Monday, October 31, 2005

My First Game

For this installment of the Blog, we welcome Ray Flowers' piece about his first experience in the Press Booth, as he took in a game between the San Jose Sharks and Calgary Flames. Ray will give you a first hand account on what it is like to be in the Press Booth for one of the 30 NHL member teams. Sit back, relax, and enjoy. ~SW

The NHL is back, and anyone who doesn’t believe that statement wasn’t at the Tank in San Jose on Saturday, October 29th, when a sellout crowd of 17,496 people turned out to see the Sharks third straight win, a 3-2 shoot-out victory over the Flames. And while that is the focus of another piece for the Face Off Hockey Show, this piece will be a discussion of my personal experiences at my first game as a reporter for the show.

The Preparation

New experiences always cause a bit of trepidation for me, and this night was no different. After attending games for years at the Tank in San Jose as a loyal Sharks fan, tonight was different. I was no longer a fan, but a person in between those on the ice and those in the seats, I was a reporter. So I grabbed my notebook, my voice recorder, pulled on my tie and headed to the game for the start of what I hope will be a lifelong journey.

The Arrival

Arriving at the game I found a good parking space an proceeded to the media entrance to the arena. After getting what seemed like a 12 step plan from a Sharks employee on how to find the media room, I made my way to sign in and grab the NHL issued game notes. In the press room there was food, so I sat down and had a small dinner while perusing the notes. Looking up between bites of my fried chicken, I looked over to see Sharks TV broadcasters Randy Hahn and Drew Remenda sitting just a table over laughing and conversing with others. Not that we are equals by any means, but I was there in the same room as those two and other, and no one looked at me funny, except for when I got some ranch dressing on my arm, but that story is for a different time.

The Press Box

After finishing my meal I headed up to find my seat in the press box. If you haven’t been to a press box you should try to get there once in your life. After acclimating myself to the extreme altitude, I could jump and touch the arena roof, I found my seat and began to layout my materials for the game. After that initial set up was complete, I wandered around the box to get the lay of the land. The first thing I found was free food. Now I don’t know about you, but free food is always welcome in these parts. The food took the form of drinks, pretzels and a hot-dog machine that brought back memories of the old movie theater I used to visit as a child (you know, the one that had those stainless steel metal rollers that kept the dogs warm by turning). Fearing a repeat of “the 1982 event”, when I got sick off of a hot-dog at that theater, I passed on the hot-dogs and grabbed a water instead.

The Game

As the game started I fell into the mode I had found myself in many times before, watching the dancing puck move back and forth across the smooth ice, the elegance of the game thrown off only by the jarring hits that sporadically occurred. Despite the lofty position of my seat, I was able to actually get a better view of the game than I had been as a fan because I was able to see the whole ice from a superior angle. As I watched the game, Sharks employees came by every 10 or so minutes with updates of all the action that was taken place this night. I conversed with a few of the other reporters, nice people, and as the game began to wear down I started to wonder about how the post-game interview session would go.

Before I could dwell on that thought for too long however, the Sharks scored two goals in the last 5 minutes of the game to send it to OT. The OT was scoreless, and that led to the first regular season shoot-out in Sharks history. The Sharks ultimately prevailed in the 4th round of the shoot-out when Nihls Ekman scored off of Miikka Kiprusoff with an excellent start and stop move. With that, I was headed to the bowels of the stadium to find the locker room and begin my task of trying to land an interview for the Face Off Hockey Show.

The Maze

I don’t know about you, but when I get involved with a series of doors that all look the same, things get a bit confusing. As I was wandering around trying to find my way, I had a thought. Three very attractive young women walked past me laughing and smiling and I thought to myself ‘they must be either wives or girlfriends of the Sharks, follow them.’ Sure enough they were, an a minute later I was in the Sharks locker room standing 2 feet from Brad Stuart who’s goal had tied the game with 22.4 seconds left.

The Interviews

As I was standing there listening to Brad Stuart answer questions, I was struck by a couple of things. First, I was in the Sharks locker room, a place I had always wanted to visit, and I was standing there listening to an NHL player discuss how his play had brought 17,496 fans out of their seats a mere 30 minutes earlier. Of course, I had a job to do, so that feeling quickly passed.

The next thing I noticed was that Stuart really seemed very humble. In fact, he not only appeared to be humble, he was actually speaking so softly that you almost had to strain to hear him. This was not because the media was making noise, they were all very well behaved, it was because Stuart just wasn’t talking that loud.

Next up was Nils Ekman who had won the game with that shoot-out goal. He too was very reserved and quite, though he did crack a smile when talking about how he tried to catch coach Ron Wilson’s eye during the shoot-out after he had basically not played at all the last 5 minutes of the game.

Coach Wilson then gave about 5 minutes of his time to discuss the game, and he was also very accommodating. In fact, I was surprised by how reserved the players AND the press were. I had pictured, I guess from seeing the paparazzi harassing stars and wild playoff celebrations on TV, that the scene would be one of confusion. Quite the opposite was the case. The media seemed very reserved and all were quite and respectful as each question was asked. No one stepped on anyone’s toes, an all waited patiently for their chance to ask their question.

The Sharks staff even went as far as to go and find Patrick Marleau for myself an another reporter so that he could answer a few questions for us after all the other reporters had left to work on their stories. This was especially noteworthy since Marleau had already left the interview area. The Sharks representatives found him for us, he spoke with us for about 3 minutes, said thanks, and disappeared back into the depths of the Sharks locker room.

The Night

As I walked to my car after the whole evening’s festivities I found myself grateful. The game had been a spirited one where a goal was scored in the last 30 seconds which ultimately led to a Sharks victory in a shoot-out. The Sharks staff, and the other members of the media, were more than accommodating to this rookie reporter.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the fact that was brought home to me that the players are just normal guys doing their job. Sure they get paid a lot of money and have fame beyond anything they ever dreamed of as a child, but when I stood there with the questions being asked, they talked to us all just like they would if you were a friend (minus the colorful metaphors of course).

So in the end my first experience as a reporter was extremely rewarding, and I would like to thank the staff at the Face Off Hockey Show for making a long time dream of mine a reality.

Ray Flowers, a member of the Society for International Hockey Research (SIHR) and the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA), can be reached with comments and questions at: Don’t forget to check out his website for more NHL analysis and fantasy hockey insights.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Wish You Were Here

Obviously you have heard the NHL's touting the increase in the attendance figures at the beginning of the season. For the most part that is true, there are plenty of people showing up to the games. In fact, as of the October 30th, there are 11 teams out of 30 who have at least 100% capacity in their building this year. Sure, all of them (save two) are in markets where there would be a sellout every night, but that's neither here nor there.

Obviously, you expect Toronto, Montreal, and Minnesota to have the biggest attendance, as there are waiting list for season tickets. Vancouver and Colorado have impressive numbers for teams that may or may not be that good, depending on how you look at things. Calgary is actually overselling the Saddledome, as they have been at 112% capacity in their 4 home games. Also, Ottawa, Philadelphia, and Detroit are all in the top tier of attendance. The surprising teams are San Jose and Tampa who aren't usually known as hockey cities, but thanks to strong seasons in the recent past, the Sharks and Bolts are doing just fine with people in the seats.

Yet, that's not the thing I'm baffled about-- it's about the teams who aren't getting anyone in their buildings.

First off is the Nashville, who are only pulling in an average of 14,000+ in their home games. The Predators started the season 8-0, they signed a big name player in the way of Paul Kariya, and they are coming off their first playoff appearance and are hoping to get better and better. Right now, they are second in a tough Central Division, but none of the people in Nashville seem to care one way or the other.

Believe it or not, the Carolina Hurricanes are the best team in the Eastern Conference. With their young, talented team; the 'Canes are one of the more exciting teams to watch. Eric Staal and Cam Ward have given a boost to an otherwise dead team. Dead is the key word when it comes to describe the seats of the RBC Center in Raleigh. Each night, the Canes play in front of the 14,626 on a good night, when at other times it is much, much less.

Then you move a little North and find the Buffalo Sabres. A few years removed from an ownership change, the Sabres are coming off a great '03-'04 campaign which saw them barely miss out on the playoffs while finishing over .500. Yet, with just over 75% watching the Sabres on a given night, the Sabres could do a lot better when they have a team that could actually compete well in the new look NHL.

For me, it's just surprising that teams that are actually playing very well could be playing at home in front of such a small crowd. It's also disturbing to see that people are speculating on where some of these teams could be relocated to if they don't get more butts in the seats. It's almost sicking that some people are just preying on some teams waiting for them to fail so their city can reap the benefits. However, that's the nature of the beast.

It's even worse when you have two teams that have already had some moving issues of their own. For a few years during transistion, the Sabres didn't know whether or not they would playing in Buffalo or moving to someplace like Hamilton or Winnipeg. The Hurricanes have already moved once from Hartford to Raleigh, plus grumblings of owner Peter Karmanos looking to find some new ownership for the Canes. Plus, you have some people claiming that the Predators are looking to move to Kansas City as soon as the new Sprint Center is finished in 2007.

After the heartbreak that cities like Quebec City, Winnipeg, and Hartford had to endure when they lost their teams, you would have hoped that some of this mess would be over. In the new landscape of the NHL, you would hope that the owners would be able to keep teams financially stable. Even with that promise out there, you still see teams out there who you don't think are able to standing on both of their feet if they continue to falter in the attendance column, which could led to the inevitible choice of the team packing up and moving away. The only way to counteract that is to get people to actually go out and support their local team. Like Joni Mitchell said, "You don't know what you’ve got ‘til its gone" and for some cities, you can never get it back again.

This has been ScottyWazz. Take care of yourself and someone else. PEACE!!

Monday, October 17, 2005

To See or Not To See....Is It Really a Question??

It's only two weeks into the season, but the debate is on about whether visors should be mandatory for players in the NHL. In 14 days, Mats Sundin, Mike Ricci, and now Kris Draper have all been victims to pucks in the face, which could have probably been avoided if the players had visors on their helmets.

Now, these are not isolated instances. I think we all remember when Marian Hossa got his stick up on Bryan Berard taking out his eye and almost his career. We remember with Stevie Y got a puck deflected from Rhett Warrener's skate into his face breaking his orbital bone, and of course Pavol Demitra getting run errently into the boards crushing his face. However, it seems that the message still isn't getting through to all of the players out there.

According to a poll given to a dozen or so NHLers, many of them didn't like the idea of a mandatory visor rule. Of course, I don't know whether or not the idea of "grandfathering" the rule in, but it seems that a flat out mandatory rule is out of the question. There are some players out there, like Daniel Alfredsson, who are pushing for the mandatory visors because of the higher risk out there now. However, teams like the LA Kings have already shot down the visor rule.

If you look around the world, most, if not all, European leagues make visors mandatory to use. You saw that with many of the NHLers last year, yet they still didn't get the message. Dany Heatley got hit in the eye while his visor was resting on the top of his forehead. All of the junior leagues make their players wear visors and the NCAA makes all their players wear either full cages or full visors. Some minor leagues, like the UHL and ECHL, have also tried out the rules for mandatory visors as well.

With most of the new talent coming from the Major Juniors, they are already use to the visors. If the NHL were to grandfather in the rule, the players coming in would already be use to the visors, so the transistion wouldn't be as hard if you try to make an elderstateman in the NHL do it. For more information, check out the links below to see the different views on the subject.

It's almost insane not to make the rule mandatory with a "grandfather" rule in effect. When you look around at how much more frequent these injuries are happening, the NHLPA should wake up to the fact that it would be for the betterment of the players coming into the league if such a rule existed. Granted, this probably won't come to much fanfare, but the truth of the matter is that the NHL needs something to protect it's players from things that are avoidable. The visor rule could do just that.

The one really big determining factor is with the insurance. By putting a visor rule into effect, the insurance cost would be going down and players could save on that fact. Not to mention Workmen's compensation will also have something to say about avoidable situations. Whether it happens sooner or latter, the visor rule is almost inevitable.

This has been ScottyWazz. Take care of yourself and someone else. PEACE!!

Friday, October 14, 2005

Who Says This Isn't Better??

It's been a week, have you had enough time to take it all in and just enjoy the new NHL?? The fast pace, the penalties being called as they should, goals, goals, and more goals?? Amazingly enough, there are people out there who hate the new game. Once I find a list of names-- we're all going to get them-- Who's coming with me??

All that aside, there are plenty of storylines coming out of the first week. In true fashion of the show-- I'll put out a list of what the hell is going on.


-The Rookies. Forget about just Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin for a minute, because we all know they will be compared to each other. Look at guys like Brent Seabrook in Chicago, who has been an amazing playmaker on the Hawks' blueline; look at someone like Thomas Vanek, who is helping the surprising Sabres become one of the sleeper teams in this young season. You can go on and on about Zach Parise in New Jersey and Dion Phaneuf in Calgary, but the point is that it is not going to be a two horse race. If Crosby and Ovechkin aren't careful, they'll lose out on the Calder Trophy.

-The Fans. In some places, you wouldn't know that there had been a work stoppage. The NHL's attendance is up 6.2% in the first eight days, compared to the same eight days in 2003. Granted, it's just a week or so in, but any upside the NHL can take out of it, they will.

-The Underdogs. Who would have thought a team like the Buffalo Sabres could take a rag-tag bunch of young players and make so much noise. Thanks to the play of new #1 goalie Ryan Miller, captains Chris Drury and Daniel Briere, plus the rest of the no-name Sabres, they are out to a 4-1-0 start. Here's hoping that the Sabres have finally gotten some stability. In the West, the Nashville Predators remain the only unbeaten team in the NHL. Picking up Paul Kariya in the off-season has paid some dividens, but having a core bunch of guys playing together for years is showing how much chemistry can be created in Music City, USA.

-The Senators. Is there anything that can stop this team?? You want to talk about chemistry, the Sens have done that and thensome. Jason Spezza is primed to hve a breajout season, Daniel Alfredsson is rolling putting the pucks in the net, and Dominik Hasek is looking like the "Dominator" of old. Ray Emery is there just in case Hasek were to go down. There are several outlets picking the Sens to go to the Cup finals and this time, they could prove them right.


-The Blues. For a team that has been in the playoffs for 24 consecutive seasons, this is not looking like a team who will even get a sniff at the playoffs. The youth of this team could be the downfall, but when you put a 6-3 lead and cannot hold it, then you know you have problems somewhere. Patrick Lalime has been letting up some soft goals and the big name players have yet to be seen in the Gateway to the West.

-Chronic Injuries. You know you have been without the NHL for a while when the IR show nothing but groin injuries. Most guys who have suffered said injuries have been out of competitive action for a long time and didn't condition well. It'll prove to be a long season if this injury keeps showing up-- and many players may have to get plenty of two-way bus tickets to go back and forth from the Show to the minors.

-The Naysayers. I don't know how some people are still out there who doesn't think the game is for the better. Sure, it probably shouldn't have taken 18 months to get this settled, but when it did come back, from the first night, the NHL has impressed me by actually being a better product out there. The game flows better, faster pace, and a little more exciting than it was when it left us. I just wish some Newspaper Writers and Internerd "Pundits" would just shut up and enjoy the effin' game because it's better than what we have seen in the past decade.

-The Commercials. Come on-- if I wanted to see "Gladiator.......ON ICE!!", I'll watch my copy of "Mystery, Alaska."


-The Flames. Talk about an undisciplined team. As much as I'm a "mark" for the Flames, they have been a huge disappointment. When you give up 13 goals when you're a man-down, there is something glaringly wrong with that. I'm sure that the Flames will bounce back, but the question is will it be too late when it happens??

-The Hooligans. We're only a week into the season and people are already chucking stuff on the ice. First, it was Boston hurling the mini-Stanley Cups on the ice when the Bruins lost with 11.1 left in the Third on Opening Night. Then, the Bolts fans just start hurling cups and debris on the ice when their team is called for obvious penatlies. As much I know the passion of the fans, the fact of that matter is that in no way should people hurl stuff on the ice. Let's get real people-- there's no place for that, unless you at a seafood place and you chuck your empty sea creature on the ground.

-Lack of Ice Girls. Now, where's the marketing in that?? The Ice Girls are the thing that will keep the guys interested in the game when there's nothing going on at ice level. However, there are still some teams that are late to pull the trigger on the new hotness. If they don't act fact, they'll be too late to cash in.

So that's the way I'm seeing the first week of the NHL. We'll have plenty more on here since the NHL is actually going on now and you can bet that we'll have plenty to talk about when it all goes down. Hell, as early as Monday, we'll debate the use of visors in the NHL and what should the players do when it comes to wearing one against not wearing one. So keep it tuned in here and every Wednesday Night at 9 PM ET for Face Off Hockey Show. You know you want it.

This has been ScottyWazz. Take care of yourself and someone else. PEACE!!