Monday, August 20, 2012

Untitled: The thoughts of a hockey fan

I'm not real sure on a title for this. So I called it, "Untitled: The thoughts of a hockey fan." As August nears conclusion with no solution to another potential lockout causing more heartache and headaches, I just don't have it in me to write about a dull topic. One side will never be satisfied. There's not much more to add.

As someone who listened to Program buddy Chris Wassel interview Spectors Hockey's Lyle Richardson on the very depressing issue, it was numbing. They painted a gloomy picture with basically, a remote chance that the two sides will work out a new CBA agreement by Gary Bettman's September 15 deadline. Donald Fehr is a tough negotiatior who may have learned from the '94 baseball strike. The NHLPA will lose again because there's no other choice. I don't foresee a long work stoppage because there's too much at risk. The Winter Classic which pits Original Sixes Detroit and Toronto against each other should bring the sides closer. Right now, figure the first month to be wiped out. If we're lucky, we'll have plenty to be thankful for if you catch my drift.

In the mean time, I will stick to what little hockey discussion we have which is predictions, projections, fantasy hockey rankings and overall. Lately, I've been on a Russian kick over at New York Puck. Since I upgraded into the 21st Century with an iPhone, I've linked up Alexei Cherepanov video tributes along with other Russian hockey players. Somewhat astonishingly, it'll be four years since the young Russian the Rangers selected in the '08 Draft tragically died during a KHL game for Omsk Avangard. Maybe it's all the free time but I can't help but wonder how things couldn't been different for the Ranger organization if disaster was prevented. Of course, who knows if Cherepanov would've ever played hockey again.

When you draft as talented a kid as him, you're not fearing the worst. You're dreaming. The highlight reels of Chery17 showcase his supreme skills. A player who combined fast skating with slick moves and a quick release. He also went to the dirty areas to score. Something highlighted in a strong second effort finish against Sweden. Cherepanov had flair. It's a shame he's gone so soon. Worst of all, I can't imagine how his family is dealing with the loss of their son. Even all this time later, it never goes away. When tragedies strike such as the devastating Lokomotiv flight crash that wiped out an entire team, the pain is always with us. For the families who lost their husbands/fathers, it's indescribable. My heart goes out to them.

Pavol Demitra was the most notable former NHLer who was lost. One of my favorite European players. His best years came with St. Louis after Ottawa gave up on him. The skilled Slovak developed into a dependable scorer who was part of some good Blues teams that never could get over the hump. In over eight years, he tallied 70-or-more points four times while eclipsing 30 goals during three seasons. His best campaign came in '02-03 when he finished with 93 points, including 36 markers and 57 helpers. The most goals he ever scored were 37 in '98-99 when the club made the Western Semis. Following the '04-05 lockout, he spent his final five NHL seasons with the Kings, Wild and Canucks before going to Russia to play for Yaroslavl Lokomotiv ('10-11).

Though he never won any major awards aside from a Lady Byng for most gentlemanly player in '99-00, Demitra was a very good playmaking pivot who made teammates better. He could play in any situation including on the penalty kill where late in his career, he had five shorthanded goals with LA in '05-06. A career mark which beat his previous high of four nine years prior with St. Louis. In 16 NHL seasons, Demitra played in 847 games tallying 304 goals, 464 assists for 768 points. That included half a dozen years of 60+ points. In fact, 10 of 16 seasons saw the underrated Slovak register at least 50. A credit to his consistency.

The three-time All-Star was a fixture representing his native country Slovakia taking part in three Olympics including a final swan song in Vancouver 2010 where he also finished his NHL career. At 35, Demitra played with the enthusiasm of a teenager turning back the clock to score three goals, seven assists and 10 points in the Winter Games. I've seen plenty of clips of Demitra coming down the right wing to finish off a Marian Hossa feed that led to a great celebration. There's also a nice congrats from current Blueshirt Marian Gaborik, who probably wouldn't be here if not for the contributions of Demitra and other greats such as Peter Bondra and Miroslav Satan, who also was part of that Olympic team.

All this time later, there's something cool about seeing stars in the twilight of their careers performing as well as they did under such a big stage. Whether it's Jaromir Jagr getting the best of Martin Brodeur or Brodeur outperforming Henrik Lundqvist, it shows how much pride these athletes have to still compete at the highest level. Representing your country is something special. As we saw again with passion exhibited during the London Games, the Olympic spirit is alive and well. It's why no matter what happens with the upcoming CBA which eventually will get done, I hope there's Olympic hockey over in Sochi 2014. It wouldn't be the same. 

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