Monday, December 31, 2007

8-6 to Washington?????

Hey, what the heck happened while I was gone? I fly out to Calgary to do an HNIC game and while getting prepped for the game I am watching the out of town scoreboard and I can’t believe my eyes. I wasn’t shocked to see Ottawa score 6 goals. I was stunned to see them give up 8! So let’s get this straight, Ottawa has only lost 9 games in regulation time this season and now 2 of them are against the Caps? It just tells you that anything can happen in the new NHL. Last year the top 5 teams in the league had almost 50% of their regular season regulation time losses to teams which didn’t make the playoffs or were below .500. Now it’s back in Washington for game #3 of the season series.

Some of the boys from the media went out to a restaurant in Georgetown for a New Years Eve dinner. I took a pass, since I am battling a cold and it’s affecting my voice. An evening of trying to talk over the loud crowd at the restaurant won’t help it.

Also while I was out west, it appears the Ray Emery saga hit the fan. There are a lot of things a lot of people can, could and will say about Emery. His behavior and the way he has been going about his business is not what you would hope for from a role model, but he is certainly not the first to have trouble dealing with things which have come very fast like money, celebrity, pressure, expectation and motivation. His boss’s and team mates have made very clear to him what their expectations are and the fans have spoken loudly on the Team 1200 talk shows. He has received the message and now it’s all up to him. You would hope that a young man with so much promise, athleticism and competitive fire would be able to get his head straightened out and become the player and man his parents I am sure hoped he would. If he can’t do that, the real loser in all this will be Ray. Very, very few people get the opportunity to play in the NHL and fewer still have the chance to be a true difference maker on any team they play for. Squandering that would be a true shame. For everyone’s best interests, but mostly for Ray, it is my hope that he does get it back in line. Only the most cynical of hockey watchers would take joy in watching a promising NHL career implode.

See you at the rink.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Christmas in the rinks

The Glamorous NHL life takes a hit this time of year. Don’t get me wrong, this is a great job and a wonderful life. I owe everything I have and the life I have because of this game and this business and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. But this is the time of year when you have to make the sacrifices to live the NHL life. While many families are together today waiting for Christmas and doing that last minute shopping, we are here in New York in our hotel rooms doing the homework needed to broadcast tonight’s Rangers-Senators game. Right after the game we will fly home for family time on the 24th and 25th and then its back on a plane Boxing Day morning for Buffalo. Then its home right after the game for a visit from the Islanders on Thursday. On Friday I’ll get to catch my son’s first game in the Bell Capital Cup and then it’s on a plane to Calgary for a HNIC game on Saturday between the Ducks and Flames. After the game I am hopping on a red eye flight home to try and catch my son’s playoff games in the Bell Capital Cup should they make it that far.

It gets no easier on New Years Eve. We will be in Washington for a New Years Day game against the Capitals. It’s not a great family schedule for the Holiday season, but that’s the price for all of the wonderful benefits of this great job. During the summer when we have all that time off to see your wife and children each day it seems to be a fair trade off. It just makes you wonder if the NHL schedule maker has a family when you see the schedule Ottawa and other teams have over the holidays.

My complaining is done. All things considered I know I have nothing to complain about. There are doctors, nurses, police officers, fire fighters and many others who have the same schedule but don’t get to spend their lives in NHL rinks and I understand how fortunate we are.

My hope is that all of you have a very safe and happy holiday. Cherish all the gifts you get. The most important ones are not under the tree. They are the ones in their pajamas in front of it.

See you at the rink.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

It's Wide-man not Weed-man

The countdown is on for the Christmas break and this mini trip to Boston and Atlanta should be very interesting. The Bruins and Senators are the top two teams in the east. Ottawa is the best offensive team in the NHL right now and Boston is now a top 10 team defensively. The Senators are in a difficult spot. Missing Fisher, Eaves and Volchenkov makes things tough. They are all important in their own ways. There will be no sympathy here in Boston where they are missing Bergeron and Fernandez.

Garry Galley should have some juicy bits on our Sportsnet broadcast tonight. His old Boston teammate Cam Neeley was at the rink this morning for the skate. They sat together and talked for almost the entire morning. I have a feeling very little of what they talked about will be useable on our telecast tonight. I was going to go over and listen in, but Gord bought me coffee this morning and I felt obliged to sit with him and Schreibs.

It’s like old home week in the Boston locker room. Zdeno Chara, Aaron Ward, Peter Schaefer, Marc Savard, Peter Chiarelli, Claude Julien and Craig Ramsay all either come from Ottawa, played in Ottawa or coached in Ottawa.

I talked to Bruins defenseman Dennis Wideman after hearing another broadcaster call him Dennis Weedman and wondered if I had been mis-pronouncing his name all these years. He said his name is exactly the way it’s spelled and complained that they even mis-pronounce his name in the video game NHL 08.

Had a good chat with the Big Z. I own a log home and he is very interested in building one. We never actually talked about hockey, but instead spent all our time talking about log homes and post and beam homes.

The Senators went on to win the game 3-2 with Luke Richardson getting his first goal as a Senator and his first in 98 games. Spezza with his 2 goals continues his hot streak. 6 straight wins and now 5 straight on the road. Now its on to Atlanta.

See you at the rink.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

On the road in Carolina and Pittsburgh

The road trip continues for the Senators. Here in Carolina there are things that are different as you would expect in a non-traditional hockey market. First they really like traffic pylons. When you drive into the RBC Centre they have thousands and thousands of cones laid out on every street coming into the building. They are very big on traffic control here. We always laugh driving into the building at game time calling it the “Cone forest”. Right now the Canes are averaging over 16 thousand per game. In the past there were many games when the pylons outnumbered the fans.

Some people also ask why is a building in Raleigh, North Carolina named the RBC Center. How many American buildings are named after large Canadian banks? The answer we were given is Nortel. When the naming rights were up for grabs Nortel stock was in the clouds and they had cash to burn. Nortel has a huge facility here. RBC is a major high tech lender and Nortel is one its biggest clients in that sector.

Looks like we will see a suspension out of this game. Carolina’s Scott Walker brushed Martin Gerber and with the starting goalie already out, Mike Fisher took exception to the contact on Gerber. He went after Walker in a good tilt that opened a cut on Walkers face. At the end of the fight Walker head butted Fisher and took a late punch at Fisher as the linesmen tied the pair up. Both are no no’s. The head butt is the biggie. Fisher chipped one tooth and will likely lose another which was driven back into his mouth. Walker was ejected from the game and now awaits supplementary discipline. He will likely get a game or two. Head butting is rare and is viewed by most in hockey as part of the ugly 5. Hair pulling, spitting, eye gouging, kicking and head butting are generally viewed as exceptionally smarmy tactics by other players and the league. It is entirely another debate as to whether the ugly 5 are any better or worse or more dangerous than intentional head shots and hits from behind, but they are defiantly viewed in a different and less respectful light in the hockey world.

Now it’s on to Pittsburgh which is one of my favorite NHL cities. Yes that’s right Pittsburgh! The drive in from the airport is beautiful as you driver over the bridge from the airport off the escarpment, over the Ohio River and into downtown Pitt. The people here are friendly, it’s clean and it has a vibrant downtown. And lets face it, its always fun to quiz the young reporters on the media bus as to the names of the 3 rivers which run through Pittsburgh. If your answer is the Allegheny, Ohio, and Monongahela you are right.

The big question here in Penguin Ville is all about goaltending right now. FLeury is out with a high ankle sprain. He won’t play for 6 to 8 weeks but it might be longer with this type of injury. Doctors often say that breaking the leg takes less recovery time than a high ankle sprain. Goaltenders are affected even more because of the drive they need to go post-to-post and get up after going down in the butterfly. So what do the Penguins do? Do they live with Dany Sabourin and Ty Conklin and wait and hope for Fleury’s return. Do they go out and sign a veteran guy who isn’t currently in the NHL like Curtis Joseph or Eddy Belfour? Do they try and make a deal for a top young goaltender and give up on Fleury? All tough decisions for GM Ray Shero.

See you at the rink.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

The Senators roll into "Big D"

After the huge sigh of relief that was last night’s one goal win in Florida, the Senators rolled into Dallas last night for their game Friday against the Stars. Last night’s game was a very important win for the club, ending the seven game losing streak, but it was by no means a great win or even close to the kind of hockey this team is capable of, according to Gord Wilson. I will be mentioning Gord’s name often in this blog because as I read his often and he mentions me quite a bit.

Still they needed a victory and they got it and now the tough part is continuing to slug their way out of the doldrums. Still too many defensive break downs for John Paddock’s liking.

Sometimes you just have to go back to what works. That includes off ice habits. It usually happens at least once per season with every hockey team whose players are above the age of 17. On a team bus, plane, at a team function or whenever, it happens and last night on the way to Dallas it did for the Senators. In his brief case Allan Panzeri from the Ottawa Citizen had a DVD of Slapshot. The movie was put on all the screens in the plane. The more veteran members of the club like Bryan Murray and John Paddock can relate to the movie and vividly remember the year of its release. For many of the players they were not born when the movie came out, but it’s a cult classic for every hockey player. For the current generation it’s kind of like Napoleon Dynamite on ice.

After arriving in Dallas we had another semi regular occurrence. A bunch of extremely tall people in the hotel. With so many NHL rinks also being home to NBA teams we are often in the same hotel as a visiting NBA club. Right now it’s the Denver Nuggets. It’s humorous to listen to players from both sports talking about the other while in line at Starbucks. The NHL guys talk about how tall the NBA guys are and the basketball players talk about the hockey guy’s face's. They are surprised by the fact that they all seem to have their teeth and fewer scars than expected. The round ballers haven’t yet figured out that hockey players have false teeth.

Another semi regular occurrence on the road is the special attention paid by security staff when the Sun’s Bruce Garrioch is around. Right now it’s in the 60’s here in Dallas and a jacket is required. Bruce brought just one on this trip and it’s a khaki trench coach. Problem is, when he’s not heading to a game in his suit he (like the rest of us) is usually wearing jeans and a T-shirt. The combination of trench coach and the jeans with runners screams “flasher”.

Dallas is a wonderful city but you quickly realize it is not at all like our little burg in the Nation’s Capital. The team is practicing this afternoon at the Dr. Pepper Star Centre which is one of about six such facilities in Dallas. They are very similar to the Bell Sensplex but with some not so subtle differences. On the doors coming into the facility here there are signs that warn of felony charges if any licensed or unlicensed firearms are brought into the building. The penalty is up to $10,000 in fines and or ten years in jail. I suppose in a state where the number of registered firearms is equal to half the population of Texas, the sign is required. The other thing that catches your eye is the “traditional” holiday season decorations on the front lawn of the Star Centre. The have those big wire models with Christmas lights on them. In Ottawa, we have reindeer, Santa, elves and that kind of thing. Here the lighted sculptures are of holiday long horn bulls and Santa riding in a holiday tractor. No I am not kidding.

See you at the rink.

Monday, December 3, 2007

10 seconds for the good, 10 minutes for the bad.

Its funny how losing streaks go. When the Senators were winning almost every night, everyone obviously felt good but didn't really talk that much about it. Winning became an expectation the fans and the media knew would continue and I believe it will continue. A 6 game losing streak though certainly gets more people talking than a 6 game winning streak. It is human nature.

On the Team 1200 talk shows callers often will have a 10 second comment about a win or how well the team is playing and a 10 minute comment when the team is playing lousy, that's just human nature. The big difference now is the perspective the fans seem to have. No one is happy with the record or the sometimes dreadful play which caused it, but there still seems to be no sense of panic and I think that's a good thing. It appears the fans have enough trust to know that every team in every season will have hills and valley's. They and the players have certainly had enough of this valley but there are no screams for change. That shows a maturity within the fan base, an understanding that reactionary moves rarely change things long term.

Last years early season woe's raised far more important questions in a far more dire time and yet staying the course ultimately was the right move. That experience for ownership, the team and its players made them better and it also made the fan base more able to deal with this current slide.

There will always be the angry callers to the Team 1200 who want to know why the players weren't skated into a quivering puddle as punishment after a loss. The truth is that punishment skates rarely have the desired affect anymore. Go through the schedule and look at the number of games in the number of days and ask yourself if bludgeoning more energy and emotion out of the players in practise will increase your chances of winning the next game or not. This is about winning not making some philosophical point as a coach. You don't have to wonder if the players feel bad about this or don't care. They know and they care very much.

The teams golf outing in Florida was also a hot topic on the phone lines. I understand that completely. I have kids too. If they misbehave we don't reward them. The difference is these players are not children they are men. The difference is there are corporate responsibilities the club has to a valued business partner that cant simply be canceled because the coach is mad.

The Senators did not organize this golf event. Molsons did. They ran it, they paid for it and they went to great expense and effort to do it. Cam Atchison and Grant Skinner from Molson's Ottawa office flew down to organize the whole thing. With them came 2 of the biggest executives in the entire Molson family and all of that cant be arbitrarily snuffed out because the coach is angry. That is the business side of hockey you cant escape. Believe me, just because the players say the golf was a good way to put hockey out of their minds for a few hours doesn't mean that's what actually happens. If you are a player or a coach or a manager or a president or anyone in the organization, it is something you think about all the time. Oh, one other small point about the Molson golf outing. The Senators have never lost the game which immediatly follows the event. If the Senators beat Tampa tomorow night, Sens Army may actually be asking for a golf tournament before every game.

Right now things are ugly. Right now a team that could hardly find ways to lose 2 weeks ago cant seem to find a way to win. But this too shall pass and the fans know it. That is fan maturity. That is a fan base that knows and understands hockey. That is a fan base that is not happy, but knows this team will make them happy again.

Dean Brown
(hard at work in Florida)

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Nick is back

When the Senators arrived at Scotiabank Place this morning for practise there was a very young face back in his stall in the Senators locker room. The team re-called rookie forward Nick Foligno from Binghamton and sent Alexei Nikulin down. The question is, will he play tomorrow night in Long Island, or was the drive up a waste of time. That seems to hindge on the groin of Daniel Alfredsson. He was back at full practise today and didn't seem to be bothered by the groin issue which has kept him out of the Flyer game. If Alfredsson plays, one might assume that Foligno would not. That might not be the case though, as Joe Corvo left practise this morning, then returned, then left again. Corvo did make the flight today, but has some type of upper body injury and if he is unable to play, that would mean Christoph Schubert would move back to defence to play with Luke Richardson and Foligno would fill a forward spot. The other news today was the announcement that Ray Emery would get the start in goal against the Islanders. Most are guessing that Gerber will play against Nashville on Thursday, but that might not be a given. John Paddock has in the past thrown the media a curve ball or two and might do the same if Emery has a big night.

see you at the rink.