In praise of Bobby Ryan

In praise of Bobby Ryan
"The biggest thing is just his poise and his hands are unbelievable. I played with [Evgeni] Malkin and [Sidney] Crosby, and those guys are probably the two best in the league. Bobby's hands are right with those guys... He's a superstar in the making, it seems."
---Ryan Whitney, former Ducks defenseman

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Ducks vs Chicago Blackhawks

A few observations from the game:

First period -

- Wayyyy too many chances for the Hawks. Hiller is doing great keeping pucks out of his net, but he's being tested too many times too early on for my taste.

- The birthday boy nets his first of the night, Bobby Ryan makes the first mark on the scoresheet.

- Lubomir Visnovsky, who came to the Ducks at the trade deadline from the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for defenseman Ryan Whitney, is nothing short of awesome. Finally, we have another strong D-man who doesn't hesitate to unleash his rocket of a slapper from the blue line. Almost makes me forgive the original trade of Chris Kunitz for Whitney last season.

- Both teams with great energy. The goaltenders are getting a workout, facing nearly 20 shots on goal each in the first period.

Second period -

- It's getting ugly out here. Corey Perry takes a hit to the head from Brent Seabrook, who also takes a huge hit from James Wisniewski in retaliation.

- Crawford attempts a similar play to Hiller in which he comes way out of the net to head off an oncoming short-handed rush by the Ducks. But he fumbles the puck, and Kyle Chipchura assists Todd Marchant in burying that puck into the back of the net. Second goal of the game for Anaheim.

- Hiller still coming up big. The boy is definitely in the zone tonight.

Third period -

- Very entertaining game altogether, both clubs pulling out all the stops.

- Boiling over at the end, Bobby's empty netter seals a Duck win as well as prompting a livid Kris Versteeg to cross-check Marchant. Bobby jumps at Versteeg and a line brawl breaks out. Amongst the pushing and shoving, two sets of flying fists emerge: ex-Duck Nick Boynton (now with the Blackhawks) and Wiz. Yours truly found the matchup a bit surprising, especially considering how both parties looked like their hits were fueled by more than a good-natured fight.

Something tells me Nicky and Wiz weren't exactly friends when they were both Ducks.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Coyotes Carnival

I know this is a self-proclaimed Anaheim Ducks blog, but I've been known to highlight certain non-Duck hockey events, particularly in the off-season.

Granted, this isn't the off-season yet, there was a non-Duck hockey event worth reporting on. Yours truly is doing this out of respect for a franchise that did a great job bringing players and fans together in the name of charity.

Oh, and it was also a heckuvalot of fun, making it worth blogging about! (Special thanks to a certain friend that accompanied me and allowed me to get the most out of the festivities!)

This past Sunday, after our hometown heroes had left Phoenix, Arizona and were on their way back home to host the Montreal Canadiens, the Phoenix Coyotes continued their weekend with popcorn and cotton candy at the Coyotes Carnival.

Brought indoors due to inclimate weather, the rink at Arena would become the carnival grounds

Players manned the game booths; everything from ring tosses to milk bottle topples to darts could be played by the attending fans. With a $5 donation, fans could get a player autograph or a picture with a player; both for $10. Attendance cost only $10, and all donations went to Coyotes Charities.

Left winger Lauri Korpikoski manning the ring toss booth

There was also a live band, clowns, face-painting, jugglers, and carnival-themed food. Every donation gave a fan a chance in the raffle drawing for plenty of prize packages, including glass tickets, concert suites, and vacation destinations. Hockey sticks, memorabilia, and autographs from players past were sold at discounted prices at the "Garage Sale" booth.

Before the carnival began, VIP fans were treated to a catered Fleming's lunch with the players

Good grub for growing athletes

Yours truly wasn't exactly hungry, feeling more excited and anxious than anything. For the record, I've never personally met any of the Coyotes before. The team has been my second favorite (behind the Ducks, of course) for the last year (specifically, since center Matthew Lombardi was traded from the Calgary Flames at the 2009 trade deadline), but I don't know much about the other players.

My pick-up line tended to be, "Hey, I flew in from California to see the Ducks/Yotes game last night and for the carnival today..." and the reactions from the players were anything from "Oh no, don't tell me you're a Ducks fan!" (defenseman Keith Yandle) to "Oh wow, that's great! We have Coyotes fans in California!" (Captain Shane Doan) to "I was with the Ducks in '03 for that painful playoff finals loss. And then I left Anaheim and they went on to win the Cup! Go figure!" (defenseman Kurt Sauer).

Shane Doan, the ultimate fan-friend, stayed long after all the other players had left to give every fan special attention

Ex-Duck Goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov was extremely amused, pointing out that the picture I'd brought him to autograph was one I had shot at the Ponda. He exclaimed, "You're a Ducks fan, but you're wearing a Coyotes shirt!" which he then followed with lots of hearty laughter.

Bryz, you crack me up.

Bryz stifling a yawn as he signed autographs. I don't blame the guy, his line was long, second only to Doan

Defenseman Jim Vandermeer signing autographs

Right winger Petr Prucha chatting with a young fan

Left winger Taylor Pyatt and defenseman Adrian Aucoin signing autographs

Defenseman Sami Lepisto is the Yotes sole Olympian medalist. He brought home the bronze with Team Finland

Tough guys Paul Bissonnette and Ed Jovanovski signing autographs

Overall, this was an amazing event. I was greatly impressed by the Coyotes players in attendance as well as the rest of the Coyotes staff. I was also impressed by the fans that I had the opportunity to talk to while standing in the player lines. The hockey market might be small in the desert, but there are fans out there who are very devoted to their team. And there is a very appreciative franchise that goes above and beyond to thank them for their support.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Ducks Olympians honored

The Winter Olympics come around only once every four years. But how often is it that a hockey franchise sends nine of their own to compete for the coveted gold medal (an NHL record, by the way)?

And how often do seven of those nine come back with Olympic medals (also an NHL record!)?

Heck, this is history in the making!

Yours truly was lucky enough to be off work today and able to attend the live taping of "The Element" which would feature interviews and photography opportunities with our seven medalists.

Setting up the stage before the big show

Attendance was small at first, limited to the diehards that were probably there hours beforehand to claim the best seats. The boys were at the Ponda for the group photo shoot prior to this engagement, and it wasn't until about half past noon that things got started.

By that time, seating was all but taken. However, yours truly has found that standing is the best way to take pictures. Jonas Hiller, now world reknowned for his amazing performance at the Olympics, came out first.

I feel bad that Jonas Hiller is the only medal-less Duck

Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu were interviewed next, winning their contest against Slovakia and nabbing the bronze

The interviews themselves were difficult to hear, but fans can catch every word on the Ducks website once the taping is posted.

After trading Ryan Whitney to the Edmonton Oilers, Bobby Ryan remains the only American-born Duck in franchise history to be an Olympian

Lastly, gold medalists Corey Perry, Captain Scott Niedermayer, and Ryan Getzlaf

Take a bow, boys. You've made your countries, and your Duck fans, extremely proud!

After the group picture, the entire place turned into a veritable zoo. People who had no idea what hockey is, but who just happened to see the roped-off areas, gathered to see what the spectacle was all about. Even amongst the chaos, our hometown heroes stayed to sign autographs and pose for pictures.

Bobby indulging the fans

Captain Canada tolerating them too

Overall, a wonderful event and opportunity to showcase hockey in Southern California. The sport has a long way to go in this corner of the globe, undoubtedly, but the incredible displays of athletic skill and talent by our hometown heroes at the Winter Games have piqued the interest of the non-hockey community.

And that's where it all begins.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Ducks vs Colorado Avalanche

It's the first game since the Olympic break, and our Ducks team isn't exactly whole. Thanks to trades made up through today's deadline, the roster is a bit lighter:

- Big man Evgeny Artyukhin was traded to the Atlanta Thrashers in exchange for defenseman Nathan Oystrick and a conditional selection.

- Veteran defenseman Nick Boynton was sent to the Chicago Blackhawks for considerations.

- Goaltender Justin Pogge and a fourth rounder from either 2010 or 2011 were sent to the Carolina Hurricanes for veteran defenseman Aaron Ward.

- An even goalie exchange, Ducks sent Vesa Toskala to Calgary for Curtis McElhinney.

- For a 2011 7th-round pick, Ducks picked up goaltender Joey MacDonald from the Toronto Maple Leafs.

- Olympic silver medalist and defenseman Ryan Whitney plus a 2010 6th-round pick were traded to the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for high-scoring defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky.

- Grinding forward, and one of yours truly's personal favorites, Petteri Nokelainen was sent to the Phoenix Coyotes for a 6th-round 2010 pick.

Our defense consisted of only five guys, as Lubo and Ward won't get into town until tomorrow. In either case, yours truly is excited about the trades. As sad as I am to see some of our boys go, I think the changes are mostly positive. It will be interesting to see how the new guys do.

Tonight's contest against the Avalanche started with a special Olympic tribute to the players with both clubs who participated. I thought it a very classy gesture for the audience to give the Avs Olympians a rousing ovation before our own boys were honored.

Ducks Olympians given a special pre-game tribute

Saku Koivu and Teemu Selanne, bronze medal winners

The Olympic medals and jerseys were also on display tonight behind section 212.

Seven medals for our Ducks, the most of any NHL team!

Play started off well for our hometown heroes. There was energy, aggressiveness, and lots of offensive zone puck possession in the first. Big kudos to Jason Blake who, I thought, really stepped up in this game. It was encouraging to see that second line, with Blake, Saku Koivu, and Teemu Selanne start to come together.

During a Ducks power play, a pass from Bobby to Blake on the side of the net segues into the veteran banging at the puck as it shot under Avs goaltender Craig Anderson. It squirts into the net as Blake is steamrolled by an Avs defender.

Early in the second, Selanne gets his 598th career goal. From an offensive rush (that is actually grossly offsides) consisting of slick tic-tac-toe passing from Saku to Blake to Selanne for a nice open-net pitch. I swear, Teemu is much more his high-producing self without that face grill on! (this is his first game back without the extra headgear)

Ducks extend their lead to 2-0.

Jonas Hiller, turning in a good game for the first half...

At this point, the Avs began their proverbial goal avalanche. Ducks defense all but disintegrated, and a litany of turnovers don't help. Jonas Hiller seemed a bit off too in the second half of the game. Numerous power play opportunities prove unfruitful. The offense tries repeatedly to score, Bobby gets robbed at least three times, and yours truly isn't the only one in attendance feeling the frustration.

Not to say the lack of production is entirely Anaheim's fault, goaltender Anderson is definitely standing on his head and coming up big tonight.

With amazing saves and acrobatics by Craig Anderson, the game's first star was well-deserved

The Avalanche would see four goals go up on the board before the Ducks would manage to net a third. And even that one did not come until the last four minutes of regulation, when Captain Scotty Niedermayer sends a puck into the crease and it bounces off an Av skate, through Anderson five-hole, and into the net.

Unfortunately, that goal isn't followed by an equalizer, and the Ducks would see their 12-game home streak snapped as they fall to the Avs, 3-4.

Yours truly will be reporting the next game from Phoenix, Arizona, with (hopefully) special Ducks and Coyotes coverage. That's a lot of hockey!

Monday, March 1, 2010

Team USA vs Team Canada for gold

They couldn't have written this story any better if they'd tried.

It was the perfect matchup. Team USA, underdogs written off early in the tournament because they were too young. They had only three guys on the roster who had been in the Olympics before. Sure, they were NHLers, but most of them were under 25 years of age. What did they know about Olympic hockey?

Against Team Canada, the host team, the fathers of hockey. A roster packed with talent, NHL captains, winners of Olympics past. Not to mention, this was a team that had been completely embarrassed in their loss to Team USA during the preliminaries. They were angry, seeking revenge, hungry for the young Americans.

Yours truly was sadly at work during this game, but my phone buzzed constantly with texts from hockey friends and non-hockey friends alike. Even people not ordinarily fans of the sport during the NHL season had fallen in love with the hopes and dreams of these Olympic players.

They wanted to know how this one would turn out.

I was able to watch a good portion of the game with divided attention as I worked. The forechecking and backchecking pressure of the Americans was evident. The hunger and physicality of the Canadians was relentless. Each of these boys played the game of his life, and delivered some of the finest hockey I've ever seen.

Corey Perry would net one goal out of four SOG in this monumental game. Ryan Getzlaf would take an assist.

Despite falling behind for the first time in their Olympic run, the Americans didn't fall apart. They kept their focus, kept their composure, and kept coming. They closed the gap to one goal, and then a miracle.

With less than 30 seconds left in regulation, Zach Parise would deliver a simple strike in the crease that left a puck in the net behind Roberto Luongo.

Yours truly couldn't help but scream. My phone erupted in delight as well. The Americans had pushed the game into overtime! The gold would take more than 60 minutes to be won. How could anyone deny the drive and heart of Team USA?

Seven minutes of sudden death overtime would finally award the gold medal to Team Canada.

I can never stand to see the dejected faces of the losing team, and especially not when they're MY team. Sure, I was elated for our Canadian Ducks, but Team USA represented my country. I watched the medal ceremony with mixed emotions. Not being able to be completely happy for the beaming faces of Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, and Captain Scott Niedermayer, I was distracted by the misery of the loss etched onto the faces of my boy Bobby Ryan, Captain Jamie Langenbrunner, and especially MVP Ryan Miller.

To them, I want to say that I am so very proud of their effort. Nobody, hockey experts and casualists alike, would have ever guessed that Team USA would compete for gold, that these young boys would slaughter Team Finland in a 6-1 landslide, that they would completely humiliate these very Canadians with a 5-3 trouncing. Team USA has absolutely nothing to be sorry for. They went above and beyond all expectations. They captured the hearts of a nation and the attention of the world.

What you've done for the sport of hockey, is beyond words. There will be so many new fans watching as you return to your respective NHL teams to complete your season. And for all of us old fans, including yours truly, you gave us the opportunity time and time again to say, "This, this is why I LOVE hockey!"

Celebratory congratulations to Getzy, Pears, Scotty, and Team Canada! But heartfelt thank yous to Bobby, Ryan Whitney, and Team USA! Along with the pride felt for the valiant efforts of Jonas Hiller and Luca Sbisa with Team Switzerland, and Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu with Team Finland, I am so very proud of all of our Olympic Ducks.

Seven Ducks will return home with Olympic medals, that's the most of any NHL team (San Jose comes in second with five). There's no way a team with such talented individuals can't put together a successful playoff run.

So how about it, boys? Let's go get Stanley!

My Zimbio
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