Hounding 2006: Year in Review

Considering all that has happened in the past year, 2006 turned out, from a hounding point of view, to be a pretty decent year. Despite making a move to the Tampa Bay area from New England, brought about by accepting a job at Florida’s best newspaper, my hockey-hounding hobby continued.

Looking back, here are some of the highlights:

~ For the calendar year, another 241 autographed pucks were added to the collection. As of today, the total stands at 1,143.

~ As of today, Puckhound's five blogs have received more than 7,800 page views since Aug. 15.

~ Ottawa’s Wade Redden signed the 1,072nd puck of the collection, equaling the total number of points scored (regular season and playoffs) by Wayne Gretzky in his professional (World Hockey Association and National Hockey League) career.

~ Anaheim’s Teemu Selanne signed four pucks in a day during one of the best hounding days of the year. Colin even scored his first puck.

~ Learning there are other things to do in Florida than add to a hockey autograph collection.

~ Colin, who developed an interest in collecting autographs, renewed acquaintances with his buddies, Boston’s Patrice Bergeron and Carolina’s Cam Ward.

~ Moving to Florida opened up better access to such Southeast Division teams as the Atlanta Thrashers, Carolina Hurricanes and Washington Capitals, and such stars as Rod Brind’Amour, Ilya Kovalchuk and Alexander Ovechkin. I suppose, too, I shouldn’t forget about our new hometown team, the Tampa Bay Lightning, and its Big Three -– Vinny Lecavalier, Brad Richards and Marty St. Louis.

~ Being the only three people to find the Dallas Stars before a preseason game and getting Mike Modano to sign a few items.

~ While making our way to Florida, we arrived in Hershey, Pa., in time to watch a very thrilling and exhausting Game 7 between the Portland Pirates and Hershey Bears.

~ Making it home for Colin’s birthday and finding time to take in an American Hockey League playoff game in one of our favorite cities -– Portland, Maine.

~ Knowing that Colin got a close-up look at NHL warmups when he served as a "bench assistant" during a Bruins game.

~ Getting Atlanta's Marian Hossa to sign the 1,000th puck of the collection.

~ The New York Islanders’ Brendan Witt, then playing for the Washington Capitals, signed our first puck in Florida.

~ Adding autographed pucks from Boston's Patrice Bergeron, Ray Bourque and Cam Neely to the collection all on the same day.

~ Having one of my hockey heroes, Patrick Roy, sign a goalie stick for Colin.

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Unfulfilled expectations

Though I was pretty psyched to be hounding the Montreal Canadiens yesterday, the thrill quickly evaporated upon learning that the Seattle Seahawks, today’s opponents for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, were staying in the same hotel as the team.

Toss in college football fans, in town for Monday’s Outback Bowl featuring Penn State and Tennessee, as well as a wedding or two, and you have a recipe for gigantic and an exasperating cluster-you-know-what.

It’s not so much all the people walking into the hotel; it was the group of ignorant football hounds that made the outing more of an effort than it really needed to be. I can understand their unwillingness to give up ground, but when they "congratulated" a bride in a jeering fashion, it showed a true lack of respect.

Not surprisingly, they quickly backed down when confronted about their actions, huddling together for safety like a school of bait fish, and kept their silence only until a certain hockey hound called it a disappointing day.

Having said that, though, they day wasn’t a total loss. We added to our collections, including Colin’s team sheet (shown above), though not as much (eight cards and four pucks) as I had hoped for. Going forward, I’ll be better prepared should this "perfect storm" of annoyances converge again.

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Three from Guy

As much as I might complain about a less-than-stellar outing for the Canadiens yesterday, I did walk away with one notable achievement – a hat trick of pucks (shown above) from Canadiens coach Guy Carbonneau.

Though one might expect Carbonneau to sign multiples in Montreal, Dallas or St. Louis, he must have signed for 10 minutes yesterday in Tampa, making sure that everyone, dealers included, got an autograph.

Wouldn't it be nice if more players followed his lead?

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A true role model

There are many reasons to get autographs. It can be a souvenir from a favorite player. It can be an addition to a collection. And, unfortunately, there are those who simply view it as a little more money in their pockets.

In this case, though, getting Montreal’s Saku Koivu to sign this oversized 2004 Pacific Exhibit card will serve as a constant reminder of determination, perseverance and, quite honestly, sheer intestinal fortitude.

Having survived cancer, a nasty eye injury and serving as captain of the Canadiens in hockey-crazed Montreal shows a will that I believe is unmatched in the National Hockey League. The lessons to be learned from Saku Koivu should appeal to young and old alike.

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Scotty, ahem, wouldn’t sign

I guess it should come as no surprise, but the esteemed Scotty Bowman yet again did not honor requests for autographs.

I guess we’ll have to keep on holding these Scotty Bowman Autograph nights until he relents or the season ends, whatever comes first. The next one is scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 9, 2007. Remember, he's in the press box, right behind Section 314 of the St. Pete Times Forum.

I'm also wondering why he's at the Lightning's home games. Is he acting as a consultant to the team or is he compiling mental notes should be become Tampa Bay's next general manager and/or coach.

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It's always an honor

Maybe it's been the two weeks between attending games. Then again, it could be wanting to end 2006 on positive note. And then there's always the fact that it's an Original 6 team.

For whatever reason, though, there's something about hounding the Les Habitants de Montreal. The team's storied and glorious history. The timeless uniforms, crisp and colorful. The countless number of hockey gods: Howie Morenz, Maurice "The Rocket" Richard, Jean Beliveau, Ken Dryden, Bob Gainey (shown above), Saku Koivu.

And while it's easy to grow tired of hounding some teams (the Thrashers, Capitals, Islanders and Devils, to name a few), the opportunity to add pieces of hockey history to our collection never grows old.

I'm sure they'll be a crowd tomorrow for the Canadiens. It happens every time. But, you know what? It doesn't matter. We'll all line up and wait our turn. Complaints, I'll bet, will be few.

And, as the bus pulls away on its trip to the St. Pete Times Forum tomorrow, we'll be satisfied. The Canadiens, the Le Bleu-Blanc-et-Rouge, are in town.

P.S. Don't forget that Saturday is Get Scotty Bowman's Autograph night. See you there.



What's this? 1.17

In a classic case of too little, too late I was finally able to stump readers with last week's What's this? item.

I did learn, though, that hockey equipment, such as the shoulder pads from last week, do help my cause. I just wish I learned that sooner, as the Readers still hold a lopsided 11-5 advantage.

This week's item, more or less, is for fun. If you don't know what it is, well, you've been around way too many adults.

It's also the last installment for 2006. Beginning next week, the What's this? feature will be packaged with the player scramble and team quizzes in weekly Hockey Arcade postings.


Sports Genius Emeritus

Hound Central 2.0's honorary sports-trivia guru, Drew "The Schwab" Pelto, continued his impressive streak of knowledge by offering nothing but correct answers in both of last week's quizzes.

Though I know that Drew keeps himself very busy, one has to wonder where he finds the time for gain his encyclopedic knowledge. Perhaps on all those bus trips with the Wichita Falls Wildcats.

Let's see how he, as well as anyone else willing to try, fares this week:

Player-name scramble

Unscramble the following letters to reveal the names of five NHL players:

1.) Racyd Dukhchoir
2.) Taint Timenine
3.) Arked Kodvar
4.) Weanrd Factorry
5.) Edvui Stocwet

Team quiz

Match the following teams to their developmental leagues:

1.) Marquette Rangers
2.) Gatineau Olympiques
3.) Lincoln Stars
4.) Swift Current Broncos
5.) Owen Sound Attack


Last week's correct answers:

Player-name scramble

1.) Jaroslav Spacek
2.) Kristian Huselius
3.) Michal Roszival
4.) Vincent Lecavalier
5.) Antoine Vermette

Team quiz

1.-E; 2.-D; 3.-A; 4.-B; and 5.-C

As always, I appreciate those who participate. Readers should leave answers in a comment. No sign-up is necessary.

Correct answers for both will appear next week.

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Wanna see 693 goalie masks?

If you do, check out Daveart.com Designs, where Swedish artist David Gunnarsson has set up a search function that allows visitors to look for masks that he created for specific goalies and teams.

For example, if you'd like to see the mask, at right, created for Buffalo's Martin Biron this season, it can be found by selecting either "Buffalo Sabres, USA" under the Select Team drop-down or "Biron, Martin" under the Select goalie drop-down. Click "Search masks" and, after a few seconds, a link appears. I'm sure you know what to do after that.

Other NHL clients include Ed Belfour, Dominik Hasek, Johan Hedberg, Johan Holmqvist, Henrik Lundqvist, Hannu Toivonen, Vesa Toskala, Marty Turco and Kevin Weekes. You'll also find masks worn by goalies playing in the
Swedish Elite League, or Elitserien.

One wicked-cool feature of the mask pop-up windows is the Daveart Navigator. It allows you to rotate the mask, so you can see it from all sides. Some even show the backplate.

By far, this is the coolest mask gallery I've come across. It's definitely worth your time.



Hull, for once, has a point

Even before he was a member of the Dallas Stars, I've never been a fan of Brett Hull. Sure, he was a decent goal scorer with an above-average shot. But, mostly, I believed he was just a bloviating loudmouth, quick with an unsolicited opinion (much like yours truly) and a tired rant toward anything that didn't suit him.

Much to my surprise, though, I found something with which I could agree with him -- how autograph dealers have ruined the hobby.

He was asked, in one of his Brett's Bites installments at the Dallas Stars' Web site, if retirement has softened his stance on signing autographs:

I remember reading that your pet peeve is autograph hounds. How do you feel about signing for autograph hounds now that you are retired?

I still feel the same. It's not just autograph hounds because there are people that just want an autograph and they'll hound you about it. I don't have a problem with that.
It's the people that collect them and sell them. I might as well give them a W-2 since I'm employing them.
They also cause a problem for the people who legitimately want an autograph for their son, their baby or a sick person in a hospital because you get so tired of these guys who come up to you with 20 different things.
When you fly into Chicago for a back-to-back game and you get into your hotel at 2 a.m., and there are people out there waiting to make a profit off your signature. It is very frustrating.
If somebody really wants a legitimate autograph, I would sign for them all day, but not for those guys who make money off it.

As I've said a hundred times before, and will keep on saying, they have made it difficult for most people -- from the average fan to the serious collector pursuing a hobby -- to get a bit of hockey history. And while I can produce, within minutes, every autograph I've ever received, I must admit to sharing in Hull's opinion.

If you'd like to ask Hull a question, here's the feature's e-mail address: hullie@dallasstars.com I've already sent in my question, asking him what NHL city has the worst dealers.

P.S. For all the knuckle-dragging, mouth-breathing and bed-wetting dealers who lack the courage to sign their comments, don't even bother.

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Christmas came early . . .

At 5:02 a.m., to be exact. Ninety minutes later, after all the presents had been opened, there had been a few hockey-related presents under the tree:

~ five club-level tickets for the Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Tampa Bay Lightning game on Jan. 9, 2007, for Colin, Nana, Babop, Mama and Daddy;

~ a Sidney Crosby Pittsburgh Penguins jersey for Colin;

~ a Marty St. Louis photo plaque for Colin, too;

~ a Hockey Bay hoodie for Mama;

~ a Tampa Bay Lightning T-shirt for Mama, too;

~ an ESPN SportsCentury video of Wayne Gretzky for Daddy; and

~ a framed Vinny Lecavalier photo plaque.

It was a very Merry Christmas indeed.

From our house to yours, we wish you happy holidays.

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No. 500 for Bondra

Not only am I happy to see hound-friendly Petr Bondra back in the NHL, but I’m also wicked psyched that he scored the 500th goal of his career late last week. With the goal, which came in Chicago’s 3-2 victory over Toronto on Friday, he became the 37th player to reach 500 goals in his career.

For Bondra, in his 16th NHL season, it was his second goal in six games after he signed, as a free agent, with the Blackhawks on Dec. 10. Bondra played for Atlanta this past season, signing the puck shown above April 11th.

Bondra, then playing for Washington, was one of the first big-name stars to sign an autograph for more than 10 years ago.

With the Carolina Hurricanes playing their home games in Greensboro, visiting NHL teams, such as the Capitals, had very few choices for hotels (three, to be exact), so it was pretty easy to find them. And while I was happy to score autographs from Steve Konowalchuk, Andrei Nikolishin and Brendan Witt, it was Bondra’s nearly letter-perfect autograph on a card that made the day.

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Christmas Eve homily

As you can see, I found another set of cards available in a collectible tin, this one featuring Calgary goalie Miikka Kiprusoff. I just wonder, though, how long it’ll be before I can get it signed.

Now, if a proposal floated by the NHL gains support from teams, my wait might not be that long.

With Columbus and Atlanta trading conferences, divisions would be streamlined. The biggest benefit, from a hound’s standpoint, is the new schedule would bring a team to every NHL city at least once every two years.

Being in Tampa, I’d hope the northern teams, such as Calgary and Edmonton, would jump at the chance for an extended road trip through warmer climates every other January or February.

Aside from that, though, there’s really no other benefit to hounds. Tampa’s new division would contain teams that already frequent the St. Pete Times Forum – the Rangers, Islanders, Devils, Flyers, Capitals, Hurricanes and Panthers.

In fact, losing Atlanta means we’d get to hound Ilya Kovalchuk, Marian Hossa and Kari Lehtonen far fewer than the four times a season we do now. I suppose, though, that having teams like Vancouver, Minnesota and Detroit would more than make up for that.

An odds-on favorite?

Now that even Mario Lemieux says that relocation of the Pittsburgh Penguins is on the table, I’ll raise again the opportunity that exists (first item) for the Seminole Tribe of Florida to make a play for the team. Wishful thinking on my part, I know, but can you blame me?

Given the Tribe’s sovereign (meaning tax-free) status and its established gambling licenses, snapping up the Penguins would give them another entertainment option and source of revenue. Putting the team near one of its hotel/casinos, even at the expense of building a state-of-the-art rink, would create a wintertime destination for northern snowbirds.

Besides, what hound wouldn’t want a regular opportunity to score autographs from Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal and Marc-Andre Fleury. I know I would.

Want Scotty Bowman’s autograph?

If you do (and, really, what hound wouldn’t?), I hope I’ll see you next Saturday night as the Montreal Canadiens play the Tampa Bay Lightning at the St. Pete Times Forum.

Another milestone

This is the 200th posting of the season. For those who stop by regularly, I appreciate your support and look forward to sharing more insight, commentary and, as always, hounding adventures.

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Get Scotty's Bowman's autograph!

Intense behind-the-scenes negotiations, involving deep-pocketed corporate partners and the highest level of the law, have taken place for the unauthorized Get Scotty Bowman's Autograph night one week from tonight, Saturday, Jan. 30, when the Tampa Bay Lightning play host to the Montreal Canadiens at the St. Pete Times Forum.

Why? He's won 10 Stanley Cups. Only Henri Richard, with 11 as a member of the Le Bleu-Blanc-et-Rouge, has more. And, as long as you're not selling it, why should he say no? Besides, he has a sweet signature.

At the beginning of the first intermission, participants should gather near the entryway of Section 305. Assembling peacefully, those seeking a signed item from the Hall of Fame hockey coach will stroll, under the cover of beer-spilling and hotdog-munching hockey fans to Section 314.

From there, we'll ascend to the front row of the pressbox where we'll politely request Mr. Bowman's presence. Given the Canadiens, one of his former teams, will be playing the Lightning that evening, conditions exist for the hockey legend's appearance.

Though index cards and Sharpies will be made available, bring whatever you have -- photos, pucks, jerseys, hockey cards, game program, ticket stubs, whatever. Me? I'm bringing a Canadiens puck.

Should he duck away during the first intermission, we'll try again during the second intermission.

Just for the record: This event has no official endorsement of the NHL, Tampa Bay Lightning or Mr. Bowman.

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Taking a pass

With the forecaster mentioning such phrases as "weather front stalling over Tampa Bay" and "70 percent chance for thunderstorms on Saturday afternoon," as well as a family member visiting from New Hampshire, the Rangers hounding trip has been postponed.

At the least, the cards have been erased and the pucks are in order for Feb. 3. In the meantime, I'll have plenty of time to prepare for Montreal on Dec. 30, the final hounding trip of 2006.

From an anecdotal standpoint, 2006 should prove to be a pretty good year for hounding. Once the year concludes, I'll see where we stand. Nothing, though, will top the 550 pucks (including 100-plus at the AHL All-Star Classic in Manchester, N.H., on Feb. 13-14) I got signed in 2005.

As you can see in the sidebar, I've finalized the hounding agenda for 2007. February will be a huge month, with Los Angeles, Phoenix, Boston, Pittsburgh and Dallas all coming to town. I'm sure the Western Conference teams, expecially the Coyotes and the Stars, will draw big crowds.

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What's this? 1.16

With his correct answer, my Big Four accounting firm said I can finally award the 2006 What's This? championship to Drew "The Schwab" Pelto.

Last week's item was indeed the jaw of John Kerry, former Democratic presidential candidate and starting left winger for the Senate's hockey team.

For the 2006 season, it's Readers 11, Puckhound 4.

In the individual competition, and with only two weeks remaining in the season, here are the scores:

Drew: 6
Tracy: 3.5
Wicked Bruins Fan Jaci: 1.5

Remember, it's free and easy to play. All you have to do is leave your answer in a comment.


Take 'em any way I can

Well, what do you know? I was finally able to get one past sports-trivia guru, Drew "The Schwab" Pelto in last week's quizzes. While getting every other answer correct, I was able to stump him with Edrina Stysktino, or Montreal's Andrei Kostitsyn.

Either way, this guy really knows his stuff.

With any luck, most of you will have some time off this holiday-filled week to take a crack at these:

Player-name scramble

Unscramble the following letters to reveal the names of five NHL players:

1.) Slovjaar Akpecs
2.) Strinkia Shelusiu
3.) Imlach Zoarvils
4.) Cventin Cvalearile
5.) Noatine Treevmet

Team quiz

Match the following teams to their developmental leagues:

1.) Lewiston Maineiacs
2.) Mahoning Valley Phantoms
3.) Sioux City Musketeers
4.) Plymouth Whalers
5.) Kootenay Ice


Last week's correct answers:

Player-name scramble

1.) Patrick Marleau
2.) Henrik Lundqvist
3.) Brian McGrattan
4.) Francois Beauchemin
5.) Andrei Kostitsyn

Team quiz

1.-B; 2.-E; 3.-A; 4.-C; and 5.-D

As always, I appreciate those who participate. Readers should leave answers in a comment. No sign-up is necessary.

Correct answers for both will appear next week.


A shameless plug

It's not exactly cutting-edge journalism, but it is related to hockey. Here's my first bylined story for the St. Petersburg Times.



The tin is in

If you're looking for something different to get signed by Carolina's Cam Ward, you might want to keep an eye out for this tin of 2006-07 Fleer Hockey cards. I found this one at our local Target store.

I like it mainly because it's different than photos, pucks and cards.

A word of caution, though, when it comes to getting autographs from Ward. Try to get him earlier in the day, just before the trip for the morning skate. In Tampa recently, he apparently was too focused on the game to accommodate game-time requests.

Oh, so that's where he is

Among the minor deals leading up to the NHL's holiday trade freeze, highlighted, I suppose, by the Islanders shipping Mike York to the Flyers for Randy Robitaille and a fifth-round pick, was news that former NHL tough guy Ryan VandenBuscche signed with the New Mexico Scorpions of the Central Hockey League.

Speaking of goalies

If you're caught up on your holiday shopping and having trouble waiting for Santa's impending arrival, visits to these goalie mask sites should keep you from shaking the presents under the tree:

~ Armor Graphics, which has made masks/helmets for Detroit's Dominik Hasek (when he was with Ottawa), Florida's Eddie Belfour (when he was with Toronto) and Pittsburgh's Jocelyn Thibault.

~ Masked Expressions, which should be a hit with Hurricanes fans because of the masks/helmets for past Carolina goalies Tom Barrasso, Arturs Irbe, Trevor Kidd and Kevin Weekes.

~ Slater Lettering and Graphics, where you'll see masks for Chicago's Nikolai Khabibulin, Phoenix's Curtis Joseph (when he was with Detroit) and Washington's Olaf Kolzig.

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Addicted to Hockey? Round IV

With all of the pressures associated with holidays (heading to the, ugh, mall, wrapping unevenly shaped presents, stringing up outdoor lights and dealing with family you'd rather not see), it's no wonder that anxiety levels run high.

Couple that with the fact the holidays run dab smack in the middle of the NHL season and conditions exist for a 10-minute misconduct penalty in life. I'm not surprised, then, that certain symptoms of hockey addiction manifest themselves at this time of the year.

Please, take my advice, and seek professional help, namely within the premium club seats, if you recognize yourself in any of the following:

~ Your Christmas wish list contains at least three hockey-related items. Mine are a new Buffalo Sabres jersey, a $100 gift certificate from my puck supplier and a better return from the Tampa Bay Lightning on our hockey investment.

~ You make sure that tag affixed to the wrapping of one specific Christmas present to your highly impressionable 5-year-old son says the item inside (It's a Sidney Crosby jersey, but, please, don't tell Colin) comes from the game's best player. Even better, is that he just might get it signed by that player before a game Jan. 9, 2007, in Tampa.

~ Your idea of exchanging pleasantries with neighbors includes pulling their shirts, or jerseys, over their heads and giving them a couple of haymakers. Just kidding. Violence seldom solves anything. Unless, of course, it takes place on a rink.

~ You leave out a plate of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies and a tall glass of ice-cold milk just in case one of these Santa's helpers stops by for a quick visit in the days ahead. Ho! Ho! Ho!

~ You can assign NHL identities to Santa's reindeer: Dasher = Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby; Dancer = Atlanta's Ilya Kovalchuk; Prancer = Washington's Alexander Ovechkin; Vixen = New Jersey's Martin Brodeur; Comet = Minnesota's Brian Rolston; Cupid = Dallas' Mike Modano; Donder = Calgary's Dion Phaneuf; and Blitzen = Los Angeles' Sean Avery. We'll also throw in ex-NHL coach Pat Quinn, and his big red nose, as Rudolph.

~ You keep telling the good people at the Lightning's souvenir stands that they should push team brass to come up with, at the least, a third jersey. Or, even better, would be a new jersey. I doubt I'm alone in believing the Lightning's yawn-inducing logo and jerseys are among the league's worst. I also wouldn't mind more of a selection of items, rather than overpriced $5 pucks, from the 29 other NHL teams.

~ You book a quick trip back to New England, under the guise of wanting to watch a certain NHL game involving the Bruins at the TD Banknorth Garden, so you can really pay a holiday visit to some old "friends" back there. Sorry, boys, but I won't share the particulars. I would, however, keep the lights on, your eyes open and your heads up.

~ You know that wearing a Lightning hat and, once again, losing your voice urging the hometown team to shoot will far outweigh the wearing of a Lowell Lock Monsters jersey, autographed by the Hurricanes' Eric Staal and Cam Ward, to a game between Carolina and Tampa Bay. Too bad, though, the buck-a-hump Lightning still lost.

~ You arrange an unauthorized Get Scotty Bowman's Autograph Night (see next-to-last item) at an upcoming Montreal-Tampa Bay game because the dinosaur, albeit legendary, can't find 30 seconds to sign a game program. Am I whining? Sure. Do I care? No, not really. It makes good copy, though, and it's all in good fun. Now, if I could just get a few others on board . . .

~ Unlike some other hockey blogs, especially one in the Tampa Bay area, you take great care to adequately credit the source of your quotes, even providing a link to the article, rather than lifting and using the comments as if you spoke to the GM or player yourself.

~ You stay awake until 3 a.m. some nights arranging cards for the rest of your hounding season, cataloguing your autographs or stockpiling much more challenging photos for next year's What's This? contest.

~ Despite your own fears, which are primarily financial in nature, you buy your son a goalie stick that's way taller than he is.

For other questions to check on your condition, feel free to click here, here and here.

Whatever your faith, and wherever you're from, Hound Central 2.0 wishes you a safe and happy holidays. Unless, of course, I'll be stopping by your house, with one of my helpers, to pay a personal visit.

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Sunday morning homily VII

To become a fan of any team in any sport requires making an investment.

Of course, there's the emotional investment, in which we pour our hearts and souls into following and believing in our chosen team. And then there comes the investment of time, where we set aside work, play and family, as another sign of commitment. Finally, and probably most importantly, comes the financial investment.

A fan's financial investment comes in many forms. There is the buying of jerseys, T-shirts, hats, bumper stickers, etc. Using vacation or personal leave time also represents one's financial resources. But for most fans, the biggest financial investment they will make will be in the buying of tickets, either for a single game or for one or more of the many ticket-plan options made available.

This season, having left the hockey-rich environment of New England for the sweat-inducing humidity of Tampa Bay, we stepped up and made a financial commitment, in the form of two different ticket plans for the three of us, to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

After last night's disappointing show of effort against the Carolina Hurricanes, characterized by a lack of fundamentals (namely shooting the damn puck at the net at each and every opportunity) and a discouraging absence of ambition, I want our money back.

I'm tired of watching Brad Richards, the Lightning's highest-paid player at $7.8 million this year, provide a dime-on-a-dollar return with his effort. I'm tired of watching players, even Vinny Lecavalier and Marty St. Louis, pass up shots in favor of making yet another low-percentage tic-tac-toe play just in case it might end up as one of the nightly Top 10 Plays on ESPN's SportsCenter. And I'm tired of watching Marc Denis and Johan Holmqvist get hung out to dry by defensive lapses that most often occur deep in the opposing team's defensive zone.

Most of all, though, I'm tired of watching players, such as Eric Perrin (making $450,000 this year), Paul Ranger ($450,000) and Doug Janik ($450,000), see their hustle and effort wasted by their bigger-name and higher-paid teammates. Here are three young players, busting their butts on a nightly basis, only to watch a teammate, such as Richards, look toward the heavens after yet another errant, and mindless, pass.

Granted, these kids, so to speak, may make some mistakes that lead to opponents' goals, but at least they're playing their guts out for the team, rather than themselves. And I'd rather see a error of commission, than one as a result of omission.

Going forward, and knowing that any request for a refund on the remaining games of our packages will fall on deaf ears, I know we'll be more judicious in our investment -- financially foremost -- of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

~ Count me among those relieved to hear that Boston's Phil Kessel was told that his testicular cancer, for which he underwent surgery this past Monday, had not spread, and his prognosis for recovery, as reported by NHL.com, is excellent.

It seems that my
prayers, as well as others who asked for divine intervention on behalf of the 19-year-old, have been answered.

Even better, for Bruins fans at least, is that Kessel could be back skating shortly after Christmas and will return to play this season.

~ Now that I've had time to sleep and reflect upon last night's encounter with Hall of Famer
Scotty Bowman, here's my proposal. I'm calling for a Get Scotty's Autograph Night for Saturday, Dec. 30, when one of Mr. Bowman's former teams, the Montreal Canadiens, will be in town to most likely beat the snot out of the woeful Lightning.

Anyone willing to join me in this effort that night should gather near Section 310, in the upper level of the St. Pete Times Forum, just before each intermission. Though you're welcome to bring your own materials for autographs, such as photographs, pucks, cards and, even, mini Stanley Cups, I'll have index cards and Sharpies for anyone arriving emptyhanded.

Once we've peacefully assembled (as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution), we'll make our way over to the last row of Section 314, just in front of the Forum's press box, and ask, ever so politely, Mr. Bowman for his letter-perfect signature.

Granted, Mr. Bowman will have to be in attendance (one would like to think, though, that he still has a soft spot for Le Bleu-Blanc-et-Rouge) for this to take place. Chances are, too, that he'll be less than thrilled by all of the attention and could seek the assistance of the Forum's security staff as well as a pair of do-nothing Tampa cops to maintain order.

But, hey, why not have a little fun of the penultimate (look it up if you don't know what it means) night of the year?

~ Want a good chuckle? Check this out. A little patience will be required.

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Thank God for Eric Staal

All in all, I really shouldn't be complaining after we added 22 autographs from the Carolina Hurricanes, including just two pucks, to our collection yesterday. It's hard to feel satisified, though, when so many players, including goalie Cam Ward, couldn't find the time to sign.

Two months to the day when the Conn Smythe Trophy-winning goaltender
reinforced his hero status with a certain impressionable 5-year-old, Ward's indifferent attitude toward the afternoon crowd cost him a bunch of brownie points not only with a young fan, but quite a few other hounds as well.

Granted, reports indicated that Ward did sign multiples before Saturday's morning skate. And, for that, Tampa's dealers will eternally be grateful. But, for some hounds, including this one, gametime would represent our only chance to, yet again, make a little boy's day.

Unfortunately, though, it didn't happen. Ward joined Glen Wesley, for whom I was carrying three pucks (Carolina, Hartford and Boston), and took a hotel courtesy van for the 0.6-mile jaunt to the St. Pete Times Forum.

That being said, Eric Staal, Carolina's other superstar in the making, did not disappoint. As usual, and my experience dates to his NHL-lockout-induced American Hockey League apprenticeship in Lowell, Mass., was a willing and pleasant signer.

Joining Staal in renewing acquaintances with dealers, fans and hounds yesterday afternoon were Kevyn Adams, Keith Aucoin (only stick-wielding and jersey-toting dealers bothered), Erik Cole, assistant coach Jeff Daniels, Mike Commodore, Andrew Hutchinson, John Grahame, head coach Peter Laviolette, assistant coach Kevin McCarthy, Cory Stillman and Scott Walker. Justin Williams signed, but only for those willing to chase him three blocks on a muggy afternoon.

Joining Ward and Wesley in stiffing us were Craig Adams, Anton Babchuk, Eric Belanger, Tim Gleason, Chad LaRose, Trevor Letowski and Ray Whitney. To be honest, none is worth losing sleep over.

For the record, Rod Brind'Amour and Andrew Ladd did not make the trip. David Tanabe, whom we never saw, was a scratch.

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Hell, I believe, has frozen over

Hardened hockey hounds know just difficult some players are when it comes to getting their autograph. For the Carolina Hurricanes, the two biggest toughies are Erik Cole and Bret Hedican.

That's no to say, though, that they won't sign.

In Cole's case, it was keeping a promise to sign later in the day. He was very cordial and signed multiples for anyone who asked. In our cases, we added four autographs.

Hedican's motivation was entirely different. In the past, this was a guy who would give hounds the creeps with an icy-cold stare while he was signing, like he was trying to get a piece of our souls in exchange for a scribble on cardboard.

Yesterday, though, it took the visible disappointment of a little boy, shooed away from the player by an overzealous valet boy, that prompted Hedican to drop his bags and bring a smile to Colin's face. In 10 seconds, a years-old perception melted away.

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Want Scotty Bowman's autograph?

Midway through the second intermission of tonight's Carolina-Tampa Bay game, I recognized a famous face at the St. Pete Times Forum. It was none other than hockey coaching legend Scotty Bowman.

And, from what I understand, the nine-time Stanley Cup winner, including five with the Montreal Canadiens, has become something of a fixture there.

In seconds, I was making my way over to the press box, where Bowman was perched in the top row, with a game program and a blue Sharpie in hand.

He acknowledged my presence and request for an autograph, saying he'd sign after finishing a telephone call. And yet when the call ended, he walked away from his seat. He returned with two minutes remaining in the break, but feigned indifference at my two additional requests.

Now, it's neither the first, not will it be the last, time that some hockey player or coach has played this game. In fact, I almost expected it. Bowman was downright rude to hounds, as well as hotel security guard who let us within 100 yards of the team bus, when he served as coach of the Detroit Red Wings.

Maybe, next time, I'll enlist the help of some people who sit around us. I certainly can bring enough index cards and Sharpies for our section. And I certainly can tell everyone, with this blog as the medium, that Bowman can easily be approached, and is certainly within earshot, from the top row of Section 314 at the St. Pete Times Forum.

Maybe, next time, when there's a group of 20 or so, it'll be harder for Bowman,a Hall of Famer, to feign ignorance or indifference. Then again, maybe the ignorance just comes too easily. And, to think, all I wanted was a single autograph.

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Tasty, yes, but a little bitter

Some random thoughts while I polish off a plate of honeybaked ham and potatoes au gratin that my wife (who dropped off our under-the-weather son at his after-school program so she could attend her company's holiday party) brought home tonight:

~ Now that Jim Balsillie, co-CEO of Research in Motion (the maker of Blackberry wireless devices), has apparently dropped his $175 million deal to buy the Pittsburgh Penguins, I'm proposing that the Seminole Tribe of Florida, which just paid $965 million for the Hard Rock chain of casinos, hotels and restaurants, buys the team and moves it to one of its tax-free properties in Florida.

My motivation for this deal is purely selfish. I'd have a field day making monthly trips to wherever the team would relocate to hound Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal and Marc-Andre Fleury.

~ You know, I thought hockey players were tough. I read that Carolina's Andrew Ladd will miss the next two to four weeks after undergoing an emergency appendectomy on Thursday.

Now, I know that a recuperative period follows every surgery, but the managing editor of Florida's best newspaper, the St. Petersburg Times, missed only one week of work after having the same surgery.

Granted, journalism isn't even in the same league as ice hockey, not even close, but one would think that Ladd's time off would be shorter, rather than longer.

~ Finally, I wouldn't be surprised if the Tampa Bay Lightning pull off a deal before Christmas. General manager Jay Feaster told the St. Petersburg Times that he's ready to pull the trigger on a trade that would shake the team out of its funk of mediocity: "The knob is turned up high and the water is boiling right over the side."

An addendum (12.20.06): The holiday trade freeze is in place, and the Lightning didn't make a deal.

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Answering the call

Of all the things that I've been called in my life -- some good, others from the gutter -- the best of all is being called Daddy.

Rather than writing about hounding the Hurricanes tomorrow, I've spent the better part of the day, at least in the hours I've been awake before heading off to work, tending to a little boy who's spending his second-straight day at home feeling under the weather.

And after making breakfast (Hot Fudge Sundae Pop-Tarts and milk) and lunch (crunchy peanut butter on a rice cake and juice), administering the proper dosages of cold medicine, cough syrup, honey and some hugs, as well as drawing at least a dozen airplanes, it's the best job I have.



Fun and games

As I've come to expect, Drew "The Schwab" Pelto nailed each and every answer in last week's quizzes. This guy is a sports-trivia machine.

Maybe I can stump him, as well as anyone else, with this week's effort.

I hope you have as much fun working these as I do compiling them:

Player-name scramble

Unscramble the following letters to reveal the names of five NHL players:

1.) Kitprac Realuam
2.) Krhine Qnustlvid
3.) Ibnar Tncamtarg
4.) Sanforic Amuhnbeice
5.) Edrina Stysktino

Team quiz

Match the following teams to their developmental leagues:

1.) Tri-City Americans
2.) Alexandria Blizzard
3.) Erie Otters
4.) P.E.I. Rocket
5.) Indiana Ice


Last week's correct answers:

Player-name scramble

1.) Nathan Paetsch
2.) Brendan Shanahan
3.) Lubomir Vishnovsky
4.) Patrice Bergeron
5.) Nicklas Lidstrom

Team quiz

1.-D 2.-E 3.-B 4.-A and 5.-C

As always, I appreciate those who participate. Readers should leave answers in a comment. No sign-up is necessary.

Correct answers for both will appear next week.


What's this? 1.15

I just received word from one of the Big Four accounting firms, who because of pending litigation I can not divulge, that I was a little premature in awarding the 2006 What's this? championship to Drew "He's No Longer Known as The Enforcer, but The Schwab" Pelto.

Especially now that slegr_71, or Tracy, knew that last week's item was, indeed, the original Stanley Cup.

Though the Readers have easily sewn up the competition, breezing to a 10-4 lead, the head-to-head competition remains alive and well.

With three weeks remaining for this year's competition, here are those results:

Drew: 5
Tracy: 3.5
Wicked Bruins Fan Jaci: 1.5

Granted, Drew's magic number has dwindled to two, but Tracy remains in the game. Of course, a new player could win this week's contest, too.

Even better, I've saved my three favorite items for last. As always, they're hockey-related and answers must be submitted in the form of a comment.

Let the games begin!



Western's Pacific Division rules the NHL

Every so often, for whatever reason, a sudden urge to run numbers strikes. Today's bout of hockey research, which takes a snapshot approach, focuses on the National Hockey League's best division.

The formula applied to today's exercise is multi-stepped, but relatively simple:

~ For each division, I added each team's goals for, through Tuesday's games, and assigned a sliding-scale point system, with six points awarded to the top-scoring division.

~ Then, for each division, I added each team's goals allowed, through Tuesday's games, and assigned a sliding-scale point system, with six points awarded to stingiest division.

~ Then, for each division, I found the plus/minus rating, through Tuesday's games, and assigned a sliding-scale point system, with six points awarded to the division with the best plus/minus rating.

~ Finally, total points were added to determine the final ranking among divisions.

Here are the divisional findings:

Eastern Conference
Atlantic: 420 goals for (3 pts.), 451 goals allowed (3 pts.), -31 (1 pt.).
Total score: 7
Northeast: 499 goals for (6 pts.), 472 goals allowed (2 pts.), +27 (5 pts.).
Total score: 13
Southeast: 483 goals for (5 pts.), 512 goals allowed (1 pt.), -29 (2 pts.).
Total score: 8

Western Conference
Central: 393 goals for (1 pt.), 415 goals allowed (5 pts.), -22 (3 pts.).
Total score: 9
Northwest: 417 goals for (2 pts.), 396 goals allowed (6 pts.), +21 (4 pts.).
Total score: 12
Pacific: 462 goals for (4 pts.), 433 goal allowed (4 pts.), +29 (6 pts.).
Total score: 14

Final rankings:
1.) Pacific
2.) Northeast
3.) Northwest
4.) Central
5.) Southeast
6.) Atlantic

Additional analysis: Because the Western Conference dominates the divisional rankings, it is, by far, the better conference in the National Hockey League.

Going forward, I'll use the phrase nasrohmetrics (North American statistical research of hockey) for this type of analysis, namely for the lack of a better term and to distance this discipline from baseball's sabermetrics.

Intelligent feedback is welcome.



Ten questions with . . . oh well

After pulling a few strings, sharing my family's secret Christmas cookie recipe and mixing dried holly leaves with a dollop of week-old eggnog, I secured a guest for this month’s Ten Questions with . . . feature.

Actually, this will be a group interview, as the guests are . . . the Ghosts of Hockey’s Past, Hockey’s Present and Hockey’s Future.

Let’s not waste any time, shall we? Nip/Tuck starts in a few minutes.

Puckhound: So, gentlemen, what keeps you busy these days?
Hockey’s Past: Trying to find all that old hockey equipment. I see the prices that the old-time memorabilia is fetching at auctions, and I figure I should cash in on it. You know, we didn’t make the money that today’s players make.
Hockey’s Present: Making sure the neutral-zone trap never makes its way back into the game. Just when I thought Ken Hitchcock would be out of the game, Doug MacLean panics and hires him to coach the Blue Jackets.
Hockey’s Future: Waiting for something to happen. That’s the thing about the future. It’s not here just yet, but when it arrives, it quickly becomes the past. See what I mean?

PH: Yeah, in a way, I do. This is for Hockey’s Past. What’s the biggest change you’ve seen?
HPast: Just how light the equipment has become. It's like skating on thin air. That and those expensive one-piece sticks. Back in my day, $200 would buy all of your equipment, and we'd have to walk 17 miles in neck-high snow -- one way, mind you -- just to get our skates sharpened.

PH: This is for Hockey’s Present. What’s the biggest change you’ve seen?
HPresent: How the officiating this season has worsened. There's no consistency. Paul Stewart needs to come out of retirement. Or Kerry Fraser needs to ditch the helmet. That’s all I’m gonna say.

PH: This is for Hockey’s Future. What’s the biggest change you’ve seen?
HF: What a dumb question. How the heck am I supposed to know? It hasn’t happened yet.

PH: You’re right. Sorry about that. Moving on, now, in your opinion, Hockey Past, who’s the best player ever?
HPast: That’s a tough one. It could be Gordie Howe. Or The Rocket. Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux are in there, too. Even Patrick Roy deserves consideration. The best ever? Gordie, by an elbow.

PH: How about you, Hockey’s Present. Who’s today’s best player?
HPresent: You know, everyone says its either Alexander Ovechkin or Sidney Crosby. There’s even some talk about this Evgeni Malkin kid. They’re good, you know, but they’re young. Do you know who I’d build a team around? Brendan Shanahan. He’s amazing.

PH: Only you, Hockey’s Future, will know this answer. Who’s the best prospect we’ve never heard of?
HF: There’s this kid, down in Florida, who the Almighty Gods of Hockey are watching. He hasn’t even started skating yet, but he will soon. He has the tools. He has the desire. He has the genes, too. His father, grew up in western New York, now, he was one helluva player, but he started skating too late. We’re not making the same mistake with this kid.

PH: A final question for you, Hockey’s Past. What do you miss the most?
HPast: When players played for love of the game, not the money and highlights, for the pure love of the game.

PH: I really don’t mean to put you on the spot, Hockey’s Present, but who’s gonna win the Stanley Cup this season?
HPresent: I know you picked the San Jose Sharks to win it, but I believe Anaheim and Buffalo have something special working this season. I say the Sabres in six.

PH: Finally, what changes should we expect, Hockey’s Future?
HF: This is only a guess, because, well, you know, it hasn’t happened yet. But I think it’ll be speed, speed and even more speed. Oh, yeah, I suspect we’ll have no-touch icing, before someone really gets hurt.


No double-dribbles here

Count me among those snickering at the National Basketball Association after reading that the league will reverse its decision and return to the good, old-fashion leather basketball.

Can you imagine the powers that be at the National Hockey League ever changing the dimensions of a puck from its current standard (black vulcanized rubber, one inch thick and three inches round, weighing between 5.5 to 6 ounces)?

Hockey may not be perfect (for instance, unbalanced scheduling and inconsistent officiating), but at least it doesn't mess with the basics.



Keep Kessel in your thoughts

Some unsettling news out of Boston, I'm afraid to say, is that Bruins rookie Phil Kessel has been diagnosed with testicular cancer. Though his family and Bruins have yet to confirm this, please join me in adding Phil to your prayers.

Having just had my own scare with cancer (biopsy results came back negative, a second doctor told me today), I can only imagine what's going through his mind. Perhaps knowing that his hockey family (players and fans alike) are thinking of him will provide the strength he'll need.

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Hockey housekeeping

Forgive me if it sounds like I'm whining, but I need to improve my logistical skills. Because I ran out of puck squares to display and/or store autographed pucks, they started to pile up around the desk, display cases and any other flat surface within arm's reach.

With the arrival of cases, my big chore today was to catalogue and case 73 pucks obtained since Nov. 11. Highlights included pucks No. 1,072 (Ottawa's Wade Redden) and 1,100 (Buffalo's Andrew Peters), University of Vermont pucks signed by Tampa Bay's Eric Perrin and Marty St. Louis and four signed by Anaheim's Teemu Selanne.

For the record, the collection has grown by 113 autographed pucks since the start of the regular season.

Granted, archiving pucks isn't the most physical work I've done (washing dishes, doing laundry and taking out the trash today alone topped that), but after stringing up more than 1,500 Christmas lights yesterday, my upper body creaks at the slightest amount of effort today.

Please, no pity parties. Besides, the only remaining task on today's to-do list is to watch the Penguins-Capitals game tonight. That, other than staying awake, will require little effort.

As for hockey housekeeping, all that's left to put away are the 400 autographed cards we've collected since training camp opened. Maybe, just maybe, I'll do that tomorrow.

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Sunday morning homily VI

I couldn't help but laugh after listening to Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle go off on some dealers yesterday afternoon in Tampa. Better yet, he didn't even wait until being asked.

"I'm not signing anything. I signed this morning," he said. "You think I don't know your tricks. You all went home and changed your clothes."

A former NHL defenseman, Carlyle certainly was wearing his game face. Then again, you'd think that an NHL coach would have better things to do than concern himself with the fashion habits of autograph dealers.

~ Am I alone in believing that the NHL Center Ice package could be improved? Though this is the first year of having a subscription, I'm continually disappointed with the minimalistic approach to coverage. No pre- or post-game shows. No reruns the following day. At the least, they could put together a 30-minute highlights package.

~ Now that you're done with your Christmas shopping (yeah, right), stringing up the outdoor lights (my chore for the day) and getting ready for the next hounding trip (next Saturday, for Carolina), here are a few suggestions for your hockey reading pleasure (other than Hound Central 2.0, of course): The Game, by Ken Dryden; Ice Time, by Jay Atkinson; and Home Ice, by Jack Falla.

~ Finally, does anyone really believe that the noise-meters shown on Jumbotrons across the NHL are real? Maybe I'm a hockey purist, but inducing the crowd to make noise with "technology" just doesn't seem right. As a result, I seldom participate.

Now, if the cheering is organic in nature, so to speak, in a show of appreciation for sustained offensive pressure or the killing of a penalty at a critical juncture of the game, I'll try to be the loudest fan there.



It's better in the morning

If there's one thing I'll take away from today's hounding of the Anaheim Ducks, it's the last bit of evidence I need to know that it's always better to hound a team at the morning skate than at any other time of the day.

Crowds are usually smaller. The players are less focused. And, for the most part, I'm more bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.

But, before you go off believing that I'm disappointed in today's effort, please know there's nothing further from the truth. Hounding the Ducks, at both the morning skate and at gametime, was, in a word, excellent.

Not only did another 26 pucks make their ways into the collection, including
four from Teemu Selanne, but I also added Jean-Sebastien Giguere to my Team Canada goalie mask. And even better than Colin getting his first puck signed, I believe, was the second of his team sheets.

After filling the first sheet with autographs from 13 players, including Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, his second sheet is definitely a keeper. The only two signatures on the game-dated sheet (shown above) are Chris Pronger and Selanne. Not bad for a 5-year-old, if you ask me.

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Burke was first

Going into this weekend's hounding, Colin has been asking if he could start getting some pucks signed. I figured that he's been out enough, building his collection of team sheets, that he's ready to try something different.

And while he was more interested in snagging a goalie for the milestone, it was Brian Burke, Anaheim's general manager, who filled the role. To be honest, it didn't matter to Colin. What did matter, though, was that it made Colin's day. And, really, isn't that what's it all about?

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Two times, two

What's better than getting two autographed pucks from Teemu Selanne in a day? How about another pair (shown above), bringing the daily total to four. And, if I could get my hands on a Colorado Avalanche puck, I'd head back over tomorrow morning to complete the collection.

For the record, too, Chris Pronger signed an Anaheim Ducks puck, his second of the day, at gametime.

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A pleasant surprise

When a team as good as the Anaheim Ducks comes to town, there’s usually two constants. One, the team will draw a crowd. Secondly, the team’s big stars will be tough to get.

In both cases, I'm wicked psyched to say, neither held true this morning.

Granted, there were about a dozen or so hounds and dealers, a pretty manageable crowd for everyone involved. And much to our collective surprise, Anaheim’s big guns, including Jean-Sebastien Giguere (above, left), notorious toughie Chris Pronger (above, right) and Teemu Selanne (see below) all stopped to sign.

It’s one thing to have the third- and fourth-liners stop, but to have these stars willing to put pen to puck was like an early present from Santa.

Other Ducks signing pucks for me this morning were coach Randy Caryle, Chris Kunitz, Andy McDonald, Shane O’Brien, Samuel Pahlsson, Dustin Penner, Corey Perry and Ryan Shannon. In all, I added another 20 pucks to the collection this morning.

We’ll be heading back for the game tonight, so I’m hoping to add even more from those I missed or let pass.

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What do you think?

It should come as no surprise that Anaheim’s Teemu Selanne was mobbed, so to speak, as he made his way to the morning skate. Hounds and dealers alike rushed him as he made his way up the sidewalk. Getting only four hours of sleep and knowing that this would be a long day, I conserved my energy and let him walk up to me.

I offered two pucks (shown above) for him to sign. He took the Anaheim puck and signed it. As he was handing it back to me, he asked if I knew the location of the player’s entrance at the St. Pete Times Forum. Of course, I knew the answer.

After telling Selanne, he motioned to the Winnipeg puck.

"You want me to sign that puck, too?" he asked.

This time, he knew the answer.

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Something doesn't add up

Now, I’m not usually one to complain about getting autographs. Even if I get just one, I reason that it’s one more than I had before.

After dealing with the Niedermayer siblings this morning, I can’t help but comment on the Ducks’ brothers.

Scott, the older of the two and a sure-fire Hall of Famer fives years after he retires, was more than happy to sign a pair of pucks. Rob, his younger brother, grudgingly signed just one of the two pucks I offered.

Go figure, huh? For some reason, I expected it the other way around.

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Sorry to see you go, Joe

Hockey hounds were certainly saddened to hear that Joe Nieuwendyk, a willing signer who was always pleasant to fans, retired from the Florida Panthers earlier this week as the result of chronic back problems.

Just how good was Nieuwendyk? Let's see. Not only did he put up 1,126 points, including 564 goals, over 1,257 games, but he's also just one of nine players ever to win Stanley Cups with three different teams (Calgary - 1988-89, Dallas - 1998-99 and New Jersey - 2002-03). He also won the 1999 Conn Smythe Trophy.

To me, those numbers and honors deserve a spot in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Thankfully, I've had Nieuwendyk sign three pucks -- Calgary (shown above), Dallas and New Jersey. Hopefully, the Panthers will find a place for him in their organization so, from a purely selfish standpoint, I can add signed Panthers and Maple Leafs pucks to the collection.

A run on hats

Vinny Lecavalier's natural hat trick, which gave Tampa Bay a 3-0 lead in its eventual 8-0 drubbing of division rival Atlanta last night, should erase the sting of seeing Sabres hats litter the St. Pete Times Forum ice after Buffalo's Daniel Briere notched a hat trick this past Tuesday.

Lecavalier's three goals were part of a career-high five-point game. Marty St. Louis also had a career-high five points, including four assists, and beleaguered goaltender Marc Denis recorded his first shutout for the Lightning.

Hopefully, the Bolts will have some more in the tank Saturday night when we watch them play the mighty Anaheim Ducks. I'll bring an extra Lightning hat, just in case they do.

These kids are great

I don't know about you, but I'll be settled into my recliner Monday night when Pittsburgh meets Washington on Versus, marking the first nationally televised matchup between Penguins' Sidney Crosby and the Capitals' Alexander Ovechkin.

Both players will be wearing microphones during the game, Versus says. Ovechkin will also serve as a translator for Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin during an interview on Versus.

Goalies don't have a choice

News that St. Louis goalie Manny Legace was knocked out cold after taking a puck in the mask during practice Thursday only reinforces my efforts to convince my 5-year-old goalie-wannabe that playing defense is safer, far less expensive and will keep my gray hair to a minimum.

More fun and games

Unscramble the following letters to reveal the names of five NHL players:

1.) Ahntna Thsecpa
2.) Narbnde Ahansahn
3.) Broilum Vyhsokvsin
4.) Catperi Genobrre
5.) Kiscaln Tdmliosr

And, in a different twist to the team quiz, match the following to their developmental leagues:

1.) St. John's Fog Devils
2.) Alpena Icediggers
3.) Chilliwack Bruins
4.) Cedar Rapids Roughriders
5.) Saginaw Spirit

A.) United States Hockey League
B.) Western Hockey League
C.) Ontario Hockey League
D.) Quebec Major Junior Hockey League
E.) North American Hockey League

As always, readers can participate by leaving their answers in a comment. No sign-up is necessary.

Correct answers for both will appear next week

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