Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Hockey Orphan revived: master post

Special thanks to: Earl Sleek for the clutch logo work! Thanks Sleek!

With the glory of the playoffs nearly upon us, it occurred to everyone at Cycle like the Sedins that now would be the perfect time to bring back our Hockey Orphan feature. After all, there will be 14 playoff Hockey Orphans once the smoke clears, so we figured we would help those people - as well as budding hockey fans - decide which teams to follow.

Since our crystal ball is at the repair shop, though, we are going to try to cover the NHL teams with at least some kind of chance at making the playoffs. In this post, we'll have a link to each Hockey Orphan entry for your convenience. It will be bumped up to the top of the page whenever there is a new entry.

The basic premise of Hockey Orphan is: if you were a brand new hockey fan, what would make each team worth following (and, in some cases, not worth following). This hockey blogosphere is full of variety, so expect a lot of fun and interesting takes on this concept. The links to each team's entry is below. We might not get to the obvious non-playoff teams by the end of the season. If a team hasn't been covered yet, then there won't be a link. Enjoy!

Teams that have been covered so far (with a decent shot at the playoffs)

Anaheim (Written by Earl Sleek from Battle of California; date: October '08) (Also, there's my take)

Boston (Written by Evan from Stanley Cup of Chowder; date: January '09) (Also, there's my take)

Buffalo (Written by Anne from Sabretooth's House; date: January '09)

Calgary (Written by Kent from Five Hole Fanatics; date: February '09)

Carolina (Written by Ashley from The Life and Times of a Caniac; date: April '09)

Chicago (Written by Clare from All Hawks Hockey; date: February '09) (Written by CT from Hockee Night; date: March '09)

Columbus (Written by Bethany from Bethany's Rants; date: April '09)

Detroit (Written by IAMJoe; April '09)

Florida (Written by Whale4Ever from Litter Box Cats; date April '09)

Minnesota (Written by Elise from 18,568 Reasons Why; date: April 4 '09)

Montreal (Written by HabsFan29 from Four Habs Fans; date April '09)

Nashville (Written by The Forechecker from On the Forecheck; April '09)

New Jersey (Written by John Fischer from In Lou We Trust; April '09)

New York Rangers (Written by Scotty from Scotty Hockey; April '09)

Philadelphia (Written by FGSB from Flyers Goal Scored By; April '09)

Pittsburgh (Written by Kimberlass from Puck Huffers; April '09)

San Jose (Written by Gray from Couch Tarts on April 2 '09)

St. Louis (Written by Laura from Wazzupwitchu; date: March 31 '09)

Vancouver (Written by Yankee Canuck from Nucks Misconduct; April '09)

Washington (Written by Rob Yurich from Storming the Crease; April '09)

Hockey Orphan: Laura from Wazzupwitchu on the St. Louis Blues

Logo by: Earl Sleek. You're a beast, Sleek!

(Make sure to follow Laura's take on the red-hot St. Louis Blues at Wazzupwitchu. Thanks a bunch, Laura!)

Imagine, if you will, a bad soap opera. My character barely misses being written off of the show and awakens, dazed and confused, in an Atlanta hospital, not knowing how she got there or where she came from.

Really, only one part of that horror story is true (not the contract negs but the being in Atlanta part), and the thought of being hockey-homeless is just too much for me to bear. But if my memory were tragically erased and I forgot every last awesome moment of my childhood that St. Louis Blues hockey gave me, I'd still be in love with this team. Let me explain:

1) Fun. These boys are just a blast to watch. There is no team in the league right now who plays a full 60 minutes as hard, fast, and hungry as they do. No checking out for a couple periods, hoping to recoup their losses in the 3rd. No namby-pamby Eastern Conference style speed and dump and chase. They hit, they score amazing goals, they make the saves that need to be made. Part of this fun is...

2) The Kid Line. Perron/Berglund/Oshie. There is NOTHING these guys can't do. TJ is currently the most talked about rookie in the league right now (at least according to Puck Daddy) because he's not scared. He does what he needs to do. He'll lay out another team's captain. He'll make the slick assist. He can and WILL score a goal that'll have women for miles wanting his children. Berglund has proven clutch, and Perron has responded to his stint in Andy Murray's doghouse by playing at a furious pace.

3) Goaltending. Manny Legace's season came to an unfortunate early end, but Chris Mason seems to be on a little bit of a roll. And when I mean little bit I mean holy tear. The most impressive part, aside from the GAA and SV% he's been putting up since January, is that he's started every game since February 3rd. No break, no "I'm tired... I think I need a rest..." He just does it, and he loves it. Every time someone asks him if he's tired, he shrugs it off like it's the dumbest question he's ever heard. There is no prima-donna goaltender here.

4) Tenaciousness. The 10,000 and a half injuries this season - some weird, some not - have cost the Blues the third most manpower games in the league this season. It looked like they were catching up to us, and then bit by bit, people started coming back. Even without Eric Brewer, Erik Johnson, and Paul Kariya, we still have a solid offensive and defensive system. Thank you, Andy Murray. He needs to get the Jack Adams this year. Honestly.

5) Class. This is probably the most important thing to me. You can own 100 Cup rings, and if you don't have class and history, you're not a great hockey club. The Blues have it. Look at their rafters. Yes, they've retired the numbers of some of the greatest players in the game. But they don't just have retired numbers up there - they have honored numbers. Doug Wickenheiser - honored not necessarily for his play nor for the fact that he retired a Blue - he played for 3 teams after them. But he was honored for what he brought to the team as a player in the form of character, and that character continues in the Fourteen Fund. Bob Plager's banner hangs too. He was an integral part of the Blues in the 1960s and 1970s along with his brothers, and he too is recognized for what he brought to the team as a character player - as a team guy.

A more recent display of class can be found on St. Louis Game Time - a story I posted about one of my friends, some photos, a goal, and a very happy Walt. My friend's a Thrashers fan [as was I as well as a Blues fan] before this nasty knock on my head that left me teamless), but he was blown away by the courtesy shown to him by this hockey team 900 miles away - a team that took the time out to call a fan of another club and say thank you.

Add up everything I mentioned here, and I could live in Outer Mongolia as a yak herder and still love this team. As it stands, I just live in Atlanta, I don't have amnesia, and I will never forget who my team is. Thank God for small miracles.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Afternoon Cycle: You are fooorrrrgiiiiiven

Note: If you haven't read Chris Kontos' Hockey in Japan piece, make sure you do that first. It is absolutely essential reading.

  • There might not be many of you out there with the privilege of seeing much of the NCAA hockey tournament, but it's been pretty awesome.
Still, deep down, as ESPN U or whatever affiliate covers these games, there's this other feeling: the strong urge to plead for the NHL's return to the four-lettered network. Admit it, you thought that as ESPN's beautiful HD washed over you and creative, interesting camera angles came about.

Now, don't get us wrong. ESPN left hockey bruised and battered entering the lockout. What's the best parallel? Should we go to that Rhianna getting roughed up by Chris Brown well again? Or maybe kick it old school with a Bobby Brown-Whitney Houston or really really old school with Ike and Tina Turner?

(It's amazing how many abusive music industry relationships involve people who either go by only their first name or don't share a last name. Is the modern era hyphenated last name trend a catalyst for violence? Of course not, but it's always fun to establish arbitrary reasoning for such things. Violence = not funny; outlandishness = quite funny.)

Either way, it's obvious that ESPN's sending subtle little flowers to hockey at work. A hockey highlight prominently displayed in the Sportscenter Top 10? Ohhh you shouldn't have! Mentioning a hockey player other than Sidney Crosby? Maybe you can change!

Mike Chen, the wily veteran that he is, beat us to the "ESPN should televise NHL games on Thursdays" soap box but it still deserves to be mentioned. Think about it: Thursday is not a designated day for any sport, really. The NHL has three days of the week where the games are bountiful: Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Versus covers Tuesday, Hockey Night in Canada owns Saturday ... so why not Thursday Night Hockey on ESPN?

They wouldn't even have to leave Versus, a cable channel we'd compare to an overweight, slightly dopey wife with a heart of gold. Sure, you can't really brag about her with your office buds at the water cooler. And her production values are pretty terrible. And she never seems to rent the right movies/pick the right games. But she loves you and needs you. That's got to count for something.

(Ugh, OK, no more bad analogies ... until the next bullet point. Ho ho gotcha suckers!)

  • NHL Network was showing Game 7 of the Carolina Hurricanes - Edmonton Oilers SCF, which seemed shockingly old since it was in the pre or early HD era.
Still, it's stunning just how much energy permeated every cell of that game. Dirty hits were thrown about like 10-cent tacos. Scoring chances abounded. Naturally, there were some GREAT playoff beards.

It really got us pumped for the playoffs. The long grind is almost over, everyone. Are you as excited as we are?

  • Does every NHL season see so many random, out-of-left field surges as this one? At any given time, there seems to be at least one or two RED HOT teams. Right now, the Pittsburgh Penguins are hot but they have big name stars so that's not too shocking.
The two biggest surprises are the St. Louis Blues and the Carolina Hurricanes. We might take a deeper look at those two teams if possible. Either way, it seems like an odd trend but maybe we're just paying closer attention these days.
  • Despite only recording one assist between eight guys on Saturday, the Funkillers managed to pull the tights and put their legs on the ropes to advance on to the fantasy hockey finals. The hero of Sunday was Roberto Luongo whose shutout, literally, was the only way this fictional team could win.
We know you don't care, but just look at how close this was:

Found in Translation

Last week I headed to Japan for a stay of 5 weeks. I had known this trip was coming for a long while... and knowing full well that if my beloved Los Angeles Kings were still contending for that 8th playoff seed... I wouldn't be able to experience it at all. Luckily it seems like the Kings are going to make my stay in Japan a pleasant one... since I don't have to worry about calling my Season Ticket Rep from overseas to secure playoff tickets. It looks like this will be the 7th consecutive year that I will be unable to see playoff hockey in person... so I decided to do the next best thing. Crash Game 6 of the Asia League Hockey Finals!

Why just simply get off at the Higashi-Fushimi station off the Seibu-Shinjuku line to get to the rink. Duh!

The DyDo Drinco Ice Arena was right across the street from the station and if that wasn't easy enough, there were giant banners of the hometown Seibu Prince Rabbits as you walked towards the entrance.

No way! I forgot Tanaka was on the Prince Rabbits!

Here we go Kamino... here we go!

I hadn't even made it into the stadium yet and I already wanted to buy some merch. I mean, is this the coolest staff jacket you've ever seen or what?

My co-worker (who happens to be a huge Pittsburgh Penguins fan) and I made our way to the ticket booth and were able to secure walk up tickets to Game 6 for 30 bucks (3000 yen). When I went to Game 6 against the Colorado Avalanche in 2002 (the last time the Kings had a home playoff game) the tickets I got off eBay went for $180 a piece.

Ticket in hand, and 2 overly cynical hard-core hockey fans actually starting to get excited about making it to this game, we headed to the front entrance. I mean, if this league was good enough for Esa Tikkanen to play in one season and then coach the next... it had to be good enough for me... right? Well... we walked in and this is what we saw...

And then I knew it was going to be awesome.

Sure the place only held about 1600, but it was packed... standing room only. The atmosphere was incredibly festive... with the fans of the home Seibu Prince Rabbits and the opposing Nippon Paper Cranes filling the building. It actually reminded me of a Kings game at Staples Center in the sense that everyone in the arena was passionate about the game... but if you stepped back outside, no one knew what the heck hockey was.

Now, I've been witness to some horrible, horrible team slogans in my lifetime as a hockey fan. (Just look at this years PRIDE = PASSION = POWER campaign for the Kings) But for theSeibu Prince Rabbits... they keep it simple. "Smile." Yup, that's right. The #1 ranked team in the Asia League Ice Hockey has a slogan of "Smile."

Somewhere, deep in the canyons of Los Angeles, Brian Wilson is... well... smiling.

We decided to wander around and explore the arena... and that's when I caught the Japanese Brian Burke staring down at his re-built playoff team.

A cross-armed GM translates in any language.

We were both hoping for a better home team merch table as this was the only booth set up.

So this is what it's like to not have Sidney Crosby on the front of every hockey magazine.

But on the other side of the arena, there was a bit of a surprise.

I flew halfway around the world and all I found was this stupid replica Vancouver jersey.

Also for sale were the McFarlane NHL figurines.

And then this caught my eye underneath the table.

I had no idea Play It Again Sports had an international presence.

The atmosphere may be different, but one thing remains the same when experiencing American and Japanese sports... cheerleaders!

Every time there was a stop in play, the Prince Rabbit cheerleaders would step out to the boards and cheer their little Japanese hearts out. And yes... they would smile.

As for the quality of the hockey... well, it was on par to the handful of sub-ECHL league games that I've been to. (Yup, I've seen a CHL Austin Ice Bats game before. Actually 2 of them.) Although the finesse may not have been there, there was a playoff intensity between all the players.

Former Boston Bruin and Colorado Avalanche (18 NHL Games!) Joel Prpic is the big non-native star for the Price Rabbits and the crowd goes wild for him. The Nippon Paper Cranes also have a star Gaijin playing for them... but he may have the most un-marketable name in sports history.

But for me... the most impressive player of the night came from the opposing Paper Cranes. One of their defensemen was rocking white skates...

Just like Kurt Russell in "The Best of Times."

There must have been some magic in those old white skates of his, as this defenseman scored a goal near the end of the 1st period. But then one of the strangest things I've ever seen at a hockey game happened. The referee left the ice and went to the back of the penalty box... to review the goal.

The Tokyo equivalent of the Toronto War Room.

The goal stood... and the period ended with the Prince Rabbits up 3-2. And then the players all exited the ice from the same door.

How cool would the Stanley Cup Playoffs be if the teams shared an exit door?
No, after you Mr. Lemieux. No, after you Mr. Draper.

In between periods, the experience was very similar to NHL games. Fans shared smokes outside...

there was a long line for the bathroom...

and they ate delicious bean pastry treats...

Since my co-worker and I were actually supposed to be working and not sneaking away for a few hours to see Game 6 of the Asia League Ice Hockey finals... we decided to stay for the first few minutes of the 2nd period before taking off. The Zamboni (Japan is still rocking the 1 Zamboni system) left the ice and then Prince Rabbit fans assembled to begin cheering.

Could you imagine NHL fans being this passionate AND polite about their favorite team...

Suddenly, a giagantic banner was lifted over these fans and some intense cheering began.

And then once the craziness was over... the Japanese fans neatly and quickly folded the banner. That's just the Japanese way.

With that, my co-worker and I made our way back to the train station and sadly... back to work. Ice Hockey in Japan is still in its infancy, but from what I saw, there is a passion that could easily catch on. The Japanese are extremely dedicated to their teams... a trait they share with their American NHL fan counterparts. Later that night, we found out that the Prince Rabbits had won 4-3 and forced a Game 7. They would go on to lose to the Nippon Paper Cranes the next night and later that day, my co-worker found an article that informed us that the Seibu Prince Rabbits would be folding next season. From my limited experience, Seibu was one of the more popular teams in the Asia League... so the collapse of more teams in the Asia League Ice Hockey may not be far behind.

In the meantime, while the sport still struggles to gain popularity in Japan, what is a hockey fan to do? Well... it's simple. Smile!

Special, special, special thanks to Simon over at the amazing JHockey. Without his help, I would have never been able to figure out how to go to this great game. Also, check out his recap of the final Prince Rabbits game.