What a difference

Unlike hockey, where I've gained a reputation (among the many I have) for being able to identify most of the players, I was in foreign territory, so to speak, during an autograph session with IMSA, or International Motor Sports Association, drivers today at the St. Petersburg Grand Prix.

Other than Bryan Herta, a driver for Andretti Green Racing in the American Le Mans Series, I was at a loss to identify or even remember the other nearly 40 drivers who signed this license plate for Colin.

What I will take away, though, is the constant thought that popped into my mind after every interaction between us and a driver -- they genuinely enjoyed interacting with the fans, even the neophytes like me.


Ovie says no

How can you tell that it's been a long season for Washington's Alexander Ovechkin? When he flat-out refuses a child's request to sign a jersey.

Granted, had he signed, it only would've been a "AO8." Still, though, if you're hounding the Washington Capitals, you're really looking for only three players -- Olaf Kolzig, Alexander Semin and Ovechkin. The other players are good to get, but it's always nice to snag the stars, too.

Despite Ovechkin's snub, Colin did pretty good, getting 10 players, including Semin to sign. Others players signing included Chris Clark, Steve Eminger and Mike Green.

We never saw Kolzig. He tends to slip out the side door of the team's hotel in downtown Tampa. It's too bad, too, because I has an old red-white-and-blue Washington Capitals and Tri-City Americans (a Western Hockey League junior team that he once played for and now owns a stake in) pucks.

It was also fun to catch up with Capitals defenseman Milan Jurcina, a former Bruins player. He said he's enjoying himself "much more" with Washington than Boston. Getting a regular shift helps, I suppose.

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He's not so tough

Over the years, I've heard that Washington's Donald Brashear was a less-than-willing signer. This morning, after missing the team bus to the morning skate, Brashear willingly signed for a handful of hounds and fans.

I don't know how these impressions are made (someone else's blog, perhaps?), but the pucks shown above are proof that even while being late, he still took the time to sign.

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Detours around a busy weekend

With the promise of 750,000 attending a free air show at MacDill Air Force Base tomorrow and Sunday, and the streets of downtown St. Petersburg turned into a waterfront IndyCar race course, there's plenty of entertainment choices in our little corner of the Sunshine State.

That being said, we're still looking forward to hounding the Capitals tomorrow morning. Colin's going to work on getting his Washington jersey signed by the team. I'm focusing on pucks from Donald Brashear, Tomas Fleischmann, Glenn Hanlon and Olaf Kolzig. Oh, yeah, if we're lucky, we might even get Alexander Ovechkin's autograph.

One drawback, though, is the route we'll have to take into downtown Tampa. Instead of our usual route, which takes us to the St. Pete Times Forum in 30 minutes, anticipated traffic jams mean a much longer ride, heading north to Clearwater before taking a right turn toward Tampa.

Sad thing, too, is that we'll take to make the trip twice. We have tickets to the Capitals-Lightning game.

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Hockey Word Association 1.8

As we roll toward the end of the 2006-07 regular season, see if you can detect a theme:

1.) Late-season call-ups =
2.) Martin Biron =
3.) Spoiler =
4.) Biggest flop =
5.) John Tortorella =



Have a spare hour?

If you haven't checked out Itech's goalie mask galleries (under Goalies in the banner link), it's worth your time to do so. Tons of pictures from goalies mask past and present. One could easily spend an hour there.

Here are some highlights among the five:

Pro Gallery: See if you can find Sean Burke's mask when he was with the Hartford Whalers. Remember Ron Hextall? His Quebec Nordiques mask is there, too. So is Miikka (not Mikko, as it's spelled on the site) Kiprusoff's San Jose mask.

Frank Cipra: An Itech goalie mask artist, he shares the thought process that went into the creation of a player's mask. In this case, it's Rick DiPietro of the Islanders.

Custom Painter Gallery: You might want to visit these galleries -- Designair.net, out of West Babylon, N.Y., and Hart Designs, out of Terrace. B.C., Canada. Good stuff.

International Gallery: Cujo fans -- all three of them -- might get a kick out of Joseph's old Team Canada mask. Check out former Edmonton goalie Tommy Salo's mask when he played for Modo of the Swedish Elite League.

Celebrity Gallery: You'll get seven views of a Patrick Roy Hall of Fame mask painted by Mike Hart, of Hart Designs. Other celebs include The Rolling Stones and Wayne Gretzky.

College Gallery: School pride is evident in masks for Boston University, Merrimack College and the University of New Hampshire.

There's even a link to a "Pimp My Mask" contest.


The mall crawl

After our Dinosaur World adventure earlier today, Colin and I found ourselves walking through the mall in Brandon. Who do we see walking in front of us? Tampa Bay goalie Johan Holmqvist, his wife and their two children.

Colin tried to say hello. Holmqvist, apparently, didn't hear him. That didn't stop his daughter, though, from picking a horse next to Colin on the mall's merry-go-round.

I didn't know what to say. After last night's 5-2 loss to Florida, in which Holmqvist was charged with two goals in a period of mop-up duty for starter Marc Denis, any form of congratulations would have been gratuitous.

And I certainly didn't ask him to autograph anything, seeing that he signed this card (shown above) for us yesterday.

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Must've been in a hurry

Count me among the surprised today that none of Tampa Bay’s Big Three stopped to sign for a sizable group of fans, hounds and dealers. Vinny Lecavalier, Brad Richards and Marty St. Louis drive right on by.
Really, it’s no surprise that Tim Taylor, the Lightning’s captain, almost never stops. Given the pressure he must be feeling, goalie Marc Denis offered only a wave. Even Doug Janik drove by.

It’s a rarity when not a single one of the trio will stop. Most often, it’s St. Louis. Vinny is hit-or-miss. Planets must be aligned whenever Richards stops. All three in one day? I haven’t been here that long, but that’s seldom happened.

All things considered, today’s outing, following the morning skate at the St. Pete Times Forum, was pretty fun. Colin scored 14 players, including Dan Boyle, Ryan Craig, Andre Roy and Bobby "The Chief" Taylor, on his team sheet.

Among the 13 autographs I added to the collection was the 1,250th puck.

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Counting down to 1,250

Going into this morning’s hounding sessions, I was pretty confident that I’d get the 1,250th puck of the collection and, rewardingly, the goal for this season. Having Florida’s Martin Gelinas sign four pucks cut the countdown by half. Olli Jokinen signed a 2003 NHL All Star Game puck. The magic number was now three.

About an hour later, outside the St. Pete Times Forum, the Lightning has completed its morning skate. Coaches and players straggle out.

Dan Boyle narrowed the gap to two, signing a Florida Panthers puck.
"What am I signing this for," he said.

"It’s part of your career," I told him.

A few minutes later, Shane O’Brien, a defenseman acquired from Anaheim before the trade deadline, rolled his truck to a stop. Having watched him play in Portland, with the AHL’s Pirates, it’s easy to see how he’s seen as a good fit with the Lightning. Here’s something funny, too. Watch him skate. He looks like Popeye.

He noticed, and signed, the Cincinnati Mighty Ducks puck first, for No. 1249.

The Lightning puck? Yes, that is No. 1,250. I picked up a couple more later. It stands at 1,252.

With at least two more sessions (Washington and Carolina), it’s conceivable to add another 10 by the end of the regular season. Beyond that, that’s up to the Lightning.

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Remember this?

He might not be enjoying the best year of his career, but Tampa Bay’s Ruslan Fedotenko should always be remembered for scoring the Stanley Cup-winning goal in Game 7 against Calgary.

I'm thinking, too, that a different color ink might be better. The signature is hard to see. What do you think?

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Added to the library

Have I mentioned how cool these Ice Time programs look when the featured players sign them?

Today’s signers were Ryan Craig and Cory Sarich. We’ve also had Dan Boyle, Ruslan Fedotenko, Vinny Prospal, Paul Ranger and Tim Taylor sign this season’s programs.

We have some for the Big Three and Marc Denis. Those, I’m afraid, will have to wait until training camp.

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Healthy attitude

One would think that playing on a last-place team that’s eliminated from the playoffs would turn the players into a grousing, disagreeable lot. In the case of the Florida Panthers, that would be the furthest from the truth.

Other than the quirky Eddie Belfour, there were no complaints along Channelside Drive today. Every player stopped to sign. Most, save for Jozef Stumpel, signed multiples. Some, like Stephen Weiss, even joked with fans.

Colin, on his second day of spring break, did pretty darn good. He got 17 players, including Jay Bouwmester, Nathan Horton, Olli Jokinen and Juraj Kolnik, to sign his team sheet.

Also, take a look at Mike Van Ryn’s letter-perfect autograph (middle, below spot where plam tree and stick cross). That, my friends, doesn’t happen too often.

I added another 28 autographs, including five pucks, to the collection.

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Just an opinion

Sometimes, specialty pucks, ones geared toward a specific event, are just begging to be used. Florida’s Olli Jokinen, whose goal forced overtime in the 2003 NHL All Star Game in Miami, is a pretty solid example, if you ask me.

Trivia? What gap-toothed star was named MVP?

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This helped

Very seldom do I ask a player to sign more than two to three pucks. In some cases, like Florida’s Martin Gelinas, I’ll take a chance with more. As the end of the regular season nears, and with the Lightning’s grip on the playoffs a tenuous one at that, I’m trying to complete my player career collections.

In Gelinas’ case, I needed four pucks – Carolina Hurricanes, Edmonton Oilers, Quebec Nordiques and the Vancouver Canucks. As you can see, he signed all four.

I started the day needing eight pucks to hit 1,250. These cut that in half.

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Go figure

Wanna know just how strict Florida’s Ed Belfour enforces his one-card rule? Though he signed this card, he refused Colin’s request to sign a blank Florida Panthers team sheet.

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Sunday morning homily XVIII

Looking back, the Lightning's training camp last September seems like years ago. It's been a long season. Players are grumpy. Hounds are grumpy. And, unfortunately, hotels are getting grumpy.

I wonder whether the NHL would consider taking a week off in early March to allow every team to rest, get healthy and just plain chill out.

Though NHL teams can't do that, I can. Colin's on his spring break from kindergarten, so we're looking forward to our first here in Florida.

We'll be hanging out, going fishing, hitting the beach and doing what tourists do when they're here. No Disney World, though. Nope, Colin wants to go to Dinosaur World. It's closer and much cheaper, too.

We'll get in a couple hounding sessions, too. Even the Lightning, so Colin can thank Marty St. Louis for this. Yeah, I know everyone is grumpy. Doesn't matter. The season wears on.

In sight

Some time this week, between the Florida Panthers, Tampa Bay Lightning and the Washington Capitals, I should score the 1,250th autographed puck of the collection. Who do you think it will be? With four pucks for Florida's Martin Gelinas, in Tampa on Tuesday, he'd be a good guess. If not him, it'll likely be a Lightning player.


Isn't it hard to believe that Tampa Bay's Vinny Lecavalier became the first Lightning player to ever reach 100 points in a season? He still needs one goal for 50. Maybe he'll get it Tuesday against the Panthers.

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A little too late

Colin and I caught the shootout between the Bruins and Rangers this afternoon. Like the two big kids we are, we woke up the cats when Boston's Patrice Bergeron solved New York's Henrik Lundqvist. Sadly, it wasn't enough. Rangers won, 2-1.

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Addicted to Hockey? Round VI

Here's another dozen ways to, indeed, tell if you're in need of snap shot to the melon:

~ Can't wait to have New Jersey's Martin Brodeur sign the blocker glove.

~ Wear a goal light, attached firmly to a sticker-covered hard hat, upon your head for use at the appropriate moments.

~ Spend every last dime, except those mingling in the dust and crumbs of your couch/sofa/davenport/recliner, for playoff tickets knowing full well that you're team will be one-and-done this year.

~ Have a goldfish named Rogie.

~ Maintain hope that Detroit's Todd Bertuzzi will someday play a full season. C'mon! Who am I kidding? I'll be surprised if he plays another 100 games in the NHL.

~ Willing to wade into hostile territory, such as Madison Square Garden or Joe Louis Arena, and root for the Islanders and Sharks, respectively.

~ Still believe that Pittsburgh Penguins management should've explored all options.

~ Willing to bask in the warmth of another gorgeous spring day in balmy Florida, shooting the breeze and snagging some autographs. Many times, I visualized that while weathering sub-freezing temperatures along windswept Avery Street near Boston's Downtown Crossing. It worked, too.

~ Look forward to your state's high school hockey championship game. In Florida.

~ Speaking of Florida (for the third time, no less), you try to get the Panthers' Martin Gelinas to sign four pucks -- Carolina, Edmonton, Quebec and Vancouver's old black-red-and-yellow flying skate logo.

~ Sign all of your bill-paying checks with a well-used silver Sharpie.

~ Routinely achieve the full moisture-wicking powers of the new RBK Edge uniform system.

And, just like the bagel shop a little way up the street, here's a baker's dozen of the countless ways that you can tell that you're addicted to hockey:

~ As a Sabres fan, you get an uneasy feeling every time you see Martin Biron in a Flyers uniform.

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I'm not surprised

Though I'm glad to hear that Philadelphia's Todd Fedoruk sustained no major injuries after getting knocked out recently by New York Rangers tough guy Colton Orr, it's about time the league's fighters are learning -- the hard way -- why I coined the "One-Punch" nickname for the enforcer back when he was with the Bruins.

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A glove save, and a beauty

Nearly two years ago, I stumbled across a pair of Martin Brodeur model goalie gloves (blocker and catcher) at a Play It Again Sports in Plaistow, N.H. This morning, I had one of the game's best goalies sign the catcher.

For the record, that silver scribble is what Brodeur is signing these days. A couple of seasons ago, it used to be a "MB."

Still, I won't complain. Of all the NHL stars, Brodeur is one of the most consistent signers. He'll sign anything put in front of him (cards, pictures, pucks, jerseys, mini-jerseys, masks, etc.), but he'll sign only one per person. Again, I won't complain.

And seeing that I only got four autographs, but three pucks, out of the Devils (the Westin Harbour Island hotel has pushed us away from the entrance and very few players honored our requests), this certainly was the highlight.

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To Colin, From Colin

Working on a collection within a collection, I added New Jersey's Colin White to our Colin collection.

To be honest, it's a very small collection. The only other puck we have signed by a Colin is Colin Forbes, when he was playing for the Portland Pirates of the American Hockey League.

Now, all we need are pucks from NHL exec Colin Campbell, Chicago prospect Colin Fraser, who's with the AHL Norfolk Admirals, and UNH alum Colin Hemingway, who's playing in Germany.

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Hockey Word Association 1.7

With a trip to Tampa to hound the Devils less than eight hours away, this week's exercise, in the interest of time, will have a New Jersey flavor:

1.) Lou Lamoriello =
2.) Red, green and white =
3.) Kansas City Scouts =
4.) Martin Brodeur =
5.) Elizabethtown =

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Overcoming obstacles

Despite having the elusive Ryan Smyth catch a ride in a hotel van and security shoo us farther away from the entrance, this morning's trip to Tampa for the New York Islanders was pretty productive. I was able to add another 27 autographs, including 11 pucks, to the collection.

Aside from Smyth, most of the team's top players -- Jason Blake, Rick DiPietro, Trent Hunter, Viktor Kozlov, Mike Sillinger, Brendan Witt and Alexei Yashin -- all stopped to sign for a crowd of about 15. In fact, DiPietro signed three pucks -- Bridgeport Sound Tigers, Chicago Wolves and Boston University.

Besides Yashin, among others signing cards were Chris Campoli, Mike Dunham and Andy Hilbert.
The pucks shown above, from left: Boston University - Rick DiPietro; Regina Pats - Mike Sillinger; and Seattle Thunderbirds - Brendan Witt.

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Back where he belongs

It's nice to see Ted Nolan, the head coach of the New York Islanders, back behind a bench.

The former Jack Adams Award (best coach) winner, who fell out of favor after walking away from a contract offer from the Buffalo Sabres and turning down a head-coaching opportunity in Tampa Bay, brings more than diversity (he was born into the Garden River Ojibwa First Nation tribe in Canada) to the NHL.

Through his actions, he has shown that good things happen to people who stand up for their beliefs. To me, it's no wonder that he has the Islanders within two points of making the playoffs with 11 games to go.

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It's a small world

In the grand scheme of things, getting a couple cards signed by New York Islanders' defensemen Freddy Meyer isn't a really big deal. What is kinda cool, though, is the fact that we have both lived in Rochester, N.H.

Though he signed cards from his time with the Philadelphia Flyers, he said he's happy with the move to Long Island.

"I'm getting a lot more playing time," Freddy said.

Addendum: Take a closer look at the cards. The O-Pee-Chee card spells his first name as Frederick. The Upper Deck card spells it Fredrick. His profile at NHL.com offers his full name - Frederick Meyer IV.

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How do you spell collapse?

Down here in Tampa Bay, given the way the Bolts have been playing of late, it's spelled L-I-G-H-T-N-I-N-G.

Less than a month ago, the Lightning was leading the Southeast Division. Now, they're watching Atlanta pull away. They oughta start looking over their shoulders, too. At this point, there's no guarantee that Tampa Bay will make the playoffs.

Even being a casual Lightning fan, I'd hate to see career years by Vinny Lecavalier, Marty St. Louis and Dan Boyle wasted.

Now that John Grahame is with the Hurricanes, I wonder who Lightning coach John Tortorella will throw under the bus this year? Ruslan Fedotenko? Vinny Prospal? Filip Kuba? Marc Denis? Johan Holmqvist?

Hey, here's an idea. How about Brad "Dime-on-a-dollar" Richards?

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Sunday morning homily XVII

It may have taken 30 years, but I'll have to count this past Friday's game between my hometown Buffalo Sabres and the Tampa Bay Lightning as not just my favorite of the season, but of my life.

It's not because the Sabres won, 3-2. And it has nothing to do with adding a bunch of autographs, including 14 pucks, to our collection. No, what made it so special were the two people sitting next to me.

As I've embarked upon my gypsy journalist life, moving from city to city or state to state every so often, I've seldom had the luxury of my relatives living nearby. This time, though, as we sink roots in Florida, it's different.

My Aunt Pat, the sister of the grandmother who raised me, spends her winters only 15 minutes from our house. Her daughter, and my cousin, Noel, as well as her husband, Howard, are visiting, too, escaping a month of western New York's brutal winter. It's nice having family around.

What made this Friday's game so special, though, dates to a snowy winter's night back in the late 1970s. Living south of Buffalo, in an area where we often saw more snow than the Queen City itself, you get used to large amounts of the fluffy, white stuff. In fact, we refer to any snowfall less than a foot in depth as a mere dusting and something that can be dealt with wearing long-sleeved T-shirts, shorts and sneakers.

Anyways, I digress.

Getting back to the story, on this particular winter's night, I had a ticket to attend a Sabres game at the Memorial Auditorium, or the Aud, as it was known. Aunt Pat was going to drive so we could go to the game. The combination of drifting snow, black ice on Route 16 and the late hour conspired against us. Though I was disappointed at missing my first NHL game, I understood then that the risks far outweighed everything else.

Fast forward, now, to this past Friday. My Aunt Pat, Noel and I found ourselves surrounded by an angry clutch of Lightning fans. Three quick goals gave the Sabres a 3-1 lead. The referees, as usual, were giving the Lightning, and their faithful, the fits. And, much to the dismay of those who we've come know this season, I gave quick notice that my allegiances that night were bound for my hometown team.

And while actions and comments only cemented my belief that Tampa Bay hockey fans have a lot to learn about the game (Sorry, folks, but having the Lightning win a Stanley Cup does not grant you genius status), let's just say that some vocabularies were expanded.

All in all, though, we had a great time. We saw the Sabres win, despite the team having to kill a pair of third-period penalties with just a one-goal lead. We joined the "Lets go Buffalo!" chants. I even reminded one Lightning fan that his single-digit salute more than doubled his IQ.

But it wasn't until the ride home, as we made our way over the Gandy Bridge, did I learn of the true significance of the game. While I've been lucky enough to see quite a few NHL games, this had been the first for my Aunt Pat and Noel. And to be able to return the favor, even 30 years later, was truly a cool feeling. I hope we get to go again next year.

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That didn't take long

It's nice to see that Dallas' Mike Modano wasted little time in becoming the top American-born goal scorer in the NHL history.

Just one game after tying Joe Mullen at 501 goals, Modano, a native of Livonia, Mich., potted a pair last night in the Stars' 3-2 loss to Nashville, giving him 503.

Modano's 500th career goal, the game-winner against Philadelphia last Tuesday, made him the 39th NHL player to reach that plateau.

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A great Sabres day

For a day when even getting a single autograph was in question, I certainly have no complaints after the Sabres' trip to Tampa. Once Mother Nature decided to clear the skies and soak us in some late afternoon sun, all it took was a little patience to, once again, significantly add to the collection.

In addition to Colin's team sheet (shown at left), including autographs from Daniel Briere, Brian Campbell, Chris Drury, Jason Pominville and Ryan Miller among the 16 upon it, we also added pucks signed by Ty Conklin, Jochen Hecht, Dmitri Kalinin, Teppo Numminen, Andrew Peters, Derek Roy, Mike Ryan and Drew Stafford.

I was surprised, too, by the turnout. The crowd of somewhat-clueless Sabres fans (Way too many 'Who's that?' from people adorned in Sabres gear) seeking autographs easily outnumbered the usual suspects.

Even inside the St. Pete Times Forum, quite a few folks made the trip from western New York to take in the game. Several times during the Sabres' 3-2 win, Lightning fans were outchanted by Buffalo's faithful.

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A notion reinforced

Sure, it’s nice getting three pucks signed by Buffalo’s Jason Pominville. As expected, he got a kick out of the Shawinigan Cataractes puck. Using pucks like that one, especially of their junior teams, lets the players know that you’re a collector.

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The art of autographs

Strong colors, sharp shapes and the scribbled accents of a silver paint pen. It's hockey pop art. Signing were Daniel Briere, Brian Campbell, Chris Drury and Ryan Miller.

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Couldn't resist this

Even though I seldom get team media guides signed, this one, featuring Buffalo assistant coach James Patrick, is a good example of what to use.

The design is not cluttered, it features a single player and has plenty of room for a signature.

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Another trip for Rip

I never did get an autograph from Sabres trainer Rip Simonick. Friday morning’s rain kept me away early and he took a hotel van to the St. Pete Times Forum before the game.

Sooner or later, I’ll get him on a couple of pucks.

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*@%*^#&* weather!

It always happens. You spend a couple hours getting cards, pucks, a media guides and a jersey put together for your favorite team and Mother Nature decides today is the day that she'll send waves of thunderstorms rolling across your area.

It's cloudy now, but we're expecting heavy thunderstorms in less than an hour

Sadly, today's sessions for the Sabres and the Lightning prove that hounding, just like baseball, can get rained out. Maybe they'll meet in the playoffs.

I guess I'll go pick some oranges before it starts pouring out.

Addendum: A break in the storms allowed for a trip over. It wasn't too productive, but getting Sabres' goalie Ryan Miller to sign a jersey was a highlight. We'll be heading back over for game time. Hopefully, Mother Nature has had her fun for the day.



Hounding Rip Simonick

When NHL teams come to Tampa, most hounds and dealers want autographs from the club's top players. For the most part, I subscribe to that philosophy. But when it comes to my hometown team, the Buffalo Sabres, I take a different tack.

To the best of my knowledge, only one person has been with the Sabres' team staff from Day 1. That person is Rip Simonick, the Sabres' legendary head equipment manager. To me, he's just as much of the organization's history as Gil Perreault, Danny Gare and the Knox brothers, Seymour H. III and Northrup R.

Because of that, I believe he's definitely worthy of an autograph. I just wish I've had better luck getting him to sign a puck or two.

Most times, I miss my opportunity as the training and equipment staff heads to the rink long before I arrive at the team hotel. For that, I accept full responsibility. There was one time, though, in Boston when Rip shot me down -- point-blank.

At the time, I was carrying an old Sabres puck, one I bought back in the early 1990s, as well as handmade Buffalo Bisons puck. I approached Rip, politely asking him if he had the time to sign before heading off to the then-Fleet Center.

"That's not even a real Bisons puck," he chided me, pointing to the it. "No, I'm not gonna sign that."

The rejection, much to my chagrin, brought howls of laughter from my fellow Boston-based hounds. Eventually, I even laughed. It's one thing to get shot down by, say, a Mario Lemieux. It's another, though, when it's the team's equipment manager.

Funny thing, I didn't blame him. It was foolish on my part to bring anything less than authentic for someone like Rip Simonick. You know what? I've learned my lesson. With the Sabres in town to play the Lightning on Friday night, I'll have an authentic Buffalo Bisons puck with me Friday morning. Who knows? Maybe he'll sign this time.

Addendum: Wanna know what happened?

Addendum (3/22/10): Finally, Rip signed two pucks.

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Hockey Word Association 1.6

Are we having fun yet? If not, play along:

1.) Mike Modano =
2.) Detroit Red Wings =
3.) Fading fast =
4.) Chris Simon =
5.) TV timeouts =

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Review: 2006-07 O-Pee-Chee hockey

As much as it pains me, I have to give Upper Deck some credit for this 2006-07 O-Pee-Chee set. Aside from my standard complaint about the shiny surfaces, it's exactly what I expected -- it's a decent product for collectors.

Not only is there a big set (700 cards) to chase, including a 100-card Marquee Rookies subset (I pulled 19 out of each the two boxes I bought), but there's a nice twist to an old concept of multiplayer cards.

The so-called Showdown card features a 2006-07 rookie and a second-year player. It's my guess, too, that the one with Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby (the middle of the three shown above) will draw some interest. Can you imagine getting both players to sign that card?

The memorabilia cards are nice, but nondescript. It's affordable, too, with a box fetching between $36 and $52 in card stores. You don't have to worry about duplicates, either. Out of the two boxes, only 11 of 432 cards were doubles. That's pretty good, if you ask me.

If there's a knock on this set, it has to be directed at the photography. Very few cards I've seen show compelling action. In fact, some look like they were shot during warm-ups. For a set that carries a name so steeped in hockey card history, a little extra effort by Upper Deck's photo editors would have been appreciated.

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Way to go, Mikey-Mo!

By stuffing a rebound past Philadelphia's Antero Niittymaki, Dallas' Mike Modano scored the 500th goal of his career on Tuesday.

The goal, the eventual game-winner in the Stars' 3-2 win over the Flyers, made Modano, a native of Livonia, Mich., only the second U.S.-born player (Joe Mullen was the first) and the 39th ever to reach that plateau.

Modano, who scored his first NHL goal in his first NHL game with the Minnesota North Stars on Oct. 5, 1989, against the New York Islanders, now trails Mullen by only two goals for the most ever scored by an American.

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Colin and Patrice

Of all the pictures that Colin lets me take, any one with Boston's Patrice Bergeron is among his favorites.

This one, the third of Colin's collection, was taken when Boston visited Tampa in early February following a fair trade between the two.

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Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh blink

Some time today, maybe even within the next hour, official word will come out of the Steel City that, indeed, the Pittsburgh Penguins will be staying put for the next 30 years, thanks to a $290 million deal that promises a new arena in Uptown in time for the 2009-10 season.

At the risk of sounding too smug, I'd like to think that this posting, published a day before the hush-hush meeting in either Philadelphia or New Jersey that led to this deal, played a vital role in the negotiations. Just kidding. But, hey, you never know who reads Hound Central 2.0.

I was heartened to read in media reports out of Pittsburgh that the Penguins are chipping in on the arena construction and related costs. I've never been a big fan of taxpayer-financed stadiums of any sort, so it's my most-likely minority and illogical belief that teams must perform to a certain level or be forced to pay back public monies.

In this case, I'd make the Penguins, given the abundance of top-shelf young talent, guarantee a Stanley Cup within five years of the arena's opening. If the team fails, the organization is on the hook for the public portion of all costs.

That's not too much to ask, is it?



Try getting this set signed

It looks like Upper Deck is borrowing from the Topps Total concept from a few years ago with its upcoming 700-card offering, 2006-07 O-Pee-Chee. (Patience is required.)

A 500-card base set, plus a 100-card Marquee Rookies subset, will be the biggest set of the season. And, for the record, Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin (shown at left, from Upper Deck's Web site) is card #564.

One of the nice things about a set this size is the inclusion of everyday players into the lineup. Among others, you'll find cards for Boston's Mark Mowers, Buffalo's Adam Mair, Detroit's Andreas Lilja, Minnesota's Wyatt Smith, Ottawa's Tom Preissing and Tampa's Nolan Pratt.

Besides Malkin, the rookie lineup includes, as expected, Boston's Phil Kessel, Los Angeles' Anze Kopitar, Montreal's Guillaume Latendresse, Nashville's Alexander Radulov, Pittsburgh's Jordan Staal and San Jose's fuzz-faced trio of Matt Carle, Joe Pavelski and Marc-Edouard Vlasic

Despite Upper Deck's Feb. 27 release date, a Tampa Bay-area card dealer, who I spoke with yesterday at a Toronto Blue Jays spring training game, told me that he's getting the cards next week.

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Sunday morning homily XVI

If you're a frequent visitor to NHL.com, chances are you've checked out a few of the site's Frozen Moments. These pictures, often taken from a different perspective, capture the moments of a game beyond the normal shots, saves and checks.

The image from Saturday, however, went beyond a solitary slice of a game. It showed Carolina's Eric Staal and Washington's Boyd Gordon focusing intently on a puck before a faceoff. What I saw went beyond this photographic study of concentration.

What I saw was two athletes who are now playing on the brightest stage of the game. Not too long ago, namely the 2004-05 season, they were playing in the American Hockey League. Staal was with the Lowell (Mass.) Lock Monsters. Less than 90 minutes away to the northeast, Gordon was playing for the Portland (Maine) Pirates.

Mostly, what I remember a couple of Saturday nights, sitting in the Cumberland County Civic Center, watching Staal and Gordon competing against each other. And now, just a couple years later, they've followed different paths in creating identities for themselves in the NHL. Staal, a offensively gifted star, has carried Lord Stanley's hallowed Cup on the ice. Gordon, who doesn't get, in my estimation, enough credit for his defensive skills, skates in the shadow of Alex Ovechkin.

Excellent analogy

Like most goalies, Buffalo's Ryan Miller uses his mask as a means of expression. There's one specific element on the skullplate, though, that I find very telling. If you look close enough, you'll see the image of a lizard.

Up until a recent reading of an article in The Hockey News, I didn't know the significance. It seems Miller likes the image of the lizard because they're fast and have short memories.

Very fitting for a goalie, if you ask me.

When in Florida ...

... you do as the tourists do. With baseball's spring training in high gear these days, I'd be remiss if I didn't attend at least a couple games.

That's why Colin and I will be watching the Minnesota Twins play the Toronto Blue Jays this afternoon in Dunedin (pronounced Dun-eee-din, not Dune-din). We may even catch the Detroit Tigers' game tomorrow against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays at downtown St. Petersburg's waterfront stadium.

All I have to do is remember to bring the sunscreen.

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Do the math: 87 > 8

Is it absolutely no surprise that Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby, in only his second NHL season, became the first player to hit 100 points this season with a goal in the Penguins' 3-2 overtime victory over the Rangers?

In this snapshot of their young careers, Crosby is so far ahead of Washington's Alex Ovechkin that any comparison is simply unfair.

They're both great players. Now, however, Crosby is no-brainer.

What do you think?

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The harshest punishment

After the NHL suspends him, the Rangers' Ryan Hollweg pursues criminal charges and he forever endures the scorn of his two-handed thuggery (just ask Todd Bertuzzi), the biggest test that the Islanders' Chris Simon will face is explaining to his child his unconscionable actions Thursday night.


Hockey Word Association 1.5

You should know the drill by now.

If you don't, track down you're fifth-grade English teacher -- the one with the blue hair and the aqua horned-rim glasses -- and ask her for help:

1.) Blocked shots =
2.) Vinny Lecavalier =
3.) Playoff beards =
4.) Roberto Luongo
5.) Golfing in April =

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Penguins have a few choices

Now that Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell has stepped into the Pittsburgh Penguins controversy, asking the NHL to keep the team from leaving the Steel City, we should surmise that this entire affair is going to end in one of two ways:

1.) The city and state will cave in and provide the team with a state-of-the art, luxury-box-laden, rent-free arena, complete with all parking revenues, that will include posh three-bedroom, two-bath condos with underground parking spaces for Sidney Crosby, Marc-Andre Fleury, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal, or

2.) The Penguins will pack their suitcases and move their little webbed feet to one of the following locations and adopt a new nickname:

~ The Las Vegas CSIs. Forget the casinos, the showgirls, the all-you-can-eat-for-$2.99 buffets, the neon, the martini-loving mayor and the, ahem, criminal element. If I'm Penguins management, the make-or-break aspect of any deal moving the team is guaranteed exposure in CBS' popular crime-technology series, including guest spots for the team's stars.

~ The Kansas City Moes. Sure, some want the team to keep the Penguins nickname, but after such a bitter divorce, it's highly unlikely the team will want any mementos from its past. Alas, the Kansas City Penguins concept, which really never would have made much sense, simply floats away like an ice floe.

~ The Oklahoma City Dustbugs. The Blazers, a much better name, is taken and I'm pretty certain the team will have depleted its legal account in securing the move to wrestle away the name from the Central Hockey League team.

~ The Houston Refineries. Can't use the Rockets, Astros or Aeros. Texans is out of the question, too. Using Enrons wouldn't be too smart. What else is Houston known for? To me, the Refineries is a much better name than the Smog.

~ The Quebec Igloos. Really, this would be nothing more than a swipe at Pittsburgh. But, hey, can you blame them? Besides, it means another team in Canada, raising the total to seven (Thanks again, Drew). The team might also be able to integrate some elements of the old Nordiques logo/jersey into the new look.

~ The Portland (Ore.) Timbers. Yes, I know there's a United Soccer League team operating under that name. C'mon, though, second-tier soccer vs. an NHL team? Granted, it would be close. I'm sure the promise of free season tickets for two years to Timbers ownership and any ticket-producing fan will grease these skids.

~ My vote goes to the Orlando Nation. Now that the Seminole Tribe of Florida has completed its deal for the Hard Rock chain of cafes, hotels and music memorabilia, adding an NHL team (an idea I floated late last year) to its portfolio makes financial sense. Fans can stay at the hotel, listen to great music while downing a cheeseburger and a couple beers, try their luck at the slots and then amble over to watch a game. I'm sure, too, that many northern North American teams wouldn't mind a three-game, seven-day road trip to Florida in January or February.

P.S.: That freshly squeezed glass of grapefruit juice was excellent, too.

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Good to the last drop

It's not that I'm gloating about living down here in Florida, or teasing anyone dealing with winter's frigid grip, but there's nothing like a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice, especially when the source is a tree in your back yard.

Tomorrow, with a neighbor's permission, I'll have some grapefruit juice.

Imagine that

One of my colleagues at the paper tells me that Brett Hull, my favorite blowhard, really is a nice guy.

Following the Dallas Stars-Tampa Bay Lightning game last week, my colleague, a former NHL beat writer, was part of a group of media types, including Hull, that retired to a nearby sports bar for some frosty beverages and a huge plate of chicken wings.

Hull, who does radio work for the Stars besides working for NHL on NBC, was instantly recognized.

"He could barely get through a wing without someone coming up for a picture or an autograph," my colleague said. "He was very nice about it."

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Definitely worth a shot

One of my fellow bloggers, Drew Pelto, tells me that Chris Chelios, a notoriously toughie on hounds, has been signing autographs, including cards, sent to him at his Cheli's Chili Bar location in Detroit. Or, if you're too lazy to check the link, here's that address: 47 E. Adams Ave., Detroit, MI 48226

If you ask me, it's worth the price of two postage stamps (including one on the stamped, self-addressed envelope) to snag a couple autographs from a future Hall-of-Famer.

Drew, who runs the Simply Drew blog (not the SimplyDrew.com fan site for Drew Barrymore), also tells me that Mark Messier, another toughie, has been signing through the mail. Try him at 12 Cowdray Park Drive, Greenwich, CT 06831.

Drew also passed along this address for Sidney Crosby: c/o CAA Hockey, 520 Broadway, Suite 660, Santa Monica, CA 90401 Attn: Pat Brisson

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Sunday morning homily XV

Recent conversations with my Aunt Pat, down here in Florida as she escapes another brutal western New York winter, have shed some light on my serious devotion to hockey.

All along, I've known that a maternal generation, maybe two, lived on Prince Edward Island after leaving Scotland. After talking to my Aunt Pat, though, I've found out that three generations of family took up residence in the Canadian Maritimes before settling in the United States.

I guess, then, that I have more than a drop or two of Canadian blood pulsing through my veins. It also explains, too, why I have such a fondness for O Canada, and not just because it's easier to sing than the Star-Spangled Banner. My surname may come from Germany, but it's nice to know that I'm part Canadian, too.

Knowing one's heritage, I believe, is important. And despite having only six (Thanks, Drew, I had temporarily forgotten about Ottawa) of the NHL's 30 teams, we all know that hockey is Canada's heritage. Always has been, always will be. Unfortunately, some hockey fans here in the States may forget that from time to time.

Bottom line, though, is it doesn't matter where you live or where you're from. This blog has had visitors from as far away as New Zealand, Mongolia and Iceland. Hockey is hockey. And we all love the game, don't we?

He's a big fan

Though hockey purists don't like the shootout, count my son, Colin, among the supporters. Just as I sat down to start writing this morning, he came up and suggested a topic.

"Remember that time, I think it was on TV, when the Lightning scored all three times in a shootout?"

"No, not really."

"I do. It was Vinny Lecavalier, Marty St. Louis and Brad Richards. I remember."

"You do, huh? I'll take your word for it."

"Yeah, I like it when Marty and Vinny score."

"So do a lot of other people down here, buddy."

Another clean slate

It was nice to read in this morning's paper that Brad Boyes scored for the Blues last night. Perhaps the change in scenery, from Boston to St. Louis, will help him rediscover his scoring touch.

Though this season's production has been disappointing for him, he hasn't forgotten how to play hockey. Last night's goal, too, shows that Boyes, now with his fourth NHL organization (Toronto, San Jose, Boston and St. Louis) in five pro seasons, hasn't forgotten how to put the puck in the net.

It makes me wonder, though, whether the Boyes' scoring troubles aren't the aftermath of the undue pressure of playing in Boston. After stellar rookie campaigns, both Boyes and goalie Hannu Toivonen, shipped down to Providence, have struggled this season.

Expectations, especially in Boston, always run high.

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Is Upper Deck worth the wait?

I may have passed on hounding the Dallas Stars earlier this week, but it didn't stop me from receiving an autograph from one of its players. Too bad, though, it didn't happen in person.

Upper Deck finally sent a Jussi Jokinen Auto Draft redemption (139/192) (shown above) from the 2005-06 SP Game Used edition.

It's hard to imagine any other industry than sports cards that takes so long to fulfill obligations to its customers. Sure, I know that Upper Deck will blame the athletes. It always has and always will.

I'd like to believe, though, that Upper Deck could work harder to minimize these waits or, at the least, reward our patience. What do you think?

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Adding to the gallery

Like looking at goalie masks? Me, too. They're true works of art. The way the design curves around a mask's features, even incorporating these elements into the artwork, is simply amazing.

Here are a couple galleries that I've found recently:

~ WJDPro Inc. has painted masks for Montreal prospect Yann Danis, Pittsburgh's Jocelyn Thibault and New Jersey's Scott Clemmensen. You'll find the mask worn by Vancouver backup Dany Sabourin in Gallery 2.

~ Though I didn't see any pro masks, Stou Design has some pretty cool creations. I believe the simplicity of the "Jet" design (shown above) serves as an example that less can sometimes be better. Cheaper, too.



Addicted to Hockey? Round V

Now that the sound of baseballs hitting leather and wood have begun echoing through Florida's increasingly humid air, competing for the attention of sports fans across North America, it's time again to determine whether you're truly a hockey fan.

If you're not sure, just ask yourself these questions:

~ Did you call in sick from work to follow every transaction made on the NHL's trade deadline day? If so, what was your excuse?

~ Have you ordered your Detroit Red Wings' Todd Bertuzzi jersey? How about an Islanders' Ryan Smyth jersey?

~ Has the word "playoffs" popped up in your everyday vocabulary?

~ Do you believe Peter Forsberg really will make a difference in Nashville?

~ Are your hockey jerseys at the dry cleaners? Or do you use Woolite?

~ Were you saddened by Martin Biron's departure from Buffalo?

~ You wonder whether Eric and Jordan Staal really enjoyed that pillow fight in the NHL "Road Trip" commercial? To me, that was not acting.

~ Have an inkling that Konstantin Pushkaryov just might be the steal of the deadline-day deal between Dallas and Los Angeles?

~ Do you think of cartoon character Popeye whenever watching Tampa Bay's Shane O'Brien skate? If you haven't, watch him some time. I promise you'll notice a resemblance.

~ Are you passing up on Upper Deck's "Be A Player Portraits" and "Game Used" offerings simply because you already have enough Sergei Federov cards in your collection?

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Hockey Word Association 1.4

In light of the recent trade deadline day, this week's words will follow in that theme:

1.) Fire sale =
2.) Todd Bertuzzi =
3.) Adding depth =
4.) Ryan Smyth =
5.) Biggest winner =