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.



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