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Elvis has left the rink

Holy Hakan Loob, Batman!

Never in my short and insignificant career have I felt as stoked reading your responses to my inaugural ESPN.com Zamboni ride. I felt like Toronto goaltender Jeff Reese when he denied Hakan Loob on a penalty shot back in February of '89. It was Hakan's only penalty shot in 450 regular season NHL games with the Calgary Flames. Amazingly, ESPN.com let ME take another shot this week.

Keeping it "real" is the No. 1 focus here. "Real" is Barry Melrose, "Caddyshack," and Michael Stipe of REM.

No filter. What's REALLY going on. Not caring what people think.

Iconoclasts like Charles Barkley, David Feherty and Howard Roark in "The Fountainhead."

We gravitate to athletes that are real. I'm not sure if the average fan realizes this, but nearly every sound bite you hear from players and coaches is not anywhere near "real." It's rehearsed, boring, pre-packed, television babble. The truth is stashed somewhere deep in Kerry Fraser's Vitalis-laden coif.

Why has Patrick Roy decided not to play in February's Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City? Roy said, "I want to take that time to prepare myself to have good playoffs and finish strongly. I was there before and they certainly are going to give the chance to another guy."

Bull.

Yes, he is 36, and the demands of the season are long, and his hip has been bothering him. But, it is likely not the "real" reason. Just weeks before, Roy had complained that a No. 1 goaltender should be named by Team Canada. What was he "really" saying? How about:


"You can name Mario Lemieux captain, but you can't name me the starter?! I've won four Stanley Cups and three Conn Smythes. Curtis Joseph hasn't won either once.

"I'll win my 500th game -- 500th game!!! -- sometime in early 2002, but you can't name me the starter? Who sees something that he wants, prepares for it better, focuses on it more, and comes through more gloriously than me? Did you watch the Stanley Cup playoffs last June? Did you realize who the OTHER goaltender was?

"I'm sorry, I have done everything Mario has done at his position, and arguably a little more. If he can be named captain, and he should have been, I can't be the starting goaltender? We were born on the same day in 1965. How cool is that? Statistically, we've done things no else has at our positions. We've both established franchises, won Stanley Cups, Conn Smythes and the respect and popularity of the hockey world and the general public.

"If you're trying to sell the game to the U.S., I'm your man. If you're trying to win a gold medal, I'm your man. But, I guess, I'm not your man. I gave you a warning, with a trial balloon I launched in the media. I'm too experienced, too proud, and too busy to try out for a hockey team. The three straight shutouts were your last chance. I'm angry. I'm disappointed. I'm spent. You go for the gold. I'm going to take a nap."



The Great Eight
Pat Verbeek owns one of the best nicknames of all time in all of sports: Little Ball of Hate. Drafted by the New Jersey Devils in the third round of the 1982 draft, Little Ball of Hate is in his 20th NHL season.

A future Hall of Famer? You bet. Over 500 goals, a Stanley Cup champion, and a will and ethic all players should play with.

No. 1: You are playing in Dallas this season, while your family has been back in Michigan. How tough has that been?
Verbeek:It's quieter around the house! But it's been tough on my wife. I have five kids (13,10, 9, 6, and 4) and it's wearing her down a bit. Policing homework is the toughest part. That was my role on off nights. I'm the bruiser. But it's tough when you're not there.

No. 2: What was your childhood like?
Verbeek: Working, school and hockey. I was a farm boy in Wyoming, Ontario. We had five kids and we lived on a farm. We raised pigs to sell to packing houses and we grew crops. Dad still has the farm. Still raising the pigs. Busy as ever.

No. 3: This is your second go around in Dallas. Has Ken Hitchcock changed as a coach?
Verbeek: No, he's the same coach. I think I've changed. I go out and play hard and don't worry about the rest.

No. 4: Can the Stars win the Cup this year?
Verbeek: Yes. We have a chance.

No. 5: Is this your last year?
Verbeek: I'd like to play one more year, but, me and my wife are not prepared to go through another season with the family split up. We'll see what we can do, if anything, to avoid it.

No. 6: What kind of music is being played in the Dallas Star clubhouse and who is the deejay?
Verbeek: Brad Lukowich is the deejay. Before every game about 6:15-6:20 he plays "Bodies" by Drowning Pool. "Let the bodies hit the floor! Let the bodies hit the floor!"

Ahhhh, the missing Backstreet Boy.

No. 7: Tell me about your fishing career.
Verbeek: I fish in BASS tournaments all the time. It's a competition and that's what I enjoy. You're trying to outsmart the fish and another fisherman.

No. 8a: What's been your most memorable fishing experience?
Verbeek: The time me and my wife went to Alaska and were fishing for sockeye salmon. While we were fishing in the river, we were fishing with the bears. The bears were in the water at the same time, so we had to keep an eye on the fish we were trying the catch AND keep an eye on the bears, too. It was a real rush. We came within twentyfive yards of a mama grizzly and that wasn't too comforting.

No. 8b:What did the park rangers tell you to do if a bear came after you?
Verbeek: Yell, "BEAR!! BEAR!!! BEAR!!!"

Of course.



Soundboard
Hockey games are won sometimes along the boards while great CDs are made on a soundboard. As promised last week, I'll introduce to you some players from the music world who are big-time hookey fans. This week: Mike Wengren of Disturbed.

Disturbed is a Chicago-bred band that has stormed onto the music scene. Their debut CD "The Sickness" has sold over two million copies. Wengren is the drummer for the band, and in October gave me and my two Ohio high School buddies, Don Goodpaster and Petey Potenzini, an indoctrination to post-concert rock-star tour-bus partying. It was actually a post-Columbus Blue Jackets tour-bus party for me and my buds. We played the roles of dejected Blue Jackets fans after a Saturday night loss to the Avalanche.

Wengren felt the tug of hockey when his uncle took him to a game at Chicago Stadium at the age of nine.

"I remember it was just the coolest thing I had ever seen in my life," he recalls. "And after my third or fourth game he took me downstairs where the players come out of the locker room and I met Al Secord. He was so huge and I was just a little guy. Between that moment and the way he played, he was and is my all time favorite Hawk."

Air Supply and Harry Connick Jr. isn't music that is conducive to NHL hockey. Let's face it, rock and roll and hockey go together like Norm Maracle and a bacon double cheeseburger. Energy, passion, tempo.

"It has a lot to do with energy," says Wengren. "The energy brings out the intensity in people. A band and hockey players feed off that. There is an energy transfer when I'm on stage and I imagine it's the same for players in the ice. When I'm off stage, I'm a pretty mellow guy, but when I get on stage and get behind my drum kit, I enter a zone and am in my own world. Every hockey player I've ever met is the coolest guy on earth, but, put them on skates and look out!"

After months on the road, Wengren will be able to enjoy the next couple of months recuperating and doing what he enjoys most: going to Chicago Blackhawks games. Disturbed plans on writing and recording their follow up CD sometime next year with a likely fall release.

"I always felt confident about the band, but I never dreamed in a million years that it would get to this level." Wengren says. "I still wake up everyday and pinch myself because I can't believe I'm here. It is so surreal"



What's up with...
Hands. Few things define us more than our hands. How they touch, build, hunt, perform and protect. Joey Kocur's life is his hands. In his final year of junior hockey, he scored 40 goals. For 820 regular-season NHL games and 118 playoff games, he used his hands to score goals, raise three Stanley Cups, and mash other's faces when the time called for it.

Now in retirement, those hands grip a golf club to smoke his Titleist Pro V l's 280 yards, and to manipulate a computer keyboard in assisting the Detroit Red Wings coaching staff with in-game analysis.

So, what's up with Joey Kocur?

Age: Turns 37 in December.

Job description: "I have a video feed that goes through my computer and I break down every situation that happens on the ice. I do this in the coaches' office and between periods they can find the situation they want to breakdown."

Why this job?: "I want to get into coaching and this is a great job to learn. My ideal job is to coach at the highest possible level."

How much do you miss playing?: "I miss it a lot. I miss going out with the guys, practicing, laughing."

What's your handicap?: "Four. I use the Hogan Apex Blades and a Titleist ball. No hole-in-ones yet, but I did have a double eagle."

Any lasting affects from fighting?: "My right hand sometimes won't open and close, but it is what it is."

Should fighting be banned?: "Never. The players should police themselves."

Any kids?: "Seven-year-old daughter and a one-year-old son."

What do you daydream about the most?: "I do think a lot about golf. I just got back from Ireland and I think about that a lot. The four majors are my four favorite sporting events of the year on TV. I plan ahead to watch them. But there is still nothing like the Stanley Cup, and my craving to win one as a coach is starting to burn. Whether it's the video coach of the Red Wings in the back room, it's the Stanley Cup. It's so special."

Head Coaching the NHL is about motivation, respect, feel, presence, and a consistent message of one's system or formula for winning. Joey Kocur has that. Don't be surprised if one day a retired Steve Yzerman is named President of the Red Wings and runs the team like Wayne runs the Coyotes and Mario runs the Penguins. And don't be surprised if one day President Yzerman names Joey Kocur his head coach.

Tough players make good coaches. None were tougher than Joey Kocur. The proof is in his hands.



E-mail bag
I received hundreds of emails following the release of last weeks Hockey Page. Your words were kind, overwhelming and out of nowhere. I received emails from Sweden, Denmark, Australia South Korea and some place called Pennsylvania. Here are a few:

Hi John,
Thanks for breathing life back into my deprived hockey conscience since moving to Sidney, Australia. Your column was the perfect remedy to a deprived former Canadian hockey fan who moved to Australia to marry the girl of his dreams.
Darien Tisseur
Hamlyn Terrace NSW,Australia

Darien. Stay calm. Put down the vegemite sandwich and step away from the yak. The girl of your dreams would never take you away from hockey. She would feed you one timers on Lake Ontario 'till her arms fell off.

John,
I have to respectfully disagree with you about Eric Lindros. He's an introverted Deion Sanders with an overbearing father.
Kevin Koffenberger
Cockeysville, Md.

So, your saying Eric Lindros's ego resides somewhere in Cockeysville?

John,
Your Eric Lindros jock sniffing is repulsive. I can hardly wait until his frail body gives out from a harmless check. I bet his vacation home is beside Barry Bonds.
William Kiser, Ph.D.
Indianapolis, Ind.

Indianapolis is still seething over the sale of Wayne Gretzky from the Racers to the Oilers. Easy, Doc. It won't be long 'till them race cars come back. The 88 car is NOT Lindros.

Hey Bucci,
I really enjoyed your article. Do me a favor, have the crew hold Melrose down and cut off that ridiculous mullet.
Greg Flynn

It would take an army of magnus ver magnerson's wielding freshly sharpened sickles to put a dent in that thing.

John,
How can leave Byron Dafoe off your Vezina list?
Jeff Sprankle

I think Bysie has slipped just a hair out of elite status after his insane start.

John,
I am behind you 100 percent on the push for Cam Neely's induction into the Hall of Fame.
Steve
Dover, N.H.

Stay tuned for my State of the Cam address in December.

John,
I'm South Korean. You're column is very cool. What in the hell does "chicken parm" mean. Why do people call Ray Ferraro that?
Hyun-Ji

A very popular question. I gave that nickname to Ray during the 1999-2000 season. I will tell you why soon.

John Buccigross is the host of NHL2Night, which airs Tuesday-Saturday on ESPN2. His e-mail address -- for questions, comments or cross checks -- is john.buccigross@espn.com.