Summer projects

Astute observers of Hound Central 2.0 will have noticed that I'll have a couple of summer projects to keep me busy until the Lightning open training camp in September.

The sharpest of these observers, too, will notice that I'm stepping outside the boundaries, so to speak, to keep my autograph hounding skills sharp during the offseason. As it stands, I'm calling it Baseball Mondays.

In it, I'll begin to build, one cherry-picking session at a time, a collection of autographed baseballs. Rather than hound every team that travels to St. Petersburg to play the Devil Rays, I'm going to restrict the hounding efforts to one of my days off -- Mondays. If necessary, though, and I reserve the right to do so, these adventures may also take place on Sundays or Tuesdays.

At first glance, this project will include not only the Tampa Bay Devils Rays, but such teams as the Seattle Mariners, San Diego Padres, Los Angeles Dodgers and Toronto Blue Jays as well. And, yes, I'll make strong efforts to hound the Boston Red Sox and, ahem, the New York Yankees.

It'll begin either tonight or tomorrow, as the Minnesota Twins come to visit. And though I fully intend to hound the likes of Torii Hunter, Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and Johan Santana, my primary focus will be on broadcasters Bert Blyleven, Jack Morris and Dan Gladden.

The other summer project, and this will take some time to cull together, will entail an insider's guide to collecting hockey autographs in the Tampa Bay area. From the Lightning's training facility in Brandon to the handful of hotels used by visiting NHL teams, I'll provide information -- in text and in pictures -- that should help with your efforts.

And if that's not enough, I'm sure we can agree upon my consultation fee for guided autograph tours.

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Holding at 10

Well, I suppose we had to let the Rangers win one game. The Islanders took a game from the Sabres, too, and look where they're at these days. Besides, this gives Buffalo a home-ice chance to advance.

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Sunday morning homily XXIII

To say that hockey players are superstitious is an understatement, like saying that Wayne Gretzky was a good player. Some will only eat the same dish for a pregame meal. Others have a certain way of putting on their equipment. And, during the playoffs, growing a beard, no matter how wispy or itchy, is mandatory.

I noticed another instance of superstition last night in the Ottawa-New Jersey game. Devils goalie Martin Brodeur was sporting new equipment, including a catching glove, its fresh colors replacing gear discolored by a season of frozen rubber, ice shavings and hard-earned perspiration. Now, to me, the playoffs would be the worst time to try out, or break in, not just a piece of equipment, but an entire set.

But, after giving up four glove-side goals in New Jersey's opening 5-2 loss to Ottawa, it's my guess that Brodeur realized -- right or wrong -- that the catcher had run out of saves. A switch was made and whatever his reason, it seemed to work. Brodeur's confidence gew with every nifty glove save, keeping the Devils in the game.

It wasn't until New Jersey's Jamie Langenbrunner scored in the second overtime did Brodeur's hunch pay off. Because the Devils won, this seemingly innocent change in equipment would have, for the most part, been unnoticed. It would have been easy to explain the decision, dancing around the role that superstitions may have played.

Had the Devils lost, though, Brodeur's new equipment would have stuck out like a sore thumb. Pundits, including myself, would have viewed the move as the on/off switch of panic. It may have been surmised that Brodeur was losing confidence, not only in his equipment, but in his world-class level of play as well.

Maybe, it's more intuition that superstition, but when it comes to the playoffs, smart teams go with a hot hand. In New Jersey's case, that hand is inside a new glove.

Going naked

Because I'm a 3XL kind of guy, I'm having the darnedest time finding an article of clothing that lets me show my loyalty to the Buffalo Sabres. Sure, I've found a couple of T-shirts at my local Sports Fan Attic, but the sizes down here in fit-and-buff Florida stop at 2XL.

If anyone knows where I can get my fat little fingers on a sizable T-shirt, please pass along that info. Until then, though, I'll happily settle for Colin wearing this Ryan Miller T-shirt he got Friday for his sixth birthday. And after hearing stories about the scarcity of said items in Western New York, I'm not alone.

Besides, should the Sabres' season end triumphantly in June, there's a chance I might find what I'm looking for at the local Wal-Mart. I doubt it, but one never knows.

Don't forget

It's hard to get attention when you're flying under the radar, but the American Hockey League playoffs are hitting high gear. Some teams, such as the Manchester Monarchs, Chicago Wolves and Iowa Stars, have already advanced to division finals. Still, though, there's plenty of playoff games remaining.

Today's marquee matchup is a Game 7 between the Hartford Wolf Pack and the Providence Bruins. Other teams with chances to advance today include the Grand Rapids Griffins and the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.

Sadly, the Rochester Americans, the Sabres' farm team, have been eliminated. We'll have to wait until next year to win the Calder Cup.

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Turning point?

If New Jersey's playoff run lasts until June, and I'm not endorsing that it does, Devils fans should remember Sergei Brylin's goal in the first period's final second. It's goals like this -- an all-hustle effort off a faceoff scrum, that turn around a series. Even if it isn't, the goal, which gave New Jersey a 2-0 lead over Ottawa in Game 2, was pretty remarkable.


Ten more to go

It's not just the Sabres' speed and skill that makes them such a dangerous team. No, there's more than that. It's the team's ability, shown again last night against the Rangers, to come back from a deficit. Buffalo, from Ryan Miller on out, is stout. Roll, Sabres, roll.



I'll pass on the Parkies

If you like collecting cards of old-school players, the 2006-07 Parkhurst will be just the set for you. For me, though, it's a disappointment. Then again, I was spoiled last year. Not only did that set have 700 cards, meaning 13- to 14-card team sets, but they came autograph-ready. No erasing or other prep work. They are, by far, my favorite cards for hounding.

This year's release, however, takes a step back in time. Besides the big-name stars (Jean Beliveau, Bob Baun, Bobby Orr, etc.) of days long past, you'll also find cards for Boston's Willie O'Ree, Buffalo's Danny Gare (shown above), Calgary's Hakan Loob, Hartford's Kevin Dineen and New York's Reijo Ruotsalaine.

You can even get a card of ESPN's analyst Barry Melrose, from his days of coaching the Los Angeles Kings. Though the trademark mullet is in full bloom (and noticeably darker), it's a shame he's not wearing one of his zoot-suit pinstripe numbers.

Still, though, that's hardly enough to get me to buy a box. Even the promise, but no guarantee, of four autographed cards fails to inspire. The Enforcers subset elicits a yawn.

I can see producing an old-timers set, perhaps even using the Parkhurst name, during the lockout, but not now. I'm sure there is a market for this product, I'm just not in it.

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Sign me up

Live in Western New York? Going to Game 2? Lucky you. Not only am I 1,258 miles away, but I have to work. Tonight and tomorrow morning.

If you're going and are in need of a sign poking fun at the Rangers, feel free to use these sayings:

~ Renney eats stale cheese curd
~ Don't just stand there, Mara!
~ It's bleak, Malik
~ Get Straka a rocker
~ Hen-rickety?

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Minus 10

That's what New York's Brendan Shanahan (-4), Sean Avery (-3) and Martin Straka (-3) logged in Buffalo's 5-2 thumping of the Rangers in Game 1. Game 2's tonight. Have fun.

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Hockey Word Association 1.12

The randomness of blogging and the ability to set into print one's most immediate thought brings a sense of adventure to my otherwise mostly-sunny-with-a-high-near-85 days.

With that approach in mind, feel free to play along with these offerings:

1.) Scary good =
2.) Scott Mellanby =
3.) Tired goalie =
4.) Tom Renney =
5.) Diver =


What a nice young man

I doubt that it'll end up on YouTube, but did you catch Anaheim's Chris Kunitz helping the Power Players, the Ducks' cheerleaders, clean up after Andy McDonald's hat trick last night? Not only does he assist on Anaheim's first three goals in a 5-2 victory, but he also scores some major brownie points with the ladies. Sounds like a good game to me.


New threads: Washington Capitals

The Washington Capitals will take the wraps off a new look at a practice-rink fan party during the NHL Draft in June. Maybe they'll look like this.

As more teams don the new RBK Edge sweaters, Washington's announcement is unlikely to be the last we'll see of new looks.

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Eleven more

If I was a NHL coach heading into a playoff series, I'd hope to stumble across Lindy Ruff's words of wisdom. Three goals in just over four minutes? Awesome. Buffalo wins Game 1, 5-2, against the Rangers.

Roll, Sabres, roll.



Addicted to Hockey? Playoffs edition

Now that we've gotten the quarterfinals out of the way, and another eight teams are done for the year, it's time for a checkup. Extra pressure comes with the playoffs and we need to see whether you're up to snuff to handle the head games.

Every pass, every open-ice check and every draw, won or lost, can prove to be the deciding moment not just in a series, but in a Stanley Cup-winning season as well. This goes far beyond the normal gut-check time. This is ice-water-in-the-veins time.

If you've got game, and you're not so sure that you're addicted to hockey, just ask yourself these questions:

~ Have you made travel arrangements (airfare, four-star hotels, tickets and a luxury rental car) to attend the 2007 NHL Draft on June 22-23 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio?

~ Do you understand the implications that shaving your playoff beard will have on your favorite team? Even if it is itchy, it must remain until you're team is eliminated. No round-to-round beards are allowed.

~ Did you call your local tattoo artist and set an appointment in late June to have the Stanley Cup inked on a conspicuous part of your body?

~ In a moment of passion brought out by a sudden-death overtime goal, did you ask your significant other to marry you? Uh-oh. Check the tape. Maybe there was a whistle.

~ Have you ever professed that the Tampa Bay Lightning handed goalie Marc Denis a raw deal? I'd be more worried about Johan Holmqvist leaving, if I were you.

~ Do you really believe that Ottawa has a chance to win the Cup?

~ Is your architect planning an addition to your house so you can show off the fruits of another season of hounding? Or does it mean another couple trips to your climate-controlled, top-floor storage unit?

~ Have you worn makeup, a blue frizzle-haired wig and an adult cow costume to a game? Nope, wait. I'm sorry. That's how one fan was dressed for this past Sunday's Cleveland Indians-Tampa Bay Devils Rays game. Still, though, have you?

~ Have you ever wondered why it's nearly next-to-impossible to find NHL team linen sets to fit a king-size bed? Queen sizes? There's no shortage. Full sets are available, too. No king sizes, though. Go figure.

~ Is your Great Dane named Marty? Got a chihuahua named Chara?

~ Do you believe that it's possible to get Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby, Marc-Andre Fleury, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal to sign pucks in a single hounding trip? Training camp, maybe. On the road? Forget it.

~ Will you subscribe to cable's NHL Center Ice package next season? Given the lack of pregame and postgame shows as well as no repeats of the games, I'm crossing off my name from the subscriber list.

And, in tribute to the Bluebird Bakery, a aromatic memory of my childhood growing up in Buffalo's west side, here's a 13th question -- a baker's dozen, if you will -- to determine whether you're addicted to hockey:

~ Like me, do you believe that 1,275 autographed pucks provides a solid foundation for a truly impressive collection?

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Send a message

Love 'em or hate 'em, handmade hockey signs are a part of life at a home Buffalo Sabres game. If you're going to tonight's series-opening game against the Rangers, feel free to pass along any, or all, of the following sentiments for me:

~ The Amerks are better than the Rangers
~ Big Apples have worms (add pictures or numbers of Jaromir Jagr, Henrik Lundqvist, Brendan Shanahan and Sean Avery)
~ Jagr is no meister
~ If Henrik's a King, then we better call Kong (add picture of Jerry "King Kong" Korab)
~ Knock Shanny on his fanny
~ Avery is a label

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This sums it up nicely

In case you missed it in today's edition of the St. Petersburg Times, check out these lists of critical games during the Lightning's season, the tough roster decisions that await and the statistical symbiosis between Vinny Lecavalier and Marty St. Louis.

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On second thought

A week before the season started, I foolishly picked the Sabres to fall to the Rangers for the Eastern Conference championship. Now, a day before they meet in an Eastern semifinal, I certainly won't mind being wrong.

This series against New York will be a good test. Buffalo faces a tough goalie in Henrik Lundqvist. Stars Jaromir Jagr, Michael Nylander and Brendan Shanahan have a ton of playoff experience. This isn't going to be easy. Not in the least bit.

The Sabres, who last played the Rangers on Dec. 1, swept the four-game regular-season series. Buffalo won the opener, 7-4. Two games ended in overtime. A shootout decided the team's final game.

All in all, though, I believe the Sabres have enough speed to outskate and skill to outscore a more veteran New York squad. And I'd take Ryan Miller over Lundqvist any day. It may take seven games, but the Sabres will advance to play for the Prince of Wales trophy.

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Temporary quarters

Do you want to see, in terms of pucks, what four months of hounding looks like? Take a look at these pictures. It's not so much what's in the display cases, but what's sitting atop -- the 130-plus pucks since Dec. 31.

As a result, I'll be spending time in the weeks ahead archiving and cataloging these efforts. I'll rotate a couple into the displays that are temporarily showcasing items.

As for the cases, the top photo is home to Hall of Famers, the Lightning and, as you can see, goalies. I'll trade the Bruins mask, signed by Hannu Toivonen, for the Martin Brodeur gloves. I'd like to frame and display the jerseys, but the Florida sun is so brutal they'd fade in a couple years.

The case above holds mostly top-shelf items. Pucks from Sidney Crosby, Jason Spezza and Mike Modano sit atop jerseys signed by Wayne Gretzky, Luc Robitaille and Modano. The Patrice Bergeron collection fills nearly half of the Bruins display.

In both cases, think of these as the "before" pictures. Once I've chronicled the pucks and updated the cases, I'll post the "after" pictures.

Looking ahead, when we finally find a house to our liking (as well as our checking account), we'll be able to put more on display. I'd like to build a wall of old locker stalls as the means to display jerseys, sticks and select groupings of pucks. A giant block of pucks, using the rest of the collection, would fill shelves on another wall.

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Here we go, finally

As promised, and I do apologize for the delay, here is that player-model goalie glove set signed by New Jersey's Martin Brodeur. Though it's not the Team Canada mask, it still is a pretty cool piece.

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Preview: 2006-07 SP Authentic

Given its stale photos, skimpy team sets and relatively weak Future Watch checklist, the 2006-07 SP Authentic is worthy of pausing before dropping big dollars. Yes, you stand a good chance of pulling a sweet autograph. Beyond that, though, I'm not so sure.

As usual, my biggest beef with this 100-card set is that it's another late-season product that fails to show traded players in their new uniforms. Case in point: St. Louis' Brad Boyes is shown playing for Boston, even though the product's so-called "release date" is three weeks later than the trade deadline.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, today's printing and distribution technology means, to me, nothing more than a lack of effort at Upper Deck. A last-minute seeding that freshens the lineup, even if it adds 72 hours to the production process, would certainly generate some urgency and, hopefully, create some positive press.

Thin teams sets are inherent to any 100-card offering. Take Tampa Bay's team set -- Vincent Lecavalier, Brad Richards and Martin St. Louis. How many more cards do I need of them? I'm sure Lightning fans would have traded at least one of those guys for a Johan Holmqvist card. My trio would be Paul Ranger, Shane O'Brien and Holmqvist.

My final disappointment? The base Future Watch lineup. Other than Columbus' Fredrik Norrena and San Jose's Joe Pavelski, there's not much there. Even Phoenix's Enver Lisin, who bolted home to Moscow after 17 games earlier this season, has a card. Again, pretty thin.

Sabres collectors, however, should take note cards of five prospects: Mike Card, Adam Dennis, Michael Funk, Mikko Lehtonen (as a Predator) and Clarke MacArthur. The Flyers have five as well.

My advice: Check online auctions for must-have trophy cards, but wait for bargain bags of base sets to show up at stores.

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Of fog and a bat

If you're a Sabres fan, this is history. If you're not, it will tell you why it is. Then, maybe, you'll understand.


Soon. I promise.

With all of my newfound time, I imagine I should should keep this promise. Check back later, please.

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This is different

For the first Monday since September, I don't have to get ready for the week's hounding trip(s). It's weird, too. It became so much of the routine, a couple hours of research to cobble together a list, the digging through cards and pucks to fill it.

And, now, hockey is over for the season down here in Tampa Bay. It's time to put away and display the season's bounty. Some pucks, like the Gretzky, will stay out, joining the mix between two display cases. Most, though, will be safely tucked away.

Please know, too, that the break from hounding down here doesn't mean Hound Central 2.0 is going on hiatus. Oh, no, not now. There's still plenty of hockey to be played. And I always have something to say.

Thanks for stopping by.


The collapse? It's complete

Just a quick note to thank the Tampa Bay Lightning for fulfilling my prophecy that they would be a one-and-done team in the playoffs. Now, the clock starts ticking, despite management's insistence that they're safe, on the continued employment of general manager Jay Feaster and coach John Tortorella. It may be later than sooner, but those boys have seen their final playoffs with the Lightning.


Sunday morning homily XXII

There are times in life, such as this morning, where one is forced into making a decision. Do we drive over to Tampa and continue adding to the hockey collection. Or do we stay closer to home and get Trot Nixon, Colin's favorite baseball player, to sign his Red Sox jersey.

As you can see, there was no dilemma. Either decision would have left us happy. Somehow, though, watching Colin's eyes light up when he saw Trot, someone he had seen only on TV, showed we made the right call. For the record, Nixon also signed in the sweet spot of a MLB baseball.

The day of decisions will also take us to Tropicana Field this afternoon, rather than the St. Pete Times Forum, where the Lightning hopes to stave off elimination by beating New Jersey. Again, we're happy with our decision.

Rather than spend $60 a ticket for the same seats that were $25 during the Lightning's regular season, we'll be 12 rows behind Nixon at the Trop. Our tickets, which include a hot dog, pop and a snack, are just $15 a seat. And, if Colin's one of the first 7,500 kids through the door, he gets a free Devil Rays hat.

It's not that I've abandoned hockey. Nor am I suffering from burnout, thanks to a long season that started in early September. Nope, my motivation was to have Colin meet one of his Boston baseball heroes, even if that hero now plays for the Cleveland Indians. This temporary diversion, I'd dare say, was well worth the time.

A true keeper

Should the Lightning lose today, it'll also bring an end to my hockey hounding season. Do you know who signed the final puck of the season? None other than New Jersey's Martin Brodeur, providing puck no. 1,275 of the collection.

Even if I'm not exactly thrilled with the quality of the autograph, I certainly won't quibble about the fact that it came from the game's top goalie. Would you?

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Bedtime prayer

Sabres fans, bow your heads.

Oh, Hockey Gods, grant the Lightning of Tampa Bay the power and determination to force a Game 7 back in New Jersey.

For now, oh Hockey Gods, this is all I ask: Lightning 6, Devils 2.


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Swing . . . and a miss

With former Red Sox player Trot Nixon in town with the Cleveland Indians, I stopped by the team's hotel after work today hoping to have him sign an item or two, or, if I'm really lucky, three. Unfortunately, I missed the team.

Colin and I will head out tomorrow morning. Maybe we'll have better luck. If not, we'll see him at the game. We're sitting in right field.

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Just like that

I turn on the TV in the office, punch in 7-0 for Vs. on the remote and Dallas takes a 1-0 lead on a Mike Modano goal. Really. The Stars need to win. If not, Dallas is done.

Sidney's broken foot

It seems that Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby played the past month with a broken bone in his foot. Despite that, the Penguins showed they'll soon become a giant pain in the butt. Unless you live in Pittsburgh, that is.

It's their second season, too
Here's a quick shout-out to the Rochester Americans, looking to knot their AHL Calder Cup series against Hamilton tonight. I wonder whether any Sabres fans made the trip?

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Goon goalie?

Hmmm? Do you think Calgary goalie Jamie McLennan had an agenda as he spelled Miikka Kiprusoff late in the Flames 5-1 loss to Detroit this afternoon. Two nasty whacks to the thighs of the Red Wings' Johan Franzen and, seconds later, a two-hander across his belly makes me wonder whether that was a mission to send a message. With Detroit leading 3-2, this series is pretty chippy. Then again, that's to be expected.

Thank St. Dominik

Sorry for the delay (work and all), but I can only imagine what it's like back in Western New York, now that the Sabres sent the Islanders on summer vacation. Has fandemonium set in yet? We have to remember, though, that it's just one series. Buffalo still needs a dozen victories.

Ryan Miller 's sick, rolling Slinky-like series of saves, first denying New York's Miroslav Satan, a former Sabre, and then covering Alexei Yashin's sly bank-shot attempt, should go down in Sabres lore. The instinctual twisting and toss of Miller's arm looked familiar, didn't it? It reminded me of Detroit's Dominik Hasek, the best goalie in Sabres history.

Bottom line -- Buffalo's speed and offense, as well as Miller's series-winning save, proved to be too much for the Islanders. To be honest, I didn't expect the Sabres to win so easily.

By the way, the whiskers are getting itchy.

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I don't feel sorry

I certainly didn't shed a tear as Ottawa closed out Pittsburgh, using a 3-0 whitewashing last night to take their Eastern quarterfinals series, 4-1. Given the youth and talent that permeates the Penguins' roster, I'm sure this was the first in a long run of playoff appearances for Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal and Marc-Andre Fleury.

The Senators, on the other hand, advance to the semifinals. They could be dangerous, too. It seems like Ottawa's been on a roll since that brawl against Buffalo.

The Sabres, back in Buffalo tonight, could send the Islanders home for the summer. Nashville, also at home, looks to keep its hopes alive, If not, the Predators are done.

As for the Lightning, I recognize the opportunity that awaits. Should Buffalo prevail tonight, and Tampa Bay defeats New Jersey in their series, my 2006-07 hounding season should continue with the Sabres.

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Hockey Word Association 1.11

It's gut-check time in the playoffs, with some teams on the brink of advancing to the next round. The Rangers, my early season pick to win the Eastern Conference, swept the Thrashers.

With wins tonight, Ottawa, Anaheim and Vancouver can all advance to their conference semifinals.

Until then, though, jot down the first word or phrase that pops into your mind for the following suggestions:

1.) Sweep =
2.) Chris Drury =
3.) Litterbugs =
4.) Doug MacLean =
5.) Sin bin =


M-t. No B. No dot.

Maybe it's just me, but I'm beginning to wonder whether New Jersey's Martin Brodeur and I are on a first-name basis. At first glance, this autograph looks like it says "Marty."

There's no "B." Even his infamous dot is missing. Of the four I've gotten this season, this is the weakest one. What do you think?

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You won't be disappointed

For a team that's known for its businesslike approach to hockey -- from the front office right down to the assistant equipment manager -- the New Jersey Devils are, in my opinion, one of the best-signing teams in the NHL.

Every player, even the often-elusive Scott Gomez, will stop to sign. Some players, like Martin Brodeur and Brian Rafalski, will sign just one item. Others, such as Patrik Elias, John Madden and Paul Martin, will sign multiples.

Given the star quality on this team, any hound worth his or her salt should make every effort whenever the Devils come to town. With a little luck, you could have a team-signed item in less than 90 minutes.

The junior team pucks, shown above, were signed by Gomez, left, Tri-City Americans; and Jamie Langenbrunner, Peterborough Petes.

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A tell-tale sign

You know you're having a good day of hounding when a player -- past or present -- is willing to sign three pucks for you. In this case, it's John MacLean, an assistant coach with the Devils.

Rather than using a DecoColor paint pen, I tried a different brand. I didn't like it; the autograph is a bit thin and sketchy. For my money, the DecoColors are the best to use.

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Did you figure it out?

If you knew that New Jersey's Richard Matvichuk was a former No. 1 draft pick of the Minnesota North Stars, give yourself a gold star. I didn't know until I checked out his bio.

He also showed a sense of humor as he signed these pucks.

"Hey, Rass, come here," he said to teammate Eric Rasmussen. "Look at this."

Rasmussen, playing along, dutifully walked back to us.

"You know you're getting old," Matvichuk told him, "when you get asked to sign pucks like this (pointing to the North Stars puck)."

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Following up

On Monday, it seemed like New Jersey's Zach Parise, in what I found to be out of character for him, went out of his way to avoid signing autographs. Two days later, though, he was back to normal, signing these cards. He scored two goals in the Devils' 4-3 overtime victory over the Lightning last night, giving him six in four games so far this series.

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Nearly a dozen

Can you figure out what former first-round pick of the Minnesota North Stars, now playing for the New Jersey Devils, signed two of the 11 pucks added to the collection this morning. You'll find the answer in The Vault.

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No place for this

Even as a Sabres Fan, I can relate to the frustration of Islanders fans when Randy Robitaille was called for tripping in the waning moments of Buffalo's 3-2 victory over New York, but it's no excuse for fans to litter the ice with garbage. Even the Islanders ice girls, or whatever they're called, were out there cleaning up.

Editor's note: This is the 400th posting of the 2006-07 season.

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Any good recipes?

If Tampa Bay keeps playing the way they did tonight against New Jersey, taking a hard-fought 3-2 decision over the Devils, I just might have to eat a little crow. Teams that win the third game of a seven-game series usually advance to the next round. As always, we'll see what happens.

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Gimme a few days

All I can say for now, and you’ll have to trust me on this one, is that New Jersey’s Martin Brodeur signed the blocker that pairs with this glove. Brodeur signed in the curve, so it didn’t scan well. In a few days, I’ll post a picture showing the pair. I promise.

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Where's Gomer?

I wanted to show a Tri-City Americans puck signed by New Jersey’s Scott Gomez. Too bad, though, we never saw him this morning. From what we heard, and this comes second-hand, was that he slipped out the back door of the Embassy Suites. In its place, here are pucks from, left to right, Devils’ teammates Paul Martin (Devils and University of Minnesota) and Brian Rafalski.

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It doesn't hurt to ask

One can never be sure when you ask a player to sign more than one item more than one time. Some days, you meet Anaheim’s Teemu Selanne. Other days, you meet Atlanta’s Brad Larsen.

After snagging four autographs, including these two pucks, from New Jersey’s Patrik Elias (two requests, made within 90 minutes), it’s pretty safe to say that he’ll do multiples.

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Let's meet again

The book on Glenn "Chico" Resch , who does color TV commentary for the Devils, is that you’d never find him at the team hotel.

Given the geography of lodging within walking distance of the St. Pete Times Forum, today was the first time in six years that our paths crossed.

That’s a pretty nice autograph, too, if you ask me.

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Mr. Automatic

Hounding after hounding, New Jersey’s Sergei Brylin is one of the most consistent signers not only on the Devils, but in the league as well. To me, this is a pretty sweet card, the best of 37 signed this morning.

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No complaints here

Had a pretty productive day with the New Jersey Devils, coming home with another 44 autographs. Can you find the six pucks added to the collection? Check back later and I'll have a full report.

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Stick to scoring, Evgeni

I nearly spit out a mouthful of pop earlier tonight watching Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin drop his mitts and put Ottawa's Chris Phillips in a bearhug. Let's just say Malkin's more adept at dipsy-doodles than he is putting up his dukes. I'd hate to think, too, what would have happened had the Senators player been Chris Neil.

As for the clean hit that Pittsburgh's Colby Armstrong laid on Ottawa's Patrick Eaves, that's a textbook example of why you always have your head up. Thankfully, Eaves wasn't seriously hurt.

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Sunday morning homily XXI

When you're watching the playoffs this week, pay special attention to a specific metamorphosis that's taking place among the players. No, they're not getting taller. And they're not getting any heavier either. What I'm talking about is the time-honored superstition of playoff beards.

Once the second season begins, it's like the razors and shaving cream become healthy scratches, so to speak. With each day, the peach fuzz turns to stubble. Then the stubble turns into scraggly, itchy patches. By June, those patches become steel wool.

Wikipedia suggests this superstition has its roots in the early 1980s, with the New York Islanders not shaving, rather than paving, the way. Thinking back, it's easy to recall the hairy mugs of Clark Gillies, Denis Potvin and even Billy Smith.

I bring this up because I've started mine in show of solidarity with the Buffalo Sabres. I'm not shaving until the Sabres either win the Stanley Cup or, God forbid, are bounced from the playoffs. At the moment, I've officially reached the stubble stage. With a little luck, and a highly tolerant spouse, I'll look like Grizzly Adams come June.

It's down to this

Given my beliefs that the Tampa Bay Lightning won't make it past the first round of the playoffs, I just might be making my final two hounding trips of the 2006-07 season this week. I won't expect much, though.

If players tire of hounds before the end of the regular season, I can only imagine what they'll be like during the playoffs. I'll find out tomorrow as I still have a few items, including a Martin Brodeur model blocker, that I'd like to get signed.

You read it here first

Should my beliefs about the Lightning hold true, and they are a one-and-done hockey team this season, I'll be very surprised if Tampa Bay doesn't hand pink slips to general manager Jay Feaster and coach John Tortorella.

Given what's proven to be a ridiculous signing of Marc Denis, an albatross contract for Brad "Dime-on-a-dollar" Richards and my growing perception that the players are tuning out Tortorella's rants, the future doesn't bode well for the Lightning brass.

As a result, Feaster and Tortorella will have to pay the price for failure.

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Nothing good comes easy

Let's be honest here. Did anyone really believe that the Sabres were going to sweep the Islanders? I didn't.

I'm still confident that Buffalo will enjoy a lengthy playoff run, but I also understand that there might be some hiccups, such as tonight's 3-2 loss to New York, along the way.

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Well, well, well

Just like I said yesterday, any team scoring three goals against New Jersey's Martin Brodeur really ought to win the game. What's surprising, though, is the Lightning came back to beat the Devils, 3-2, with Vinny Lecavalier getting the game-winner.

Tampa Bay's Johan Holmqvist shook off his Game 1 jitters to stymie New Jersey, especially the diminutive Brian Gionta as time ran out. Maybe this team does have a little fight left in it.

Now that the series is tied 1-1, and with the teams heading to Tampa for Games 3 and 4, I'm looking forward to a hounding trip on Monday. I'm hoping, too, that the Devils opt to stay outside of Tampa. If they do, my commute will be considerably shorter.

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Drawing a parallel

After watching Tampa Bay claw its way back into the opening playoff game last night against New Jersey, riding the backs of stars Vinny Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis, I really wasn't surprised that the Lightning, and goalie Johan Holmqvist, collapsed in the third period, giving the Devils a 1-0 led in the best-of-seven quarterfinals series.

One would think that three goals against a world-class Martin Brodeur would be enough to, at the least, force sudden-death overtime. Tampa Bay's collapse, however, proved otherwise.

To me, the game's third period mirrored the Lightning's fade down the stretch -- draw close but, ultimately, fail to deliver. And, in the process, it wasted solid performances by Lecavalier and St. Louis.

Maybe, the Lightning will put in a full 60-minute effort against the Devils on Saturday. If not, they'll head back to Tampa down 2-0.

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One game at a time

Winning the Stanley Cup, in theory, is pretty straightforward. Win 16 games and you'll sip champagne. Looking ahead to that number, though, is not the secret to success. It's winning one game at a time.

If the Sabres do that -- last night's 4-1 victory over the Islanders was an excellent start -- and everything else will fall into place. It was nice, too, to see Tim Connolly play and pick up an assist on Brian Campbell's first of two goals in the game.

By the way, has everyone bought their Buffalo Hat yet?


C'mon back anytime

Just a quick note to thank everyone who stopped by yesterday. I know this blog is small potatoes, but it had nearly 500 visitors and almost 1,000 page views yesterday. I do appreciate people taking the time, even if for only a quick read, to stop by. Thanks.


Hockey Word Association 1.10

Here we are, at my favorite time of the year -- the opening rounds of the NHL playoffs. If your favorite team has made it, this is what it's all about. If your team didn't make it, well, then, there's always baseball.

Either way, here are this week's words:

1.) Upper-body injury =
2.) The Sedin twins =
3.) Afternoon naps =
4.) Sudden-death overtime =
5.) Jonathan Cheechoo =



Another sweet pull

Every so often, when you least expect it, along comes a card that reminds you why you started collecting in the first place.

Years ago, it was all about getting your favorite player. Rookies didn't carry the premium they do today. Game-used memorabilia wasn't even on the drawing board. You got a stick of pink bubble gum.

These days, though, it's different. It's not uncommon to drop a couple hundred dollars on a rookie card. Game-used memorabilia is so common that even the most affordable box promises a card.

When you pull a card like this one -- a 2006-07 Fleer Hot Prospects Prized Prospects autographed jersey patch card of Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin, numbered 120/199 -- you know you've gotten something special.

Granted, the two-color patch comes from a jersey used in a photo shoot and the autograph is on a sticker, not the card itself. Something tells me, though, that I'll learn to live with that.

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Wound up

It didn't take me long to get ready for New Jersey. Thirty minutes, if that, to cobble together a nearly full team set of cards and pack a handful of pucks. Now, all I have to do is wait until next Monday.

I don't have that much left for the Devils, mostly players I haven't seen this season -- Scott Clemmensen, Scott Gomez, Patrik Elias, Paul Martin, Jay Pandolfo and Brian Rafalski. And, yes, I have that blocker for Martin Brodeur.

Given the chance, I'll get the Zach Parise cards signed, too. I've been using this setup -- photo corners on a spiral-bound 4x6 notecard book -- for years. Very discreet and you can present up to four cards at a time.

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First thoughts: Sabres vs. Isles

I'm no so sure I like the Sabres meeting the Islanders in the first round. Not only is New York riding an emotional high from playing their way into the second season, but the drama of Ted Nolan, who won the Jack Adams Award in his one season as Buffalo's bench boss, only cranks up the heat.

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Thanks Easter Bunny!

Among the eggs, jelly beans and chocolate bunny in my Easter basket this morning were two retail packs of 2006-07 Fleer Showcase.

This jersey swatch card of Dallas' Ladislav Nagy, shown from his days in the Arizona desert, was inside the first pack I opened.

The swatch, I believe, is from an older Phoenix Coyotes sweater -- the days of the black-plum (or was it eggplant?)-sand-and-who-knows-what-other-colors geometric howler -- not the current more-aesthetically-correct uniforms.

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Parkhurst takes a step back

An advertising insert inside a box of 2006-07 Bee Hive, featuring Numbah Fo-ah, Bobby Or-ah, promises the Spring 2007 release of Parkhurst. It sounds like it'll be taking a step up (four autos, on average, per box means more $$$) and away ("your favorite players from yesteryear!") from last year's effort. No release date, yet, from Upper Deck.

It makes me believe that the 2006-07 O-Pee-Chee is, indeed, the monster set of the season. Last season's Parkhurst ranks as my favorite -- lots of cards, huge team sets and Sharpie-ready.

And, for those of you keeping score, that insert came out of my box. I broke down and got one. My review been updated.

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Sunday morning homily XX

Now that the Easter Bunny has stopped by the house, I'm learning that we weren't his only intended destination. It seems to me, at least, that he left one big stinky egg in the Tampa Bay Lightning's season -- the Florida Panthers.

Had the Bolts been able to capture the season series from their South Florida cousins, Tampa Bay just might have a better view going into the playoffs. Unfortunately, the Lightning didn't do that. As it stands, they'll meet Martin Brodeur and the New Jersey Devils in the first round.

Granted, the Lightning took the season series from the Devils, 3-1. Still, though, there's something about the playoffs that prompts New Jersey to play that much stronger. And given the recent coaching change, where Lou Lamoriello axed Claude Julien with three games remaining and contending for the Presidents' Trophy, I'm certain the Devils are focused on the tasks at hand.

It's been the Panthers (who finished the season at a respectable 35-31-16), though, who are mostly responsible for the Lightning's failure to capture the Southeast Division crown. Three times since March 3rd, and by an average 6-2 score, the Panthers spanked the Lightning. I guess when your season appears over in March, you adopt the role of a spoiler.

Unless the Lightning goes deep into the second season, it'll be a shame to see career seasons by Vinny Lecavalier (107 points, including the first Lightning ever to score 50 goals), Marty St. Louis (101 points) and Dan Boyle (20 goals and 63 points) be spoiled by an early round exit.

Assigning blame, Part II

To blame the Bolts' slippage entirely on the Panthers would be short-sighted, though. Losing your home finale (the sixth in as many seasons) and falling short in a season-ending game against a division rival is not the strongest way to enter the playoffs. Limping is more like it.

I hate to say it, but I'm sensing a one-and-done for the Lightning.

Given the Lightning's collapse in the season's final weeks (from leading the Southeast to stumbling to seventh), I wonder how long it'll take before a chorus to fire general manager Jay Feaster and coach John Tortorella becomes a crescendo. I doubt it'll happen in the offseason, though a poor start next season will certainly grease the skids.

Maybe that's why Scotty Bowman has been hanging around the team -- taking notes and evaluating talent should he be given the reins. Pure conjecture on my part, I know, but an interesting thought nonetheless.

To hail to the President

With the Buffalo Sabres winning the Presidents' Trophy, count me among the many hoping that the team remembers that it's just for its regular-season performance.

Though everyone begins the playoffs with a clean sheet of ice, so to speak, I see no reason why the Sabres can't continue their dominating offensive assault right through to June.

I still wish, though, that Buffalo had Martin Biron to back up Ryan Miller. Even though he's a UNH guy, Ty Conklin brings me little relief.

Anyone but BC, please

Going into the semifinals of the NCAA Frozen Four, I was rooting for Maine and North Dakota. Both lost. Going into the finals, I certainly couldn't bring myself to support Boston College. By default, I'm glad Michigan State won.

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Excuse me, Mr. Brodeur?

Now that the Lightning has stumbled to seventh in the East, Tampa Bay opens the playoffs in New Jersey. Hopefully, the Bolts will be around long enough for me to complete this set this season.

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Take me out to the ballgame

If you ever want to see your favorite baseball team on the road, visit the Tampa Bay area and take in a Devil Rays game. Other than Red Sox and Yankees games, you can walk up and get an $8-12 seat by the first pitch. Free parking, too.

Given the way the Lightning played last night, I'm sure baseball will become the only game in town.

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Kitty litter

Florida's mastery over Tampa Bay has simply hammered the Lightning down the stretch. Tonight's 7-2 smoking by the Panthers, the third since March 3rd, kept the Bolts from winning their third division championship in four seasons.

Atlanta, the Lightning's likely playoff opponent, takes the Southeast.

Though I'd like to see the Sabres in the first round, I wouldn't mind if the Lightning first had to beat the Thrashers. It would give me a couple trips to snag a few more pucks.

We'll see what happens, won't we?

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Hockey Word Association 1.9

Is it Thursday already? Wow! Where does all the time go?

1.) 50 goals =
2.) Claude Julien =
3.) Presidents' Trophy =
4.) One and done =
5.) Alex Kovalev =



Sabres dance

For the first time since 1979-80, the season western New York disappeared in my rear-view mirror, the Buffalo Sabres will finish atop their conference.

Back then, they called it the Wales. The trophy? Ask the prince. It's in his name. These days, geography, time zones and travel set the precedence.

With an emphatic 4-1 victory over possible playoff opponent Pittsburgh earlier tonight, Buffalo clinched the East.

It's a very good time to believe in the Sabres, isn't it?


Left to ponder

I have this theory about hounding that the deeper you get into a regular season, the fewer autographs you'll receive. Teams in contention for the playoffs are focused on the tasks at hand. Those out of the running are mentally planning their vacations.

Adding to it, I suppose, are that players are simply tired of being hounded for autographs.

This morning's session with the Carolina Hurricanes, which added four pucks and four cards to the collection, only supports my theory.

Though they still have a chance of making the playoffs, most of the players who stopped to sign -- Rod Brind'Amour (on the puck shown above), Cory Stillman, Scott Walker and John Grahame, among a handful of others -- seemed aloof. Requests to Erik Cole, Andrew Ladd, Tim Gleason, Frantisek Kaberle and Anson Carter all fell on deaf ears as they boarded hotel vans.

The biggest mystery, however, was the whereabouts of Eric Staal and Cam Ward. Not one of the 20-plus people out this morning saw either of the recognizable Hurricanes stars. Perhaps a season's worth of hounding has led the pair to find alternative exits at the hotel.

Either way, I'm beginning to think that the best hounding comes early in a season. Hopefully, I'll remember that next season.

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The second season awaits

Last September, while sweating my tail off during the Tampa Bay Lightning's training camp, the last week of the 2006-07 regular season was seemingly eons away. Now, in less than a week, it'll all be over.

With one hounding session remaining -- a trip to Tampa tomorrow morning for the Carolina Hurricanes -- another regular season is rapidly approaching the books. Now, should the Lightning manage to secure a playoff spot, the second season will continue.

Sadly, not every NHL hound will be able to enjoy the extended season. In some cities, such as Boston, Chicago and Philadelphia, they can use their Sharpies on baseballs. Others, however, must wait until September.

From a purely selfish standpoint, I'm hoping the Lightning finish eighth in the East, meaning they'll likely play my hometown Buffalo Sabres. Not only do I have plenty of Sabres pucks and cards awaiting autographs, but Buffalo also had a pretty easy time with Tampa Bay this season.

What will happen? I don't know. The answers, though, will come soon.


Review: UD's 2006-07 Beehive

One of the problems with late-season card sets is they seldom reflect what has happened within the second half of the season. Take Upper Deck's latest offering, the 2006-07 Beehive, for example.

Let's see. Nashville's Peter Forsberg is still in his Flyers uniform. Detroit's Todd Bertuzzi is shown in one of his rare games with the Panthers. The Islanders' Ryan Smyth is, yep, you guessed it, shown with the Oilers. I'm sorry, but given today's technology, I believe there's plenty of time to show, at this stage of the season, players with their new teams.

Couple that with a 100-card set, featuring nothing but top-name players, and Upper Deck has produced another yet product that disappoints. At first, I said I would going to pass on this product. A trip to the card store, under the guise of needing rookie toploaders, was my undoing. Another lesson learned, I suppose.

Granted, there are plenty of variations, including 5 x 7 cards, autographs (including such old-timers as Patrick Roy, Ray Bourque and Tony Esposito) and scrap-filled memorabilia cards. I don't want to sound ungrateful, but my pulls were far from that lineup. Mine was Detroit's Tomas Holmstrom. Thrilling, huh? The autograph card? Chicago's Rene Bourque (not a sticker autograph, either).

The 60-card rookie subset, too, offers the usual suspects -- Boston's Phil Kessel, Colorado's Paul Statsny, Los Angeles' Anze Kopitar, Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal and San Jose's Matt Carle, Joe Pavelski and Marc-Edouard Vlasic.

Though I didn't pull a true rookie card of Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin, I did find the parallels shown above in my box. Buffalo's Drew Stafford and Nashville's Alexander Radulov stood out among the true rookie cards.

I do applaud Upper Deck for a kind of quirky innovation. Most card sets I have compile the teams in alphabetical order, beginning with Anaheim. The Beehive base set simply reverses the order, beginning with Washington's Alexander Ovechkin as card No. 1.

That, in itself, is not enough, though, to lift the Beehive product out of the scrap heap of disappointment that Upper Deck and its various nameplates have produced this season.

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Sunday morning homily XIX

For the past week or so, coinciding with a shared spring break with Colin, I've wrestled with a continuation of this hobby. While it's been a real hoot adding to our collections, it's become more of a job than fun lately.

Between the sorting of cards and pucks, the cost of said items, the countless hours spent waiting for the scribbles (sadly, that's what most have become) during 30-plus hounding trips, and the 365-plus posts (since last September, mind you) of this blog, I'm beginning to question the return on my time and effort.

That's not to say, though, that I've collected my last autograph. No, that's not what it means. I fully intend to close out this season, including the playoffs (should the Lightning hang on), and chronicle the noteworthy events -- good and bad -- of each hounding adventure.

What it does mean is hounding will take a lower priority.

Now that Colin is older and getting involved in school and sports, it's more important to further support those efforts -- in time and in money. It's not that we've ignored those efforts to date, but so much of the past few years has revolved around hockey. And we all know there's more to life than hockey.

Going forward, it's hard to predict what will happen. There's a sizable mound of pucks, the result of my optimistic miscalculations of players willing to sign, that awaits signatures. The Tampa Bay Lightning certainly aren't heading anywhere. And, perhaps, the offseason, should it start next week or in June, will cast this hobby in a different light.

Until then, I'll be thankful that this is a hobby, not an occupation.

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