Nothing is foolproof to a sufficiently talented fool.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Wolf Pack point streak ends

Boredom won't starve as long as I feed it
Maxim Kondratiev, seen here attempting
to chop a penguin's head off


The Hartford Wolf Pack, with Al Montoya in net, lost on the road tonight to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, 5-0. It was the first time that the Wolf Pack had been shut out this season, and the one-sided loss also ended Hartford's streak of 13 straight games with at least one standings point (9-0-1-3). The Penguins, who just two days earlier had scored 7 goals in one period against the Hershey Bears, have the AHL's best record at 26-3-2-1.

22-year-old Russian defenseman Maxim Kondratiev played in his first game this season for the Wolf Pack, having just been sent down by the New York Rangers. At the very least this means that a Kondratiev game-used Wolf Pack road jersey from this season, worn maybe once and with barely a puck mark on it, will be on my Christmas list for next year (hint, hint). In other good news, the Rangers in their game tonight trounced the hated and despicable New York Islanders, 6-2.

One further note: the Phoenix Coyotes, apparently not satisfied with having just one skidmark on their roster, earlier today traded Krys Kolanos to Carolina for Pavel Brendl. I submit that Pavel Brendl will be remembered as the stinkiest thing ever received in a trade between two sports teams, with second place going to the time that a minor league pitcher was traded for 10 pounds of catfish.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Livin' After Midnight

All the best bands are affiliated with Satan

Late-morning start times have become somewhat familiar to minor league fans by now, as a number of teams (the Rock Cats and Wolf Pack among them) have added 11:00am games to their schedule for the benefit of school field trips and such. Then there are the Las Vegas Wranglers of the ECHL, who have gone in the completely opposite direction by holding some of their games at midnight. Their most recent midnight game, held last week, even featured a live performance from a midget Kiss tribute band! Throw in the fact that the Wranglers' NHL affiliate is the Calgary Flames, and you can begin to see a pattern: Sin City... the stroke of midnight... Kiss... midgets wearing boots... Flames... you can spell 'hell' by rearranging the letters to ECHL (almost)... I mean, what could be more Satanic, right?!? No way there's gonna be a whiny pack of schoolkids taking a field trip to one of these games! Is this a great idea, or what?

Kudos to Soundin' Off, which is where I first found the link to this article recapping the Wranglers' midnight festivities, written by Rob Miech of the Las Vegas Sun:

The commoner might have a difficult time fitting a late-afternoon nap, or after-dinner snooze, into his schedule to have the proper reserves to last through a midnight hockey game. But Las Vegas isn't an average city. And its Wranglers aren't a common ECHL franchise.

"I like them. I've been to every one of them," said John Geier, 64. "It is unique to Las Vegas, because of all the different (work) shifts here. This crowd seems larger than the last two."

An announced crowd of 4,958 didn't peak until the second half of the second period. A few fans strolled down the aisle with double-fisted beers, and the festive crowd became more intense as the drama built.

Jeff Pagan
(See? The guy's name is Pagan! Satan!!), a 55-year-old limousine driver who went to the game after his shift, smiled widely as he made his way to a restroom when regulation play ended at 2:17 a.m. The game fit into his schedule perfectly. "Because I have tomorrow off," Pagan said. You mean today? "Right!" he said. "Midnight games get you because you never know what time it is."

A closer look at the night's -- and morning's -- events:

MONDAY

11:40 p.m. -- In a corner of the bottom of the horseshoe, a spotlight shines on Mini Kiss, the diminutive tribute band. The two guitarists' instruments are nearly bigger than they are.

11:43 p.m. -- Mini-Gene (Simmons) waggles his maxi-tongue to an in-house camera, shown on a large screen at the open end of the arena, for the first time.

11:48 p.m. -- The eyelids start feeling as heavy as garage doors as the little face-painted group blares "I Was Made For Lovin' You."

11:51 p.m. -- Mini-Gene yells, "Can you get enough of me, Las Vegas?"

Kiss is God, Kiss is great, I think of Gene and masturbate
"Who you callin' mini-peter?!?"

11:54 p.m. -- The spotlight goes out on Mini Kiss, but the public-address announcer says, "Don't worry fans. Mini Kiss will return during the first intermission."

11:58 p.m. -- Speakers air the sound of a gong being banged 12 times.

TUESDAY

12:04 a.m. -- The first puck is dropped.

12:15 a.m. -- Chris Stanley scores for the Wranglers 7 1/2 minutes into the game, and Elvis Presley's "Viva Las Vegas!" further fuels the fans.

12:41 a.m. -- Mini Kiss blurts out a rendition of "Crazy Train," Ozzy Osbourne's big hit. Huh? And Mini-Paul is actually a female? Say it ain't so.

1:01 a.m. -- During timeouts and other lulls, the big video screen shows various fans dancing and frolicking. But the three-second delay, new to this season's midnight game, might be working; no cameras have shown female flashers.

1:11 a.m. -- Four minutes after the Wranglers trim the deficit to 4-3, a group at the right tip of the horseshoe, in Section 101, tries to start the wave. After three unsuccessful attempts, they quit. This crowd, it seems, is mostly a savvy group that is more interested in how the Wranglers kill penalties.

1:13 a.m. -- The moment of truth. Duke, the Wranglers' green furry mascot, is surrounded by three women as "The Stripper", the famous horn-blaring strip-tease music by David Rose & His Orchestra, screams from the speakers. A voluptuous woman in blue teases Duke and a seated man, slowly turning and raising her sweater before ... the camera cuts back to the action on the ice.

1:16 a.m. -- A Wranglers charge fails. "You're passing the puck like my grandma!" yells someone at the front of Section 103. "Skate!"

1:31 a.m. -- At the second intermission, Mini-Gene sits shotgun on the Zamboni as the ice is treated with a shiny new layer. Or was it Mini-Peter?

2:13 a.m. -- A fan high atop Section 103 yells "More cowbell!", at someone ringing a cow bell, at the front of Section 104. He should have yelled for more goals, too. The Wranglers' 24 shots in the third period are a club record.

2:17 a.m. -- "This is great", said Pagan, the limo driver, during the intermission between the third period and the four-on-four, five-minute overtime. "This crowd reflects Las Vegas. It's crazy and a great scene. I think we need more of these, like two or three a year."

2:32 a.m. -- Charles Linglet, who had been struck in the chin from behind by Dan Watson's stick 30 minutes earlier, slaps the puck into the roof of the net manned by Long Beach goalie Greg Hewitt to give the Wranglers a 3-2 edge in the shootout.

2:36 a.m. -- As the fans file out of the building into a 40-degree morning, they are serenaded by Elvis. "How I wish that there were more than 24 hours in the day ... blackjack, poker and the roulette wheel" ... and hockey.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Wolf Pack tighten grip on Geico Cup

My dramatic posture more than offsets the flippancy of my word balloon Dwight Helminen (Rutsch photo)

With their 3-2 shootout win over the Bridgeport Sound Tigers at the Corruption Dome on Friday night, the Hartford Wolf Pack have put a virtual stranglehold on the most prestigious imaginary trophy in professional hockey history, the GEICO Connecticut Cup. The Wolf Pack are now 5-0 against the Sound Tigers this season, with 5 games left in the season series between the two teams.

Full Bruntal NugityTotal Ted-nacity
"Got you in a stranglehold, baby!!"

Friday's win put the Wolf Pack two points behind first place Portland in the division standings, and a point behind second-place Manchester. The victory was only Hartford's second shootout win in seven tries this season. The Pack are now 9-0-1-3 in their last 13 games.

I wasn't at the game-- part of the reason for the two-day-old recap, the other being the holidays-- which puts me in the same boat for now with HockeyTurd's Wolf Pack "reporter" (and the rest of the geniuses on the HockeyTurd message board), who never seems to actually go to the games either. After outshooting the Sound Tigers 55-21 in their last meeting a week ago, the Wolf Pack outshot Bridgeport in this game, 47-24. Thomas Pöck tallied his 5th goal of the season for Hartford, and Dwight Helminen scored his team-leading 16th goal and added an assist.

What's black and crispy and sticks to the wall? A Polish electrician
Jeremy Colliton fires a shot on Al Montoya

The Sound Tigers were again playing without their leading goal scorer, Jeff Hamilton, who had been called up to the Islanders for one game and is now back in Bridgeport. Hamilton, who only recently made his return to the Sound Tigers after starting the season with Ak Bars Kazan over in Russia, has 19 points (10g, 9a) in 15 games with Bridgeport this season, and also has 5 points (1g, 4a) in 4 games with the Islanders.

By the way, there's a reporter for the Connecticut Post who keeps a pretty good Sound Tigers blog, if there are any Wolf Pack fans out there who're interested in a view from the other side of the ice.

Friday, December 23, 2005

The Russian Olympic Team

Don't Bogue My High
Evgeni Malkin throwing the puck on net against Avangard, with
Fedor Fedorov (81) trying to stay out of the way in the middle


Russia names its Olympic Roster (Russian Hockey Digest):

Goaltenders:
Nikolai Khabibulin (Chicago Blackhawks)
Evgeni Nabokov (San Jose Sharks)
Ilya Bryzgalov (Anaheim Mighty Ducks)

Defensemen:
Darius Kasparaitis (New York Rangers)
Sergei Gonchar (Pittsburgh Penguins)
Alexei Zhitnik (New York Islanders)
Anton Volchenkov (Ottawa Senators)
Andrei Markov (Montreal Canadiens)
Danil Markov (Nashville Predators)
Fedor Tyutin (New York Rangers)
Dmitri Bykov (Dynamo Moscow)

Forwards:
Pavel Datsyuk (Detroit Red Wings)
Ilya Kovalchuk (Atlanta Thrashers)
Alexei Yashin (New York Islanders)
Alexei Kovalev (Montreal Canadiens)
Alexander Ovechkin (Washington Capitals)
Viktor Kozlov (New Jersey Devils)
Maxim Afinogenov (Buffalo Sabres)
Alexei Zhamnov (Boston Bruins)
Alexander Frolov (Los Angeles Kings)
Evgeni Malkin (Metallurg Magnitogorsk)
Maxim Sushinsky (Dynamo Moscow)
Aleksandr Kharitonov (Dynamo Moscow)

A few days earlier, Russian Hockey Digest had given their predictions about which players would be on the team, and gave an overview of some of the players.

Addendum: Apparently, announcing the Russian line-up isn't as important to TSN as getting in another Sidney Crosby reference:

"Sidney Crosby won't be in Turin but his closest rival for NHL Rookie of the Year honours, Alexander Ovechkin, has been named to Russia's 2006 Olympic hockey team." *barf*

Canadian Press story

Also, according to this story in Sport Express, the Russians have named 8 spares to their Olympic team (not 3 alternates, as every other country seems to be doing):

Goaltender Maxim Sokolov (SKA-St. Petersburg), defensemen Vitaly Vishnevski (Anaheim Mighty Ducks) and Maxim Kondratiev (New York Rangers), and forwards Pavel Vorobiev (Chicago Blackhawks), Sergei Brylin (New Jersey Devils), Alexei Morozov (Ak Bars Kazan), Andrei Taratukhin (Lokomotiv Yaroslavl), and Aleksandr Korolyuk (Vityaz Chekhov).

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Maxim Kondratiev interview

Toe to toe with the Russkies
Alex Ovechkin and Maxim Kondratiev

Maxim Kondratiev, along with fellow Russian defenseman Fedor Tyutin, is one of the highly-regarded young players being given a chance to play full time with the New York Rangers this season (you can check out Maxim's scouting profile on Hockey's Future, as well as on Russian Prospects.com). Tyutin and Kondratiev are on the long list of candidates for the Russian Olympic team, which is to be announced tomorrow (12/23), though it seems unlikely that either of them will make the final roster. Both players also began last season with the Hartford Wolf Pack, playing in a dozen games or so before heading back over to Russia to play once it became apparent that there would be a prolonged NHL lockout.

The following questions and answers were taken from an interview that appeared a couple of days ago in Sport Express; I had a difficult time with parts of the translation, so it may come across as somewhat of a dry interview (as some of the interviews on the Russian sites can be, except for the ones dealing with Brian Burke and either of the Fedorovs). It should have some interest for Rangers and Wolf Pack fans, at least.

How do you explain the success of the Rangers this season?
We have a strong and balanced team, which has made us effective in shutting down the top players on the other team. There is a complete and mutual understanding that prevails in the locker room.

Does Jaromir Jagr react strongly if one of the young players makes a mistake?
Very rarely. More often he encourages them.

What of Darius Kasparaitis, with whom you are often paired with?
He actually does yell (laughs). I'm very grateful to him. Darius gives me a lot of useful advice both on the ice and on the bench.

Now the offense has been given advantages over the defense.
Hockey has undoubtedly become more of an entertainment. It's to make the fans happy.

So far this season, you haven't scored much: one goal and two assists. I know that you are capable to be in on the attack more.
I'm not usually on the ice with the man advantage, only even-strength and on the penalty kill. Plus, Kasparaitis and I are usually on the ice with the third and fourth lines, so it's necessary that we concentrate more on defense.

During the lockout year, you played a little in Hartford, and then went to play with Lada Togliatti. Do you think that was the best decision for you?
Certainly! The hockey in Russia this past season was of high quality, inferior only in small ways to the NHL. I gained a lot from last season.

The Rangers are a team of new players. Which of the young players, in your view, are worth watching the most?
Dominic Moore, first of all. Also, Ryan Hollweg, who isn't a big player, but plays well defensively, plays recklessly and hard, and can bring it all. There are a few players like them who are very important to our team.

Most people expected that once Mike Richter retired, goaltending would become a problem for the Rangers. However, that did not happen.
We actually have a very strong defensive line, and Lundqvist and Weekes are talented. It's true with Lundqvist that this is his debut season in the NHL, but he was already one of the best-known players in his native Sweden. The play of our goalkeepers has been important to the success of our team.

What about another of the young players on the Rangers, and a candidate for the Russian Olympic team, Fedor Tyutin?
In the last few games, unfortunately, they have begun to play him less. He hasn't been on the ice during the man advantage, where Fedor was very effective at the beginning of the season.

What is the situation with another possible candidate to go to Torino, Fedor Fedorov?
It's hard to tell. He was sent to the farm team, and after playing a few games is becoming more of a reserve.

The Rangers have an interesting team, in that the defense is mostly Russian, and the offense is increasingly more Czech.
Actually, on defense we have two Czechs (Michal Rozsival and Marek Malik). On the whole, we have a team of Slavs.

Throw me off the roof my framing hammer, ehThrow me down the stairs my cigarettes, eh
Maxim Kondratiev mixing it up for Lada last season

Jeff Jacobs Won't Shut Up

Grandma Is A Total Stranger Since She Caught Her Nose In The Record Changer Hey, Ass-Face

In another one of his skewed Hartford Courant columns, from December 21, 2005, Jeff Jacobs wrote:

With the Wolf Pack's 20th home game of this season, the Connecticut Development Authority has the right to terminate its Civic Center management agreement with Madison Square Garden, based on substandard attendance and revenue. The state is losing about $4 million a year on a deal signed in 1997. The way it has been presented publicly is that if the CDA doesn't pull the trigger by Jan. 21, MSG will hold all the options until the conclusion of the contract in 2013.

"The agreement with MSG has early termination rights that can be engaged by either party," the president of the CDA, Marie O'Brien, said. "The 20th game is only one of the opportunities. It's not the only one." The others? "The end of the fiscal year, June 30, 2006, and also the end of 2007."

Howard Baldwin, the man desperately trying to convince the CDA that a vision is a good thing, picked up the phone and was told of the other dates. "First I've heard of it," Baldwin said from Southern California. "I hope this is not a stalling tactic."

Baldwin wants to move sooner than later. He wants an AHL team next season and to build toward gaining the NHL's interest. The critics say Baldwin is a pipe-dreamer. The critics say the CDA is inert. The critics say MSG has no interest in making Hartford anything more than a fancy bedroom in its tri-state castle.

Somewhere, sometime, the right people have got to decide what is right for the future of Hartford. And what better time to start than today when the CDA board meets to discuss and presumably approve a study of the Civic Center's future.

"We don't need a study to tell what we already know: The state is losing tons of money, and we're on the verge of continuing to endorse huge losses for the state," House Speaker James Amann, D-Milford, said.

The CDA should have started a study last February, when Baldwin had made his intentions clear. The fact is the CDA didn't. So get to work, CDA, you are on the clock. With a new convention center and residential units being built downtown, the CDA wants to examine the changing market place.

"MSG has done a great job on the hockey end, but they're either meeting their benchmarks or they're not," Baldwin said. "And if they're not, why not say, `Who's out there?' It may not be me. There may be someone else who could do a better job, make a better proposal. They're protecting an agreement that isn't working. For whatever reason, the CDA seems to be so afraid to take any action."

Added Amann, "I hate to even say it, but this arrangement reminds me of all that was wrong with the John Rowland/Arthur Diedrick tenure. It would be a shame, not to mention a colossal budget blunder, to sit back and act like there's no problem."

MSG has said it would never stand in the way of anyone bringing an NHL franchise to Hartford. But at this point, Howard's the only guy who can pull it off. Yet if he's not allowed to nurture that cause, MSG would never have to worry about anybody bringing the NHL here.

All possibilities should be on the table. In the end, this is not a good-guy, bad-guy thing. It's a what's-best-for-Hartford thing. Even if the CDA is convinced Hartford is minor league, at the very least it should be able to get a better deal from MSG and save the taxpayers money. There's a need to do the right thing. Starting today.


Today, a follow-up article in the Courant, written by a staff writer, set the record straight:

The Connecticut Development Authority on Wednesday approved a long-term study of the future of the Hartford Civic Center - a vote that puts the short-term hockey dreams of Whalers fans and former team owner Howard Baldwin on hold.

Saying that the building is obsolete, that the Whalers never made money and that the NHL "couldn't wait to get out of town," authority Vice Chairman Richard T. Mulready said that the prudent course is to study the Civic Center's potential - or lack thereof.

There are too many questions before a decision can be made about what to do with the building, Mulready said. The study is expected to take several months.

But the move upset those who were hoping that hockey could return, and that the state would move more quickly to take up Baldwin's offer to take over operations of the Civic Center.

"I'm not surprised that the Connecticut Development Authority basically has decided to turn Hartford sports and entertainment into a bureaucratic quagmire," said House Speaker James Amann, D-Milford. "I can't sit idly by and watch the Civic Center continue to drain taxpayers while the CDA basically sticks their heads in the sand."

Authority officials say that the annual losses have nothing to do with the contract with MSG, but are the result of rent payments, debt service and capital improvements that must be paid each year.

On Wednesday, Mulready reminded the board that, should it want to, it will have numerous opportunities in the future to get out of its contract with MSG, which runs through 2013. At this point, he said, haste is not in the authority's best interest.

L. Scott Frantz, chairman of the authority's board, defended the authority's move. "We appreciate [Amann's] interest in the future of the Hartford Civic Center very much; we'd love for him to participate in our analysis," Frantz said. "Our meetings are public, everybody's phone numbers are publicly available and we'd encourage him to give us his ideas directly."


In other words, "Shut the fuck up."

Anyone dumb enough to get suckered in by the publicity stunts of Howard Baldwin as he shuffles from town to town with his pockets empty, crying "The NHL is coming! The NHL is coming!", shouldn't be handing out lectures about fiscal responsibility.

Hartford got into the NHL basically through the back door, when the NHL absorbed the WHA into the league. The NHL clearly struggled in Hartford, with the Whalers drawing only about 10 to 11 thousand fans per game during their last few seasons. The Wolf Pack this season are struggling also, drawing less than 5000 fans per game. Based on those numbers, if the Wolf Pack leave town like Jacobs and his loonies all seem to want, neither the NHL or the AHL will have much of an incentive to put a team back in Hartford, and the city would likely end up at most with a team in the UHL or ECHL. How is that "what's best for Hartford"?

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Wolf Pack tear apart Sound Tigers, 6-2

Whatever you do, don't start a band Chris Rutsch/HWP photo

The Hartford Wolf Pack's 6-2 victory Saturday night over the visitng Bridgeport Sound Tigers was one of the most lopsided AHL games I've ever seen. By the end of the second period, the Wolf Pack had taken a 5-1 lead on the Sound Tigers, outshooting Bridgeport 39-7, and had also cleaned house by winning two fights (including Martin Grenier putting Doug Christiansen on the seat of his pants with one huge punch).

No doubt the clamoring for Thomas Pöck to be brought up to the Rangers will continue, as Pöck had another outstanding game offensively with a goal and three assists. The line of Dawes, Helminen, and Genoway scored yet again, with Dawes netting his 11th goal of the season. Ivan Baranka had a more physical edge to his game than usual, getting involved in two scuffles tonight, including one after the final horn had sounded. Blake Bellefeuille, recently called up from Charlotte and signed to a PTO contract, finished off his own rebound to score a nifty goal in the second period that was all effort.

They hate us in Scandinavia USA vs. Finland

Prior to the Wolf Pack game, there was an afternoon game played between the USA Women's team and Finland. This was my first time seeing a women's hockey game up close, and the play was much more physical than the no-contact hockey that I was expecting. The teams seemed fairly evenly matched at the start, but the best two or three players on the ice were definitely on the American side (especially Krissy Wendell, who is a standout skater and puck handler), with the Americans having a considerable size advantage as well. If I remember correctly, the Finnish squad didn't record more than one shot on goal throughout the entire second period and through most of the third, and the U.S. ended up winning, 5-3.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Jeff Jacobs Buys The Monorail

Set 'em up til we're dead

This recent Jeff Jacobs column in the Hartford Courant, while based upon the very real possibility of MSG losing its lease with the Civic Center, is otherwise so full of horseshit that it deserves to be ridiculed:

Circle Jan. 21 in red. No, better yet, circle Jan. 21 in Whalers green and blue. That's the deadline - the Wolf Pack's 20th home game - for the Connecticut Development Authority to exercise its option on the Civic Center agreement with Madison Square Garden. If the CDA elects to terminate, MSG and the Wolf Pack would leave at the end of the current AHL season.

This is a chance for a capital city to define itself. A billion dollars have been poured into a Convention Center, a huge hotel, etc., and what is our big selling point to outsiders? A science center? Casinos an hour away?

How about taking another shot at the major leagues?

Howard Baldwin brought the CDA a proposal nearly a year ago, looking to rebuild the market, reduce CDA expenses and to immediately launch an NHL campaign and a regional TV sports network for Connecticut. The Penguins expect to leave Pittsburgh in 2007 and Kansas City and Houston already are lining up. There are other franchises available. Baldwin would start with the AHL Whalers to prove to the NHL that hockey can draw here, while working with UConn and others on a sports network a la NESN to define our state market. The Connecticut Whalers of the NHL?

Do we dare to dream it for the Civic Center?


Since Jacobs seems to enjoy repeating himself-- recycling the same old fantasy story of Howard Baldwin riding in on a white horse and saving Hartford by resurrecting the Whalers-- I will, too:

(From the Jeff Jacobs gives Howard Baldwin a hand job post, 10 months ago)

"Baldwin only literally bankrupted the Pittsburgh Penguins, the team he owned after owning the Hartford Whalers, by handing out huge contracts to players like Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr, contracts that his team didn't have the money to pay for. Not the type of business sense it would seem worth pinning any hopes onto.

"Baldwin's a corporate mudshark, looking to buy his way back into hockey at a bargain-basement price with money that he doesn't have (he offered $50 million for an Anaheim franchise valued at $108 million). For years he's been bumbling from town to town, floating offers as a way of getting himself publicity, and Jacobs is one of the few people still willing to fall for it."

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Wolf Pack down Manchester, 4-1

There are other Jim Morrisons I could talk to Ivan Baranka (Chris Rutsch photo)

The Hartford Wolf Pack edged closer to first place with a 4-1 victory tonight over the visiting Manchester Monarchs, in a game that featured some good defensive play by the Wolf Pack and was more evenly played than the score would indicate. Hartford now stands 2 points out of first place in the division, behind both Manchester and Portland.

Tonight's game featured the return of Al Montoya in net for the Wolf Pack, as well as the return of the team's top scorer, Alexandre Giroux, who ended up scoring the final Hartford goal on an empty-netter that was assisted on by Fedor Fedorov. The Wolf Pack also scored short-handed in this one, on a great effort by Ivan Baranka, who forced a turnover behind his own blueline and then skated the length of the ice to score unassisted.

The game was probably the shortest hockey game I've ever been to, being played in under two hours despite a Brad Smyth penalty shot that took almost a day and a half by itself. It's a little known fact that Daylight Savings Time was invented so that it would take one less hour for Brad Smyth to skate from one side of the rink to the other. The only scenario I can think of where Smyth might've skated any slower would be if someone had told him he had to forecheck right after taking the penalty shot. As it was, Smyth ended up lifting a belt-high shot that was easily stopped by Montoya. I think Smyth is better at scoring goals when he can stand right in front of the net and doesn't have to move.

It was quite amusing to watch David Liffiton, who is Brad Smyth's junior by at least thirty to thirty-five years, beat up on Smyth for most of the game. Actually, I'm just kidding around, because even though he plays for the Monarchs now, Brad Smyth is still probably the greatest goal scorer in Wolf Pack team history. Just think, if Smyth manages to score 50 goals again this season, he would become the first AHL player to match his age in goals and still lead the league.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Kasparminus Explains It All

If the kids are united, they will never be divided

Accompanying the recent Jagr interview in Sport Express (see the post below) were some comments from Darius Kasparaitis, who was a teammate of Jagr's earlier in his career in Pittsburgh. Both Kasparaitis and Jagr are alternate captains with the Rangers this season, and both played in the Russian Super League last season (Kasparaitis with Ak Bars, Jagr with Avangard). I decided afterwards to make Kasparaitis' comments their own seperate post because A) Kasparaitis is one of the few Lithuanian-born players in the NHL (Dainius Zubrus, born in the same town as Kasparaitis, is another) and B) No Lithuanians have caused Fedor Fedorov to get punched in the face yet this year, unlike the Czechs.

Kasparaitis: "It's nice for us to refute the predictions. No one thought that we would play like this. The main difference now from the past is the work ethic of this team. I don't think that those previous Rangers squads stayed as much with their training. We've had excellent play from both our goalkeepers. In addition, the team is very disciplined, and everyone carries out the tasks they are given. Before, there were many star players, and each did as he wanted. Now we stick together, and we take a serious approach to our work."

Sport Express: "But isn't the presence of a star player like Jagr important to this success?"

Kaspairitis: "Certainly, there's no one who wouldn't want to have one of the points leaders on their team. Yagr, actually, is half of our team. When he doesn't score, it is very difficult for us to win. This is the same Jagr that I played with for Pittsburgh. In particular, like now as it was then, all the responsibility lies with him. If the team looks bad, he will be the first one to hear about it."

Jaromir Jagr: "I would give the Calder to Ovechkin"



Earlier today, Sport Express ran an interview with New York Rangers forward Jaromir Jagr. As most people know, Jagr is back atop the list of NHL scorers this season, after spending a few sub-par seasons with the Washington Capitals before his trade to the Rangers during the '03-'04 season.

During the interview, Jagr made joking references to the hostile reaction given to him by Capitals fans whenever the Rangers play in Washington (as they just did last weekend), and talked about how happy he is to have left Washington:

"I'd rather be where I am now. I was not allowed to play in the manner that I preferred in Washington. New York is very much to my liking, and I am happy with the Rangers. All of this is very apparent. It is a city of passionate fans that love hockey and love a good team."

When asked about the style changes in the "New NHL", and to compare the NHL to the Russian Super League (where he spent a season playing for Avangard Omsk during the NHL lockout), Jagr responded:

"I was happy within the old NHL. The new rules helped the smaller, faster players. For a power forward like myself, I had an easier time playing the more rugged hockey style. I had no problems whatsoever with breaking away from a clutching defenseman, or two. But the style of play in the Super League cannot be compared with the NHL. There is more area (in European rinks), which gives the game a different character."

When the conversation turned to Alexander Ovechkin, whom Jagr had played against in Russia last season, Jagr had this to say:

"I'm always asked to compare Ovechkin to Crosby. Someone asked me recently what my impressions were of Alex after three meetings on the ice, even though I had seen plenty more than that of him in the Super League, as well as the World Championships. He's an excellent player, obviously, but I can't compare him to Crosby. Ovechkin is an exceptionally strong power forward, who loves to play one-on-one. Crosby is a different sort of forward, a playmaker. As far as who should win the Calder Trophy this season, if I were forced to vote today, I would give the trophy to Ovechkin. But time will show in reality who is better."

The interview closed with a couple of questions about the captaincy of the Rangers, which Jagr had turned down at the beginning of the season:

Why didn't you become the captain of the team?
"This is a question for the coach. However, if we start to play badly, you know who will take all of the blame. That will be me, letter ("C") or no letter."

Do you attempt to take on the role of leader in the lockerroom?
"The one that yells in the lockerroom has no value. The role of the leader must be assumed on the ice."

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Pack Conked by Phantoms, 3-2

Surviving You, Always Chris Rutsch/HWP photo

Ty Conlkin, on loan from the Edmonton Oilers, could've taken the bus out of town this morning after being undefeated over the weekend, and still no one would've missed him. Instead, Conklin was spotted a 2-0 lead in the overtime shootout of last night's game against Philadelphia and still couldn't hold onto the win, giving up 3 goals in a row and handing over the game to the Phantoms, 3-2. After Conklin's cringe-inducing play this weekend I wouldn't have bothered helping him pack his suitcase even if it got him back to Edmonton faster, unless I could also stuff Chris Holt into the same suitcase.

One of the memories that Conklin will leave for Wolf Pack fans of his two-day conditioning stint in Hartford will be his misadventures while handling the puck. His mind shuts down whenever there's a loose puck to play in front of him. At one point during the game Conklin made a save and looked as if he was going to drop the puck back to one of his defensemen who was skating out from behind the net. Then Conklin changed his mind mid-drop, deciding instead to try to clear the puck up ice out of the zone and sending a fluttering pass right to a Phantoms player, leading to a shot on goal. More than a few times this weekend Conklin left the net unattended in order to play loose pucks that he would've been better off not bothering with, including in the Springfield game where he had to make a head-first dive in order to cover up the puck because he had roamed too far out of the net, and then in last night's game skating out all the way to the blue line to play the puck along the left boards when there were 3 or 4 other players in the area.

Chan Poling appears no thanks to Polygram Records Chris Rutsch/HWP photo
Stinkin' Conk-Puncher!

Jeff Taffe scored a beauty of an unassisted goal in this game, stealing the puck at center ice and weaving past three different Phantoms players to give the Wolf Pack a momentary 2-1 lead early in the third period, before Philadelphia's All-Star defenseman, John Slaney, tied it up 2-2 a while later. The Wolf Pack then had to kill off Jake Taylor's tripping minor in the overtime period and were outshot 7-1 during the overtime, but still managed to get to the shootout unscathed.

In the shootout, Nigel Dawes and Colby Genoway scored on the Wolf Pack's first two shot attempts, meaning Ty Conklin only had to be barely adequate over the Phantoms' next three attempts and Hartford would've had their second straight shootout victory. Instead, Conklin was picked clean all three times-- coming way out of the the net to challenge the shooter each time (as is his usual), only to get beaten on the low side. Fedor Fedorov had a chance to keep the shootout going for Hartford, faking like he was going to draw the puck to his backhand but instead lifting his stick blade over the puck and shooting with his forehand, but he hit the post and the game was over.

Al Montoya should be back in net for the Wolf Pack starting this week, after playing two games in Charlotte over the weekend that included a 4-3 loss to Pensacola last night. Hugh Jessiman scored two goals last night for the Checkers.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Wolf Pack clip Falcons, 4-3

Hell Toupee Springfield goalie Gerald Coleman

The Harford Wolf Pack beat the Springfield Falcons earlier tonight in Springfield, 4-3 after an overtime shootout. Nigel Dawes scored on both of his shootout attempts-- unlike the NHL, the AHL keeps the same original rotation of players for any extra rounds during a shootout-- while Joe Rullier, Dwight Helminen (his 5th goal in 3 games), and former Falcon Jeff Taffe scored in regulation for the Pack.

Falcons' winger Marek Kvapil had the game on his stick with a little bit less than a minute left (as I recall) in overtime, breaking in alone for a clean scoring opportunity, but instead of trying to deke or make some sort of move, Kvapil just skated straight in and took a fairly weak slap shot from outside the slot which was stopped easily. On the ensuing Pack rush up-ice, Springfield defenseman Todd Rohloff blatantly pulled down Jarkko Immonen from behind while Immonen was lined up with his own scoring chance, but nothing was called.

Ty Conklin picked up the win in net for the Wolf Pack, in the first game of a two game conditioning stint since being loaned to Hartford by the Edmonton Oilers earlier in the week. Conklin hadn't seen game action in over a month due to an injury, and his play this season before being injured was more than suspect to begin with (this post from Covered In Oil gives an Alberta-eye-view of the situation). I can't say that Conklin was all that impressive; he definitely showed NHL-level reflexes and athleticism tonight compared to the average first-year-pro AHL netminder, but he was also easily befuddled by traffic, losing track of the puck while it was loose in front of him too many times. He also seemed to commit to the shooter's first move quite a lot, and was easily faked out of the net twice during tonight's shootout. How much of this is rust from the long layoff, I'm not sure.

Springfield's goalie, Gerald Coleman, is another story unto himself. Coleman gained some notice earlier this season when he became the first alum of the "NHL Diversity program" (whatever that is) to play in an NHL game, and at 6'-4" and 190 pounds is also about the skinniest goalie I've ever seen. Coleman is so skinny that when he leans forward in net with his hands on his knees, the name and number on his jersey become wider than his back, like a 10-year-old kid wearing an adult size jersey. Coleman also has some weird 70's-ish type cartoon superhero graphics on his helmet, which I haven't quite figured out yet.

Tonight's game was sorta sloppy and wasn't played very well at all, so I took some extra time to check out the newly-renovated MassRetardation Center that the Falcons play in. The curiously-worded "We Have To Be Better, We Live Here" ad for some insurance company or plumbing supply store that I had noticed during the pre-season (which became the title of an earlier post of mine) has been taken down, for some reason. The Falcons are starting to put to better use the new video scoreboard that hangs perilously low above center ice, showing (among other things) a "tool race" during a break in the action, where some cartoon tools-- a saw, a power drill, and a hammer-- race each other as part of a contest sponsored by a local Ace Hardware store. This was different from the "tool race" that went on in Section 1 between a couple of retreads who amused themselves by shouting out stupid stuff all night.

Meanwhile, down in Charlotte, the Checkers also won in overtime, 5-4 against South Carolina. While Ty Conlkin is holding down a roster spot this weekend for the Wolf Pack, Al Montoya is on his own conditioning stint in Charlotte, picking up the win in net for the Checkers.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

One Fedorov Quote Too Many

...for Brian Burke, maybe.

One Base On An Overthrow

Fedor Fedorov, 11/18/05:

"I figured it would happen. The fact is that Brian Burke is now the general manager of Anaheim. It seems that he has a preconceived notion of players with the name Fedorov..."

Is that the Yoko Ono you know, or the Yoko Ono I know?

Brian Burke, 11/29/05:

Q. So this means, you continue to assert that your dissatisfaction with Fedor Fedorov is in no way connected with your (trade of Sergei Fedorov)--
Burke: (interrupts) No, no, no, nonsense!
Q. This means, there is no personal vendetta?
Burke: There can be no argument about this. I have nothing to say about Sergei but kind words. He is a good fellow, and a good hockey player.

You're Soaking In It

Sergei Fedorov, quoted in SE 12/6/05:

"Since I had never been traded in all these years, there was some element of suprise. But it wasn't largely unexpected. It is well known that Anaheim's general manager, Brian Burke, never took a liking to my family, beginning with my brother and concluding here now with me."

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Wolf Pack beat Sound Tigers, 5-3

Dolphins Love Kids Nigel Dawes (C. Rutsch photo)

Tonight's game marked the Hartford Wolf Pack's first visit to the Corruption Dome (aka The Arena at Harbor Yard) this season, and the Pack made the visit a fruitful one, pulling out a 5-3 victory over the Bridgeport Sound Tigers and padding their lead in this season's totally meaningless Geico Cup race even further.

Zamboni Dave wasn't there (and his picture's been taken off the Sound Tiger web site as well), though there were plenty of newly added attractions to better entertain the usual crowd of a few hundred lifeless Sound Tigers fans in attendance. Before the player introductions, the Sound Tigers ran an indecipherable computer-animated video clip that showed the Bridgeport mascot, Storm, killing something that looked like Eddie from Iron Maiden in a sea battle fought on pirate ships. What that has to do with anything hockey-related, I don't know, but it was probably more interesting than the Robbie Williams "Let Me Entertain You" song that the Wolf Pack play before the start of their home games. What wasn't better was the two DJ's from the nearby dipshit rock station, WPLR, who came out in Zamboni Dave's place during the intermissions, whipping the crowd into a frenzy with proclamations like, "Don't forget to tune in to WPLR tomorrow morning, when Ct. Attorney General Richard Blumenthal will be on hand in the studio to answer your questions!"

Let's let Dick Clark work out the details

Yeah, okay. Sounds like fun.

The Wolf Pack had to come from behind to win this one, with three unanswered goals in the third period. Bridgeport's Jeff Hamilton assisted on the first two Sound Tiger goals and scored the third goal himself, as Robert Gherson started out a bit unsteadily in goal for the Pack but then obviously settled down enough to get the win. Nigel Dawes and Dwight Helminen each scored two goals for Hartford-- Helminen's second straight game with two goals-- and Martin "Wooden Indian" Grenier had the other goal for the Pack.

Hartford's final goal came with less than a minute left in the game on a play that I haven't really seen before; Bridgeport was on a power play and, being down 4-3 at the time, had pulled goalie Wade Dubielewicz in order to have two extra skaters. Instead, Dwight Helminen broke loose with the puck and, as he skated in alone towards the empty net, the Sound Tigers' Rob Collins threw his stick at Helminen's skates to thwart the sure goal (which was awarded to Helminen anyway).

Some other useless bits of information: Bridgeport uses two actual Zambonis to clean their ice, instead of the Olympia-brand resurfacing machines that are used at just about every other hockey arena I've been to. I'd never even noticed that what most people generically call "Zambonis" are actually Olympias, until someone pointed it out to me earlier this year. What a gyp!

Also, when Wade Dubielewicz made a nice save early in the game, they played Frank Sinatra singing "Doobie-doobie-doo" over the PA, which was pretty funny at the time.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Holt everything

Here's To Evil, Clink Chris Holt (Rutsch photo)

Chris "Five-" Holt saw his first-ever NHL action tonight when he was inserted in relief of Henrik Lundqvist for the final 8 minutes of a lopsided Rangers 5-1 loss to the Washington Capitals, with Holt somehow getting in the way of every shot he faced for the rest of the night. Rumor has it that Holt, who found himself on the losing end of more than a few lopsided scores while in Hartford and Charlotte this year, saw the 5-0 deficit on the scoreboard and instinctively left the bench to take to the ice, much in the same way a newborn baby sea turtle instinctively knows to return to its natural ocean habitat within minutes of being born.

New Wave As The Next Guy Thomas Pöck (Rutsch photo)

Meanwhile, The Hartford Wolf Pack won tonight in Portland, 5-4, on a goal by Thomas Pöck 37 seconds into overtime. It was the Wolf Pack's first win in overtime this year, after five previous OT losses (0-2-3). Portland has now lost 4 of their last 5, allowing the Wolf Pack to creep within 4 points of the second-place Pirates in the Atlantic Division standings. Dwight Helminen scored two goals in the game for Hartford.

Worrell on pace to score 30 goals

Cokes and Snickers all I eat Cokes and Snickers can't be beat Health sucks Health sucks

Peter Worrell scored two goals in the Charlotte Checkers' 5-4 win over Trenton last night, giving him 3 goals in his last 6 games. If Worrell maintains his current 6-game pace of a goal every other game for the rest of the Checkers' remaining 56 games, he will end up with 31 goals at the end of the season.

Two sips from the cup of human kindness and I'm shitfaced Worrell takes a breather from all that scoring

A deeper look into the crystal ball shows that, at their current 0-for-the-last-decade pace, the New York Rangers won't win the Stanley Cup for another million years, although at his current pace, George W. Bush in all that time will still be the President.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Payrolls of the Russian Super League teams

How We Rock
Spartak vs. Dynamo; #31 in goal for Dynamo is former Hartford Wolf Pack goalie Vitali Yeremeyev (sorry, Vitali!)

Yesterday, the Russian site Sport Express printed a couple of articles related to possible financial reforms within Russian hockey. To a lot of people, the finances of the Russian Super League has always been a somewhat hidden affair, with stories of players being paid "under the table" with envelopes stuffed with money and so forth. However, recent off-ice events, such as budget shuffles by team sponsors and the news of a potential "European NHL" (Russian Hockey Digest has a very informative look at the proposed new league), are leading some to demand that the league open its books and bring Russian hockey into a more modern era.

In one of yesterday's articles, a Sport Express writer took a stab, unofficially, at what the payroll budgets were of each of the Super League teams. If you click here you'll see the article, and if you scroll down you should be able to follow along with some of the numbers that are in the chart at the bottom of the article. The numbers in the chart are expressed as "u.e." ("y.e." in the Russian alphabet), which is the Unified European currency ("Euros"). Right now, the Euro dollar is worth about 18 cents more than the US dollar. (Russia is not a member of the European Union, but in this case, UE is a unit that represents the exchange rate between the ruble and the Euro dollar.)

Top five teams in -'05-'06 payroll (in millions), with their current won-lost-tied records and position in the Russian Super League standings:

30 - Ak Bars Kazan (15-9-4, sixth)
28 - Avangard Omsk (18-9-1, second)
26 - Metallurg Magnitogorsk (22-3-3, first)
24 - Lokomotiv Yaroslavl (15-8-6, third)
22 - Dynamo Moscow (14-12-2, seventh)

The bottom three teams in payroll:

9 - Spartak Moscow (12-13-4, ninth)
7 - Lada Togliatti (16-10-2, fifth)
6 - Molot Perm (6-21-2, fifteenth)

As the chart in the original Russian article shows, Lada Togliatti actually began the season with a 19 million payroll, but budget cuts by the team sponsor (Lada, Russia's largest automaker) forced the team to get rid of a lot of players and bring the payroll down to 7 million. Lada was the team that current New York Ranger Maxim Kondratiev played for last season, when they lost to Dynamo in the finals. Molot ("The Hammer") seems to be the perennial doormat of the league, although oddly enough I own one of their jerseys (the current season's jerseys look a lot better than the Halloween-looking orange ones, though).

The third column from the left in the chart indicates each team's payroll, up or down, in relation to last season. The fourth column from the left lists each team's most expensive recent acquisition; for Ak Bars Kazan, unfortunately, it was Jeff Hamilton, who ended up posting no points in 8 games and was released. The highest-paid new player on Lokomotiv is former Hartford Wolf Pack goalie Steve Valiquette. Valiquette is listed as one of eight goalies in the Russian Super League with a salary of 500,000 or more, according to the next-to-last column on the chart. Also in that column are Metallurg's Travis Scott and Avangard's Norm Maracle.

As a side note to all of this-- I read last month on one of the Russian sites that the Russian league is thinking about eventually implementing a "wage ceiling" (i.e. salary cap).

By the way, the best sources that I know of for Russian hockey news in English are Russian Hockey Digest and Russian Prospects.