Friday, October 29, 2010

Goalies on parade - the men in the masks

This is pure gratuitous goalie photography - a look at most of the goalies who've been at the United Center for hockey games over the past three weeks:

Jonathan Bernier, LA Kings, October 27, 2010

Marty Turco, Chicago Blackhawks, October 27, 2010

Cory Schneider, Vancouver Canucks, October 20, 2010

Jaroslav Halák, St. Louis Blues, October 3, 2010

Ryan Miller, Buffalo Sabres, October 16, 2010

Corey Crawford, Chicago Blackhawks, October 27, 2010

Patrick Lalime, Buffalo Sabres, October 16, 2010

Jonathan Quick, LA Kings, October 27, 2010

Ty Conklin, St. Louis Blues, October 3, 2010

Roberto Luongo, Vancouver Canucks, October 20, 2010

Marty Turco, Chicago Blackhawks, October 27, 2010

Jonathan Bernier, LA Kings, October 27, 2010

Thursday, October 21, 2010

October is Hockey Fights Cancer month in the NHL

Information from the NHL's Hockey Fights Cancer website:

Hockey Fights Cancer is a component of the NHL's "Biggest Assist Happens off the Ice" campaign, the League's long-standing tradition of addressing important social issues in North America and around the world.

Hockey Fights Cancer is a joint initiative founded in December 1998 by the National Hockey League and the National Hockey League Players' Association to raise money and awareness for hockey's most important fight. It is supported by NHL Member Clubs, NHL Alumni, the NHL Officials' Association, Professional Hockey Trainers and Equipment Managers, corporate marketing partners, broadcast partners and fans throughout North America.
To date, more than $11 million has been raised to support national and local cancer research institutions, Children's Hospitals, player charities and local cancer organizations.

US residents can text "HFC" to 90999 to make a $5 donation to The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

Last night was Hockey Fights Cancer night for the Blackhawks. Alec Kubica was the honorary puck drop person for this game. He is 17 and fighting a form of cancer called neuroblastoma.

The Blackhawks Better Halves sold pucks for $30; they were signed by a "mystery players" - each was wrapped with paper so it was a surprise who you received - with proceeds going for the Vera Bradley Foundation. I bought one, which you see above - mine is signed by Corey Crawford (#50, backup goaltender).

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Fandom's kaleidescope

Growing up in New England in the 70s and 80s, fandoms were always clear cut. The teams are so close together, and so many - be it baseball, football, or hockey - that rivalries were intense, and when you were a fan, you were a fan for life. People also didn't move around like they do now, nor was there the ease of access to other markets that modern cable/internet provide. As an example, the Hartford Whalers haven't even existed since 1997, but they were still able to draw several thousand fans to "Whaler Fest" this summer in Hartford. Stories of baseball loyalties in the Northeast are legendary. 

It's not to say that other parts of the country are any less dedicated to their local sports teams. That's not the case at all: over the years, I've met fans for minor-league teams (no matter the sport) that are so fiercely loyal to their boys, you'd think there were no other teams out there. And that's fantastic. 

We, as human beings, need competition. It stimulates us, excites us, its a natural part of the psyche. It's about challenging our limitations, stretching the body to the point of breaking, and coming out a winner. On the deepest psychological levels, competition speaks to our basic gut instinct to survive: the fittest reach the top of the heap, the rest are left behind.

There's something about sports that draws us deeply in. Professional sports figures are generally the crème de la crème of physical specimens: humans whose primary role in life is to be in the best shape they can be in, to publicly compete for a championship of some kind. (The newest issue of ESPN The Magazine emphasized that ideal considerably this month). They wear bright colors that draw your attention, cut in styles that allow them to play their best while emphasizing their form. It's hypnotic to us. 

Sport lifts us. It engages us, energizes us, elates us. When two teams are close rivals, it can pit us neighbor against neighbor.

It bonds us. It can help us find an identity as fans, as a city, as an entire nation.
It can bring us joy of the highest levels, and crush our hearts so fiercely it makes us cry.

And that's when we're just the spectators.

Perhaps no picture illustrates that moment better than the one Bruce Bennett of Getty Images snapped at the end of round one of the Eastern Conference playoffs last season, at end of game 7, as Montreal Canadiens goalie Jaroslav Halák raised his arms in triumph as Washington Capitals star player Alex Ovechkin skated away, a stunned look on his face:

Not everybody likes the same sport. If I were a psychologist, I might hypothesize that a person's athletic preferences might reflect personality profiles. But there are certain elements of sports fandom that remain true from sport to sport.

Let's make a quick, general ranking of levels of fandom, to start (not every fan will be exactly defined by these) :
- Bandwagoner. May or may not know much about the sport; gets interested because the local team in doing well/on a championship run, or because all their friends are into it. May or may not continue their interest long enough to become a lifelong fan of the sport. Is along for the parties and good times so long as the team is winning, but rapidly disappears in a slump. Often quick to make judgments about what's going on with the team roster (trades, etc) or on the ice without fully knowing what they're talking about. Likely to be the guy who shows up at a game and attempts to get the wrong local chant started, because he/she wants to show they support the team, but doesn't know enough about the team to know the right chants, or, for example, that there's no wave in hockey.

- Newbie - new to the sport, just learning. Depending on how good of an introduction they get to the sport, may jump right over "casual fan" status and right to "core/dedicated fan". Willing to learn, and energized by the sport.

- Casual fan - Follows the sport, has a favorite team. Can converse about the sport to a reasonable extent. Follows along with the playoffs for as long as his/her favorite team is in the playoffs. Maybe can tell you who won the championship last year, and may or may not have ever attended a live game, especially at the major league level. May or may not have any team clothing. Has a solid, ongoing interest in the sport, but doesn't have the time or inclination to follow the sport as closely as they might like.

- Dedicated fan - Has a solid understanding of the sport, and will follow their favorite team's season. Probably owns at least one, if not more, piece of clothing with the team's name and/or logo on it. Goes to at least one live game per season. Enjoys watching games with teams other than their favorite team just to get their "fix" for the sport, or because there's other players they like. Can discuss some team history and the finer points of memorable plays or events in their team's history. May occasionally hold a grudge towards team ownership when the team fails to re-sign, or trades away, a favorite player.

- Diehards - Can tell you more information about the team that you thought there was to know. Can identify most if not all players by face and number. Has a team jersey and it's very likely signed. Goes to as many home games as possible or makes a lot of effort to watch as many games as possible; extremely likely to be a season ticket holder or at least on the waitlist. May or may not paint their face or otherwise do something extra/special for home games. Will likely make one or more road trips in their lifetime or adjust the timing of a vacation just to watch their favorite team play on the road. Has probably been to an open practice at least once, or at least knows they exist. Will discuss/argue the minutiae of plays, roster movement, team history, and more. Has team memorabilia, and if their team has gone on to a championship, very likely has a scrapbook full of newspaper clippings to go with it. Very likely has a story about at least one personal interaction with members of their favorite team. Generally very strongly dedicated to a single team.

- Superfans - Diehards who've taken it to a new level. Have lots of team gear and memorabilia; may have a shrine or a section of their home dedicated to their favorite team. Have season tickets. So dedicated to their team that they may identify colors by the team known for wearing them ("Chicago red", "Vancouver blue", "Philadelphia orange"). Is identifiable because they bleed that team's color. Extremely likely to dress up in some manner for games (face paint, wigs, etc).

Once you get past the larger generalities, you start getting into the subcultures of fandom. For hockey, that means the rink rats and the puckbunnies, although every sport has its equivalents. (Rink rats are those who generally  spend all their time at the local rink - they play, but they're also fans; puckbunnies are the hockey sports equivalent to rock groupies, and generally not held in very high regard but other female fans.)

With such varying levels of fandom, the question is: can we all get along? And how can a single sports entity such as the NHL draw in and court as many fans as possible without alienating the others?

Of course we can get along. We do. There aren't fans who are "better" fans than one another (although "bandwagon" and "puckbunny" fan jokes will never, ever go away, for good reason), there are simply different levels of fandom that satisfies each person's needs and desires when supporting a team.

This summer has seen a lot of movement around the NHL. The Chicago Blackhawks weren't alone in turning over their roster; the Atlanta Thrashers also brought in about 10 new players.  In the era of the salary cap, rosters are no longer sacred - if you cost too much in relationship to your salary, out you go. If you're underperforming, they'll find somebody else to do your job.

Fans understand this movement for the most part, but when players are popular, the transition can be painful, and can create some strife among fans.

It's been an interesting summer as a Blackhawks fan. Those players traded away or allowed to walk after their contract expired are generally regarded as victims of the salary cap - thanked for their contributions, and missed. The sole exception to this was Antti Niemi - loved as the Stanley Cup-winning goalie, but fan sentimentality slowly degrading over the summer once he filed for, and then went to arbitration. And while the majority of the fan base seems to be of the opinion that the loss of Niemi was due to his agent, the fans also recognize the simple reality that a player always has the last say about their contracts. Water under the bridge now, but still coming up regularly as fans bite into the new season and the new pair of netminders in Chicago's goal.

By getting to know a fairly good-sized slice of fans over the past season and this summer, it has been interesting to see where fans draw the lines on their fandom. Who will root for one team, and one team only? Who follows favorite players to new teams, and what does that kind of fandom mean for the league?

The die-hard fans have pretty clean-cut opinions about fandom: It's interesting, for example, to have found a female fan who stated they could never support more than one team, but if a favorite player gets traded, "absolutely will always support and follow that player for the rest of their career."

One fan, Steve, a Chicago fan, stated, "It's interesting to find out why they [fans might support more than one team]. But it doesn't make sense when you hear of people who support both the Cubs and White Sox in this city. That's just weird. In general, I don't have anything against people that support more than one team because in some cases, there is no local pro team in a particular sport (ex. no NHL team in Green Bay)."

A second Steve - this one a Maple Leafs fan - called some fandoms "something inherited.... most fans are basically born into the tribe." He further expressed his depth of love for his team, expressing "there's a spiritual reward to following a team your whole life, through thick, thin and emaciation... True fandom does not permit divorce or polygamy. Your team is your team until they fold." When asked about players who may have left the team, Steve said, "If he's not wearing my colors, he's one of 'them,' not 'us.' It's pretty simple. I'll cheer him on when he's playing somebody else, but my loyalty to my team--probably since it's so old--outstrips my loyalty to any player." He was also perhaps the most strongly opinionated of the "die-hards", stating that fans who support more than one team are "abominable" and that "Supporting more than one team essentially means you don't really support anybody."

Several of the players who classified themselves as single-team fans said that they viewed their fandom as something "inherited" - it was something that not only they identified with themselves, but that something which defined their family. These are frequently the fans who will tell you memories of being brought to the stadium as a kid by their parents or grandparents - whether it's hockey or football or baseball.

They may even see those in their family or circle of friends who do not support the same team as different.  "I don't know what I did wrong," one older woman joked with me at a hockey game. "The whole family are Packers fans, and somehow, my older son turned out to be a Bears fan."

Interestingly, there were a number of players who support their sport on a wider basis (one top favorite team, but supports other teams or players as well) - and many of them also viewed their fandom as inherited. They might have grown up with parents who supported different teams. Perhaps they went to school somewhere very different from home, and came to support the local team in addition to their original team.

Those who considered themselves "multi-team fans" varied greatly: from those who supported two or more teams on a near-equal basis, to those who just support one team, but who considered themselves to have several admired/favorite players around the league. The majority of them, however, stated that X team was their absolute favorite, and they would always root for that team above all else.

Reasons for liking players not on their primary team varied quite a bit. Some players like Alex Ovechkin and Steven Stamkos were cited because fans admired their skills and talent. Others mentioned specific players that one or both of their parents had admired. Others had more random reasons for liking players.

What both die-hards and dedicated fans have in common above all else is a love of the sport and of their team(s). They both want their team to be the best it can be - to achieve the Holy Grail of championship. They want to believe that the team's management is doing the best it can to manage the players and reach that goal.

And when it comes to being fans, none of them are wrong, be it in how they view themselves or how they regard other fans. Together, all these varying levels of fans - from bandwagoner to newbie to casual to dedicated to diehard - make up the fandom spectrum. If fandom was entirely made up of just one or two levels, we all would be the less for it. We all started somewhere as newbies; but we all have different levels that make us feel satisfied by our sport(s) of choice.

It engages us, energizes us, elates us.

The leagues - be it NHL, NFL, MLB, NBA, MLS - have to balance these fandoms every day. They have to figure out what can help continue to draw new blood to the stands, while simultaneously meeting the demands of the existing fanbase and not make them feel alienated by any changes to the sport.

For a sport like hockey, the league has made an excellent choice in embracing new technology, although there are still occasionally gaps in how accessible the league coverage is. For example, they sell a product called "Center Ice", which promises that fans in any market - no matter how far away from their favorite team - will be able to see their team play. But even Center Ice is subject to blackouts, leaving fans frustrated.

There is a similar product they also offer called "GameCenter", which offers the games streaming online via computer or by smartphone. If the league wanted to maximize customer buy-in and product reach, they would combine the two, allowing fans to access the NFL product by whatever means best suits them at the moment, be it smartphone, computer or television. Since it is an on-demand product, there should not be blackouts - being a paid, essentially private channel.

Allowing that dual flexibility - home or on the road - combined with expanded coverage in the off season (game tapes on demand, etc) would also allow the NHL to set a slightly higher price point on a rolling monthly basis - $20-22/month year-round, instead of the current price structure of approximately $19/month for 10 months.

Hockey has a unique position in the sports world: the regular season runs seven months of the year. The playoffs add two more months, and preseason adds another month. As it also has one of the smallest - but perhaps most diehard - of sports fandoms, the NHL should seek to maximize ways to connect with the fans and constantly grow fan engagement, year-round.

Diehard/lifetime fans are the core of fandom. Those of us who have spent a lifetime with the sport may feel a little ... grumpy when things about the sport we love change too much. ("Who are these young whippersnappers sitting in the seat new to me?") But as fans, we need to embrace each other.

When the league focuses on only a couple players, it has its benefits. The "Ovechkin vs Crosby" angle has been a natural fit: two highly touted prospects who came to the league at the same time and have enjoyed arcs of success that have kept them in close proximity to one another. Sidney Crosby's shining-good-boy image vs. Alex Ovechkin's Russian-bad-boy image tap into sociopolitical concepts that are not that far removed from today - recalling the historical intensity of the 1980 Olympic "Miracle on Ice" and the Cold War of the 1980s.

But by limiting exposure to other teams and players, it does nothing to build fandoms outside those markets. In fact, there's a lot of fans outside of the Pittsburgh and D.C. markets who have had their fill of "Crosby vs. Ovechkin". The success of merchandise sales for the Blackhawks vs Flyers this year further enforces the idea that fans are hungry for local heroes that they can relate to and celebrate.

Every team in the league has its stars, its superstars. The teams are full of players with stories worth hearing. The fans want to hear those stories. They want to see a spectrum of players. They want to know that the modern NHL recognizes and respects the full history of the league - the long-standing rivalries, the team timelines, the iconic players - as not just footnotes to hockey history, but as part of the living fabric of the sport.

The more interest that fans have in players not on their own team, or in other teams, the more the sport can grow. Active fans help draw other newcomers to the sport. The more fans there are, the better the health of the league - through ticket sales, merchandise - anything that helps drive up revenues and ultimately, the salary cap. 

This summer, the Chicago Blackhawks gave hope to the league as a whole.  An Original Six team, they won the Stanley Cup for the first time in 49 years. The party was incredible. There are 13 other teams out there - nearly half the league - who've never won the Cup in their history, and want to hold that celebration for their own fandoms: Atlanta Thrashers, Buffalo Sabers, Columbus Blue Jackets, Florida Panthers, Los Angeles Kings, Minnesota Wild, Nashville Predators, Phoenix Coyotes, San Jose Sharks, St. Louis Blues, Vancouver Canucks, Washington Capitals. Three teams - the Toronto Maple Leafs (last won 1967), LA Kings (est. 1967) and St Louis Blues (est. 1967) - are now all tied for most seasons without a Cup - 42.

All those teams' fandoms deserve their shot at glory.

We're in this together, even as we each bask in the joy of celebrating (or weeping for) our own team. and favorite players. Hockey is a sport that requires a support team for a player to succeed.

At its heart, hockey's fandom is the same way.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Chicago Blackhawks vs Buffalo Sabres, picture recap

Ryan Miller

Gotta admit that the primary reason I went to the Buffalo game was to see Ryan Miller play. Chicago only plays against Buffalo once a year; this year is a rarity with two games, and both of them coming early in the season. Was actually a bit disappointing to see Lalime instead of Miller in goal - when you only get to see an opponent maybe once a year, you really want to see their marquee players on the ice!

Ryan Miller, of course, is one of the top, if not the top goalie in the league right now, and garnered a lot of fans after the 2010 Olympics. He's amazing.  Also, I have to say that since I love photography so much, I thought it was cool to see the recent issue of Vanity Fair where Miller photographed several of his fellow NHLers. He's a good photographer, and it was just fun to see this different aspect of a player. His "questions will be answered" commercial is my favorite out of the bunch, mostly because of the "Oh yeah? We'll show *you*!"  look he gives into the camera at the very end:

Ryan Miller

Derek Roy

Derek Roy has been with the Sabres for several years now; he's also been on a couple different Canadian national teams. Very solid player.

Jordan Leopold (front), Rob Niedermayer (20)

Chris Butler (34), Jordan Leopold (3)

Tyler Ennis (63)

After some words earlier in the week by Patrick Kaleta (BUF) there was some concern that the Sabres players might want to retaliate for Niklas Hjalmarsson's (4) hit on Jason Pominville a few days ago. But Buffalo hit back in the best way they could: playing very solid and nearly beating the Blackhawks on Chicago ice. Probably not a brilliant idea to sort of threaten the other team, either - means that officials will have their eye on you during the game.

Duncan Keith, the iron man of the Blackhawks

Have you gotten tired of looking at that 4th Stanley Cup banner yet? 

Because I sure haven't.

The nets at both ends of the ice were off their moorings rather often.

Toews (19) and Butler (34), anxious to get out of the penalty boxes

Post-game scrum ... a little post-horn release, nothing major.

Top star of the game, Patrick Sharp!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


Niklas Hjalmarsson warms up for a pre-season game

Niklas Hjalmarsson made a key deal this summer: he signed a $14M/4 year offer sheet with the San Jose Sharks. But Chicago felt it was too important to let the Swedish defenseman get poached away, and matched the offer sheet - further complicating the Blackhawks' off-season salary cap tango.

As a direct result, there was a touch less wiggle room on the roster, and the combined salaries of Chicago's top two defense lines adds up to $19.68M - that's 33% of the team's cap space. The fan-dubbed "Hjam Soup line" - Hjalmarsson and blue line partner Brian 'Soupy' Campbell - actually pull down more together than Norris-winning Duncan Keith and top-line mate, Brent Seabrook.

Needless to say, the expectations on the Hjalmarsson/Campbell pairing are high. Keith/Seabrook cannot continue to put in 30+ minutes each per night; and somebody has to step up to take the place of the team's top shot blocker, Brent Sopel, who was traded to Atlanta this summer. During the pre-season, both Hjalmarsson and Campbell stated that they were looking forward to taking on more responsibility on the blue line.

Then the pre-season happened. Campbell found himself out for the next few weeks with a sprained knee. Hjalmarsson found himself paired with rookie Nick Leddy.

The big issue is that Hjalmarsson so far hasn't shown the form that he exhibited late in last season: the form and the promise that made Chicago willing to pony up $3.5M for a defenseman who has not yet hit his prime. In fact, until the Buffalo game on Monday night, Hjarlmarsson was on the ice for every single goal that the Avalanche and the Red Wings scored in the team's first two games. His record so far this season, in just over 45 minutes worth of ice time, has him at a -4 rating.

The fans and the sports writers began pondering where, exactly, Hjarlmarsson's game had gone this summer. He must've given some thought to the same as well, because his play was looking more aggressive as the Blackhawks/Sabres game began.

Then "Hjammer" lived up to his nickname.

Hjarlmarsson's entire 15-minute PIM tally from this season stems from a single incident that happened last night in Buffalo: he unintentionally boarded Sabre Jason Pominville during the first period. Sabres teammate Ryan Miller spoke out later against the boarding, stating that the league needed to make an example of Hjalmarsson, to help get away from the idea that violence is part of hockey. See the video of the hit below:

Judging from the video, Hjalmarsson came in faster than he expected, and his shoulder hit Pominville at a bad spot along his back. Pominville's head slammed into the glass, and it was later announced that he had suffered a concussion.

The 15 PIM given for the play made Hjarlmarsson ranked 9th (out of 700+ players) in the league for PIM for the season. Of the eight players above him, 4 are on the penalty-riddled/fight-happy Anaheim Ducks, 2 Blues, Scott Hartnell (PHI), and Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond (NJ).

In comparison, Hjarlmarsson only put together 20 PIM in the entire 2009-10 regular season. (He added 6 more in the playoffs.)  He just isn't that kind of player.

It was his misfortune to be the first player this season who hit another player badly, intentional or not. After passing new headshot resolutions, and dealing with some late-season health issues from injured players (such as Marc Savard's concussion and Brian Campbell's broken rib), players certainly had to be aware that any bad or dirty plays would be under a microscope by the NHL.

Although Hjalmarsson has denied that there was any kind of intent, expressing regret for the incident, he had to have a league review call today. The NHL ruled that Hjalmarsson will be suspended for two days - which means he'll be back on the ice for Chicago just in time for the rematch against Buffalo, this time at the United Center. 

There is some silver lining to this incident, however. With both Campbell and Hjalmarsson gone, Chicago's defense pulled together on Monday night. Nick Boynton in particular stepped up so well that he was named one of the stars of the night. Here's hoping he remembers how good he can be and continues to play like that for the rest of the season. The defense gets a bit thin behind the top four, so the other D-men need to step up and be solid - no more so than the next couple of games without either Hjalmarsson or Campbell in the lineup.

Nick Leddy will get there; he's on a high-speed learning curve even as we speak. The others need to prove that they're at least as good - if not better - than the rookie.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Chicago Blackhawks raise the banner at the United Center

The United Center was abuzz on Saturday evening for two reasons: it was the season home opener for the Blackhawks, and for the first time in 49 years, there was a new Stanley Cup banner to raise to the rafters.

The Blackhawks, of course, did things up right. It was a gorgeous ceremony, and I'll admit I shed some tears of happiness. As a sports fans, there are some truly unique moments you can witness; your team celebrating a national championship is high, if not tops, on the list. I've waited 28 years to see a team that I love win the Stanley Cup. Not as long as some Chicago fans, to be sure, but a start to the evening that was tremendous.

Videos leading into the ceremony. It was the first time I could recall seeing full-ice graphics at the United Center, which we saw used in several other arenas during the 2010 Stanley Cup playoffs (I can recall Montreal for one)

Too many men on the ice. Just kidding. Trainers/coaching/management staff were among those honored.

Another look at the all-ice graphic effect. I like how those full-ice graphics look. If they do those regularly... yeah, that'd be sweet.

The Division and Conference banners were already in the rafters.
They were covered, and then revealed as part of the ceremony.

New additions to the 2010-2011 Blackhawks team were announced, followed by the remaining team members who were on the championship roster.

Although I was happy to see the Blackhawks win in Philadelphia and get the Final round completed, there's something almost incomplete about a victory won on enemy soil - or ice, as it were. In the case of the Stanley Cup, the tradition is for the winning team to skate it around on the ice once they are allowed to hoist the trophy. It was a tradition that every Chicago fan would have dearly desired to see at the UC. Tonight was the closest to that: as the Captain and last to be introduced, Jonathan skated out onto UC ice, hoisting the Stanley Cup - and giving it a last kiss or two, of course. He only had to skate the cup to center ice; I think he would have enjoyed a victory lap or two around the UC ice.

If the Blackhawks had done nothing else except let Toews and the team skate the Cup around the ice a few times, I would've been happy. But they started with a cool pre-game show, and the most important part was there, too - Toews carrying the Cup gleefully across the home ice.

See all those glowing lights in the audience?
Cameras. Everybody was busy recording what they saw, in one form or another.

Members of the 1961 Stanley Cup-winning Blackhawks unfurled the banner...

... and then those members of the team who were on the roster for the playoffs skated the banner across the ice and connected to the cables that would hoist it to the rafters ....

You don't really get the sense of scale about how big these banners are til somebody is next to one.

Then it was time for the National Anthem...
The new look of the United Center with the new banners. Looks pretty great!!

Videos from tonight's Blackhawks banner ceremony at the United Center

The men walked the red carpet to kick off the evening.
Check out the bling on some of their hands!

"Let's raise the banner" video and "Welcome back, Chicago" video; coverage of the pre-ceremony videos (Comcast); views of fans watching opening ceremonies, and different views of the ice as the montage runs (Comcast)

The presentation prior to the actual banner raising part
(I shot the video from between sections 317-318)

Second part of Rocky Wirtz's speech from end of 1st video

Video from Jumbotron that you cannot see clearly on my video

The Conference and Division championship banners are presented.

Introductions of various people from the coaching staff; the new members of the Blackhawks are introduced; members of the championship team are introduced; and the Captain of the Blackhawks, Jonathan Toews, carries the Stanley Cup onto United Center game ice in front of the home crowds for the first time in 49 years.

Introductions as seen from ice level (BHTV)


Eddie O introduces the 1961 Stanley Cup winning team, who hands off the new banners to the 2010 champions, and they skate the banner across the ice, and the banner is lifted to its spot in the rafters. 

The banner is lifted (BHTV)

The banner gets lifted from the ice to its spot in the rafters

Comcast/NHL's coverage of the banner raising

Comcast/NHL's coverage of the banner raising

Thursday, October 7, 2010

For the stats nerds: League averages on Opening Day

Based on opening day rosters, here's a look at this year's opening stats for my fellow stats nerds. There are 731 players listed on NHL active or IR rosters on 10/7/2010. Statistic-wise¹, the NHL average player looks like this:

Age: 27.28 years old
Height: 73.32" (6'1-1/3")
Weight: 203.95 pounds

The two players who come closest to the league averages: Marcel Goc (Nashville Predators), at 27 years old, 6'1", and 202 pounds; and Joffrey Lupul (Anaheim Ducks), at 27 years old, 6'1", and 206 pounds.

Youngest players: Say hello to five members of the rookie class who are just 18 years old: Tyler Seguin (Boston Bruins), Taylor Hall (Edmonton Oilers), Nino Niederreiter (NY Islanders), Jeff Skinner (Carolina Hurricanes), Cam Fowler (Anaheim Ducks). Of these, Niederreiter is the youngest, squeaking in having just turned 18 on September 8th. Welcome to the NHL, gentlemen; may you have long and successful careers.

Oldest player: Mark Recchi, Boston Bruins - 42

Age difference between the rookies and Recchi: 24 years

League's shortest player: Nathan Gerbe, Buffalo Sabres - 65" (5'5")
Next shortest: Brian Gionta, Montreal Canadiens - 67" (5'7")

League's tallest player: Zdeno Chara, Boston Bruins - 81" (6'9")
Next two tallest: Tyler Myers, Buffalo Sabres, and John Scott, Chicago Blackhawks - 80" (6'8")

Height difference between Gerbe and Chara: 16 inches

Lightest player: Tyler Ennis, Buffalo Sabres - 157 pounds
Heaviest players: Derek Boogaard, NY Rangers, and Dustin Byfuglien, Atlanta Thrashers - both 265 pounds

Weight difference between Ennis and Boogaard/Byfuglien: 108 pounds

(stat charts by team below nationality table)


Just six countries make up 93% of the players in the league: Canada, USA, Sweden, Czech Republic, Finland, and Russia.

Here's the full breakdown, and teams with most of each nationality:

Nationality# of players in NHL% of players in leagueTeam with most# of players
Avalanche  16
Hurricanes 10
Kings 10
Islanders 9
Rangers 9
Sweden486.6%Red Wings6
Czech Rep.395.3%Panthers4
Finland253.4%Hurricanes 3
Islanders 1
Hurricanes 1
Kings 1
Rangers 1
Islanders 1
Belarus30.4%Red Wings1



Los Angeles is the youngest average team this year: just 24.93 years old.
Detroit is the oldest at 30.70 years.
Los Angeles Kings24.93
Carolina Hurricanes25.44
Colorado Avalanche25.58
St. Louis Blues25.83
Edmonton Oilers25.92
Toronto Maple Leafs26.29
Chicago Blackhawks26.27
Atlanta Thrashers26.50
Washington Capitals26.54
Columbus Blue Jackets27.08
NY Rangers27.12
San Jose Sharks27.12
Pittsburgh Penguins27.20
Vancouver Canucks27.20
Nashville Predators27.33
Dallas Stars27.35
Tampa Bay Lightning27.39
Boston Bruins27.54
Minnesota Wild27.69
NY Islanders27.69
Buffalo Sabres27.70
Florida Panthers27.76
Montreal Canadiens27.87
Phoenix Coyotes27.92
Anaheim Ducks28.16
Philadelphia Flyers28.24
Ottowa Senators28.36
Calgary Flames28.70
New Jersey Devils29.27
Detroit Red Wings30.70


The Washington Capitals are the tallest (average just shy of 6'2-1/2"); with the NY Islanders the shortest at just shy of 6'1/2".

Washington Capitals74.46
Edmonton Oilers74.08
New Jersey Devils73.77
Atlanta Thrashers73.71
Columbus Blue Jackets73.68
Calgary Flames73.67
Tampa Bay Lightning73.61
Philadelphia Flyers73.60
Anaheim Ducks73.56
Phoenix Coyotes73.48
Chicago Blackhawks73.46
Ottowa Senators73.46
Vancouver Canucks73.40
NY Rangers73.36
Los Angeles Kings73.32
San Jose Sharks73.32
St. Louis Blues73.30
Buffalo Sabres73.22
Pittsburgh Penguins73.20
Boston Bruins73.15
Dallas Stars73.13
Florida Panthers73.12
Nashville Predators73.12
Carolina Hurricanes73.04
Montreal Canadiens73.00
Minnesota Wild72.89
Toronto Maple Leafs72.88
Colorado Avalanche72.83
Detroit Red Wings72.52
NY Islanders72.46


Biggest bodies in town: Atlanta Thrashers, averaging 212.50 pounds. The lightest - Carolina Hurricanes (198.6) and Detroit Red Wings (199.87), the only two teams shy of 200.

Carolina Hurricanes198.60
Detroit Red Wings199.87
Anaheim Ducks200.36
Minnesota Wild200.42
Buffalo Sabres200.57
NY Islanders200.92
Boston Bruins201.15
Colorado Avalanche201.71
Florida Panthers201.76
Pittsburgh Penguins201.92
NY Rangers202.40
Calgary Flames202.93
Phoenix Coyotes203.12
Philadelphia Flyers203.36
Vancouver Canucks203.36
Dallas Stars203.65
Nashville Predators204.00
Chicago Blackhawks204.14
Los Angeles Kings204.46
St. Louis Blues204.87
Toronto Maple Leafs205.04
Montreal Canadiens205.65
Columbus Blue Jackets205.68
Tampa Bay Lightning206.09
New Jersey Devils207.05
Ottowa Senators207.64
San Jose Sharks208.80
Washington Capitals208.92
Edmonton Oilers209.42
Atlanta Thrashers212.50

¹ Stats are attained from each team's current roster pages

It's Hocktober, baby! GAME ON!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Further thoughts on female athletes and espnW

Been reading more about the "espnW" brand effort this week; Blogs With Balls profiled the effort quite well.

Marketing to today's women athletes is a complex undertaking. espnW seeks to connect with female athletes 18-40s - this could be anyone from the professionally competitive snowboarder who's barely out of high school, up to coaches and older athletes. How is it possible to meet all the needs of such a wide demographic?

The interesting thing is that espnW is specifically being noted as a "brand" effort, not simply a "marketing" effort. What's the difference, you might ask?

To boil marketing parlance down to the basics, "branding" is the perception that you have when you think about a specific brand: what that brand makes you feel, your expectations, and what you think about. The easiest product to think about in terms of branding is cars: what comes to mind when you hear names like Mercedes, Ferrari, Chevy, Scion? Each company makes its own niche, and fills it with a reputation and personality, if you will, to represent their brand. If you want a car that you take backroad camping, for example, you're going to think "Jeep", not "Lexus". Companies use carefully targeted marketing to appeal to the demographic that they want to reach, and spread that image, that appeal.

Boiling the essence of a sports network down to a female-friendly brand is going to be an interesting work in progress. Women ask why there needs to even be a separate place for women to go looking for more of the content they would be interested in, especially if they're among the part of the demographic that is satisfied with what they get from ESPN or other existing sports networks.  Women already make up a percentage of ESPN and other sports networks' target audience, but there's plenty more that can be done for women when it comes to sports, and not simply just marketing the existing product to suit what women like to see. 

Empowering women when it comes to sports is important for many reasons, and not only so it can expand a network's offerings or improve bottom lines. Done well and done positively, any improved coverage of female sports is a win-win situation. It helps female athletes get the recognition they're deserving. It gives young girls role models to look up to. And perhaps most importantly, it shows that there are places in sports for women where they are judged not on how they look, but on what they achieve.

Female athletes are exciting. Mia Hamm, Michelle Wei, Danica Patrick, Michelle Kwan, Lisa Leslie, Sheryl Swoopes, Amanda Beard, Candice Parker, Dara Torres, Lindsay Vonn are among the leaders in the past several years across a variety of sports, and thankfully, due to expanded coverage of female sports - particularly during the Olympics - their names are more easily called to mind.

Thirty or forty years ago, female athletes might have been considered masculine, or butch. Today, female athletes are viewed as strong, powerful, exciting - and dare we say it - feminine and sexy. A number of top female athletes have even performed double duty as models.

Previously, I had written about the fact there's double standards when it comes to athletes. If you doubt it, think about the 2010 Canadian gold-medal winning female ice hockey team: when pictures and videos surfaced of the ladies drinking beer, smoking cigars and enjoying their victory on center ice in semi-privacy after the crowds had left the arena led to people questioning if this "public" celebrating might be harmful to their image as athletes.

Seriously, people - these women had just won the gold medal for their sport. When it comes to women's sports, a gold medal at the Olympics is about as good as it gets, and you only have a shot at winning it once every 4 years. Wouldn't you  be celebrating, too? From my perspective - as a woman, and a female athlete - I saw nothing wrong with their celebrations. I was more appalled that anybody would want to criticize these women for reveling in the joy of the moment.

Four months later, the Chicago Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup, and there has been extensive footage of the men - and their families - wildly celebrating, not only in the locker room, but all over the ice - and all over the city of Chicago - with plenty of champagne, beer, and yes, cigars. There were even plenty of jokes about having to wring certain players out before training camp, but celebrations for men's sports is all taken in stride with a kind of wink-wink-nudge-nudge boys-will-be-boys attitude. Nobody would ever think of questioning the men so publicly celebrating their victory - even though they were doing the same thing the women's team did, just in a more public setting.

Hopefully, we can begin to eliminate, or at the very least improve upon these double standards, and by celebrating and showcasing more women being equals on the athletic stage, lead to even greater recognition and respect for women - not just athletes, but all women.


Friday, October 1, 2010

espnW seeks to draw in female sports fans

News broke today about ESPN launching a new brand identity within the ESPN family, one that would be aimed directly at women and dubbed "espnW". This idea has apparently been under development for several months, but has now begun to go live through Twitter (@espnW) and will eventually evolve into a blog, and who knows, may even eventually become its own ESPN network.

The news breaking on Twitter, not surprisingly, set off a string of jokes about the concept, which started out as witty but eventually - as Twitter joke memes often do - devolving into just rehashing stereotypes. Unfortunately - again, as Twitter often does - some of the people slinging jokes and/or insults then chose to directly tweet those directly to a female sportscaster. I'm really not sure at what point on the internet evolutionary scale people began feeling so comfortable about seeing celebrities and professionals on Twitter and Facebook that they decided it would be ok to insult them to their face, but it's not the first time this kind of thing has happened this summer.

At that stage, it became clear that people really weren't looking into what espnW was aiming to be or what it might offer. Sports fans have felt frustrated about ESPN in the past, some sports fans more than others if they feel their sport has been slighted by the network, and so the chance to poke a little fun at the concept proved too tempting. It's also clear that a number of people really didn't read the article before jumping on the joke bandwagon, so, like many Twitter memes, it ran away and became larger than it should have been.

I'll admit I even threw in my own joke because I saw the meme jokes going before I saw a link and read the article, and realized it was a real project not just a meme.  But on reviewing my own joke, it was the kind of joke that had a man made it, I probably would've bristled and had a few sharp cracks back.

That's a problem in sports: double standards. And the door can swing both ways.

Just a couple weeks ago, controversy swirled around a female sports reporter, Ines Sainz, and the NY Jets. Sources reported that Sainz got harassed, but she stated that she didn't feel that way.

But the discussion about Sainz leads to the larger questions about women and sports.

A few examples: female sports reporters - no matter what the sport - all too often fall into a stereotype of "there for looks, not for brains". Sports fans - male and female alike - will bemoan when a female sports reporter just isn't that deep. On-camera male reporters come in all shapes, sizes, colors, looks, and ages, but on-camera female reporters generally fall into two: young and gorgeous. Sure, that's partially a statement about what the media in general tries to feed the public as an ideal beauty, and the concept that attractive = more viewers = better ratings/more money. But why does this double standard continue to persist? It's even worse when a female reporter is clearly doing her best to attempt to create excitement or draw more in-depth responses out of a player they're interviewing, but they don't have the knowledge of the sport they're covering at their mental fingertips to be able to make adjustments to their interviews on the fly.

Asking an athlete who just had a triumphant moment "How do you feel right now?" is not exactly in-depth sports reporting.

The article in USAToday that discussed espnW noted that "Seven of the eight types of ESPN shows with the lowest percentages of women viewers are studio shows." This probably shouldn't be surprising, because most women sports fans aren't going to sit around and analyze stats and replays for an hour on end. Women and men don't approach everything the same; sports are no exception. There is a show on Versus network called "The Daily Line" which looks back at the day in sports in a more chatty, round-table format, but it's all too noticeable that much of the time, the show ends up with four guys sitting around the table shooting the sports breeze while the show's token woman is either off to the side by herself working on the computer, or, if she is at the table, has very little to add to the conversation.

If the point of having an attractive woman on a show is simply to add eye candy, then she's doing her job description. But if the point is to add female perspective, or to help add to the perception that yes, women can talk about sports "with the boys" - and just as importantly, talk intelligently about sports - then it's a failure.

There's nothing wrong with having women on a sports show be attractive, or wanting them to dress well. It's certainly not necessary to have a sports reporter dress in a way that is sexually suggestive - to be showing cleavage or to be wearing skin-tight clothing; it doesn't make her a better reporter.

That is where sports falls short: allowing women to only be accepted in the sports arena as either the "babe sports reporter", or to have them as a glorified sex object - cheerleaders and ice girls.

Women are smart. Women are strong. Women are beautiful. They come in all shapes and sizes and colors and ages. They're your sisters and mothers, and teachers and friends, nieces and daughters. Women should not have to be objectified in order to be worth watching, or worth writing about.  Women are competitive, they're successful, they set records.

Women's sports don't draw the numbers men's sports do, and that's part of what makes or breaks network decisions. In the 1970s, you'd be lucky to find women on TV in sports anywhere much beyond tennis, figure skating or gymnastics. But as women's sports programs have grown in leaps and bounds, and more and more women of all ages embrace sport around the world, they have struggled to make the leap to professional league sports. Sports may be the last bastion of equality.

Times have changed, however, and the most significant strides have come in the past dozen years or so. Today's youth grow up under far different perceptions than we did 30, 40, years ago. Women strive to be highly competitive; some of the top athletes in the world are women - in skiing, tennis, surfing, and more - but how many of their names come easily to mind when you think about sports figures? That's slowly changing.

Part of it is not even the emergence of women into more professional organized sports - it's the fact that women are simply becoming more athletic as a whole. Being athletic no longer leads to the immediate assumption that a woman is "butch" or "unfeminine". Staying fit and exercising are seen as vital components to a healthy lifestyle, so everybody does it. And when you as a person do something - be it male or female - it becomes naturally more appealing to see professional athletes do whatever sport it is you love.

Men and women are not different species, but as a female sports fan, you sometimes can't help but wonder if marketers think they are. Sports marketing tells men it's ok to be loud, obnoxious, proud fans of their sport. Marketing tells women... not a whole lot. Marketing can often miss the boat, too - assuming that simply because they design something that is pink or sparkly, that women will want to buy it, or buy into it.

Female hockey fans certainly made some noise this summer when the NHL introduced its latest products, the "champagne" line of clothing. Female hockey fans practically rioted, stating Look, just because we're women doesn't mean that we want our sports gear to be pink. Or sparkle, or glitter, or look silly. We want to wear our team colors, but we want gear that's designed for us, and fits our shapes. The NHL marketing department sat up and listened. After all, when women make up 35-40% of your demographic, and women in general have been proven to have the majority of spending control, you want to know what makes your consumers spend money.

ESPN is smart to want to reach out to women along these same lines. Perhaps the espnW concept will never draw enough numbers to make the parent company decide to make the leap from print to screen.

But it could, if given the chance.

Whether it is a blog or a whole branded section of the ESPN brand website, it will help provide a middle ground for female sports fans. Maybe female fans are more about the stories and the overall big picture, while male fans are busy crunching numbers and comparing stats. If it gives women the chance to see more women play more sports - and more men to see sports leveling the playing fields between them -  that's a good thing too.

Most importantly, the brand can help spread more light on women in sports in general, which is a good thing.

It will be interesting to see what espnW does to both embrace women's own inner athletes, while at the same time, celebrating women's place in sports, both on and off the circles of competition. They will have to walk a challenging line: to be appealing to women and girls as a source for women's sports coverage and encouraging them to find their own inner athlete, while remaining appealing and relevant on a level that women relate to, and more importantly, embrace.

One of the first things I hope to see is a look at women who work in sports professionally: interviews with women in broadcasting and reporting, show more of the depth and passion and excitement for sports that led these women to make the career decisions that sports was where they wanted to be. Put some depth to the faces that usually do all the interviewing.

We'll be watching the growth of espnW with interest.