Boys, I'm afraid, will be boys

By now, I'm sure you've heard that a couple of the Staal brothers got themselves into a little trouble during Eric's bachelor party. Now, I don't know about you, but any bachelor party worth its salt ought to involve the authorities. As long as no one was hurt, the disorderly conduct charges are society's equivalent of a roughing minor.

What bothers me, though, is that Jordan was charged with underage drinking. Sure, he's making an adult wage by playing in the NHL, but, at 18, he's still just a kid. All it takes is a mistake like this to ruin a career.

As role models to younger hockey players and fans, Eric and Jordan Staal have a responsibility to provide examples of positive behavior. Here's hoping that the boys learn from their mistakes.

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Follow the Cup

One of the many rewards that come with winning the Stanley Cup occurs when team members get to spend 24 hours with hockey's hallowed prize. This summer, the Anaheim Ducks are keeping the Cup company.

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St. Louis is a nice city

Having traveled to St. Louis a couple years ago, I'm pretty certain that Hannu Toivonen will enjoy his move. In some ways, baseball in particular, it will remind him of Boston. It's more quiet, though. Not so much hustle and bustle. And there's always the Mississippi and the Gateway Arch. Besides, Brad Boyes, another ex-Bruin, plays for the Blues.

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Latest looks?

With more teams breaking out new looks this season, thanks in part to the NHL's adoption of the RBK Edge system, this thread shows quite a few. Some, like the Pittsburgh Penguins jersey shown above, are confirmed. Others should be taken, as the site suggests, with grains of salt.

Some teams, too, are using the RBK Edge to introduce updated logos. San Jose is expected to announce its new look on Tuesday, though someone apparently has spilled the beans. Provided you can afford one, you can already buy, or at least preorder, the new Boston, Columbus and Washington jerseys.

For hockey hounds, all these changes mean one thing. Last season's look should start appearing soon on clearance racks or discount department stores. Just today, we picked up a youth Vinny Lecavalier CCM replica home Lightning jersey for $60. Now if he'll just sign it.

Editor's note: This is the 500th posting since Aug. 15, 2006.

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Summer chores

With all this time on my hands, it's a good idea to put away last year's bounty. This one, from the 2006-07 In the Game Heroes and Prospects, is one of the nicest. The swatch, a shoulder patch, comes from a Kelowna Rockets jersey worn by Tysen Dowzak.

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I nearly forgot about this

As I was putting together a puck order that was placed earlier today (and, my, what an order it was, seeing that it's most likely the first of three or four this season), I came across a forgotten project -- an unsigned helmet for the 1999 NHL All Star Game played in Tampa Bay.

The helmet, a white Itech, came from the Manchester Monarch pro shop's bargain bin a couple seasons ago. I found the stickers at the Lightning's IceFest last season, paying $1 each for home and away (shown above) versions. Five minutes of effort, namely affixing the home version of stickers to the helmet, and the rest is history.

Though there are some participants who I'm unlikely to get, such as Steve Yzerman, Al MacInnis, Theo Fleury and Sergei Krivokrasov, enough players remain active or will visit the Tampa Bay area this season.

Some of those players at the top of my wish list are New Jersey's Martin Brodeur, Detroit's Dominik Hasek and Nicklas Lidstrom, Dallas' Eric Lindros, Mike Modano and Sergei Zubov, Vancouver's Markus Naslund, the Rangers' Jaromir Jagr, Brendan Shanahan and Martin Straka, and Toronto's Mats Sundin.

Others, and most likely easier to get, include Atlanta's Bobby Holik and Alexei Zhitnik, Boston's Marco Sturm, Buffalo's Lindy Ruff and Teppo Numminen, Minnesota's Pavol Demitra, Montreal's Roman Hamrlik, Pittsburgh's Mark Recchi and Washington's Viktor Kozlov.

Should travel take me back to New England over the next few years, and I'm pretty certain it will, I'd like to add Ray Bourque, too.

Oh, yeah, there's one other player that I'll save some room for -- game MVP Wayne Gretzky. Maybe you've heard about him.

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Review: 2006-07 Be A Player

One of my consistent criticisms of Upper Deck's hockey products is how it's early-season products seldom show players traded at the deadline wearing the colors of their new teams. Apparently, someone at 5909 Sea Otter Place got the memo.

Tucked within its autograph-heavy 2006-07 Be A Player release are cards of some of those sent packing all decked out in their new duds: Then-Buffalo's Dainius Zubrus, then-Calgary's Brad Stuart, Pittsburgh's Georges Laraque and St. Louis' Brad Boyes.

Heck, UD put out not one, but two cards of Nashville's Peter Forsberg. Seeing that Foppa's a free agent, though, I wouldn't expect to see too many more of him as a Predator.

By including these cards, Upper Deck has raised the bar for this season's sets. From the low-end Victory brand to even its staple Series I, the omission of these new looks in any 2007-08 release would be taking a gigantic step backwards.

As usual, these cards pose preparation chores for hounds. Though the bottom strip of the card is ready to go, it's doubtful that many players would take the time to sign there. The photos are pretty glossy. An attempt to sign one straight from the pack led to nothing but bubbles. An Eraser or baby powder will be needed.

My biggest complaint with this product is sheer value. I'm not so sure the autographs I pulled are worth the near $100 price I paid. Beyond those cards, the autographs (the Band-Aid variety) came from Antero Niittymaki, Tom Poti, Tim Taylor, Kimmo Timonen and Vesa Toskala. Rookie cards were San Jose's Matt Carle and New Jersey's Travis Zajac.

Maybe I'm simply being greedy, believing that a memorabilia insert would make the box (eight packs of five cards, with an average of one auto per pack) a much better deal. I guess that's what happens when you're starved for hockey. Another lesson, I'm afraid, has been learned.

I'll pass next time.

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A closer look

If you look real close, you can see that Upper Deck has used yet another photo of Brad Boyes as a member of St. Louis Blues in its 2006-07 BAP. Nice card, too. I just wish I was more of a Blues fan.

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Nice draw

Though I really shouldn't quibble about getting a double-autograph card out of the Upper Deck 2006-07 Be A Player, I can't help but think, especially if I was playing some warped contest of Hockey hold'em poker, that I'd have a stronger hand with these two cards.

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Eraser vs. baby powder

When it comes to removing a card's coating so its more receptive to ink, there are two schools of thought. Some of us use erasers. Some of us use baby powder. In the name of science, and for collectors across the world, I conducted an experiment to solve this debate.

Though I rely upon, and put up with the shavings from, a white eraser to prep my cards, I tried using baby powder on a couple to try that approach. With an unprepped Alexander Ovechkin card, from Upper Deck's 2006-07 Be A Player offering, as my test subject, I signed my name across the middle. The ink bubbled like dinnertime stew.

To initiate the test, I erased the top-left corner of the card's photo. As always, shavings multiplied with each pass. Once cleared, though, the fast-drying writing stuck well to the still-glossy surface. All in all, it's why I prefer this method.

Baby powder, as the testing phase concluded, was dribbled upon and gently rubbed onto the picture's bottom-right corner. Though most slid off easily, it took several tries to rub away the last layer. Even then, the writing fades and appears a little splotchy.

Ironically, the bottom of the card needs no help. It's a nice flat spot, absent of sheen, to have it signed. Good luck, though, getting a player to oblige. Hence, the necessary prep work.

Upon careful consideration, and certainly without any guilt of bias, my opinion, and mine alone, is erasers remain the way to go. To me, they create less mess overall (chalk is like dust; it floats and settles elsewhere.). I also question the durability of a signature that's sitting on a fine powder residue.

Remember, this is just my opinion. Differing opinions are welcomed, too. But I believe that, given the facts and findings presented above, this age-old question can be put to rest.

You're welcome.

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First draft

Now that I've taken an initial run through my 22-team hounding schedule for the 2007-08 NHL season, I'll offer the following prediction: I'll add at least 225 pucks to the collection, taking it to a cool 1,500 by season's end.

I also plan to increase the diversification of the collection by:

~ working a Florida Panthers team helmet. They're a young team, with kids like Gregory Campbell, Rostislav Olesz, Stephen Weiss and Noah Welch, but they also have a few stars in Jay Bouwmeester, Nathan Horton, Olli Jokinen and Richard Zednik. Don't forget, too, about new goalie Tomas Vokoun. Radek Dvorak, Ruslan Salei, Jozef Stumpel and Mike Van Ryn round out the must-haves for a team item.

~ cherry-picking on jerseys (Atlanta, Colorado and Team Canada, in particular, and, if I'm really lucky, the Q's Acadie-Bathurst.)

~ starting a goalie-only stick. Doesn't matter where they're from. If they're a goalie, I'll want them on it. Everyone except, say, Cujo.

~ Adding signatures, somewhat selectively, to the Team Canada goalie mask. There's ample room for Tampa's Marc Denis, Boston's Manny Fernandez, Detroit's Chris Osgood, Toronto's Andrew Raycroft, Edmonton's Dwayne Roloson, Buffalo's Jocelyn Thibault, Colorado's Jose Theodore, Dallas' Marty Turco and New Jersey's Kevin Weekes, among others. I won't say I'll get them all, just that there's room for them.

~ Filling up, for the lack of a better term, a Young Guns stick, which has autographs from only Boston's Patrice Bergeron and Carolina's Eric Staal. That wish-list includes:
~ Atlanta's Marian Hossa and Ilya Kovalchuk
~ Buffalo's Ales Kotalik, Jason Pominville and Thomas Vanek
~ Florida's Jay Bouwmeester and Nathan Horton
~ New Jersey's Brian Gionta and Zach Parise
~ Philadelphia's Daniel Briere (though, he's not so young anymore. Still, why not?), Jeff Carter and Mike Richards
~ Tampa Bay's Paul Ranger.

Of course, Colin will add to his team sheet and autographed jersey collections.

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Christmas in July

Imagine my delight last night when I saw that the NHL released its schedule for the upcoming 2007-08 season. Just a few days after whining that a lack of hockey created a void in my summer, I now have the pleasure of putting together a hounding schedule down here in Tampa Bay.

As I cobble together my wish-list, I must remember a promise I made to myself last season. Having come to the realization that the economic principle of diminishing returns applies to this hobby, I'm going to practice the fine art of cherry-picking. In essence, I'll be making fewer trips as the season wears on, limiting my efforts to favored teams and those that are infrequent visitors to this tropical NHL outpost.

Having said that, though, I'll still make the effort to hound certain teams. It's hard to resist the opportunities to score autographs from New Jersey's Martin Brodeur, Atlanta's Ilya Kovalchuk and all those fresh faces in Philly. My goal, however, is to check these teams off my to-do list earlier in the season, when the players aren't so tired of constant hounding, rather than later when everyone, including hounds, are grumpy.

With that in mind, here's the first take on my hounding adventures, based on the Lightning's 15th anniversary schedule. Key dates include:

~ Saturday, Oct. 27: Buffalo Sabres. How can I resist? Sure, some big names are gone, but it's hard to not hound your favorite team. Besides, I have a Sabres mini mask just waiting for Ryan Miller's autograph. I might even work a team stick, too.
~ Saturday, Dec. 1: Boston Bruins. It's not just my birthday, but we'll also get to, once again, renew old acquaintances.
~ Thursday, Dec. 13: Calgary Flames. A rematch of the 2004 Stanley Cup Finals, this provides an opportunity to add Jarome Iginla, Miikka Kiprusoff and Dion Phaneuf to our 1,275 autographed pucks. It also brings former Lightning defenseman Cory Sarich back to town.
~ Tuesday, Jan. 15: Colorado Avalanche. Two words: Joey Sakic. Our collection is sorely lacking anything signed from this future Hall of Famer. I'll likely take the day off from work.
~ Tuesday, Jan. 22: Edmonton Oilers. To be honest, I'm not sure who's left that would be worthy of taking another personal day from work. Dwayne Roloson? Certainly. Ales Hemsky, too. I'm sure, though, that I'll make good use of my time.
~ Thursday, Jan. 31: Vancouver Canucks. Without a doubt, this will be a full-day trip. Between the Sedin twins, Markus Naslund, Brendan Morrison and Roberto Luongo, the Canucks represent a target-rich opportunity.
~ Wednesday, Feb. 27: Minnesota Wild. In what will likely one of the last adventures of the season, I'd be a fool not to hound Marian Gaborik, Pavol Demitra, Brian Rolston and Niklas Backstrom.

Other trips penciled in, for now, though everything, as always, is subject to change:

Thursday, Oct. 4: New Jersey (Opening night)
Saturday, Oct. 6: Atlanta Thrashers
Wednesday, Oct. 10: Florida Panthers
Thursday, Oct. 25: Philadelphia Flyers
Wednesday, Nov. 14: Carolina Hurricanes
Friday, Nov. 16: Washington Capitals
Wednesday, Nov. 21: New York Rangers
Tuesday, Dec. 4: Ottawa Senators
Saturday, Dec. 8: New York Islanders
Thursday, Dec. 20: Toronto Maple Leafs (Yeah, I know I despise them.)
Thursday, Dec. 27: Montreal Canadiens
Thursday, Jan. 10: Pittsburgh Penguins (A likely horror show, given the presence of Mssrs. Crosby, Fleury, Malkin and Staal)
Tuesday, Jan. 29: Buffalo Sabres
Saturday, Feb. 23: Boston Bruins
Wednesday, Feb. 27: Minnesota Wild

Chances are, too, that I'll make a few trips for the Lightning.



Jonesin' for hockey

It's not that I truly miss living in New England, but I certainly wish I was there, spending a week of vacation. Sure, it would be nice to get away from Florida's heat and humidity for a couple days hanging out with family and friends. And I wouldn't turn down the offer of a steamed Maine lobster.

But what really has given me a mild case of homesickness, so to speak, is that there's some hockey taking place this week. The Boston Bruins are holding a development camp in Wilmington, Mass., bringing in prospects -- from sure-fire NHLers to those playing out a dream.

The camp, held through Saturday at the Ristuccia Memorial Rink, promises more than the welcome chill of a rink and a sneak peak at the team's future. It also means a week of judicious hounding, namely loading up on some stars-in-making who hopefully still get a thrill out of signing autographs.

Had I been there, my hounding efforts would focus on three players. First and foremost, there's the Bruins' top-rated prospect, goalie Tuukka Rask. First-rounders Matt Lashoff (22nd overall in the 2005 draft), a defenseman who played in Boston and Providence last season, and Zach Hamill, (eighth overall in the 2007 draft), a center with the Everett Silvertips of the Western Hockey League, are also puckworthy.

Beyond that, I'm not so sure. Still, though, it's hockey, and hounding, in July. For me, September can't come soon enough.



Excellent advice

If you've stumbled upon this blog, looking for information on how to score some autographs, you'd be well-served to read this posting by Drew Pelto. Every possible answer you'd ever need is right there.

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Wouldn't it be nice . . .

. . . if McFarlane Toys came out with a complementary piece to this one of Toronto's Darcy Tucker showing a player, such as Boston's Zdeno Chara or Buffalo's Paul Gaustad, milliseconds away from applying a clean, but body-rocking snot-knocker to the Maple Leafs' pest?

There's just something about seeing a Toronto player with his head down, especially one like Tucker, that warms the heart of any Leafs hater.



Wait a minute

Now that I've had some time to think about it, and I promise that this isn't a case of spin, the departures of Daniel Briere and Chris Drury from the Buffalo Sabres just might not be as bad as I once believed.

Sure, the team will miss their clutch play and veteran leadership. But this void also creates opportunities for some younger Sabres, such as Thomas Vanek, Jason Pominville, Derek Roy and Ales Kotalik, to step up and take over the critical leadership positions.

I'm not asking for anything flashy from these guys (though the occasional end-to-end rush, capped by a highlight-reel dipsy-doodle goal, would be appreciated), just simple, hard-working efforts to further forge this team's gritty, blue-collar identity.

If this happens, the Sabres and their true-blue-and-gold fans won't have to endure the letdown that we may have felt earlier this week.



Summer break

Just when you think I've forgotten about Hound Central 2.0, I'm here to tell you that I haven't. Besides doing some work on my summer projects, I've also been getting my butt kicked by a case of diabetes gone wild.

I'll spare you the gory details, but now that I've apparently got my blood sugar under control, I'll have more time and energy to keep up with all the news that's happened over the past few weeks.

Rather than rehash old news, such as new logos and looks for a handful of NHL teams, I'll return with these observations:

~ The Philadelphia Flyers are going to be a scary team this upcoming season. Given their personnel moves since the 2006-07 trading deadline, the Flyers, at least in my humble opinion, should be a serious contender for Lord Stanley's Cup. Adding the likes of Daniel Briere, Jason Smith and Martin Biron, among others, will let this team erase last season's nightmares.

~ My beloved Buffalo Sabres have truly taken it on the chin over the past couple of days. To lose Briere and Chris Drury (to the Rangers), the heart and souls of last year's overachieving squad, will be hard to overcome. Granted, the Sabres free up some salary, but there's little left among the free agents to make up for two devastating losses.

~ What in God's name was Anaheim thinking when it signed Todd Bertuzzi? Let's see, the Ducks are his fourth team in little over a year. He played, what, 15 games last season, showing just how brittle the former prototypical power forward has become. It's my guess that this will be his last season in the NHL.

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