Thursday, January 29, 2009

Kyrgyz Hockey Championships

Hockey in the country of Kyrgyzstan is not something I've given a tremendous amount of thought to, but the same day that I finished Dave Bidini's book about the game in faraway lands "Tropic of Hockey" (which I wrote about on this blog), I came across a picture in Sports Illustrated of the 2009 Kyrgyz Hockey Championships.

If that's not reason enough to go searching on the world wide interweb superhighway information place, I don't know what would be.

So... I first landed on a "The Azamat Report" blog post which featured images from the 2008 Krygyz Hockey Championships and linked to a LiveJournal blog from "Morrire" that was the source of said images.

A few of those are shown below and to view the rest, simply click on the above link to Morrire's LiveJournal blog entry.

Pregame Ceremony:

Going out for warmups. Note the goalie pads... and especially the mask.

Game on.

Well, of course they have rink signage. It's the National Championships.

Awesome stuff. Guess this relates closely to what Bidini wrote about with hockey being hockey wherever played, but the images don't look that different than those I posted from the U.S. Pond Hockey Championships.

"Tropic of Hockey" by Dave Bidini

Note from me: This isn't a common occurrence, but in addition to this blog, I'm putting the post below on my writing blog at The reason for the dual-location post is simple... I'm writing about a book that I just finished... and it's about... hockey!

"Tropic of Hockey" is from Canadian musician/author guy Dave Bidini (his website here) and it's a chronicle of his experiences with the game in such hockey hotspots (maybe literally, but not figuratively) as Dubai, remote (and not so remote) China and Transylvania.

As I touched on in my hockey blog post about the U.S. Pond Hockey Championships, the impetus for Bidini to write "Tropic of Hockey" was a growing sense of disillusionment he felt with the NHL version of the game and a desire to reconnect with it by playing and seeing it from different parts of the globe. While I do love the NHL, I could understand his romantic notions of the game and this desire to experience it in a new way. Not entirely the same, but it makes me think of my appreciation for the "Original Six" teams of the NHL and the fans in hockey markets that care deeply about their local team (see: hockey blog post about Montreal).

This said, there's a lot of stuff that struck me from the Bidini book, so I'll run through some of it here and try to explain why...

Chapter 4 - "Wendel and the Bells": Bidini's story about how he became a hockey fan again as an adult. A very cool description of how it came about and how one player (the aforementioned Wendel Clark of the Leafs) became his favorite.

Chapter 9 - "Bobby Clarke's Teeth": Mention of Bidini communicating with people in China entirely through the language of Russian hockey players they all know of. I like how the words "Fetisov", "Tretiak" and "Kasatonov" can tie people together.

Chapter 14 - "Journey to the Temple of the Dog": Includes anecdotes about Bidini and his friend masquerading as members of the press to secure interviews with favorite players and entry to parts of one of my most vividly remembered hockey events... Rendez-vous '87 in Quebec City between the Soviet National Team and NHL All-Stars.

Chapter 17 - "A Busload of Espo": Primarily about Phil Esposito the '72 Summit Series between Canada and the Soviet Union. The description of the eight-game set makes me wish I had been a fan then (difficult since I wasn't born until a year later).

Chapter 23 - "The Last Canadian Game": Interesting to me for two reasons... one is how much I appreciated the description of Bidini's attendance at the final game in Maple Leaf Gardens (which I wish I had been able to watch Toronto play in). The second (and very different) reason is Bidini's mention of "The Whiskey Robber" during this section of the book on Transylvania. As I was reading this portion, much sounded familiar to me and it was because of my reading of "Ballad of the Whiskey Robber" by Julian Rubinstein. I had completely forgotten this it was a true (or at least mostly true) story about a Robin Hood-esque Hungarian hockey player. So cool... I love when stuff comes together.

So, all this said about the Bidini book... I liked it a lot and think that most hockey fans would as well... particularly those of us that love the history of the game and it's impact.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

U.S. Pond Hockey Championships

Granted, I don't know much about it other than what I've come across online, but I'm fascinated by the U.S. Pond Hockey Championships.

Played last weekend in Minnesota it sounds like an amazing event that gets at the sentimental hockey fan side of me... and makes me think of Dave Bidini's book "Tropic of Hockey" that I recently finished. Written in large part due to Bidini's disillusionment with the NHL, it seeks out hockey in different venues around the globe. But, I digress (and there will more more to come on this blog about the Bidini book)...

Back to the tournament. The 30 second video below is a television ad for the 2007 U.S. Pond Hockey Championships and gives a pretty good flavor of the event.

Very cool stuff.

Additional details can be found on the tournament webpage at , with the images below taken from the site.

For those whose interest has been piqued by all this, there's the 3 minute segment below about the 2008 tournament from The Today Show.

Yet again... very cool, and cold.

Friday, January 23, 2009

"Montreal: This City is Hockey"

Really compelling story from titled "Montreal: This City is Hockey". By Sports Illustrated writer (and current Montreal resident) Michael Farber, the piece examines the site of this year's NHL all-star game on this, the 100th anniversary of the Canadiens franchise. Especially interesting is the look at the close personal connections to the NHL shared by the residents of the city.

Stories (and associated lore) such as this are why I love cities that care so passionately (and have the history to match) about the game.

Accompanying the Farber piece is this photo gallery of the 15 Canadiens whose numbers have been retired. Some of the gallery highlights are below...

With his #1 retired, Candadiens goalie Jaques Plante has had impact on the game far beyond his playing achievements. In 1959 he became the first goalie to wear a mask in an NHL game.

#9, Maurice Richard is perhaps the most famous member of "Les Habitants" and previously written about here on this blog as the subject of the film "Maurice Richard" (alternately known as "The Rocket").

Additionally, Richard (and a season-ending suspension to him handed down by the NHL) was the cause of the famous "Richard Riot on St Catherine Street" immortalized in the movie.

#10, Guy Lafleur. As his wikipedia page notes, he was known among English-speaking fans by his nickname "The Flower". So cool...

#33, Patrick Roy. Even given some highly questionable parenting skills (details in the last two paragraphs of the "post retirement" section on wikipedia)... 10 straight overtime wins en route to a Cup victory in the 1992-1993 season. Amazing.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Bruins / Sharks Story from Sports Illustrated

Interesting (and almost haiku-named) story "Two Strong [Boston: 33-8-4 / San Jose: 33-6-5]" from the Jan 26 issue of Sports Illustrated.

Written by Michael Farber, the piece looks at the top two teams by record in the NHL (each leading their conference) and draws some fascinating parallels between them. Most hockey fans know of the Joe Thornton connection... he being traded in Nov 2005 for Marco Strum, Keith Primeau and Brad Stuart.

However, this Farber story brings out something else the top players for each team have in common... a reputation to overcome. From the the story itself, Sharks players looking to shed past labels are "Joe Thornton-'uninspiring' & Patrick Marleau-'undependable'" and Bruins players in the same boat are "Phil Kessel-'soft' & Marc Savard-'selfish'".

Intriguing stuff and while there's a lot of good teams out there, it would be great to see the two match up in the playoffs. Oh yeah... that would be in the Stanley Cup Finals if they meet!

College Football Recruiting by Location from CNNSI

True, it's not hockey related, but Andy Staples' "State of Recruiting" article from is interesting enough to warrant mention here.

The piece looks at college football recruiting trends over the last four years by the "BCS Conferences School"... specifically where the athletes grew up. What's revealed is that some schools (University of Texas) are good enough and come from a fertile enough recruiting ground to stay in-state and some schools (Nebraska) have to recruit out of state to be successful. At the same time you have USC and Florida who are good enough to both get some of the best in-state athletes as well as poach from elsewhere.

The article itself has some really interesting conclusions made from it, but the most fascinating thing is the Google Maps application featured in it. Clicking on the map gives you the ability to see where players over the last four seasons where recruited from either (A) by position, (B) by conference, (C) by state or (D) by school. Yep... by school is I'd say the most interesting view.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Kontinental Hockey League's All-Star Game

I became interested in the Kontinental Hockey League's All-Star Game after seeing a photo from Sports Illustrated of the game being played in Russia's Red Square. Sadly (at first), my search of SI's excellent (and extremely thorough) archives at did not yield a hit for the picture in question.

A little digging on the worldly wide interweb, though, can yield quite the treasure chest...

From the NBC Universal-owned website comes the following images (which can be found along with several others on this gallery page).

Love them outdoor games.

As if it wasn't cold enough during the day.

Not so great from the image department, but very interesting from the "where are they now?" department... that's Oleg Soprykin facing Ray Emery.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

NHL Regular Season Games: Often More Than They Appear

It's interesting both how the outcome of games can both be impacted by things external and how individual games can then impact things down the line.

Geezie peezie... that sentence sounds mysterious (or maybe just confusing) as I read it now.

Anyhoo, to Wit...

Oct 30: Detroit at San Jose
Outcome - Sharks take a fairly convincing 4-2 victory.
Immediate ramification (for Sharks fans) - Whoo-hoo... best team in the league! Never gonna lose again. Detroit Can't touch us.
External influence - Detroit played a bruising overtime game the night before in Anaheim.

Dec 18: San Jose at Detroit
Outcome - Detroit scores 6, San Jose 0. Yea, pretty convincing.
Immediate ramification (for Wings fans) - Whoo-hoo... best team in the league! Never gonna lose again. San Jose Can't touch us.
External influence - San Jose played a hard-fought overtime game the night before in Columbus.

So... two good teams, both were good going into a game they clunked, both were good coming out. While it will be interesting to see what happens when the teams match up again Jan 17 after each has had a night off, both the Sharks and Wings will likely roll into the playoffs each being solid and knowing it.


This matchup is illustrated to show how external factors can influence a game, but let's look at a different matchup, though, to see how the outcome of a game can impact things beyond...

Nov 13: Calgary at San Jose
Outcome - Sharks 6, Calgary 1.... and the game wasn't that close.
Immediate ramification (for Sharks fans) - We rule. Guess we can disregard that Flames team.
Immediate ramification (for Flames coaches & players) - Time to man up.
Long-term outcome (for the Flames) - Taken from this week's NHL Power Rankings by Alan Muir of CNNSI, Calgary has been dominate since this shellacking and are #4 to San Jose's #3 league ranking.

Jan 6: San Jose at Calgary
Outcome - Calgary 5, San Jose 2.

Which... takes us to tonight. Calgary at San Jose. What will it mean? Not sure... but, it's always fun to watch and see.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Brett Hull's Free Pass

The current Jan 12 issue of Sports Illustrated has an article by frequent hockey writer Michael Farber titled "The Trouble with Sean Avery" and the thing I keep wondering isn't how Avery created such problems in Dallas, but who's responsible.

I suppose the easy answer with be that it's Avery, but as the Farber piece illustrates, trouble has gone along with Avery to each stop of his career. Now, after getting the big payday with the Dallas Stars, he seemed to decide to really cut loose.

So, this begs the question of who in the Star brain-trust was the driving force behind the Avery signing. The answer to this is pretty unanimously co-GM Brett Hull. Les Jackson is the other half of this two-headed tandem (with the arrangement the only of it's kind in pro sports), but Hull was the guy brought in to bring "pizazz" and the guy who pushed for the Avery deal.

The result is that now Avery burned out his welcome with the Stars, was suspended for a few games by the league and most importantly... told by team management (wonder if it was Hull or Jackson who told him?) that he's done playing for them. Interestingly, the team has stated that they will not pursue any sort of breach of conduct clause in the contract to recoup some of the money that Avery is still owed on the deal.

This stance by Dallas is interesting in that it seems to indicate that either there wasn't much language of the sort in the contract (which would be silly given Avery's past) or the Stars hope the whole thing (including Avery himself) just goes away quietly. The translation of this would likely be him getting paid full salary to not play hockey the rest of the year and then having the remaining three years of his deal bought out in the coming off-season.

Now, to the question of accountability. Hull appear to be the guy, but a separate SI piece titled "No Remorse over Avery Deal" shows his stance. Incredibly, he states that he "doesn't have remorse because he was trying to make the team better." If that's all it takes to absolve his poor decision, then apparently Hull plays by different rules than the rest of us in the working world. This doesn't mean Hull is a bad guy or should be blacklisted by the NHL for this move, but should at least call into question whether he's fully qualified to be an NHL General Manager... or co-GM as the arrangement in Dallas has it.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Ross McKeon Yahoo! Sports Outdoor Game Locations

It is Tuesday, which would normally call for a simple review of the Yahoo! Sports and CNNSI NHL Power Rankings, but this week brings something special.

In his rankings for this week, Ross McKeon gives the standard rankings (predictable stuff with the Red Wings, Sharks and then Bruins 1-2-3), but also hypothesizes locations and opponents of an outdoor game for each NHL team. The ideas range from extremely likely (the Rangers hosting a game at the new Yankee Stadium) to the extremely entertaining (the Senators hosting a game on the canal through town).

Definitely worth a read.