Rick Rypien suspension (cont.)
Rick Dudley, the new general manager of the Atlanta Thrashers, doesn't wear a headband to work anymore. The self-acknowledged "something of a hippy" back in his playing days in the 1970s more often than not can be seen in the requisite blue suit, white shirt and professionally acceptable tie. His coach, Craig Ramsay, doesn't wear his hair in the longish fashion of that time, either. Truth be told, he doesn't wear any hair at all any more, choosing long ago to remove what little he had left in an effort to get both a cleaner look and an earlier start on each day.
But there are things about the two that are "old school" all the way.
They played together back in the 70s with Buffalo where both had success as fan favorites (Dudley for his wildly physical style of play, and Ramsay for his cerebral approach to the game on offense and defense, as well as his iron-man status). They kept in touch over the years even as they went their separate ways -- Dudley into management and coaching at the minor league and then NHL levels, then on to a string of GM jobs in the NHL. Ramsay was an occasional scout and seemingly a career assistant coach. They always admired the work the other man was capable of producing. So it was a surprise to no one that when Dudley got the GM job in Atlanta, he asked Ramsay to be his coach.
"I think we both see the game the same way," the now 59-year-old Ramsay said. "I'm considered a defensive minded coach, but I like to defend with an aggressive style of play in the other team's end. Duds played that style. We both know it can work, but it takes time to install, patience and some sophisticated understanding from the players to make it work."
Ramsay never really got that time in his brief stints as a head coach in Buffalo and Philadelphia that lasted only parts of seasons while management looked for a longer-term replacement, but there's a good chance he'll have it in Atlanta. Dudley is building a team in an image of the way he wants hockey to be played. He's brought in a lot of big bodies, but he also has players with above average skill sets. He wants Ramsay to blend all that into a mix that can play with physicality, but also with a high-tempo attack, the kind of game that appeals to a fan's sense of entertainment as well as any hope of winning.
"So far we've had a few ups and downs, but everybody is getting to know one another a bit and nobody has quit on what we're trying to do," noted Ramsay, who happened to play a huge role in Tampa Bay's 2004 Stanley Cup championship.
The idea of "safe is death" -- a rallying cry the Lightning used to describe their attacking style of play -- was largely Ramsay's doing. It came from a time when the Sabres were an attacking team and even members of the checking lines -- including Ramsay and Dudley -- were expected to, and did, produce noteworthy offensive totals.
Now, with Dudley at his back, Ramsay is getting his chance to try it his way in Atlanta. It's been a long wait, well more than half a lifetime, but he's going back to a future with the backing of a player and friend who's been a big part of his past.
And for the Thrashers, it just might be the "old school" connection that ignites a passion for the game there.
You pretty much have to live under a rock or the floor below where the elephants are housed in Madison Square Garden when the circus is in town not to know that October has become Cancer Awareness Month in the sporting world. It's especially obvious in the NFL with all those head-hunting defensive backs launching themselves like rockets from their pink-tipped shoes while making a statement for Brest Cancer Awareness. Even Major League Baseball has gotten involved with pink batting gloves and ribbons for the playoff announcers. The NBA, albeit still in its preseason, has gotten into the spirit of the event as well.
We here at SI.com do not treat that lightly. Though it's fair to say that breast cancer may already be the one most in the mind of the general public, we salute those leagues for reinforcing the point that all cancers are dangerous and for projects that make people aware of their risks and the importance of helping to work to find a cure.
That said, however, we hold a special place here for the NHL and its Hockey Fights Cancer program that is also in full swing this month.
The NHL and the NHL Players Association, along with the individual teams and just about every professional organization associated with the game, has taken a much more hands-on approach, identifying several deadly cancers that don't get nearly enough attention while bringing both fiscal and moral support to the cause.
This year, Hockey Fights Cancer has added the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network to its list of groups it will support with both checks and team and league support. That's a cause near and dear to me as pancreatic cancer is one of the most deadly forms. It strikes some 41,000 people per year across North America, most often with fatal results.
HFC is also teaming with The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, The Project to End Prostate Cancer, Prostate Cancer Canada, and a handful of other groups that truly need financial and logistical support.
To date, HFC has donated over $11 million to cancer research and treatment across the U.S. and Canada in an effort to raise the support level for both national and local research institutions, children's cancer hospitals, player's charities and local organizations. The money spent isn't just to raise awareness, but to help find a cure for various cancers with research efforts that are woefully underfunded, and to help support patients in need.
If you can help, each team has a variety of ways to do so at the local level. Check with your local team or NHL.com to find out how to get involved. You won't regret the effort and more than one person will truly thank you for it.