Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Things I've learned from the Summer With Stanley, Twitter, and Training Camp this summer

 In no particular order:

- Nobody (who isn't a Chicago fan) thinks the Blackhawks can repeat from last year. Certainly the preseason games aren't giving anybody the warm fuzzies. There's targets on their backs as defending champions, and they know it; but everybody's also busy saying they gave away half their talent.

- But that's ok. Two years ago, nobody expected the Blackhawks to even make the playoffs, either. And look at them now.

- Jonathan Toews leads by example for his team. There's nobody more intense, giving 110%, even in practices. Busy post-win summer and accolades aside, Captain Serious is back to business, and ready to hit the ice. Expect Toews to aim for an 80-100+ point season and push his teammates to aim for the same.

- Toews also keeps a Sharpie handy. He must be used to getting asked for autographs by now.

- Dave Bolland is starting the season healthy and he's happy to have a full camp and ready to have a full season. Expect a lot more of what we saw late in the season last year - he's already shown the ability to annoy opponents in preseason games.

- Marian Hossa has had it with talk about the "Hossa curse" being broken. He won the Cup, enjoyed a fantastic summer; now shaddup, he's got another season to focus on, and he's gonna kick butt, too.

- If Patrick Kane drank like a fish for weeks after the win, and needed to be wrung out like a sponge at some point during the summer, you wouldn't know it in camp. It looks like he might have put on a couple more pounds of muscle, and you can bet from the way he's been showing off fancy stick work in camp and preseason games that Kaner is aiming for a 100-point season this year.

- Just how good do the guys look in camp? Well, you know how NFLers are pretty stocky, and MLBers might have a bit of a gut... no such thing in hockey camp. Hockey guys are just stripped-down muscle. Yeah, you can't see it so much when you're seeing them on the ice because of all the padding they're wearing, but no doubt about it. And these guys sweat it out. These pics were taken outside in 85 degree heat on a humid day - after these guys had just spent two hours on the ice. Suddenly you feel a lot more guilty about slacking on your own gym routine over the summer ...


"Get down in the push-up position, and hold it... and hold it..."


They're not sitting on anything. That's a full row of wall squats or whatever they're called. 
Good for thigh conditioning.


Running ladders

- See this guy? His name is Paul Goodman. He's the Blackhawks' strength and conditioning coach. He sure as heck will kick your ass, because he's kicking the collective butts of 50+ well-conditioned hockey players.



- Instead of compiling a "what has been consumed from the Stanley Cup" list, it might be a shorter list to find out what hasn't. The Stanley Cup is probably the most frequently-washed trophy in the world. 

- Those Hawks who had to split ways with the team over the summer have that "oh, that question, again?" look in their eyes when questions about their old team came up. Whatever their personal feelings are, they're going to say all the right things, and they've already had to answer those questions at least half a dozen times. Come up with some new questions, already, plz.

- Andrew Ladd took the best Stanley Cup pictures ever. Ok, maybe not - but if somebody else did, we sure haven't seen them yet. Sunrise with the Cup over the B.C. mountains? Ladd did more for British Columbia tourism with a couple photographs than any multi-million dollar campaign. In case you're one of the hockey fans who've been hibernating under a rock waiting for hockey to start again, here it is:

photo by Mike Bolt/HHOF


- John Scott is really tall. Really, really, omg tall. Great Scott!

- Kris Versteeg could not have landed in a more perfect hockey city for his personality. A hockey-mad city in his home country that eats hockey players up like cookies. Just wait til he starts rapping, Toronto. He's the most charmingly nerdy hockey player ever.

- I will watch Toronto Maple Leafs this season not only for Kris Versteeg, but for their announcer/commentary LOLZ. How have I not watched Toronto games before? Their innuendo-laden puck talk is a wonderful compliment to any hockey game.

- Dustin Byfuglien went back to defense in his move to Atlanta, and not surprisingly, the blogosphere is giggling themselves silly about it. Prove 'em wrong, Big Buff.

- Roberto Luongo finally saw the light about why goalies usually aren't Captains, and for the good of his team, stepped down from the "C". You can be a great Captain or you can be a great goalie; it's hard to focus on both.

- Antti Niemi still needs to work on his rebound control. But he seems to have taken away some ideas from being replaced by Marty Turco in Chicago, and has been far more agressive in his puck handling so far in the preseason. It's still strange to see him in teal.

- Michael Leighton cannot stay healthy for six months at a stretch. Do some Pilates, man! Strengthen those core muscles!

- Marty Turco: goalie or 3rd defenseman? Yeah, he's not really sure either. After watching so many butterfly goalies across the league, Chicago fans are going to be collectively reaching for the antacids until they get used to watching his standing, agressively puck-handling style of play.

- Canadians will take anything hockey, and run with it. Although initial reviews of Score! A Hockey Musical are panning the flick, I have to admit my inner musical-loving theater-geek just can't wait to see it. "It's part of our hearts, part of our psyche, our country bleeds red, white, and hockey..."

- The Penguins' new arena is sweeeet. I particularly like the ice-level cameras, giving a unique and interesting perspective on the game.

- If you leave hockey fans without hockey long enough, they start coming up with Twitter memes like #NHLStarWars, #NHLcupcakes, and #NHLRealityShows, among other gems. The Cupcakes one, which followed the NY Islanders' announcement of having an official cupcake vendor in their stadium, was an all-time classic.

- Hockey fans will follow the story of a player's salary value and team signing and not say boo about what total sum he gets awarded. Another player who is on Twitter makes a badly worded remark about salaries, and gets railroaded off Twitter.

- Yet another player makes a crack about the same first player's salary, and discovers there are people out there ignorant enough to mistake political humor for racism. He leaves Twitter only to be lauded as a hero, and have fans beg that he return - and not only that, support his goofy tweets. (@BizNasty2point0, take a bow.)

- When you creatively move a player off your books through waivers or moving them to the AHL or Euro leagues, it is a perfectly legit circumnavigation of the salary cap.

- However, signing a player to a triple-figure contract that expires when your toddlers go off to college, and is clearly designed to circumnavigate the salary cap in the player's waning glory days, you're going to get nailed for it.

- Nobody thinks preseason hockey means anything, but you can clearly see fans trying to resist throwing their teams under the bus after one bad exhibition game.

- Carey Price skyrocketed up my "favorite goalies" list for telling the Montreal fans to "chill out" after they booed him for one exhibition game. Just keepin' it real, yo.

- In watching Ovechkin get interviewed about the HBO 24/7 show, I sort of grudgingly admit that Alexander Ovechkin might have a sense of humor. ("If I swear, it will be in Russian, you will not know what I am saying.") Still don't want to watch the Sid & Ovie show, although I would certainly watch a "Hard Knocks"-style show that highlighted teams across the NHL, ideally one per week for an entire season.

- The power of the people is making a positive impact on NHL clothing sales. Now if it could only help the NHL improve the focus of their marketing efforts.

- Nothing could be a better recipe for an awesome smoothie to fill the Stanley Cup than the Old Spice Man's mix: "explosive missle bits, the spirit of a mountain ram, and the tail rotor of an Apache helicopter". Wonder if that'll be on the menu at Jamba Juice any time soon?

- This might be the best hockey computer game commercial ever - too bad I have a Wii and not PlayStation or XBox:


- Being one of one a couple of non-team/non-staff/non-media sitting in on training camp practices is very, very cool. Especially when it's a vacation week and you could be otherwise sitting in a cubicle somewhere. That being said, it sort of sucks when vacation's over.

- Few things build anticipation more than looking up at your team's rafters and knowing that in ten days, they're going to lift a banner to those rafters that the whole city has been waiting 49 years to do so.







Saturday, September 25, 2010

Looking at the top Blackhawks prospects : Training camp, part 2

A handy guide to who some of the most likely potential newcomers to the Blackhawks might be this year:
 

Kyle Beach #12

Drafted 1st by Chicago in the 2008 entry draft (11th overall), left winger Beach has consistently shown two things: skill and brawn. Unfortunately, he hasn't always shown brains, but after taking out a fellow prospect, Mathis Olimb, during this summer's prospect camp, somebody must've taken him aside for more than one chat, because he has been showing a lot more restraint in training camp and pre-season games. Still, don't expect Beach to be shy about dropping the gloves, and he's already picked up a penalty for boarding in the 9/24 pre-season game vs. Detroit. If he can stick to his game and show grit without being a meathead, he can be a good addition to the team.  Update 10/1 - Assigned to Rockford
 

Brandon Bollig #52

Right winter Bollig signed with Chicago as a free agent this spring, coming from St. Lawrence University on a 2-year entry level contract. He's been working hard in prospect camp to earn a spot on the team, but landed in the penalty box in his first pre-season showing. Will be in Rockford if he doesn't make the Blackhawks. Update 9/25 - assigned to Rockford.
  

Brian Connelly #56

Signed as a free agent in 2009, defenseman Brian Connelly has played for the Rockford IceHogs for the past two years. He's looked very solid in training camp, but the remaining D-man spots are extremely competitive at this point. Update 10/1 - Assigned to Rockford
 

Corey Crawford #50

Goalie Corey Crawford has been patiently biding his time in Rockford for the last few seasons, last year barely losing out the backup goalie gig to newcomer Antti Niemi. This year, the gig is pretty much sewn up as all his. Last year in Rockford, he posted a .920 SV% and a 2.59 GAA but was almost evenly split in the games column (22-20-3). He's a big, athletic guy and fills the net; expect to see him post 15-25 games this year.

 

Jake Dowell #28

Another Rockford center, Dowell has been showing grit and determination in training camp. Has a pretty good shot of making the fourth line for the big club.

 

Shawn Lalonde #42

D-man Lalonde is another IceHog; he had a decent showing last year in Rockford and looked absolutely outstanding paired this summer at prospect camp with Nick Leddy. Has spent a lot of time in training camp paired with Jordan Hendry and Brent Seabrook. Update 9/26 - assigned to Rockford

 

Nick Leddy #37

The 19-year-old defenseman from Minnesota has made an outstanding mark for himself this summer, first in prospect camp, and now in training camp. Paired with Lalonde for most of prospect camp, the pair has been touted to be another possible Keith/Seabrook-level pairing. Although it's fairly unusual for D-men to break into the NHL this young - most tend to take on a bit more seasoning and enter the league around 21-22, Leddy's strong 2-way game and skills would make it very tempting to put him on the Blackhawks roster this year.

 

Igor Makarov #26

Right winger Makarov was a 2nd-round pick in 2006 and has most recently spent a couple years in the KHL. He's been impressive in training camp, able to move the puck well, and both scoring and racking up assists.  Update 10/1 - Assigned to Rockford

 

Jeremy Morin #27

No buzz has been louder leading up to the regular season than the stir that left winger Jeremy Morin is creating. The key player coming from ATL in the Byfuglien/Eager/Sopel trade, Morin is showing why the Thrashers took him as a second round pick in 2009. Noticeable in prospect camp but outright turning heads in training camp/pre-season, expect Morin to have a bright hockey future. Update 10/5 - Assigned to Rockford

 

Brandon Pirri #14

Pirri is another prospect fighting for that 4th-line center spot; although it's not likely for him to make the Hawks this year. However, he's had very solid prospects and training camps, and we will likely hear more from him in the future. Update 9/25 - assigned to Rockford. 9/30 - Recalled to Chicago. Update 10/1 - Assigned to Rockford


Fernando Pisani #15

Right winger Pisani is one of two players coming from the Oilers (Potulny is the other), and is coming off a couple of health-plagued years. He's been quoted during the summer as feeling totally healthy, and his play has shown it, providing grit and drive when he's on the ice.

 

Ryan Potulny #16

Potulny is the center most likely to make the fourth line for the Blackhawks. He's split his NHL career between the Flyers and the Oilers, mainly alternating between the main clubs and their AHL affiliates, but last year he played the full season for Edmonton, putting together a decent 15 G, 17 A and 32 points in 64 games.

 

Jack Skille #20

Right winger Jack Skille seems to be at his make it-or-break it year in his career. He's spent the last few years with the IceHogs, occassionally being called up to the Blackhawks. While he put together a very good season for Rockford last year - 20 G, 25 A, 45 points - he may have been passed up on the depth charts by Makarov and Morin. A strong showing through the end of pre-season may change that.

 

Ivan Vishnevskiy #34

Vishnevskiy comes to Chicago as part of the Ladd trade. This baby-faced Russian defenseman played last season with the Chicago Wolves - ATL's AHL affiliate - and spent the previous two seasons as part of the Dallas Stars' system. While he has not yet shown any kind of breakthrough performance, he has looks pretty solid in camp. More likely for him to be in Rockford this season than Chicago. Update 9/25 - assigned to Rockford.



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Friday, September 24, 2010

Countdown to the new season: Training Camp

Well, hockey fans, the new season is upon us. Pre-season games have started, and the first official regular season games are less than two weeks away.

I've been on vacation. Last week I was in Florida, and among the various fun things I did on holiday, I got to watch the Florida Panthers vs Nashville Predators rookie game. The Predators shut out the Panthers 5-0. The game was held at the Panthers' practice arena, Saveology.com IcePlex, which is a really nice facility in Sunrise, FL - pro shop, two rinks, bar and grill. After 28 years of my own hockey fandom, I was glad to finally get my mother to join me for a hockey game, too. You're never too young or too old to become a hockey fan! The Panthers fans were very welcoming, and we had a good time at the game.

I returned from Florida just in time for the start of the Chicago Blackhawks training camp, which kicked off on Saturday, September 18th with the Training Camp Festival, which included rollerblading and running races, a bags tourney, live music, and of course, hockey.


And of course, what's me attending something hockey related without a camera in hand? Pictures from TCF:


This pair caught my eye on the drive in, a couple blocks from the UC. I'm assuming this is a father and son, but it might be a pair of brothers. The older one obviously has been a fan long enough to remember Roenick's years with the Blackhawks; the younger, a fan of the newest generation.


I was taking a picture of the crowds watching one of the races kick off; they were waiting for the doors to open at 8am. It was only later once I got home and looked at my pictures that I realized the gentleman in red behind the doors on the right was the legendary Blackhawks center, Stan Mikita, waiting for things to start.


Of course, the Stanley Cup made an appearance. By now, I've seen it at least half a dozen times - I've touched it and kissed it, and photographed it plenty. But this moment gave me chills - the first time seeing it on United Center ice, the UC full of fans, the ice lit like it would before a game.

Looking up, I gazed to the rafters, where three Stanley Cup banners hang. Room has not yet been made for the banner which will be raised on opening night - October 9th.

I'll be in the building for a few pre-season games, but I couldn't get tickets for opening night game, so the next regular season game I go to will be in late October, and I'll see the new banner then.


Of course, what's a game at the UC without Jim Cornelison singing the National Anthem? Despite the fact that the building was only perhaps half full that early in the morning, the crowd still did its best to be deafening.


One can only imagine what was going through the heads of the newest players to the team - those who arrived here by trade or free agency or who had been called up for training camp. Players from all over the NHL have said how exciting a building the United Center is to play in as a visitor, but it's different to be waiting in the locker room, waiting to go up the ramp, and hear the swell of the hometown crowd's voices rise in excitement. And to have to do it as the first official scrimmage practices of the season for your new club? Let's hope it got the new players pumped up for the season ahead.

As the players battle it out for the limited roster spots available, a number of prospects have been making an impact - among them, Brandon Pirri, Nick Leddy, Jeremy Morin, and others. Check out this pass from Jeremy Morin to Brandon Pirri, which resulted in a goal scored on Alec Richards:



After bidding goodbye to fan favorite goalie Antti Niemi after his arbitration award was higher than the Blackhawks were willing and/or able to pay, there is probably no player facing more fan anticipation - and potential criticism - than team newcomer Marty Turco, who signed a salary-cap-friendly $1.3M/1 year deal.

Turco has spent his entire career with the Dallas Stars. He's been an All-Star three times and dubbed "the smartest goalie in the NHL". His style of play is unlike anything Chicago fans have seen in years, but should complement the Blackhawks's strong defensive corps. His debut before the UC crowd was short and he gave up a couple goals, but the fans got a look at what to expect: a goalie who is extremely active at playing the puck.

I'll admit seeing his style makes me a little nervous - any time the goalie is skating behind the net always feels edgy - but we'll see how he progresses.

But Turco took a 75% pay cut to come to Chicago, and has spoken earnestly about his desire to win, to help the team to win another Stanley Cup, and to be a part of the Blackhawks family. Turco's lifelong idol is Blackhawks Hall of Famer Tony Esposito, whose #35 hangs from the UC rafters. Turco has worn #35 for his hockey career, but since that is retired in Chicago, he'll be playing with #30 this season.


Turco is also already proving himself incredibly fan-friendly. He's already participated in some pre-season fundraisers, made the rounds in plenty of interviews, and never hesitates to stop and sign autographs for fans when requested.


It was also the fans' first on-ice look at Viktor Stalberg, the Swedish sensation who came to Chicago as part of the Versteeg trade. Stalberg is expected to be on the opening night roster, and he's known for his smart, skilled play. Local analysts predict that fans will be asking "Versteeg who?" by mid-season.


The UC crowd also got their first look at players like prospect Brandon Pirri, and ex-Oilers Ryan Potulny and Fernando Pisani.


Did you think that Jonathan Toews would let all that hardware and accolades go to his head - or his work ethic? Crazy talk! The Captain came back to the ice looking in top form, and giving 110%.

Last year, Toews stated in his 'One Goal' commercial that his goal was to "lead by example", and it's clear that he's put last season behind him, and is ready to face the challenges of a reformed team and a new season ahead.


Marian Hossa has stated in interviews this week that he's glad he won't have to answer any more questions about not winning a Cup. He's starting off the season with a full training camp and in good health; expectations are high for his performance this season.


Niklas Hjalmarsson - who was almost poached away by the San Jose Sharks before Chicago matched the offer sheet - showed more of the form that made him an important part of the Blackhawks D-lines, blocking shots and willingly throwing himself to the ice if necessary.

After the day's events, when Hjalmarsson stopped to sign autographs for fans, one fan said, "We're glad to have you re-signed here in Chicago."

His face lit up, he smiled, and said, "Yeah, me too."

* * *

The regular season opens for the Blackhawks on Thursday, October 7th with an away game at the Colorado Avalance; the home opener is Saturday, October 9th against the Detroit Red Wings.



Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Like hockey? Like photography?


Day 1/365: Bought my first ice skates of my very own this summer


Inspired by my friend Kat's Hockey 365 project, I asked her if she'd be interested in seeing it as a group project on Flickr. (What's better than hockey? More hockey!) 

She said yes, so a new Flickr group is born: Hockey365.

It's free to join, and if you like hockey and you like photography, we welcome you to join!

Group rules are pretty simple:

1. ALL PHOTOGRAPHY MUST BE ORIGINAL. Photos taken from team websites, etc. are not allowed. This is a personal 365 project for each participant, not a "share your favorite professional hockey photos" pool.

1b. Obvious exceptions are for example if you are posting a photograph of a photo you had signed, but in those cases, you should take the picture in such a way that you can see that it's a picture of a picture.

2. The goal is to post 1 picture per day to the group pool. Ideally, it is a picture you've taken within the past 24 hours.

3. It is understandable if you go on vacation or miss a day and post an extra shot or two to make up for missing, but do not post multiple pictures per day, every day, or you will be dropped from the group. (Group settings allow for 1 picture per day +3 extra within a week, so if you need to catch up for a couple days.)

4. Please include a description to go with your picture. It doesn't have to be an essay; but helps other members of the group know what they're looking at, especially if there's a great story behind what you're posting!

Who's happy that hockey is back in season?


Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith look happy for hockey season to be starting.



Pretty sure Dave Bolland is. After missing part of last season due to surgery, he's at full health and participated in Training Camp. He's happy to be in camp and ready for the season to start.



Troy Brouwer looks happy to be back on the ice.



Having fun in training camp on Tuesday.



Even Jonathan "Captain Serious" Toews was caught in full-on smiles at Saturday's practice.


These guys don't look quite so happy. Maybe they're anticipating all the "refs, you suck!" comments.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Taking a first look at Marty Turco, the new Blackhawks goalie

Marty Turco has been very, very busy on the local media rounds, saying all the right things to help reassure a salary-cap-shocked fanbase: talking about a desire to win, a desire to help a young and talented team, and most of all, a drive to be a winner, to get the opportunity to hoist the big, beautiful silver trophy that the Blackhawks have been carrying around since June 9th.

"The opportunity to play for a winner, to come to the city of Chicago, was the most important thing," Turco said in a press conference that was carried live via internet feed on CSN and the Blackhawks website. "These kids looked like they had some fun last year, and I want to be a part of it."
  

Marty Turco's introductory press conference (BHTV)

In nine years with the Dallas Stars, Turco has compiled a record of: 509 games, 262-191-26;  (W-L-T; 37 of those losses came in OT), with a career average .911 SV% and 2.31 GAA. (Playoff statistics of .914 SV%/2.17 GAA). In short, a respectable career. The Stars last won the Stanley Cup in 1999 (before Turco started with the team in 2000-01 season) and struggled to find their way deep into the Playoffs over the next decade - the closest they came was in 2008, when they lost in the Conference Finals against the Detroit Red Wings. The Defending Big D blog has a very good write-up about Turco's career in Dallas.

Turco just turned 35, and hasn't been hesitant to say that being part of a championship team is a strong motivational factor for him.

"I look forward to the opportunity to stand in my crease in the Madhouse on Madison and get the chance to make some saves and get the people up on their feet, hopefully like in those highlights."

Being part of winning team isn't his sole motivation, however. Growing up, Turco's hockey idol was Tony Esposito, who came from the same hometown - Sault St. Marie, Ontario. "Tony O" played for the Chicago Blackhawks from 1969-1984; his number, 35, now hangs in the rafters at the United Center.

"Watching one of your hometown heroes grow up, and hear the stories....  The chance to play for an Original Six team here in Chicago, to be a Blackhawk, and to wear the same jersey that Tony has worn is something that's irreplaceable, things that you don't think will come full circle in your life and your career in hockey," Turco stated during the press conference. "It's an opportunity that I take very dearly."

Turco has spent his NHL career wearing #35 in honor of Esposito, but since that number is retired in Chicago, he'll be wearing #30 instead.
  


Tony Esposito talks about Turco

No doubt that Coach Quenneville is eager to see how Turco's strong puck handling prowess will combine with his pack of two-way defensemen. When asked if he would be aiming to break any records for goalie assists, Turco talked around things a bit before finally stating with a smile, "They pay me to stop the puck."

But he did also discuss how he could see himself adding to the defensive puck moving, to get the puck up to the front-line snipers like Toews, Hossa, and Kane, to help speed up Chicago's already impressive puck-moving game. His technique has been dubbed the "Turco Transition", and TheGoalieGuild.com has a good writeup about it; see page 14 on that spread.

Turco also spoke about getting to know his teammates, learning player styles and personalities and getting to become part of the local hockey family. It's clear that although he's saying all the right things, which will sound reassuring to fans and media, he means them, too. He is looking forward to being a part of the Blackhawks team, its history, and most of all, to help the team do the best they can at defending their championship and to hopefully earn another one next spring. He clearly has a lot of respect and knowledge about the players on the team, giving a particular nod to Jonathan Toews. At one point he referenced the other players as "kids", and caught himself, acknowledging with a small smile that he's the oldest one on the team, at 35 years old. And he seems really pleased to be in Chicago in general, not just as a hockey player, but the city itself, stating on an interview on ABC7 that they had gotten a place in Wrigleyville.

Another thing that was very clear from the press conference is that Turco is very comfortable in front of the media. With many players, you'll see them do the press work,  but not all of them become fully comfortable with it. Turco radiated ease and confidence - we should probably expect to see him interviewed frequently in the season ahead, and no doubt that he will be a good addition to the locker room chemistry.
  


ABC7Chicago's interview with Turco

ABC7Chicago interviewed Turco on Tuesday morning. Turco very graciously complimented Antti Niemi's play for the Hawks last season, but also acknowledged that "stepping into somebody's shoes" is always part of the game.

There is no doubt that the quiet Finn drew a huge legion of fans in Chicago, which was remarkable in itself, as there has not been any particularly remarkable - or popular - goalies in the Blackhawks' crease for quite a few years. Fan reaction to Niemi's departure has been split down the middle after the team walked away from his $2.75M arbitration ruling. News came through today via Twitter that it looks like the San Jose Sharks will be signing Niemi to a 1-year, $2M deal (currently unconfirmed by the Sharks as of 9/1), which will mean Niemi will be back up as a UFA next spring. It's a smart move by Niemi - he will play a year with a solid Western Conference competitor, and if he has a good year, it will solidify his standing and worth. He'll most likely be playing a tandem 1A/1B position with fellow Finn, Antero Niittymaki, who spent five years with the Flyers and one with Tampa Bay before signing with San Jose this summer.

Niemi's last encounter with the Sharks was a 4-game sweep in the Western Conference finals in the 3rd round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Although Sharks GM Doug Wilson has spent most of the summer stating there was "no interest" in Niemi from his club, it is perhaps not surprising that Wilson would look to beef up his goaltending situation a bit, especially as the Sharks are still hurting defensively, and he was unsuccessful at poaching Niklas Hjalmarsson away from the Blackhawks.

Those who watched Niemi play all year recognized him as a strong athlete, and as even his ex-teammates who have been traded away to other teams continue to say (such as Andrew Ladd in an article on sportingnews.com tonight), he works very hard and battles hard for the puck. Niemi made a lot of outstanding, memorable saves throughout the season, such as the one that was featured in a "History Will Be Made commercial. 

Niemi fans should appreciate the same out of Marty Turco, who is very agressive handling the puck as a goalie. He's also fast and athletic, which will make him exciting to watch. Add in his personality, his love of the game and his obvious respect for the team, and his happiness at coming to Chicago - this is the guy, after all, who had to wait a month to sign, and then signed for 75% less than he was paid last year, because the opportunity meant that much to him - and you've got all the ingredients shaping up to give the Blackhawks a new fan favorite within the crease.

I'm one of the fans who was definitely disappointed to see Niemi go. But I also understand the realities of the salary cap when it comes to sports, and know that it's inevitable that sometimes favorite players don't get to stick around.

After watching and listening to Turco talk hockey and the Blackhawks over the past week, I'm actually feeling pretty eager to see what he'll do with the Blackhawks. As I discussed recently on TheCheckingLine.com, Chicago has retained its most important core players. Combined with new guys who'll be hungry to prove themselves, I think that Blackhawks fans are in for another exciting season.
* * *
Other videos from the past few days:



ESPN's interview with Turco



Stan Bowman discusses Turco

* * *

From the YouTube files: Marty Turco mic'd up for the All-Star Game, 2007



Kind of funny when he's talking to the commentators, 
and he's like, "Wait a minute", while he goes to make a play.

"Are we distracting you?"