John Buccigross

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Monday, December 10
 
The common bond of blood, sweat and tears

By John Buccigross
Special to ESPN.com

When I replay my childhood images of the NHL in my mind, the scenes are always Gothic. Most of that stems from the photographs in my small childhood collection of hockey books given to me at Christmas by mom and dad.

WTC
Cleanup and recovery efforts of the remains of Tower One, right, of The World Trade Center continue three months later.
The pictures in my old-time hockey books were of big, 15th century-like, dimly lit cathedrals with helmet-less gladiators streaming blood, sweat and sometimes tears. The giant cumbersome scoreboards with the analog clocks, for some reason, frightened me. Those scoreboards seemed implausible and implausible things scared me. It was all a perfect setting for a Smashing Pumpkins "Tonight, Tonight" video.

Black and white pictures of Maple Leaf Gardens, The Forum, or Boston Garden were part haunted house, part church. When I walked into St. Bernard's for Sunday Mass in Indiana, Pa., I felt like I was in Chicago Stadium. There was a hovering organ belting out inspirational melodies, wooden seats, high ceilings and programs to help follow along with the passion play. I always linked churches and hockey arenas. Both had me on edge, bombarding my senses with imagery and tone.

The pictures in my hockey book did not look like fun. Players were bloody. Eyes were on fire. Desperation and sacrifice were on every page. A picture of Flyers goalie Doug Favell on his side, lifting his left pad up with all of his might trying to protect the upper reaches of his net, is burned in my mind 25 years later. Keith Magnuson, bare fisted and bleeding. Dave Keon, shaving the ice with a sudden stop. Every page mesmerized me.

Like the pictures in my hockey books, church was never fun. The predominant image walking through the doors was a crucified man in his thirties. The inside walls told the bloody story, with pictures, of how he got there. The mood was serious and somber. A consistent hum of prayer and song, read and sung, with missal prayer books. Desperation and sacrifice was on every page. The courage was mesmerizing.

As an adult, comparing a house of worship to a Lightning-Mighty Ducks game at The Pond is ludicrous. But, as a child of the 1970s with an imagination free from the invasion of video games, cable television and David Hasselhoff, there were no limits. No electronic neutral zone traps of the mind. Imagination flowed like river hockey in Ottawa, pond hockey in Minnesota, or bog hockey in Washington state and southeastern Massachusetts. Freedom to roam. The essence of the game.

Churches and hockey often get a bad wrap. Both have hundreds of movements that are hard to follow and leave many uninterested. But, if you strip down those hundreds of movements and the hundreds of pages outlining both, you reach the childlike conclusion that I found in my hockey books and my missal: In hockey, as in life, you will bleed. But, if you sacrifice, have passion, be courageous, have a vision, assist others, are relentless and finish your checks, you will come out on top. Even if you swear a little or rent "Me, Myself and Irene" on DVD.

This week marks the three-month anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the United States. If you go to your church of choice or to a hockey game, think for a moment the mesmerizing sacrifice of the firefighters, the passion of the rescue workers, the courage of the police, the vision of the passengers of United Flight 93 over Pennsylvania, the assists of the EMTs, the relentlessness of the citizens of New York City and the signatures with which Americans finished their millions of dollars worth of checks.

Mostly, think of the thousands and thousands of children who don't have a mom or dad or both to feel the joy of this season.

Or to buy them hockey books.



Each week will offer the top five current candidates for one of the top five NHL awards. This week: the Hart Memorial Trophy.

HIT THE ICE by Michael Fischer
TOONS ON ICE Hockey (www.toonsonice.com)
1. Mike Modano, Dallas Stars: I just think he is the best player in the game. He's the most valuable to his team, from ice time to faceoffs, defense, skating, wrist shot, slap shot and demeanor. He'll never win a scoring title in Dallas, and voters need to recognize that. I can't wait to watch him in the Olympics.

2. Jarome Iginla, Calgary Flames: About fifteen to twenty pounds lighter than Cam Neely was in his prime, but doing what Neely did -- scores, fights, hits, gets in front of the net. He's everything to this team. He needs help.

3. Joe Sakic, Colorado Avalanche: After a slow start, here comes Joe. He is flying. He misses Ray Bourque and Peter Forsberg on the power play. After scoring 46 power-play points last year, he's on pace for just over 30 this year. But, that should improve. Joe is my bet to win the scoring title.

4. Eric Lindros, N.Y. Rangers: If he plays 80 games he will finish in the top three in scoring -- and he isn't a bad bet to finish first. His team is way too up and down to think they can be a threat to advance deep into the playoffs, but he's a threat every night and gives his linemates lots of room to move.

5. Mats Sundin, Toronto Maple Leafs: He is the captain of the team that, as of now, has the best chance to reach the finals in the East. Most of his production has been at even strength, which shows the effectiveness of the line he centers. He's a perennial plus player, a good faceoff man, and is on pace for 100 penalty minutes this season. He is leading with lots of skill and a little bit of grit.

Next Week: the Vezina Trophy

The Hart Memorial Trophy is an annual award given to the player "judged to be the most valuable to his team." The winner is selected in a poll of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association in all NHL cities at the end of the regular season. The Hart Memorial Trophy was presented by the National Hockey League in 1960 after the original Hart Trophy was retired to the Hockey Hall of Fame. The original Hart Trophy was donated to the NHL in 1923 by Dr. David A. Hart, father of Cecil Hart, former manager-coach of the Montreal Canadiens.




Andrew Brunette may have been born in Sudbury, Ontario, but he is like any ordinary 28-year-old guy raised in the U.S. He loves baseball, "Bull Durham", Julia Roberts, and SportsCenter.

Andrew Brunette
Andrew Brunette leads the Wild and is second in the NHL with 21 assists.
Last season in Atlanta, he was part of one of the better lines in the league with Ray Ferraro and Donald Audette. Yet, in one of the oddest personnel decisions of the year, the line was obliterated. Atlanta chose not to pay Audette the three million a year or so he wanted and traded him to Buffalo. Then, in the offseason, the Thrashers chose not pay Brunette the league's average salary in a multiyear deal. So, he signed with Minnesota. Meanwhile, Chicken Parm remains in Atlanta playing his last year in the NHL trying to figure out what Lubos Bartecko is going to do whenever he gets the puck.

While Wild second-year man Marian Gaborik is learning and experiencing how to win, Thrashers rookies Dany Heatley and Ilya Kovalchuk are learning how to lose -- at a savings of about 2-3 million dollars a year for a team owned by Turner.

Here's all you need to know about Bruno: His points total has increased in each of his previous six seasons in the NHL -- 6, 11, 23, 31, 50, 59. This year, he is on pace for 85 points -- on an average NHL salary.

No. 1: What was your reaction when Atlanta broke up the Brunette-Ferraro-Audette line?
Brunette:
Definitely disappointed, but, not surprised. I thought we were a good building block. With us as the first line and Heatley and Kovalchuk on the second line, I though we would really be on our way to compete for a playoff spot.

No. 2: Why is Jacques Lemaire successful as a coach?
Brunette:
Nothing gets by him. He's on top of what everyone is doing on the ice. He has us believing in the system and all twenty guys play that system or GUYS DON'T PLAY. It doesn't matter who you are. If you don't play the way he wants, you don't play.

No. 3: You have been among the league leaders in assists, leading the league from time to time. Why are you having a career year?
Brunette:
The power play has really clicked. However, I feel like I'm playing the same way I've always played. I had 100 assists one year in junior hockey, so I've always been a decent passer.

No. 4: Minnesota is your fourth NHL city to play in, but, your first pure hockey town. What's the difference?
Brunette:
When you come to the rink, you know that the people who are in their seats understand the game. I think our building is the best in the league and the fans have been awesome. They know when you are giving a good effort. If I run into someone on the street they know who the Minnesota Wild is. That hasn't been true at other expansion places I've played.

No. 5: What do you watch on TV?
Brunette:
I'm a SportsCenter guy from eight to noon. I'm a huge baseball fan as well. I root for the Blue Jays. If there isn't a game on TV, I'm not watching TV. I'm just an average sports nut. My biggest sports fantasy is to take a summer and visit every ballpark, but not in a 1975 red Volkswagen van.

No. 6: Explain what happened when Jeff Odgers ran over your car last season?
Brunette:
Anyone who knows Jeff Odgers knows he doesn't turn his head real well.

Neck issues.

Last season, a bunch of us were looking for parking spots at the airport. I was in my little Volvo sports coupe and Odgers was in his Ford 850 or whatever it is. It's BIG. All of the sudden, Odgers passes a parking spot, slams on the breaks, and throws it in reverse. One problem -- he doesn't turn around -- BECAUSE HE CAN'T. Neck issues. He floors the Ford 950 (the truck is getting bigger) and rides up the front of my little wee Volvo. He must have thought it was a speed bump, because HE FLOORED IT AGAIN! His back wheels were almost on my dashboard. I thought I was dead!

No. 7: What's the music of choice in the Wild locker room?
Brunette:
Sometimes Matt Johnson gets a hold of the CD player and plays something really loud and undiscerning and everyone leaves the room. I'd say Pearl Jam Live is played the most. Then again, it's the only CD we have.

No. 8: In the moments last season when you and Chicken Parm were in the penalty box at the same time, what would be the topic of conversation?
Brunette:
My only hope was someone would bite and get on Ray. I think there are times on the road when he takes penalties on purpose to get to the box and let off some steam by screaming at rowdy fans. Ray has made many a section of fans laugh at his comebacks to fans that heckle him. One of his favorite tactics is telling some beered-up fan his wife looks like Barry Melrose -- when Barry had the facial hair.




On February 7, 1993, John Vanbiesbrouck's life, as he knew it, ended. That was the day his brother ended his own life. Frank Vanbiesbrouck, who was in and out of mental institutions, was dead at age 36. The big brother he watched play goalie growing up in Michigan could not be saved from the demons that haunted him, yet the experience "saved" John.

John Vanbiesbrouck
John Vanbiesbrouck finished his career with 372 wins in 877 games.
As the Devils and Avalanche prepared for Game 7 of last June's Stanley Cup finals, the "Beezer" knew it would be his last game in the NHL. He won a Vezina while with the Rangers in 1986, and started for a Stanley Cup finalist with the Panthers ten years later, but never had he lifted the Cup as a champion. Even so, after 877 games and 372 NHL wins, Vanbiesbrouck was at peace with retirement.

At the time, he didn't realize he was about to experience the second of Raymond Bourque's most defining moments. Vanbiesbrouck was the Rangers' goaltender on Dec. 3, 1987, Phil Esposito Night at Boston Garden, when Bourque handed Esposito the No. 7 off his back and unveiled No. 77.

After watching Bourque and the Avs raise the Cup in triumph, Vanbiesbrouck bowed his head and gave thanks for a 19-year career and prayed for a retirement as successful and fulfilling. Living on Long Island, he's off to a good start.

On his ownership of the Ontario Hockey League's Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds: "I played for the Greyhounds in 1979, '80, and '81, and my wife is from Sault Ste. Marie. I had joked about buying the team for years. After meeting some people, and having the opportunity arise, we bought the team last July. Craig Hartsburg also had a group interested and when they accepted our bid, I called Craig right away to apologize and to offer him the head coaching job. Later that day, he accepted. It's worked well. My involvement is a weekly phone call and an occasional visit."

On building a golf course that opens this spring in Sault Ste. Marie: "The golf course is going to be a beauty. It measures 6,900 yards. It has some neat elevation changes and rolling hills. I'm the owner along with several partners. I'm an architect's worst nightmare, always putting my two cents in."

Golf handicap: "6. Best round is a 71. No hole-in-ones, yet. Playing Pine Valley and a few holes with Jack Nicklaus while playing in Florida are two of my most special golfing moments. I played some with Bernard Langer, too.

What he misses most about the game: "I miss the guys and the locker room, but, I really miss the competition. I'm not competing on a daily basis and not preparing for that has been an adjustment. Your metabolism changes and you have tons of time you never had before. It's great when you have a family, but what you miss most is just playing the game."

What he misses least about the game: "Everything else. A lot of days seemed like Groundhog Day. Put your uniform on in a different city. Same hotel rooms. Same things on the television. You become immune to a lot of it."

Daily routine: "Get up with the kids. They are 13, 11, 9 and 1. Make them some breakfast, share some time together. Then I do some back exercises to try to keep my back strengthened. I've had some weakness in that area. Call up on the Greyhounds and the golf course and see how they are doing. And I'm actually into working with a company called Play Pro Management and managing some hockey players and see if we can guide them a little bit, acting as a consultant."

Any wants: "I've given some thought to running an NHL team, but, that takes a toll on family time. There's nothing that i really need, other than to shoot 68 on a golf course. I really want that."

Labor scenario as the expiration of the CBA in 2004 approaches: "What will happen, without a doubt, is that it will go to the final hour. The cake hasn't baked yet. People are not communicating along those lines and, until a deadline, it won't happen. The dynamics of the game change so quickly. It would take ownership to spearhead a consulting group of ex-players, alumni and Hall of Famers to see where they really need to go. Because there isn't a player who plays that doesn't care about how much ownership makes, and if they are failing they want to try to help."

The state of the game: "The state of the game is very poor. Every game seems the same. The rules are kind of straightened out. There is no more of that crease crap. But the state of the game has taken on a pretty placid state. The moving around of players hurts the fans relationship with players. The game is overcoached and micromanaged to the point everybody becomes a mannequin. Playmaking ability is at an all time low. They found a wrinkle in the game thorough a tactical coaching situation that has clogged the middle of the ice. I don't see a need for the red line anymore. I've watched a lot of college hockey and I like to see a guy make a long pass and spring a guy free. That's an element of the game that's not there anymore."




Well, last week's Cam Neely rant caused quite an explosion in the ol' In-box from sea to shining sea. Percentage supporting Neely: 98. Against: 2.

John,
Preach on brother! Cam should be in the Hall of Fame. He was what every player should strive to become. It would be criminal if he is not voted in.
Chris Wallick,
Carlsbad, Calif.

John,
50 goals in 44 games! It is a disgrace that Neely isn't in. Let alone his role of "Seabass" in "Dumb and Dumber." He wasn't a problem with the league's disciplinary committee. His charity contributions are second to none. Neely did his job with grace and respected the game of hockey. Along with his offensive numbers, that should punch his ticket to the Hall of Fame.
Michael Alexander
Seekonk, Mass.

Officer Seabass in "Me, Myself and Irene" was particularly riveting.

John,
They don't make 'em like Neely anymore. His game-clinching goal against Montreal in 1988 was awesome -- jumped over the sprawling Montreal defender, skated 150 feet, and buried the puck top shelf where daddy keeps the Remy-Martin past Patrick Roy. Ending nearly fifty years of Bruin agony in the playoffs was quite sweet.
Sean Kelly

John,
I am 21 years old and fondly remember going to the Boston Garden and watching the Bruins play real hockey. Although his hockey credentials and on-ice performance speak for themselves, it is also his off-ice work that makes him even more deserving for the Hall of Fame. The Neely House provides housing for families whose loved ones are being treated for cancer. He should be remembered in the Hall of Fame as one of the sport of hockey's best ambassadors as well as for his stellar play.
Mark Mesiti

Neely lost his mother to cancer a year after joining the Bruins. Six years later, he lost his father to the same disease. For more on The Neely House: www.camneelyfoundation.com.

John,
Come on now. Cam didn't play enough games. I don't want to hear what he would have done! Sorry, Cam, injuries are apart of the game. Cam's under 400 goals isn't good enough.
John Daley
Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.

John,
Why are you so riled up about Cam Neely not being in the Hall of Fame. Have you taken a look at Bernie Federko's numbers? They blow Neely's away.
jvermont
Chicago

Two different players. Neely was a unique power-forward rock star, who was a 50-goal scorer. A comet more popular than Bourque in the B's late 80's, early 90's heyday. In their primes, no GM would trade Neely for Federko. But, I agree, Federko is a Hall of Famer.

John,
As I sit here typing this out, revisiting the topic, and thinking about your column, I have gotten so incensed that I need to leave the office early and go home, take that No. 8 Neely game jersey out of the closet, put it on and go into the darkened basement and work on my primal scream therapy. Wish me luck.
Hal Shapiro

A Hal who is not shallow. Rock on my brotha!

John,
I have to say NHL2Night is the best damn sports show I've ever seen. It could be because I'm a hockey fanatic, or it could be because I like to hear "..twisted wristerrrr!" You're hysterical. Either way, marry me!!
Jeannie
Houston, Texas

Jeannie, the line is long and it moves quickly.

Peace out, fellow rink rats!



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.









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