henceforth, Del-Zaster. MDZ was simply not good for the second straight game. His positioning was dubious, he was outmuscled to the puck, he choked it up and he definitely dragged Tim Erixon down with him. Schoney had to have seen that, as he juggled the defenders in the third to get the new kid away from him.

*I just finished typing that and turned on the television to catch Micheletti raving about MDZ's performance on the replay. Need I say more?

*Pavel Valentenko was almost as poor and it hurts to write that. Valentenko didn't use his shot, didn't get off any big hits, was beaten in his own zone and took a penalty because of it. Had high hopes for him.

*How hilarious was it to see Mmmaaaarrrttttyyy take a dive and get no call? Man did I miss hockey.

*I must say, the goaltending was sad on both sides.

*Brendan Bell was the first star because the writers get a form mid-third period as to who they want and they get lazy and put 'GWG scorer.' Bell was exactly who he was when he left Ottawa for Switzerland - a defensively deficient mediocre puck handler. But thank goodness his shot slipped through Mmmaaarrtttyy's rolls, because I think seeing a two-goal lead get blown would have made me snap. Even in preseason.

*Dancing Larry showed up. Hooray for that. He brought his tired, pathetic act to the Rock and was the same as always: a mush. He danced his uncoordinated lame dance and the Devils rallied. Please, someone make him stop - it was quaint years ago, now it is just sad.

*Mike Sauer was the best Ranger on the ice. And he has a bum knee. Love watching him work.

*The arena folks played a nice pre-recorded package from the NHL before the game to honour those hockey players lost in the offseason. It was nice but fans were wary to clap or not, which made it awkward. Still nice to see everyone remembered.

*In person you can see that Carl Hagelin is really fast. I mean, like, fast. Like, would give reigning speed champ Michael Grabner competition fast. Let's hope he is more like 30 Goal Grabner and not No Hands Rico Fata.

*Five forwards on the power play? No thank you. Never again please. When Wolski is the lone man back you know you are in trouble - no matter how far he improved from last year.

*Mike Rupp started great in his utterly meaningless, pre-planned circus fight against Eric Boulton before getting ultimately taken down by a guy a foot shorter than him. Disappointing.

*Beginning to think that Brian Boyle's 21 goals last season were a fluke. But the big man is still a heck of a penalty killer so he gets a pass.

*Adam Larsson is no fluke. That kid is going to be good. Why does he have to be a Devil?

*Petr Sykora's performance made me sad that the Rangers let him go way back when.

*There are few things more enjoyable than seeing disappointed Devils fans. I mean, to see an actual Devil fan is rare enough, but to see them disappointed is just delightful. Yeah, no goal pal - stay out of our crease.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars will return with the regular season. I will be mid-air on my way to Prague on Monday when the puck drops in Philly so I will just leave an open post here. Please fill me in on what happens!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Winter Classic-bound

I wrote this months ago but wanted to wait for the official announcement. Now that announcement is being made Monday, when I get on a plane for Prague. So here it is a few days early ... my take on the Rangers playing the Flyers in this season's Winter Classic.

I love outdoor games and have been to four: Sabres vs. Pens in Buffalo, Hawks vs. Wings at Wrigley, BU vs. BC at Fenway and Whale vs. Bruins in Hartford (I never did a post on that, huh? Shot this there though). It has been an event that I've looked forward to each year but this time is different, there is just so many things wrong with it. Here are 10 of them:

*The venue is atrocious. Baseball stadiums are simply not good for hockey games. It was one thing to deal with the awful sight lines because you are in the two ancient and historical parks of Chicago and Boston, it is another to go to one of the new, generic stadiums. Anyone down by the field can't see the ice and in return, they get to feel the wonderful history and atmosphere of a seven-year of park as well known for this as for this.

*The building holds 46,528 with standing room - that's it. Ralph Wilson held 71,217, Heinz Field 68,111. That is over 20,000 fans who aren't able to enjoy what should be a celebration of hockey. When you have a draw as big as the New York Rangers, why would you want to leave all of those people out in the cold (har har)??

*Here is one reason: smaller capacity plus larger demand equals utterly outrageous ticket prices. All of you who are pumped right now, be prepared to pay at least $200, probably more. And that is from the league, just wait and see StubHub and eBay - last year prices were ridiculous.

*It rained last year in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia is on almost the same latitude (40 degrees north) so weather is a concern.

*Philadelphia's roads and traffic are ... less than pleasant. And that is on a daily basis, in good weather. While Philadelphia drivers are sober.

*Rangers vs. Flyers has been a pretty good rough and tumble rivalry. And now it will be on bad ice, in the middle of a spectacle. None of the outdoor games have been pretty good or rough and tumble from buzzer to buzzer.

*I heard that Penguin fans were insufferable last year. And now we will be talking about Flyer fans. Philadelphia Flyer fans.

*While many Ranger fans liked how the Heritage sweaters came out last season, a good portion were upset at the clear money grab of the whole thing. Well, another year, another money grab. You can be sure there will be a special jersey to buy for this special game at a special price.

*The game will be on January 2nd, not the 1st. After making the Classic a New Years staple, the NHL is cowering away from the NFL and having it on Monday. While many folks will have it off - as companies feel they owe their employees a holiday even when it lands on a weekend - not all will.

*24/7 is an unnecessary distraction for a hockey team, especially for one in a city already full of distractions. Camera crews stalking players and coaches for over a month. The coach sets the tone for the team and he doesn't want the show around, so just think of what the mood will be like. Several Rangers were found on Page 6 last season for extracurriculars and were vilified for their actions - now HBO can follow the Ranger kids to the clubs, that's a good recipe for sure. Oh, and it should be pointed out that neither the Pens nor the Caps made it to the conference finals last year.

Just sayin' ...

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Preseason: Devils 2, Rangers 1 OT

The rag-tag collection of Rangers played quite poorly Wednesday night when they lost to the Devils. But for as bad as they were (and man where they bad) they still managed to get a 'point' against a team that had Ilya Kovalchuk, Patrik Elias and Zach Parise. It is hard to be heartened by that fact as, in the last few years, it often was the Rangers who lost the games, not their opponents who won them. But you have to repeat after me: "It's only preseason. It's only preseason. It's only preseason." And it was the first game of preseason at that. And to further prove how utterly meaningless it was, it took place in Albany of all awful places.

So relax, don't do it, don't look too much into this. Just enjoy seeing the next step towards the new season.

Of course, there is still plenty to be said so here are some rants:

*It was entirely not shocking that the pairing of Steve Eminger and Michael Del Zotto was an abject failure. They were on for both goals against. Little appears to have changed - MDZ isn't capable in his own end and his teammates don't have faith in him. His work on the power plays was just pathetic: turnovers, poor rushes and an soft shot. It kills me that this franchise chose him over John Carlson.

*Arty Anisimov was very active ... to the point where it seemed he was trying to do too much. He really needs to be comfortable with his linemates for things to click.

*Carl Hagelin and Ryan Bourque definitely have the speed to play in the pros but they didn't seem to have much else in this opener. McColgan, McIlrath and Miller all had good moments in the game but consistency is key and they need to learn that not just game-to-game but shift-to-shift. Thomas was out-muscled all night long. Erixon was largely invisible, which was good and bad.

*Adam Larsson, however, looked like a stud. I also was impressed with our old friend Petr Sykora and that Keith Kinkaid kid - he is clearly the heir apparent to Fatso at this point.

*I really look forward to Brandon Prust beating the hell out of Cam Janssen this season.

*Chico and Joe on the broadcast were just incredibly annoying. The only way MSG could have brought together a worse booth was if they had Rick Jeanneret instead of Sam doing play by play. Hearing Chico and Joe try to figure out where Farmingville was was just ridiculous.

*Go Sean. Loved him laughing off Stephane Veilleux to draw a power play early in the first. However, didn't really notice him after that. Not good.

*Also not good, Sean's backstabber Mr. Softie. Erik Christensen was as invisible as his backbone and definitely did nothing to avoid a future on the waiver wire.

*Earlier this summer Mitch from Howlings guaranteed me that Dale Weise would make the team. Weise definitely made a push with his involvement in this one. He scored a good goal by going to the crease and he was consistently a part of the action. He did, however, get his ass handed to him by minor league nobody Brad Mills.

*Speaking of minor leaguers, how did Andre Deveaux lose to David Clarkson? I mean, maybe it was a draw of a fight but considering Deveaux is bigger and was fighting behind a shield, he should have dominated.

*Nice work by Hank and Cam Talbot in net - neither one could be faulted for the goals scored on them.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars will return with the regular season.

Friday, September 16, 2011

An Open Letter To Those At Camp 2011-12

Hello, and welcome to the New York Rangers,

There are some things you need to know before you get the 2011-2012 NHL season started as a member of the Broadway Blueshirts. I will attempt to lay them out for you to make your transition to New York easier. If you keep these in mind, your stay will be an enjoyable and, hopefully, productive one. Best of luck.

1- First and foremost, being a Ranger requires respect. Respect for your teammates. Respect for the jersey. Respect for the fans. Respect the Rangers. Everything else on this list falls under this dictum. Respect. It sounds simple, but it's not. It's a complete way of being that will require hard work but the payoff is virtually limitless - watch the tape of Eddie Giacomin's return with the Red Wings.

2 - Always, ALWAYS have your teammate's back, on the ice and off. On it the Boogeyman is no longer around to fight your battles for you and team toughness is far more intimidating than having one designated policeman - just ask the Sedin twins as they were bent over the barrel by the Bruins. Now take a look at Erik Christensen. Mr. Softie the Backstabber over there. If you have a problem with the way another Ranger plays or acts, you take it up with him inside the room. You just look like a gigantic, untrustworthy ass when you do it to the media. And an ass that is bound for the waiver wire sooner rather than later.

3 - I mentioned toughness. Toughness is battling from whistle to whistle. No reprieve, no relenting. Hockey is your job and we expect you to work while you are at the office. That is what is expected of you. Anything less - let up for just one moment of one shift - and the results will be disastrous. During that lapse a goal may be scored against the Rangers, or it may not. Either way, someone will notice - we Ranger fans pay attention and take this stuff quite seriously. The Blueshirts are the most scrutinized NHL team not in Canada, both by the media and by the fans. You do not want to let up in this town. At the same time, even if things aren't going your way - go without scoring for games at a time, whatever - if you are visibly working hard you will given a pass for quite a while ... Brian Boyle got one after his goal scoring dried up last season. You may look around at the fans down by the ice and see the nice clothes, the Blackberries and the models, but don't be fooled: this is a blue collar fanbase that expects and appreciates hard work.

4 - Meet the fans, greet the fans. They are your best asset on the ice, better than any newfangled composite stick or heated skateblade. You may have played in the Garden in the past, you may have not. But you have never felt anything like it when you have 18,200 New Yorkers getting your back, helping you up, pushing you forward. At the same time, that 18,200 can be merciless. This goes back to No. 3, if you don't show maximum effort, you will face the ire of the fans and trust me, you won't enjoy it.

5 - Maximum effort is an understatement when the Islanders, Devils or Flyers are in town. Those are the times that you have to go above and beyond. There is no faster way to the hearts of the fans than through the franchise's biggest rivals. In this day and age of free agency (which may have brought you here), rivalries are harder to cling to for players - you may have friends and former teammates on the other side of the ice - but they are grossly important to the fans. Go out to dinner with your buds, go on vacation with them, whatever - from the second that puck drops, you had better be out for blood. Players come and go but that jersey that you pull on has been around for a long time and that means something. That Blueshirt comes with the baggage of hatred for wrongs past. It may sound petty, but it is a part of sporting life. And, if you use that hatred right - through the aforementioned hard work - then it is a very, very good thing.

6 - You know that quiet guy who is hanging around practice? The mild-mannered fellow with his name and number nine in the rafters. Listen to him. If he says something, it's for a reason. If he acts a certain way, it's for a reason. And that reason is always the betterment of the franchise and, frankly, the betterment of yourself as a person. Pay attention to Adam Graves. You will not find a better role model in your search for what it means to be a Ranger. There is a reason why he is beloved in this city, and what he did on the ice is only part of the explanation.

7 - Give not to temptation. New York never closes and there is fun to be had no matter what your vice may be. But if you give in to it, then you are breaking No. 1 on this list. There is a time and place for everything, and while you wear that jersey the time is not right for nefarious activities. Take a second to look up the sad case of Don Murdoch.

8 - While you are at it, spend some time reading up on the past. The more you read about the 85 year history of the franchise, the more you will understand just how important No. 1 on this list is. A lot of people have put their blood, sweat and tears into building the Rangers and the least you can do is know who they were.

9 - Don't be afraid to speak your mind because honesty is indeed the best policy. Silly, right? Not at all. When speaking to the media or to the press, one of the worse things you can do is speak in benign cliches - there is no such thing as 110%. You can only take things one game, or one day, at a time. And you don't always get the bounces. We know that; tell us how, tell us why. You can't be afraid to show your personality, because that is who you are and we want to know you. We want to root for you. We want to see you succeed.

10 - Don't believe the hype. There are a lot of people playing pundit, a lot of people shooting their (our) mouths off. Expectations have leapt up with the signing of a certain center and they will be difficult to meet. But that will come if you work hard, listen to the coaches and play your game to the best of your ability it is possible to reach the high bar that has been set.

This list may seem daunting, but you will be pulling on a Blueshirt and these are the things that come with the jersey.

Let's Go Rangers.

-Scotty Hockey

TC: Sabres 5, Rangers 2

Near the end of the first period Dave Maloney talked about how tough a test the big, more experienced Buffalo squad was for the lil Rangers. Well, the Baby Blueshirts were found lacking. Just as the big boys have done for so long, we were teased with some great play at the top of the tournament only to see our title hopes dashed.

Ah well.

Aaaaaand now I'm over it, how about you? The only title that really means something is the Stanley Cup and if tasting this defeat helps them onto the right path towards that one, then all is worth it.

That being said, just a few notes before we can move along ...

*You could tell that this wasn't going to end well right from the start: in the first two minutes the Rangers were pinned in their own zone, committed two turnovers, had a man caught looking down at the puck and went offsides on a power play.

*Carl Hagelin was the best Ranger on the ice. The Swede (by way of Michigan) drew a pair of penalties - the first came on a burst of speed to the outside, the other was from grinding on the endboards. Good, hard work both times. He also recovered a loose puck off of a offensive zone faceoff loss and found J.T. Miller open for a gimme goal.

*Miller, for his part, showed a great release on his goal. He was left utterly alone in the slot by Buffalo but he didn't hesitate in the least and put the Rangers on the scoreboard. I was very, very down on his drafting and am still not convinced he can be a NHL player but after this tourney I understand what the Ranger scouts saw in him. He does not give up.

*Nice touch by the Traverse CIty folks to play Men At Work's "It's a Mistake" when Jyri Niemi took a penalty midway through the first period. Sadly, it was not a mistake - it was a penalty and an awful one for him to take after choking up the puck. And the Sabres then scored on the ensuing power play, a puck on edge over Stajcer's shoulder short side. Niemi was the worst Ranger in this one, which is surprising considering his year of AHL experience.

*Nice of Jason Wilson to show up in this tournament and lose a fight.

*Did I see a Ranger try a wrap=around in the third period? Frolov return to the team?

*Samuel Noreau was bad in the first game, he was bad in the last one. He clearly still has a ways to go before becoming a NHLer but the progress was very reassuring.

*Perhaps it was the pressure of the captaincy or something but McIlrath had his second poor game in a row. We already knew he will spend the season in Moose Jaw but now we don't have to be disappointed by it - the building blocks of a stalwart blueliner are there but there is still a significant amount of work left to go.

*Joe Micheletti is just atrocious. He stutters, he sputters, he has no idea what is going on and has no chemistry with his broadcasting partners. It is going to be a looooooooooooong season.

*The MSG guys struggled to find someone to compare Tim Erixon to - first saying McDonagh, then Marc Staal. Here is my opinion - Teppo Numminen. Good positionally, great with the puck, not particularly physical but more than capable and someone who can have a really solid NHL career.

*Ken Holland was interviewed and the Wings GM didn't sound nearly as smart as he is. I think the 'OMG this is on TV' factor played a part, as did the fact that his attention was split between the interview and the game. I've spoken to Holland before and found him thoughtful, well spoken and incredibly, incredibly hockey intelligent.

For all of the ripping on the Rangers and on MSG, it was simply awesome to be able to watch this tournament. The Rangers intentionally keep the fans away from their training camp so this was the best chance to see Future Blue for those of us far away from major junior.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

TC: Hurricanes 4, Rangers 3 (Double OT)

You knew it was too good to be true. A Ranger team that can fly, that goes to the net, that battles whistle to whistle and can score seemingly at will? Yep, too good to be true. The Baby Blueshirts played a lot like the big boys when they faced the Hurricanes on Tuesday afternoon: they blew a lead, blew power play after power play, took bad penalties and played down to their opponents. The box score of the 4-3 double OT loss is here.

Some credit should go to Carolina for weathering a 23-5 storm in the third period but for all of the Ranger shots, few challenged the Canes kid in net. However, we need to be pleased that the Rangers put on that onslaught as it shows they responded to Ken Gernander's intermission speech. While Gernander offered a stern message to the guys to pick up their play, you can be sure John Tortorella would have lost his top - and just imagine how they might have turned things around.

Player notes:

*Christian Thomas had a great first period but ultimately gave the game away with his giveaway in the second OT. Trying to pull-up at the blueline on sloppy ice while being closely covered in a three-on-three situation was just dangerous. Thomas is a solid sniper who needs to be smarter.

*J.T. Miller got a ton of ice time and clearly gave it his all every second he was out there. It amounted to nothing. His senseless post-whistle fight was as punchless as his shot. If he can keep his intensity up while refining his game over the next two, three seasons we might have a player there. Might.

*Shane McColgan was a constant threat but sadly did not get a shot to decide it in the overtime. Not sure why.

*My fav Dylan McIlrath was among those who responded to Kenny G for the third period but his penalty in the overtime was inexcusable. Mac is big and he is tough but he can not be reckless.

*If there was any doubt Carl Hagelin and Tim Erixon sealed their spots in the big training camp by singlehandedly dominating action at times.

*Jonathan Audy-Marchessault continued his outstanding tournament but I stand by my Corey Locke comparison. A quick, tenacious offensive player who needs to be better defensively to make the next step.

*Sam Noreau - the kid who is supposed to be this big project - was the most solid of the Blueshirt blueliners. Jyri Niemi - who has a full year of North American experience - has done nothing to stand out in this tournament to date.

*Michael St. Croix and Collin Bowman were both awful. St. Croix seemed utterly lost out there again while Bowman just couldn't handle the competition.

Despite the disappointment the boys have a chance for redemption in tomorrow night's final. Let's hope they can bounce back and take home the title.

Monday, September 12, 2011

TC: Rangers 6, Stars 2

Didn't get a chance to collect any scribbles on the Baby Blueshirt win yesterday so here are just a few observations - the game's box score is available here.

*Don't mess with McIlrath. Seriously. It is not smart. Love this kid.

*Ryan Bourque is everything the summer hype built Christian Thomas to be. Ray's kid was really strong on his skates and, despite his size, willing to go to the tough areas. He has a good shot and really made a leap from last year.

*Scott Stajcer looked far calmer than the last time I watched him play and it served him well in this one. Solid effort.

*Still unimpressed with JT Miller. Perhaps it is because I perhaps irrationally hope for first round draft picks to justify their selection by showing something special and he has not been special yet. However, credit to the kid for the opportunistic goal early and for some solid penalty killing work.

*Was a fan of Shane McColgan when he was drafted because of his roller hockey background. Am a bigger fan of him for fighting to stand up for Thomas. Sure the whole 'fighting after a check' thing is getting annoying in the NHL, but here it showed McColgan's willingness to be a team player and that he is not just a one-way scorer.

*There was a shift right before the McColgan fight that left an impression. The Rangers dumped the puck down the ice and chased after it. Three Stars touched the puck as they moved it back out of their zone and each one was hit by a different Ranger - Wilson, Jordan and Kerbashian. Dallas made it back into the New York end but the Blueshirts recovered and Stajcer made an easy save. All too often the big Rangers dumped and didn't quite chase, much less make the other team pay for getting back out of their zone. It was simple forechecking but it stood out to me.

*My two biggest standouts from game one - Blake Parlett and Jonathan Audy-Marchessault - were very good again. Parlett definitely looks like a professional out there among kids with his calmness and decision-making. Audy-Marchessault will need to improve more off the puck if he is to avoid becoming Corey Locke - super skilled scorer in the AHL but not a NHL regular.

*By all indications Carl Hagelin will make it tough for the Rangers to cut him in camp. Tim Erixon, who was already penciled into the New York roster by most folks before this tourney even started, wasn't as involved as he had been in the first game but he didn't have to be.

*Michael St. Croix was not good. Late in the second period he got lost up-ice ice chasing after the same player as Jason Wilson. Dallas moved the puck right past him and the man he should have picked up on the backcheck made the nice pass to set up the Stars goal. It was a big goal as it came with just seconds left in the frame and they were back within one at 3-2.

*While I feel that the 'Twitter war' between Dave and Jay is ridiculous and I can't stand Joe at all, MSG is doing a fantastic job with these broadcasts. Insightful guests throughout the game, quick but entertaining interviews with the kids and pretty good camera angles in an arena not built for TV.

*The Rangers are definitely in the weaker of the two divisions.

No game tonight but an afternoon matchup against the Carolina Hurricanes tomorrow at 3:30.

Aye Aye Cap'n Cally

It was as inevitable as raised ticket prices at MSG - Ryan Callahan was named the captain of the Rangers this morning.

Callahan was the obvious and expected selection, albeit one that was expected to be made next week. He was the pro tem captain last season when Drury battled his injuries so he steps into a familiar role. His heart and dedication to the franchise is unquestioned and his playing style has long made him a fan favourite. As we have seen in his interviews, Cally has matured from a fresh-faced kid a few years ago into a man that the guys in the room and around the league respect. He is a fantastic choice.

However, I wouldn't be me if I didn't see the possible gray clouds lurking on the horizon.

As I wrote in the Captain Conundrum, the Blueshirts did not step up at the sight of the injured Callahan before an important game against Atlanta on April 7th and had one of their worst performances of the entire season. You can respect someone without following that person's lead. I respect the Dalai Lama but I am not a Buddhist.

The other concern is the obvious - Callahan gets injured. Annually. His 100 percent style puts his body in the line of fire and it takes a toll on him. As my buddy Phil pointed out to me, as a captain he is Brendan Morrow. Unquestioned passion and ability but a tendency to miss time because of it. In his five seasons as captain, Morrow has made it through two of them unscathed. Cally has yet to play a full 82 regular season games in his NHL career.

That is where the Alternates will come in. Marc Staal retained his A from last year and Brad Richards, who wore that letter in both Dallas and Tampa, will join him. Richards' experience makes the decision a no-brainer, despite the perceived oversight of Brandon Dubinsky. One of Dubi's most endearing qualities is his occasional hot-headedness, so perhaps it is for the best that the more experienced, more level-headed veteran gets the A instead. That being said, once Callahan gets hurt should Callahan get hurt, the trainers can easily add a letter to Dubi's sweater and the team can go with three Alternates.

Today's decision puts the team in a far better position then they were in the last few seasons. Jagr was famously moody on and off the ice and Chris Drury was more concerned with celebrating holidays than winning hockey games. Unlike the two of them, Callahan was raised a Ranger and now he is in a position to lead the team to the next level. Let's just hope he stays healthy enough to do it.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

TC: Rangers 5, Blues 2

It was great to be able to tune in to MSG on Saturday to catch some Ranger hockey - it's that time of year again people and it is wonderful. The Baby Blueshirts faced a poor St. Louis side and came through with a victory. They showed a bit of resolve by coming back to win after blowing a 2-0 lead but the final result isn't really all that important. This Traverse City tournament is all about the players learning the basic Ranger system while getting comfortable playing at a higher speed than most are used to. The brass uses it to evaluate the players so that is primarily what I will do here.

It should be explained that the St. Louis team was missing their stud Vlad Tarasenko, who was back in Russia. There were a few other decent players but the majority of the Blues top young talent have already made the leap to the NHL so it wasn't like the lil Rangers were facing an elite side. That being said, they still had a good showing. For the statheads out there, the official game sheet is here.

A few Baby Blueshirts who impressed:

*Blake Parlett: solid and steady with smart, quick puck movement. Heard good things about him last season in Greenville and Hartford and they all appeared true. No panic and good poise - hugely impressive.

*Tim Erixon: Really not much of a surprise that he appeared calm and collected given that he has nearly 140 games of professional experience under his belt.

*Carl Hagelin: Waited a long time to finally see him in a Blueshirt and former Ranger Red Berenson certainly helped develop him into a player. It will be interesting to see him play against men in a week.

*Ryan Bourque and Dylan McIlrath: The two are together for the reason that both had major things to improve on after last year's tournament and they both clearly worked on them. Bourque is stronger and McIlrath is swifter. Sure Mac got tabbed with a few penalties but he smartly avoided fisticuffs and showed far better puck movement than last year.

*Jonathan Audy-Marchessault: And we thought Zuccarello-Aasen would be too long for a sweater? This kid started strong but clearly laboured as the game went on. Definitely showed good signs though.

A few Baby Blueshirts who didn't:

*All of the 2011 draft picks: JT Miller was barely there. Shane McColgan was trying too hard to impress. Michael St. Croix did quite well during a second period penalty kill but overall was mediocre. Peter Ceresnak was disastrous.

*Jason Missiaen: Everyone said he was a project and man, is he. He needs to put on weight, he needs to work on his footwork and improve his puck control. Among other things.

*Tommy Grant: The oldest of the kids at 25, Grant was barely there.

*Christian Thomas: Perhaps he was disappointing purely because of the hype around him. He looked like a Pavel Brendl-type one-dimensional winger. Hopefully he shows more as the tournament goes on.

Finally, it says something fantastic about the state of hockey that Jeep and all of the other sponsors would jump on board to bring MSG on site to cover the tournament. While it is hellacious to have to listen to Joe Micheletti but we all have to suffer for our passions. Both Dave Maloney and special guest John Davidson (love you JD!!) were far smoother and more interesting than Joe, why can't MSG see that? But still, it was great to be watching hockey again. Game 2 is tonight at 6 against Dallas.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Standing At The Crossroads

Fans annually look back at the various wins and losses in their favourite team's season and select the second where things went right, or when they went wrong. In spite of the season running 82 games, we feel that there must be one singular moment that, had things just gone a little bit better, the team's fortunes would have been far more fortunate. One goal, one save, one better call by that blind jackass referee ... the margin for success is just that narrow nowadays. But sometimes it isn't so clear.

And sometimes it isn't so frivolous.

The Rangers have unfortunately been forced to confront their fateful moment a full month before the season is even due to start. The team has arrived at the fork in the road and what happens next will determine how they fare when the puck drops. As if it hasn't been difficult enough for the boys to battle through the loss of Derek Boogaard, they now have to start coping with the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl crash. It will not be easy. More friends and more familiar former foes fell in a hard-to-grasp manner.

The upcoming season can go one of two ways. The Blueshirts can unite in their grief and help each other work through the pain by playing as hard as they can. They could immerse themselves in their work and honor those lost by doing what they do best as best as they can do it. Or they can go down the other path. They could get lost in the losses. They can go through the motions as they deal with their emotions. And, you know what? Absolutely no one could blame them.

The players need to know that it is alright to grieve. They need to do it however fits them best. Getting through it is a personal battle without a one size-fits-all solution. Whether it is hitting the gym or breaking some stuff, screaming their lungs out or even just talking, the guys need to find a way to move on.

The loss from this horrific crash is even more poignant as it comes just days away from the anniversary of 9/11. Sure the reasons for the tragedies are far, far different but treasured lives were lost the same. It has been hellish working through the horror of 9/11 over the last 10 years just look around this city - we have moved on but the day has been forgotten, those lives that were snuffed out so long ago have not been lost to time. The Rangers saw that firsthand this week while visiting firehouses and they need to remember the strength of those they met and find it in themselves.

The former teammates, foes and friends who died on the other side of the world will never be forgotten by those who knew and loved them. But the ones who are left need to start healing and they need to start moving on soon.

Some may think that talking about the upcoming season at this point in time is heartless and I can certainly understand where their minds are at. But this city found respite in sport 10 years ago we can only hope that our sportsmen can do the same now.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Scotty's Split Squad Selections

The Rangers will have a seven game preseason schedule this fall. In most cases the players that dress the final few exhibition games are essentially the ones that take the ice opening night but that doesn't seem likely this time around. The Blueshirts are playing four games in five nights in four different countries.

During his online chat today, New York Rangers writer Jim Cerny told me, "the expectation is that Rangers will bring a large roster to Europe, maybe not two full squads, but my guess is 30 or so cuts, I would expect, will take place there..."

I tried to figure out a way to hit all of them and let me tell you, it isn't easy. While I may not have the resources that the Rangers have, it would still be very tough for the team to bounce from the Czech Republic to Sweden to Slovakia to Switzerland in that short of a time span. Unlike you or I, if they wanted to the Rangers can be in two places at the same time - they can split the squad like baseball teams do every spring. Prague to Bratislava is a three hour drive, Gothenburg to Zug is about four hours total - plane to Zurich, train or bus to Zug.

They may very well go with one expanded side but, for argument's sake, here is a look at two teams that the Rangers can ice based on the various marketing needs and desires of the coaching staff and the situations.

Team Blue
Ruslan Fedotenko-Brad Richards-Marian Gaborik
Wojtek Wolski-Erik Christensen-Christian Thomas
Mike Rupp-Brian Boyle-Brandon Prust
Sean Avery-Chad Kolarik-Dale Weise

Marc Staal-Dan Girardi
Michael Del Zotto-Steve Eminger
Mikhail Pashnin-Tomas Kundratek

Martin Biron/Chad Johnson/Scott Stajcer
Team Blue would be the side that plays the pair of games in the former Czechoslovakia. For PR/ethnic purposes, you have a Slovak in Gabby and a Czech in Kundratek, not to mention Wolski and Fedotenko who are from the nearby Poland and Ukraine respectively. Yes, Wolski grew up in Canada but surely the Poles are proud of him - after all, the top Polish NHLers were former Islander Mariusz Czerkawski and former Ranger Krzysztof Oliwa (remember him?). On the hockey side of things you have the three top left wing candidates for the first line around to rotate and try to find chemistry. MDZ and Christian Thomas could get some power play time with Richards and Gabby and the Henrik-less goaltending has the top D pairing to help defend. You also have protection in Rupp, Prust and Weise against the more physical of the foreign sides the Rangers are facing.

Team White
Brandon Dubinsky-Artem Anisimov-Ryan Callahan
Carl Hagelin-Derek Stepan-Mats Zuccarello
Andreas Thuresson-Oscar Lindberg-Jasper Fasth
Andrew Yogan-John Mitchell-Ryan Bourque

Ryan McDonagh-Mike Sauer
Tim Erixon-Jyri Niemi
Pavel Valentenko-Wade Redden

Henrik Lundqvist/Cam Talbot/Jason Missiaen
Team White will participate in the lovefest that is sure to be the Frolunda game before heading to face a pretty soft Swiss side in Zug. The game in Gothenburg will be as close to a testimonial for Hank as you can get. The Indians fans worshipped him and he would also have a healthy surrounding of Scandic players around him that they would enjoy seeing. It would also could bring forth some whistles (booing) as Zuc was dominant for Modo against Frolunda before he came to America. On the hockey side you have all of the Rangers second line and a possible version of their third if Hagelin can win a job. Lindberg, Fasth and Erixon were on Sweden's World Junior team together so perhaps that will help them play with a certain comfort level - one that doesn't usually come in NHL auditions. Yes, Redden is on the roster. His money doesn't have to disappear from the cap until the real games start and, by all accounts, he was a big part of the maturation of McDonagh last season so he could help Erixon acclimate further. Who knows, perhaps he will fall in love with Zug and leave the team to play there. His game would be great in the Swiss National League.

No matter how the team decides to play it, I expect to be at three of the four games (no Bratislava) and the two regular season Stockholm matches so make sure you stop by for game recaps.