In need of inspiration? Turn to the Cup

This Thursday, I will tee it up in White Plains, N.Y., as one of 8,726 golfers playing to qualify for this year's U.S. Open. It's a two-stage qualifying process for most aspirants. Play 18 holes, shoot around par, and hope it's good enough to get to the second and final stage of qualifying. If that happens, then it's 36 holes in one day, shoot real low and qualify to play at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in June.

I will never qualify for the U.S. Open. It's like the Pittsburgh Penguins winning the Stanley Cup next year. My goal is to make it to the final stage. My chances? Kind of like Calgary's Cup chances. Not good, but not impossible. Everything would have to go just right.

My confidence level for shooting a 71 or 72 is pretty low right now, and I need inspiration. As you might know, the rules of golf state that players need to mark their golf ball to help ensure correct identification on the golf course. You always want to make sure you are playing your ball. The more distinctive the identification, the better. I mark my Titleists with hockey players' names. I put their first name above the Pro V1x logo and their last name below it. Halfway around the other side of the ball, on the blank, white space, I write their uniform number. This is where the inspiration comes in. In times of peril, I need to look down at my ball and have that player's name ease my burdens and fill me with confidence. To keep me grinding to the very last putt. Here are the nominees, one from each remaining playoff team:

  • No. 12, Jarome Iginla

    Are we seeing the blossoming of hockey's next great captain right before our eyes? He scores, he bangs, he fights, he yaps, he explodes. Iginla is the precise example of hockey's combustible nature. Is there a nicer man with lesser pretense, but who would bite your ear off if you set him off, than Jarome Iginla? To look down at Iggy's name will provide me with power and perseverance. Long off the tee, precise iron play and a finishing touch. For all you GMs who were apprehensive of giving up this or that to finish a deal involving Iginla -- you blew it. He has catapulted himself to the top of the NHL captains list. He would be my captain on Canada's 2006 Olympic Team.

  • No. 25, Keith Primeau
    Primeau and I have a few things in common. We're both tall guys who are late bloomers. Looking down at Primeau on my ball would remind me that first impressions are not important. Lasting ones are. It's how much you improve and, in the end, finish. Primeau was a playoff flop entering this postseason. A comically overpaid tool. Now, he is the Conn Smythe winner if the Flyers win the Stanley Cup. Big guys always bloom later because there is more to bloom. This will happen to Joe Thornton soon. One day and -- blam! -- he'll win the Art Ross, Hart, Conn Smythe and Stanley Cup just like that. Are the Bruins wise enough to realize this? Or will he win all of those awards in Detroit?

  • Coach, John Tortorella
    One way athletes from the U.S. differ from Canadian athletes, specifically hockey players, is that Canadian hockey players call their coaches by their first names, while U.S. athletes call their coaches "coach." For life.

    If I saw Coach Bahen, my high school coach, tomorrow at Jiffy Lube, I'd call him "coach." I couldn't physically get the word "Greg," his first name, out of my mouth. It would be a physiological impossibility. Personally, I have such a reverence and respect for coaches that I call all coaches "coach." If Steve Yzerman ran into Scotty Bowman at the X Games this summer, he'd call him "Scotty."

    In some ways, that's probably healthier than my philosophy. However, good coaching fascinates me and moves me. I covered the New England Patriots for a couple of seasons while working in Providence, R.I., and I loved sitting in on a Bill Parcells news conference. It was pure, free entertainment.

    John Tortorella is my guy right now. I want to sit in on his media briefings. I like how he talks, his accent, his inflections, his vocabulary, and his coaching. And he looks like the Fonz. And who doesn't like the Fonz? Coolest guy in TV history. Plus, Tortorella has those kinds of eyes that are hiding about 1,000 stories. That man has layers and layers of stuff going on. Just a hunch. I've never put a coach on my golf ball. But seeing "Torts" name on there would make me want to play for him. I like having a coach to play for.

  • No. 19, Marco Sturm

    I miss Marco Sturm. I miss that gigantic, electric smile after he scores a goal. I miss that speed that advertises how much joy skating brings him and how much he loves the game. I reckon the Sharks miss that, too. This team doesn't seem to have a dominant leader, which can be a good thing. Andrew Brunette of the Minnesota Wild told us in this space last year that the democracy of the Wild dressing room made for a loose, harmonious setting. No cliques. High comfort level. San Jose is probably a lot like Minnesota in that regard. But there will come a time when a team needs a personality to ride. I've picked the Sharks the whole way so far. Over the Blues, Avs and Flames. But if they get to the final, I think they would fall short without Sturm. If I put him on my Titleist, I'll think of the childlike joy his game brings him. And that's what I'll need on Thursday.

    Joy. Like most folk, I perform better when happy and excited.

    To review:

    Iginla: Power, perseverance, will. A nice guy can play like a killer.

    Primeau: Past performance is not an indicator of future performance. Humans are sometimes like the stock market.

    Tortorella: Attention to detail, relentlessness, have a plan and stick to it. Cool as a Zamboni.

    Sturm: Enthusiasm, joy, a pulse.

    Stay Tuned.

    When did Henry Winkler start coaching the Tampa Bay Lightning?


    First of all, put your hands together for Honduras, ladies and gentlemen. Honduras of the past was a turbulent country, wrought with corruption. Honduras today, however, is entirely different. Honduras is a democracy, led by a popularly elected president, Ricardo Maduro. President Maduro and his 13 cabinet ministers have worked tirelessly to fight crime and turn Honduras into a safe and welcoming country. Their success is everyone's reward, as the beauty of Honduras can now be enjoyed by people throughout the world.

    Henry Winkler began coaching the Bolts on January 6, 2001. He has yet to jump the shark as an NHL head coach, although he might in the Stanley Cup final. Just think, if the Fonz was from Sarnia, Ontario, he'd say, "Heyyyyy, ehhhhhh?"

    Finally, someone who believes what I believe. I've been crying doom since the day the Avs traded Chris Drury and told everyone I know that they wouldn't win another Cup without him. Thank you for confirming me, oh sage one.

    Laguna Beach, Calif.

    Chris and the U.S. boys will shock the world and win the World Cup this summer. Hockey God has won one of just about everything. His biggest championship obstacle he has yet to overcome has been winning the annual Stratego Tournament at the Ohio State Fair.

    I'm sure that most every diehard Red Wings fan breathed a sigh of relief the day the detestable Colorado Avalanche traded away Chris Drury. They had two players who devoured my beloved Red Wings, Adam Deadmarsh and Drury, and they got rid of them both. The Avs deserve to be cursed.

    Jim (Doc) Fahlstedt
    Red Wings fan since 1946

    Bonjour Jean...
    I don't mean to in any way subvert your column but I was wondering if it would be appropriate for me to try to reach one of your readers -- Dominic Simard, the guy who mows the grass over Georges Vezina's grave -- via your column? If so, I suppose the message would simply be: Would reader Dominic Simard of Chicoutimi, P.Q. please contact writer Jack Falla at: Jfallaomni@yahoo.com (Jack wants to do an interview with you).

    Jack Falla

    If anyone can help the best hockey writer in the world, please give Dominic a heads up.

    In the name of merchandising and spreading the word for hockey, if there's a team named "Mulletmen," I will buy a jersey.

    Los Angeles

    I am pleading with the suits at Adirondack to secure the name Mulletmen. I need your help. Please, all of you. We must make this happen. We have to have Mulletmen memorabilia! Am I the only one who can see this?!! The importance of this can never be overstated.

    Foreign Language Dork checking in again, trying to keep you ahead of the language curve. It's the Sharks' goalie's first name. Most everyone gets reasonably close to getting "Nabokov" (na-BOH-kav), but most of them mess up "Evgeni," which is largely because the transliteration is too scholarly. That first letter represents the Russian letter E, which is actually pronounced "ye." So, his first name is better spelled "Yevgeni" (yev-GAY-knee) in English. And should always be pronounced with the "ye" at the beginning. So just FYI. Oh, and if you wanna be Russo-cool, you can call him by the diminutive of Yevgeni, which is Zhenya (ZHAYN-yah). And his birthplace, Kamenogorsk is "kah-meen-o-GORSK." (In what's today KAHZ-ahk-stahn.) Just babbling at length about Russian for some reason.

    Keep your stick on the ice,
    Bill Walsh

    I love stuff like this. Keep them coming, Bill. And great job with Montana and Rice.

    I recently came home from a men's league game only to find my wife in bed ... watching hockey. It was one of my most glorious moments, only to be ruined by a phone call from a friend saying that his wife no longer wants him to play hockey with us, as he needs to spend more time with her. Do you have any advice as to how we can help him fill out his jock strap once again?

    J. Platt

    When a question like this comes back, I always revert to the very first e-mail bag in the history of this column, Nov. 25, 2001: The girl of your dreams would never take you away from hockey. She would feed you one-timers on Lake Ontario 'til her arms fell off. Adhere.

    Dear Mr. Buccigross,
    I just wanted to write you and ask if anyone else has noticed this. Both captains in the East finals wear 25, and in the West, both wear 12. I know this isn't monumentally earth shattering, but I figured this would be one of those dumb facts those sideline reporters would throw into a game, and they have yet to do so.

    Adam Jones

    I've already stolen it on NHL 2Night, Adam. Thanks, bro.

    John --
    While watching the conference finals with some friends, we got to wondering whether this was the first time that none of the final four goalies is a Canadian. Some cursory research showed that, not only is this the first time for that, we could only find one time that neither of the two Cup finals goalies was a Canadian -- Dominik Hasek and Arturs Irbe in 2002. And while Canadians have always made up the largest percentage of players in the league, we still find this an interesting, maybe even amazing, bit of information. Then again, maybe it's a good thing that the international nature of the netminders isn't that big of a deal.

    Ostrander, Ohio

    It's a great example that we should always look at our prejudices and uneasiness over certain things and peoples and try to think ahead of the pack. There was a time where European goalies were simply viewed as inferior and lacking in the proper attributes. There is still a slight anti-European bias in the NHL, but it continues to wane.

    Hey John,
    Just started reading your column (I'm working my way through the archives) and I can't tell you how enjoyable I find it. My wife and I just had a baby and despite the fact that we're both hockey players, we didn't realize you provided a baby naming service. As such, we went with Emily Stevenson (wife's maiden name) McWhirter, which I've shortened to Emmy. She cried when the Leafs lost to Philly and we're hoping she'll be wearing a Team Canada jersey one day. In any case, we will be trying for a second child soon and wondered if you could provide us with a name for a boy and a girl?

    Be well and keep your stick on the ice,
    Adam McWhirter
    Newmarket, Ontario

    Girl: Wendy Katherine McWhirter. Boy: Horton Evan McWhirter

    John Buccigross is the host of NHL 2Night, which airs on ESPN2. His e-mail address -- for questions, comments or cross-checks -- is john.buccigross@espn.com.