The Bruins' broken promise

One would think, as a Sabres fan, that I'd be doing a jig around the house following the Buffalo Sabres' 7-1 manhandling of the Boston Bruins last night. And while I take comfort in knowing that the Blue and Gold snapped a three-game losing streak, I'm also concerned about the direction the Bruins are heading.

Having spent six of the past seven years living in New England, it was hard not to gain an appreciation for the Bruins. Sure, the team is one of my Sabres' sworn mortal enemies, showcased in my mind when a young Jim Schoenfeld sent Wayne Cashman through the Zamboni door. Bottom line, though, is that the Bruins are an Original Six franchise and, unlike the Toronto Maple Leafs, are deserving of respect.

It didn't hurt, too, that the only real attachment to the Bruins is personal in nature.

Last year, I railed mercilessly against the Bruins coach Mike Sullivan, calling three times for his ouster to save the team's season. Instead, the organization traded away its young heart and soul, Joey Thornton. Finally, but only after it was too late, did the Bruins clean out the front office.

This year brought new promise, a new general manager (Peter Chiarelli) and coach (Dave "Yes, he looks like Hitler" Lewis). A true superstar, Zdeno Chara, was signed to bolster the B's defense. A nifty playmaker, Marc Savard, was brought in. The team's young players -- Andrew Alberts, Patrice Bergeron, Brad Boyes Milan Jurcina and Hannu Toivonen -- looked like it would gel into a formidable nucleus. Even a teenager, Phil Kessel, added to the thrill.

Suddenly, members of Bruins Nation, some of the most faithful in the NHL, had reason to believe that this year held the promise for something special. Maybe not the Stanley Cup, but a season that would help eliminate the bitingly sour taste of 2005-06.

This morning, though, Bruins Nation is undoubtedly incensed. After back-to-back drubbings, including a 6-1 spanking at home by the hated New York Rangers, the calls for change -- be it a trade (hopefully, the Bruins learn from mistakes) or Lewis' firing -- are gaining in intensity. It's my guess, too, that attendance, already on the wane, will (rightfully so) continue to slide.

That promise of something special, I'm afraid, hasn't been kept. It's a shame, too. One of hockey's most fabled franchises, as sorry as it may be these days, owes that to its fans. Thankfully, though, I'm not one of them.



Ten questions with Boltsmag's John Fontana

Though Puckhound has yet to meet John Fontana, the online publisher, producer and writer of Boltsmag.com, I get the sense that he's wears his passion for the Lightning, and the sport of hockey, on his sleeve. That's good, too, The game needs more people like him.

Fontana, who works as an online publisher, producer and writer in the Tampa Bay area when he isn't following the Lightning, took some time out of his busy schedule to answer 10 questions about the Lightning and the incorrect perception that hockey doesn't belong in Florida.

So, with the Lightning in Philly tonight to play the Flyers, let's go to the questions:

Hound Central 2.0: I often find myself, in conversations with hockey fans up north, defending NHL teams in Florida. What's your take on hockey in Florida?
John Fontana: I find myself in the same conversations all the time and that’s one thing about hockey that I despise – the staunch traditionalist approach. “Florida doesn’t support its teams, other areas are more deserving of the Cup than Tampa Bay. The fans won’t appreciate it as much as a (insert region).” Blah, blah, blah and all that jazz.
My take on hockey in Florida as a whole – professional and amateur – is that it’s a growing sport that isn’t properly nurtured. I’ve seen junior hockey fail with the Southeast Junior Hockey League thanks to outside interference and poor management. I’ve seen the media take an attention-deficit-disorder approach to covering the Lightning (“Lightning win sixth straight and … OOH! Buccaneer QB has ingrown toenail! Season in doubt! The Horror! The Horror!”
Suffice it to say, some stereotypes of Florida by northern fans are justified while others are laughable.
I was told at one point (while the Lightning were a 50-loss team) that the St. Pete Times Forum (then known as Ice Palace) was probably looked upon by locals as a waste of money because the fans didn’t like the Lightning and didn’t attend games. We were averaging 14,000 a night to watch the bottom-feeding franchise of the NHL at this point and I found the comments of this person to be insulting and ignorant. While the state isn’t Ontario or Quebec in its rabidness, nor is it New York in the guaranteed-sellouts thanks to corporate season tickets, there is a devoted and loyal fan base for the Lightning (and with the Panthers to the south).
I can go on with this, but I’m going to cut it off here.

HC2.0: What led you to start Boltsmag?
JF: Ironically, my rant above sort of surmises it. Fall 2003, during the Lightning’s hot start, I was going around on the Web to try to find Lightning fan sites. There were some pages that had not been updated since 1996-97 that you could still find on the web (you probably still can). I also came across a Northern naysayer slinging lies about the Lightning and its fan base on the Web regarding attendance at the Forum (“They couldn’t even generate 8,000 fans at games while they were undefeated to begin the season!” – which attendance records show is a flat-out falsehood). This was basically the final straw for me and I wanted to show that there was a devoted and loyal fan base out there. Some of my early writings and coverage during the playoffs of 2004 involved the B.S. that the Northern media was reporting about Tampa and southern hockey as a whole.
I chose Boltsmag.com as the site domain because it had been home to a Lightning Web site (on the old Rivals.com sports network) that had been run by Bright House/Time Warner producer and Catch 47 sports personality Eric Keaton. I figured a familiar name was in order for a Lightning fan site and blog.

HC2.0: What's your approach to blogging? Do you view yourself as a fan or a commentator? A little of both?
JF: Definitely both. Unlike a James Mirtle or Tom Benjamin or Eric McErlain, I’m not well-versed in my writing nor the best person for analysis of hockey. I try to put observations and passion into my posts. I haven’t done much posting as of late because I am divided on the Web among several different online efforts (some blogging, some site design, etc) and I regret it.

HC2.0: Has the Lightning always been your favorite team?
JF: Well, first to give backstory, the Lightning came into being when I was a tween (not quite a kid and not quite a teen). I had “rooted” for the Rangers before then because I am from New York and my father “rooted” for the Rangers (he is a very casual fan). But honestly, I’ve grown up with the Lightning and I’ve learned about the game and appreciating it better with the Bolts. To say I’ve been a fan of another team just honestly isn’t the case.

HC2.0: Do you remember your first Lightning/hockey game?
JF: It was the tail end of the 1997-98 debacle/season and the Lightning were playing the Senators at Ice Palace/St. Pete Times Forum. I hadn’t had a previous opportunity to attend a game and this was my first. I don’t remember the exact date, but I do remember that I shouted “CROSS, YOU SUCK!” at Cory Cross after he played maitre’d with Senators players sitting in front of the Lightning goal (which led to the Sens scoring). The Senators won that game handily.

HC2.0: Favorite Lightning players, past and present?
JF: Enricco Ciccone was the first real personality I admired with the Lightning. I came to appreciate Brian Bellows and, of course, John Cullen, who came back from cancer. Gordie Dwyer, too.
Darcy Tucker helped spice things up during the lean years with the Lightning though I look down on him now for his antics, along with a good portion of the NHL (sans Toronto fans).
Fredrik Modin is one of my all time favorites on the team for the grit he brought to the Lightning.
It’s no secret that I have been a big Brad Richards fan, though I am slow to announce it this season as it has been an off-year for him.

HC2.0: Favorite Lightning hockey moment?
JF: Now, this isn’t a specific on-ice moment but my favorite memory is the “restart” of the Lightning (Bill Davidson’s first year or two as owner). There was the “We’re Bigger, We’re Younger, We’re Faster” marketing campaign (very funny commercials on TV, too) that summarized the shift of the Lightning roster. But the clear difference was that there was hope for the future.
“Hope” and “future” never seemed to be in the mix for the Lightning much under Phil Esposito. He seemed to be trying to design the team for the day-to-day and never looked past the current season in moves he made. Ironically, his greatest draft with the Lightning was his last in 1998. That was the only time Phil ever did much long range planning for the Lightning. He’d get himself fired within months of that draft for going back to the “Plan for next season alone” and binge-spending on mediocre free agents.
I mean, 1999-2000 was not all roses. The team was horrid and relying on unproven players by and large. But there was a forward thinking plan in place and a clear hope for the future with some of the talent that was on the roster and property of the Lightning (unsigned draft picks).

HC2.0: How did you celebrate the team winning the Stanley Cup?
JF: The entire situation was odd for me because I was at Game 7 of the 2003-04 Stanley Cup Finals, but I was with my longtime friend and former Boltsmag contributor Keith Short, a rabid Calgary Flames fan. So part of me was elated in the stands, but I was restrained from celebrating because the guy next to me was miserable watching as the Lightning (and the fans) went wild. Keith stayed with me the next few days as well, so I didn’t go wild or anything but I was stoked inside for a long, long time. I guess my wildest reaction was on Boltsmag (see June 2004 postings for more).

HC2.0: What's your take on the Lightning's jersey? How about the old third jersey?
JF: I couldn’t stand the old third jersey. I’m with the people who complained about the “barf on the sleeves” look. I did like the blue that was the major color but most of the rest of the design reeked.
As for the Lightning’s home and away jerseys – it’s a design that’s long needed to be tweaked. The look itself can be seen as a neo-Classic, but I’ve long wanted to see some modifications and updates.

HC2.0: A little word-association exercise, if you don't mind:
Phil Esposito = Trader Phil
Alex Selivanov = Son-in-law-ov
Jay Feaster = Cheetos
Evgeny Artyukhin = greedy
Thunderbug = great mascot

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A fitting honour

I could write 5,000 words tonight on just how important Kenneth Wayne Dryden was to the Montreal Canadiens and, still, it wouldn't be enough.

Yet, if I could use only one word to describe him, it would be "brilliant."

All that needs to be said, though, is that the Le Club de Hockey Canadien, the team he backstopped to six Stanley Cups, raised his No. 29 to the rafters of the Bell Centre in Montreal earlier tonight.

Do yourself a favor, too. Read his book.

P.S.: Say a prayer for Gump as well.



Sunday morning homily XI

Kudos, I suppose, are due to Upper Deck for providing not one, but two cards, of Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin within the Young Guns subset of its Series II release. As I reported yesterday, Malkin has two cards within the subset. This card, shown at left, is the Young Guns checklist.

It should come as no surprise that I'm not the biggest fan of Upper Deck, seeing that it owns all of the licensing for NHL trading cards. In essence, Upper Deck is a monopoly. That's why I don't mind helping out the little guy, paying a little more for a box of ITG Heroes and Prospects, provided I can find any here in Tampa Bay.

As a consumer, I want to have choices within the hockey card industry. And branding cards with such names as Fleer and Parkhurst, as Upper Deck has done, is a cheap attempt at tricking uninformed hockey collectors. Unfortunately, though, this lack of competition means I'll have to give my money to Upper Deck if I wish to continue in this hobby.

The only way I can protest, other than writing these little ditties, is to limit the brands that I'll buy. So, other than Upper Deck Series I and II, the mainstays of any collection (primarily because of the value of the Young Guns subset), I'll be limiting my future purchases to the Fleer and Parkhurst brands, solely because those cards require no prep work for autographs.

What about these deals?

Over at
Wicked Bruins Fans, blogmaster Jaci (sounds like a rap name, doesn't it?) isn't asking for too much from her beloved Bruins. She wants them to play hard and win games. I mean, who doesn't want their hometown team to fulfill those goals.

In response, I've proposed these trades:

To Tampa: Brad Boyes, Stanislav Chistov, Brad Stuart and Hannu Toivonen
To Boston: Ruslan Fedotenko, Vaclav Prospal, Doug O'Brien, Luke Richardson and Marc Denis

To New York Rangers: Andrew Alberts, Milan Jurcina, Petr Tenkrat and a No. 1 draft pick
To Boston: Ryan Hollweg and Fedor Tyutin

Any feedback?

Finally, some hockey

After a pretty thin January down here in Tampa, I'm really looking forward to the month of February. Not only do we have tickets to six games, including the Bruins, Penguins and the Dallas Stars, but seven hounding adventures, including Los Angeles and Phoenix of the Western Conference, as well.

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Malkin's Young Gun card

Earlier this season, I broke the news that hockey fans would have to wait until the release of the Upper Deck Hockey Series II for a chance to score this season's Holy Grail of hockey hardboard -- a Young Guns version of Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin.

Guess what? It's here. Or, should I say, they're here. As a premium, I suppose, Malkin is also featured on the front of the Young Guns checklist. The one shown at right, card No. 486, is the regular Young Gun card. Card No. 495, showing Malkin in a home uniform, is the checklist card.

Others Young Guns sure to be worthy of chasing are Nashville's Alexander Radulov (card No. 476) and San Jose's Joe Pavelski (card No. 487).

Drawing strong regional interest will be Boston's Matt Lashoff (card No. 453), Buffalo's Drew Stafford (card No. 456), Calgary's Dustin Boyd (card No. 461) and Tanpa Bay's Karri Ramo (card No. 474).

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Another four-for-four

One of the little tricks I try when getting a hockey player to sign cards, usually offering four at a time, is to use cards from different teams or, in this case with New Jersey's Zach Parise, those that are part of a smaller set.

Not only did I use a card from this year's Fleer set and the 2005-06 ITG Heroes and Prospects set (top row), I also offered cards from a 2004-05 AHL Future Stars and 2005 AHL All-Stars sets.

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Timing is everything

All in all, I'm pretty happy with the results of hounding the New Jersey Devils earlier today. Granted, I only received one puck (from Brian Gionta, shown at left) and 14 cards. But I was able to add Martin Brodeur to my Team Canada goalie mask.

Can't complain about that, can I? Looks real good, too, sitting close to Patrick Roy's autograph. Here's a picture of it.

What I can complain about, though, is of my own feeble time management. I was able to take a break from work later in the day to try to add to the collection. And even though I knew the game started at 8 p.m. tonight, rather than the normal 7:30 p.m., I went out to the team's hotel a little too early.

The only players I saw before I had to return to work were Jim Dowd and Eric Rasmussen. Unfortunately, I had nothing for either player. It's my guess, too, that the rest of the Devils, particularly the ones I wanted on pucks (Patrik Elias, Scott Gomez and Paul Martin), emerged from the hotel about the time it faded in my rear-view mirror.

Thankfully, the Devils come back later this year. Hopefully, my timing will be better.

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The French Correction

Maybe it's because I've spent more than half of my life looking for and correcting mistakes, but isn't there something wrong with this picture from the Buffalo Sabres Alumni Association's Web site?

How deep are my roots? As a kid and teen, growing up in western New York, I lived and died with the Buffalo Sabres. I remember the original "We're Gonna Win that Cup." I've even taught my 5-year-old son the chant "Ooh! Aah! Sabres on the Warpath!" And I still get chills (like right now) any time I hear "Thank you, Sabres!"

Besides Danny Gare, the members of the French Connection -- Richard Martin, Gilbert Perreault and Rene Robert -- were my Hockey Gods. I imagine, too, that I'm not alone.

That's why I can't figure out why this image, which I first brought to the attention of the alumni site's Webmaster more than a year ago, remains incorrect.

To me, it's clear as day. If you can't see the errors, though, let me explain:

~ Right winger Robert (pronounced Roe-BARE), wearing No. 14, was a right-handed shot. The image shows him as a lefty.
~ Left winger Martin (pronounced mahr-TAHN), wearing No. 7, shot lefthanded. The image shows him as a righty.
~ Finally, one could even argue that the names above the images misidentify Martin and Robert.

Am I being too picky? I don't think so. If this was from a 12-year-old kid's Web site, I'd understand. But, for crying out loud, this is the team's alumni association. It's embarrassing, if you ask me.

And, to the best of my knowledge, Gilbert Perreault is pronounced Jzhil-bare Pear-roe



Addicted to Hockey? All Star Game edition

In honor of tonight's All Star Game at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, this round of questioning, to determine whether you're addicted to hockey, will take, maybe even predictably, an All Star Game slant and could even have a few rants.

Let's see, shall we?

Are you addicted to hockey? Should you answer "yes" to a majority of the following questions, I suggest you book a flight to Atlanta, Ga., on Jan. 14, 2008, book a room at a nice hotel near the Philips Arena through Jan. 17, 2008, and get yourself some tickets to the 2008 NHL All Star Game.

Make sure you buy one for me, too, because, after all, it was my idea.

Getting back on point, so to speak, here are some ways to tell whether you're addicted to hockey:

~ You'd gladly trade places with Martin Brodeur, Cristobaul Huet, Miikka Kiprusoff, Roberto Luongo, Ryan Miller and Marty Turco, even if it meant being the biggest duck in the shooting gallery. Granted, the players would be trying to shoot past you, but you could actually get hit by one of their shots. Trust me, if hockey balls at 20 mph hurt, just imagine frozen pucks in excess of 85 mph.

~ You're wondering why in God's name did the NHL hold the game on a Wednesday night. For poor saps like me, who had to work, I missed out on the game. Why not have it on the weekend before the NFL's Super Bowl? I'm certain, too, that with the 2008 event set for Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2008, I'll raise this question again.

~ A smile broke across your face when the Eastern Conference line of Philadelphia's Simon Gagne and Tampa Bay's Marty St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier formed an updated version of the famed Buffalo Sabres' French Connection. The coach that put tonight's line together? None other than Buffalo's Lindy Ruff. I'm sure Richard Martin, Gilbert Perreault and Rene Robert wouldn't mind.

~ Speaking of Buffalo, you knew that MVP honors would go to a Sabres player.
Daniel Briere, shown above, may be small, but he is the heart and soul of the Sabres, far more than Chris Drury. Also, Danny, if you're not sure what to do with that 2007 Dodge Nitro, feel free to call. I've got a spare spot in the driveway.

~ Believed Boston's Phil Kessel, considering what he's dealt with this year, was far more worthy of the YoungStars Game MVP award than New Jersey's Zach Parise.

~ Wondered why Toronto's Chad Kilger, who nailed a 106.6-mph slap shot during the Maple Leafs' team competition, wasn't involved in the hardest shot contest in the SuperSkills competition. For the record, Boston's Zdeno "The Prudential" Chara won individual honors with his 100.4 mph-laser.

~ Asked the American Airlines Center crew for the targets broken by Atlanta's Marian Hossa or Carolina's Eric Staal during the Shooting Accuracy contest. I also wonder how long it'll be before all four Staal brothers (Eric, Jordan, Marc and Jared) will play in an All Star game.

~ You spent $350 on one of those authentic RBK Edge jerseys so you would feel lighter and not worry about perspiration while standing in the beer line at your home rink. And then you plopped down another $75 to have your own name and "07" put on it.

~ Spent the past three days living out of your car because you couldn't find a hotel room with 100 miles of Dallas charging less than $300 a night, not including armadillos and cockroaches, and you bought one of those RBK Edge jerseys.

~ You considered this week, even if the All Star Game was the highlight, the longest of the year because you haven't seen a real game since this past Saturday.

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Uniform resource

Though it's one of those annoying commercial sites (meaning your popup-blocker will be put to work), this entity provides looks at NHL uniforms, past and present.

The journalist in me, too, also notices a distinct familiarity between the site's renderings and those unconfirmed RBK Edge uniforms. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but I am curious about the true source of those images.



Backing away from the (RBK) Edge

It might take a few minutes, but this post (patience needed) and the subsequent comments (except those from a 14-year-old) should answer many of the questions being raised by the release of the RBK Edge jersey.

The major news, I believe, is that these renderings are just that -- renderings. There's nothing official or finalized about them.

NHL teams will be free to change or update their logos, such as the move announced last week by the Columbus Blue Jackets, but until next season, or through any announcements made until then, we can't be certain.


The RBK Edge site

Here's RBK Hockey's Web site on the new RBK Edge. Though it was downloading very slowly, most likely from visitor traffic, it seems to be working just fine now.

Don't get your hopes up, though, for confirmation of the jersey designs. The site provides information about the jersey as well as the creative process. The only hint of a date is the teaser: Coming 07/08.

As always, thanks for stopping by.


The last one, I promise

I'm hoping these unconfirmed renderings of the new RBK Edge jerseys prove to be correct.
This alternate for the St. Louis Blues is wicked cool, if you ask me. The uniform doesn't change much, but I do like the logo.
Just because I like it, though, doesn't mean I'd rush out and buy one, if I were to be a Blues fan.

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A Capital idea?

I'm not quite sure what to make of this unconfirmed rendering of the Washington Capital's new RBK Edge uniforms.
I can see where the home and away try to incorporate elements from the past two uniforms. The alternate jersey, though, might be popular.
What do you think?

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The Kansas City Penguins?

Just in case it happens, these could be RBK Hockey's chief poster boy Sidney Crosby's new RBK Edge duds.
Pretty sharp, eh?

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For my friends in Boston . . .

. . . and especially the birthday girl, Wicked Bruins Fan Jaci, here's a look at what could become the Bruins new RBK Edge uniforms in 2007-08.

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Sneak peaks at new RBK Edge?

I found this thread that shows renderings of some of the new RBK Edge uniforms for several NHL clubs.
The original poster raises doubts to the authenticity of the designs, but who knows? We'll find out soon enough.
Either way, the "proposed" new looks for the Tampa Bay Lightning, including an alternate jersey, are shown above.

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Sunday morning homily X

After 22-plus years of daily journalism, it's no wonder than the cynic in me views most every sports business-related move with a healthy dose of skepticism. For instance, take the combined efforts of RBK Hockey and the NHL with the new RBK Edge jersey. While those corporate entities extol the new product's benefits to players and insist that any retail gains are secondary, I have my doubts.

Granted, I think the jerseys, which will make their debut in Dallas later this week, look pretty cool. And I do believe Tampa Bay's Vinny Lecavalier when he praises the performance-enhancing virtues (lighter in weight with greater moisture-wicking technology) of the new jerseys.

"They're the real deal," he told USA Today. "The water doesn't soak into your jersey. So you don't feel like you have 10 pounds on your back by the end of the third period."

Though anything that adds speed to the game is worthy of applause, I'm convinced that corporate greed is a major role. With news that all 30 NHL teams will be wearing the new jerseys, there's also an indication that some teams will be changing their looks. And, of course, a new look, especially on a jersey, will prompt many fans to keep up with the times.

With RBK Edge versions of the All Star Game jerseys commanding anywhere between $110 (replica) to $350 (authentic) each, it's an easy leap to believe this pricing structure will continue with a team's new release.

Bottom line, kids, is that the jerseys are just another thinly veiled attempt to pry money from fans. In the meantime, I'll keep my eyes open for a Vintage Buffalo Sabres Mitchell & Ness jersey.

Kings needed Luc's luck

It's a shame that the Los Angeles Kings players couldn't contribute on a night when Luc Robitaille's No. 20 was raised to the rafters. After quickly jumping out to a 2-0 lead, thanks to Anze Kopitar's nifty shorthanded goal, the Kings let the Phoenix Coyotes leave the Staples Center with a 3-2 victory.

It's my guess that Robitaille, as well as the many former teammates (including Butch Goring, Jari Kurri, Larry Robinson and Rogie Vachon) who honored the three-time NHL All Star in the hourlong ceremony, would have done a better job of protecting and, most likely building upon, the lead. In fact, I would've loved to see those guys get one last spin around the rink.

The game also featured the L.A. debut of goalie Sean Burke, claimed last week off waivers from Tampa Bay. Too bad, though, that dehydration forced Burke, seeing his first action in nearly two months, to leave the game early in the third period. Yutaka Fukufuji, who made NHL history recently as being the first Japanese-born player to play and then start in an NHL contest, gave up the game-winning goal.

2 + 0 = 3?

I'll bet there will be a bunch of Carolina Hurricanes fans walking into Raleigh-area malls and sporting goods stores today with sheepish looks upon their faces. And, no, those looks didn't come from the Tampa Bay Lightning's 6-5 come-from-behind shootout victory.

After Scott Walker gave the Canes a 5-4 lead against the Lightning in the third period of last night's game, more than a few Carolina fans, thinking that Eric Staal had scored a hat trick instead, littered the ice with their ballcaps, a time-honored show of appreciation for such a feat.

Replay upon replay, however, showed that although Staal was on the ice, he wasn't even close to the puck nor was he involved in the play.

Now, I'm not saying this case of premature e-cap-ulation means Hurricanes fans aren't knowledgeable about hockey, but they might want to brush up a little on their math. Until then, they need to remember that 2 + 1 is what equals 3.

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What's with all the fuss?

Anyone who knows me will vouch that I place very little emphasis on fashion.

To me, GQ is nothing more than a typo of the old newspaper proofing mark of CQ. As a kid, the only way I could tell what colors went together was to look at the uniforms of most NHL teams. Thankfully, I knew enough back then to stay away from the hideous hues of the California Golden Seals and Kansas City Scouts.

But when I take a look at the new NHL uniforms, modeled by Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby, I'm having a hard time figuring out why some folks don't like them. In fact, I think they have a cool Robocop-ish look to them.

The powers that be at the NHL apparently leaked the photo to
USA Today for Friday's edition. These uniforms, known as Rbk Edge, will make their debut during All Star Game festivities in Dallas. And from what I understand, all teams will be wearing them during the 2007-08 season.

But, from where I'm sitting, wearing a coffee-stained gray T-shirt and dark-blue sweatpants, I think they look pretty neat.
That doesn't mean, though, that I don't have some issues with RBK Hockey and the NHL. I'll share those with you tomorrow morning.

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Where's Eric?

As much as I'll champion In The Game's efforts to remain a viable entity within the hockey card industry, it's my belief that the company missed an opportunity with its 2006-07 Heroes and Prospects offering.

While much has been said and written about the Staal brothers becoming, with no intended disrespect to the Sutter brothers, the next First Family of Hockey. And, yet, when I review the product's checklist, the set features only three (shown above, in alphabetical order) of the brothers -- Jared, Jordan and Marc Staal.

Adding a card of big brother Eric would have created a set within the set. Even better, I believe, would have been a card showing all four together. Surely, that photo must exist, even if it's within a family scrapbook.

I'm left to wonder whether contractual obligations may have led to this omission, though the set does feature a number of current NHL players, such as Jason Spezza, Sidney Crosby and Cam Ward, from their AHL, junior or international playing days.

Going forward, perhaps ITG will heed this suggestion and make the effort to somehow honor the family. If it does, I hope ITG sends along its work.

An addendum: Here's ITG's response to my question: At the time that Heroes and Prospect was printed, we did not have Eric Staal under contract for autographs.

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Hockey Arcade 1.2

What's this? 2.2

Though the picture was small, I was surprised that no one dared venture a guess for last edition's item. You'll probably want to kick yourself, as it was none other than a hockey skate blade, specifically a

Having been dealt a 12-5 butt-kicking last year, I'll celebrate my early 1-0 lead over readers.

Remember, all items, including this edition's offering, are related to hockey.

Who am I?

1.) Naora Mahas
2.) Sales Nukenok
3.) Linaiko Redzveh
4.) Kipcrat Smilerslri
5.) Tayaku Jukifufu

Team quiz
Match the following teams to its development leagues:

1.) Val-d'Or Foreurs
2.) Tri-City Storm
3.) Windsor Spitfires
4.) Vancouver Giants
5.) Fairbanks Ice Dogs

a.) USHL
b.) OHL
d.) WHL
e.) NAHL

They play the game
Match the players to their professional teams:

1.) Colt King
2.) Allan Sirois
3.) Jimmy Callahan
4.) David Shantz
5.) Dan Ellis

a.) Florida Everblades
b.) Iowa Stars
c.) Pee Dee Cyclones
d.) Port Huron Flags
e.) Lubbock Cotton Kings

Puckhound's brain buster

What Swedish Elite League team did Columbus' Fredrik Modin play for in 1995-96?

Who am I?: Milan Jurcina, Nolan Yonkman, Jocelyn Thibault, Kevin Bieksa and George Parros
Team quiz: 1-c; 2-d; 3-b; 4-e; and 5-a
They play the game: 1-d; 2-e; 3-a; 4-b; and 5-c
Puckhound's brain buster: Steve Poapst

To participate in this edition of Hockey Arcade, leave your answers within a comment. Thanks.



Classic history

Mainstream media will undoubtedly, and deservedly so, turn its attention to Los Angeles goalie Yutaka Fukufuji over the next few days.

Despite getting yanked less than two minutes into the second period of last night's 6-2 loss to Atlanta, Fukufuji, 24, made league history by becoming the first Japanese-born player to
start an NHL game. His NHL debut came Saturday against St. Louis.

Hopefully, Fukufuji, born in Kushiro, Japan, will still be on the Kings' roster when Los Angeles visits Tampa on Feb. 6. If he isn't, though, I won't be disappointed. I saw him play, and had him
sign a couple pucks, more than a year ago.

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Rivalry aside

There are a couple of reasons why I'm not enamored with the Toronto Maple Leafs. As a Sabres fan, the Leafs are one of our biggest rivals. And, from a hounding standpoint, they are one of the most arrogant teams, though that has changed since Tie Domi, uh, "retired."

Neither of those reasons, though, kept me from hounding the Leafs earlier today. Granted, the fact that the team was staying less than three miles from the house didn't hurt.

All in all, it was a decent way (eight pucks and six cards) to end nine days of vacation. And, given the quality of players who stopped to sign, I certainly don't have any complaints.

Pucks shown above (clockwise, from top left):
St. John's Maple Leafs: Tomas Kaberle
Medicine Hat Tigers: Bryan McCabe
Quebec Nordiques: Mats Sundin
Toronto Maple Leafs: Andrew Raycroft

Also signing were Nikolai Antropov, Jean-Sebastien Aubin, Hal Gill, Pavel Kubina, Paul Maurice, Jeff O'Neill and Matt Stajan.

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I remember that night

Growing up in western New York, my favorite team was the Buffalo Sabres. They're still my favorite team. My favorite player was Danny Gare. Not only could the guy put the puck in the net, but he was a feisty cuss, too.

A story at NHL.com recalls a special night for Gare, now working as a TV color analyst for the Columbus Blue Jackets, when he logged a hat trick in the last game of the 1975-76 season to notch his first 50-goal season.

Like most of my hockey-loving buddies, I would pretend to be my favorite player. On the afternoon of that game, I spent an hour in the driveway, pretending to be Gare, firing pucks into the driveway wall. And, of course, I got the three goals needed to hit that plateau.

There's another reason I was a big fan of Gare. After one of my cousins, Suzanne, was diagnosed with leukemia, he visited her several times in the hospital. At first, the visits were part of charity events. Over time, though, he'd stopped by just to say hello to Suzanne.

A few years ago, when Gare was working with the Sabres, I ran into him in Boston. But rather than ask for an autograph, I introduced myself as Suzanne's cousin. He remembered her in an instant. We spoke for a few minutes, remembered those days and how sad we were when leukemia claimed yet another wonderful soul, and went our ways.

I'm glad I'm not the only one who remembers Danny Gare.

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Sunday morning homily IX

Among hobbies, collecting autographs, I'm afraid, is probably nestled in the bottom 10 percent. But you know what, I don't really care. I've never been one to be trendy.

Granted, photography, architecture and traveling (spending time with one's family and friends shouldn't be viewed as a hobby, thank you) are my other hobbies. But there's something about interacting with other people, the athletes, fellow hounds and, um, dealers (it is Sunday morning, mind you), that makes hounding one of my favorite pastimes.

And it sure beats the hell out of mowing the lawn (not exactly a hobby, I know, but a neighbor has started, before 8:30 a.m., his landscaping chores.).

Going forward, and especially as I work on another project that will lead to another blog, I'll add more hounding pictures, like the one above of Tampa Bay goalie Marc Denis signing a photo for a fan (there's a rumor that Brad Richards once threatened to call the cops when this fan appeared at his front door), to Hound Central 2.0.

So, how did he do?
Because I was lucky enough to be at Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo yesterday afternoon, even getting within three feet of a giraffe and, unfortunately, downwind of some fresh elephant dung, I missed Brett Hull's debut on NHL on NBC.

It's no easy leap of the imagination to realize that I'm one of those bitter Buffalo Sabres fans who believes that the blowhard cheated back in 1999. So, I'm hoping that Hull, who I am loathe to admit is just as good with his one-liners as he was with his one-timers, repeatedly stuck his feet in his mile-wide piehole.

If he did, please pass it along. I promise to scour the Internet looking for reviews and share them with the legion of us who know his daddy was 10 times better. If he didn't screw up, I'd rather not know.

Am I the only one . . .
who noticed that the Tampa Bay Lightning did away with the Hockey Bay logo at center ice at the St. Pete Times Forum?

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What do you think?

As promised, here is one of those painting canvases converted into, for the lack of a better term, an autograph canvas. The owner does put some time into the painting (notice the stripes) but says he spends about $4 per canvas, including the bumper sticker.

The players certainly don't mind signing them and, to be honest, the autographs look pretty sharp.

I'm still not convinced that's the way to go, but I do admire the hound's resourcefulness.

What I'm interested in, though, is what others think about these items. Let me know by leaving a comment.


It's way too early

You know what happens when your 5-year-old crawls into your bed, complete with his pillow, stuffed polar bear Buffy, Bruins blanket and cat, Taz? You wake up, with the false hope that everyone will be asleep in minutes. Finally, an hour later, long after your child and spouse fall back into a contented sleep, you're far from bright-eyed but somewhat bushy-tailed.

So, in an effort to put this newfound time to good use, please allow these early morning and hopefully coherent ramblings:

Just go away
One would think that when a hockey players retires from the game, we wouldn't hear from him again. Unfortunately, Brett Hull didn't get the memo.

Hull, the son of hockey legend Bobby Hull, makes his debut today as an analyst (must resist the urge to type another descriptive word) for NHL on NBC at the Rink at 30 Rock.

While I welcome the NHL getting coverage on national networks, I can't imagine learning anything from this no-class blowhard, other than, maybe, an admission that his
skate was, indeed, in the crease.

Thankfully, with family in town and a trip to the
Lowry Park Zoo on this afternoon's agenda, I won't have to listen to his inanities (look it up).

It's their day
If it weren't for visiting family members, I'd be spending the day in my recliner watching
Hockey Day in Canada. Though I'm less than thrilled with the NHL Center Ice (very few pre- and post-game shows, no reruns and that insipid (look this up, too) Puck Heads commercial), this is one day when I believe the hockey package is worth the cost.

With coverage beginning at noon EST, CBC will broadcast an triple-header involving all six Canadian teams. The first game, starting at 2 p.m., features Montreal at Ottawa. At 7 p.m., Vancouver plays Toronto. The finale, airing at 10 p.m., will show the latest skirmish in the Battle of Alberta -- Edmonton at Calgary.

Toss in Hockey Day in Canada live coverage from Nelson, B.C., the home of former Buffalo Sabres captain
Danny Gare, as well as Hockey Night in Canada's Saturday Night and After Hours shows and you have hockey heaven.

Remember Monet, Renoir?
Only the crashing of a computer at our local Target store last night has delayed a
follow-up posting on the usage of painting canvases for autographs. Now that I've picked up the photographs, I'll share a picture of one of these creations.

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Find Gary

As nothing more than an inside joke about Tampa-area hockey hounds, can you find our friend Gary in the picture above? It was featured Wednesday as NHL.com's Frozen Moment.

No, he's not wearing Nos. 40 nor 87.

And, if you know Gary's e-mail address, feel free to send him a link to this page. I'm sure he'll get a kick out of it.

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A career day

Though the Washington Capitals have a few big games stars, as in Alexander Ovechkin, Alex Semin and Olaf Kolzig, my key for today's hounding trip was defenseman Mike Green.

And though I'd like to have some kind of story that would explain the reasoning, it was nothing more than I was able, in less than 30 seconds, complete my player collection for him.

When I first started collecting autographed pucks, I set a goal to have players sign a puck representing every step, and stop, in their career. Green, Washington's No. 1 (29th overall) in the 2004 NHL entry draft, provides a very good example. I was able to have him sign pucks from the Capitals, the Hershey Bears and the Saskatoon Blades.

It really was that simple and, as a bonus, he even put the different numbers he wore with each team.

Most of all, though, it was a decent day that ended a streak of disappointing hounding adventures, All told, hounding the Capitals and Lightning added another 45 autographs, including eight pucks, to the collection.

In fact, the only disappointment of the day was I wanted to get a better start my campaign against the bully dealers. Because only two of the dipsticks showed up, I can only surmise that they got the message during Tuesday's session.

Save for a few instances, I have no problems with folks trying to earn a living by selling autographed sports memorabilia. It's just some of the methods, including rushing and crushing of players and collectors, that will continually draw my scorn and unwanted attention to them.

We'll see what happens next Tuesday, when the Maple Leafs are in town.

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Alex who?

When is an Alexander not an Alex? That's easy. When the name that follows is Semin, and not Ovechkin.

As the dealers and hounds surrounded Alex Ovechkin and his increasingly illegible "AO" scribble Tuesday morning, I made my way to Alexander Semin. Granted, he's playing in the shadow of his Russian teammate, but the guy, in his first full regular season, is posting some pretty solid numbers.

And that's what makes him worthy of putting on a puck. Maybe another, too, when the Capitals come back to Tampa.

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Running on empty

The three easiest ways to know that you need to take an extended break from hounding a team are easily recognizable.

First, you're down to your last three or four pucks for that team. That's why you see the Houston Aeros (Johan Holmqvist), Tampa Bay Lightning (Filip Kuba) and the 2004 World Cup of Hockey-Canada (Brad Richards, personalized to Colin) pucks shown above. Other than a Montreal Canadiens puck for the ever-elusive and somewhat reclusive Scotty Bowman, I'm saving my last three Lightning pucks for any mid-season acquisitions.

Secondly, you begin to question just how many more autographed cards you need from such players as Vinny Prospal, Paul Ranger and Tim Taylor. Good players? Sure. But does a collection need more than five to six from most players? I don't think so.

I can understand wanting to score as many autographs from Vinny Lecavalier, Marty St. Louis, Dan Boyle and Richards as they'll sign, but other than a few odd items (mainly game programs, the aforementioned pucks and a St. Louis stick for Colin), there are very few cards awaiting a blue Sharpie -- a couple each for Cory Sarich and Kuba.

Finally, one the Lightning's Big Three (in this case, it was Lecavalier) won't sign a card because "I signed for you last month." Good memory, eh?

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When I set up a book of cards for hounding, I try to have at least two cards for every player. Most times, though, especially when a player has a few seasons and the resulting cards under his belt, it's easy to put together a four-card setup.

I try to use a card from each team a player has been with or, at the least, the different variations of a team uniform (home, home and third jerseys). Sure, it may take a little longer, but it does increase the total depth of a collection.

More often than not, too, players will sign all four cards. Today's hounding of the Tampa Bay Lightning, following their morning skate in preparation of the Washington Capitals, provided three such instances where players signed all four cards.

And though they may not rank among the NHL's uber-elite, it shows the length that Marc Denis, Luke Richardson and Andre Roy go to reach out to fans.

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What a card

Not only are hockey players some of the most fan-friendly athletes in professional sports, buy they're also among some of the funniest.

Take Tampa Bay's Andre Roy (Please! Ba-dum-bump!).

As he was signing after practice earlier today, I asked him about the card at left (one of four that he signed), specifically whether he had forgotten to wear his hockey-sock garter that particular or if there was another reason for him, as he put it, "showing a little leg."

"I was going for the sexy look there," he said.

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Commercial timeout

Just when I had forgotten how obnoxious NHL Center Ice's "Puck Heads" commercial is, DirecTV airs this television version of a toothache during its free preview this week.

It's bad enough that the Center Ice package excludes most pre- and post-game shows (save for Hockey Night in Canada) as well as rerunning games, but to subject existing subscribers to that nonsense runs the risk of further alienating less-than-thrilled customers.

Thank God, though, for the mute button. At least I don't have to listen.

Finding the silver linings

For no other reason than what's described below, yesterday's hounding of the Pittsburgh Penguins continued a streak of disappointing outings. But rather than dwelling upon it, I'll share some of the highlights of, when all things are considered, a pretty fun day.

~ Taking Colin to lunch at Andreychuk's Grill and watching him recognize jerseys from all the teams that Captain Dave played for during his career. His favorite? The Bruins jersey. Daddy's favorite: The Prince of Wales jersey from the 1990 All Star Game in Pittsburgh.

~ Meeting one of Hound Central 2.0's readers, Angelina, after Colin cleaned up on yet another team sheet (shown above) during the morning session. (Angelina, feel free to participate in the contests. In both cases, including this week's Hockey Arcade, you would have had the correct answer.)

~ In proof that the Hockey Gods smile upon him, Colin was selected to ride the SweetBay Zamboni during the first intermission of the Tampa Bay Lightning's 3-2 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins. I don't know who was more excited: him or me. (I promise I'll post a picture once it arrives). Even better, though, was that his Nana and Babop, visiting from New Hampshire, were able to witness his Jumbotron Moment, so to speak, at the St. Pete Times Forum.

~ Finally, learning that Penguins fans don't take too kindly to such chants as "Kansas City" and "Overrated" to the floating nonfactor known as Evgeni Malkin.

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A taste of their own medicine

I came to a realization while hounding the Pittsburgh Penguins yesterday afternoon that the hobby is becoming more of a job.

I don't mind putting together a book of cards. Nor am I bothered by the amount of work that goes into avoiding duplication of the 1,145 pucks we have in our collection. I've even come to appreciate the lulls with a day of hounding, creating time to catch up with friends and even make new ones.

Nope, none of that bothers me. What bothers me is the need of a handful of people, mostly dealers, who feel the need to turn a opportunity to collect autographs into nothing more than an ugly rugby scum.

I don't recall ever having that problem in North Carolina. And it sure didn't happen in AHL cities. I first encountered this behavior in Boston, which, when you think of it, should come as no surprise. And, maybe I was naive, but I was disappointed to see it in Tampa.

Much to my own chagrin, I react badly to these instances of, for the lack of a better word, bullying. Yesterday afternoon, a crush to get Sidney Crosby's autograph, despite the best efforts of another daddy, terrified my son to tears. As a result, I've had it.

And rather than walk away, like I know I should do, I remember a lesson I learned as a child. If you run away from a bully, it only makes him stronger and invites him to bother you again. But if you confront bullies, and let them know you're not backing down, they have a tendency to go away.

My wife and son will be taking some time off from adding autographs to our collection. Thankfully, the next few trips will come on work and school days, so it's not like they'll be missing much.

For the next few weeks, beginning Thursday morning with the Washington Capitals, I'll be flying solo. Actually, I'll be doing much more than that. It's time, in a non-physical way, to confront the bullies.

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Two more Staals to go

When Pittsburgh's Jordan Staal signed this program earlier today, it marked the second of the four Staal brothers that have made our collection.

Though he's signed for us most every time we've seen the Carolina Hurricanes, we also loaded up on Eric when he played for the AHL's Lowell (Mass.) Lock Monsters during the 2004-05 NHL lockout. The program, which I bought from the team's Web site, was our first from Jordan.

Though it may take a few more years, with Marc and Jared waiting in the wings, the Staals are poised to become this generations's Sutter brothers.

In time, I'll work on a Staal brothers stick. And with any luck, I'll have their parents sign it as well.

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Doesn't hurt to ask

One of the best moments of the morning came when Pittsburgh's Dominic Moore, who played his college hockey at Harvard, stopped to sign for us.

As Moore was making his way down the line, I gave Colin a question to ask the Crimson alum.

"Dominic, can you help get me into Harvard," Colin asked.

Moore immediately started laughing.

"I don't know, buddy," he said. "I had a hard enough time getting myself into Harvard."

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Chomps! Chomps!

Now that the Florida Gators dealt Ohio State a 41-14 thumping to become the NCAA's 2007 national football champions, all I can say is:

How 'bout them Gators!

If that sounds familiar, it should. I said that when the Gators won the NCAA national basketball championship last April.

Having rooted for the Gators since my first tour of duty (1979-89) in the Sunshine State, to watch them win two national championships in two sports in less than 10 months is something I'll treasure.



Sun, Sand and Hockey tour

Had I been wearing my hockey thinking helmet, I could have put together a Hockey Week in Florida road trip, involving Florida's six professional teams, during this week of vacation.

This would have been the itinerary:

Saturday, Jan. 6: Gwinnett (Ga.) Gladiators vs. Pensacola Ice Pilots (East Coast Hockey League) at The Hangar at the Pensacola Civic Center.
Tuesday, Jan. 9: Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Tampa Bay Lightning at the St. Pete Times Forum. (We already have tickets, too.)
Wednesday, Feb. 10: Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Florida Panthers at the BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise.
Thursday, Feb. 11: Fayetteville (N.C.) Fire Antz vs. Florida Seals (Southern Professional Hockey League) at the Silver Spurs Arena at Osceola Heritage Park in Kissimmee.
Friday, Feb. 12: Fayetteville (N.C.) Fire Antz vs. Jacksonville Barracudas (SPHL) at the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena.
Saturday, Jan. 13: South Carolina Stingrays vs. Florida Everblades (ECHL) at the Germain Arena in Estero.

The total mileage, starting and ending at our St. Petersburg home, to criss-cross the Sunshine State and take in six games in eight days: 2,056 miles.

Though I have another week of vacation in March, I think the Sun, Sand and Hockey tour will have to wait until 2008. At the least, Colin and I are headed to South Carolina in March, when we hope to take in games in Atlanta and Augusta, Ga.

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Sunday morning homily VIII

This will be really short, I promise, as I'm on vacation and family obligations await:

~ Though I'm not a big fan of commercials, I like the ones that have been running for the "TimBits" hockey program in Canada. My favorite, though I haven't seen it in a couple days during CBC telecasts on the NHL Center Ice network, shows younger players pulling an age-old trick on Bobby Orr. And, of course, Sidney Crosby is featured in a couple, both of which are designed to tug at a nation's collective heart strings. That desired effect crosses the border, too.

~ Because I like to "rest my eyes" from time to time, it doesn't mean that I totally tune out hockey games on the tube. All I need to hear are such phrases as "a double stack pad save," "end-to-end rush" or "gave him a facewash" and I snap to attention. What other sport can make that claim?

~ All I can do is chuckle at attempts over the past few days to absolve Dallas' Patrik Stefan from his open-net blunder against Edmonton. One knucklehead has even gone so far as to suggest that the announcer Ray "Chicken Parm" Ferraro, a former NHL veteran, owes the former No. 1 overall pick an apology. Apologists aside, Stefan is lucky he still has his job. If there is some good to come out of it, that video will serve as a perfect example that players, when given that kind of opportunity, should have one objective -- shoot the puck as quickly as possible.

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Review: 2006-07 Upper Deck MVP

Keeping my word, as I always try to do, I've just finished busting open two boxes of Upper Deck's MVP offering for this season. And, up until the final pack, I was prepared to share my disappointment in the product.

As I opened that 48th pack, many with the help of my hound-in-training, Colin, any impending disappointment was wiped away by the last card. Yessiree, buddy, I got my first Evgeni Malkin rookie card.

It's not so much any financial value that others may place upon the shiny piece of cardboard (more on that later), but for all the hype that Malkin has received, I believe Upper Deck and its subsidiary, Fleer, owe it to collectors to make sure every box, especially those at the mid-level price range, carries a Malkin card.

Bottom line, Upper Deck, it's all about value. Even if I spent only $35 for a box, I believe it's going to be a waste of money if I don't get the rookie du jour. Last season, it was Sidney Crosby, Alexander Ovechkin, Dion Phaneuf and, once the playoffs ended, Conn Smythe winner Cam Ward. Honestly, even without yesterday's crowded playing field, I don't believe it's too much to ask.

Seriously, I was relieved at seeing that Malkin card. Granted, it was nice getting a Jordan Staal rookie card. The Marc-Edouard Vlasic was a nice little bonus, too. But it wasn't until I saw the Malkin card that I felt I received any value for the $110 I paid for the two boxes.

I suppose I could start voting with my wallet, and stop buying cards by the pack or box until Upper Deck makes that kind of commitment to its customers. It's easy enough to cherry-pick on the secondary market, or gobble up lots of unwanted commons for our autograph stock.

It's my guess, though, as it is with many things that I see in life, that I'd end up standing alone. In a sense, I've already started. Back in the heyday, when Upper Deck, Topps, Pacific and Be A Player had twice-monthly product launches, I would gobble up as much as I could.

These days, I've become much more finicky. If it wasn't for the opportunity to score a Malkin or a Staal, I would've passed on the MVP offering. Sure, it showed Anaheim and Buffalo players in their new uniforms. It also has just enough second- and third-year players, as well as the obscure common, to appeal to autograph hounds. And I certainly won't complain about my memorabilia cards -- two double-sided game-used jersey cards (though one featured Curtis "The Oxygen Thief" Joseph and Dan Cloutier).

No, what I dislike the most about these cards is that dadgum glossy coating. If you're an autograph hound who collects on cardboard, you know what I mean. Glossy cards require prep work -- from piles of white eraser debris to messy baby powder to rubbing it off with your fingers. Any way, it's a royal pain in the patootie.

One final thing, too. One would think that you could put together the 297-card base set out of the 384 cards from two boxes. Guess what? It'll take at least three to complete a set. Now that I have what I want, though, I won't even bother.

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The wait is over

If you're looking for what will likely be an affordable Evgeni Malkin rookie card, meaning the first available within a moderately priced box, look no further than Upper Deck's MVP product.

It seems that Upper Deck's pricey Trilogy product carries a Malkin rookie card. But at $20 a pack or $160 for a premium-loaded nine-pack box (five cards per pack), that's a little too rich for my blood.

Given that MVP is at the lower end of the pricing scale ($55 a box - 24 eight-card packs with one jersey card), it's certainly worth picking up a couple boxes to improve your chances.

In fact, I'm heading off on a mini-journey to Shortstops, a card store in Palm Harbor, Fla., to test my luck. I'll check back in a couple hours.

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Simply unbelievable

Three things I never thought I'd see in the NHL:

~ Dallas' Patrik Stefan providing a new euphemism (look it up if you don't know what it is), as in "Man, you really pulled a Stefan there," after botching an in-close empty-net opportunity last night against Edmonton.

Adding insult to injury is that the Oilers corralled that errant puck, created an opportunity and had Ales Hemsky bury the game-tying goal with 2 seconds remaining in the game.

Thankfully, in Dallas' viewpoint, the Stars' dynamic shootout duo of Sergei Zubov and Jussi Jokinen pulled out a win. And though their skills may have saved Stefan's bacon from a one-way trip to Franklinville, N.Y., the former No. 1 overall pick's blunder (yet another example that you shoot the dadgum puck as soon as the opportunity presents itself) will be a memorable miscue.

~ It's one thing to lose a close game at home. It's another, though, to get smoked. Just ask the Boston Bruins, who lost 10-2 last night to the hated Toronto Maple Leafs at the TD Banknorth Garden. Enough said, don't you think? Thankfully, it's just one game out of 82. Also, any member of Bruins Nation who sat through the debacle should receive an upgraded ticket for their loyalty.

~ Some stiff named Curtis Joseph surpassing Hall of Famer Jacques Plante, one of the greatest goalies ever, for fifth place on the career wins list. Cujo's 2-0 win over the Carolina Hurricanes was his 438th victory and 49th shutout in his 17 years of stealing oxygen in the NHL.