Fun, finally, in the sun

After spending nearly two hours in the sun earlier today, I was certainly was glad to see Tampa Bay’s Vinny Prospal. Because he’s usually the first to leave practice, and always signs, we knew others would soon follow.

Those of us outside the St. Pete Times Forum, believing the practice would end at noon, not 1 p.m., weren’t disappointed. Most every other player, except Vinny Lecavalier (whose Bentley nearly got clipped by one of Tampa's trolleys), Tim Taylor and Dmitry Afanasenkov, signed pucks, cards, a team stick and the latest efforts by one artistic hound (I'll try to get pictures soon).

Even Marty St. Louis and Brad Richards signed, adding to my 2006-07 Lighting team helmet. Also finding room on the helmet were Marc Denis, Ryan Craig, Doug Janik and Nick Tarnasky. After today, I need only signatures from Afanasenkov and backup goalie Johan Holmqvist to complete it.

Ruslan Fedotenko, the Lightning's best with a Sharpie, and Dan Boyle each signed team programs, a freebie at home games.

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Dude, where'd you get your license?

Tampa Bay rookies Doug Janik and Nick Tarnasky left practice in Janik’s Dodge Magnum. As Janik, a defenseman, was pulling out of his parking spot, he ran over an orange safety cone.

Realizing his "accident," Janik stopped the car, got out and replaced the cone.

"Hey," I yelled across the lot. "You just failed your driving test."

Janik got his payback moments later, when I asked him to sign the three cards above.

"I’m not gonna sign for you," he said, smiling. "You yelled at me."

I gave him my best pout. "Aw, c’mon," I said. "I was just kidding."

"Me, too," he said.

Editor's note: This the 100th post of the season.

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With friends like this . . .

Speaking of Nick Tarnsasky, he was one the receiving end of a barb from Doug Janik.

Tarnsasky, who signed this card from last season’s Springfield Falcons set, is shown wearing the "A" of an alternate, not assistant, captain. Janik quickly took note.

"You were an alternate?" Janik asked Tarnasky, a center known more for his fighting than scoring.

"Musta been preseason," Tarnasky replied.

"Yeah, musta been," Janik said. "You’re not captain material."

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Good idea

Count Tampa Bay defenseman Cory Sarich among those pulling Daddy duty tonight.

Sarich, fresh off a dustup with San Jose rookie defenseman Doug Murray on Sunday, said he wouldn’t be getting dressed up for Halloween.

"I’ll be hot enough, carrying my (18-month-old) daughter around for trick-or-treating," he said after signing this card for me. "I won’t need a costume."

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Where's the candy?

I'm not sure whether this picture shows a pair of down-and-out Philadelphia Flyers fans, reflecting upon a season lost in October, or Ken Hitchcock and Bobby Clarke, in a quickly scuttled marketing campaign.

You decide, OK? I'm going trick-or-treating. Have any Reese's peanut butter cups?


All is forgiven ... maybe

Every sports teams, from the lowest levels of the minor leagues to the top-tiered professionals, has a mascot. The Tampa Bay Lightning are no different. Its name is Thunder Bug.

A few weeks ago, when the Carolina Hurricanes were in town, Colin had the opportunity to meet Thunder Bug. Unfortunately, it didn't go so well.

Colin, you see, was wearing a Hurricanes jersey, a sign of his loyalty to Cam Ward and Eric Staal, whom he met several times when they played for the Lowell (Mass.) Lock Monsters during the NHL lockout. Kiddingly, Thunder Bug took exception to Colin's wardrobe.

That kidding ended, however, when Thunder Bug picked up Colin, turned him upside down and carried him over to a trash can. While some saw the humor, one little five-year-old boy didn't (His reaction was caught on film). Nor did his father (that's me), who intervened a little too late and asked Thunder Bug if he'd like for me to do the same to him. (He didn't, and in a remarkable show of restraint, I didn't.)

Thankfully, the two were able to make amends. All it took was an autograph on a puck, Colin's first in Florida. Another picture, this time in a more gentile setting, helped, too.

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West Coast offense

Thanks to the collective intellectual capital that resides within the NHL’s scheduling department, Western Conference teams are about as common in Eastern Conference cities as a bikini in a blizzard.

The San Jose Sharks were the first of five Western Conference teams to visit Tampa this season. As expected, they drew a crowd. And while most of the team was pretty nice, it’s two biggest stars -– Joey Thornton and Jonathan Cheechoo –- were pretty rough.

Cheechoo signed earlier in the day, I was told, but was strictly one per person and insisted on personalizing anything he signed. Though Thornton did some items inside the hotel, he signed just one item -– a card for a young girl as he made his way to a cab.

Patrick Marleau, another of the Sharks’ stars, signed a few items, including Colin’s team sheet, but left more people empty-handed than happy. I was fortunate enough to get a puck signed by goalie Evgeni Nabokov.

It’s not that the day was a total loss, though. I added another nine pucks to the collection, taking me up to 1,064, as well as 18 cards, including four each from Marcel Goc and Milan Michalek. Other willing signers included Steve Bernier, Curtis Brown, Christian Ehrhoff, Mike Grier, Kyle McLaren, Ville Nieminen and Vesa Toskala.

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Surprise, surprise, surprise

One of the realities of hounding in Tampa is that very few hounds/dealers know anyone beyond the obvious. Oh, sure, they’ll recognize Peter Forsberg, Ilya Kovalchuk and Eric Staal. After that, though, the precipice is pretty darn steep.

Today’s trip to Tampa was no different. Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Evgeni Nabokov were easily recognized. I was stunned, though, when quite a few people quickly identified Matt Carle.

Carle, who won the Hobey Baker award last year as college’s hockey’s best player, is a rookie defenseman for the Sharks. He’s acquitted himself well, too, since turning pro following his junior year at the University of Denver.

He was bombarded with photographs, pucks, index cards and even a Denver Pioneers T-shirt. Given the crowd and attention, I was quite happy to walk away with two signed pucks.

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Keep ’em honest

It should come as no surprise that hockey players are not always truthful, especially when it comes to hounds. Take San Jose’s Mark Bell, for instance.

Last night, as he was headed out for dinner, I asked him to sign three pucks.

“Not right now,” he said, “but I will later. I’ll be back in a few minutes.”

Having heard players utter that line many times before, I didn’t hold my breath. Though I stuck around for another 45 minutes, and snagged a couple autographs from Sharks goalie Vesa Toskala, Bell didn't return by the time I left. I was not surprised.

Earlier today, before we went to the game, I held Bell to his word. My patience paid off.

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Sunday morning homily

~ Now that Patrick Roy is busy helping his Quebec Remparts defend their Memorial Cup championship, it's a no-brainer to say that New Jersey's Martin Brodeur is the best goalie playing in the NHL. Brodeur made 22 saves last night to blank the Columbus Blue Jackets 1-0, his second shutout in as many games.

The shutout, the 83rd of Brodeur's career, moved him into fourth place in NHL history, surpassing the legendary
Jacques Plante. Brodeur's next shutout will pull him even with Hall of Famer Glenn Hall. The top two are Hall of Famers Terry Sawchuk and George Hainsworth.

~ Hard to believe, isn't it, that Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby hadn't logged an NHL hat trick until last night's 8-2 drubbing of the freefalling Philadelphia Flyers. With the trick, The Next One has registered 15 points (six goals, nine assists) in nine games this season.

~ Speaking of the Flyers, isn't it about time that Philadelphia defenseman Derian Hatcher decided to hang up his skates? At one time, he was a true force. In the so-called new NHL, he's become nothing but a flat-footed farce.

~ It was only fitting, to Bruins fans at least, that their huge free-agent signing, Zdeno Chara, scored the game-winner last night against his old mates, the Ottawa Senators. It's nice, too, that the Black and Gold's faithful didn't litter the ice following the Bruins' 2-1 victory.

~ Phoenix rookies Matt Jones and Patrick Fischer (who?) scored their first NHL goals last night against the New York Rangers. Though Jones gave the Coyotes a 1-0 lead, the scoreboard at game's end read Rangers 7, Coyotes 3. Sadly, it's my belief that few people want to be Wayne Gretzky these days.

I also read that
Jim Schoenfeld's favorite referee Don Koharski, a resident of Tampa, Fla., had to leave the game after taking a puck in the puss.

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Great start, better ending

Like the rest of Sabres Nation, I was disappointed by the team's 5-4 shootout loss to Atlanta earlier this evening. Going in, I knew the Thrashers posed a tough test. And, as always, it would have been nice to see the Sabres set a record for a team's best start to a season.

I was encouraged, though, by the Sabres' show of heart and desire. They came back four times, including
Jochen Hecht's goal with just 1:44 remaining in the third period that forced overtime and, ultimately, the shootout.

Equally impressive, I believe, was the
HSBC Arena crowd, standing as one at game's end, and applauding the team's NHL-record-tying 10-0-0 start. In return, the Sabres' players, to a man, saluted the crowd. It was pure class, all around, if you ask me.

It made me proud to be from Buffalo and Western New York



Good-luck charm

The role of superstitions in hockey is nearly as old as the game itself. Some players put on their equipment the same way. Others follow the same route to the rink. Even pregame meals are involved.

It's no different for fans, either. Case in point: To celebrate the team's early season success, I bought a hat over the weekend featuring the Buffalo Sabres' new "Buffaslug" logo. Aside from trying it on to make sure it fits, I wore it in public for the first time last night.

Why did I wait? It's simple. I wanted the hat to mean something. And with the Sabres' 3-0 victory over the New York Islanders, one that matched a team's best start (10-0-0) in league history, that was accomplished.

When will I wear it again? That's easy, too. This Saturday, when the Sabres play the Atlanta Thrashers at home. A win that night will give them the NHL record.

Though I could keep pushing its luck, wearing it only when the Sabres play as they attempt to tie or break the NHL record for longest win streak (17 games, by the 1992-93 Pittsburgh Penguins), I'll retire the hat after Saturday.

That doesn't mean, though, it'll end up gathering dust in a closet. I'll get it signed by Ales Kotalik, who scored Thursday night's game-winning goal, and Ryan Miller, who posted a shutout, when the Sabres come to town in early December. And should the Sabres win on Saturday, I'll add any necessary signatures then, too.

Superstitious? You betcha. Besides, I can always buy another Sabres hat.



What's going on here?

A faithful reader sent me this photo, shown at left, of a recent charity event involving players from an NHL team.

Seems innocent enough, doesn't it? Nothing more than a simple gathering of people for a group photo marking what was, by all accounts, a pretty humorous evening.

Look closer, though. Do you notice anything funky going on?

The identities of those involved, those shown and not shown, shall remain anonymous.

What's this? 1.8

Boy, was I ever wrong. In what I'd thought would stump everyone, reigning champion Drew immediately guessed that last week's item was part of a skate-sharpening machine.

The fact that he's the radio play-by-play announcer for the North American Hockey League's Wichita Falls Wildcats gives him a behind-the-scenes look at the game.

Either way, it was an excellent call. It's now Readers 6, Puckhound 1.

This week's item should be easy. If you can't figure it out, may 2,000 sugar-crazed kids, armed with eggs and rolls of toilet paper, ring your doorbell Halloween night.

Going forward, too, I'll divulge the correct answer in these postings. That way, maybe more people will hazard guesses. Remember, too, to use comments for your guesses.

Have fun.


It's dismal in the desert

If you've been watching the late games on NHL Center Ice, chances are you've seen more than your fair share of contests involving the Phoenix Coyotes. Keen observers, too, will notice that the team is marking its 10th season in Arizona with a jersey patch "Decade in the Desert."

Last night, against the Calgary Flames, Phoenix fell 6-1 to start the season with a embarrassing 2-8 record. And, unless something changes very soon, an embroiderer will be called in to change the stitching to a more appropriate "Dismal in the Desert."

After watching some of these games, mainly out of loyalty to a certain Wicked hockey fan, I'm convinced the team's logo is not of a howling coyote, but one that is screaming "What the hell is going on here?"

Granted, just because the team is coached by The Great One, we can't expect the Coyotes to be winning games like the Edmonton Oilers did back in their heyday. The team is young enough, has some speed as well as plenty of talented veterans who know how to play the game.

The problem, however, is they've been getting shellacked, including a 9-2 loss to Detroit and back-to-back 4-0 losses to Los Angeles and Dallas. And as much as I believe Curtis Joseph is a flippin' jerk, it's unfair to place the blame all on his shoulders.

To me, it's painful to see Wayne Gretzky, who made the game look so simple as a player, struggle as a coach, bedeviled by a lack of scoring, poor defensive play and what I believe to be a lack of discipline, namely a steady stream of Coyotes heading to the penalty box for lazy penalties -- hooking, holding and interference.

Recently, Gretzky was quoted as saying he could become the first owner to fire himself as a coach. Thankfully, he's since backed off of those comments. Here's an idea, though: Pull a Mario Lemieux, add himself to the roster and show the team how hockey is supposed to be played. If that wouldn't get the team fired up, I don't know what would.


(Buffalo) N.Y. state of mind

Though I'm trying very hard not to get too excited over the Buffalo Sabres' sizzling 9-0-0 start this season, smiles have come very easy at the mere mention of the Blue and Gold.
Even last night, as I watched Buffalo's Jiri Novotny score on a 50-foot wrist shot against Montreal's Cristobal Huet, I sensed that, for the first time in years, the bounces just might be going the Sabres' way.

We'll get another clue later this week. Monday's win against the storied Montreal franchise set a club record for most consecutive wins at the beginning of the season, bettering the old standard of eight set during the 1975-76 season. Should the Sabres beat the New York Islanders at the Nassau Coliseum on Thursday, they will match an NHL record held by the 1993-94 Toronto Maple Leafs.

Now, I'm not even remotely suggesting that the Sabres be awarded the Stanley Cup. I still believe that San Jose is the team to beat. And, like every Buffalo sports fan knows, it's a long season with a ton of games left to play.

All it takes is a single injury, a bad call or the hint of a doubt to weasel its way into the team's collective psyche. Somewhere along the line, a cold-hearted detractor will invoke the names of Brett (No Goal!) Hull or Bernie Parent. Heck, even the Leafs might beat the Sabres once this year. That's all it could take.

Until then, though, I'm going to sit back and enjoy the run. And if the Sabres win on Thursday, it'll bring yet another smile. I'll look forward to Saturday's game against Atlanta. Should they lose, though, I'll smile, too. The pressure of an improbable perfect season will be over.

It's a long season, my fellow Sabres fans, let's enjoy it.


Winter's coming

Not that I'm complaining, but our overnight low here in sunny St. Petersburg was in the 50s. And, at 10:30 a.m., it's a balmy 62 degrees. I just might have to wear socks today.

It could be worse, though. It could be snowing.


Monet and Renoir would be proud

Not that I'd confuse any of the Tampa hounds and dealers as USF art majors, but their recent use of painting canvases has me wondering whether we're in the midst of an Impressionism renewal.

Over the past few weeks, I've seen an increased use in 16x20 or 18X24 canvases, prestretched onto frames, as receptacles for autographs.

And, believe it or not, they're not using just blank canvases.

The artists within -- regular Claude Monets and Pierre-Auguste Renoirs, if you ask me -- are painting the canvases in a solid color -- as in black for Boston, red for Carolina and orange for Philadelphia -- and then slapping a team logo -- usually a sticker -- in the middle.

Once finished, it becomes an easy object to sign that, much like a no-brainer team stick or jersey, requires no effort by a hound/collector to learn the identities of players.

In a sense, it's kind of cheesy. Then again, it's kind of cool. Either way, it's something different and I have to give them points for originality and creativity.

All in all, though, I'll stick with my pucks.


Off we go, into the wild blue yonder

What do hockey fans do when they're not watching games in person or on television? They work on their tans by attending the local airshow, held along the St. Petersburg waterfront at historic Albert Whitted Airport.

Not only did we get to see an Air Force F-15 Strike Eagle, a Marine Corps V-22 Osprey and some wicked-cool aerial acrobatics, but Colin and I also got our picture taken (shown above) sitting inside a Blue Angels jet.

Next weekend, it's back to hockey as Joey Thornton and the San Jose Sharks will play the Tampa Bay Lightning.


Financial analysis

It’s safe to say, in my opinion, that San Jose’s Mike Grier, at right, is an average player. The numbers bear that out.

Not his statistical numbers, mind you. But his financial numbers.

Thanks to The Hockey News’ annual Bucks & Pucks feature, which provides the average salaries of 705 NHL players, running the numbers has provided some interesting insights. Hence, when the average salary of an NHL player is $1.77 million ($1,247.1 billion divided by 705), and Grier will make $1.75 million, I won’t lose a wink of sleep by calling him average.

The financial analysis, which rounds figures up (5-9) or down (0-4) and is highly unscientific, doesn’t stop there. In fact, some of it is downright surprising, namely in how some teams once associated with thriftiness have busted open their banks:

Top team total average salaries for 2006-07:
New Jersey Devils: $48.4 million
Boston Bruins: $46.8 million
Colorado Avalanche, Philadelphia Flyers (tie): $43.9 million
(NHL average is $41.6 million)

Top team average player salaries:
New Jersey Devils: $2.1 million
Buffalo Sabres: $2 million
Boston Bruins: $1.95 million

On the flip side, there are some familiar names among teams with the lowest payrolls:

Washington Capitals: $30.9 million (average salary of $1.29 million)
Pittsburgh Penguins: $33.2 million (an average salary of $1.44 million)
Nashville Predators: 38.2 million (average salary of $1.6 million)

To me, the most interesting analysis came about when comparing a team’s top three average salaries against the total team salary. Talk about putting all of your eggs in one basket:

Tampa Bay’s Big Three Brad Richards ($7.8 million), Vinny Lecavalier ($6.88 million) and Martin St. Louis ($5.25 million) will be paid a combined $19.93 million this season, a handsome sum that eats up a whopping 47.8 percent of the Lightning’s total payroll of $41.7 million.

Out west, in Anaheim, top three Scott Neidermayer ($6.75 million), Chris Pronger ($6.25 million) and Teemu Selanne ($6 million) will get a combined $19 million, representing a 45.5 percent slice of the Ducks’ total $41.8 million pie.

And in further proof that Bill Wirtz should sell his Chicago team, Nikolai Khabibulin ($6.75 million), Martin Havlat ($6 million) and Adrian Aucoin ($4 million) combine for $16.75 million, a 41.6 percent share of the Blackhawks’ $40.3 million payroll.

On the low end, Edmonton spreads out the NHL’s lowest top-three combined salaries ($11.37 million) to Ales Hemsky ($4.1 million), Dwayne Roloson ($3.67 million) and Shawn Horcoff ($3.6 million). That is just 29.3 percent of the small-market Oilers’ $39.2 million team payroll.

The $11.67 million that Buffalo will dole out to Daniel Briere ($5 million), Jaroslav Spacek ($3.33 million) and Maxim Afinogenov ($3.33 million) this season represents just 26.6 percent of the Sabres’ $43.9 million salary bill.

Finally (and I do appreciate if you’ve read this far), the New York Rangers, the NHL's former ATM, are set to pay Jaromir Jagr ($4.94 million), Brendan Shanahan ($4 million) and Martin Straka ($3.1 million) a total of $12.04 million, which represents only 28.2 percent of the Blueshirts’ $42.7 million salary.

Numbers, please

A team-by-team breakdown of total average payrolls, using The Hockey News’ annual Bucks & Pucks feature as my source, for the 2006-07 season and, if applicable, each team’s best and worst investments.

Any complaints should be sent to each team's general manager, not me.

Anaheim Ducks
Total payroll: $41.8 million
Best: Francis Beauchemin, defense, $500,000
Worst: Todd Marchant, center, $2.52 million

Atlanta Thrashers
Total payroll: $40.5 million
Best: Kari Lehtonen, goalie, $1.85 million
Worst: Bobby Holik, center, $4.25 million

Boston Bruins
Total payroll: $46.8 million
Best: Brad Boyes, winger, $1.5 million
Worst: Phil Kessel, winger, $2.2 million

Buffalo Sabres
Total payroll: $43.9 million
Best: Brian Campbell, defense, $1.5 million
Worst: Tim Connolly, center, $2.9 million

Calgary Flames
Total payroll: $41.2 million
Best: Dion Phaneuf, defense, $785,300
Worst: Roman Hamrlik, defense, $3.5 million

Carolina Hurricanes
Total payroll: $40.2 million
Best: Cam Ward, goalie, $684,000
Worst: Bret Hedican, defense, $2.43 million

Chicago Blackhawks
Total payroll: $40.3 million
Best: none
Worst: Nikolai Khabibulin, goalie, $6.75 million

Colorado Avalanche
Total payroll: $43.9 million
Best: Marek Svatos, winger, $1.05 million
Worst: Patrice Brisebois, defense, $2.25 million

Columbus Blue Jackets
Total payroll: $42 million
Best: none
Worst: Sergei Fedorov, forward, $6.08 million

Dallas Stars
Total payroll: $42,4 million
Best: Matthew Barnaby, pest, $625,000
Worst: Eric Lindros, center, $2.5 million

Detroit Red Wings
Total payroll: $42.9 million
Best: Chris Chelios, defense, $1.15 million
Worst: Danny Markov, defense, $2.5 million

Edmonton Oilers
Total payroll: $39.2 million
Best: Raffi Torres, pest, $875,000
Worst: Daniel Tjarnqvist, defense, $1.63 million

Florida Panthers
Total payroll: $41.1 million
Best: Martin Gelinas, winger, $950,000
Worst: Ed Belfour, goalie, $2.48 million

Los Angeles Kings
Total payroll: $42.1 million
Best: Anze Kopitar, center, $955,900
Worst: Oleg Tverdosky, defense, $2.5 million

Minnesota Wild
Total payroll: $42.1 million
Best: none
Worst: Mark Parrish, winger, $2.65 million

Montreal Canadiens
Total payroll: $42 million
Best: Steve Begin, center, $1.06 million
Worst: Janne Niinimaa, defense, $2.47 million

Nashville Predators
Total payroll: $38.2 million
Best: Dan Hamhuis, defense, $984,000
Worst: J.P. Dumont, winger, $2.25 million

New Jersey Devils
Total payroll: $48.4 million
Best: Paul Martin, defense, $450,000
Worst: Colin White, defense, $3 million

New York Islanders
Total payroll: $41.9 million
Best: Jason Blake, pest, $1.59 million
Worst: Alexei Yashin, winger, $7.42 million

New York Rangers
Total payroll: $42.7 million
Best: Fedor Tyutin, defense, $987,500
Worst: Darius Kasparaitis, defense, $2.99 million

Ottawa Senators
Total payroll: $42.5 million
Best: Andrej Meszaros, defense, $984,200
Worst: Joe Corvo, defense, $2.63 million

Philadelphia Flyers
Total payroll: $43.9 million
Best: Mike Knuble, winger, $1.52 million
Worst: Derian Hatcher, defense, $3.5 million

Phoenix Coyotes
Total payroll: $43.2 million
Best: Keith Ballard, defense, $900,600
Worst: Ed Jovanovski, defense, $6.5 million

Pittsburgh Penguins
Total payroll: $33.2 million
Best: Sidney Crosby, center, $3.7 million
Worst: Jarrko Ruutu, winger, $1.15 million

St. Louis Blues
Total payroll: $38.5 million
Best: Dan Hinote, center, $1 million
Worst: Martin Rucinsky, winger, $2.38 million

San Jose Sharks
Total payroll: $43.4 million
Best: Milan Michalek, winger, $628,300
Worst: Scott Hannan, defense, $2.16 million

Tampa Bay Lightning
Total payroll: $41.7 million
Best: Ryan Craig, winger, $495,000
Worst: Brad Richards, center, $7.8 million

Toronto Maple Leafs
Total payroll: $43.3 million
Best: none
Worst: Hall Gill, defense, $2.08 million

Vancouver Canucks
Total payroll: $43.8 million
Best: Roberto Luongo, goalie, $6.75 million
Worst: Willie Mitchell, defense, $3.5 million

Washington Capitals
Total payroll: $30.9 million
Best: Alexander Ovechkin, winger, $3.83 million
Worst: Brian Pothier, defense, $2.5 million


Better than expected

Seeing that the Philadelphia Flyers would be playing in Tampa following their embarrassing 9-1 loss to the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday night, I wondered how the outcome would affect the team's mood.

After scoring 19 autographs, including eight pucks, I'm happy to say that most of the team, other than Mike Richards, were happy to oblige one of the biggest crowds of the year.

Even goalie Robert Esche, who surrendered all nine goals to the Sabres, stopped to sign, including two cards for me. He was asked about the game, but offered no response. I asked Joni Pitkanen, who signed four cards, about it, too. "I don't know what was going on," he told me.

Richards, a second-year pro, signed a few, and then left many dealers and hounds, myself included, behind. If you ask me, he looks like he has a perpetual case of hemorrhoids.

As usual, Mike Knuble was pleasant, signing for the house, including a bunch of Swedish items from his year overseas because of the lockout. Knuble, who also signed four cards, was always gracious in Boston, too.

The pucks, show above, are:

Top row -- Flyers: Kyle Calder; Blackhawks: Kyle Calder; Philadelphia Phantoms vs. Providence Bruins: Jeff Carter.
Bottom row -- Flyers: Simon Gagne; Flyers: Sami Kapanen; Whalers: Sami Kapanen.

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Clarke or Forsberg? Forsberg or Clarke?

Whenever the Philadelphia Flyers come to town, I'm faced with a difficult decision. Do I focus on Bob Clarke, the Flyers' general manager and Hall of Famer, or Peter Forsberg, one of the league's top stars?

To some, this might represent a dilemma. As a grammarian, I know that it's not. A dilemma is having to make a choice between two equally unpleasant outcomes. As in, do I root for the Leafs or the Canadiens?

English lesson aside, this decision reared its butt-ugly head again. Thankfully, an opportunity to be the first of only two hounds to approach Clarke, about two blocks away from the team's hotel in downtown Tampa, settled the decision.

As a result, I missed out on Forsberg, who signed only about eight items, as I was getting the pucks shown above signed by Clarke.

With any luck, I'll finally get pucks signed by Forsberg during the Flyers' next trip to tropical Tampa.

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What's this? 1.7

OK, enough screwing around. Now that Drew has given my faithful readers -- all eight of them -- a 5-1 lead, I'm pulling out what I believe to be the toughest photo yet.

It's not like I'm really keeping score, but anything else would have made me look like the Flyers in their 9-1 drubbing by Buffalo earlier this week.

For the record, the correct answer to What's this? 1.6 is detail from a trio of hockey balls.

This week's, I believe, is much tougher. Or, at least, I hope so. If not, I don't expect Ken Hitchcock to pull me in favor of Antero Niittymaki.

Good luck!


Wish we were there

Even though we're 1,200 miles to the south, it seems that Colin and I were part of a party last night in Boston.

Four Bruins players -- Andrew Alberts, Wayne Primeau, Yan Stastny and Mark Stuart -- participated in a celebrity bartending event and, after checking in with a guest, our allegiance to the Black and Gold was honored several times with raised glasses of frosty beverages.

I also hear that Alby kept his promise and delivered the favor that I asked of him. I have photographic proof, but will respect the privacy of those involved for fear of retribution the next time our paths cross.


Three-and-a-half questions

~ Did you see the hit that Calgary's Robyn Regehr put on Montreal's Aaron Downey earlier tonight? The dazed look on Downey's face as he was being helped off the ice reminded me of Philadelphia's R.J. Umberger after he got his clock cleaned by Buffalo's Brian Campbell during last year's playoffs.

~ Speaking of Flyers-Sabres matchups, can anyone tell me why Philadelphia coach Ken Hitchcock didn't spare goalie Robert Esche the embarrassment of giving up nine goals? Granted, I'm tickled that the Sabres hammered the Flyers, but I always thought that Hitchcock was a classier coach than that. Maybe I'll ask him Thursday morning.

Addendum: Thanks to The Hockey News' Quote of the Day, I have my answer: "I don't try getting in his head, that's for sure. ... It's an empty place." -- Flyers goalie Robert Esche when asked, prior to Tuesday's 9-1 loss, why coach Ken Hitchcock decided to give him the start against the Sabres. Upon hearing his goalie's comments, Hitchcock responded simply by saying, "Tit for tat."

Addendum 2: On Sunday, Oct. 22, Bob Clarke resigned as general manager of the Flyers. The team also fired Ken Hitchcock.

~ Should fans beware of team mascots, especially if they're wearing a jersey for the visiting team? Thunderbug, the Tampa Bay Lightning's overzealous mascot, was trying to have a little fun last night when he playfully picked up a child wearing a Hurricanes jersey, turned him upside down and pretended to put him into a trash can. Needless to say, it scared the wits out of the little boy. That child, unfortunately, was my son. Though I resisted the urge to do the same to Thunderbug, I've filed a complaint with the Lightning. We'll see what happens.

~ Was that you, Chuck Massaro? If it was, say hello to the Olean Times Herald gang for me.


Nothing could be finer

When the Hartford Whalers headed south and became the Carolina Hurricanes, they played their first two seasons in the Greensboro (N.C.) Coliseum. There weren't too many fans back then, so the team reached out to the community. They played music by The Zambonis. They lowered ticket prices. They even brought in NASCAR's Richard Petty.

One of the easiest ways to connect, we quickly found out, was making the team readily accessible after every home game to get autographs. Fans, collectors and, yes, dealers, could gather inside the players' entrance. Nearly every player, save for Ron Francis or Glen Wesley, stopped and signed. In fact, that's how I got started as a serious collector. It was too easy.

Ten years later, the Hurricanes have changed. The team now plays before sold-out crowds in Raleigh. The fans, rednecks or not, are knowledgeable. And, then there's that little thing called winning the Stanley Cup.

Thankfully, the one thing that hasn't changed is the accessibility of the players. At day's end, and taking part in hounding before the morning skate (with Colin) and game time (Lisa joined us), we added another 63 autographs to our collection, including 10 pucks, an 8x10 from Cam Ward, an Eric Staal T-shirt and, as always, Colin's team sheet.

Granted, some players didn't sign (Tim Gleason, Andrew Ladd and Glen Wesley come to mind), but the stars, including Rod Brind'Amour, Staal and Ward, more than made up for that.

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Three on five

Yes, I know I'm doing nothing but showing off. But when you score these five pucks from Carolina's Rod Brind'Amour, Eric Staal and Cam Ward, it's hard to be humble.

Want to know what's even better? I'll soon be heading back to add to the collection.

Top row -- Hurricanes: Rod Brind'Amour; Blues: Rod Brind'Amour; Hurricanes Stanley Cup champions: Eric Staal.
Bottom row -- Peterborough Petes 50th anniversary: Eric Staal; Hurricanes Stanley Cup champions: Cam Ward.

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Cam's the Man

To frequent readers of Hound Central 2.0, it's no secret that Boston Bruins star Patrice Bergeron is my son Colin's favorite NHL player.

What may be surprising, though, is who is his favorite goalie. It's not his daddy's, Patrick Roy. It's not Hannu Toivonen either. It's none other than Carolina's Cam Ward.

Before winning the Conn Smythe for leading the Carolina Hurricanes to the Stanley Cup championship last season, Cam spent the lockout year in Lowell, Mass., tending net for the Lock Monsters. Through the course of the season, Colin was able to meet Cam several times, getting pucks and sticks signed by the personable goalie.

This morning, Colin had Cam sign an 8 x 10 of his days with Lowell. Of course, Cam willingly obliged. Much to my dismay, I saw Colin start to tear up after Cam signed it. Colin had wanted Cam to personalize it, but he didn't articulate it well enough for Cam to understand.

To his credit, Cam quickly realized what Colin had wanted. He immediately stopped signing for Tampa's dealers and returned to Colin and knelt before him.

"I'm sorry, buddy, you want me to make this out to you?"


"How do you spell your name?"

"It's C-O-L-I-N."

"There you go, buddy. Is that better?"

"Yeah. Thank you."

"No, thank you."

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A point reinforced

Last season, during one of the Sabres' trips to Boston, I had the chance to speak with veteran defenseman Teppo Numminen. Our discussion, though brief, focused on dealers, namely how players can tell the difference between them and hounds.

Hounds, he said, know a player's name and often engage the player in conversation. Dealers, on the other hand, often have team items or 8 x 10 photos and say very little. To me, it was an astute observation.

Since moving to Florida, and seeing how Tampa Bay dealers operate, little has changed. The dealers try to cozy up to me because I have a good idea of who is who on visiting teams. And it's not unusual to see said dealers carrying multiple (three to four) photos.

These dealers, however, go a step further. Not only does one have his children carry three 8 x 10s each to a player, but another, "Hanging Chad," who boasts of making a "six-figure" income (does that include the two numbers to the right of the decimal point, I always ask) uses his ailing father, complete with a wheelchair and oxygen mask, to get multiple 8x10s signed for his "grandchildren."

Either way, I digress. Last night, as we made our way past some dealers finishing up with the Florida Panthers, I witnessed this exchange between Gary Roberts and the "Dealing Daddy":

Dealing Daddy's son: "Can you sign this?"
Gary Roberts, looking at the Dealing Daddy: "Is this your son?"
Dealing Daddy, sheepishly: "Yes"
Gary Roberts, looking at the child: "What's your name, son?"
Dealing Daddy: "Don't bother."

Like Numminen told me, the players know.

P.S.: The weather in Florida was gorgeous today. Low 80s. Slight breeze. Indian Rocks Beach was great, too. Wasn't crowded, plenty of shells and a water temp in the mid-70s. There's more to life than hockey and hounding, isn't there?


What would have Eddie signed?

Eddie "The Eagle" Belfour will be in town later today as the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning cap a home-and-home series at the St. Pete Times Forum.

Now, most hounds know that Eddie is one of the toughest players to get. He seldoms signs and, when he does, he limits it to cards. Maybe that's because of this.

I'm gonna be optimistic, though. I'll be carrying a official Chicago Blackhawks jersey with Belfour's name and number, a Toronto Maple Leafs puck and, of course, a card. In fact, it's one of those Pacific Exhibit 4x6 cards

After all, he's sporting a stellar 8.89 goals-against average and a rock-solid .556 save percentage after giving up four goals on nine shots in 26 minutes of action Oct. 7 against Atlanta.

I'll let you know how I do.

Addendum: Between staying late at work, having to run some errands, goofing off at home and getting a late start, I decided to not even bother hounding the Panthers. It proved to be a mistake. The team was staying at the hotel housing the restaurant where we normally eat before games. The biggest name we saw was Gary Roberts, but he was getting on the bus. Oh well, they'll be back a couple more times. The only place we saw Belfour was on the ice.


It's only natural

Natural hat tricks, in which a player scores three consecutive goals, are not a very common occurrence in the NHL. But for a trio of goalies, the bad luck associated with Friday the 13th may have come a day early when:

~ San Jose's
Jonathan Cheechoo gave the Sharks a 3-1 lead over Edmonton in in the second period. They were the defending Rocket Richard Trophy (most regular-season goals) winner's first goals of the season

~ In the same game,
Ryan Smyth sparked the Oilers' 6-4 comeback victory and set a team record by scoring three goals within 2:01 in the third period. Smyth's effort, which pushed him past 500 career points, was 17 seconds better than former record holder Wayne Gretzky.

~ New Jersey's
Brian Gionta also scored his first three goals of the season, all in the third period to force overtime, in the Devils' 7-6 shootout victory over Toronto. Though it doesn't count among the statistics, Gionta also scored in the shootout.


Hey, I remember you

In watching last night's game between the New York Islanders and host Anaheim Ducks, I couldn't help but recognize a bunch of names playing for the hometown team.

Sure, we've all heard of Teemu Selanne, Chris Pronger, the Niedermayer brothers and Jean-Sebastien Giguere. The players I'm referring to, though, were none of those.

Instead, a certain sense of familiarity came in hearing the names Ryan Getzlaf, Shane O'Brien, Dustin Penner, Corey Perry and Ryan Shannon. Though they may be playing in the NHL these days, I remember them all playing, at one time or another last season, for the Portland Pirates, the Ducks' AHL affiliate.

While I expected Getzlaf, Penner and Perry would stick with Anaheim this year, it's nice to see that O'Brien (who, in my opinion, skates like he's Popeye) and Shannon making the jump. Here's to hoping that they stay in the NHL for a long time or, at least, until Dec. 9 when we watch the Ducks play the Tampa Bay Lightning.

What's this? 1.6

Well, last week's installment was way too easy. Once again, the correct answer came within the first day. Congratulations to Jaci and Tracy for both knowing that it was, indeed, the hair and wrinkled brow of The Great One, Wayne Gretzky.

For the season, it's Readers 4, Puckhound 1.

Resisting the urge to be ruthless, and try to lessen the ever-increasing gap, this week's item, like all others, is related to hockey.

Good luck. Considering the past few weeks, I'll be disappointed if I don't have a correct answer in less than 12 hours.


They have a winner

EYECANDYAIR, home of goalie mask artist Steve Nash, has announced the winner of its Ultimate EYECANDY contest. The winning design, submitted by Amy Burke, featured author Neil Gaiman's Sandman comic series. She will now receive a mask, custom-painted by Nash, of her otherworldy design.

Looking ahead, be sure to enter EYECANDYAIR's next contest, with the winner being announced Dec. 25, 2006. With that date, I'm thinking there will be many entries of something along the lines of Santa. Oh, yeah, entries must be received by Dec. 20, 2006.

One more thing, spend some time visiting these goalie mask galleries:

Bishop Designs
Don McClelland Designs
Image Airbrush
Miska Designs
Myers Mask Design


Gotta love "Cheap Skates"

Who says you need to spend a lot of money to collect autographs? I don’t. Sure, it’s nice getting cards, helmets, photos, pucks and sticks signed, but there is an alternative.

Using my so-called "cheap skates" cards, such as the one above for Boston’s Phil Kessel, is an inexpensive way to make truly unique items. They're especially good for rookies, call-ups and traded players.

They don’t have to be fancy, either. Use a team logo, the player’s picture and his name and you have a card. Let your imagination dictate the design.

Using Microsoft’s Word program and downloaded images, it takes me about five minutes, if that, to create a base version of a card. I even make game-dated team sheets for my son to use.

There’s no reason to worry about copyright infringements -- as long as the image is for personal use only. Try selling them (really, these are more valuable as memories of getting them signed), and then you have a different story.


Worth the wait

One of the last trips I made to Tampa this past season was to hound the Atlanta Thrashers. It proved to be a memorable trip, too, as Marian Hossa signed the 1,000th puck of the collection.

My elation, though, was a bit tempered by the fact that Atlanta’s Ilya Kovalchuk didn’t stop to sign. Not for me nor anyone else that spring afternoon. Not even children. In fact, he was kinda rude about it.

I did take solace in knowing that I’d have plenty more chances, though, because the Tampa Bay Lightning and Atlanta play within the Eastern Conference’s Southeast Division.

That patience was rewarded this morning, as both Hossa and Kovalchuk signed pucks (above, left to right) for me. Also signing pucks were goalie Johan Hedberg (Thrashers), center Bobby Holik (Hartford Whalers) and defenseman Vitaly Vishnevski, who signed a pair (Thrashers and the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim).

I didn’t even grumble when I learned that I missed Kari Lehtonen. Then again, getting him to sign three pucks in one day during the 2005 AHL All-Star Classic has left me needing nothing but cards. I mean, it's not like I'm selling them or anything.

All told, I got 20 autographs, including four cards from Niko Kapanen.

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Just in case . . .

In making my first-ever two-team trip in Tampa, I was looking to take the easy way out. Rather than packing a dozen pucks and a book of cards, and putting in all of that prep work, I opted for bigger items.

A full-sized team helmet (which now has 14 signatures, including Vinny Lecavalier), a vintage Riddell Tampa Bay Lightning goalie mini mask (which now sports silver signatures from Marc Denis and Johan Holmqvist) and a Springfield Falcons mini stick (which second-year defenseman Paul Ranger signed) all fit into my bag

As an afterthought, and only after remembering to pack a Philadelphia Flyers puck for Bill Barber, the Lightning’s director of player personnel, I did bring along one Lightning puck.

Though Barber wasn’t there, the other puck was put to good use.

At the end of the morning skates, as I was walking back to the car, I saw a man with an old black-white-and-red Sabres jersey standing outside a restaurant. I thought to myself that the guy looked, from a distance, like Dave Andreychuk. It was logical, too, as the guy was standing outside of Andreychuk’s Grille, the future Hall of Famer’s restaurant that sits across Channelside Drive from the St. Pete Times Forum.

No sooner had I thought that but who steps out of the Lightning’s administrative offices? It was Andreychuk himself. I did a double-take, but quickly recovered to grab the Lightning puck and have him sign it, giving me my 38th autograph of the morning, including the 20 I scored earlier from Atlanta.

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Maybe the hockey gods were smiling

Though he’s not taking credit for the Boston Bruins’ 3-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday night, I believe Colin might have played a role in it.

In an earlier post, I replayed an exchange Saturday morning between Colin, our 5-year-old son, and Bruins star Patrice Bergeron as Colin got his Bergeron jersey signed. Later Saturday afternoon, as we made a return trip to Tampa for the game, Patrice was again gracious enough to pose for a photo.

After taking the photo, Patrice accommodated other fans’ requests for autographs. As he was signing, Colin walked over to Patrice and gave him a hug. Patrice, a grin beaming from ear to ear, returned the hug, even thanking his little buddy for it.

The scene, something that even Hollywood couldn't have written, drew a chorus of "Awws" from onlookers.

Fast forward to the game’s third period, when Patrice’s first goal of the season broke a 2-2 tie and proved to be the eventual game-winner. Was Colin the good-luck charm that Patrice and the Bruins needed? We can’t say for sure, but we have someone on the case.

If he was, and I’ll let you know, their bond has only strengthened and a Boston hockey legend has been born.

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Doesn't get much better than this

At the end of a long day, when I can barely keep my eyes open to finish these postings, it’s nice to know we’ve added a nice assortment of autographs to our collection.

Besides getting his Patrice Bergeron jersey signed, Colin scored a bunch of players on his game-dated team sheet (shown at left), including Hall of Famer Johnny Bucyk, Glen Murray and Hannu Toivonen.

We also added with 31 cards, seven pucks, a vintage Riddell Bruins goalie mini mask (bearing signatures from Tim Thomas and Toivonen), a cheat-sheet card and a game-used Bauer Vapor XX stick signed by Andrew Alberts.

Alberts also agreed to do a favor for us. I'm not at liberty to tell you what it is right now, but it won't take long to deliver.

And, in between the trips to Tampa, we also found the time to visit an open house at our neighborhood Fire Station #4, even getting a personal tour from St. Petersburg's Fire Chief James Large.

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Couldn't help but laugh

One of the funniest moments of the hounding trip came when Boston goalie Hannu Toivonen came over to sign. Though a few people recognized him, it was up to me to call him over. Though Toivonen has signed a ton of stuff for me in the past, I wanted to get a couple items (including this puck) that reflected his new number, 54.

As he made his way toward me, it was easy to recognize his look of recognition. Actually, the popping of his eyebrows gave it away. His slight smirk, too, sealed the deal.

"Yep," I told him, "we made the move to Florida."

Just for fun

Every so often, when a player least expects it, I’ll ask them to sign a puck from their college team. Not only do these pucks add diversity to our collection, but the players get a kick out of seeing them.

Mark Mowers, a right winger for the Boston Bruins, was the latest. On Saturday, I had him sign this University of New Hampshire puck.

"Boy, I don’t see too many of those," he said. "You know, I still talk to some of those guys up there."

In a way, I’m surprised. He posted some pretty solid numbers (85 goals and 197 points in 144 regular-season games) in his four years for the Wildcats.


I'll let them do the talking

"Patrice! Patrice!"

"Hey, Colin! How ya doing, buddy?"

"Pretty good. Will you sign my jersey? I got it for my birthday."

"It’s your jersey? Of course, buddy."

"I miss seeing you, Patrice."

"I miss seeing you, too. Here you go."

"We’re going to the game tonight. I’m rooting for the Bruins."

"Awesome. Thanks, buddy."

"See ya, Patrice."

"See ya, Colin."

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A couple from Kessel

It was no surprise that Phil "The Thrill" Kessel, Boston’s No 1 pick in the 2006 draft, drew a crowd outside the team’s hotel in Tampa this morning. What surprised him, though, was that he was quickly recognized and that everyone, myself included, wanted autographs.

He signed pictures, large and small, from his days with Team USA as well as his new Bruins images. He even accommodated one dealer’s request to sign within the white of his jersey on two poster-sized prints.

He didn’t stop there, though. He signed team sticks and one of my cheap-skate cards. And he signed pucks, a bunch of them, including the Bruins and University of Minnesota pucks shown above.

He may be a rookie, but "The Thrill" knows the drill.

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Bucyk signed, too

Hall of Famer and Bruins legend John Bucyk, a notorious Grumpy Old Man, not only signed for anyone who asked, but he came off the team’s bus to do it this morning.

As usual, he limited people to one item (mine was the Original Six puck shown at left) , but he did sign a pair of sticks for one dealer.

Drawing interest, too, was his Stanley Cup ring. Despite its vintage, it still shone brightly in the Florida morning sun.

Buck O'Neil 1911-2006

There are passings in the world of sports that transcend the boundaries of each individual discipline. Friday's death of John Jordan "Buck" O'Neil, a star in and an ambassador for baseball's Negro leagues, is one of those.

Not only did Mr. O'Neil, 94, play for and later manage the legendary Kansas City Monarchs, coaching such stars as Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella and Ernie Banks, but he also was the first black scout (1956) and coach (1962) in Major League Baseball, joining the staff of the Chicago Cubs.

Documentarian Ken Burns' PBS series "Baseball" introduced Mr. O'Neil to a wider world of sports. From there, he continued to champion the Negro leagues, helping to create a museum dedicated to the era. Ultimately, this past summer he presided over the induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame of 17 people associated with the league. Sadly, Mr. O'Neil was not one of those inductees.

Perhaps now, that he's gone, baseball will do the right thing. With that, his legacy will live on.


Way to go, Shanny

New York's Brendan Shanahan certainly made his mark on Broadway last night, getting a pair of goals, including the 600th of his career, in the Rangers 5-2 victory over the Washington Capitals.

I had a chance to meet him, and have him sign Red Wings and London Knights pucks, before the start of the 2005-06 season. He was among a small group of players who skated at Boston University's Walter Brown Arena during training camps opened.

Remember, too, that he played an instrumental role, from the players' side, in ending the NHL lockout. With veteran leadership like that, it's hard to root against him, no matter what team he plays for.

Other random observations:

~ It was nice to see Nashville's J.P. Dumont, who has one of the ugliest autographs in the NHL, score a goal on his first shift with the Predators. He was a solid pick-up for the team.

~ Know you know why I was psyched to get a Matt Carle
rookie card. Carle, last year's Hobey Baker winner, scored his first goal of the season against the St. Louis Blues. Even better, was that he didn't look out of place. Nor did fellow rookie defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic. His nickname? Yup, you guessed it -- "Pickles."

~ Finally, one day after snickering about former Bruin Andrew Raycroft's season-opening loss to the Ottawa Senators, it's only right that I give the Razor from props. Raycroft stopped 34 shots en route to a 6-0 whitewash of the Senators, capping a season-opening home-and-home series. Even more surprising, former Bruin Hal Gill plus a plus 2.

Speaking of the Leafs, the Ottawa Sun, home to some of Canada's national treasures, is asking whether the team should deal Mats Sundin. Weigh in on this poll.


Here's more than the scores

Some observations after watching the Dallas-Colorado game last night and highlights from the other games:

~ Dallas' Matthew Barnaby may not be the most offensively-gifted player in the league, but he does brings so many other intangibles. With the Stars down 2-0, he hooks up with Avalanche pest Ian Laperierre in a lengthy wrestle-fest that, at the least, injected some life into the team.

Then, at the start of the third, he peppers his own bench with encouragement. What happens? Mike Modano and rookie Loui Eriksson score to tie the game. In overtime, goalie Marty Turco makes a perfect pass to Darryl Sydor, who skates in alone and absolutely "cookie-jars" Colorado's Jose Theodore for the game-winner.

~ Did you see the look of pure joy in Eriksson, who converted a cross-ice pass from Stu Barnes, after he scored his first NHL goal? There isn't a hockey player who doesn't want that same feeling. Priceless.

~ As a Sabres fan, I was thrilled that the Blue and Gold beat the defending Stanley Cup champion Carolina Hurricanes. But, as someone who was among the small crowds when the Whalercanes played at the Greensboro (N.C.) Coliseum, it's too bad that it had to happen on the night the Hurricanes raised their championship banner.

~ Like so many others, watching Ottawa's Chris Neil get around Toronto's Hall Gill and get a weak shot past Andrew Raycroft was no surprise. Bruins fans saw all too much of that last season. Bruins Nation owes a great deal of gratitude to the Leafs.

What's this? 1.5

I must be in a generous mood today, as I'll give Drew the nod for knowing that last week's What's This was, indeed, part of a Zamboni. Asking for specifics might have been a little unfair, but the full picture was easy to find.

With that, the season's score is Readers 3, Puckhound 1.

This week's item, shown above, should be easy as well. Of course, it's someone's hair. What I'm looking for, though, is who's hair is it?

Going forward, you'll have to register with blogspot.com to participate.


More goalie mask art

Thanks to the Buffalo Sabres, I stumbled across another goalie mask artist, Ray Bishop of Bishop Designs.

Clients include Atlanta's Freddie Brathwaite, who will sport a very cool mask honoring the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.; Buffalo's Ryan Miller, Detroit's Dominik Hasek and St. Louis' Manny Legace.


Ten questions with a Wicked Bruins Fan

It's my pleasure to introduce the brains behind the popular Wicked Bruins Fan blog, Jaclyn D. Like any good hockey fan, she has a nickname -- Jaci and it’s pronounced Jackie.
Jaci, who is wise beyond her 24 years, is a woman of many talents. She's a Webmaster/site designer, a student, a caregiver to her grandmother and, in the near future, will be managing an eBay business. She's a pretty talented photographer, too.
Living in Cambridge, Mass., it's very easy for her to keep Bruins Nation up to date on the Black and Gold.

Puckhound: Why hockey and the Bruins?
Jaci: I’ve always joked that there must be some hockey DNA that runs in my family. My mother and her brothers were hockey fans back when the Bruins were Stanley Cup Champions, and my cousins played hockey growing up.
Hockey is the greatest sport in the world. I can’t say enough good things about the sport and why I love it because I’m always coming up with new reasons.
As for the Bruins, I really think it’s all about the history and location. If I didn’t live 15 minutes outside of Boston and in another hockey city, I might be rooting for another team.

PH: When did you attend your first Bruins game?
Jaci: I attended my first NHL game on Sept. 21, 1996, when I was 14 years old. It was a preseason game against the Chicago Blackhawks and the tickets were free, courtesy of a friend whose company had season tickets. The seats were in loge 6 and a handful of rows off the ice.
The only things I can remember from the game, other than the date and opponent, is what it felt like walking from the concourse out to the seats and seeing the ice for the first time.
I can’t tell you which players played or what the score was or anything else from that night, other than a passion was born.

PH: Who's your favorite Bruins players today and of all time?
Jaci: My current favorite Bruins players are forward Brad Boyes, and defensemen Andrew Alberts and Brad Stuart. My favorite Bruin of all time is center Adam Oates, with honorable mention going to center Joe Thornton and defenseman Nick Boynton.

PH: What's your best Bruins memory?
Jaci: There are so many, I have no idea how I’m going to pick one! At first I thought it was when the Bruins advanced to the second round of the playoffs in 1999. I was at Game 6 when Thornton scored the game-winner to defeat the Carolina Hurricanes and clinch the series.
Next, I was going to say it was the string of events that started after the Bruins lost in the second round to the Buffalo Sabres. I went to the AHL playoffs in Providence and was at the game when the Providence Bruins won the Calder Cup Championship.
That same year, I attended the NHL Entry Draft in Boston (editor’s note: Puckhound was there, too) when Nick Boynton was drafted. I was sitting there with the program on my lap, all ready to write down the Bruins 21st pick’s name, when I recognized it.
I remembered Boynton from the 1997 NHL Entry Draft, and exclaimed to my mother, "The Capitals drafted him in 1997! He must’ve re-entered the draft!"
I was so excited because it was at that moment that I realized I had some hockey knowledge. (The reason I knew this was when Oates was traded, I became a Washington Capitals fan by trade for the rest of the season, and during the 1997 Draft, I kept track of both the Bruins’ and Capitals’ picks.)
Some more recent memories were attending three Bruins games in a row in three different cities. I went to back-to-back road games in San Jose (on a Friday) and Los Angeles (on a Saturday) in March 2003, and they turned out to be the games Mike O’Connell made his coaching debut after he fired Robbie Ftorek. I flew back to Boston on Sunday, and attended the next home game on Monday night. It was against the Toronto Maple Leafs. I won a raffle that allowed me to be the bench assistant during warm-ups and gave me two free tickets in the promenade level.
Then, in 2004, at a Lightning game, I was selected to compete in the Lucky Laptop contest. I wasn’t the contestant who got to choose which box, so I stood there enjoying the moment while the other contestant picked the gold box. The laptop turned out to be under the black box that I was standing at and I won a laptop! It’s the same laptop that I am typing on right now.

PH: What's been the biggest story in your time as a Bruins fan?
Jaci: I would have to say the Joe Thornton trade. I didn’t think anything could top Adam Oates being traded from my young fan perspective, but the Thornton trade was both the biggest story and the biggest shock.

PH: How did you get started with your Web site/blog?
Jaci: I started writing about going to Bruins games in my online diary. Hockey eventually took it over, so I tried to start a blog on AOL, but it never really took off and I preferred a sense of anonymity.
My official start came over at soveryobsessed.com in late 2003, as a co-contributor to the Web site. I had my own blog and photo gallery over there. I decided to branch off and make my own Web site (nickariffic.com) in 2004, just before the lockout. That was bad timing, but I kept up with the Providence Bruins during the lockout.
In the summer of 2005, I was getting tired of the domain name. I wanted something team-oriented and easy to remember. I came up with a few different domain names late one summer night, and wickedbruinsfan.com was born with the first post published on July 28th, 2005, four days after the last post on nickariffic.com.
It was the perfect timing for a fresh start as the lockout ended a week before that.

PH: Between attending practices, taking pictures and posting them, how much time do you put into the blog on a weekly basis?
Jaci: It really depends on the week. If there’s a lot of things going on with the Bruins, there are times my laptop never shuts down. On practice days, my routine is I’ll go to practice, come home and immediately upload the photos to edit them. I generally like to get the photos up on the same day if I can, or as soon as possible if it’s from a game.
Of course, that entire process doesn’t include writing and posting on the blog. There are times when I’m working on a post and I suddenly look at the clock, and it’s an hour or two later. I guess you could say I put too much time to count into the blog and photo gallery during the season.
It’s the main focus and gets more attention than family and other things sometimes.

PH: Are you surprised by its success?
Jaci: I am and I think it’s because I never expected it to be what it is today. I never expected to have photos published in an OHL All-Star program or be linked on NHL.com or receive e-mails from hockey players with requests for pictures.
I considered it as a hobby where I could write about something I was passionate about and share my own views from games, practices, take some pictures and interact with other Bruins fans.
I never thought I would have had close to 50,000 page views, averaging over 1,000 page views a day, and an average of 200 visitors a day for the month of September. It seems crazy to me, but that’s exactly who I do it for.
I do it for the fans, so its success is only measured by all of the fans who visit the Web site.

PH: Is it odd for a woman to have a hockey-related Web site/blog?
Jaci: I don’t think it’s that odd for a woman to have a hockey-related site/blog, but I do think it’s uncommon for a woman to have a hockey-related site/blog that doesn’t constantly talk about how cute the players are.
If a woman wants to focus on how cute players are, then more power to them. I prefer my site be taken seriously and have some integrity.
I recognize that I am a woman who loves a sport men play, and I am also aware that I am in the minority, but it’s based on how I want my site and blog to be perceived. There’s a time and place for girl talk.

PH: What sites/blog do you visit?
Jaci: My homepage is set to the Bruins section on the HF Boards, so that’s the first thing I see when I sign on. There are a few sites that I visit every few hours, which are mostly Bruins-oriented like the media sites (the Boston Globe, the Boston Herald and the New England Hockey Journal, but especially the blogs.
A few of my bookmarks that I check on a fairly regular basis include your blog, of course (editor’s note: Good answer!), Kukla’s Korner, Boston Rinkrats, Behind the Jersey, Vancouver Canucks Op Ed, James Mirtle's blog, Jes Globez’s Hockey Rants, The Ice Block, Canucks Hockey Blog, Sharkspage, Boltsmag and The Bruins Report.

I check a lot of other blogs when I have more free time.

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