Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Thoughts on the NHL's latest relocation

Funny, isn't it - how we hear that the league frowns on any team making news during the playoffs (especially during the Stanley Cup Finals) and yet on the eve of its championship series, the NHL publicly announces that the Atlanta Thrashers are moving to Winnipeg and playing in Manitoba next season. This is hardly replacing a bad market with a good one, if you were doing a tale of the tape between Atlanta and Winnipeg, well the edge in market would go to Atlanta while the edge in passion goes to Winnipeg. Somewhat astonishingly, commissioner Gary Bettman issued a warning to Winnpeg fans on the day that they're officially getting their team - basically saying they'd better sell out their games or else. Gee, couldn't the doom and gloom have waited? I didn't see Bettman warn any other of his 'chosen' markets like this when moving teams to areas that didn't even have hockey beforehand.

Granted, it would have been nice if Quebec had gotten a team back before Winnipeg...of all the markets that had teams taken from them, they're clearly the most capable of supporting a team, and I don't say that just because of the 2500 plus fans that showed up en masse to the Rock the last day of the regular season. Not that I really feel sorry for Atlanta either, Atlanta's never really been a great sports town for its other professional teams, why should I expect it to be a great hockey market despite the size of the city?

I do wonder how my life would have changed if the Devils had moved in '95 the way the diehard Thrasher fans will no doubt have to come to terms with no longer having a team of their own. Certainly there would have been no great memories from 2000, 2003 or even some of the recent regular seasons. At that point if the Devils had moved, I think I would have switched over to the Isles. After all, I would have still wanted to root for a local team and even at that point as a young hockey fan, there was no way I was going to switch to the Rangers or Flyers. Those days there really wasn't the type of wall-to-wall internet coverage there is now and I hadn't heard of Center Ice back then, so I think if the Devils were similarly threatened today I might feel differently. After all, it is getting easier every year to follow a team that's out of state.

That said, there's nothing like being at a big home game, and once all the players you rooted for in the uniform are gone a piece of you probably does leave as a fan. Ironically, the Isles have their own arena problems these days so if I ever were to be forced to switch allegiances it'd probably be to Buffalo, especially given they're usually an underdog that's easy to root for. Thankfully with the Devils' new arena and current ownership, moving shouldn't even be a threat for a very long time and I'll probably never have to experience that with my other teams (Mets and Jets). For all the grief they cause me, it's better to have them than not. Everyone needs their life diversion.

I already know one Devils fan who lives in Atlanta (and developed a soft spot for the Thrashers as a result) that's sworn off the NHL for good because of what happened and how it came about, the fact that the NHL jumped through hoops to save Phoenix while barely lifting a finger for Atlanta. Of course when the NHL locked out, many fans swore off the league then but judging by the increased numbers every year I doubt half the people who said they were going to drop the league followed through on their threat. I don't always like the league or the people that run it - just see some of my posts from the Summer of Kovy last year - but I'm not going to let the bureaucrats on First Avenue dilute my passion for the Devils either.

And what this means for the league long-term, who knows? It might be too late to re-align the divisions for next year, meaning Southeast teams like Tampa Bay, Florida, Carolina and Washington will all have to make three trips to far-off Winnipeg next season - not to mention other East teams like the Devils and company will have to go twice. After that the landscape could also shift again, if Phoenix finally does go under and either Quebec, Kansas City or another market gets their team. I hope the league at least encourages the team to retain the Winnipeg Jets name but odds seem to favor the team being called the Manitoba Whatevers.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Bolts and Bruins aim to make own History tonight

One game to decide who advances and who books tee times. As Gary Thorne once said prior to Ducks-Devils for all the marbles eight years ago, 'There's no better theatre than Game Seven.' Either win or go home.

Opportunity presents both the Lightning and Bruins, who have battled this far for a chance to meet the Canucks for the Stanley Cup. After tonight, only one will move on to challenge the heavy favorite with all of Canada glued to the sets a la '04 when the Flames took the Bolts the distance before falling in gut wrenching fashion. However, Calgary's run was as a lower road seed coming as a surprise. Whoever the mighty Canucks draw, they'll be expected to win the franchise's first Cup in their third attempt. A Canadian team hasn't won Lord Stanley since the '93 Canadiens on the broad shoulders of Patrick Roy.

While that's a great storyline for another day, tonight it's Tampa Bay and Boston. Their time to shine. Seventeen years ago today, it was Devils/Rangers in an epic showdown with Stephane Matteau providing a climatic conclusion to an unbelievable series. Will they go that far tonight, digging into resolve for whatever they got left in the second overtime? None of the previous six have reached that point. As a matter of fact, only the Canucks' bizarre ending in Game Five was the only game that needed sudden death this round after a wild first pair. If there's any God (aside from frantic fans of both), there'll be overtime to decide who wins the East. Or as I prefer to say, the Wales Conference. Will either team captain even touch the trophy or will they do what Henrik Sedin did and just take a picture and then skate off?

It's sure to be exciting. At least we hope. Please don't let it be an anti-climatic blowout a la Wings-Avs with Dominik Hasek having a day at the beach after Roy's costly gaffe the prior game almost a decade ago when I was in Bristol. Has it been that long? Crazy. Game Seven is awesome. Let this one be filled with drama that builds all the way up to that final tick. Whether it be regulation or sudden death, a series like this one deserves it.

Who will be the hero? Tim Thomas or Dwayne Roloson? David Krejci or Vinny Lecavalier? Nathan Horton or Martin St. Louis? Zdeno Chara or Mattias Ohlund? Or will it be a grinder like Rich Peverley or Sean Bergenheim? You never know. In '03, it was Grant Marshall and Jeff Friesen combining on an unlikely winner crushing Ottawa hearts. And in '94, Matteau! Matteau! Matteau!

Get ready!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Seventeen Years Later: Messier Guarantee Still The One

Today marks a special anniversary. Seventeen years ago on this date 5/25/94, Mark Messier delivered on his "Guarantee" by scoring a natural hat trick in the third period for a miraculous Game 6 win- leading the Rangers over the Devils at The Meadowlands.

The Rangers avoided elimination and would go on to take the best series I've ever seen in dramatic fashion thanks to unlikely hero Stephane Matteau's double overtime goal in Game 7 at Madison Square Garden when big games still existed. Everyone knows what happened next with Messier, Conn Smythe winner Brian Leetch, Mike Richter, Adam Graves and the rest of a great Blueshirt team, preventing the underdog Canucks from coming back to win the Stanley Cup. All the controversy surrounding Mike Keenan and Neil Smith didn't matter because Messier and the rest of his focused teammates wouldn't allow it to overshadow what their goal was. A couple of lucky goalposts and one last dramatic faceoff win by Craig MacTavish following a phantom icing finally allowed the Rangers to celebrate their first Cup in 54 years. No more 1940 ever again!

Without The Captain's clutch performance in Game 6 with his team's back to the wall trailing 2-zip, there never is a fourth championship and we're still talking about Curses and jinxes. The euphoria of it all will never be forgotten by New York City and generations of Ranger fans who finally lived to see a day they never thought existed. Well, that would be June 14, 1994 with the infamous sign after the fireworks:

NOW I CAN DIE IN PEACE
All this time later as I reflect back on the nervous energy expended as a teenager hoping they'd finally win for Dad, who was a season ticket holder that had the misfortune of seeing Bobby Orr skate the Cup when the Bruins won at MSG. I'll never forget the emotion of it all. Us sitting there in that office room upstairs watching the miraculous comeback started by an Alexei Kovalev late goal in the second. Messier did the rest, taking a Leetch pass off a rush and backhanding one past kid Martin Brodeur to tie the game at two. Then, off another rush started by Leetch, there was No.11 stuffing home a rebound that put the Rangers ahead, stunning everyone. But it wasn't over. Not when the Devils got a power play and Jacques Lemaire risked pulling Brodeur with over two minutes left for a 7-on-4. But before he could be second guessed, Messier shot all the way down from 120 feet into the open net for the hat trick. The Rangers would win.

Despite all the theatrics, there still was another game to play and it was a beauty just as the series had been with Valeri Zelepukin forcing sudden death with 7.7 seconds left in regulation. I can remember feeling sick. The ups and downs of another overtime. The third of a classic Eastern Conference Final that saw Stephane Richer prevail in Game 1 and Matteau notch the first of his two in Game 3, also in double OT. This was the kind of theatre that comes around every so often. That Zelepukin would find a loose puck Claude Lemieux centered and get it past a screaming Richter, who probably just lost it thinking exactly what every Ranger fan was. It was over. The Devils tied it and now, another dramatic moment would be forever remembered for one side.

Both goalies were unbelievable with Brodeur stacking the pads on Messier and Richter stifling Bobby Holik. It was some of the greatest playoff overtime hockey ever played with each team trading chances. Before Matteau could play hero, the Devils seemed to have won it when a shot through traffic Richter lost sight of. The rebound was sitting right there before Steve Larmer saved the day with Sam Rosen screaming, "Where's the puck?" I can remember fearing the worst only to be relieved when it was in the corner. Moments later, Slava Fetisov turned the puck over in his end and Matteau pounced. He then went around the net and centered a pass for a cutting Esa Tikkanen but it never got there, instead going off Fetisov past a sliding Brodeur, touching off wild jubilation on one side and total dejection for the other.

It still ranks as one of the greatest series ever. Even if you didn't have a rooting interest, this was hockey at its pinnacle. Two evenly matched teams who gave it all they had. In sports, there are winners and losers. Neither deserved to lose. But that's not how it's written in the record books. The thing that still stands out most was when the puck went in, Dad never realized they scored until I told him saying, 'It's in,' to which he went nuts. The ceiling shook. It was all worth it.

Little did we know that Pavel Bure and Trevor Linden of the Canucks would make us even crazier in another wild series. All this time later, I still think back to that Game 6 and what Messier did. He didn't do it alone with Richter absolutely standing on his head while having his best friend the post keep our team alive. If I rank those series, Devils-Rangers wins every time. It's just how it is. That was the ultimate because it told us that they were going to win the whole damn thing!

I even got the Game 7 score right in History class, calling 3-2 after Vancouver had pushed us to the limit. Hell. Mr. Bennett even had a fun pool which almost everyone took part in. I couldn't because I was afraid I'd jinx them. I just said 3-2 and had a good feeling about it. All they had been through made me believe. And so, Leetch, Graves and Messier (even if he never touched it) would score the fateful goals that finally ended a 54-year drought. Never would've happened without May 25, 1994.

Ironically, last night when the Canucks clinched their third Cup appearance on the most unpredictable ending of a great game with Kevin Bieksa the only one who knew the puck was still in play enough to shoot a roller past an unassuming Antti Niemi, it marked another anniversary. Seventeen years ago yesterday was the last time Vancouver made the Final with Greg Adams notching the OT winner. Funny how things work sometimes. The top seeded Canucks will attempt to finally be successful this time. Good thing for them they won't see a New York opponent. :P

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Weight to retire Thursday

Another great American born player will call it quits later this week. As expected, Doug Weight will announce his retirement at a press conference on Long Island Thursday.

The 40 year-old has had a brilliant 18-year NHL career playing with half a dozen teams (NYR, Edm, Stl, Car, Ana, NYI). Highlights include a Stanley Cup with the '06 Hurricanes, an Olympic silver medal ('02 Salt Lake City), four All-Star selections along with reaching 1,000 career points with his final team, the Islanders in '09-10. He finishes with 1,033 points including 755 assists along with 278 goals over 1,238 games.

One of the best playmaking American centers to play the game, Weight started out on the other side of the Battle Of New York after being selected by the Rangers in the '90 Draft via the second round (34th overall). The Warren Michigan native lasted less than two seasons on Broadway with '94 Cup architecht Neil Smith dealing him to trade partner Glen Sather and Edmonton for Esa Tikkanen. While the deal helped his former team break a 54-year drought the following year, it did wonders for Weight's career, emerging into one of the game's craftiest passers.

Over the next decade, Weight developed into a superb top line center capable of threading the needle from any angle while also finishing just enough to keep opponents honest. He became a power play fixture, able to work his magic from the boards or behind the net and find open teammates. The unselfish Oiler also was solid all around, capable of playing in his end. However, his main job was to produce and he did just that in '95-96 going over the century mark for the only time in his career. Weight played in all 82 games, finishing with 25 goals and a remarkable 79 assists totaling a career best 104 points, including 46 power play points (9-37-46). Even though they missed the postseason a fifth consecutive year, that finally changed the following season.

Led by Weight and Curtis Joseph, the Oilers pulled off back-to-back first round upsets over the Stars in '97 and the Avalanche in '98 before falling short in the Western Conference Semifinals. However, Dallas soon became their kryptonite ousting them from the first round repeatedly following Todd Marchant's shorthanded sudden death series clincher. With Weight getting closer to unrestricted free agency, Kevin Lowe knew the club couldn't afford to keep him. After nine years spent in Alberta, he was traded to St. Louis during the summer of '01, allowing him more opportunities to try to win.

As a Blue, he wasn't asked to be the main guy but teamed up with Pierre Turgeon to form a nice 1-2 punch down the middle. A bit older, Weight was still a good enough performer to be near a point-per-game while providing St. Louis with another power play threat aside from Chris Pronger. With Pavol Demitra also part of the core and Joel Queeneville behind the bench, the Blues had some good seasons but only got out of the first round once before the lockout. Following the work stoppage, Weight was dealt near the trade deadline to Carolina where he finally won it all with the Canes. In his 10th try (11th if you count 1 playoff cameo in '91 w/NYR), the old school center proved he still had it, posting a career best 16 points (3-13-16) with more than half via the PP (2-7-9). On a strong roster that boasted Conn Smythe winner Cam Ward, Eric Staal, Erik Cole, Justin Williams and Ray Whitney, Weight and Carolina won it all, ironically outlasting his former club Edmonton in a hard fought seven games.

Following the success in Raleigh, Weight returned to St. Louis once more where he put up his highest total since pre-lockout, finishing with 59 points (16-43-59). In his second year, he again was dealt this time to the Ducks but the club fell in five games trying to defend its championship.

Weight's final three years were spent on Long Island with the Islanders where his leadership has allowed a young nucleus including John Tavares, Kyle Okposo and Michael Grabner to grow. Over three seasons, Weight was injury riddled but still a solid citizen who was a good Islander and team captain that led by example. In three seasons, he tallied 13 goals and 51 assists for 64 points over 107 games. Unfortunately, Weight got into only 18 his final year, registering two goals and seven helpers with five power play points.

While he won't make the Hockey Hall Of Fame, his credentials are certainly worthy of being inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall Of Fame. One of our country's best who wore the red, white and blue with pride, including during Team USA's run to the '96 World Cup championship where he finished with three goals and four helpers for seven points over seven contests. A silver medalist, two-time Olympian and Cup winner who was also a champion off the ice.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Rafalski to announce retirement

In a surprising move, Brian Rafalski is expected to announce his retirement. The All-Star defenseman who signed as an undrafted free agent with the Devils over a decade ago became one of the game's best blueliners and a premier power play quarterback. His rookie season, he helped lead New Jersey to its second Stanley Cup along with fellow rookies Scott Gomez, John Madden and Colin White.

The former Wisconsin standout spent his first seven NHL seasons with the Devils, teaming with Hall Of Famer Scott Stevens for two championships ('00, '03). New Jersey also reached Game 7 of the '01 Cup Final before falling to Colorado. A smooth skating defenseman with great vision, Rafalski was one of the game's best passers, often able to spring teammates for breakaways up the middle. He also possessed a deflectable low shot that drove opponents crazy while killing penalties. An unselfish player who also was underrated defensively despite his 5-10, 174 pound frame. Rafalski always battled hard and used the body when called upon.

After two Cups, three All-Star selections and an Olympic Silver in Salt Lake City ('02), Rafalski departed New Jersey to play for hometown Detroit where he again got to team with a future Hall Of Famer in six-time Norris winner Nick Lidstrom. It didn't take long for him to adjust to the Red Wings, matching a career high with 55 points including a career best 13 goals while winning a third Cup in his first season ('07-08). Rafalski added 14 points (4-10-14) during the postseason for Detroit's fourth championship since '97. He followed up with a new career high 59 points including 49 helpers during '08-09. Once again, the Wings reached the Final but fell in a tough seven games to the Penguins.

In 2010, there was Rafalski as one of the leaders of surprising Team USA's run to another silver in Vancouver where they just fell short in a dramatic overtime loss to Canada. He played two more years with the Red Wings continuing to be productive, following up a 42-point '09-10 with 48 in what looks to be his final season. If it is indeed the end, Rafalski finishes with 79 goals and 436 assists totaling 515 points over 833 career games in 11 seasons. With two goals and an assist this postseason, it allowed him to reach 100 (29-71-100) in 165 games.

Rafalski never missed the playoffs in a brilliant career. Just imagine if he had been drafted instead of being forced to go overseas where he played in Finland for three years before Lou Lamoriello discovered him. Sometimes, hidden gems exist. A classy man on and off the ice, that's what Rafalski was.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Report: Boogaard death ruled accidental

According to the Hennepin County Medical Examiner's Office, Derek Boogaard's death last Friday was ruled accidental. The cause of death was an accidental mixture of alcohol and oxycodone toxicity. He was only 28 when brothers Ryan and Aaron discovered him at his Minneapolis apartment at 6:10 CT. 

Derek will be buried tomorrow in his hometown, Regina, Saskatchewan. Along with his family, it's expected that several former teammates and NHL brethren will attend the funeral, including Minnesota Wild owner Craig Leipold, GM Chuck Fletcher and the club training staff. He is survived by parents Len and Joanne, two brothers, half-brother Curtis and sister Kristen.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Rangers sign Thomas

The rumors have finally become fact. Earlier today, the Rangers and Christian Thomas made it official, agreeing to a three-year entry level deal. The son of former NHLer Steve Thomas, Christian Thomas was selected by the Blueshirts in the second round (40th overall).

Listed only at 5-9, 164 pounds, the diminutive kid from Toronto who'll turn 19 next week had a great junior season with the Oshawa Generals in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL). In 66 games, Thomas scored 54 goals while notching 45 assists for 99 points with a plus-20 rating, 19 power play goals, two shorthanded goals and 38 penalty minutes. The 99 were a 33-point increase from '09-10 when he registered 66 (41-25-66). He also had a big playoffs, tallying nine goals and 10 helpers for 19 points in just 10 games, which included four PPG and a plus-eight rating.

Dad Steve and Christian are the only father/son combo to hit the 50-goal plateau in the OHL. Thomas' 95 goals were tops the past two seasons.

Boogaard's Signature Ranger Moment




The Boogeyman might be gone but his spirit is still carried on in the hockey community. When you lose a player to such an awful tragedy, it's like losing part of your extended family. As a passionate diehard Ranger fan for nearly 25 years, Derek Boogaard's death still numbs and makes us ponder life itself, which is so precious. In two days, I'll pay tribute along with a strong group of friends who will honor the One Year Anniversary of Lyndzay's death. Considering that his grandma also passed recently and someone else we knew did as well, it seems like there's been too many of these lately. Unfortunately, life goes on. And so, we must try to deal with death the best we can. By remembering them.

In this third entry devoted to Boogey coupled with our tribute page on the right sidebar and our last brief piece, we flashback to one of the most exciting moments against the Caps on November 9, 2010 this past season. The big man out to protect teammates, surprised everyone in the house when he was the recipient of a breakaway up the left wing. On a two-on-one, there was no doubt what No.94 intended to do, winding up with a classic slapshot from the top left circle that hit twine, popping the Gatorade bottle for his first and only goal of 2010-11. Few players wind up like that these days. So, when Tampa's Ryan Malone did it with similar success earlier this postseason, it was pretty cool. But it simply doesn't compare to one of the toughest SOB's ending a long 234-game goalless span with a moment that had fans in our section chuckling. It reminded of that Marek Malik shootout winner in '05-06 going between his legs versus ironically enough the same opponent.

There are things that make sports special. These classic moments are what make it fun. The joy of a player doing the unexpected a la Aaron Boone, Bucky Dent, Stephane Matteau, Grant Marshall, Dave Hannan, Dave Volek, etc. Maybe it was supposed to be this way for Boogaard, whose signature breakaway slapper won't soon be forgotten. The reaction still is priceless. Just replaying it over and over allows us to smile and laugh, seeing the sheer excitement on Boogey's face with teammates mobbing him as his hands are raised to the roof in jubilation. It makes me want to cry but at least tears of joy. Who doesn't love seeing Bruce Boudreau's stunned disbelief as if to say 'Are you ******* kidding me,' at 24 seconds? I don't think there was enough Haagen Dazs for our favorite coach, who stole the show at last year's HBO 24/7 leading up to the Winter Classic. Speaking of which, it'll be nice to see the Blueshirts represent the city when they take on the Flyers at Lincoln Financial Field on January 2nd.

Today's not about that but still focusing on a larger than life athlete who gave his heart to everyone, putting grins on kids faces. I only wish I could've met the man and shook his hand. I can't imagine how hard it's been on his family as they get ready to bury Derek this weekend. It isn't fair. Sometimes, life isn't. I learned it last year and thank my lucky stars for every day I get. You just never know. We cannot forget Derek Boogaard! It simply isn't an option. That #94 patch should be part of the 86th New York Rangers season. One they don't start up for quite some time. A new Cup champ hasn't even been crowned yet and already, all I can think of is 2011-12, which will also be the Third Year Anniversary of Alexei Cherepanov's death. Counting Roman Lyashenko ('03), our team has lost three players to tragedy. Crazy.

Here's to you Boogey! Cheers.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Boogaard Death Still Lingers

A few days have passed since the untimely death of Derek Boogaard. It's still hard to fathom that the 28 year-old mammoth of a man who gave his heart and soul for his teammates, was discovered dead at his Minneapolis apartment by brothers Ryan and Curtis on Friday The 13th- sending shock waves throughout the hockey community.

The loss of a popular teammate and even better person away from the ice who devoted much of his time to charities helping soldiers and kids, is shocking. True enough, he last played a day after my birthday on Dec.9, 2010 sustaining a concussion and shoulder injury in a fight with Ottawa's Terry Carkner. The severity of the injuries forced him to miss the last 53 games. A disappointing first year on Broadway had him motivated to get into even better shape as he recovered from a fourth concussion. Boogaard was looking forward to working with Ranger trainer Reg Grant this summer to prove himself after inking a four-year $6.5 million contract last summer, departing Minnesota.

Instead, we're left with questions as to how The Boogeyman died. With homicide ruled out and no signs of a struggle, who knows what the cause of death was. Out of respect for a good man, we're not about to speculate. The autopsy should take several weeks along with toxicology reports. I'd rather not even think about it. A good person has left us way too soon and now it's time to mourn as the Wild organization did over the weekend thanks to a special memorial held in front of the Xcel Energy Center, organized over Facebook by big fans Katie Haag and Shelby Leske that included several former teammates along with the entire Boogaard family.

We devoted a whole page to Derek Boogaard on a six-year career that featured plenty of fisticuffs along with one awesome goal he scored at MSG against the Caps. I'm proud to say I was there along with Dad, Justin and Mike for that cool moment which snapped a 234-game drought. Even though they didn't win the game, Boogey won. That's all that mattered.

I wish there could be a moment of clarity. Unfortunately, when something like this happens, it makes you rethink things. The entire hockey community has come together, memorializing Boogaard's tragic death. Hopefully with his brain donated to BU, something good will come out of this. I'll always remember that cool No.94 Ranger jersey. The man had a sense of humor till the end.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Jagr Turns Back The Clock: Tricks USA in Czech win

Special players rise to the occasion. Performing on the big stage has never been a problem for Jaromir Jagr. The former NHL great turned back the clock with a vintage game in today's quarterfinal between Team USA and the Czech Republic at the World's. No.68 dialed it up, notching a hat trick to lead the Czechs past an overmatched young American squad 4-0 in Bratislava- advancing the defending champs to the semifinals before a raucous atmosphere that featured overwhelming support.

As Zach Parise said during intermission on Versus, "What can you say about this guy?" Like many, he's seen it before with Jagr victimizing the Devils a few Springs ago in the last Battle Of Hudson. The speed isn't the same but the instincts along with incredible hockey sense are for the now 39 year-old who the Pens are rumored to have interest in. Could a Pittsburgh reunion be in the works for GM Ray Shero? Jagr's contract with Avangard Omsk ran out but he may stay put. Of course, the wider hockey surface benefits his style- allowing him more room and space to create along the wall.

Personally, I'd love to see Jagr return to the NHL for one more go round. In 1,273 career games, No.68's tallied 646 goals along with 953 assists totaling 1,599. If he came back, a few milestones are attainable with JJ needing one point for 1,600, 47 helpers for 1,000 and 54 goals to join the 700 Goal Club. If he played 27 games, the former Blueshirt would hit 1,300. While the point would be easy, the other two might be more difficult. It's hard to gauge how an older and slower Jagr would do back on the smaller North American ice. With more of an emphasis on speed, could his body hold up over an 82 game schedule? Of course, if he played with say Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, that would certainly benefit him. Imagine what Pens games would be like. Super Mario II ring a bell? A Pens ticket would become a hot commodity, which would benefit a league where attendance isn't always positive despite what spin the NHL puts out.

Of course, all this is wild speculation. Fun to envision. One thing about Jagr. He's still quite potent on the power play where two of his three markers came, including a familiar 5-on-3 one-timer that deflected off Mike Komisarek's stick past Ty Conklin for the Czechs' second of the day. Jagr started the scoring when he took full advantage of a Kevin Shattenkirk turnover, beating Conklin through the wickets on a mini-break late in a first period controlled by Scott Gordon's younger club.
Our country lost their discipline in a poor middle stanza. James van Riemsdyk's silly elbow handed the Czechs a two-man advantage. After some strong penalty killing along with a couple of big stops by Conklin on Marek Zidlicky, the Czech Republic used a timeout to rest their top unit. It paid dividends when Roman Cervenka dished across for a quick Jagr rocket that Conklin had no chance on. He actually was in good position before the puck changed direction due to Komisarek.

Due in large part to special teams, Team USA never got any quality chances on Thrasher netminder Ondrej Pavelec (29 saves), who denied Nashville prospect Craig Smith in the first. Gordon's club did blow their own abbreviated 5-on-3 prior to Jagr connecting, staking the Czechs to a two-goal lead after 40 minutes. The U.S. effort was better in the third but they never were able to match their more experienced opponents' firepower. Czech Republic had a loaded roster that included Devil Patrik Elias, Tomas Plekanec (Mtl), Michal Frolik (Chi), Jakub Voracek (CBJ), Milan Michalek (Ott), Zbynek Michalek (Pit) along with former NHLers Petr Prucha, Jiri NovotnyKarel Rachunek, Lukas Krajicek and Martin Skoula. Cervenka, former Ranger draft pick Jan Marek and Czech captain Tomas Rolinek are no strangers to international play.

Conversely, Team USA's roster was comprised mostly of kids who didn't represent us in Vancouver when our country was runner-up to Canada in one of the most memorable games ever. It still hurts. Ranger Derek Stepan was held off the scoresheet for the first time along with linemates Blake Wheeler (Atl) and Van Riemsdyk (Phi). In seven games, Stepan paced us with seven points. Others who played well included Smith, Devil Nick Palmieri, Ryan Shannon (Ott), Jack Skille (Fla), Jack Johnson (LA), captain Mark Stuart (Atl), Ryan McDonagh (NYR), Cam Fowler (Ana) and future Blueshirt Chris Kreider. Komisarek (Tor), Shattenkirk (Stl), ex-Blue Yan Stastny , Tim Stapleton (Atl), Paul Gaustad (Buf), Mike Brown (Tor), Chris Porter (Stl) and Clay Wilson (Fla) also rounded out the roster along with Islander Al Montoya.

The difference in skill level was evident on the Czechs' final two tallies. A Stepan mistake in the neutral zone led to a quick set up for Plekanec, who wired one top shelf for 3-zip. A frustrated Stuart slash late allowed Jagr to turn the trick when No.68 worked a textbook give-and-go with Plekanec, who found him for an easy finish to plenty of salutes from a pro-Czech crowd that included painted faces and funky outfits in their flag colors. European fans are classic. One day, I have to go see a game overseas. Just for the atmosphere itself along with a unique culture, it'll be worth it.

While Czech Republic awaits the Germany-Sweden winner, tomorrow features a heavyweight quarter match between Russia and Canada. Versus is airing it live at 2 ET. If you get a chance to tune in, don't miss it! With Detroit and San Jose off after another amazing performance from Pavel Datsyuk, who along with Niklas Kronwall have helped the Red Wings rally from an 0-3 hole to even the series, you can catch an encore of the Jagr Show at 8 tonight.

I was going to do a separate entry on this series, which has become the second this postseason that needs a Game 7 after one team led 3-0. We saw it in Round One when the Blackhawks rallied to not only force a deciding game but got a Jonathan Toews shorthanded goal with two minutes left, taking the Canucks to sudden death before Alex Burrows rescued the city of Vancouver. Now, it's another experienced former champion standing up to make it the kinda series I envisioned. I took the Sharks in seven. So, it's not surprising that tomorrow will see an epic conclusion to a classic Conference Semifinal where basically every game's been decided by a goal sans a late Darren Helm empty netter that sent The Joe into a frenzy.

It's been a hard fought battle all the way with San Jose prevailing by one the first three, including a pair of OT winners from Joe Pavelski and Devin Setoguchi. To Detroit's credit, they fought back with two one-goal triumphs, including a miraculous third period comeback with Jonathan Ericsson, Kronwall and Tomas Holmstrom scoring in succession to stun HP Pavilion in Game 5. Game 6 was incredible with unbelievable netminding from Antti Niemi (42 saves) giving his team a chance to steal it. When Logan Couture nudged Dany Heatley's rebound across the line, the Sharks led with 16:06 left. But Jimmy Howard (24 saves) also made a few clutch stops including a ridiculous glove save off a tricky Heatley deflection. The Wings wouldn't be denied when Valterri Filppula found a pinching Kronwall for a shot Henrik Zetterberg redirected.

They took advantage of a terrible San Jose change with Filppula steering home a ridiculous backhand saucer feed from who else but Datsyuk. Datsyukian as I refer to him on Twitter is amazing. He's playing with a bad wrist and took only one key defensive draw late last night and won it. Whatever pain he's in, you wouldn't know it. I've said it before. Not to sound like an echo, but there's no more complete player than Pavel Datsyuk. The man is a magician with the puck who never takes a shift off. His backchecking is second to none even though I think Ryan Kesler wins his first Selke. I love Kes, who reminds me of Mark Messier. He's having a great playoffs. But if you were to ask me who my favorite player is to watch, it's Datsyuk. The man is all heart. He only got one point last night but it's his constant play with and without the puck that is breathtaking. Take his wizardry that made Jeremy Roenick target Patrick Marleau dizzy before feeding Nick Lidstrom for Holmstrom's decider the other day. It's just remarkable.

The Red Wings will attempt to become the fourth team to make it all the way back from 3-0 behind. Can they join the '42 Maple Leafs, '75 Islanders and last year's Flyers, who went to Game 6 before falling to Chicago in sudden death? It shouldn't be easy at one of the best home ice advantages in the league. It's not like the Sharks have played poorly. Yesterday was their first bad game. Without Niemi, it's not a contest. None of that matters. Something Todd McLellan pointed out in his press conference. Game 7 is about stars. It's where heroes are born. San Jose should have Ryane Clowe back to reunite with Couture and Heatley, who've been their best line. Joe Thornton has played better hockey than any other playoffs. Pavelski is as clutch as it gets and Setoguchi has been everywhere. Is this the game Marleau shows? It's all on the line.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Monday Fun Day: Early 90's Throwback

Hockey's been dead here for a while. To be perfectly blunt, it already feels like months since the Rangers and Sabres lost their first round series. If that's how this blogger feels, I can't imagine how Hasan does or any Islander fan. We live and die with our teams and the fact that once again, no one's playing deep into the nice May weather can totally suck.

For me, I continue to follow the playoffs where you have no clue on what will happen next. Can Nashville force a seventh game tonight? Are the Sharks in trouble after blowing their second chance to put away Detroit? In what looked to be your typical second round following a long, exciting first round with Tampa and Boston sweeping, the Preds and Wings don't want it to be over yet. They continue to fight, forcing the Bolts and Bruins to wait patiently before the Conference Finals can begin. Is it fair? Probably not. But it might help concussed B Patrice Pergeron, who's a vital cog for Claude Julien. You hope he'll be alright following Claude Giroux's clean hit. If not, Tyler Seguin will make his playoff debut under intense scrutiny. It's the Bruins' first appearance in the Final Four since '92 when the Original 6 black and gold featured Ray Bourque, Adam Oates, Cam Neely, Glen Wesley, Joe Juneau and Andy Moog.

To think that back then I was a young, innocent teenager who enjoyed the throwback style we got. Gretzky was King and Super Mario reigned supreme along with a long haired Czech teen phenom named Jagr as his sidekick, going back-to-back in the Steel City. The hockey version of Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid, who were supposed to win a lot more before Lemieux's back problems and Hodgkin's. When you look at the point totals of classic scoring races, Mario and the Great One dominated while Oates and Pat Lafontaine along with Stevie Y all did their thing. The excitement dominant finishers like Brett Hull, Alexander Mogilny,The Finnish Flash and The Russian Rocket generated along with a gifted Russian named Fedorov, injected life to a sport that wasn't always about dirty hits and controversial remarks. In the glory days, our heroes were men built like Messier, whose dominance in a series win over Jeremy Roenick and the Blackhawks led Edmonton to another Cup.

Maybe it's me but back then, stars were more celebrated. It wasn't just limited to Sid vs Ovi. American stars like JR, Lafontaine, Brian Leetch, Chris Chelios and Mike Modano transformed the sport- making it more popular in The States. Today, we get emerging young stars Patrick Kane, Bobby Ryan, Zach Parise, Phil Kessel, Paul StastnyJames van Riemsdyk along with black and blue types Ryan Kesler, Joe Pavelski, Ryan Callahan and Dustin Brown, who we identify with. The names on the blueline have changed to Johnson and Johnson, plus Cam Fowler and Kevin Shattenkirk, giving us hopes for the future. Might that include Derek Stepan, Ryan McDonagh and Chris Kreider along with Nick Palmieri and Mark Fayne and Kyle Okposo? Ask the new kids on the block and they'll tell ya who inspired them. The stars of yesteryear's impact can't be forgotten. So, the next time you watch, images of Leetch, Chelios, Modano, Roenick, '96 World Cup hero Tony Amonte, John Leclair, Keith Tkachuk, Bill GuerinGary Suter and Mike Richter should all be fresh. With recent Vancouver hero Ryan Miller, Conn Smythe candidate Tim Thomas and rejuvenated Al Montoya, there's much to like. Indeed, The Kids Are Alright.

Speaking of Team USA, they dropped their final preliminary at the World's to the Swiss 5-3 in Slovakia. Ty Conklin allowed all four goals and Andres Ambuhl scored a goal and assist for the pesky country nobody likes facing. Nothing for D-Step or Kreids, who've both been good this tournament along with Palmieri and Blake Wheeler. They failed on two power plays trailing 4-2 before a brilliant feed from Fowler set up a cutting JVR with reliever Montoya pulled for an extra attacker. However, the Swiss held us off by working the puck out and getting an empty netter to clinch the win. Now, it's onto the elimination round with a potential quarterfinal against familiar face Jagr and the Czech Republic. No picnic. The next game features Sweden and Canada with the winner drawing Russia. Yikes. Norway qualified with a 5-2 win over France. Slovakia didn't but won today 4-1 over Denmark. Marian Gaborik had an assist and Marian Hossa tallied while old reliables Miro Satan (1-1-2) and Jozef Stumpel (assist) had strong games.

Kudos to Versus for televising most of our games live. The quarters will be played in Bratislava at Orange Arena. With a secondary helper late, Stepan hiked his team-leading scoring total to seven points (2-5-7). Wisconsin's Craig Smith notched his team best third goal. A breakout tourney for the future Predator who ranks second with half a dozen points (3-3-6). Palmieri has two goals and a helper. We'll see how they fare in crunch time.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Capital Disappointment

Well, at least not everything's going poorly in the nation's capital with President Obama receiving plenty of deserved kudos for giving the okay on a successful mission that killed Osama Bin Laden. The President visited Ground Zero today along with Rudy Giuliani and Mayor Bloomberg in a fitting 9/11 tribute that finally had some kind of closure. Of course, it'll never be over. But at the very least, we can take pride in the red, white and blue for accomplishing what George W. Bush set out to.

I'm not quite sure how to transition from 5/1/11 to the latest Capital disappointment but here goes. Many came away impressed with the Caps' improved defensive oriented system, which conquered the Rangers in five games. Myself included, I expected Washington to oust Tampa Bay and advance to the Conference Finals. I chose the Caps in six thinking Alex Ovechkin would continue to get support from Alex Semin, Marcus Johansson, Brooks Laich, Mike Knuble, Jason Arnott, Jason Chimera, Mike Green and John Carlson. I also figured Nicklas Backstrom would awaken from the malaise he was in all year.

Instead, I underestimated a strong Bolts club that had been my darkhorse due to real MVP Martin St. Louis, Vinny Lecavalier, Ryan Malone, Teddy PurcellVictor Hedman, Eric Brewer, Mattias Ohlund, Dwayne Roloson and my favorite third line featuring one-time Ranger Dominic Moore along with former Islander Sean Bergenheim and super pest Steve Downie. Did we mention ex-Isle Nate Thompson does a lot of the grunt work, becoming a real valuable player under snubbed Adams candidate Guy Boucher? Truthfully, the Lightning were always going to be a tough match up for the Capitals due to a solid nucleus that executed Boucher's 1-3-1 to perfection, allowing Roloson to see the puck without a plethora of chances versus a highly skilled opponent.

Nobody is playing at a higher level than St. Louis, who of the three Hart nominees (Daniel Sedin, Corey Perry) hasn't come down yet in crunch time. There, the cool small wonder sits atop the playoff leaderboard with six goals, seven assists and 13 points. The '03-04 former league MVP who last time the Lightning went this far led them all the way to Lord Stanley, is a constant waterbug every shift. The undrafted gem from Vermont is always on the puck utilizing his speed and skill to create as was evidenced on a nice set up for linemate Lecavalier that steered the Bolts back ahead in Game Three. Speaking of the rejuvenated Vinny C, he's back in a big way scoring huge goals like his sudden death crusher during Game Two that proved to be a fatal blow to the Caps. His dozen points (5-7-12) include a playoff tying three deciders (tied with David Krejci). The dynamic duo are joined by Downie, who Boucher shifted off the top line to a checking type that's wreaked havoc. All season, the rambunctious play of Moore, Bergenheim and Thompson have given opponents fits. Perfect players for the postseason where board battles are frequent and play gets chippy.

The genius behind bringing in Bergenheim, Moore, '04 hero Kubina, Simon Gagne and adding Brewer at the deadline is someone who knows a thing or two about winning in GM Steve Yzerman. The same young executive in Year One that hired Boucher under new management. Imagine that. From top to bottom, the Lightning Bolts got a remake and look equipped to challenge Boston for their second Cup appearance. If only it worked that way on Broadway.

Most impressive has been the play of Brewer, who plays the kind of aggressive, physical style the Islanders wanted no part of, trading him a decade prior to Edmonton for Roman Hamrlik. The Oilers didn't keep him. The Blues were sellers. So, they got what they could for a former '97 fifth overall pick that's better than his career stats. Won battles and clearing out in front don't show up on the stat sheet. He's the biggest reason Tampa's blueline is so much tougher, allowing Hedman to settle in while Brew and Ohlund manage the game's elite. Even minus Kubina and Gagne, Boucher's Bolts got it done quickly for a stunning sweep of the No.1 seed. Toss in stellar goaltending from Roloson (10 GA in series, 14 during 7-game win streak) and the Lightning are right there for the hardware. Roli is the youngest 41 year-old, sparking the Bolts back from a 3-1 deficit to oust the Pens. Now, they get the Bruins, who should be a stiff challenge after sweeping out Philly to avenge last year's humiliation.
While the Bolts move on, once again the Caps end in turmoil, unable to get past Round Two with a disastrous result to a close rival. How'd it happen? Ovechkin became the only scorer who held up his end of the bargain while Semin again disappeared and Backstrom continued his mystifying slump to conclude a dreadful first year in a new 10-year deal that has Charles Wang drooling. What happened? As new star Jeremy Roenick remarked on Versus, he's far too talented for this and will have plenty to answer after a long summer.

As for Semin, we have never trusted the enigmatic Russian, who is a classic tease that floats and loses composure. When he's not engaged, undisciplined penalties creep up that prove costly. Not exactly the kinda player you can trust with a year left at $6.7 million with a cap hit of $6 M. Might GM George McPhee consider trading the Russian enigma? If they could get a proven performer who plays a more straight forward game conducive to the postseason, they'd have to consider it. Semin's style might be a better fit in Hollywood where the Kings could use another finisher.

Offensive domino Mike Green also enters the final year of his contract and will earn $5 million ($5.25 M cap hit) before turning restricted in 2012. No one would argue how dangerous the top Cap power play rover is. One of the best quarterbacks in the game who possesses a rocket, Green's also a great skater who can transition the puck from defense to offense in a jiffy. For all his skills, he's still an adventure defensively. If Washington decided that they needed an overhaul, they could get creative and propose a blockbuster involving Semin and Green to LA for Ryan Smyth and Drew Doughty, who's due a raise this summer from the $3.475 million hit. The age difference between Doughty (21) and Green (25) is four with both celebrating birthdays during '11-12. Both are elite blueliners who'll earn hefty new contracts. The bigger risk is dealing a player with untapped potential eight years younger for a rugged, experienced warrior who's been where the Caps are trying to get.

If Bruce Boudreau sticks around, then owner Ted Leonsis is a man of integrity who understands that it takes time to adjust on the fly to a new system. It'd be easy to point out the latest failure as grounds for axing our favorite Haagen Dazs fan. However, his gutsy move to abandon the run 'n gun for a more diligent checking system produced a great second half with the Caps winning the East with 107 points in an improved division. That has to be considered along with a track record that's produced four division titles, a President's Trophy and tops in the conference. Something Leonsis alluded to on his blog, which indicated that they needed to take a few days before making up his mind. When you make such a radical change mid-season, there's bound to be some road blocks. Maybe it was too much to expect the Caps to win the Cup. More time is needed so that players don't panic when it fails.

The Caps have important decisions to make come July with Brooks Laich, Jason Arnott, Marco Sturm, Matt Bradley, Boyd Gordon and Scott Hannan all up. Laich's been a good player who they should bring back while Arnott played well after the trade from the Devils. If he took a one-year discount, they'd be nuts not to re-sign the vet, who still is hungry for another Cup. The other four probably are gone even though Bradley and Gordon were good soldiers. Hannan was a risk after dealing offensive playmaker Tomas Fleischmann, who was a point-a-game before a pulmonary embolism ended his year. They missed his creativity.

Washington needs another rugged defenseman that can support Carlson and pup Karl Azner (RFA). If they keep Green, then the top six should remain intact featuring Jeff Schultz, John Erskine and Dennis Wideman, who was hurt. They also could get more mobile so that they're not pinned in like they were by Tampa. Tom Poti is likely finished which is a shame since he developed into a solid D in the nation's cap. They definitely missed him. Words I never thought I'd utter.

Where the Caps go from here remains to be seen. There's enough talent obviously to compete. But until they take that next giant step, there will remain skepticism. Is it time for a change?

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Playoffs: NHL OT, Rinne, Roloson, Thomas and JVR

These playoffs have been amazing thus far. NHL Overtime has become a daily Rite Of Spring. Counting last night's exciting Boston 3-2 OT win over Philadelphia in Game Two, there have already been 18 games that required sudden death. Four have gone to double overtime, including Nashville's stirring 2-1 win at Vancouver taking Game Two to earn a split with Game Three tonight back in Music City. More remarkable is that there's been at least one OT game 13 of the last 14 days with only the Canucks' 1-0 Game One shutout of the Predators on April 28 breaking the trend.

With two more games on the slate tonight featuring the Caps and Bolts at the top of the hour and the Canucks and Preds later, might we see more of the most exciting hockey our sport has to offer? Let's hope so.

Aside from all the classic games, goalies have stood out at the start of Round Two with brilliant performances turned in by Pekka Rinne, Dwayne Roloson and Tim Thomas. Facing the No.1 overall seed with the most lethal offense, Rinne has held Vancouver to only two goals on 63 shots. While he was less busy in Game Two finishing with 32 saves to Vezina counterpart Roberto Luongo's 44, the quality was in a different stratosphere with the athletic Finn robbing the Canucks of a commanding 2-0 series lead at least five separate times. His acrobatic denial of a certain goal was Hasek like in style, doing anything he had to to stop the puck. There also were stone jobs on Henrik Sedin and Maxim Lapierre, who had easy paths to the net. Rinne had the Canucks shaking their heads, which bares watching with a pivotal game tonight. ... A funny thing's happened in the Tampa/Washington Southeast showdown. The play of elder statesman Roloson has the Lightning in good position to pull the upset. They won both games at Verizon, including a wild 3-2 sudden death win Sunday thanks to Roli's heroics along with Vinny Lecavalier, who potted his second of the game in beating Michal Neuvirth. The play of the former Islander who has a wealth of postseason experience going to a couple of Cup Finals ('99 Sabres, '06 Oilers) has stymied the Caps, who have gotten little from top pivot Nicklas Backstrom (2 assists). If they hope to advance, that must change. They'll need to solve Roloson, who kept his team in Game Two with 35 stops to steal it. We'll see what Alex Ovechkin and Co. are made of.

... Not to be outdone, the other Vezina candidate Thomas was at his absolute pinnacle in thwarting ever dangerous James Van Riemsdyk and the Flyers, backstopping the Bruins to a 3-2 win in what else...overtime! The B's climbed out of an early two-goal hole due to JVR (8 SOG, 10 Att in 28:18), who tallied twice in the game's first 10 minutes. The kid from Jersey was a one man gang, using superior speed and size to circle past the Boston D for quality chance after quality chance only to be denied time and again by Thomas, who stopped the final 46 shots in one of the most clutch performances you'll see. Boston recovered thanks to goals from Chris Kelly and rookie sensation Brad Marchand 75 seconds apart in the first. Despite a dominant 32-12 shots edge combining the third and OT, the Flyers couldn't get another past Thomas to square the series. They also had to again relieve a starter with Brian Boucher coming out due to an injury suffered in the second while making a glove save. In came Sergei Bobrovsky, who made half a dozen stops, including a couple of big ones keeping the game tied before Boucher surprisingly returned for the third/OT. To his credit, Bouch was sharp when called upon while Thomas stopped all 22 shots, facing a barrage. That included his own Hasek impersonation with a backwards save in the final sequence of regulation, negating who else but Van Riemsdyk with Danny Briere unable to steer home the winner as the buzzer sounded. As often happens when a hot goalie stands on their head, all it takes is one mistake for the other team to win, which is exactly what happened when an errant Braydon Coburn reverse missed his partner, instead going to Nathan Horton who intercepted and sent a cross-ice feed for David Krejci's OT winner that went in and out of the net so fast that it required replay to confirm the obvious. Everyone knew it. The puck hit the back iron before exiting, allowing Thomas' super effort to hold up.

... There have been a few great games turned in by goalies with rookie Corey Crawford topping the list with some of the best goaltending you'll ever see in allowing the former champion Blackhawks to push Vancouver to the limit before Alex Burrows ended their bid to repeat Flyers HISTORY from an 0-3 deficit. Carey Price was also outstanding in a losing effort to blood rival Boston with Horton ending the Habs' season. Roloson outplayed Marc-Andre Fleury but also benefited from dynamic duo Lecavalier and deserving MVP candidate Martin St. Louis, who were too much for a shorthanded Pens' club minus Sid and Geno, blowing a 3-1 lead. It's hard to put one at the top. Between Rinne's acrobatics and Thomas' wild style, they're the two most fun to watch because you never know how they'll stop the puck. No disrespect to Luongo, who is a fine goalie. But he is not on par with either and has arguably the deepest blueline along with The Sedins, Ryan Kesler and Burrows roaming around. We still feel either Price or Henrik Lundqvist were robbed by GMs just as Guy Boucher was for the Jack Adams with writers opting to include Alain Vigneault along with certain winner Dan Bylsma and "The Czar," Barry Trotz. Everything else, we have no issue with.

Let the games begin!

Monday, May 2, 2011

God Bless Freedom

Today feels different. Perhaps it has something to do with yesterday's big news with a successful U.S. Mission finally getting Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan.

As news leaked via Twitter (where else) before media news outlets confirmed a prosperous day in American History, the drama built to a feverish pitch. Everyone was real careful before locking in on the No.1 terrorist on our Most Wanted List. The way rumors spread, it was wise to use caution. When something like this happens, everything stops. It's already been a few years since they caught and executed Saddam Hussein. Now, on May 1, 2011 nearly 10 years after 9/11 that impacted so many innocent lives destroying families, we will not forget where we were. Just as we'll never forget that tragic day that caused heartache and panic.

It's hard to express what this means. As I watched the news with Dad downstairs, finally President Barack Obama made the trip to make an official announcement over an hour after he was expected to speak. The wait was worth it. Sure. We'll never get back that long sad day. All those lives lost. It's easy to reflect back and see where you were at that exact moment. I was supposed to be at work in Jersey City at Harborside Financial Center right across from the beloved Twin Towers. Every day, I made it a point to stop and look at them, admiring what our way of life is all about. Then, one day they vanished due to pure evil.

Oddly enough, as I crossed the Bayonne Bridge, Howard Stern announced it and to my amazement was a dark cloud of smoke coming from the Towers. A surreal scene as I saw plenty of police cars en route to 34th Street Bayonne Station, aware that there'd be no Light Rail service. A crowd gathered at the parking lot, including a co-worker Jason Riggati I knew. We stood and watched helplessly as the Twin Towers burned to the ground, killing thousands. Fresh in my memory are the screams and the, "Oh my God's," most of us echoed. The crazy aspect is that we were the lucky ones. We lived to tell about it.

Even as Obama read his well prepared statement, I felt sadness thinking back at how many died. So many NYPD, FDNY and soldiers who sacrificed for our cause. The families affected will never get back their lost ones. I can't imagine losing someone I loved. We've all had to deal with family deaths. Last year, it was a close friend who died in a car accident. It'll be a year on May 21 since Lyndsay Richburg left us. It still hurts. That kind of pain is different from a severe attack out of pure hatred and jealousy. I miss our friend dearly but know he's up there watching over us. I hope that's how Moms and Dads feel about their sons and daughters who are long gone. You can't erase memories. Wrap your arms around a memory and it's there forever. <<<333

Cherish every day. You never know when your time is up. While we can't get back September 11, 2001, we can move forward knowing our true heroes prevailed yesterday. Of course, the job is far from over with Al Qaeda still lurking along with many other evil doers. Something President Obama alluded to in a well thought out, concise statement:

For over two decades, Bin Laden has been Al Qaeda’s leader and symbol. The death of Bin Laden marks the most significant achievement to date in our nation’s effort to defeat Al Qaeda. But his death does not mark the end of our effort. There’s no doubt that Al Qaeda will continue to pursue attacks against us. We must and we will remain vigilant at home and abroad.

In that moment, I felt humble with incredible pride. Just like Post 9/11 where we banded together for our cause, we again witnessed the best of America. As word spread during the Mets-Phillies game on ESPN, suddenly fans started patriotic chants of, "USA! USA!! USA!!!" Ironically, it was a classic game that went 13 innings before New York prevailed 2-1. I'm no Met fan like Hasan. But how can one not recall Mike Piazza's three-run home run versus the Braves at Shea in the first ballgame after 9/11? As emotional a moment as it gets. Being a Yankee fan, I'm still prouder of the 2001 team that fought valiantly winning all three games at the only true Stadium, featuring dramatic home runs from Tino Martinez, Scott Brosius and Derek Jeter. Even in defeat, the Yankees made our city proud.

How about all those who surrounded the White House and celebrated in the streets with patriotic American flags while singing the Pledge Of Allegiance and God Bless America? That was something else.

While we still talk about those two incredible baseball memories on both sides, for me I can recall being at the first sporting even following the terrible tragedy. It was a preseason game between the Devils and Rangers. I'll admit to having a heavy heart and even being a little afraid. But if we stayed home, the enemies win. You have to stand up and fight for what you believe in. The national anthem by John Amirante was extra special with Rangers and Devils all looking up at our beautiful red, white and blue and stars and stripes. It's a moment I can still see from our 411 seats. On my old computer, I saved a picture of that Star Spangled Banner. It will always be special. For one night, even the bitter Hudson rivalry took a back seat for a common ground. The same is echoed for an emotional home opener versus the Sabres where Mark Messier donned a FDNY helmet in a fitting tribute. Definitely one of the cooler sports moments considering the occasion.

This historic event yesterday isn't only about our great country. But about those who believe in peace and freedom. Our northern neighbors lent a helping hand to the fight on terror. For all his insanity, Don Cherry gets it right on Coach's Corner every Saturday night on Hockey Night In Canada, honoring those who represented his country. Next time, we're upset about something, let's remember that it's not the end of the world. Thank you to all our men and women who sacrifice for our cause. The true definition of heroes.

The Puck Stops Here

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