Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Beware the ides of March... wake me when it's over


Since the Hawks have already qualified for the playoffs, you can already see the players sporting the start of their playoff beards.

After tonight's game, I'm not exactly going to be hovering excitedly over the Ticketmaster button tomorrow at 10 A.M., anxious to land playoff seats. Somehow, I'm starting to think I can probably pick those up any time between now and April 14th.

What looked like it might be a pretty solid game - and a possible win - at the beginning lost its heart somewhere in the start of the second period. Hawks were up 2-1 end of the first. Most of the first period actually looked like they maybe had a little fire under the butt for the first time in a week. 

Then came the second... not quite so solid, but still, ended 2-2... they can still come back, right?

With around 7:30 minutes left in play, and the Blues up 2-4, I couldn't watch any more. Yes - it was the first hockey game I turned off all season. (Although I kept hovering over the homepage to check the score.)

It's not so much the fact that they lost three in a row in regulation; although I think one of the announcers said early in the game that the Blackhawks were the last team in the league not to have done so this season. Good, got that out of the way, so maybe now they can go back to playing with heart? Please?

Hockey writers keep pointing out that plenty of teams over the past couple years - including the 2008-09 Blackhawks team - suffered through a terrible March and then came back to kick total booty in the final two weeks in April. Great, glad to hear it; sincerely hope it happens here. Chicago's 48 years of drought remains the longest Stanley Cup run in the NHL; even the Whalers finally won it (although they had to move to North Carolina and become the Hurricanes to do so). 

The team is playing the Minnesota Wild in Minneapolis tomorrow night.  The Wild's team symbol as seen on their jersey is a bear (karhu in Finnish). Time to go bear hunting.







Facing the Blues in STL tonight

The Finnish Fortress is in the net tonight, and here is hoping for some rock-'em, sock-'em, show-us-fans-the-team-we-know-and-love action this evening.

Hawks vs. the Blues - so far this season:
12/16 - Home - Chicago win, 3-0 (Huet)
1/2 - Away - Chicago win, 6-3 (Huet)
2/3 - Home - Blues win, 3-2 (Huet)
3/6 - Away - Chicago win, 2-1 (Niemi)

I think we all learned the lesson this week that you can't discount any team just because they're not going to the playoffs. (Unless they're Southeast division other than the Capitals, or maybe the Edmonton Oilers, who have racked up an abysmal 55 points this year, with their 24-44-7 record. Getting only 55 points in a hockey season is like being a baseball team that's lost 100 games: it's bad. Real bad.)

And the Blues aren't out of the playoff lineup... yet. So expect tonight to be a heavy-duty fight right down to the final buzzer.

Rock the Scottrade Center tonight, men!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Approaching the final stretch

Pretty lengthy discussion from Coach Q after practice today ...




Did everybody catch the video of the coach who totally blew a gasket over a poor call? While I'm definitely on the side of favoring less unnecessary violence in hockey (ie. why are player so quick to whip off the gloves and start punching?), this may be one of the best hockey moments I've seen in ages. It's certainly how a lot of fans feel when it seems like the refs are making calls based on team bias.

Irony here? Coach's name is Playfair.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Hawks paint the town red (video)

They play this video before home games, both in the arena and on TV. One of the best pieces of hockey marketing out there, and fans love it. I had to look for it on YouTube tonight to cheer me up, because the end of the season is looking a little cold...

Back to Basics?

What makes tonight's Blackhawks vs. Blue Jackets game so disappointing is not simply that the Columbus team handed the Hawks the worst loss within the last two seasons. It's made worse that one of the worst-ranked teams in the entire NHL gave one of the best teams two losses in a row, in less than a week.

Can't blame tonight fully on the goalie. Niemi was looking fine; and I think he would've had to have been Superman to see that third goal coming through all the bodies it passed en route. The Hawks might not have even had that first goal if the opposing team hadn't knocked it into their own net, for crying out loud.

This just isn't the same team that was smokin' its way through the month leading up to the Olympics. What happened during those two Olympic weeks that shook the team up this much?

Players, coaches, reporters, bloggers and fans alike can debate back and forth about what's wrong on any given night. This night it's a weak offense; that night it's too many hurt players on the bench; a few days later it's shoddy defense.

But here's what I'm seeing as a fan, sitting up in the 300s at a game or watching it at home on TV: a lot of sloppy stick work, where one of the players makes a pass, and the receiver bobbles the play, or manages to lose it under their own feet, or just isn't getting there in time. Hit or miss about closing in for rebounds. Defense maybe - or maybe not - being there in time to help keep the puck out of the crease. And what teams to be a Blackhawks trademark - giant, cross-rink passes that have been readily grabbed by the opposing team.

Seeing it all shake out on Tuesday night into a sloppy, horrifying mess just over-emphasized it all, because when the Hawks play tight, wow, they can take your breath away. But when they play bad, then they have to fight hard for every point, be the end result win or lose.

It's clear tonight that while the Columbus Blue Jackets have already lost any chance of being in the playoffs, they were still here to play hockey, and to make it as rough as possible for any remaining opponents. Their goalie, 21-year-old Steve Mason, has clearly found his groove, and will be a formidable threat next season - and for the rest of this one.

I'm not a coach. I can't imagine what's going through Coach Q's head, except perhaps feeling disgust that the team that everybody thought was going to steamroll their way to a Stanley Cup is falling apart on the final approach to the playoffs. And you know what, I hate to every suggest it, but maybe practices from here on out need to be a return to basics, a little end-of-season boot camp, remind the players. Because any athlete will tell you that if you have the basics nailed, the rest of the game will follow.

A month ago, I would've stood by my call to see the Blackhawks go all the way this year. Right now, I'm thinking that the final two are going to shake out to be the Capitals vs. the Coyotes. (Or maybe San Jose.)

The Capitals clinched the Eastern Division tonight. The Western division is still up for grabs. It's not entirely out of the Blackhawks' reach, but they're really going to have to bust their butts to earn it - and they've only got eight games left, five of which are on the road.

I still have faith. I think the Men of Four Feathers can go far in the playoffs - maybe even still go all the way - but they've got to focus, play smart, and find within themselves whatever motivated them six weeks ago.

Here's hoping they do.

Great hockey quote

Just got a book last week called Hockey: A People's History, by Michael McKinley. (There's apparently a DVD that goes along with it, but I had stumbled upon the book and didn't realize about the DVD til later.)

There is a quote in the prologue that speaks to the Canadian identity being so strongly tied up with hockey, but I think it is true, regardless of your nationality, and why hockey is such a great sport to watch (or play):

"From its earliest days, hockey has found a way to rouse Canadian passion, for its heat and speed offer relief from the freezing inertia of winter and the promise of life in the season of death."

Hmm... that quote makes me feel like I need to go pop in Mystery, Alaska, before the Blackhawks game tonight.

By the way, if you like my new background for my blog, it's available for free download over at my Flickr stream; there are two variations.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Goaaall!

For those of you actually feeling worried about the Blackhawks' goalie situation... keep in mind there are plenty of "non-playoffs-experienced" goalies around the NHL right now.

And, as ever, any win or loss is a team win or loss. A goalie would need to be some kind of amazing goalie-god to still salvage a game if the team in front of him was playing terribly. Likewise, a goalie can have an off night, but the team play so great that they still win.

Hockey is a team sport. But one of the reasons that my favorite hockey players are generally the goalies is this: the goalies log more ice time per game than any other player on the team, which means that a lot of team confidence comes out of what the team is seeing in the net. It's pretty rare to see a goalie be a Captain; but like the Captain, the goalie must help inspire his team by being inspiring between the pipes, so the team can feel confident that if the puck gets past them, the goalie is going to be there to stop it cold.

Hockey practice

The Blackhawks had Friday off as far as practice went; but Coach Q called the team in for a meeting to discuss issues with the team's current play and to get some things out into the air. Here's hoping that the discussions help the players; stewing quietly on issues is never productive.

I was pretty surprised to find out that the Hawks host a few public practices throughout the season; I don't know how common that is to see among teams that are still mid-season.

I think it's fantastic on several levels: people who follow the team but perhaps can't afford a ticket to the regular games get a chance to see the team; it's obviously a far more intimate arena than the UC; and it's just interesting to see the team dynamic in a different setting than mid-game. So thank you, whoever makes the decision to keep these public practices happening.

Blackhawks practice 3/27/10

Because I only took two shots of this lineup, and this was the better of the two pictures,
I have to guess at some of who the players are based on angle, and who was in the
other picture taken a few seconds before. If I'm incorrect on any, please let me know:

L-R: Andrew Ladd #16, Jonathan Toews #19, Bren Sopel #5, Adam Burish #37,
John Madden #11, ? (can't tell), Nick Boynton #24, Ben Eager #55,
Patrick Kane #88, Patrick Sharp #10


Having finally made it out to one of the Blackhawks' public practice sessions, I do of course have photography to share! Before the pictures, a few quick stories from this afternoon.

- Several of the players tossed pucks into the spectator area, or after the practice, gave away some sticks. As best I could see, they made a point of handing them to kids (awesome!!). Patrick Sharp was standing below me looking up at this girl (below), and he handed the stick up to me to pass to her. The look of grateful surprise on the dad's face was fun. And look how she's holding onto the stick - a future hockey player in the making? :)

Blackhawks practice 3/27/10


It was very satisfying to not only see the Blackhawks players taking time after their practice to sign items for fans of all ages, but to see them make the effort to make the experience special for the kids in attendance. A lot of kids regard sports figures as their heroes and take inspiration from them, so it is a wonderful thing to see athletes still willing to take the time to make a connection with their fans. Kudos, guys.

An extra thank you to Antti Niemi for signing my #31 Hawks shirt. Kiitos! 

- Regarding the sticks that were handed out: I was among the folks waiting to see who was going to come out for signing, and there was a guy standing next to me, actually complaining about the stick that Cristobal Huet had given somebody. Now, granted, my friend Adam, who plays goalie for a rec league, would know far more about sticks than I; but seriously, dude? Complaining about the quality of the stick given to a fan? Sticks aren't cheap; and the players are certainly under no obligation to give them to anybody.

I was momentarily fuming, until I realized this jerk wasn't the one who'd gotten the stick - because if he had, I think I would've had the urge to yank it right out of his hands and given it to a kid or somebody who would've actually appreciated it. You, sir, are an idiot, and a bad example of a fan. I don't know - probably you were jealous that you didn't get the stick. No need to be bitter. Clam it up next time, and don't ruin other people's experience with your whining.

- I also need to point out the annoying guy with a video camera who kept asking all the players who were busy signing autographs - "What about the Stanley Cup?" and "if (they) were going to bring it home to Chicago".  Uh... 'scuse me, dude? Don't you think that's on every player's mind, and what every player in the NHL desires? WTG, Captain Obvious - annoy the players while they're trying to do something nice for the fans.

So... a couple hundred fans enjoying a nice afternoon out; and aside from a couple idiots among the fandom, it was a pretty nice way to spend an hour and a half watching my favorite sports team in action.


Anyway, on to the pictures!


Blackhawks practice 3/27/10

Andrew Ladd, #10

Blackhawks practice 3/27/10

Patrick Kane, #88

Blackhawks practice 3/27/10

Brent Sopel #5, Jordan Hendry #6, Dustin Byfuglien #33
Blackhawks practice 3/27/10

Captain Jonathan Toews, #19

Blackhawks practice 3/27/10

Blackhawks practice 3/27/10

Goalie Antti Niemi, #31

Blackhawks practice 3/27/10

Goalie Cristobal Huet, #39

Blackhawks practice 3/27/10

Patrick Sharp, #10

Blackhawks practice 3/27/10

Captain Jonathan Toews #19, Patrick Sharp #10, Patrick Kane #88

Friday, March 26, 2010

Just for fun

The official Blackhawks Twitter stream has been holding picture contests in relation to Blackhawks TV. Here's my entry for today's contest:


She's showing off her puck-stopping skills... just like her favorite goalie!

And then there were nine

After the abysmal game on Thursday night at Columbus, it was clear that goaltender Cristobal Huet's head wasn't in the game. He's admitted as much himself; but then, it wasn't one of the team's most stellar games, either. The question that has interested fans all season - who's going to be in goal for the Hawks come playoffs time - is pretty much crystal-clear at this point.

Don't get me wrong. I do feel bad for Huet. It's awful to watch a sports game, and see a player whose confidence in their own ability is clearly shaken. I don't have any suggestions as how to get him back on par, either, as this kind of thing is a person demon that every athlete experiences sooner or later. Some have only one bad game and shake it off; some have several and start wondering if they've reached the end of the career.

Since no deadline trades were made, the team doesn't have any choices. Niemi will clearly need to step up as the alpha goalie, and Corey Crawford - depsite taking a loss in his only Hawks game to date - will need to be just as ready to jump in as backup as Huet will.

The question on everybody's mind is: Is Niemi ready?

An awful lot of people are quick to point out the statistic that only three rookie goalies have won the Stanley Cup. Well, so what? It's not like he's a 19-year-old rookie fresh out of high school; he's got seasons of play - including playoffs - at home in his native Finland. He has stepped up to bat and not only had wins but had shutouts in some of the most high-pressure games in the season, such as against the Coyotes on Tuesday.

On the other hand, he's also had a game or two where he, too, has had a bad night and needed to be pulled. (See the game vs. the Islanders a couple weeks ago.)

If you want to look at the big picture, though, the Blackhawks have had some of their most painful losses against teams that don't even have a chance of getting a playoff berth this year. (And since the majority of the teams get into at least the first playoff round, that says a lot.) Columbus was one example, as was the NYI game.

There were some other surprising losses against good teams as well - let's look back to January where the Blackhawks were leading 5-1 going into the third period, and the Minnesota Wild came back and kicked Chicago butt to win 5-6.

When the Hawks have their game face on, holy cow, they can do great things. The team is chock-full of indisputable talent, young and seasoned alike.

As the late season has shown us, however, that the unexpected can happen. Although the Olympics was a tuning fork for some of the team's best players, we're not witnessing the same level of play from the team as a whole as we saw in the weeks leading up to the Games. (And hey, P.S., hello, White Sox - if you're going to honor the Olympians at an event, give the Slovakia players some love, too. They were >this close< to coming home with their own medals, and deserve the same adulation as the U.S. and Canadian players.)

Did the two-week break simply throw off the rhythm for the team? Has it just been a bad streak?

The Hawks still have several games to go to clean up the season. The majority of games are against teams that they have proven they can win against, but that doesn't mean they should go into those games just assuming they'll win - and playing to match that assumption.

Samuel Goldwyn once said, "The harder I work, the luckier I get."

The team could take some lessons from the Phoenix Coyotes. With the team's future existance in doubt and no coach to start the season, the team pulled together and have produced a true Cinderella story for the NHL this year. And as very, very badly as I (and every other Blackhawks fan) would love to see the Cup come home to Chicago this year, I wouldn't be surprised to see the final round be a contest between the Coyotes and the Capitals.

The Frozen Four

It inevitably gets overshadowed by the basketball tourney, but the NCAA hockey championship is also in progress this week.

I'm particularly fond of the name for the final rounds of elimination - the "Frozen Four".

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Wow... what was THAT mess?

Was it a full moon or something tonight, with all the hot teams getting their butts handed to them by the guys at the bottom of their divisions?

If the Blackhawks weren't wearing the team jerseys, I wouldn't have known that was even the same team out there as the one that played on Tuesday night. Because, wow - that was a painful experience to watch, so I can only imagine what it was like to be out on the ice.

I was busy venting in texts in frustration, so I didn't even notice that Coach Q briefly swapped in Niemi near the end of the second, but I will admit to being surprised that Huet was back in goal for the third. My guess would be that Quenneville wanted Huet to shake off the second period, get his head re-focused, and try to keep the third period clean, but sadly, that didn't work. I wasn't home early enough to watch the full game - 6 p.m. CT start times are usually hard for me to catch the first period - but I saw the tail end of the 2nd and all of the 3rd period. I can only describe Huet's play as "inattentive", as he failed to follow through on a few of his plays, seemingly caught by surprise on rebound plays.

Maybe Huet isn't fully recovered from having the flu; or maybe it was just an off night; or maybe it was simply he hasn't started in a game in several days. A bit of everything, perhaps. Post-game, Coach Q again dodged the question about who his primary goalie would be for the playoffs, stating that both goalies needed the confidence from playing out the rest of the season.

But it would be hard to deny the numbers or the last several games, or the overall stats for both goalies this season.

What was going on across the rest of the ice wasn't much better. The defense wasn't as sharp as they've been the last few games, there wasn't the same intensity that there is in the more "challenging" match-ups, and there just wasn't the tightness we've seen in games like Tuesday's win against Phoenix. After already beating the Blue Jackets a few times this season, it's disappointing to have Columbus wipe the floor with the Hawks this late - and still another game to go against them on Sunday. (Mind you, I'm not saying the Blackhawks should've been the ones wiping the floor with the other team, but ... tonight's game was uncharacteristically lopsided.)

That was without a doubt the worst game of the season - even worse than the Minnesota Wild game on January 9th when the score was 5-1 and the Wild surged back to win 5-6 in SO. As Coach Q said in the post-game interview: "It was a terrible across the board. Right from the first shift to the end of the game there's nothing we can be excited about. We'll discount it and throw it in the garbage can." So hopefully they'll shake it off, kick the Blue Jackets' butts on Sunday, and pull together for the final run to the playoffs.

* * *

Speaking of the playoffs, my bad - I thought that they clinched their playoff berth with the win over Phoenix on Tuesday; but turns out it was clinched by Calgary's loss to the NY Islanders tonight.

It's very exciting to be in the playoffs again, and of course, I would love to see the Cup come to Chicago. It's been far, far too long.

But if the Hawks play out the rest of the season the way it's gone since the Olympics, we may have to wait another year to see Lord Stanley's prize gleaming beneath the lights of the United Center.

It's official

NHL Players' Union Approves New Head Shot Ban - what's your opinion?

Sharp Attack!

In Chicago on local radio station WTMX 101.9, they have a Thursday morning feature (8:40am central) called "Sharp Attack". During the Blackhawks season, they are interviewing Patrick Sharp (#10) for several minutes each week.

If you're not in the Chicago area, you can listen to the broadcast via the WTMX website.

Ooo, free NHL network... and squashing hockey stereotypes

I was delighted tonight to find out the NHL Network is having a "free preview" week. I don't know if I stumbled upon this treat mid-week or if it's just starting, but either way, nice little surprise. (Yes, yes, I know - *GASP*, not already subscribed?)

In checking out my cable company's offerings, I looked under "sports packs", and was kind of semi-insulted by their "Premiere Sports Pack" offering. The wording of the package seems to infer any sports fan MUST be football-crazy. The copy for their selling points starts out with "Two words: NFL Network."

Here's two words for you, cable company: Football sucks. Ok, maybe "sucks" is a little strong, but "I neither understand nor care to watch football, despite years of attempting to fathom the game" just doesn't have the same ring to it. (See? I'm enough of a sports fan that I was even willing to attempt to understand football.) I could vent various opinions about football, starting with the fact that it is way over-complicated for a game where the basic point is to put the ball at the other end of the field, but the primary reason I don't like the game - and this will shock non-hockey fans - is that I think it's just too violent. I know, a hockey fan calling football "violent" - crazy, right? No. Football is way more violent than hockey. Even the dude I sat next to at the hockey game last night, who was seeing only his second hockey game ever, said he thought football was way more violent than hockey.

I was also a little boggled by my cable company's selling point for the "Versus" channel, which stated "Alternative sports coverage on Versus, including hockey, bull riding, hunting and fishing, and World Extreme Cagefighting." Are they actually calling hockey "alternative", and lumping it into the same category as yawner sports like fishing and crazy sports like bullriding and WEC?

Jeez, no wonder hockey has an image problem. Lumping it in with cage fighting? Really?

Let's put to rest the idea that hockey is SO violent that it's setting some kind of bar for crazy. Yes, the NHL ruled against head shots this week, but you know what, that is long overdue. A hockey rink is not a boxing ring. Checking is part of the acceptable dangers of the game; attempting to knock somebody out cold should not be.

The mental image that many non-fans have of hockey players is, sadly, the idea that all hockey players have broken noses, missing teeth and a face constantly full of blood and bruises. Maybe thirty years ago, sure.

As a puck can easily reach velocities of up to 120 MPH, and hit teeth (or faces or skulls) with an impact force of 1,250 pounds, it is far from surprising that modern hockey players - pro and amateur alike - use a variety of safety equipment, including padding over much of their body, as well as helmets, face masks and mouthguards. (After all, what good is your $5M contract if you don't protect yourself to enjoy it?)

The first NHL goalie to wear a mask full time was Jacques Plante of the Montreal Canadiens, starting on November 1, 1959. Amazingly, before that time, it was not required equipment, and his coach actually resisted the idea at first, concerned that it would cut down on his vision. Plante went on to have a major winning streak, and resistance to his wearing the mask was dropped. The last goalie not to wear protective head equipment in a game was Andy Brown, who last played for the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1974. (He was with the Detroit Red Wings prior to the Penguins.)

The most famous image of a goalie and his mask:
Canadian artist Ken Danby's "At the Crease", 1972


The goalie mask went on to be a well-recognized symbol for hockey, of course, although it evolved from the face-only fiberglass plate into a combination helmet/face cage in the 1970s.

Today, most goalies wear a sleek helmet made from carbon fiber, or a fiberglass and kevlar mix. Professional goalies frequently have their helmets painted with artwork that reflects their team, their personal style, or simply looks cool. For example, those who watched the 2010 Olympics games may have noticed that the Canadian goalie started out with a helmet decorated with a maple leaf motif, but later switched to a helmet painted with a lumberjack, the original mascot for the Canucks.

Helmets did not used to be mandatory equipment for the rest of the players, either, until an NHL ruling in August of 1979. If you watch tapes of games from the 1970s or earlier, you'll see that many players didn't wear helmets - and needless to say, broken noses and blackened eyes were far more prevalent in those days. Players who signed contracts prior to June 1, 1979, were allowed, if they desired, to sign waivers to allow them to play without a helmet.

Minnesota North Star player Bill Masterton was playing in a game on January 13, 1968, when he was hit by two players from the Oakland Seals team; his head hit the ice hard. Although a team of doctors worked some 30 hours to save his life, he died of what was classified as "massive brain injury". It is amazing that it took the NHL another eleven years to mandate the use of helmets, but by the time the rule was instituted, the majority of players were already wearing them.

While many players use either a clear plastic visor or face guard, or the older-style face cage, there are a small percentage of players who play without the added protection of face gear. However, that number is shrinking, and so you see far less of the stereotypical, face-beaten-in look among hockey players.

The first known mouthguard was developed in 1890, but it was a Canadian dentist who helped develop the modern mouthguard as we know it today. Arthur Wood was also a part-time hockey coach who saw too many teeth injuries in his practice and decided to do something about it.

Not surprisingly, since hockey players are looking less like roadkill, the first female-orientated fan club, the Washington Capitals' "Club Scarlet", was created in 2009. I have mixed opinions about this, but I think I'll save that for my rants about puck bunnies. ;)

Anyway, don't forget to check out the free NHL Network this week!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

NHL news

A release on the Blackhawks site last night stated that "The National Hockey League's Board of Governors tonight unanimously approved a rule prohibiting 'a lateral, back-pressure or blind-side hit to an opponent where the head is targeted and/or the principal point of contact'."

If this were Facebook, I'd hit the "like" button. While some of the fighting in the NHL is about as real as the WWF, some of the hits out there, especially head shots, are quite brutal and can mean a player isn't just out for a game, but for perhaps a few weeks or the rest of the season, or - Lord Stanley preserve us - the rest of their career.

The timing and details for the implementation are still to be worked out, but you can bet the rest of the season will definitely look towards the new rule when making calls, as has been done for the past few weeks.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Kiitos, Niemi, for being a rockin' goalie

Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Antti Niemi racked up another shutout tonight as the Blackhawks took down the Phoenix Coyotes, 2-0, at the United Center.

It was a solid game - not the Blackhawks' best, but far from their worst. They came out and put the pressure on early, although the score remained 0-0 at the end of the first and the only goals were scored in the second. As Coach Q said in the post-game interviews, "It was a goalie win tonight. He had three or four chances that looked like empty nets, but his quickness... led to amazing saves."

Amazing is right. Niemi not only showed off his hot goalie moves, but Seabrook was back, and made good plays - especially WTG, Seabrook, for putting your stick in the goal and keeping that one puck from turning into a goal! Great to see you back on the ice.

The win tonight puts them in the lead of the Western Conference - now hold on to that, guys!! We want that home-ice advantage. (Heck, it's needed, based on the last ten away vs. home games.)

I managed to nail a last-minute ticket that was pure nosebleed, but at least it wasn't standing room. Plus I paid face value, not Ticket Exchange markups. (As it turns out, I ran into the guy who'd been sitting next to me at the last game I'd bought a TixEx ticket for. He asked me if I'd bought an overpriced ticket again, to which I was able to answer "Nope!")

Since I rarely go anywhere without my camera, here's a look inside the United Center - a.k.a. the "Madhouse on Madison".

Chicago Blackhawks vs. Phoenix Coyotes, 3/23/10

The signage inside the arena. One of these days I'll look up the legend behind the nickname.

Chicago Blackhawks vs. Phoenix Coyotes, 3/23/10

Pre-game light show. It's not the Wolves pyrotechnics show, but since I would hate to be sitting under the resulting clouds in my nosebleed seats, I'm ok with it being lasers and whatnot instead.

Chicago Blackhawks vs. Phoenix Coyotes, 3/23/10

A little pre-game warmup.

Chicago Blackhawks vs. Phoenix Coyotes, 3/23/10

The team mascot, Tommy Hawk (get it? tomahawk, Tommy Hawk? harrr...) warms up the crowd.

Chicago Blackhawks vs. Phoenix Coyotes, 3/23/10

Antti Niemi in goal.

Yes, my seats sucked, so I had to choose from many pictures, all with the safety nets in the way. Some day, when I am feeling wildly indulgent, I will manage to get a seat down near the glass. I love sports photography. Just think what I could do on the glass vs. up in the rafters.

Chicago Blackhawks vs. Phoenix Coyotes, 3/23/10

Niemi kickin' butt and takin' names. Oh, wait, let me correct that - using his butt to make a save. Or, as the Fonz would've said, "Sit on it."

The official Blackhawks Twitter poster has dubbed him "The Finnish Fortress", "The Finnisher", and "King of the Tush Save". Hey, whatever it takes to keep that puck out of the goal.
Niemi, olet suuri maalivahti! Olen iloinen, että olet Blackhawk!

Chicago Blackhawks vs. Phoenix Coyotes, 3/23/10

Game over. 2-0. Huzzah!

An exciting evening ahead!

The Hockey Broad is off to the Blackhawks-Coyotes game. Whichever team wins will be cinching their playoff berth. Going to be an exciting game all around!

(pictures will follow, oh yes...)

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Hockey Song

In a redcap of last year's Stanley Cup games, the Detroit Red Wings took on the Pittsburgh Penguins tonight. However, unlike last spring, the Red Wings won, 3-1. Worth special note is that the game marked caller's Mike 'Doc' Emrick's 3,000th pro game. If you didn't catch the game in your local market, you will be familiar with his voice as the lead announcer for the 2010 Winter Games men and women's hockey games.

Stanley Cup fever isn't in full swing yet - the playoffs are still a few weeks away (they start on April 14th) - but the competition for the playoff berths and home-ice advantage definitely brings an edge to end-of-season play.

For newcomers to the sport: if you think the Olympic hockey games were exciting, just wait 'til you see the Stanley Cup playoffs. To warm you up, here's "The Hockey Song", by Canadian country singer Stompin' Tom Connors:





"Oh! The good old hockey game,
Is the best game you can name;
And the best game you can name,
Is the good old Hockey game!"


On a side note, if you're looking for them, I removed the ESPN and CBS sports feed off my blog because they were not doing what they were supposed to be doing. (In other words, somebody hacked the apps, so if you, too, have a blog on blogger, and use those apps, you might want to check your settings.)

Sisu!

The Blackhawks Twitter feed stated that Antti Niemi will be starting in goal on Tuesday night against Phoenix; Seabrook may also be back on the ice.

In Sisu! player news, Anaheim Ducks forward and Finnish Olympian Teemu Selanne scored his 600th goal on Sunday, putting him in an elite club of just 18 players to ever achieve that record. Wayne Gretzky holds the all-time record with 894. (But then, Gretzky holds a lot of records in the NHL!)

* * *

The Hawks are fighting to hold onto the #1 slot in the Western Conference (now tied with Phoenix, and San Jose right behind) - as well as to secure their division title. Catch the game on local cable on the Comcast Sports Network, or on the radio on WGN/on the Blackhawks site.

There will also be a "Chicago Blackhawks Great Moments and Classic Games 6-DVD collection" being released in stores on March 23rd, according to the Blackhawks site.

Chicago Wolves vs. San Antonio Rampage

Today, I attended the Chicago Wolves vs. the San Antonio Rampage at the Allstate Arena out in Rosemont, near O'Hare. Despite having lived in Chicago almost a dozen years, I've never been to any event at the Allstate, so this was a double-first for me: first time to the Arena, and first time seeing the Chicago Wolves play live.

The Wolves - an affiliate of the Atlanta Thrashers - are the only AHL team that has a full television package, not to mention that they've never had a losing season since their inception in 1994. (These two things helped make Wolves hockey more popular than Blackhawks hockey for many years, especially when the old Hawks owner refused to broadcast the home games in the local market.)

In fact, their win tonight clinched their playoff berth for the Calder Cup.


Allstate Arena is small, seating about 17,000 at capacity for hockey games. (I would've guessed more like 11,000, but the seats are narrow.) And, like many of the "farm" teams (AHL/ECHL), tickets are quite inexpensive in comparison to NHL games - you can get season tickets starting as low as $360 (40 game season); and single tickets running from $10-25. (Compare that to the Blackhawks, where you pay $35 for the nosebleed seats.) So it's little wonder that at prices like these, you see a lot of family attendance. The AHL knows it, and goes out of its way to make the games as family-friendly as possible; there's even a "no-alcohol" seating section.

Chicago Wolves - mascot Skates

The Wolves' mascot is named Skates. He is a big ham and spends the entire game having fun with the fans. Occasionally he brings out some friends and parties, as happened today during the first intermission:

Chicago Wolves

You know, seeing commercials of mascots beating each other up, etc., is not nearly as funny as seeing it happen live. Especially when the mascot is a giant soda bottle.

Chicago Wolves

If you're one of those who don't think hockey is exciting enough, the Wolves kick it off with a pyrotechnic display that includes flames and fireworks. For some reason, this made me think of the old Calvin & Hobbes cartoon where Calvin comes across Hobbes listening to Tchaikovsky, and he asks Hobbes what he's listening to. The tiger replies that it's the War of 1812. Calvin lights up with glee as he listens to the cannons, and decrees that classical music isn't boring at all.

And although many Blackhawks fans would say that the cheering and clapping during the National Anthem is meant in support of the song, I must say that it was really nice being in an arena where people weren't doing that. Instead, a lot of people were actually singing along (as do I), and really only had a big rallying cheer on the line "home of the free".

Chicago Wolves

It may be a sign I've watched too much TV/movies in my life, that I saw a guy with the jersey "Crabb" and my first thought was "Where's Goyle?" (Harry Potter reference, for those who don't get it.) And on seeing a Rampage jersey with "Picard" on it, ... well, let's leave it at calling it "gleeful nerdosity". There was a #1 on the Rampage team - the goalie - but he wasn't named Riker.

Chicago Wolves

In all, a very solid, exciting game, complete with OT and a shootout. Wolves goaltender Drew MacIntyre gave a performance on par with Ryan Miller's Olympic ones, scoring a career-high 45 saves.

Chicago Wolves

* * *
Chicago Wolves

There was part of somebody's private hockey collection - in this case, sticks - on view at the Arena. Hockey stick design has changed little in 100+ years, although the composition has changed.

Chicago Wolves - "Holzy's Hounds"

The coolest thing I saw there - yeah, even better than the hockey game itself - was several of the dogs on display for the Holzy's Hounds Adopt-a-Dog program. The Wolves have teamed up with the City of Chicago's Department of Animal Care and Control to not only help get dogs adopted, but to help promote the idea that adoption (vs. breeding facilities) is a great way to bring a new animal into your life.

In talking with one of the people who was helping with the dogs, she said some nights they've managed to adopt out most or all of the dogs they have available, which may be 15 or more. (From the Holzy's Hounds page: "Prospective owners are required to go through a screening process and pay a $65 fee, which includes spaying or neutering, all vaccinations, a Chicago pet license and a Wolves dog collar.")

Seeing those dogs just reinforces how resilient pets can be, and how clearly grateful they are to have a second chance at life.


One of the dogs they had there today was a female pit bull rescue. Her ears had been docked, and you could tell by looking at her body that she had had a hard life - multiple scars; and signs that she'd probably had one or more litters of puppies. Due to her breed, it limited her perspective adopters, so she had been with the rescue group a long time. (As one volunteer told me, "Most people who are interested in pit bulls might put her back in the situation she was rescued from; and most people who don't know the breed are scared of them, thanks to the image they have in the media.")

But among many friendly dogs, she was one of the friendliest, eagerly taking pats and hugs and rubs from people of all ages, joyfully licking faces, and very calm, despite the busy crowds. (You can see from her picture, above, as she earnestly gazes at one of her many admirers.) I'm glad to report she found a new home by the end of the game.

As it turns out, the Wolves aren't the only AHL team that helps sponsor pet rescue groups. What a wonderful way for pro athletes to reach out to help the community.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Blackhawks to throw out first pitch at season opener

The White Sox have announced that the Blackhawks Olympians (the medalists, anyway) will be throwing out the ceremonial first pitch at their season home game opener on Monday, April 5th at 1:05pm.

No word from the Cubs; maybe they'll ask Tommy Hawk.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Late-night adrenalin high

Quite an exciting game tonight. Blackhawks defense was there; the team played solidly all three periods - game went into OT, and then a shootout. While clean, "we got 2 points and you got zero" games are preferred, I'll take 1 point over zero points. But I'm sure neither fans nor the team want to see the division title being dragged out to the very last game of the season.

The Coyotes started the season without a coach, and nobody expected much of them. They're among the top teams in the Western Conference, however; their coach has done a great job with them.

It was one of those games: the Hawks game out looking strong against unexpected powerhouse Phoenix, rallying to 2-0 at the end of the first. Then it was 2-1, 2-2, 3-2, 4-2, and then the Coyotes surged back to tie it 4-4. Niemi did well in goal, and I'm sure his performance the past two games has made it all the more challenging for Coach Q to decide upon his prime goalie for the playoffs.

It looked like it would be 4-5 in regulation, but the fifth goal was ruled to have been kicked in. This ain't soccer, yo. But it was a relief to see a ref who made the right call.

Five minutes of OT later, still 4-4, and into the shootout. These kinds of games are particularly exciting because, well - hey, more hockey, ok? - and by that point, you get so jacked up on adrenalin that every miss, every save, just adds to the fire. To lose after that - well, yes, it sucks. But it wasn't like the Coyotes wiped the ice with the Blackhawks; it was a battle to the finish.

I think my favorite moment in the game was looking up from what was happening on the ice and to see the sea of red in the spectators. Yeah, I follow baseball somewhat, but I tend to forget that half of Spring Training takes place in Arizona - so there were a much higher percentage than usual of fans at an away game.

Next year, I may have to plan a trip to Phoenix/Tucson for March. It'll add another NHL arena to my list, and some more of the Spring Training facilities as well. (I have been to Spring Training in Florida many times now. I love hockey best of all, but few things are as awesome as sitting in 70+ degree weather, watching a baseball game on a weekday afternoon in the middle of winter.)

Amusing moment of the game: During the commentary between the 2nd and 3rd period, one of the Comcast analysts referred to the Coyotes as the "Kayotes". Eeep.

The Hawks are playing well, and here's hoping this continues for the rest of the season and into the playoffs.

* * *

For a little humor to take off the sting: Top 10 Worst NHL jerseys of all time.

Friday, March 19, 2010

You get what you pay for

I have a white Blackhawks game jersey that I bought several years ago from the United Center. I love that jersey, but I have wanted a red game jersey - a customized red jersey - for some time. But the cost has been prohibitive, and every time I get excited about supporting a player, he ends up getting traded.

Well, shop.nhl.com recently had a good sale (free name customization, which usually costs $55), and so I ponied up and bought the customized Reebok Chicago Blackhawks premier home jersey (base cost $114).

Personally, I think the customization of the jerseys is one of craziest fees that fans end up paying. The game jerseys are already pretty expensive, and then websites (or the "bricks & mortar" stores) charge an additional $50-75 to customize the jersey. It's not like there's puppies and unicorns in the back room, sewing numbers and name swatches on. It's done by machine; I've watched it be done in the store. I can't imagine those pieces of fabric actually cost $50 to produce, nor is the amount of electricity used by the machine anywhere near that much. (Heck, my average electric bill for my entire apartment is less than what they charge for personalization.) That's some serious profit margin.

But what is a fan going to do otherwise? I would bet that if customization was a lot cheaper - say, in the $10-20 range - a lot more people would "upgrade" their jerseys, or folks who want a customized jersey but who are put off by the price would buy one. But if you're already dropping a couple hundred for the jersey and have to put another $50-75 on top of that, chances are good that you only own one jersey, and maybe it's customized.

Due to the sale, I guess they had a lot of back orders, because I was originally told I wouldn't get my order until late April. It arrived yesterday, and ... well, to call me "disappointed" is a bit of an understatement. The jersey fabric is ok, but what's really disappointing is that all the various patches (front, shoulders, back numbers, back name) are all iron-ons. And what amused me more was that the iron-ons are designed so they look like they have stitches. Only the front team logo is stitched. Also, for a size 2X, it is not as generously cut as the more expensive version of the jersey is.

I get it - team jerseys are the ultimate cash cow. But to charge $114 ($169 if personalized) for this sad quality? Just say no. This one is definitely getting returned, and then I guess I will save up for a quality game jersey.

* * *
UPDATE 3/28 -- even if you get an active team roster player and not your own name on the jersey, it's considered "customized"/"personalized", and you cannot return it. Buyer beware!!

So if you think you want a customized jersey, but you're not sure how the jersey fits, or what the quality is like, I would recommend buying the blank jersey, getting it, trying it on, etc., and then returning it and exchanging it for a customized jersey.

About two weeks ago, when I wrote this post, I was comparing the quality of the new Reebok jerseys to old jerseys. I felt like the 2X was tighter than it used to be and the adhesive for the team emblems seemed stiff. The jersey just felt odd on me.

So this weekend, I pulled out all three hockey jerseys I own, to do a size and quality comparison.

First, the shoulder sizing:



Red = new Reebok/RBK "replica" jersey, XXL
White = older CCM XXL jersey (2004? 2006?)
Blue = new International (in this case, Suomi) team jersey 3XL

The neck holes are roughly the same size. I would say my favorite collar style is actually the new Reebok; it looks fairly sharp with the NHL logo at the bottom and accommodates a shirt underneath (be it button-up, turtleneck or other) quite nicely. The International jersey is squared slightly at the front, which looks and feels nice. I usually wear a Nike Dri-FIT mock-collar t-shirt underneath my hockey jersey, which has a nice thin fit, and I'm never overly hot wearing layers.

The shoulder seams on the International jersey (blue) fall about 2" below the curve of my shoulder. The CCM (white) jersey shoulder emblems lie about an inch below my shoulder curve, so they look good with their placement on my biceps. The RBK (red) jersey shoulder emblems are directly below my shoulder curve.



Length comparison: for this photo, I lined up the shoulders to see the difference in width/length along the hips. As you can see, the new Reebok (RBK/red) jersey, although the same size as the CCM (white) one, 2XL, is significantly smaller - a good 3-4" worth of material. The International jersey is 3XL, so it is reasonably larger than the other jerseys, but it also has the nice extra length and also the extra tail material. (My only complaint about the 3XL jersey is that the arms are super-long too, so I constantly have to shove the sleeves up my arms.)

It's interesting to note that the NHL rules list the max uniform size as 58 for regular players or 60 for goalies (roughly 3XL and 4XL), but fans almost never have the choice to buy jerseys or T-shirts in these sizes. I've seen fans wear some very tight jerseys in my time (and I'm talking about big & tall folks, not puck bunnies attempting to attract attention), and I have wondered why, in the face of a population that is proven to be increasing in physical size, sporting good manufacturers don't recognize that portion of the population. Even if you had to custom-order it through the websites and/or pay slightly extra (like $2-$5) for the 3XL/4XL sizing, it would be worth it.



The one thing I do like about the new cut of the jersey is the venting, which means the shirt will not pull/stretch as much when you sit down.





One change from the old manufacturer to the new is that on the old jersey, the shoulder emblems were embroidered patches, and then glued onto the uniform. The new shoulder patches are stitched around the edges, but it is flat printing on the design.



The new sleeve numbers and the name and numbers on the back of the jersey are designed so they look like they're stitched, but they're ironed on, too. Now, once you wear and wash a jersey often enough, the various emblems/numbers, etc. will eventually - eventually - soften up.

I haven't compared the premier jersey (you know, the $299 one) yet, but the premier jersey does come in sizes as large as 60, I have found on shop.nhl.com.

Nothing to complain about tonight!

Here's the amazing thing: the same refs who did such a shoddy job last night were the same refs out on the ice tonight.

The two games couldn't have looked more different. The Ducks game last night looked like a free-for-all brawling pond hockey match; the Kings game was downright - dare I say it - civilized. Ok, mostly civilized - Eager didn't need to get into fisticuffs so late in the third period; that was pointless. But for the most part, neither side rose to the occasion when little scuffles came up earlier in the game.

Coach Q probably gave them quite the pep talk overnight, getting them to shake it off and focus on the road ahead. And that's the best they can do; they certainly can't replay the games that are over.

Seabrook was out tonight; hopefully he won't miss too many games.

The Blackhawks we saw tonight was the team we got all psyched up about before the Olympic break: clean play, fast footwork, lots of passing, good teamwork. After the first period was 0-0, Troy Brouwer scored for a 1-0 lead, and although the Kings played hard, the boys from Chicago played harder - with Tomas Kopecky putting two more in the net in the third period for the Blackhawks to win 3-0. (On a side note, it was only the second time this season LA has been shut out.)

Niemi racked up his fifth shutout of the season. Hyvä suomalainen maalivahti! With Huet out with flu, chances are good we'll see Niemi again on Saturday, but never really know til the game rolls around.

Phew. These West Coast games leave one all jacked up on adrenalin just in time for bed. Great job, guys! Keep it up!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Thank you, NHL, for doing the right thing

Anaheim Ducks player James Wisniewski was suspended 8 games without pay for his actions against Brent Seabrook in Wednesday night's game against the Chicago Blackhawks.

According to the article on NHL.com:
"Mr. Wisniewski delivered a retaliatory hit to the head of an opponent who never had possession of the puck," said Colin Campbell, NHL Senior Executive Vice President of Hockey Operations. "The fact that Mr. Wisniewski is a repeat offender also entered into this decison."
It's obviously a stricter sentence than fellow repeat offender Alex Ovechkin got earlier in the week, for his actions against Brian Campbell, but it sends a clear message to the players of the National Hockey League: their conduct is being watched, and the League isn't going to put up with retributional or unsportsmanlike play.

It's interesting to note that Ovechkin protested his ruling - a mere two games - as being excessive, and now Wisniewski is doing the same. They both of course tried their best to appear contrite about what happened in the games.

"I am truly sorry that my friend Brent Seabrook was hurt on the play," Wisniewski said in a statement released by the Ducks.

Oh, really? If that's the case, you have a weird definition of friendship, Mr. Wisniewski. I don't think many people would call somebody a "friend" after that person came up and knocked them out cold.

Comments

Yes, I absolutely WILL welcome commentary!

However, this is something currently an issue with Blogger/Blogspot, and hopefully it will be resolved soon.

In the meantime, vote in my new poll! *motions over to the left side of the screen*

UPDATE: Ok, looks like comments have begun functioning, although it is still not possible to comment on older posts. (Which are only a couple posts, sooo...)

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In the meantime: Another late game tonight as the Blackhawks take on the LA Kings out in Los Angeles, 9:30pm CDT. City Roadwatch tonight is at Morgan's, 1325 S. Halsted in Chicago.

What is it about the mouthpiece?

I love that Neil Everett of ESPN Sports Center actually asked Kane, "What is it with the mouthpiece?" (4:37)

Have wondered that often myself.

* * *

Today's main NHL headline: "
NHL May Prohibit Blind-Side Head Checks This Season" (NY Times).

While there is a share of hockey players who seem to write off these kinds of actions as "part of the game", most fans cry foul over seeing those kind of acts on the ice. It's not exactly what one would call "sporting" to give somebody else a concussion or broken bones. General Managers are pushing to get the blind-side rule implemented this season, and I say, the quicker, the better.

The NHL Player's Association has long been in favor of the ban. And really, why wouldn't they be? A bad check to the head can, at "best", put you out of play for a few games; at worst, could stop your career cold or even potentially kill a player. Anybody who watches last night's Hawks vs. Ducks game can see it for themselves:
Wisniewski hitting Seabrook, and the stunned look on Seabrook's face before he crumpled to the ice.

A two-minute penalty isn't enough for this kind of brutal play. Players executing that kind of check should be tossed out for the rest of the game, minimum.

Get those refs some glasses!

Tonight's game against the Anaheim Ducks was so disheartening I barely know where to begin, but - oh wait, yes, I know exactly where.

Blackhawks fans could be forgiven if they were to think that all the other teams were out to get them, after the last two games. On Sunday, in the Blackhawks vs. Washington Capitals game, Alex Ovechkin (Caps) purposely slammed into Brian Campbell (Hawks) behind the goal. This was no simple checking manuever; it was Ovechkin's third misconduct of the season. But more than that, he cost Campbell the rest of the season, as
Campbell suffered a broken clavicle and cracked ribs from the hit. Ovechkin seems shocked at the penalty that the NHL handed down - a two-game suspension without pay - claiming that he "just pushed him".

And while the penalty on Ovechkin was pretty light by a lot of people's standards, it's about time that the NHL started cracking down and penalizing players for fighting, and especially for premeditated actions that lead to injuries.

The Blackhawks higher-profile players have been getting some interviews lately on ESPN and other sources, and they've stated a need for more player responsibility for those kinds of plays.

The Olympics showed us, after all, that hockey need not be viewed as "violent" - that is, every game doesn't require players to end up fisticuffs at some point in the play. Nor is there any valid reason for blatant, obvious attempts at hurting another player. (Although one can easily recall the elbow-to-throat maneuver in - which was it, the Russia/Czech game?)

Anyway, back on focus: the game at Anaheim tonight was just plain ugly, and fans on either side of the puck could certainly wonder at just how much the refs favored the Ducks, especially after the horrible move in the second period by James Wisniewski.



Wisniewski - who played for the Blackhawks from 2005-09 - skated across the ice to Blackhawk Brent Seabrook, and knocked him in the face. Seabrook didn't have a chance to see it coming, and unbelievably, the obvious-intent move was only ruled as "charging", with a two-minute penalty. You can be sure that the NHL - which seems to be paying a lot more attention to head injuries these days - will take a good look at that one.

On another bad call (or rather, lack of a call) came late in the third period, when Anaheim player Corey Perry gave a blatant shove to Hawks defenseman Brent Sopel. It was clear that Perry's action caught Sopel by surprise as he sprawled to the ice, but the refs didn't blow the whistle on it, apparently ignoring the move as players rushed to defend their teammate, and Saku Koivu managed to pop in a goal (bringing the score to 2-3, Anaheim) against replacement goalie Corey Crawford.

Is it just me, or as we (and by "we" I mean all the teams in the NHL, not just my own favorite) get closer to the end of the season - and make no mistake about it, the hockey season is long - do the refs just start getting sloppy? Maybe they're just ready for the summer break. But I've been watching a lot of hockey lately, not just the Hawks, and there's plenty of bad calls out there.

The Ducks are desperate to make the playoffs. They'd pretty much have to sweep the entire end of their season to do so, however, and if tonight's game was any indication, the end of this season could be pretty ugly, indeed.

On the bright side, I saw two positive things in tonight's game:

1. The Blackhawks had a good second period. Ok, the third wasn't so hot, but unlike a lot of games lately, where they play the first and third periods, and who know where they are in the second, they seemed there for the whole game tonight.

2. Defense was looking better than usual this game. Maybe it's because they're missing a few players and things are shook up a little. Losses aren't always the fault of the goalie.

And speaking of goalies, Crawford wasn't horrible tonight, but he wasn't great, either. He was too far out of the goal on one score, and at the end of the game, he probably got distracted by the Perry/Sopel meleé unfolding in front of him, causing the 3rd Ducks point. I can't even begin to explain the 4th goal, but my opinion about the whole 6-5/"empty net" strategy is it just invites the other team to score more on you.

Few things in hockey seem sadder than a point being scored into an empty net, whether or not the team is already losing.

The Blackhawks have tremendous skill and depth. They need to focus on a few things before they let the Central Division title slip away. They should have it cinched up already, but we're coming down to the final weeks of the regular season, and it's going to be a battle to the finish.

First, they need to stay focused for the whole game. Watching them "pull a Cubs move" - that is, get complacent with a big lead up front and then blow it - has been a repeat offense this season.

Second, stay tight on defense and help the goalie out. It isn't always 100% the goalie's fault that the goals went in. (Yeah, even when Huet is in goal.) There are lots of teams out there hungry to make the playoffs, and who'll play as dirty and unfairly as the refs will let them get away with.

And third - as proud as we are that you won those medals, guys - stop showing off the medals themselves, and start showing us the skills that got you onto the Olympic teams to begin with. I know that's probably something the marketing office is making you do, but it's been a few weeks already - let's focus on the games ahead, not those behind.

The gold medal would've been awesome, but what we really want is the Stanley Cup.

The birth of Hockey Broad

I'm going to start off my blog with a little background about me, and then I'm going to have a little rant.


If you asked me how or why I first came to like hockey, I couldn't tell you. Maybe it was meeting Kevin Dineen - fresh-minted rookie for the Hartford Whalers - along with a few of his teammates in the middle of Zurich Airport, of all places. (I was on a class trip. The players were en route to the World Championships in Czechoslovakia.) 

But I think I was interested in hockey before that. The problem was that nobody else in my family was. After all, the Whalers were the Cubs of hockey: lucky to make the playoffs and never even in serious contention for the Stanley Cup.


Part was to blame with the team itself. Although two of hockey's greats, Bobby Hull and Gordie Howe, both played for the Whalers, they both did so in the twilight years of their careers. And while Hartford had some good, solid players like Dineen matured into, the team just never managed to attract the kind of rabid fan base that their two closest rivals - the NY Rangers and the Boston Bruins - have always had. 


So nobody in my family liked hockey, and I couldn't drag anybody else to a game, either. Hockey just wasn't that popular in the Hartford/Springfield area at the time. 


It's not to say that Whalers fans weren't hardcore in their own way. Even now, more than a dozen years after the team got moved to North Carolina and transformed into the Hurricanes (and finally won the Cup), I still run into people every so often sporting a well-worn (or even new) t-shirt, hat or jersey. 


Back in high school, I played field hockey - and was a goalie. Those were the days when protective gear for goalies was limited to leg pads and a helmet; it was only a few years later that chest pads would come into play. That was 20+ years ago; back then, female ice hockey players were rare, and all-female hockey teams even more so. However, the league my high school belonged to had a rule: if no equivalent female sports team existed, girls could try out for (and even play on) the boys' teams. 


And I would have tried out for the boys' ice hockey team, too - but my friend who had the locker next to mine was the hockey goalie, and he warned me, "Our coach is so sexist, you would have to be twice the player of our very best player, just for him to even look at you, never mind think of giving you a spot on the team."


My hopes were dashed; but my hockey fandom was not. 


I ended up at a college where the predominant sports were rugby, lacrosse and hockey. Our hockey team was pretty good, although I don't recall them taking home any championships during my years there. But we had a nice rink on campus, a highly enthusiastic fan base (which was more than the basketball team could lay claim to), and a great bunch of guys out there playing. 


After college, I ended up in Raleigh, NC, for a few years (pre-Hurricanes). My roommates and I were all hockey fans, so we used to go watch the Raleigh IceCaps play. If I recall, tickets were $5. Maybe they were $10 down on the glass, but Dorton Arena on the NC State Fairgrounds was small, so there was no such thing as a bad seat. The IceCaps played 1991-98 in Raleigh; when the Hurricanes came to town, they ended up moving to Augusta, GA.


Movng back to New England for a few years left me feeling stranded as far as hockey went. The Whalers had left for North Carolina; I had no desire to support the other geographically-close teams (NY Rangers, NY Islanders, NJ Devils, Boston Bruins). The Hartford Wolf Pack was just starting out; the Springfield Falcons didn't yet exist. I was working three jobs and certainly had no time to attend Wolf Pack games, anyway.


It all changed over ten years ago when I moved to Chicago. Bulls, Bears? I couldn't care less about football, and just never got into pro basketball - although I enjoy college basketball, which is more about the love of the game and maybe earning your ticket to the pros, versus the showboating, diva-ridden pros. Baseball? Well, I had to root for the Cubs - the Boston Red Sox are my home team, and I liked the Cleveland Indians for many years, so I guess I have something for "loveable loser" teams.


But hockey - oh, glorious Chicago hockey. Thank you, Blackhawks, for finally putting me in my hockey-loving happy place. 


My first live game at the "Madhouse on Madison" was for my 29th birthday; friends came from three states for a weekend that included a hockey game. I don't even remember who was playing the 'Hawks - I just remember the awe and excitement and happiness of my first live NHL game. If I remember, the Hawks won. 


The number of live games I've attended has varied from season to season. I have absolutely no problem going to games on my own, but let's face it: sporting events are more fun with friends, and I don't know a great many hockey fans. (Although, I'm starting to discover, post-2010-Olympics, that more of my friends like hockey than I realized.)


Prior to the 2004-04 NHL lockout, you barely could've paid people to attend Blackhawks games. The United Center was frequently half-empty. In an interesting piece of irony, the Blackhawks owner at the time, Bill "Dollar Bill" Wirtz didn't allow home games to be televised in the local market, claiming they were "unfair to season-ticket holders". Despite poor attendance records, Wirtz raised ticket prices, further alienating local hockey fans - who instead turned to supporting the AHL's Chicago Wolves - who not only had far less expensive ticket prices, but who also consistently sported winning - and championship - seasons.


Post-NHL lockout, the NHL seems to have woken up and pulled its head out of the sand and taken a look around. Hockey was perceived as a game for the "cold-weather" states and predominantly, its demographic was men. All the teams of the NHL started spucing up their arenas; pumped money into fresh, up-to-date marketing; and tried to lure fans back to the game - as well as to attract new ones. 


A number of hockey teams created squads of "Ice Girls" - essentially cheerleaders, but they don't cheer. They go out and "help" clean the ice, and do a lot of pouting and vamping, and wear very little clothing. (I've seen bathing suits with more material.) They also show up to things like local car shows or events where there may be/definitely will be a pool of hockey fans. 


This is, of course, assuming that all hockey fans are male.


I'm not suggesting having lycra-wearing cheerleading males out there to even the score. After all, we have two whole teams full of virile, strapping young men out there, playing their hearts out. 


I think I'm just disgusted by the fact that most sports team assume that since the vast majority of their fans are men, that it's ok to put the team women (whether you want to call them cheerleaders or ice girls or whatever) in the skimpiest outfits possible and let their... assets hang out.


Turnabout is fair play, gentlemen. Let's convert all male sports uniforms to boxer briefs and no shirts. I can guarantee you that you will attract more women that way. (Well, maybe not for football.) 


Women make up a larger part of the population now. Women have more spending power and they're making a lot more of the spending decisions. And while salaries are not as equal as we wish they were, a lot more women have jobs, and are taking home pay, and guess what? We like sports. 


Just take a look around at any sporting event. Not all the women were dragged there unwillingly by their boyfriends, husbands, family. (In fact, I would bet that there's plenty of instances where it's the reverse.) 


Men always seem surprised when women like sports - that is, sports other than baseball. It seems acceptable to like baseball and be female, and not be thought of as any less feminine for it. Maybe it's because baseball is really just an excuse to hang out, catch some sunshine and drink a lot of beer, and men especially like it if the females are wearing the skimpiest clothes possible. (Duh. Hello, hormones.)


Back in high school, I remember the looks of shock on male friends' faces when I expressed how much I liked hockey. "You... do?" they'd gasp out, as if I'd just told them that I came from planet Vulcan and landed here last week.


But even today, there is still the unexpected shock from friends (male and female alike) who realize I not only like hockey, but I love hockey. Bring it on, baby! 


I'll tell you why: Minute for minute, I can't think of a more exciting professional sport than hockey. (Oh, sure, soccer is pretty good, too, but I've never been a big enough fan of the sport to watch it much.) The rules are pretty straightforward, possession can change in the blink of an eye, and the adrenalin from a good game will keep you charged up for hours. Hockey is never boring.


Watching hockey during the Olympics was like a week and a half of one glorious All-Star game after another. Sure, I would've preferred if the U.S. brought home gold in Vancouver. But the entire week was mind-blowingly exciting, full of a lot of close games, and the final game was so awesome it was all we could do to not jump around the room. 


Here's my other rant about hockey: it used to be that sports fan gear was pretty much like-it-or-lump-it in its simplicity. You pretty much had a choice of one or two jerseys (home and/or away), maybe a couple t-shirts, a baseball hat or knit cap, maybe a scarf, and if the team was really savvy, perhaps a sweatshirt or jacket.


Today, of course, "variety" is the keyword, and it seems like most teams have decided that "variety" for "ladies" apparel means that it must be pink.


Pink.


Look, I'm sorry. Even some of the girliest, frou-frou-fashionistas I know have zero interest in the color pink. Personally, I'd never wear pink because of the simple reason that it clashes with my coloring, and I'm not going to wear pink just because I have boobs. (I am also not interested in any other shade of pastel coloring, including but not limited to baby blue, pale green, lavender, or canary yellow.) Also, in case the sports wear apparel-designers haven't noticed (and apparently they haven't), women come in more sizes than just XS, S, M and L, and want more fashion choices than tank tops and baby-doll t-shirts.


What are you designers trying to say? That female sports fans must be/ought to be slutty? If the guys at the game want to look at women in scanty clothing, let them oogle the Ice Girls. Isn't that why they're there in barely-there outfits?


See, there's a reason I didn't pick a cutesy variant of "hockey girl" or "hockey grrl" or "hockey chick" or something for this blog. I don't think that female fans - of any sport - should be looked down upon as "cute" for liking sports. "Hockey woman" seemed to suggest that I actually played the game myself (I still don't), and "Hockey lady" seemed a little more polite than I probably will end up being. 


My great-aunt is eighty-something years old and she is a "broad" in the absolute best sense of the word. She calls herself a broad, even. A broad is a woman who speaks her mind and doesn't care that others might be shocked at the honesty of it all. 


That's me: Hockey Broad.