Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Bye, Don't Let The Door Hit You ...

By now you've heard the news: come 2015 the Islanders will be moving to Brooklyn. While it does not bring the sheer joy that folding the franchise or moving it to Quebec or Kansas City would, it is still quite the delight.

This weird feeling I have now - happiness, I believe it is called - is making it hard to compose all my thoughts into one cohesive post so I will just go with my Late Hits-style bullet points:

*First off, if anyone gets on the demolition crew for the Mausoleum, let me know. I will pay top dollar to be the one to press the button to implode that dump.

*They are replacing one vile fanbase with another, as the Jersey Shore wannabe's that wandered the Coliseum concourse will be replaced by Brooklyn hipsters. That is actually great news for the Isles, as hipsters do things ironically, like adoring such awfulness as PBR and UCB. So they should come in droves for at least the opener, before they realize that irony is one thing and idiocy is another. But if Wang decided to bring back the Fisherman sweater? He may have a top seller!

*The stink - and not just the one of failure - may remain the same. The Coliseum had many problems with its piping and many parts of Brooklyn already smell like sewage. Tasty.

*In all seriousness, this could hurt the Rangers a little bit. If the Isles keep prices low to attempt to actually fill the 14,500 seat Barclays Center, it would draw many of the disillusioned hockey fans that have been ostracized by Dolan and company. Bringing in those Blue Bloods - and not just for games against the Rangers - would help a franchise that averaged 13,200 announced fans last season and just 10k two years ago. (In fact, not including last season, the Isles had the lowest attendance in the NHL since the lockout - lower than the Devils, Thrashers and the Coyotes.) I, for one, will be attending more than my usual half-dozen Islander games a year now that the train goes right to the building ...

*But those cheaper prices will be key - the Devils play in a nice new building that is easy to get to but they still barely pull in warm bodies. Then again, they are the Devils and no one wants to go to New Jersey if they don't have to so perhaps that is not the best comparison.

*Sure the Isles have a legitimate superstar and a legion of high draft picks in the pipeline but the odds of Charles Wang and his sycophant staff figuring out how to develop those kids into winners is about the same as me replacing Del Zaster on the Blueshirt blueline. The one plus now is that free agents will more more willing to come to town, seeing as they can live in a real city and avoid the traffic on the Meadowbrook.

*But more mercenaries won't be the key - as we've seen with the Rangers. Growing those aforementioned kids into a competitive team is what will truly help the Islanders. They'd be able to fill the falling-apart Fort (UsedTo)NeverLose if the team wasn't such a failure. Hell, they wouldn't need to move to Brooklyn as it would be easier to attract fans, sponsors and voters to help buy Wang that new building he initially wanted.

*The new proximity to the Garden is meaningless for the rivalry - plenty of puckheads rate the Pens and Flyers as the Rangers biggest rivals nowadays over the Isles and Devils. Many times over the last decade it seemed like I was the only one left who still truly loathed the Isles with every fiber of my being.

*This is another slap in the face to Canada, for several reasons. If I recall, Bettman made True North guarantee that they would have 13,000 season tickets sold in Winnipeg before allowing Atlanta to relocate. There isn't a snowball's chance in hell that the Isles could pull that off now. Both Quebec and Toronto could sell 20k tix a night and Bettman would rather wait to rape them for expansion fees rather than give them a broken down, underperforming, mismanaged joke of a franchise.

*It is worth noting that the franchise goaltender Rick DiPietro will still be under contract for the first six seasons that the team is in Brooklyn. DiPietro is currently spending the lockout in the German second division - a league so simple that plugs Chris Stewart and Wayne Simmonds laughed and left to upgrade to the mediocrity that is the Czech Extraliga. And, while in that piss poor German league, DP has played two games and allowed eight goals. Yep. Wonder which will be more rusty in 2015, DP or the exterior of the arena he plays in.

*Bettman saying in the presser that things are coming full circle with the Isles coming into Brooklyn after the long folded Americans (who never played there) is hilarious. The NHL and the Rangers colluded to ensure the Amerks never came back after World War II. The terrific Third String Goalie did a great piece on the history of that franchise.

*This dashes my hopes of a return of the Rovers. The Rangers long-time minor league team used to share the Garden before going the way of the dodo. With the XL Center's lease and AEG's contract to run the building set to expire in August and Barclays sitting empty the elements were there to bring the baby Blueshirts back to the city. Sadly Barclays will instead host a bush league franchise in 2015, rather than a minor league one.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Moving Matches

The unfortunate fact that there will be no NHL dates filling the calendars at area arenas anytime soon shouldn't stand in the way of there being hockey played there. All three of the metro franchises have AHL affiliates nearby, affiliates that they own. So once the NHL season is officially scrubbed, why don't they relocate a few minor league games to the major league ice?

It is certainly not like the minor league teams are exactly packing them in in their minor league towns either. The average attendance over 38 home games last season for all three was under 5,000. It would be easy to make any Islander joke right here, but restraint is a virtue. Plus, their AHL side actually had the highest attendance of the three - the Sound Tigers filled 4,875 seats out of the 10,000 at the Arena at Harbor Yard in Bridgeport, good for 20th in the league. In Hartford the Whale's attendance ranked 23rd they had 4,573 out of the XL Center's 16,294 seats filled. The little Devils, well, they were dead last in the AHL. Albany's Times Union Center received an average of 3,435 (out of a possible 14,236).

For the Islanders and the Devils, there is very little standing in the way of hosting AHL games in their NHL arenas - both have done it before. The Rangers would have a more difficult time, with MSG being a union shop and thus a far more expensive endeavor. But let's face it, the Blueshirts can easily cover the tab and they should want to show off the latest stage of renovations.

Hell, all three should do it and make the games free for season ticket holders (of both the NHL and AHL clubs) and sell the rest of the tickets off for charity. They would still collect considerable concessions and would keep their product on the market - something valuable in today's current A.D.D. society with it's plethora of entertainment options.

So which games should go? Weekend games are the lifeblood of minor league life so let's look past those. Another criteria for the kid league is rivalry games, as bigger crowds congregate when there is a little hate involved. So what selections are left?

For Hartford (with affiliate franchise and key players in parentheses):
Wednesday, December 12th v. Worchester (Sharks - where Tim Kennedy ended up)
Wednesday, January 23rd v. Adirondack (Flyers - Sean Couturier and Brayden Schenn)
Tuesday, February 5th v. Albany 
Wednesday, February 20th v. St. Johns (Jets - Alex Burmistrov and Carl Klingberg)
Tuesday, March 5th v. Portland (Coyotes - Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Andy Miele and Chad Dos Nueve, who is now wearing #30 actually)
Thursday, March 28th v. Worchester

For Bridgeport:
Wednesday, December 19th v. Albany - Forget the Coliseum, hell, the franchises owe the Barclays Center an exhibition game and the Brooklyn arena just happens to be empty that night ...
Tuesday, January 8th v. Hershey (Caps - our pal Braden Holtby in net)
Tuesday, February 12th v. Springfield (BJs - Tim Erixon and Jonathan Audy-Marchessault)
Tuesday, March 12th v. Springfield

And for Albany? Pretty much any game of theirs can go, last place in the league and all. They outright scheduled four of the Sunday games in Atlantic City, so that leaves 34 others that can be welcomed to the Rock and similarly ignored by New Jersey hockey fans.

If the owners do truly care about their public image, moving some matches would go a ways towards alleviating the hatred. And, certainly, free tickets for those matches would go even further ... but let's not get too crazy here - ownership's greed is why there are empty arenas in the first place. Let's drop the puck already!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Random Rangers: A MSG Moment

Last week Madison Square Garden's brass unveiled Garden 366, an interesting way to pay lip service to the great history that has taken place within the walls of the various buildings to wear the MSG monicker. The SNY guys published the various Ranger-related events that will be included on the new sixth floor wallpaper.

While that list does encapsulate some epic events in Blueshirt history, there are so many more. From time to time I hope to publish them here - whether they are firsthand accounts from fans and the famous or are accounts found in books and other materials.

We'll start with the latter, an excerpt from Scott Young's Hello Canada! The Life and Times of Foster Hewitt, which was published back in 1985. Foster, as you should know, was THE MAN when it came to broadcasting hockey. His radio calls helped entrench the sport in the very being of our northern neighbors and many of his idiosyncrasies have been passed down to broadcasters today: "he shoots ... he scores!"

Foster covered the Leafs and was there when the Buds came up against the Blueshirts in the 1932 Stanley Cup Final. I'll turn it over to Mr. Young, who turns it over to Foster himself:

"When the teams skated out in New York's Madison Square Garden on the night of 5 April 1932, more than sixteen thousand were in the rink, breaking the fire marshal's capacity limit. The New York crowd was always one of hockey's rowdiest, and that night they were definitely up for the game. Newspapers had been feeding the fans every extra bit of animosity that existed between the teams. A few years earlier (Lester) Patrick had decided that (Lorne) Chabot had lost his nerve after a bad eye injury. (Conn) Smythe had crowed ever since that he'd practically stolen Chabot in return for a goalie he didn't want, John Ross Roach, always soft-pedalling the fact that to make the deal he'd also had to give up Butch Keeling, who had become a mainstay of the Rangers.

Back in Toronto, Foster's dramatic account - still only on a local network - had the faithful on the edges of their chairs. Foster, later, eyes shining, smiling and sometimes laughing at some memory, often used the phraseology familiar to his broadcast listeners:
Never, before or since, have I seen such tenseness, or such a brilliantly played, wide-open game. The Cooks were tremendous. Lorne Chabot in the Toronto goal was magnificent. Red Horner was knocking them high, wide and handsome on defense. And every time the Kid Line went out there they seemed to be able to take charge.
Along in the second period, the Leafs were ahead 5-2 when Coach Dick Irvin put a rookie defenseman out on the ice for the first time. Bill Cook went around him like a rocket the first time he came down the ice, and scored. The crowd had been noisy before. But with that goal they let out a roar that never stopped until the end of the period. And they kept right on roaring right through the intermission! When the Rangers came out they'd been listening to that roar from the dressing room and it doubled and tripled and quadrupled when they hit the ice.
It set them on fire. They scored again and made it 5-4. But from then on, the couldn't beat Chabot. And near the end of the period Horner, of all people, broke away and scored the Leafs sixth goal to take the heat off. That game was almost the ultimate in hockey. I'll never forget it."
Ah, the power of loud and proud New Yorkers has virtually no bounds. While that particular moment did not have a happy ending, the Blueshirts were able to recover. They made the Cup final again the next year and avenged their loss with a victory over those same Leafs. It marked the second time Stanley came to the greatest city on Earth, the second of just four. But that is a story for another time.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Random Rangers: Catching Up With Kevin Miller

Rangers have drafted seven players with the last name Miller, including brothers Kevin and Kelly (the third brother, Kip, was picked by Quebec). Kevin was selected in the 10th round of the 1984 draft - 202nd overall - and he went on to have a 620 game NHL career, 103 of them in a Blueshirt. He compiled 57 points before being dealt to Detroit in March of '91 alongside Jim Cummins and Dennis Vial for none other than Joey Kocur and Per Djoos. 

Kevin, who works in finance now, is also the vice president of the Greater Lansing Amateur Hockey Association. The GLAHA is currently holding a fund-raising raffle, with the prizes being several hockey jerseys. Info on that at the bottom but before we get to that, Kevin took some time to answer some e-mailed questions about his career:
SH: You got your start in the Ranger organization, what was that like?
KM: It was Great! The City and the Fans were Awesome. Definitely one of the best places to play in the NHL!!

SH: You were part of a youth movement that saw a number of guys grow in the system and graduate from the IHL to the NHL, including that Mike Richter fellow. There wasn't another real group of home-grown guys like that for 15 or so years and now, the son of one of your teammates (Brad Stepan's boy Derek) is at the forefront of another. What was it like being part of that and what is it that creates classes like that - drafting, coaching, luck, timing?
KM: Whenever you have a group come through with that type of progress it usually comes down to drafting and not trading away your drafts. Of course I was a late draft so the scout either was very good or they got lucky.

SH: You eventually played for the Islanders, why would you do such a thing?
KM: If I had a chance to do that again I would not sign with them!!

SH: Near the end of your playing career you spent three seasons in Davos - Rick Nash is currently killing time during this lockout with that club. Did you enjoy your experience?
KM: It was Great and one of my best hockey playing experiences! The town and the fans are awesome. It is beautiful and I loved playing there.

SH: Aside from the NASCAR-ish, ad-covered sweaters, what differences did you find in Swiss league play as opposed to NHL?
KM: Bigger ice surface so less physical. Very talented and speedy players. Great flow to the games.

SH: And what do you think about NHLers heading overseas during negotiations? I just saw that your cousin Drew (Red Wings forward and brother of Buffalo goaltender Ryan) has already headed to Scotland ...
KM: Guys don't want to sit around so they are taking jobs and going to have fun. It is very sad the owners have taken this position. The game was really growing and this will be another set back!

SH: One of the issues to be addressed in the current CBA battle is NHL participation in the Olympics. You played for Team USA when it was amateurs, what is your opinion - go back to that or stick with the current brand of stars?
KM: If they could have all teams use non professionals then I say go back to the college players, but most Europeans are paid very early!

SH: You went through the 1994 lockout, as a player what was that like?
KM: It was Brutal! Players like the money, but more importantly love to just play!

SH: What differences do you see between that one, 2004's and the current situation?
KM: No Different! No Hockey = CRAP!! 

SH: Honest opinion - when do you think this lockout will end and why? 
KM: Thanksgiving

SH: And I end every interview with a variation of the same question: over your NHL career, how much fun did you have?
KM: It was awesome and would do it all again if I had another chance. The sweat and pain paid off and was really worth it!

Kevin has mentioned the raffle on his twitter account but I borrowed the info from Off-Ice Instigating:

To benefit the Greater Lansing Amateur Hockey Association (GLAHA) the drawing will take place on December 15th (2012) and you DO NOT need to be present to win (so those not in Michigan can still enter). Here are the prizes up for grabs:

1st Prize: Signed Ryan Miller (Sabres) Jersey
2nd Prize: Signed Drew Miller (Red Wings) Jersey
3rd Prize: Michigan State University Jersey (In case you did not know 10 members of the Miller family have played hockey for MSU). All proceeds from this raffle will go to help support youth hockey in the great Lansing area. Checks can be made out to GLAHA and mailed to:

Kevin Miller
1475 Lake Lansing Road
Lansing, MI 48912
Please be sure to include:
Your Phone Number
How Many Tickets for Each Raffle
A Self Addressed Stamped Envelop (so Kevin can send you your raffle tickets)
So good luck!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Gettin' Back My Game

Well, in the wake of Friday night's season opener - for the Whale and for me - I feel like it may be best to get back into the game myself. I won't be stepping on the ice - at least not anytime soon - but I'll start blowing some of those 140 character tweets back up into posts again.

There honestly has been more than a little bit of burnout from over five years of blogging about the Blueshirts but, with a new season underway everywhere outside of the NHL and Australia (their seasons go on over our summer, southern hemisphere and all that), the itch is back and my nails are long enough again to scratch it. At least for the moment.

I have about a half dozen pieces already underway about an assortment of topics, with the first due to be upped tomorrow. So stay tuned as I get the wheels on this bus going again and watch out, at some point I may just make it look mean too.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Opening The A

The 2012-13 Connecticut season started with a stumble, as the Whale blew a 2-0 lead to lose 6-4 to half of the New York Islanders.

In ridiculously-close-to-Ranger fashion, the Whale were handed opportunities to win and simply couldn't convert. But that does belie the fact that Connecticut was outclassed and outright dominated for the majority of the night. Two power play goals (on five opportunities!) in the third period made this one look competitive but, really, it wasn't. Given the lack of intensity by the home team, one would think they were still in preseason ... guess the lack of Camp Tortorella took its toll.

Not going to wrap all the Whale games, but I went to this one so why not? On to the Late Hits:

*The baby Blueshirts survived an early onslaught and actually appeared to get out of the first period not just unscathed but up 2-0. That was, until Micheal Haley got hammered by Blair Riley. Riley wanted to fight off the drop, Haley appeared to say no so Riley went to, I believe, Sean Collins. Collins, in his only smart decision of the night, declined the dance. Puck dropped, play went behind the Whale net, Riley laid a light hit and Haley lost his cool - and ultimately the game. The Sound Scum went into their room on the heels of Riley's decimation of Haley, surely enjoyed the intermission, came out for the second period and pounced upon the little Rangers to the tune of five straight goals. Textbook. Terrible.

*Gilroy was del zastrous: his shots were inaccurate, he couldn't hold the blue line to save his life and his passes helped no one. It is of little wonder he isn't playing top flight hockey overseas - surely no one wanted him. Sure he didn't have a full training camp and is still getting in the swing of things but, let's face it, he wasn't very good when fit - a healthy scratch for that poor Ottawa team in the playoffs.

*Kyle Jean was the top Whale player but that's not saying much because they were quite terrible. He has good hands, decent smarts and a TON of work to do with his skating. Kris Newbury had his moments but the AAAA player always does at this level.

*As @mavanco observed, the Whale forced their offense to go through Chris Kreider when the kid was on the ice - a philosophy that failed. On a team largely devoid of talent, Kreider will at least learn how to handle being 'the man.'

*J.T. Miller did virtually nothing, his highlight was having a Sound Tiger try to hit him and end up taking the worse of it. Although, that is more than Andrew Yogan or Christian Thomas had happen to them, so good on the first round pick.

*Missaen was stellar the first period, square to the shooters. But from then on his lack of rebound control and work-in-progress footwork severely hurt him, as did the team in front of him. It must be remembered that he is a project, one that is far, far from completion. And, man, is he tall.

*Wonder if they intentionally have terrible ice at the XL Center, just to prepare the guys for the notoriously rutted Garden.

*Not sure which bothers me more: that they sell a poorly printed replica puck for $9 or that I paid $9 for it. What can I say? I collect a puck from every arena I go to. I feel shame.

*The much-publicized $2 beer, $1 hot dog promotion was legit, although you certainly got what you paid for: two bucks for Bud Select headache water and a greenback for a poorly-cooked hot dog your grade school cafeteria served.

*Can cross out hearing Brass Bonanza in Hartford off the bucket list. Granted, I heard it at the Whale Bowl two years back, but that was outdoors and didn't count.

*Hartford hockey fans can cross out ever getting NHL hockey again. For the home opener - the home opener - they announced a crowd of just over 8,000 in a building that holds 15,635; and if there were 6,000 folks who actually showed up, that would be a surprise. Despite seeing some MSG regulars, it was clearly not a New York crowd.

*Three Stars:
3- Casey Cizikas - two goals.
2- Nino Niederreiter - one goal and two assists.
1- Kris Newbury - two goals.

Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3- Kyle Jean - the one consistent Whale threat.
2- Brock Nelson - one seriously talented kid, with (hopefully) one seriously miserable career ahead of him if he stays in the Isles organization.
1- Blair Riley - one fight by Riley, one win by Bridgeport.