**Begin Fanboy Rant**

In lieu of Jeremy Roenick’s 500th goal, I spent some time reflecting on my JR fandom, which really has followed my whole hockey obsession in terms of timeline. You can put together how old I am based on this too, if you’re really curious.

1990: I discover hockey by accident on SportsChannel. The Blackhawks are on, and there’s hitting and scoring and all sorts of cool stuff. Suddenly, baseball just doesn’t seem that interesting anymore. San Jose was on the cusp of getting an NHL franchise, but to me, the more and more I watched hockey, there was something about that Blackhawks squad that just seemed really cool. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one who thought so since someone in my junior high had a Belfour jersey (but he was kind of a weird prick).

1991: JR scores 41 goals. I’m not a stats hound yet at this point, but at that age, you just need a player to latch on to. This was before his ultra-dominating video game year in Sega Genesis NHL 94, though #27 on the original NHL Hockey (91-92 season, which meant that I got it for Christmas ’91) was my go-to guy. My older brother (who was a Red Wing fan) helped me match up our Upper Deck hockey cards with the numbers on the Sega Genesis rosters — remember, no NHLPA license back then, so it was just numbers.

1992: I try to order a Chicago Blackhawks Starter jacket at my local sports shop. The morons there call me two months after the order was made to tell me that my BULLS jacket is in. We refuse to pay while the guy gives me a weird look, wondering why some kid would want a Blackhawks jacket. Oh, and the Sharks finish up their first (1991-1992) season with some dude named Doug Wilson on the blue line.

1993: I get my first pair of rollerblades and hockey stick. My brother plays goal in our backyard with some recycling bins as the net and some catcher’s gear while I act out a pre-cursor to today’s shootouts. Except every shooter is Jeremy Roenick with the occasionial Steve Larmer thrown in. Nearly fifteen years later, I’m a much better skater with my on-ice team, but I still can’t shoot worth crap.

1994: We go to visit my uncle in Detroit and for the first time in my life, I see hockey stuff in stores. Holy crap, this is awesome. I buy two Jeremy Roenick posters while my brother hauls off a buttload of Wings stuff, including a Sergei Fedorov poster that’s still in his old room at my parent’s house.

1995: The lockout ends and our cable is out for ESPN’s first broadcast. I am pissed off. I also remember David Letterman making a crack during his monologue asking the crowd why they’re at his studio taping when the Rangers game was going on. Yes, the NHL was indeed pretty hot back then. I also get Internet access for the first time through my awesome 14.4k modem and I join in the Blackhawks usenet group. A hot topic of discussion all season is Roenick’s reconstructed knee. His first home game after injury is shown on ESPN, and I remember the Hawks faithful giving JR’s first shift (he didn’t start) a rousing ovation. I realise that NHL2Night is the greatest television show in the history of time — even better than Seinfed.

1996: As the playoffs begin, Darryl Sutter puts together a line of Roenick, old pal Tony Amonte, and Bernie Nicholls. I tell my friends that I think from top to bottom, the only team that can beat the Avalanche is the Hawks. The Hawks take the Avs to overtime several times but fall in six games, and it’s the series probably best remembered for Patrick Roy’s “Stanley Cup rings in my ears” comment to JR.

During the off-season, Bill Wirtz assures Hawks fans that JR will be signed, which doesn’t really calm us down in the usenet group. My parents and friends give me a Roenick jersey and a Chris Chelios t-shirt for high school graduation, and a few weeks later, Roenick is traded to the Coyotes for Alexei Zhamnov, Craig Mills, and a 1st Rounder. Zhamnov instantly earns my hatred by taking #26 and claiming to be “One better than Jeremy Roenick.” The Coyotes sign Roenickfor numbers that aren’t that much different from Zhamnov’s. My Hawks fandom begins its long free-fall into purgatory (though like many ex-Hawks fans, they’re catching my interest again).

Side note: During that year, I watched at least part of every playoff game broadcast on ESPN/ESPN2. Random memories include getting KFC during intermission of the Blues/Wings game where Steve Yzerman hit the overtime winner and the fact that my friends wanted to go see The Rock with Sean Connery rather than watch Colorado/Florida Game 4 (in pre-Tivo days, I taped it and watched it late that night).

I move into my college dorm and my neighbor two-doors down is a freakin’ Red Wings fan. As a token of friendship, he gives me his copy of ESPN’s 1996-97 hockey guide. Many, many, many, many games of NHL 96 and NHL 97 are played between him, my roommate, our future roommate, and myself. The Coyotes, with Roenick and Keith Tkachuk, become my video game team of choice, though Team USA is good too (even though JR didn’t play on the World Cup squad).

1997: At a random Target by Sacramento (I went to school in nearby Davis), I find a Starting Lineup display with Roenick and Yzerman. JR is wearing #27, not #97. I still have this, and my Yzerman-loving friend has one in his house too. During Phoenix’s first-round series shown on the NHL on Fox, I go to our dorm lounge to watch (no TV for me); I know that the Stanley Cup playoffs start earlier than the NBA, so I strategically stakeout control of the TV. When some basketball guys come to watch hoops, I’ve got JR and the Yotes on. They ask me, “Who the hell are the Phoenix Coyotes?”

1999: JR carves up Tony Amonte’s face over what fans have come to speculate as soap opera-esque drama. I see the incident at a local bar after using my brother’s ID to get in; at first, the highlights are on ESPN and I do a double-take when I realize that it’s best buds Roenick and Amonte screaming at each other.

2000: Some friends and I go down to LA for a Coyotes/Kings game at Staples center. My aforementioned Hasek-friend fan is wearing a Ziggy Palffy t-shirt and making friends with the drunk Kings fans in our row. When Roenick scores, I stand up and yell a lot, confusing the hell out of the little Kings-fan kid in front of me.

During the off-season, JR is a regular at a celebrity golf tournament in Tahoe. My friend Jen happens to be working in Tahoe post-graduation for the summer and she sees someone who she thinks is cute singing at a karaoke bar. With a little liquid courage in her, she runs up and grabs his ass, only later to find out that it’s JR — a name she would have never recognized had I not constantly talked about him in college with Jen’s hockey-loving roommate (a fellow I still run into at the Shark tank). Months later for my birthday, she sends me a JR phot with her handprints on it and the caption, “The hands that grabbed Jeremy Roenick’s ass.”

2001: I’m back in LA for my buddy’s bachelor party and we’re speculating about where Roenick could sign as a free agent. I’ve got my fingers crossed for the Sharks while my friends laugh me off. I tell them that honestly, I can be ok with anywhere as long as it’s not Philly or Detroit. Literally minutes later, one of my friends comes into the room to say that JR signs with Philly. That same trip, one of my friends feels my pain as Dominik Hasek signs with Detroit.

2002: We’re making plans to go to the celebrity golf tournament in Tahoe but unfortunately, my grandfather passes away. During the weekend, my buddies call to say that they spotted JR at a card table, shook his hand, and mentioned me. JR told them to call me and let me know that he hoped I was doing better. What a guy.

2005: JR makes the infamous “Kiss my ass” statement. My fellow Roenick-fan friend gives up on JR and tells me that I can have JR in my cursory “Last fantasy pick” spot (in our league, we usually leave the last spot open to a beloved over-the-hill player).

August 2007: I’m having a family squable about plans for my wedding in a week when I get an instant message from a friend telling me that JR signs with the Sharks. Family squables are put aside for just a few minutes as I try to figure out if my friends are pulling my leg. They’re not. A few days later, I tell my friends that I’ll get a Roenick jersey this season; even though getting someone’s jersey usually curses them into a season from hell (if you’ve read the blog long enough, you know I’ve lamented the jersey curse for a long, long time), we reason that really, it can’t be any worse than last season for JR, so maybe it’ll reverse-curse him.

September 2007: Literally one day after my honeymoon, the Sharks are having their annual meet-and-greet for season ticket holders. I bring my old Hawks jersey with me and lose any sort of professionalism that I may have earned with my FoxSports writing gig by being as giddy as a schoolgirl in line to meet Roenick. I ask if he’s got another 50-goal season left in him, and he responds by saying, “Maybe, if they put me on a line with Joe.” I don’t fanboy geek out too much, but he does sign my hat even though I didn’t ask him to, just cause he’s a cool dude.

November 10, 2007: After a few weeks of research, I finally figure out the best place to buy a customized Roenick jersey. I put the order in that afternoon; that evening, Roenick scores #500.

Coincidence? I think not. Screw you, jersey curses. Go JR.

**End Fanboy Rant**


I’m selling a few old jerseys on ebay if anyone is interested:

Old (“Classic”) Phoenix Coyotes jersey: the story behind this is that when I was working in London, I found a rack of NHL jerseys at a shop on Oxford Street. I talked with the owner and he said he didn’t know anything about hockey but they were popular because they were baggy and looked cool. Not a bad find for 20 pounds back in the day. (Apparently, they didn’t realize how much they cost in North America!)

San Jose Sharks practice jersey: Pretty standard stuff, just a teal Center Ice practice jersey. Hardly worn since I got a regular jersey soon after to wear to games and stuff.

Shooting Blanks


The San Jose Sharks and New York Rangers were penned in as high-powered Stanley Cup favorites in the preseason. Both are sputtering along right now due to an anemic offense, and the numbers point the blame mostly at Patrick Marleau/Jonathan Cheechoo in San Jose and Scott Gomez/Brendan Shanahan in New York. New York is winning based on fantastic goaltending and stingy defense while San Jose’s been alternating wins and losses.

The general theory is that you should score a goal for every ten or so shots that you take. Well, that ain’t happening for the Sharks or Rangers; take a look at the numbers.

San Jose
Vs. Dallas: 39 shots, 1 goal
Vs. LA: 28 shots, 3 goals
Vs. LA: 47 shots, 2 goals
Vs. Dallas: 35 shots, 4 goals

149 shots, 10 goals = 1 goal for every 14.9 shots

New York
Vs. NY Islanders: 30 shots, 2 goals
Vs. Philadelphia: 45 shots, 2 goals
Vs. New Jersey: 27 shots, 1 goal
Vs. Washington: 28 shots, 2 goals

130 shots, 7 goals = 1 goal for every 18.5 shots

Bad luck? Poor-quality shots? You could point at any number of things for this poor conversion rate; however, the one thing the Rangers seem to have figured out is that when you can’t score, you can still win by playing strong defense. The Sharks continually brain fart on their defensive responsibilities, leading to breakdowns and breakaways.

Oh, and the Rangers are getting a little help from some guy named Lundqvist and his .940 save percentage.

Note: Joe over at Greatest Legends of Hockey asked some bloggers to reminisce about a retired player going into Hall of Fame weekend. This ain’t about a Hall of Famer, but sometimes you don’t need to be to win over a whole city.

That hair. That nose. That gap-toothed grin. Mike Ricci was nothing if not recognizable, but to San Jose Sharks fans, he was much more than a (not so) pretty face. Not the biggest, not the most skilled, and certainly not the best skater, Mike Ricci was the ultimate player’s player. Here was a guy who made his living on the boards and in the crease, taking crosschecks to the back and sticks to the face, and somehow the guy with the long hair sticking out of his helmet still managed to get the puck out.

The Ricci mystique really started over in Denver, where Avs fans named him the city’s sexiest athlete in 1997 after he helped the team win their first Stanley Cup. However, it was the trade to San Jose that really transformed Ricci from endearing grinder into the face of a franchise.

When Mike Ricci landed in San Jose, the team was in a transition period. Darryl Sutter had taken over behind the bench, and his influence went straight up into GM Dean Lombardi’s office. Sutter wanted a hard-nosed, gritty team that made life hell for opponents. While surly captain Owen Nolan epitomized what Sutter wanted (especially when Nolan was healthy and on top of his game), Ricci was the one who connected with the fans.

It really wasn’t just the hair. Sure, it helped to give a bit of a visual identity to the team, but it was more about what Ricci was willing to do to get the job done — which was pretty much damn near anything.

There aren’t many SportsCenter-worthy Mike Ricci highlights. He wasn’t a breakaway player or much of a deker. He did his job and he did it well; he shut down talented opponents by sound positional play and a feisty attitude, and he created offense by scratching and clawing to dig the puck out of the corner, often over to longtime linemate Scott Thornton.

There was a time when Ricci’s line was considered the best third line in hockey: Ricci, Thornton, and Niklas Sundstrom. This moniker wasn’t meant to be demeaning at all; in fact, quite the opposite. The Ricci line was often the best line on the ice for a Sharks team that fought inconsistency in its talent through the years (Nolan, Jeff Friesen, Patrick Marleau, Teemu Selanne), and that particular incarnation just happened to have that right-place-at-the-right time mix for success. Sundstrom’s passing abilities and defensive-awareness, Ricci’s tooth-and-nail feistiness, Thornton’s shot and power-forward abilities, all of those combined into some Darryl Sutter chemistry experiment that spelled out success. Ricci led the way, as he usually did, pumping his legs in his awkward skating style to give it his all every shift.

In the end, that’s probably why Sharks fans loved Mike Ricci so much. He never, ever left anything on the ice. He wasn’t a Hall of Famer and he didn’t care, he just wanted his team to win, and he’d do absolutely anything to get that done. When you saw Ricci fight for every inch of the ice, you just wondered why a lot of NHL players never, ever did that.

How much did Mike Ricci mean to San Jose? When long-time players come back for the first time in an opposing jersey, they may get a short video tribute during a TV timeout. For Ricci, who had endured in San Jose from the Nolan/Sutter days to the tumultuous Teemu Selanne era to the beginning of the Marleau/Ron Wilson (but not Joe Thornton) time, he was — and always will be — a favorite son for both the fans and the organization, and GM Doug Wilson let Ricci know this. When Ricci’s Phoenix Coyotes came into town, Ricci got a pre-game video tribute complete with a PA announcer and spotlight welcoming him back. Oh, and a long standing ovation from the San Jose faithful. Not even long-serving captain Owen Nolan got that on his return to the Shark Tank.

Think about it — an opposing player getting a pre-game lights-out spotlight-on bells-and-whistles tribute. That doesn’t happen if you’re not special to both the fans and the team.

Years from now, people will look at Ricci’s stats and wonder why he was drafted so high by Philadelphia. For those that saw him play, especially in San Jose, they’ll pity anyone who didn’t get a chance to admire the never-say-die spirit that Ricci embodied — a spirit that really should be at the core of every hockey player.

Oh, and the hair was pretty cool too.

Quick, someone get Wade Redden a calculator. Some quick number crunching via NHL Numbers shows that the Senators are squeezing Redden out with the new Jason Spezza contract today. Not that that’s a big surprise; rumors of Redden’s demise have been around for a while now. Still, here are some things to consider:

-The current 2008-2009 cap hit is about $42 million.
-Ottawa’s UFAs of note are Chris Kelly, Shean Donovan, Randy Robitaille, and of course, Redden.
-Ottawa’s RFAs of note are Andrej Meszaros, Antoine Vermette, Patrick Eaves, and Brian McGratton
Ray Emery and Martin Gerber take up a total combined cap hit of $6.8 million
-Redden can probably get anywhere from $6 – $7 million on the open market (his current cap hit is $6.5 million) despite the fact that his numbers dropped last season. Cory Sarich, a solid but never noteworthy defenseman, makes $3.6 million, so you know the numbers are skewed.

The current NHL cap is $50 million, but sensibility tells me that we’re not going to have another $5 million increase in cap space. While the Canadian dollar has thrived to boost overall revenues, and there should be a bump in merchandise revenue from the new RBK jerseys, I can’t see things pushing that much further until the league begins deriving more solid revenue from new media ventures (and maybe once HDTV becomes mandatory for broadcasters in a few years, general American sports fans will take notice of how good HD hockey is to watch and the league can get a TV deal of merit again). But for now, I’m sticking with common sense and saying the cap will only push up by $2 million, tops.

Going by that theory, the Sens will have about $10 million in cap space. If they trade Gerber or Emery, that’ll be about $13 million. Of the young RFAs, Meszaros, Eaves, and Vermet will get a raise, so let’s conservatively estimate that those three will make a combined cap hit of $6 million, taking the amount of cap space down to $7 million. There are still open spots on the roster, and if those get filled with a few bottom-of-the-barrel rookies or journeymen, you’ll still take up at least $1.5 million, taking the total cap space down to $5.5 million.

Any sane general manager will want to keep some buffer space for the trade deadline, and there’s always the internal organization budget. Even in a best-case scenario with the Sens getting rid of one goalie contract and Redden giving a hometown discount, there’s no way the numbers will work, despite what GM Bryan Murray and Redden may say. In fact, the nail in the coffin probably wasn’t either Dany Heatley or Spezza getting extensions, but the Mike Fisher contract (cap hit of $4.2 million over five years).

The question for Murray now is if the Sens continue their hot start into February, does he trade Redden to get whatever assets he can or does he hang on to his big-name defensman for another stab at a deep playoff run?

I think we’ve all heard this story before. Pro athlete or celebrity does something stupid and illegal, claims they’ve learned their lesson, then reverts back to old habits. There are plenty of Hollywood starlets who’ve demonstrated this pattern, and plenty of athletes who’ve fallen into its nasty habits (Rick Tocchet, you STILL gambled after the NHL told you not to?). What’s worse is when people deny they had any wrongdoing.

Mark Bell didn’t do any of that. He made a very stupid, very wrong decision, and though his play on the ice may have suffered as a consequence, as a person, he seems to have become better for the resulting consequences.

There’s an article in the CP today about how Bell is getting ready for his NHL return, and you know what? I say good for him. Now, let’s get this clear — in no way do I condone a DUI or what he did. But I think it’s important to look at the facts — or as I see it, how he turned negatives into positives.

The incident happened over a year ago, and since then, he hasn’t had a single drop of alcohol. In many interviews, he’s acknowledged how he’d used drinking for the wrong reasons without the proper level ofself-control, and he understands how that’s done harm to not only himself, but his career and other people. He’s worked with the legal system to accept the suitable punishment, and he’s taken the time for self-reflection to recognize what the right thing to do is.

I always say that you have to give someone credit when they turn their life around. For Bell, he didn’t skirt the issue, didn’t try to pass blame or hide from it. He dealt with it on a personal level and a legal level and from all accounts, has become a better, stronger person because of it. It doesn’t excuse his crime at all, but if he can learn from his mistakes and reach out to the community (he was, after all, the Blackhawks’ Man Of The Year for charity and outreach two years ago) to share his story, maybe he can deter this from happening to someone else out there.

Forgive and forget? Maybe not both, but when someone can turn a negative into a positive, forgiving definitely seems possible.

It’s the night before the Great Pumpkin rises up and gives toys to all of the good children in the Peanuts comic books. Before our favorite hockey players go trick-or-treating, I got a sneak peak at some of their costumes. Check it out.

Vesa Toskala: Sometimes, our Halloween costumes reflect the way we really wish we could approach daily life. For Vesa, things aren’t that rosy for him. He’s having some difficulty resolving his issues with this whole “No defense in front of me” thing. To compensate for that, Vesa is dressing up as a big brick wall — big enough, in fact, to cover the whole net. If only there weren’t those nasty regulations on goalie equipment size.

Hal Gill: Unlike Toskala, Gill is dressing as a charicature of what he really is:

(I know, I know, Gill’s a +7. But he’s just too darn easy to make fun of.)

Mike Modano: Being a child of the 70s, Modano loved The Greatest American Hero. Trying to become the greatest American-born hockey player in history, Modano’s mired on the 4th line, struggling to together his superhuman abilities for good use. Believe it or not, Modano’s (not quite) skating on air…

Sean Avery: Fresh off his break-up from Elisha Cuthbert, Avery’s got a dose of the green-eyed monster. He’s no longer the hockey player with the hottest starlet girlfriend, and he is pissed. To make up for this, Avery is dressing up as Mike Comrie for Halloween in hopes of fooling Hillary Duff.

I wonder what Rangers fans would do if Avery showed up to practice wearing an Islanders jersey — even if he did have Hillary Duff on his arm.