Tuesday, April 08, 2008
The Cup's in Town 2008!
Now that the regular season is finished, the games that are truly meaningful are ready to begin. The Detroit Red Wings have bagged the President’s Trophy for finishing first overall in the National Hockey League. That is of little consequence to them. They want to take Lord Stanley’s Bowl to their home towns, and let all the little munchkins therein get their pictures taken with the silver prize.
The Wings did earn home town advantage throughout the playoffs. That only counts when you continue to win, and that is what the Wings have failed to do consistently the last few years. When a certain Steve Yzerman left the fold, a catalyst was lacking to fuel the engine to get the job done. Two former Belleville Bulls are now with the Wings. Darren McCarty and Daniel Cleary, both fan favourites in Belleville, are with the Wings.
The greatest mysteries lie beyond the Mississippi. What goes on in the west? Anybody’s guess. Last year, as I am sure you will recall, a motley crew from California, beards and all, headed east to play the prolific Senators. When the smoke cleared, the Ducks raised the Cup above their heads, and carted it to their homes. The Sens had played valiantly, but there was little left in their tanks at the end of it all.
Following weeks of training camp, pre-season games, and an eighty-two game schedule, every NHL player has to dig a little deeper when it comes to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Several years ago, I spent some time with Rick Meagher and the Blues when they were facing off against the Leafs in post season play.
Following the game at the Gardens, we were chatting in his hotel room with a couple of the other players. Doug Gilmour was with the Blues at that time, and removed his sports coat in the room. He was virtually skin and bone. I said to him: “Dougie, you must be down to 165 pounds!” That would have been a little below his regular playing weight. His response? “I wish that I were 155 pounds!” Mean and lean? Certainly. Gaunt? Absolutely.
It is a long haul to the end of the road. Injuries, illnesses, freaky puck bounces. They all contribute to great success, and to dismal failure.
Above all, it comes down to goaltending. Last year, Jean-Sebastien Giguere backstopped the Ducks to their title. He had languished with the Whalers and the Flames prior to his move to Anaheim. He struggled for a couple of years with the Ducks. Last year, he found his groove, and won 36 games while losing just ten in the regular season. Suffice it is to say that he is one of the very best in the league.
The Wings boast the incomparable Dominic Hasek between the pipes. He has logged a lot of hours on the ice since joining the Black Hawks in 1990. Prior to that he had played in his native Czechoslovakia for almost ten years with Tesla Pardubice. At 43 years of age, he still has the uncanny ability to keep the biscuit out of the basket, in the most unorthodox ways. He is still “The Dominator”.
Enter the Habs from the East. The Bell Centre will be packed to the rafters with fans waiting to chant their beloved “Na na na na, hey hey good-bye” in victory. The powers that be in Montreal have decided to place all of their faith in a rookie goaltender who has shone at lower levels of hockey in the past couple of seasons.
In the 2007-2008 Habs media guide, Carey Price is not even listed with the regular players. He is pictured with 43 other players who are “in the system”, including the Belleville Bulls’ P K Subban. He had been in the nets for the Canadian Juniors when they won the Worlds last year. He managed to play two regular season games for the Hamilton Bulldogs of the American Hockey League. He then played 22 playoff games for the Steeltown Habs, and won the award as the Most Valuable Player in the playoffs. He is twenty years old.
Midway through the season, the Habs decided to throw the torch to Price, and moved Christobal Huet out of the Bell Centre. A truly dramatic move on their part. But not without precedent. We all recall a similar move when a rookie named Ken Dryden was thrown into the fray by the Habs. It is not difficult to envision him, both hands on the top of the butt end of the stick, awaiting the buzzer to signal that the Canadiens had won the Cup.
Sit back, relax. You know this could go on until June. But it will be a fine ride until then. Turn the volume down a touch when all of the experts begin their “Yatta, yatta, yatta” and make their predictions. They are usually right fifty per cent of the time.
Sing the anthems. Drop the damn puck. Let’s get on with it. Lord Stanley is waiting.