John Buccigross

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Monday, December 3
Crowning the lords of the rings

By John Buccigross
Special to

Paul Henderson.

For those of you raised in the United States, or Sweden, or Belize, that name likely means nothing.

You, the U.S. reader, might surmise Paul Henderson is Florence Henderson's rodeo clown uncle, or the baptism name of Biff Henderson on the David Letterman Show.

You, the Belize reader, are likely surmising, "I meant to type in 'beach grass' on, not Buccigross."

Which is better than "booger-sauce," which is what I got called as a kid.

But, for you, the Canadian reader, the name Paul Henderson makes you want to drink a case of Blue, strip naked, and run through the streets of Mississauga, Ontario, singing an Oh Canada/Tragically Hip/Rush medley.

On Sept. 28, 1972, Paul Henderson scored one of the more important goals in Canadian hockey history. Many say THE most important. In the eighth and final game of the 1972 Summit Series, Henderson scored the winning goal with 34 seconds left to lift Canada to a 6-5 win over the Soviet Union. The subsequent celebration was massive and country wide.

Canada is constructed much like the United States. The maritime provinces are made up of tough, independent people, much like the Northeastern part of the U.S. Move westward to Ontario, and you are in northern Ohio. Kind, friendly, family-oriented people with a strong sense of community and simplicity. Out west, you have farm land for miles, where farmhands like Barry Melrose knew nothing but days of long, hard work, and demanding parents and grandparents. British Columbia makes up the left coast of Canada. Breathtakingly beautiful and environmentally conscious. Quebec is truly a country to itself that we'll address another time.

The difference between the U.S. and Canada? Well, about 245 million people to start. Canada's population of just over 30 million truly gives it one big Ohio feel. Regional rivalries exist, but the population is small enough and similar enough to share a thread. For Ohio, it's football. For Canada, it's hockey, which even binds it with Quebec. And in an Olympic year, that thread is as taut as the tug-of-war rope at the 1977 Battle of the Network Stars. The upcoming Winter Olympics in Utah means much to Canada's hockey self esteem. Which is why so much angst surrounds the player selection process, headed by Wayne Gretzky.

Meanwhile, USA head coach Herb Brooks moves quietly in the night, scouting U.S.-born NHL players and hoping he can repeat his country's signature hockey moment, achieved less than eight years after Henderson's, on a cold, February day in Lake Placid in 1980.

Both USA Hockey and the Canadian Hockey Association have difficult decisions to make. So, Wayne, Herb, relax, I'll take care of it.

  • Here are your Olympic teams, line by line.

    The case for No. 8
    HIT THE ICE by Michael Fischer
    TOONS ON ICE Hockey (
    Cam Neely.

    They were, and thus forever will be, the first words I typed as an ESPN.columnist. I wanted to wait a while until I gave my "Cam Neely belongs in the Hall of Fame" rant, but your e-mail response has been so great, I decided to get it off my chest. So, here we go.

    First off, I don't know Neely personally and I'm sure he doesn't know who I am AT ALL. The only thing we have in common is our middle names (Michael) and our ages. He is seven and a half months older than me. So, while we are peers of age, we have no personal relationship that would affect the following thesis:

    It is absolutely and unequivocally disgraceful that Cam Neely is not in the Hockey Hall of Fame. I have been a sports fan since birth, and nothing gets me as riled up as the Neely argument. Then again, it's not even an argument! There is no rational thought that could possibly be presented that could dispute that Neely should have been inducted as soon as he became eligible.

    The goals: 395 goals in 726 games. Even if Neely retired a healthy man at 31 to pursue a life of mastering the sitar, he is Hall-of-Fame worthy. In the 1993-94 season, No. 8 scored his 50th goal in game No. 44. Only No. 99 reached No. 50 quicker. From the 1989-90 season through 1993-94, Neely scored 176 goals in 216 games!!

    Estimating on the side of conservatism, I project that without the massive injuries that Neely began to suffer after the Ulf Samuelsson hit in the 1991 playoffs, he would be entering this season, 28 goals shy of 700 as a 36-year-old. That is giving him just 30 goals the past three seasons, and 40 goals in the 1996-97 and 1997-98 seasons. More realistically, he would likely have entered this year with more than 700 career tallies. Add in the explosion of sophisticated weight training that took place in the mid to late 1990s, and the introduction of supplements like creatine, Neely, if he wanted, could have played well until he was 40. If he had done that, he would have reached 800 goals.

    But what makes Neely so fascinating, is he was so much more than goal scoring. Did you ever see him lose a fight? He had a ferocious left hand and a look on his face, as he fought, as if he were attempting to put his fist through the skull of his opponent. Talk about the passion!

    Was there a better bodychecker of his time? They were pulverizing. Punishing and game-changing. Who body checks like that nowadays?

    He was a relentless forechecker. With the threat of his bodychecking reputation in the mind of the defenseman, Neely would swoop into the opponents end, sometimes leaning down and placing his stick on the ice to take away a passing lane, while still moving at top speed. In his 524 games as a Bruin he was a plus-140. In his ten seasons in Boston, he was never a minus.

    That would be enough to place Neely among the all-time greats. If not on the all-time first line at right wing, certainly, line number two. But the bow on his hockey gift seals the package. It's HOW HE PLAYED THE GAME: Passion, grit, courage and honor. No diving, no grandstanding, no loafing, no cheating. It's how we want our kids to play and how we want our current stable of NHL players to play. I assume, it's how we want our prospective Hall of Famers, who have the numbers, to play the game.

    Let's be real. Anyone associated with the NHL who doesn't nominate or vote Cam Neely for Hall of Fame induction, is an ass.

    The Great Eight
    Mark Parrish (right) leads the Islanders in goals, but trails Eric Cairns in the hair department.
    Eight questions for Islanders winger Mark Parrish:

    No. 1: How did your parents influence your hockey career?
    My parents were fun. My mom and dad were different styles of teachers. My dad would tape my hands and gloves if I didn't hold on to my stick, and my mom would play goalie for me. I first went on the ice when I was three and started playing hockey when I was five.

    No. 2: What was it like playing hockey in Minnesota, where you were raised? Parrish: I played for Bloomington Jefferson High School and we won three state titles. It was pretty big for a Minnesotan to get a Division I scholarship. A lot of my friends were athletes in other sports. Baseball was actually my first love.

    No. 3: You scored 17 goals in 70 games last year. Was your confidence ever shaken?
    There was a point at the end of last year that I seemed to get a million scoring chances and I COULD NOT SCORE.

    No. 4: Who is the Islander deejay and what does he play?
    Dave Scatchard. He loves Nickleback, but every game before we go out we listen to "Family Affair" by Mary J. Blige. We play it after we win as well. When the season started, we we're hearing it every day.

    No. 5: On a scale from 1-10, rate your enthusiasm for golf?
    I'd have to say 9 1/2. My handicap is about 10 or 11. My average day in the summer is to wake up, watch a little TV, relax, work out in the early afternoon, play golf with some friends, hang out at my cabin and lay in my hammock.

    No. 6: What's the strangest autograph request you've received?
    Me and my friends were huge Dino Ciccarelli fans and a buddy of mine wanted his athletic supporter and wanted it signed. There was no way I going to retrieve it and NO WAY I was going to get it signed.

    No. 7: Are you a movie guy?
    Oh, yes. I want to see Harry Potter. I read all four of the books. I started reading one and got hooked. It's amazing a children's book could hook an adult.

    I guess you haven't read Pamela Anderon's pictorial autobiography.

    No. 8: Do you have the best hair on the team?
    There is a hair competition, but I'd give it to Eric Cairns. He works at it the hardest. Michael Peca walked in the locker room in Pittsburgh and he saw six or seven guys doing their hair, and he just shook his head and laughed. We are a hair conscious team and we get on anyone having a bad hair day.

    What's up with...
    There are two of Keith Jones. One is the witty, class clown. The other is the perceptive soul that sees the world and takes things as they come. Some of that perspective came at 14, when his brother was hit and killed by a train.

    Keith Jones
    Keith Jones wishes his knees would allow a few more laps on the ice.
    Whether on or off ice, Keith Jones learned how to play the game. His feel for the game of life served him well in the NHL, and it will serve him well off it, now that he is retired at age 33 after multiple knee operations became no laughing matter and forced him out of the game.

    Jones currently lives in New Jersey with his wife and daughter and works for Comcast Cable commenting on the Flyers post game show. I played golf with Keith a few times in the spring and every time it was one of my favorite rounds of the year. Like Ty Webb, he doesn't keep score. Like Judge Smales, he talks on his back swing.

    In 491 games, he scored 117 goals for the Capitals, Avalanche and Flyers. Like Wayne Gretzky, he is from Brantford, Ontario.

    The knee: "It's still sore. My femur runs into my kneecap and I can't exercise it to strengthen my quad. My only exercise is walking the dogs. I'd like to have a knee replacement now for quality of life purposes. Plus, if I'm walking across the street and a car is heading at me, I'd like to give myself a chance to get out of the way!"

    Adjusting to an abrupt retirement: "When you have a lingering injury it is a relief to retire. You get tired of going to the rink and going through all the treatment and things you need to do just to get ready for the next game and starting all over again right after the game ends "

    On his television career: "It's is tougher than it looks. When you're a player, your hair is messed up and you have emotion from the game that just ended, but it's difficult to take that and go on TV. Just because you interview well, doesn't mean you'll be good as an analyst. But, I'm doing better now, just relaxing and talking hockey."

    Tricks of the trade: "A few times I did this: If our goalie was pulled, and I was lined up next to a defenseman along the boards in the opponent's end, just as the official dropped the puck I would step on the defenseman's stick and break it, so our six-on-five became a six-on-four-and-a-half."

    Funniest moment on the ice: "In Boston, I kept dropping my stick. After about the fifth time, I grabbed Anson Carter's twig, who was defending me closely at the time. Only problem is, he's a right-handed shot and I'm a lefty. So, I'm handling the puck all around the Bruins zone with Carter's right-handed stick. He then goes and picks up mine. When the whistle blew, I skated to center ice and dropped Carter's stick on the opening faceoff dot and skated to the bench. Ray Bourque was laughing and looking at me like I had two heads."

    Weirdest goal: "In Colorado, Edmonton pulled their goalie. I was defending the right point. The slap shot was taken and I went down to block it. The puck hit my shin guard square and went all the way down the other end of the ice in the middle of Edmonton's net for a goal. Right in the middle. If it was Score-O I would have won a Buick. I was traded two weeks later."

    Pet Peeve with NHL: "No real good rivalries like Colorado-Detroit of a couple years ago. With expansion, small-market moves dealing away good players in big trades, and free agency, you end up with lots of friends on other teams. Everybody knows everybody."

    Urge to play?: "I don't have to play in the NHL. If I had one wish it would be to play with my buddies in Brantford. Every Tuesday in the summer, we would grab a case of beer and just go play. I would love to do that, or play in Flyer alumni games, but my knee won't let me do it."

    Ween is Aaron Freeman and Mickey Melchiondo. They have released eight CDs and their ninth will be out next April. Last week, I took my Ween collection of CDs, jumped in the car, and drove to Philly to sit with Mickey for the Flyers game against the Canucks. As we were about to enter the row to our seats, I notice this attractive woman is looking at me like she knows who I am.

    Dean Ween
    Mickey Melchiondo can play the guitar. Playing goal for the Flyers is a different matter.
    "She must be an NHL2Night fan," I say proudly and confidently in my slowly bloating head. "Now, that's the kind of fan base I was hoping for."

    As I make my way towards the woman, who would turn out to be Mrs. Eric Weinrich, she says: "Are you Trevor Linden's brother?"

    Sa-wing batta!!!!

    Melchiondo, Ween's guitarist, is as big a hockey fan you will find. His family has had season tickets dating back to the Flyers' glory years in the Spectrum. Like most Flyers fans in their early 30's, Melchiondo's biggest recollection is Bobby Clarke's toothless Stanley Cup grin.

    "My mom is Canadian and I was playing hockey when I was four or five," said Melchiondo. "I switched to goaltender when I was six and spent every summer at a hockey camp in Winnipeg or northern Minnesota. I played for the Little Flyers. Mike Richter was a year or two older than me, so every other year I would sit the bench. I played against Jeremy Roenick who played for the Little Capitals. It was a real big deal. That's what I was going to do with my life. But, then I got cut from the Flyers. There was no way I was going to back to the local rink. I had a decision to make and decided to burn out!"

    And thus, Ween was born in 1984 when Melchiondo met Aaron Freeman in the eighth grade. Seventeen years and eight CDs later, they are still together. If you watch the FOX sitcom "Grounded for Life," the theme song and music throughout the show is courtesy of Ween. The Philadelphia duo also wrote a song for the "SpongeBob SquarePants" CD.

    Melchiondo's CD and record collection is massive. Over 10,000 strong, including novelty records the Flyers produced in the 70's like Dave Schultz's "Penalty Box." His favorite all time Flyers are Bill Barber and Rod Brind'Amour.

    "As many games as I've watched, they both laid it out every single shift on every single night," says Melchiondo. "You see that in Recchi now, too."

    Melchiondo, who splits his season tickets with family members, attends about 10-12 regular-season Flyers games a year and all the playoff games. He is an overall sports nut and puts much of his sports rage on Ween's website.

    "I have this reoccurring nightmare. An actual dream that I actually have from time to time," Melchiondo said during the second intermission. "I have a dream where there is an emergency I have to play goal for the Flyers."

    How good are you? I ask.

    "I suck."

    E-mail bag
    The Patrick Roy cartoon last week looked very familiar. I think the Rangers-Colorado game comes to mind. I thoroughly enjoyed that as my feelings for Patrick Roy rank down there with intestinal flu and Jackal.
    Lexington, Ky.

    The band Jackyl, which produced such songs as "Redneck Punk" and "Cut the Crap?" (actual band, actual songs) or the the wild dog of Asia and northern Africa?

    I must respectfully point out a factual error in last week's "column." You stated: "The truth is stashed somewhere deep in Kerry Fraser's Vitalis-laden coif." I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Fraser at a San Jose watering hole and asked him point blank about his hair. His answer? "Paul Mitchell Freeze and Shine."
    Santa Clara, Calif.

    Freeze and Shine. That explains that Reed Larson slap shot back in '86 that went off Kerry's head and beat Mario Gosselin five hole. CUE WARREN ZEVON!!..."And his hair was perfect."

    If you are suggesting that Patrick Roy's stated reasons for eschewing Olympic competition are disingenuous, your are being consistent with your Hockey2Night persona...a jerk!
    Joe Bearson

    If Robert Esche eschewed cashews and shoes, would Moesha and Martin Brochu be shrewd and shuffle to Shropshire?

    I just read your commentary on Patrick Roy and the Olympic team. I think it was a load of crap.
    Michael Martz

    Phew! For a minute I thought that read LOAD OF CARP. Now that stinks!! Ask my cousin Ed Buccigross. He's the Wayne Gretzky of Buccigross fishermen.

    What is up with Peter Forsberg? The Denver sports world is reporting that he will be back Jan. 3. You are the hockey guru I trust the most and I don't believe anything until you say it. So, what do you say?
    Jennifer Lynn Peters

    The Denver sports world is also reporting Barry Melrose will leave ESPN for the cast of "Riverdance". Barry will kick his way across America in a lime green wrestling suit along side Bill Parcells, Bobby Knight, and Morley Safer. Forsberg is building a golf course with his dad in Sweden. My hunch is that Peter is not coming back this year. I hope I'm wrong.

    Please pass this to Barry for me. GROW THE STUPID GOATEE BACK. You're beginning to scare my three-year-old daughter who happens to love hockey. She's starting to run off during intermissions!
    Jonno Jordan
    Ft. Knox, Ky.

    She and the rest of America. Martin Mullet strikes again.

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

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