Drop the gloves during the playoffs with SI.com's writers in the NHL Cup Blog, a daily journal of hockey commentary, on-site reporting and reader-driven discussions.
6:24 PM ET, 5/24/06
NHL could learn from soccer
Posted by Allan Muir
I attended my first Major League Soccer game this past weekend. Not something I would have done on my own, but with free tickets, a pleasant evening, two kids to entertain and no playoff hockey on TV, it seemed like a better option than, say, the slow grim death that is Chuck E. Cheese's.
I surprised myself afterwards by admitting to the folks who gave me the ducats that it wasn't the worst time I'd ever had at a sporting event. Not that the match itself was all that compelling -- it's got to be the World Cup or the Under-5 Frisco Stingers for a soccer game to hold my attention. But the action in the stands was something else. I'm not talking flaming toilet paper rolls, smoke bombs or other eye-catching escapades of those fun-loving football hooligans you always read about. It was the costumes, the confetti tossers, the drummers, and best of all, the seemingly impromptu singing and chanting that broke out during the match.
You ask me, the good old hockey game would benefit from that kind of fan-generated atmosphere.
Unless you're watching a game in Latvia (and really, what do those people do when they're not watching hockey?), the closest thing we have at the moment is the goal song, a relatively recent innovation which, I'm here to tell you, is the best non-essential addition to the game since the red light.
Well, in most places anyway. Too many rinks still rely on Gary Glitter's Rock and Roll (Part 2), perhaps the single greatest drain of life force known to modern man. Blur's Song 2 is another one in wide rotation that ought to be mothballed. It was catchy the first, you know, 10,000 times you heard it, but now it's more tired than Joan Rivers' plastic surgeon.
It's hard to tell over the jet takeoff-level sound that erupts in Rexall Place when the Oilers score, but I think they're using the techno thumper Zombie Nation by Kernkraft 400. It's the kind of song you hear in the background when Jennifer Garner's wearing a bright red wig and lots of black leather and kicking the butts of vaguely accented eastern Europeans. I think the Bruins use that as well, but it's been so long since they've scored at home, it's a little hard to remember.
The NHL's best goal song right now? The Mighty Ducks are using Bro Hymn, a fast-paced anthem by SoCal punk rock heroes Pennywise. The slashing guitars make you want to jump over the boards and join the celebration, while the "Whoa-oh-oh-oh-oh" chorus makes it impossible not to sing along. As Jim Carr might say, "Now THAT'S hockey!"
Speaking of great songs, check out this vid from last night's Edmonton-Anaheim game. Those Oilers fans are brilliant. You ask me, OLN's missing out on some great television by not showing the anthems.
I flew to Edmonton, via Toronto, on Tuesday night on Air Sardine, better known as fare-friendly Westjet. There's not much leg room - who outfitted these 737s, Eddie Gaedel? But while the planes numb the legs, they compensate for it by also numbing the mind. There is live satellite TV on board, 24 channels, right at your seat, and I had the privilege of watching Game 3 of the Edmonton-Anaheim series, or at least the entire third period, with a packed plane of Oilers fans.
Usually people on airplanes go nuts when the flight attendants run out of pretzels or clamato juice. This time, they were going crazy when Fernando Pisani, a native Edmontonian, scored what ultimately proved to be the winning goal in the wildest third period since that pond-hockey Game 1 between Buffalo and Ottawa in the second round.
There was a heavyset women, 8B, across the aisle, who had her video screen tuned to American Idol, but from my vantage point, she was the only non-Oilers viewer. The Oilers have invested hockey fans, probably the most since the Canadiens of the 1950s. This is truly a city team, from community ownership to a traditional heavy Alberta representation on the roster to a crowd that in recent years has basically become Chicago Stadium North. In describing the Canadiens of his youth, the late novelist Mordecai Richler called them "a spiritual necessity." More than any other team in the NHL, I think the felicitous phrase applies to the Oilers.
There were a lot of whiteknuckle flyers as the Mighty Ducks suddenly gathered themselves midway through the third period - and no, I am not going to describe the Anaheim comeback as putting the Westjet crowd in a fowl mood - but there were two telling penalties that best highlighted the Ducks problems:
Teemu Selanne, the key Anaheim forward, took a soft holding penalty on Oilers defenseman Chris Pronger some 190 feet from the Anaheim goal to negate a power play, the kind of foul that blissfully would have been ignored in 2004 but merited a whistle now. A few minutes later, during an extended sequence in which the Oilers broke open the game, Scott Niedermayer, who, with San Jose's Joe Thornton, was the NHL's best player down the stretch, took a lazy stick penalty along the boards, continuing an Edmonton 5-on-3.
When your leaders are scuffling, the malaise extends throughout the lineup. Niedermayer's penalty in particular looked like a white flag for a Ducks team that almost as easily could be up 3-0 in this series instead of facing elimination Thursday.
The taxi from the airport passed Whyte Avenue shortly after midnight, MDT, a little more than three hours after the game ended. There were about 25 chanting people lined up outside of one bar and passing cars were still honking their horns. Calgary has the Red Mile, Edmonton has Whyte Ave. Anaheim has nothing but blue.
Should Lindy Ruff be named the winner of the Jack Adams Award as the NHL's coach of the year, the honor still would not serve to represent all that he has endured and accomplished regardless of whether his team gets to hoist the Stanley Cup.
Ruff, who was hired as Buffalo's bench boss in July 1997 and is the league's longest tenured coach, guided the Sabres to team records of 52 wins and 110 points this season, and has his club knotted with Carolina in the Eastern Conference finals. Nobody had a right to expect anything resembling such success. In fact, many prognosticators picked the Sabres to miss the playoffs. Some ranked them down around 12th or 13th in the conference.
But why sweat the smallish details? After all, the Buffalo Sabres were an organization that filed Chapter 11 during a miserable 2003-04. When something like that happens, there's always a chance that a new ownership group will relocate the club, never mind bringing back the coach. Fortunately, ownership issues were resolved for the better, and Ruff had a new contract.
Following the lockout, the 46-year-old embarked on the considerable task of massaging a roster that had some promising young players, but little star power and the lack of a clear-cut No. 1 goalie. But Ruff knew that his team and the new rules could work well together. The players were on board from the get-go and the coach was able to spread the wealth with ice time and keep confidence high despite an injury bug that bit hard all season.
In March, with Ruff and the Sabres humming along toward their first postseason appearance since 2001, the coach was dealt a major obstacle far greater than any ownership uncertainties could provide. A mass was discovered on the brain of his 11-year-old daughter, Madeleine. The tumor was thankfully removed without complication.
As if to underscore how much Ruff means to his players, Buffalo lost six in a row at that time, including a listless 5-0 drubbing at the hands of the Thrashers with Ruff at home with his daughter. The team he molded, guided and encouraged felt his pain, but picked up the pace when the news about Madeleine became brighter and it went on to win seven of its last eight to clinch home ice.
Here it is the end of May and Ruff's team is still alive. No matter what happens from here on out, if there were such an award as NHL Man of the Year, Lindy Ruff, I'm sure, would be at the top of most every ballot.