I've got one word for Jim Balsillie: phony

One highly profitable company, Isle of Capri Casinos, Inc., Forest City Enterprises or PITG Gaming LLC, will soon be awarded a license for a Pittsburgh slots casino.

As we have heard for the past year, all three companies have pledged to help build a new arena for the Pittsburgh Penguins, mainly after Isle of Capri publicly promised to build the entire rink at no cost to the Penguins or Western Pennsylvania taxpayers.

The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board will make the decision on which company gets the license and announce that decision Wednesday. Commissioner Gary Bettman is rooting for the Isle of Capri because a new rink, especially a debt-free one, will help the Penguins' franchise value skyrocket. As commissioner, that is his primary job: help owners increase their franchises' values. Salary caps and free housing will do that just about every time.

In early October, it was announced that BlackBerry nerd Jim Balsillie, aka "Baldsilly," had reached an agreement to purchase the Penguins. He was viewed as a savior in Pittsburgh because he had a lot of money, a fancy gadget in his pocket and sipped $800 bottles of wine with Mario Lemieux.

Amid this euphoria, Balsillie had a hysterically shifty news conference and a hilarious appearance on a Penguins broadcast with Paul Steigerwald and Bob Errey. "Steigy" and "Bobby" had a look and tone that said, "Maybe he will give us a free BlackBerry! Maybe he will give us a free BlackBerry! Take my soul, my dignity, but give me a free gadget!"

While everyone was drinking the Iron City-flavored Kool-Aid, I wrote this, in this space:

The Pittsburgh Penguns are history. Gone. You can kiss them goodbye. And there is nooooooooooo doubt about it.

New owner-in-waiting Jim Balsillie has given Mario Lemieux a giant hockey bag of cash that will allow Mario to join seven more country clubs and buy 18,378 more bottles of wine. Balsillie will also take away Mario's legacy as a player when he moves the team to Hamilton or Toronto or Las Vegas or Yellow Grass, Saskatchewan. Mario will not have an NHL sweater anymore. Scratch my back with a hacksaw and buy my dog one, too.

Great Balsillie of fire.

Balsillie will move the Penguins.

Balsillie is now worth an estimated $1 billion thanks to the success of the BlackBerry. The man has a lot of Balsillies.

Balsillie is also a well-known philanthropist ("I give to you … a hockey team!") in the Kitchener-Waterloo area in Ontario, where Research In Motion is based and where he lives with his Canadian wife and two Canadian children. This guy is more Canadian than the late John Candy drinking Blue backstage at a Hip concert. He ain't moving to Upper St. Clair, Sewickley or Indiana, Pa.

But we won't hear him say that. He will say all the right things until the moving vans are heading north on I-79. (Here's the entire column: http://www.espn.com/nhl/columns/story?columnist=buccigross_john&id=2618278)

The hate e-mail I received after that Oct. 9 column was ample and vitriolic. Most of it was from Pittsburgh. Some e-mailers knew I was born in downtown Pittsburgh; some didn't. The anger didn't bother me because none of the negative e-mails bother me. I take every e-mail as feedback. After you read hundreds of thousands of e-mails, as I have over the years, your skin becomes thicker than Mick McGeough's skull.

What disappointed me was that the good people of Pittsburgh didn't see it. I lived my first 11 years an hour east of Pittsburgh, and the next 11 years an hour west of the city in Steubenville, Ohio. Those years served me well in terms of how nice people could be, how kind they could be to strangers. I truly believe the people of this region are the purest, kindest people on the planet. I think those 11 years in Eastern Ohio really served me well in seeing what Balsillie was all along: a phony. And when Mario Lemieux on Monday said the buyout offer from Balsillie was "unequivocally" dead, I didn't feel vindication. I felt relief for Penguins fans.

Growing up in Steubenville taught me to give and take, to sort out the phonies. The Steubenville I grew up in was largely composed of hard-working, hard-living, hard-loving, middle-class, steel-making people. Real people. It was a lot like Western Pennsylvania, since folks in both places drew paychecks in steel factories. My friends and neighbors in Ohio had nicknames like Fraud, Pizz, Jeep, Springy, Platehead, Harpo, Chiggy, Moose, Death, Goody, Pote, and yes, Buckethead.

I can't begin to tell you how much beer some of my friends can drink in one sitting. They don't measure in terms of fluid ounces, but in hours. This isn't for the Chamber of Commerce, it's just a fact. They also had your back in a fight, picked you up when you were down and knocked you down when you got too high for your own good. I learned more about people in 11 years there than I have anywhere else.

I don't know what's going to happen Wednesday with the license decision. I don't know what's going to happen the day after. I do know that, all along, Balsillie was going to move the Penguins. He was going to take them and move them to Kansas City or Ontario and spit in the face of the good people of Pittsburgh, like Terrell Owens spit in the face DeAngelo Hall.

I don't know if the Penguins are going to stay in Pittsburgh. I only know the chances are much better now that Jim Balsillie is out of the picture and back where he belongs.

One reason I enjoy winter is that the weather is conducive for reading books. Now, while most of December is technically the fall, it usually at least feels like winter. This has not been the case this year. Last week, I played nine holes of golf. The fairways were emerald green and the greens rolled like Augusta. This was a true Christmas bonus.

Even if it is unseasonably warm, the shorter days alone make it easier to read, and this fall I have been poring through hockey books. "The Boys of Winter" by Wayne Coffey, "Scotty Bowman: A Life in Hockey" by Douglas Hunter, "Fred Cusick: Voice of the Bruins," "Searching for Bobby Orr" by Stephen Brunt, and my latest read, "The Rookie: A Season with Sidney Crosby and the New NHL" by Shawna Richer.

As readers of this column know, I have been bullish on Crosby from the start. Some of you thought I wrote too much or too glowingly of him. I predicted 101 points last season, and he reached 102. This season, he is my pick for the Art Ross Trophy as scoring champion. You can check all my other comments in the archives.

If you love the NHL and love the history of the game, you need to observe, study and read all you can on Sidney Crosby. More than any other player right now, this is his era. That being the case, you must read "The Rookie."

Writing and reading about 18-year-olds is usually not thrilling. But considering Crosby's place in the NHL, it adds to the fun to know as much as you can about him at this stage of his life. Richer's book does that. Penguins fans have to read it and NHL fans should, too. I exchanged e-mails with Richer about the project this past weekend.

Question from John Buccigross: What is Sidney Crosby's greatest attribute?

Answer from Shawna Richer: It's tough to name just one. From a purely physical standpoint, it is his lower-body strength. He is not overly big for a professional athlete in any sport, but his strength on skates is otherworldly. He works at it, and hard, but it sprouts from a natural gift. Mentally, he possesses a self-awareness I have not seen in years of covering other athletes; that's also unusual for someone his age. He is exceptionally tuned in to himself and everything and everyone around him. He has good instincts and makes good decisions. He is a smart kid; it shows on the ice as much as personally.

Q: Would he have succeeded in any environment in which he grew up?

A: I think where Sidney came from speaks very much to who he is and why he is successful. His family is close-knit. His parents are really lovely people, hard-working and humble, and very protective of their children. It's very much a Maritime characteristic and could be construed as cliché, unless you actually live here [Nova Scotia] and get it. Sidney's a product of his upbringing. You see it in the way he treats people. He works hard. He doesn't take his gifts for granted. I've been a working journalist in the Maritimes for nine of my 15 years in the business, and I think it's very much a cultural thing. But he was obviously raised right.

Q: Crosby reminds me of Tiger Woods, LeBron James and Alex Rodriguez in terms of how uninteresting he is during interviews. Does the interview training his agency gives him sadden you?

A: You are right. He is very much like Rodriguez and Woods during interviews. Media training is a probably a good thing for them, not so much for us. I feel lucky that with an entire season to focus on him, I was able to see him when the cameras were off. I got to see the 18-year-old kid that he is. He's friendly and funny, and he has a smart, wicked sense of humor. I've heard people suggest he is "flat" in interviews, and that may be true catching him on SportsCenter, but around his friends and family and people he trusts, he has personality plus. I can see both sides of the media training. I don't know that there's much upside personally for a Jeremy Roenick being so open, though I respect everyone's right to be how they want. But Sidney is, I think, cautious and careful, and it's probably not an unwise thing from where he's sitting. I was lucky to have the luxury of time to get to know him a little better than most; one of the best parts of the year.

Q: Does he have a nickname? What do his teammates call him?

A: His teammates call him Sid and his official nickname is Darryl (after Darryl Sittler), one he earned in junior after piling up 10 or so points in his first game, as Sittler did. As he ascends, he will need a terrific nickname. I got a lot of e-mails last year from fans suggesting some. We'll see what emerges. He can't be Sid the Kid forever.

Q: I've been bullish on Crosby since the 2005 draft lottery. Were the Penguins and the people (media, Penguins front office, fans) around him this bullish going into his rookie year?

A: Sidney was embraced by the Penguins, the front office, the Pittsburgh media and the fans from the moment he arrived. The first day of training camp, hundreds of fans came out to practice to see this kid they'd only heard about. They adored him from the beginning. He made it easy. He embraced Pittsburgh, went to Steelers games, waved a Terrible Towel on the ice one night during Super Bowl week. He was the best player on the team from Game One. It's a good city for him. Not too big, and a really smart, knowledgeable hockey town.

Q: How did you enjoy your time in Pittsburgh?

A: I also loved Pittsburgh. I'd been a number of times to cover hockey and it had always been one my favorite stops around the league. It reminds me a lot of Toronto in that it's very neighborhood-y. It's a good hockey town, has neat architecture and history, a real American city. I made friendships that will last a lifetime. And the Penguins really welcomed me; it was awfully nice of them, given how odd the assignment was, to Americans at least -- spend a year writing a series about a hockey player. But hey, we're Canadian.

Q: Is the Penguins' future in Pennsylvania or Ontario?

A: Even though I'm originally from Ontario, I hope the Penguins stay put in Pittsburgh. I think the city deserves the team. I don't personally see a need for three NHL teams within an hour of each other. I know many Canadians disagree, but after spending 41 nights at the Igloo last year, and watching the fans stick with that team and adopt Sidney they way they did, I really hope they find a way to stay. They only won 22 games last year, and I don't think they ever drew fewer than 14,000 fans, and even that was only a handful of times. That's pretty amazing.

Q: Would you like to write another Sidney Crosby book in 20 years?

A: I'm definitely going to follow his career very closely. I am enjoying watching this season as a fan. I'd love to revisit the story at some point down the road with another book. One of the things I feel luckiest about is that while many stories will be written on him for years to come, his rookie season is gone. No one can go back and do what I did or see what I saw. It's one of those rare assignments that will stay with me for the rest of my life, and I really treasure it, and will more so as his career unfolds.

Q: Will he finish his career with 900 goals and 1,964 assists when he retires in 2031?

A: It is tough to say whether he will break [Wayne] Gretzky's records. It's not going to be easy. But he has a better chance than anyone. There's no doubt in my mind he's got it in him -- both the talent and the heart. And he is so well-conditioned that I suspect he will play longer. I do think he will be one of the all-time greats.

Q: Anything you'd like to add about your book "The Rookie," or Sidney Crosby in general? Go crazy!

A: I took a lot of heat over the year from readers (mostly from Philadelphia) who suggested I was too soft on Crosby through the newspaper series we were doing in The Globe and Mail. I went into the project with an open mind. As the season wore on, and certainly by the end, I could only see a good kid and a heck of a gifted player with a true love for the game. It was a rare chance in journalism to be able to (for the most part) focus on what became an inspiring, mostly good, news story. Now, this year, that he is leading the scoring race, I notice a lot more people who may have been naysayers or on the fence jumping on the Crosby bandwagon. I can't see them jumping off anytime soon.

Hanukkah is an eight-day celebration that begins on the 25th day of the Jewish calendar month of Kislev, which usually falls during the month of December but occasionally begins during November.

This year, Hanukkah is celebrated from Dec. 15-23.

This year, 2006, translates to the year 5767 on the Jewish calendar. Add up those four numbers, and you get 25, which is exactly how many goals Hakan Loob scored in 1992-93 for Farjestads BK Karlstad. Eerie, eh?

Hakan Loob is the greatest name in hockey history. If you are looking for a hockey name for your pond hockey, street hockey or any other hockey team, it's tough to beat Hakan and the Loobs.

So, per tradition, we present our annual, slightly changed Happy Hakan-Hanukkah song. It must be sung to the tune of Adam Sandler's classic "Hanukkah Song." Refresh your memory or introduce yourself to that song first before replacing Adam's lyrics with mine. It will enhance your reading pleasure.

This is a song, that uh, there's a lot of Norwegian songs out there, but not too many about Hakan Loob and Swedish hockey players, so I wrote a song for all those nice little Swedish kids who don't get to hear any Swedish hockey songs. Here we go …

Put on some ABBA-kah
Here comes Hakan-Hanukkah!
So much Swedish-funukah,
To celebrate Hakan-Hanukkah!
Hakan-Hanukkah is a festival of ice
Instead of one night of hockey, we have 180 crazy nights.
When you feel like the only kid in town without a Synergy,
Here's a list of people who are Swedish, just like Mats Sundin:

Henrik Zetterberg was once pulled over for speedin',
Henrik Lundqvist and twin bro Joel were born in Are, Sweden
Guess who eats crayfish at a bistro in Malmo? Thomas Steen, Thomas Gradin and ex-Oiler Tommy Salo
P.J. Axelsson's rookie card is something worth collectin'
So is Kent and Ulf Nilsson and Pelle Eklund's.
Swedes don't like hip-hop or bands that sound like Hinder,
They'd rather watch Huselius or Mike Nylander
Both Swedish!

Put on your ABBA-kah
It's time for Hakan-Hanukkah
The captain of the Vancouver Canuck-anukahs, celebrates Hakan-Hanukkah
Saku Koivu, not a Swede
But guess who is? Hakan's older brother Pete (he scored one goal in nine NHL games)

Peter Forsberg has bad feet, but he still likes dancin'
So do Roger, Mathias, Calle, Bjorn and Andreas Johansson
Jon Klemm's not from Sweden, nor Dainius Zubrus
But Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin and Hakan Loob is
So many Swedes are in the NHL
Shjon Podein isn't Swedish, but he raised some Karlstad hell!
Tell your friend Per-onica
It's time for Hakan-Hanukkah
I hope for new Graf-onikahs
On this lovely Hakan-Hanukkah
So drink your cold Fal-connika
And golf 18 with Annika
If you really, really wannakah
Have a happy, happy, happy, Hakan-Hanukkah!
Happy Hakan-Hanukkah!

Hey John,

I was wondering if you might be able to shed some light on ESPN's apparent reluctance to air anything NHL-related. Is ESPN purposely cutting back on NHL coverage or am I imagining things?

Zach LaScola

I can tell you ESPN is doing the same amount of NHL highlights they did when they were rights holders. (When a network broadcasts a sport, they are deemed a "rights holder." ESPN is a rights holder with the NFL, NBA and MLB. Versus is the rights holder for the NHL in the United States.) When Barry Melrose comes out of his cave in the Adirondacks and hitchhikes to Bristol on Wednesdays and Thursdays, the NHL has a pretty good presence on SportsCenter. Last Friday night, SportsCenter producer Stu Mitchell put Sidney Crosby highlights nine minutes into the show. That's progress.


With an almost perfectly accurate prediction of Crosby's G/A/PTS total last year, and then writing that the Blues would fire their coach within the week only a day before it happened, I might have to start asking you when I want to know anything about the hockey future. Go Leafs!

Jeffrey Turner
U.S. Naval Academy

The NHL will soon announce they will continue their relationship with Versus for at least the next two years. And I will eat 18 pounds of cheese in 2007.


Is Barry Melrose illiterate or does he just not want to actually write an article?

North Andover, Mass.

Barry is a bilingual illiterate. He can't read or write in two different languages. Thank you! I'll be here all week! Enjoy the veal! Level 42 is next. [Editor's note: Barry can write, but he does a podcast and video clips for ESPN.com.]


How about another song pick? I got hooked on DCFC's "Marching Bands of Manhattan" all winter last year after reading your column.

Doug Millson
Windsor, Ontario

Two songs I play every time I get into my car and drive to work during these early-sunset December days:

"Adrift" by Barenaked Ladies

Ever since we said our goodbyes
The onion rings, the phone makes me cry
Something isn't right
Like the Deep Blue without the Great White

"Sons and Daughters" by The Decemberists

When we arrive
Sons & daughters
We'll make our homes on the water
We'll build our walls aluminum
We'll fill our mouths with cinnamon now


You mentioned in your column that the Blues might sign Jean-Sebastien Giguere to a big deal in the offseason. Do you think Brian Burke would sign him during the season to prevent having to give him a lot more money? What about possibly trading him to get something for him while they can?

Ryan M.
Maryland, N.Y.

There is no way that Anaheim GM Brian Burke will trade J.S. Giguere during the season. There is a better chance he will buy a box set of Richard Simmons exercise DVDs.

Giguere is making about $4 million this season. He turns 30 next May, so, as an unrestricted free agent, he will command a big contract. He's a good goalie and a good guy. A five-year deal at $30 million is about right for him. I'm sure Boston, St. Louis, Detroit, Toronto, Columbus and a host of others would be interested if they are still having goalie concerns.

When it comes to the cap, Anaheim is in pretty good shape. If the cap does indeed go up a couple of million next season, maybe Burke will be able to figure it out and keep him. It will be tough since the Ducks aren't really overpaying in terms of their production. Burke will probably go to Giguere and his agent and offer something creative, but fair. He doesn't enter negotiations with cheesy, low-ball offers; he respects the game of hockey, and the people who give their all, too much to do that. Maybe he can do something creative in terms of back-loading Giguere's deal. Pronger has three years left, so maybe Burke's offer for Giguere can break down like this over five years -- $5/$5.5/$5.5/$7/$7. That's five years, $30 million.

Hey Bucci,

What do you think of Martin Havlat? After missing 19 games, he has five points (3 goals, 2 assists) in his first two games back. Plus, my Blackhawks picked up Peter Bondra. Could the hockey gods finally be smiling at Chicago?

Great column,
Patrick Considine
Aurora, Ill.

This season, Martin Havlat is in with a class of players like Maxim Afinogenov, who, whenever he is on the ice, appears to be the fastest and most dangerous player out there. You can't take your eyes off him. I liked the Hawks in the preseason and came close to picking them to make the playoffs. They lack scoring depth, but they have grit, some experience, some skill, some speed, some defense and some goaltending. They must elevate, and keep their power play elevated, for the last 50 games of the season. Penalty kill, too. If they can develop an elite special-teams unit, the Blackhawks can make the playoffs.

Hi John,

Found your idea of a Bobby Orr movie intriguing, although it would seem that the target audience might be somewhat limited. That quibble aside, I thought your idea of casting Matt Damon was perfect. The question is: who would you cast for the following roles?

Phil Esposito
Gerry Cheevers
Harry Sinden

I think Ben Affleck could play Esposito, but that's just my opinion. Anyway, thanks for the provocative idea.

Chris Caratzas
Metuchen, N.J.

Good effort, Chris. Let's see …

Bobby Orr: Matt Damon
Phil Esposito: John Turturro
Gerry Cheevers: Kevin James
Harry Sinden: Colin Farrell


Who was better, Gretzky or Orr? Well, I am afraid this is where the blasphemy begins. I believe, nay, I know that not only is Wayne Gretzky the greatest player of all time, but Orr really is not even in the top 10.

Ben Berry

That explosion you heard was Ben Berry internally combusting.


ESPN wants its fans to create the ultimate lineup, "using a pool of 50 forwards selected by our NHL experts." I'm praying that you were not in this group of "experts" that left Joe Sakic off of that list! Say it ain't so. And while you're at it: How about your list? Who makes your four lines of the NHL's all-time best forwards?


I was not among the experts who made up ESPN.com's list. I am neither esteemed nor respected at the Worldwide Leader in NBA highlights. Most of the ESPN suits have no idea I even work here. This time next year, I'll be hosting the "World Barbecue Challenge" on Versus and they'll be like, "I know I've seen that guy somewhere before."

Hey Johnny,

With ratings and exposure being so low on cable and satellite in the U.S., why doesn't the NHL pull the plug and broadcast the games themselves in the States? If they could offer all games in HD, I would pay $200-$300 a year to have the games. As it stands right now, I might not re-up the Center Ice package next year because of limited HD broadcasts. Where is Mark Cuban when I need him? Thanks!

Effingham, Ill.

At this moment, Mark Cuban is taking his daily bath in a Jacuzzi full of Benjamins while drinking a six-pack of Iron City and singing something from "The Clarks." Mike, it is way more profitable to take rights fees than broadcast games unless you can get large subscription fees. That's what the NFL Network is currently doing. They turned down close to half a billion a year for the Thursday/Saturday late-season package and decided to put NFL games on their network, hoping that fans would call their local cable operators and demand the NFL Network. The NFL Network can then keep upping their subscription fee. If they can get in 90 million homes and receive, say, $2 a household in fees, you're talking $180 million a month. That's over $2 billion a year before advertising dollars. Even a dollar a month is $90 million and $1 billion a year. That is steady cash flow to split among the owners. Plus, they can control the message and information output of the NFL and that has value to corporations.

However, anyone can see that the NFL Network's game production is not up to normal NFL standards, and they are currently in a difficult battle with large cable companies to carry their network at a location on the cable tier and at a price that makes them content. I wouldn't be surprised to see the NFL scrap the plan, sell the NFL Network and collect their half billion in rights fees for the Thursday/Saturday package. It would save a lot of headaches and prevent any kind of public relations hit they may get by appearing outlandishly greedy. For some mysterious reason, the NFL is immune to the possible public relations nicks of greed, steroids, spitting, violence, bodyguard murders and the like that normally can affect a brand, but mess with my cable bill and you got another thing coming!

The NHL will always have a home somewhere in television land because it is good programming. A U.S. version of the NHL network couldn't get in 90 million homes and certainly couldn't command a large subscription fee. For the league, getting 80 million or so from Versus makes more sense than doing games itself. And if you have NHL television rights fees, you can't forget Canadian TV rights. The NHL will probably fetch over $100 million a year there. So, if the NHL can get $200 million a year in combined TV rights in the U.S. and Canada, that's about $7 million a team. I'm sure the NHL would like to have a U.S. NHL network, and they could show games like NBA TV currently does, but it would never be the only place you would be able to watch NHL games. In the future, I am sure everyone will have their computers plugged into a 50-inch, high-definition TV. From their computer, they will be able to download anything they want and watch it. They will order their sports, movies, YouTube clips, television shows, pornography and C-SPAN all from the computer. Over the next 25-50 years, the way we watch and get our media content at home will be nothing like now. The NHL needs to think about that more than worrying about its television rights fees number. I would think the NHL would concern itself with mass distribution around the globe while positioning itself for the future of the Internet.

And as far as the whole HD situation, it's frustrating that the government, networks and cable and satellite companies haven't done a better job in getting all television in HD. Then again, maybe we should worry about CEO salaries and health care first.


I have an idea that would probably greatly increase the NHL's TV product. What if they incorporated camera angles like those featured on Sunday Night Football? The ones where the camera goes behind the play and can follow along as the play develops. This is a great angle for football, and would be for hockey. The NHL's biggest problem is that it is a boring TV product for the casual viewer, and even for the rabid viewer.

Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

I have always thought hockey was a great sport for television. Fast, furious, few commercial breaks and a great arena experience. The NHL offices have also done a great job strengthening all of the local broadcasts. New York Rangers broadcasts have always been network quality. The Penguins are putting multiple isolation cameras on Sidney Crosby, thus ensuring his career will have the greatest selection of video in NHL history. Every one of his goals will be on video and nearly every goal will have more than one angle. His amazing assist on Ryan Malone's hat-trick goal last Friday night was shot beautifully by a cameraperson in Pittsburgh. It was the No. 1 play on SportsCenter's Top 10.

The Boston Bruins have really improved their broadcasts, especially at home. The Islanders are doing innovative things on their Web site, www.newyorkislanders.com. I do believe, however, that the new, larger arenas have hurt the quality of television broadcasts because the cameras and announcers are farther from the ice. In my mind, I see a series of robotic cameras attached to the top of the glass around the entire circumference of the ice surface. With an assortment of lenses, from wide angle to normal, the game will look like never before. The puck will never leave the screen. You will be right on top of the action as if you were watching it at the rink. The game will never be more intimate. And EVERY arena should have a setup where the announcers are at ice level like TSN is doing this season. You want your messengers in the front row, not the attic.


When does Alexander Radulov join the Calder discussion? As of today, he has nine goals in 17 games and is quickly rounding out his entire game. I know Malkin is a stud and deservedly gets a large share of the pub, but someone has got to start taking notice of what Radu is doing here in Nashville.

Tom Begley

I promise to focus on A-Rad the next time I'm watching a Predators game.

Hey Bucci,

Who do you think has the best name in hockey right now? I have to go with Nashville's Vernon Fiddler.

Denny Silveira
Cambridge, Ontario

He's no Hakan Loob or Bruce Shoebottom, but ol' Vern has a pretty good handle.


Recently, Kris from La Crosse, Wis., wrote to you that Minnesota has never heard of defense. Apparently, he must've found a stash of some Old Style beer, because as of this writing, the Gophers have allowed exactly two goals per game in WCHA play (2.11 overall) and are allowing on average 22.7 shots per game. Meanwhile, no-scoring-and-all-defense Wisconsin is allowing 2.25 goals per game in the WCHA (2.28 overall) and are allowing 27.6 shots per game. No defense? Those numbers combined don't lie. Neither does 15-1-3.

Sunnyvale, Calif.

Go to YouTube and search for Kyle Okposo. Check out his mad skills. Okposo was the seventh overall pick by the Islanders in the June draft.


I need your help, I just found out that my firstborn is going to be a boy. Judging by the other males in my family, this little guy is destined to be between 6-foot-1 and 6-foot-4 and 220-240 pounds with a good mean streak. I need a name.

Thanks John,
Brian Walsh
Leominster, Mass.

Shane Cameron Walsh.

Hockey Fact: The record for fastest goal to start a game is five seconds. It's been done three times. Alexander Mogilny, Bryan Trottier and Doug Smail.


All the talk about Minnesota and men's D-I hockey, what about showing some love for the women? I don't know if you're aware, but the women's team at Mercyhurst College is now ranked No. 1 in the country for the second week in a row. Michael Sisti has done a great job building the program from the ground up, assembling talented players such as Meghan Acosta, Laura Hosier and Valerie Chouinard. They've already beaten the likes Maine, New Hampshire, Boston College and Princeton. Quite an impressive feat for a little old college in Erie, Pa., wouldn't you say?

Erie, Pa.

Love the ladies.


My son, Kenneth Matthew Rolnick (aka "Kenny"), is doing his best here to channel the right mojo from the hockey gods and keep the cup in the Southeast conference for another year. Go Thrashers!

Greg Rolnick
Glenview, Ill.

John Buccigross' e-mail address -- for questions, comments or cross-checks -- is john.buccigross@espn.com.