As the clock ticks down on another calendar year, it is time for a little reflection on the hockey memories that remain indelibly etched in our memory banks.
Let's start with Winter Classic Part 3 in Boston: great event, pretty good hockey game with a nice ending, at least for Bruins fans. The best part was that the rink at Fenway Park got a good workout with charity events and college games and embraced what the Winter Classic should be about -- the community sharing in the game on a special stage.
The Olympics, of course, remain a highlight of 2010.
So much buildup for the Games in Vancouver, yet there was never a sense of letdown or disappointment. With GM Brian Burke riding shotgun on the U.S. team in spite of the death of his son Brendan in a car accident a few weeks before the start of the Olympic tournament, the plucky Americans provided the most compelling storyline of the men's tournament. Despite Burke's repeated mantra that there wouldn't be a nickel bet on the U.S. in Las Vegas, the inspired, young squad took favored Canada to overtime in the gold-medal game.
It was hard to beat the atmosphere in the rink that afternoon as the teams came out for the warm-up. A cliché, but it was one of those games you wished could go on forever. Of course, it didn't go on forever, thanks to the exploits of Sidney Crosby, who continues to push himself towards the ranks of the greatest of all time with his penchant for the dramatic.
My favorite Olympic memory off the ice, apart from stuffing bits of cheese and pepperoni in my colleague Pierre LeBrun's shoes every other night, was watching Wayne Gretzky lighting the Olympic torch and thousands of fans streaming onto the streets of downtown Vancouver hoping to catch a glimpse of Gretzky carrying the torch to its outdoor location. At one point, some dude from Australia who was doing catering for NBC and I were literally the only ones in a downtown eatery that had been packed to the rafters moments before.
One of the best parts of the Olympics and 2010? No All-Star Game. No such luck in 2011.
Thanks to Air Canada, I spent the trade deadline working in LeBrun's dining room with our boss, Joy Russo. Classic, even though the deadline failed to provide a jaw-dropping moment.
I still recall the night Ilya Kovalchuk was traded to New Jersey not long before the Olympics. Who knew that moment would change two franchises' fortunes so dramatically with the Devils in chaos at the bottom of the NHL standings as 2010 draws to a close and the Thrashers making a bid for just their second playoff berth? Be careful what you wish for, no?
The Kovalchuk saga extended long into the offseason with the Devils' initial contract offering being rejected by the NHL and the team then being sanctioned by the league with the loss of two draft picks and a $3 million fine for trying to circumvent the salary cap. Some would argue actually having Kovalchuk under contract for the next 14 1/2 years is punishment enough. But I digress.
This past year gave us a chance to visit Phoenix and spend some time with Dave Tippett, who would go on to win his first Jack Adams Award as coach of the year, and the rest of his fine coaching staff. Tippett and the rest of the Coyotes need not worry anymore about where their hockey home will be: For better or worse, Matthew Hulsizer is poised to buy the team from the NHL in the coming days and try to make a go of things in the desert.
As always, the playoffs provided some of the most compelling moments of the calendar year.
In no specific order, we think of Washington's colossal collapse against Montreal, a collapse made more ironic after having witnessed Alex Ovechkin making sport of playoff hero Jaroslav Halak early in that series.
There was the terrific Phoenix-Detroit series that went seven games. Dan Boyle scoring on his own goal and then scoring for San Jose to open the next game of the series against Colorado.
Of course, there was Boston's epic choke job against Philadelphia: The Bruins' blowing a 3-0 series lead and a 3-0 first-period lead in Game 7 was one for the ages.
I loved the vibrancy of the two dressing rooms in the Cup finals with Chris Pronger stealing pucks and Ian Laperriere opening his heart every day in the Flyers' locker room, while Dave Bolland and the rest of the youthful Hawks enjoyed the ride to the max.
The playoff marathon came to a fitting end when hero Patrick Kane scored from an impossible angle in overtime of Game 6 to give the Hawks their first Stanley Cup championship since 1961. Remember that moment when no one except Kane and Flyers netminder Michael Leighton seemed certain of what had happened before the Chicago bench erupted?
Personally, sitting with Hawks owner Rocky Wirtz during part of Game 2 of the finals was a window into the dramatic reversal of fortune for the once-beleaguered Blackhawks franchise.
As always, I spent a few days with the Cup during the summer and had a chance to see Kane stranded atop a firetruck ladder in downtown Buffalo. Also, I had a chance to see an emotional Kane talking about taking the Cup to a cancer clinic, a stark contrast to the party-boy reputation he's earned in his short NHL career.
Outside of the Kovalchuk saga, the most interesting offseason move was the surprise trade of Halak to St. Louis. Habs fans were frothing at the mouth until Carey Price calmed the waters through the first third of this NHL season with exemplary play on the ice and maturity off the ice.
For the first time since the NHL began its Premier Games in Europe in the fall of 2007, we stayed home and instead jetted around the NHL during training camp. I had a chance to stop in Tampa, where new GM Steve Yzerman had an immediate impact in restoring faith in the former Cup champs. His hiring of Guy Boucher stands right now as his most important, most successful move as the Lightning hit the end of the calendar year atop the Southeast Division.
Later, I got a chance to spend some time with the Lightning's dynamic duo of Steves: Downie and Stamkos. Although Downie has been injured with a high-ankle sprain, they look to be ready to take the Lightning back to the playoffs.
We also managed to stop in for the opening of the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh. Trust us, we shed no tears for the move across the street from tired old Mellon Arena.
The first 35 or so games of this season have provided no shortage of memories, including Crosby's current 24-game points streak and Marc Savard's return from concussion-related issues. Savard was kind enough to share his story of trying to overcome concussion-related depression and remind us that sometimes athletes' actions and words resonate far beyond the playing surface.
Here's hoping for more indelible images in 2011. I have no doubt they are out there.
Happy new year.