Pretty busy day, eh?

Of all the days to take off from hockey, the NHL's trade deadline on Tuesday has to be one of the hardest. I love watching teams take chances for the Stanley Cup. I like watching teams that are building for the future. Most of all, though, is the frenetic energy that flows through the day.

Despite of all that, I found that I can take a day away from hockey, even if it is a busy one, to just chill out. I watched a movie. I played some darts. I made dinner for my son.

That doesn't mean, though, that I haven't heard the news. Sure, some teams went out and grabbed big-name players (San Jose got Bill Guerin, Gary Roberts agreed to go to Pittsburgh and Detroit took a chance with Todd Bertuzzi). A bunch of minor deals were made, too.

Now that I've had time to review the moves, here are my takes:

~ Even though it's had a terrible year, the Philadelphia Flyers should feel pretty damn proud of themselves. To me, they're a much better team, and one that's prepared for the future. Sure, they lost Peter Forsberg, but they picked up some fairly promising talent in Scottie Upshall, Ryan Parent and Braydon Coburn. The addition of Martin Biron will only help, too. Adding these guys to Jeff Carter, Simon Gagne, Joni Pitkanen, Mike Richards and R.J. Umberger could soon cause some serious headaches in the Eastern Conference.

~ Kudos to New York Islanders' Garth Snow for nabbing Ryan Smyth from the Edmonton Oilers. Smyth's a heart-and-soul guy who, to me, will only make the Islanders much more dangerous as the season winds down. Islanders fans can only hope, too, that he'll light a fire under Miroslav Satan and Richard Zednik. If he does, I wouldn't want to meet them in the playoffs.

~ Though I respect the veteran leadership that Georges Laraque and Roberts bring to Pittsburgh, I'm not sure the Penguins addressed every issue (backup goaltending, to be exact). Talent's great, but you need depth to go deep in the playoffs. Florida, by the way, got an excellent return in Noah Welch. Smart kid, too. He graduated from Harvard.

~ I certainly hope it's not a case of too little, too late, but I believe the Bruins upgraded their defense a little with Aaron Ward and Dennis Wideman. Ward adds experience and Wideman is a younger Brad Stuart, if you ask me. I was sorry to see Brad Boyes go, but it was inevitable. Like the Blues, I have faith in his abilities. I can't help but chuckle, too, at those who thought not too long ago that he was worth a fourth-rounder.

~ I'm not quite sure what to think of the Sabres' dealings. On one hand, adding Dainius Zubrus to Buffalo's high-octane offense left me giggling with anticipation. Replacing Biron with Ty Conklin, though, leaves me worried. Though I'll root for Conklin because of his UNH ties, I won't have the confidence with him in net as I would have with Biron. Besides, Biron's one of the nicest players you'll meet -- great signer and loves to talk.

~ As for Tampa Bay, I applaud the moves they made. Not for the enhanced grit that Shane O'Brien, Karl Stewart and Jason Ward bring, but it gives me a reason to hound the Lightning one more time this season.

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Two are better than none

Chances are, you've noticed that this posting has replaced one that detailed a very disappointing trip to hound the Pittsburgh Penguins. Now that I've had time to think about, none of what happened truly surprises me, my own conduct included.

And, as the cards shown above indicate, we didn't go home empty-handed.

What I have decided to do, though, is to take a break from hounding, beginning tomorrow with the Dallas Stars. Sure, we'll go to the game. After that, the Lightning will be on a road trip. I need to refresh my batteries, so to speak, and remember just how much fun this hobby (and that's all it is) can be.

Besides, I need time to catalogue all the pucks we've added to our collection this season.

By March 16, when my hometown Buffalo Sabres come back to Florida, I'll be ready to continue toward the goal of 1,250 pucks in the collection.

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Sunday morning homily XIV

After more than half of a season attending Tampa Bay Lightning games, there's something I have to get off my chest: Just because the team won the Stanley Cup, it doesn't mean all the team's fans truly know hockey.

Sure, they know that Vinny Lecavalier and Marty St. Louis are the star players. They know that Johan Holmqvist has wrestled the starting goalie position away from Marc Denis. And, if they read the morning paper, they know that newly acquired defenseman Shane O'Brien is unlikely to play in this afternoon's game against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

In instances like that, they're a knowledgeable lot. And, yes, the Lightning's Stanley Cup ring is pretty shiny. But, when it comes to the nuances of the game, there's still plenty to learn.

Early during Friday's humbling 6-2 loss to the Boston Bruins, when the score was just 2-1 or 3-1, a group of fans started with the "We Want Roy" chant. Like most team tough guys, Andre Roy has become a fan favorite. It's my guess, too, that there are more than a few fans who come to games just to watch players fight.

But to implore Tampa Bay coach John Tortorella to send out Roy was a mistake. Not only would that move have risked putting the Lightning down a man because of a likely instigator penalty, but the team needed more than a spirited bout that night against Boston. Besides, at that point, the Lightning was only trailing by, at most, two goals, a deficit they have surmounted many times this season.

Furthermore, I've never held much stock in using pugilism as a way to inspire. If you're an NHL player, earning a minimum of $450,000, you shouldn't need a fight to get fired up. If you do, well, you don't belong in the league.

Getting back to the fans, though, I couldn't help but laugh at this vocal group later in the second period when, after the third elicitation of a "Boston s****" chant, the Bruins scored a fourth goal. Though sophomoric and yet funny, the St. Pete Times Forum fell silent as the red light flashed.

Unfortunately, not every one saw humor in my non-verbal "I can't hear you" response (hand cupped behind ear). One lady, and I'm being very generous here by using that word, gave me the universal sign of disagreement. In response, all it took was a point to the scoreboard and an inquiry to what else she does with that finger, and she knew she had been schooled.

It's instances like these, which show a lack of knowledge as well as class, that will continue a lack of respect shown toward the team and its efforts.

This afternoon, against the Penguins, my loyalties won't be conflicted. I'll wear my Lightning jersey, with Captain Dave's name and number, and will probably cheer myself hoarse. But I'll also cringe when, inevitably, a handful of fans embarrass not only themselves, but the team and the area as well.

And for a team and a region that has one of the greatest reasons to celebrate -- a Stanley Cup title in a relatively short time of existence -- that's a shame.

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Nice souvenirs

For the most part, our son, Colin, has a souvenir from every hockey game he attends long before the puck is dropped. Tonight's game against the Boston Bruins was no different.

Despite dealing with the aftereffects of a cold, Colin scored 11 autographs on his team sheet (at left) from such players as Zdeno Chara, Marc Savard and Hannu Toivonen. He also added two cards each from his Bruins buddy, Patrice Bergeron, and Tim Thomas.

Once inside the St. Pete Times Forum, though, the gifts kept coming. As he stood along the glass during warm-ups, wearing his autographed Bergeron jersey, two Bruins made sure he went home with ice-cold souvenirs. Andrew Ference and Phil Kessel each skated up to the glass, tapped it, pointed to Colin and tossed a puck over the glass.

Pretty cool, if you ask me, and it certainly was the highlight, even beyond the Bruins' 6-2 drubbing of the Tampa Bay Lightning, of the evening. And you can bet we'll have them sign those pucks when Boston's back in town.

The only bummer of the night was learning that Patrice wasn't going to play. Not only did he tell us before the game that he was going to play, but we also saw him during the warmups. Was Colin disappointed? A little. But he understands that he'll have plenty of time to see Patrice play again.

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A fair trade

The last time the Boston Bruins were in town, we were fortunate enough to get a picture of Patrice Bergeron and Colin together outside the team’s hotel in Tampa. Since then, the picture has sat, in a frame, on a dresser in Colin’s room. And instead of gathering dust, it was simply waiting for the right time.

That time, I believe, was earlier today.

Just before tonight’s game, Colin’s gave Patrice that picture, even taking the time to autograph it for the Bruins star.

"Is that for me?" Patrice asked.

"Yes," Colin replied. "I even autographed it to you for you."

"Thanks, buddy," Patrice said.

The deal got even better, as Colin gave him three hand-drawn pictures – one showing Patrice getting high-fives from the bench after scoring a goal, one of the Bruins locker room where Patrice’s jersey hung in a stall and one of two Zambonis clearing the TDBanknorth Garden ice.

It was hard to tell who had the biggest smile – Patrice, Colin or myself.

In return, Patrice signed a couple cards for Colin, including one (shown above) with a piece of game-used jersey. As you can imagine, that’ll soon be in a screwdown case. It’s my guess, too, that’ll end up on Colin’s dresser.

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The true Hub of Hockey

There is no one in Boston who knows more about hockey than the Boston Globe’s hockey writer Kevin Paul Dupont.

As pleasant and approachable as he is, I couldn’t believe that I was the only one to get the Hall of Famer’s autograph this morning.

He even shared with me a story, involving his then 5-year-old son, from the day he was "abducted" in hockey's hallowed hall.

If you’re a Globe reader, you should be looking forward to a pretty neat package the paper is putting together of the Bruins’ Father-Sons trip.

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School days

When Boston’s Tim Thomas signed this University of Vermont puck earlier today, he became the third member of the 1993-94 Catamount squad to do so.

Can you guess the two others?

Here's a hint: They both play for the Tampa Bay Lightning.

I also wonder whether the trio will grab a beer after tonight's game.

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Junior! Oh, Junior!

Though I had two pucks that I wanted to get signed, Boston’s Marc Savard was following a strict one-per-person policy this morning.

Not a problem.

Picking the Oshawa Generals puck over the New York Rangers was a no-brainer. I just wish his signature, or shall I say scribble, was a little better.

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Hockey humor?

Even though Boston’s Brandon Bochenski and Andrew Ference aren’t rookies, they’re still new B’s. Get it? Newbies? Sorry, bad joke.

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Definitely worth the trip

Sometimes it’s fun to be humbled. All I was proud of myself for getting Boston’s Hannu Toivonen ("the backup goalie" was how Tampa's dealers referred to him) to sign these four cards.

Then I noticed Toivonen happily signing nine cards for a Bruins fan and autograph collector visiting from Hershey, Pa.

Despite the bumpy ride he’s had this season, Toivonen has always been a class act.

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Hockey Word Association 1.3

I know it's late. I know I'm weary. And I hope your plans don't include me.

If they do, though, here are this week's suggestions:

1.) Cross-ice pass =
2.) Peter Forsberg =
3.) Road trip =
4.) Breakaway =
5.) Jordan Staal =


Checking in with the B's

After conducting a little research, touching base with some sources and playing up a hunch, I was fortunate enough to be the only hound this morning waiting for the Boston Bruins as they headed to a practice over in Brandon.

My motivation for the trip over to Tampa was far more than autographs. Sure, I added another 14 autographs to the collection, including four pucks from Zdeno Chara. What I really wanted to do was check in with Patrice Bergeron and let him know that his little buddy was looking forward to seeing him tomorrow.

Fortunately, I was able to see Patrice and pass along our best wishes. He assured me that he was feeling better, enjoying his brief time in Florida (he didn’t catch any fish) and he’d be playing against the Lightning.

I told Patrice that Colin had been wrestling with what to wear to Friday’s game – either his autographed Bergeron jersey or his Lightning jersey. Not surprisingly, Patrice weighed in.

"You tell him he better wear his Bergeron jersey," he said.

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Proof positive

I’ve heard that Boston’s Zdeno Chara is a pretty willing signer, even to the point that he takes an interest in what people want him to sign. I found out for myself earlier today when the Chara, the Bruins’ captain, signed these four pucks.

He was impressed that I had a puck from the Prince George Cougars, where he played his junior hockey.

"I don’t see too many of those," Chara said. "That’s pretty cool."

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Back in form

Boston’s Phil Kessel, who had the scare of his young life earlier this season when he was diagnosed with testicular cancer, seems to be settling back into the hockey life these days.

One of the first players to leave the hotel this morning, he passed the time waiting for the bus to leave by kicking back, reading USA Today and signing this autograph.

“I’m doing pretty good, thank you,” he said. “Everything seems to be OK.”

For the record, the card is from ITG's 2006-07 Heroes and Prospects set.

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Review: 2006-07 NHL Rookie Class

Please, don’t believe that I’ve become a flak for Upper Deck, but the 2006-07 Rookie Class set offering is too hard to pass up.

This 50-card box set, though not technically rookie cards, features the top first-years players of the NHL’s 2006-07 season. You’ll get cards of, among others, Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal, Los Angeles' Anze Kopitar, Nashville's Alexander Radulov, and San Jose's Matt Carle and Marc-Edouard Vlasic.

To me, a set like this is excellent for autographs. You’re not defacing a true rookie card, and lowering its value on the secondary market, and there’s the eventual thrill of finishing a relatively easy-to-do set.

And, for $20, it’s probably the best deal Upper Deck has offered this year. Now, if I could just convince them to do away with the shiny surface.

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Quietly, puck No. 1,200

It might not be the biggest milestone of the collection, but I still reached 1,200 autographed pucks when Florida’s Olli Jokinen signed this New York Islanders puck today before the Panthers' morning skate at the St. Pete Times Forum.

No fireworks went off. No church bells tolled. Tampa’s Mayor Pam Iorio didn’t drive down from city hall to present me with a key to the fair city. Nope, nothing like that at all.

It was just another "Thank you" on my part and a knowing smile that reaching my goal of 1,250 pucks by season’s end is obtainable.

Addendum: This is the 300th post of the season.

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A public service announcement

Here’s a bit of advice when it comes to asking Florida’s Eddie Belfour for an autographs: Unless you have a card or cards for him to sign, you’ll be wasting your time, effort and breath.

This morning, Belfour breezed past hounds clutching pucks and 8x10s. People asked, but he simply ignored them. It wasn’t until I offered this Pacific Exhibit 4x6 card, at right, that Belfour signed anything.

Even better, he asked whether Colin’s name had one "l" or two as he honored my request to personalize the card to my son.

Granted, he may be tough, but he will sign if you follow his rules. If you want anything else, you’re better off visiting his Web site.

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Don't forget about the Panthers

Granted, the Florida Panthers may not pack the big names of such Eastern Conference teams as Pittsburgh, Washington and Carolina, but any hound worth his or her salt needs to make at least one trip for South Florida’s best hockey players.

I made the trip earlier today over the Gandy Bridge and was rewarded for my effort. Not only did I score the 1,200th autographed puck of the collection, but I also added another 29 autographs, including a Panthers jersey, personalized to Colin, from Jay Bouwmeester.

With such stars as Olli Jokinen, Ed Belfour, Gary Roberts, Bouwmeester and Martin Gelinas, solid veterans in Chris Gratton and Jozef Stumpel as well as promising prospects Bryan Allen, Alex Auld, Nathan Horton, Rostislav Olesz and Stephen Weiss, the team is definitely worth hounding.

And let’s not forget about Hall of Fame defenseman Denis Potvin, who works as TV analyst for the Panthers. No, I didn’t forget about Todd Bertuzzi. Sidelined by injury but reportedly days away from playing, Bertuzzi wasn’t seen this morning.

Pucks shown above, from left, are:

Vancouver Canucks: Bryan Allen
Los Angeles Kings: Olli Jokinen (No. 1,199 of the collection)
Ottawa 67’s: Gary Roberts

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I made my choice

In addition to witnessing one of the closest finishes ever at a Daytona 500, here are three more reasons why I watched the race yesterday instead of the Penguins-Capitals game:

~ NHL players aren't humanly capable of reaching speeds of 180-plus mph. Besides, I just can't get enough of those speed shots of the cars coming off turns 2 and 4.

~ NASCAR drivers can finish a race upside-down, skidding along on the car's roof, as a fire breaks out in the engine compartment. Thankfully, the driver, Clint Bowyer, wasn't hurt.

~ NASCAR announcers wouldn't even consider ripping 85-mph wrist shots past 10-year-old goalies. And they certainly wouldn't chuckle about it afterwards.

I will say, though, that NASCAR ought to mandate TV timeouts into the race so networks can run commercials. My chief complaint is that something notable (lead change, wreck, etc.) usually occurs whenever a network breaks away from a race to conduct a little business.


Nice stops for goalie mask fans

Though I haven't seen Cam Ward wear his new North Carolina-themed goalie mask, shown at left, this feature offers an interesting look at it, as well as his Nickelback mask.

You'll also learn why he never painted his mask while playing for the Red Deer (Alberta) Rebels of the Western Hockey League.

The feature also highlights John Grahame's NASCAR-themed mask.

A recent trip to Google, too, yielded this neat site.

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Sunday morning homily XIII

Looking back, I'm surprised at just how subdued I was when getting Wayne Gretzky to sign a Team Canada puck last week. Even with our autographed-puck collection nearing the 1,200 milestone, it did have some notable gaps, primarily one from The Great One.

Going in to Tuesday's hounding session, I was setting my sights elsewhere. I had heard the horror stories and rumors about Gretzky. He never stays with the team. He never signs for big crowds. Or, simply, he never signs. There was even a rumor floating that the Coyotes would fly in from Miami, where they had played the Panthers three nights earlier, just in time to make the game.

Because of that, I was viewing Grant Fuhr, the team's Hall of Fame goalie coach, as my key player, so to speak.

After arriving at the team's Harbour Island hotel, I nearly missed getting Fuhr as I was still setting up the 20-plus pucks and one game-used stick I brought to get signed. Thankfully, though, I was able to find the old Buffalo Sabres logo puck for Fuhr.

A few minutes later, there was sudden movement with the crowd of 30 to 35 collectors and dealers. At first, I thought it was Jeremy Roenick or Shane Doan, two of the most-willing signers in the NHL. It wasn't until I got a better look did I recognize that it was Gretzky.

"Holy s***," I said out loud, while snagging the Team Canada puck. "Gretzky's signing!"

I joined the fray, thinking that he'd sign only a few and I might have to use my bulk to even stand a chance. I soon realized, though, that Gretzky was well on his way toward signing for the house. I couldn't believe it.

Only now, when I look at that puck, tucked safely away in a display case, is it finally starting to sink in that, yes indeed, Wayne Gretzky, God's gift to hockey long before Mario Lemieux and Sidney Crosby became hockey household names, added to our collection.

Thanks, Wayne.

If it's Friday, it'll be Boston

A couple times during the season, NHL teams have to deal with a busy stretch of the season -- three games in five nights or four games in seven. And when it comes at this time of the year, when teams begin ramping up the playoff effort, you know the games are going to be intense.

As a hound down here in the Tampa Bay area, an upcoming seven-day stretch will be just as intense, with four teams and a ton of talent, presenting itself.

Beginning Tuesday, when the Panthers (Olli Jokinen and Jay Bouwmeester) come to town, the Lightning will host the Boston Bruins (Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara and Marc Savard), Pittsburgh Penguins (Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal and Marc-Andre Fleury) and Dallas Stars (Mike Modano, Jere Lehtinen and Marty Turco).

Thankfully, I had the foresight to take off some time in the days ahead. Granted, we expected (Colin, especially) some Bay State company about now, but that, uh, fell through. Either way, I'll put the time to good use and add to the collection.

What were they thinking?

Can someone tell me, please, why in God's name would NBC schedule such a premiere matchup as the Capitals-Penguins, meaning Alexander Ovechkin vs. Crosby, at nearly the same time as America's greatest race, the Daytona 500?

Granted, NASCAR and the NHL are about as far apart as sticker tires and hockey sticks. But there are some people, namely me, who might want to watch both without having to flip channels every 30 seconds.

Besides, I want to see what unconscionable act that NHL on NBC analyst Brett "The Bully" Hull will pull this week. My money's on him planting a foot in a crease.

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Review: Upper Deck Hockey Series II

In my world, there's very little that Upper Deck has done right. The Malkin boat docked too late. It's too slow to show teams and players in new uniforms. And, for the most part, Upper Deck, and its subsidiary titles, are the only show in town.

It's funny, though, how quickly perception can change. In this case, all it took was one box of Upper Deck Hockey Series II.

Cards of Anaheim players show the new uniforms. Same for the Sabres. The checklist also features cards of lesser-known players (think Atlanta's Greg de Vries, Colorado's Mark Rycroft and Minnesota's Kurtis Foster) that are useful in hounding. Each pack, too, contains an Upper Deck Victory update card, including rookie offerings of Evgeni Malkin, Alexander Radulov and Marc-Edouard Vlasic.

What really sealed the deal -- this time and this time only -- was how I hit the jackpot, so to speak. Not only did I pull not one, but two, Malkin Young Gun cards (including a scarce High Gloss), but I also pulled a 1-of-1 Martin Brodeur press plate card (that's it, shown above). Pulling a Brad Boyes autograph card didn't hurt, either.

Granted, this may have been one of those so-called hot boxes, but just the chance to snag a Malkin Young Gun, this season's Holy Grail of Hockey Cardboard, makes this offering pretty hard to pass up.

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What's better than one Malkin Young Gun?

How about two of them, including a High Gloss version (on left), in one box of 2006-07 Upper Deck Hockey Series II?

Granted, they are the checklist version. Still, though, two Malkins in a single box?

I must be in God's good graces.

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Hockey Word Association 1.2

Sorry for the delay, but I've been busy being a Daddy today.

Here are this week's suggestions:

1.) No-touch icing =
2.) Wayne Gretzky =
3.) Bring it on =
4.) Momma's Boy =
5.) Brett Hull =

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The Caps can wait

As news reports show northern cities digging out from a blizzard and dealing with frigid temperatures, I'm dealing with the "cold" down here in Florida.

Though our daily high may not break 60 degrees, there's another reason why I'm not hounding the Washington Capitals today. Someone is home from school, sidelined by a runny nose, a persistent cough and a temperature of 102 degrees.


Valentine's Day gift guide

In conducting a highly unscientific and biased study of Valentine's Day commercials, I've found that not a single one is geared toward the ladies. Mostly, they're designed to guilt men into buying everything from diamonds to bustiers to roses to a box of high-end chocolates.

I'm sorry, but aren't these commercials a little sexist? As far as I know, Valentine's Day is a two-way street. Though I'm reminded, on a daily basis, that women are smarter than men, I believe there's an unfulfilled advertising niche.

So, ladies, to even the playing field, so to speak, here are some suggestions to show your hockey-loving man that you do, indeed, care for him:

~ Tickets to this weekend's game, be it in the National Hockey League to the Southern Professional Hockey League.

~ One of those slick new RBK Edge jerseys. Sure, they may cost a pretty penny, but they are lighter, more form-fitting in design and have greater moisture-wicking technology.

~ A box or two, not a couple of packs, of Upper Deck Hockey Series II cards. You must know, too, that the Evgeni Malkin Young Guns rookie card, if he's lucky enough to pull one, will be worth considerably more than that $39.99 trinket he bought you at Wal-Mart.

~ A Bauer Vapor XXX Lite hockey stick. Don't worry, he'll know what to do with it. Just make sure you know if he's left-handed or right-handed. It'll makes a world of difference.

~ Round-trip tickets, lodging and meals for two to Toronto as well as admission to the Hockey Hall of Fame. You're on your own, though, trying to get tickets to a Leafs game.

Oh, yeah, don't forget a Valentine's Day card for him, too.

You can thank me later.

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Getting one from The Great One

Of all the players, past and present, that hockey hounds love to chase, it’s my guess that Wayne Gretzky would sit atop 99.99% of those wish lists.

After making a quick trip to Tampa this morning and witnessing a hockey hounding rarity -- The Great One signing at least one item for the 35-plus people (lots of dealers, too; there was even some guy in a FedEx uniform) who were outside the team’s Harbour Island hotel -- I can now remove his name from my list.

Not only did Gretzky, coach of the Phoenix Coyotes, sign this Team Canada puck, but he also commented on my offering.

"I think see too many of these," he said. "Hard to believe, isn’t it?"

My response, after thanking him: "The true north, strong and free."

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Oh, yeah, the rest of the Coyotes

To be quite honest, I never thought that Wayne Gretzky would sign autographs earlier today in Tampa. Between all the rumors of the team’s arrival, and to the horror stories of hounds and dealers, I was stunned to see Gretzky signing away and chatting with fans.

In hounding the Coyotes, I was willing to settle for Grant Fuhr, the Hall of Fame goalie, signing a Buffalo Sabres (above, right) puck. I knew, too, that Shane Doan would sign the Kamloops Blazers (above, left) puck. And even if Jeremy Roenick (who, unfortunately, I missed) might be playing his last season in the NHL, he’s always been a fan-favorite.

Beyond that, and I’m not lying, it really didn’t matter. I’m not a big fan of Curtis Joseph and Owen Nolan. In fact, had we attended tonight’s game (actually, I would have been the only one and I knew that wouldn’t have been fun), I was looking forward to losing my voice leading a never-ending mocking chant of "CuJo! CuJo! CuJo."

Now, as I look at the morning’s effort, I can’t really complain. Besides Gretzky, Fuhr and Doan, I was also able to get autographed pucks out of Cliff Fletcher, Georges Laraque, Darren Pang, Yanic Perreault and Steven Reinprecht.

Nick Boynton signed a game-used stick, too.

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Cujo rhymes with . . .

As much as I dislike Phoenix’s Curtis Joseph following a run-in last season in Boston, I was tickled to see that he might have remembered our exchange last year at Mathews Arena at Northeastern University.

In between signing autographs and offering smug comments, he paused long enough to look at me, divert his eyes and then snap his gaze, which betrayed what I believe to be recognition, right back at me.

All I could do was smile and then mouth the phrase, "Hello, ***hole!"

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Another stick on the wall

To Colin, it may not mean as much as, say, having a Marty St. Louis-signed stick up on the bedroom wall, but I was kinda psyched to finally get Phoenix’s Nick Boynton to sign a game-used Mission stick from his days in the so-called Hub of the Universe.

While signing the stick, I asked Boynton if he missed being in Boston.

“Nope,” he said. “Not at all.”

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Oooh, Brett, you're a real man

I finally had a chance to listen to Brett Hull during NBC's telecast yesterday of the Lightning-Devils game. And while he really didn't add much, I was left wondering what in the hell was he thinking when he ripped those shots past some poor kid in goal.

Let's see, a future Hall of Famer with a hair-trigger release on a cannon-like shot feels the need to reinforce a perception. It would be one thing if it were a Darren Pang, Glenn Healy or Brian Hayward helping out and playing goalie. But to take those caliber of shots against a kid shows Hull wasn't thinking things through.

C'mon, what happens if Hull hits that poor kid? Padding or not, it certainly would have, at the least, caused a bruise. What if it knocked out the kid? Broke his collarbone? Smashed the mask and crushed his face? I'll bet NBC's army of lawyers had a collective panic attack.

Even NHL on NBC co-hosts Bill Clement and Ray Ferraro seemed surprised.

It's one thing to take a shot from a peer. But when the shot comes from a player of Hull's quality -- and I'm talking only about his skill -- I'm pretty certain it was a surprise, and a rather unpleasant one itself.

Brett Hull, you're a class act. A real class act.

An addendum: You might want to check out this thread at hfboards.com.


A change in plans?

Between a forecast for rain and my wife home with a nasty head cold (the same one I had last week, most likely), I'm not sure whether I'll get the chance to hound Wayne Gretzky and the Phoenix Coyotes today and/or tomorrow.

It's a shame, too, as I have 25 pucks, a full book of cards and a game-used Nick Boynton stick ready to be signed.

All in all, though, it's more important to be a husband and a daddy rather than a hound.

By the way, the Coyotes are at the Westin Harbour Island hotel.


Our favorite goalie mask

As promised a couple weeks ago, here's a picture of the work-in-progress Team Canada goalie mask that's in our hockey memorabilia collection.

Notable signers shown are Patrick Roy (red part of the Hockey Canada logo), Martin Brodeur (black part of the logo), Cam Ward (below Roy's signature) and Curtis Joseph (upper left of Roy's).

Other signers include Roberto Luongo and Martin Biron.

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Sunday morning homily XII

The hounding circus that is known as Wayne Gretzky will make its only stop in Tampa this week. With the Phoenix Coyotes in town on Tuesday to play the Lightning, any hockey fan (myself included) worth his or her salt will be considering a way to try to get The Great One's autograph.

How much of a circus is it? Here are some of the rumors surrounding the team's arrival -- the team is staying in Sarasota; the team is staying in St. Petersburg; the team is staying in Miami and will fly in on Tuesday; and Gretzky never stays with the team.

To focus solely on Gretzky, though, would be a huge mistake. The team is loaded with players and personalities worthy of autographs:

~ Provided he travels with the Coyotes, Grant Fuhr, a member of hockey's hallowed hall, is the goaltending coach.
~ Top-shelf fan favorites Shane Doan, Georges Laraque and Jeremy Roenick seldom disappoint when it comes to signing.
~ Darren Pang, who's probably gained more fame as an announcer that he did as a goaltender, is personable and pleasant with a pen.
~ And, with any luck, grumpy old farts Curtis Joseph and Owen Nolan might even deign us worthy of scribbles.

As for Gretzky, I reached out to the team's front office in a bid to get a puck signed. Though we have Gretzky's autograph on a New York Rangers jersey, it's my belief that our autographed puck collection, now nearing 1,200 in total, is incomplete without one from him. Unfortunately, I've yet to hear back.

Comparing apples to dust

Where in the world does Montreal's punch-drunk thug Aaron Downey believe he even has the right to comment on Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby?

It seems that after Crosby fell to the ice after taking a stick to the chops in a game against Montreal, Downey, a personal punching bag for most of the NHL's enforcers, yapped at Sid the Kid.

Stand up, Downey said, and take it like a man.

Funny thing, though, about Downey. My last visual image of him came after he got smoked on a legal hit by Calgary's Robyn Regehr that left him a woozy and wobbly mess needing the assistance of four people to leave the ice.

Yeah, maybe that's the reason for Downey's bout of the blah-blah-blahs -- he's suffering suffering from post-concussion syndrome. If that's the case, perhaps he needs a seat -- permanently -- until he fully recovers.

In a way, the B's traded Joey, again

The Boston Bruins, in a bid to help salvage a disappointing season, shipped Brad Stuart and Wayne Primeau, two of the three players they received for Jumbo Joe Thornton, to Calgary for Andrew Ference and former BC Eagle Chuck Kobasew.

Though I have to give Boston's Peter Chiarelli credit for improving the team through the trade, and perhaps erasing some of the sting for such a lopsided trade loss, I believe it's going to take more than swapping role players for the Bruins to make any kind of run toward the playoffs.

Granted, I hope I'm wrong here, but I doubt it.

Speaking of trades

I don't know what it is, but I look forward to this time of the hockey season. I love to follow the trades, consider the rumors and watch the moves that any team makes to either push for the playoffs or, by virtue of a season lost in November, prepare for the future.

Here, in Tampa, the Lightning are reportedly looking for defensemen. Excuse me, but what team isn't?

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Three goals in 100 seconds

This is a case where a picture is truly worth a thousand words, or in the case of Carolina's Ray Whitney (at left), one of the goals in his natural hat trick as he logged five points in the Hurricanes' 5-2 victory over Boston last night.

After the discouraging loss at home, something has to give with the Bruins. For Bruins Nation, hopefully it won't be another
major mistake. From the looks upon all but one of the faces in the photo's background, they've suffered enough this season.

Then again, maybe I should mind my own business.

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Yeah, we recycle

Digging through some boxes the other day, I came across some of my oldest hockey memorabilia, namely this 1978-79 Buffalo Sabres team calendar in near-mint condition.

It was cool seeing logos for the Atlanta Flames, Colorado Rockies and Minnesota North Stars.

Funny thing, too, is that the calendar, which cost only $1.50 back then, match up with 2007. That's why it hangs on a trophy room wall.



Tag! You're it!

As long as your wasting your employer's money or your spouse's/significant other's/child's time, stop by the Kukla's Korner blog and participate in this Talking Hockey exercise.

And, if you're really bored, here are my answers:

Team: Machias (N.Y.) Norsemen
Uniform Number: 18
Position: Defense
Nickname: The Howitzer
Dream Linemates: Danny Gare, Patrice Bergeron and Marty St. Louis
Rounding out the power play: Jim Schoenfeld
Job: Clearing out the front of the net
Signature Move: Two-handed slash to the gap between the top of the skates and the bottom of the shin guards.
Strengths: Mile-wide mean streak and a wicked snap shot
Weaknesses: Hated to wear a cup
Injury Problems: You name it, it hurts
Equipment: All packed and ready to go
Nemesis: Started skating at 15
Scandal Involvement: Knowing the difference between farther and further
Who I’d face in the Stanley Cup Finals: Philly
What I’d do wth the Stanley Cup after our victory: Take it fishing at the Lime Lake Sportsmens Club
Would the media love me or hate me? Because I’ve worked at newspapers for 22-plus years, I’d hope the media would remain objective.

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Hockey Word Association 1.1

You know the drill. If you don't, get that thumb out of your mouth and jot down the first word or phrase that pops into your mind for the following:

1.) Goalie masks =
2.) Penalty shots =
3.) $7.50 beers =
4.) Boston Bruins =
5.) Hotel security =


For my boy

The best part of being a Daddy, I believe, is spoiling your son. That's why, after Colin rebounded from a rough couple of weeks at school, I asked Tampa Bay's Marty St. Louis, his favorite player on the Lightning, to sign the blade of a Bauer Vapor St. Louis-model stick for him.

Thankfully, Marty obliged.

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Filling the gaps

If you want to make a full day of hounding in Tampa, you really have to stop by the St. Pete Times Forum to snag a couple autographs from the Lightning. There's a window of opportunity between the visiting team's ride to the morning skate and its return to the hotel.

As you can see, I followed my own advice on Tuesday, getting Lightning defenseman Paul Ranger to sign this program. Vinny Prospal signed one, too. Cory Sarich signed a couple of cards and goalie Johan Holmqvist, who has wrestled away the starting gig from Marc Denis, signed a puck.

And, yes, Marty St. Louis signed a stick for Colin before I cut short the session to head back to the Kings' hotel.

Like I've said before, though, don't expect everyone to stop. Vinny Lecavalier and Brad "Dime on a Dollar" Richards are really hit-and-miss. Tim Taylor, nearing the end of his NHL run, and Nikita Alexeev seldom take time to sign. Most everyone else, though, shows their appreciation toward fans.

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Less-than-royal treatment

Western Conference teams usually draw a good crowd of hounds whenever they play Tampa Bay. Yesterday, though, I was surprised by the relatively light turnout. I’d say, at most, there were 15 collectors and dealers for the Los Angeles Kings.

Those who did show up, and put in a full day, shouldn’t be disappointed. Now, a few people were disappointed that Anze Kopitar, apparently everyone’s key player, didn’t sign a dozen 8 x 10s. I’m not complaining, though.

Another 13 pucks, including a pair from Kopitar and one from Rob Blake, were added to the collection. Even better, was that Colin was able to join me in the afternoon, having Dustin Brown, Alexander Frolov, Patrick O'Sullivan, Konstantin Pushkarev and Lubomir Visnovsky sign his team sheet (shown above) and Sean Burke and Mathieu Garon for his autographed goalie card collection.

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The kids are alright

It should come as no surprise that Los Angeles’ Anze Kopitar, making a bid for the Calder trophy, was the focus of every collector and dealer yesterday. That’s not to say, though, that he was the only young King worthy of hounding.

Granted, the Kings aren’t enjoying their best season, but they have an abundance of talent that could prove formidable once its matures in age and skill – Alexander Frolov, Kopitar, Patrick O’Sullivan and Konstantin Pushkaryov.

At day’s end, I added at least one puck from each player – top row: Frolov and Kopitar; bottom row: O’Sullivan and Pushkaryov. I even had Pushkaryov sign an 8x10 showing him with the Manchester (N.H.) Monarchs.

Also signing pucks yesterday were Kevin Dallman, Mattias Norstrom and Lubomir Visnovsky.

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Lasting impressions

Nelson Emerson, an assistant coach with the Los Angeles Kings, holds legendary status within our household. It’s not that he scored 510 points in 811 NHL (regular season and playoffs) games. It’s because he scored the first goal during the first NHL game attended by my wife.

It came during the Hurricanes’ 1997-98 home-opener against the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Greensboro (N.C.) Coliseum. Yes, the team’s first two seasons were played in Greensboro, not Raleigh.

What endeared Emerson to my wife, who also has an autographed Hurricanes No. 19 jersey, was he got into a fight immediately after he scored the goal. Let’s just say, as I have since that night, that Emerson is a better scorer.

"I still have a scar from that fight, right here" Emerson recalled yesterday, pointing to a mark between his eyebrows.

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A show of appreciation

As we made our way through pregame festivities Saturday night at the St. Pete Times Forum, we were pleasantly surprised to see former Lightning captain Dave Andreychuk milling with fans near The Arts Center's Art on Ice program.

Captain Dave signed a ton of autographs, including Stanley Cups made of clay, for a couple hundred fans. He posed for numerous pictures. He made memories for the smiling faces. Basically, in his role as a team ambassador, he was accessible. Quite simply, for those fortunate enough to meet him, he added value to the Lightning's 3-2 victory over the Rangers.

Now, for someone who has no problem calling out Brad Richards for his continued dime-on-a-dollar return on the NHL's second-biggest contract, or declaring that the team's inconsistency at home fails to provide an adequate return on our ticket-package investments, I will give the organization credit for reaching out to its fans.

Later today, the Lightning is holding a free Playoff Push rally at the Forum. They'll make players, such as Dan Boyle, Johan Holmqvist and Richards, accessible to fans. And, if you buy a package, which includes free tickets to the first two playoff games (provided the Lightning make it), you get a meet-and-greet with Vinny Lecavalier and Marty St. Louis.

Though it's nothing more than a marketing push to put fannies in the seats, it's another example of what the Lightning does right. They appreciate their fans. And, as a fan, I appreciate that.

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One question

Aren't you glad that the games of the Stanley Cup Finals are played inside rinks? Unlike all those deep-pocketed football fans down in Miami tonight for Super Bowl XLI, you don't have to worry about getting soaked.


Super Bowl XLI homily

Yeah, I know the blog is supposed to focus on hockey. But, as its owner, I can write about what ever I want, even if it is off-topic.

So, on a day when everyone is a football fan, let me go on record, though I’d never wager a quarter, that I believe the Indianapolis Colts will beat the Chicago Bears, 27-24, on a last-second field goal by Adam Vinatieri, in today’s Super Bowl XLI in Miami.

And, yes, Peyton Manning will named as the most valuable player. Also, Chicago’s resident thug Tank Johnson (given his recent scrapes with the law, shouldn’t he be playing for the Cincinnati Bengals?) will play the entire game without getting arrested.

Now, I promise, we’ll get back on topic.

Busy, busy, busy

Way back in September, just as the 2006-07 season was kicking off, I was looking forward to February 2007. Not only will some of our favored Eastern Conference hounding opportunities (Washington, Boston and Pittsburgh) be in town, but it’s a month of promising Western Conference opportunities –- the Los Angeles Kings, Phoenix Coyotes and the Dallas Stars.

Just think. Conditions, unlikely or not, exist to add pucks from Rob Blake, Wayne Gretzky (yeah, right), Alexander Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby (yeah, right II) and Mike Modano.

Even better is that we have tickets to see the Lightning play the Kings, Coyotes, Bruins, Penguins and Stars.

Don’t underestimate youth

If you get a chance, take a few minutes and read The Hockey News’ Jan. 30th cover story on Boston’s Phil Kessel and his recent dealings with testicular cancer.

Though the writing is somewhat predictable, as if often the case with that publication, the piece does dig into Kessel’s psyche when, at only age 19, he is faced with a potentially fatal disease.

I got a kick, too, of a quote from Boston’s Glen Murray, saying that Kessel probably needs some time to mature into a bonafide NHL star. Given what Kessel has gone though, perhaps its Murray, as well as the rest of the woefully inconsistent Bruins, who could learn a little about adversity from Kessel.

Welcome to the club, kid

A quick shout-out to Andrew, who made his NHL hounding debut yesterday in Tampa, getting a ton of Lightning players to sign a goalie stick and then loading up on Rangers players with a handful of pucks. He also got to see, from about the third or fourth row, the Lightning beat the Rangers, 3-2.

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Dealing with the Rangers

In further proof that morning skates are definitely better for collecting autographs, I was unable to add autographed pucks from New York’s Jaromir Jagr, Henrik Lundqvist and Brendan Shanahan during a game-time hounding session.

Multiple reliable sources, though, told me that all of the Rangers’ Big Three were somewhat-willing signers during the morning session. Supposedly, Jagr was cheerfully (for him) signing away until some kid, employed by one of Tampa’s dealers, forcefully thrust a McFarlane base nearly into his chest. At that point, two hounds told me, he shut it down.

Though I wasn’t there to witness the interaction, it doesn’t surprise me. From what I’ve seen, the lack of respect, an absence of manners and an ignorance of the players are the standard operating procedures down here for the dealers. That’s too bad, too. I guess, in their irrational exuberance (thank you, Alan Greenspan) to add another 50 cents to their pockets, that they just can't help themselves.

Not only have these dealers made the hobby more difficult, just by adding numbers to the crowds, but incidents like that, especially involving a player of Jagr’s caliber, only reinforce the usual reluctance to sign.

Having said that, though, I won’t complain. Another eight pucks, including ones signed by Petr Prucha and Martin Straka (shown above), were added to the collection, raising the total to 1,170. We also added six autographs (two pucks and four cards) from Fedor Tyutin. And, as an obscurity, Rangers rookie Daniel Girardi signed a London Knights puck. He played on the 2005 Memorial Cup-winning team.

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A true dilemma

One of the most misused words in the English language is dilemma. Most folks, even those who have a college diploma, incorrectly believe the word means a single difficult choice. What dilemma means is having to choose between two equally unappealing choices.

Here’s an example. New York’s Michael Nylander showed a veteran touch yesterday, grabbing a single blue Sharpie and signing an item for those gathered near the team hotel. And while I’m appreciative of his gesture, I walked away with my first, out of 1,170 in the collection, puck (shown above) signed in blue ink.

My dilemma? I faced a decision to accept an oddity, so to speak, and let him sign a puck with a blue Sharpie. Or I could have pulled the puck away, forfeiting an addition to the collection, in hopes that he’d sign in silver ink during his next trip to Tampa.

As you can see, having blue ink on a puck was the least unappealing choice.

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Making a connection

For the most part, NHL players are an amiable bunch, especially if you share a common experience.

While having New York’s Jason Krog sign a couple AHL pucks yesterday (Cincinnati Mighty Ducks, left, and Lowell Lock Monsters), I mentioned that not only were we fans of the University of New Hampshire program, where he won the 1999 Hobey Baker Memorial Award, but that we also had lived in Rochester, N.H., about two towns over from Durham.

"Rochester? Really?" he asked. "They have a great golf course there."

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Malkin 1, Magnitogorsk 0 (SO)

How does Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin celebrate a judge's decision to toss out Metallurg Magnitogorsk's requests that would have sidelined the talented rookie?

It's simple. He scores the game's first goal, adds an assists, and then provides the deciding goal in an extended shootout in the Penguins' 5-4 win over the Montreal Canadiens.

The Magnitogorsk team, which was seeking money after losing its hometown boy to the bright goal lights of the NHL, claimed that Malkin violated his contract when he fled the club last August.


Hockey Word Association 1.0

Because I get bored easily (too easily, probably), I've always been a fan of mental exercises. During these idle moments, I'll run numbers through my head or I'll rewrite song lyrics or I'll play connect the dots with items within my surroundings.

Hell, I even came up what I believe to be the world's shortest, though sophomoric, logical argument (I know there's a word for this, but it escapes me now) during a drive along New Hampshire's Rye Beach at low tide one afternoon:

Fish poop.
Poop stinks.
Fish poop stinks.

Most times, though, I resort to word associations. You know? Someone says a word or phrase and, provided you're not too busy or zoned out on Lord knows what, you provide the first word that comes to your mind. Pretty simple, eh?

Please know, too, that I don't expect answers in comments. Just jot your answers down (using, of course, a fresh blue Sharpie) on a scrap of paper, the palm of a hand (doesn't have to be yours) or some freshly painted wall.

Let's give it a try (my responses; no copying):

1.) Gary Bettman = (Who's kidding who?)
2.) Nashville Predators = (Take 'em seriously)
3.) Composite sticks = (Too brittle for the bucks)
4.) Hockey blogs = (very few like mine)
5.) Kick saves = (are always beauties)


Hockey Arcade is shutting down

OK, folks, here's the deal. I've been doing these Hockey Arcades for a month now and I'm only getting, at most, two responses. I tried to make it interesting as well as informative. My goal was to show that there was more to hockey than just the NHL.

Though it certainly wasn't heavy lifting on my part, preparing these took the longest of any of the 260-plus posts I've done this season. And even though I had fun doining it, I'd rather write about other hockey-related matters, especially as we near the trade deadline and the push for the playoffs.

If this is a disappointment, please accept my apologies. And to Drew, Jaci and Slegr_71, I appreciate your loyalty.

That doesn't mean, though, that I'm giving up on fun. Keep an eye out for a new feature: Hockey Word Association. I tried it during a recent "Ten questions with" interview and found it quite amusing. Please know, too, that comments on this aren't required. Hopefully, it'll provide some levity during breaks at work, classes or intermissions.

To provide closure, here are the answers to Hockey Arcade 1.2:

What's this? 2.2: The Cleveland Barons logo. You were close, Drew.
Who am I? Aaron Asham, Lasse Kukonen, Nikolai Zherdev, Patrick Rissmiller and Yotaka Fukufuji
Team quiz: 1-c; 2-a; 3-b; 4-d; and 5-e
They play the game: 1-d; 2-c; 3-e; 4-a; and 5-b
Brainbuster: Columbus' Fredrik Modin played for Brynas IF Gavle during the 1995-96 season of the Swedish Elite League.

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