John Buccigross

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Tuesday, December 18
Updated: December 26, 2:23 PM ET
The story behind the men behind the desk

By John Buccigross
Special to

Five nights a week, from Tuesday-Saturday, I host a half-hour NHL highlight show on ESPN2. The network is in over 70 million homes in the U.S. Additionally, I have received e-mails from folks in Germany, Italy, Sweden, South Korea, Japan, Canada, Australia and Kentucky saying how much they love the show. I am under no illusions. You watch the show because you love hockey. If the annoying Bud Selig hosted the show with a nightly sinus infection, you still would tune in to see if Minnesota's Antti Laaksonen went top shelf on Edmonton's Jussi Markkanen. I'm just a guy in a suit wearing makeup. Not everyone can be the lead singer of Van Halen and make it work, but, NHL2Night is a good show no matter who hosts it.

HIT THE ICE by Michael Fischer
As I wrote in my first "column," hockey is about family, friends, fun and rock and roll. For 30 minutes a night, that is the goal on NHL2Night. You make up the family and friends. We try to make it fun and give you some rock and roll, without becoming the show. The game is the thing. The questions I get a lot when I get a chance to meet you at a game or via e-mail are:

"Do you and Melrose get along?"

"What kind of guy is Barry?"

"Is Darren Pang really that happy?"

This is the fourth year Barry and I have done the show together. I met Panger once at the All-Star Game in Tampa Bay, and again in Toronto, before he started doing the show last season. Like a good band, we try to keep it tight, improvise as much as possible, and hold nothing back. Here's a rundown of the band:

Darren Pang on bass.

Raised in Ottawa. Is nearly a foot shorter than me (he's 5-5, I'm 6-4). Excellent golfer. Solid 2-4 handicap, depending on his game. His motor is always running high. Everyone is happier when Panger is around. Last week, we sang Springsteen's "Thunder Road" on the way to the NHL2Night set. Then after the show, we sat in Denny's till 2:30 a.m. talking about the Canadian and U.S. Olympic teams. His love of hockey is boundless. He coaches his son's hockey team, just outside of Chicago. If I was going on a dream golf vacation to Scotland and Ireland with two foursomes, Panger is coming. He's silly, serious, competitive and enthusiastic. My favorite combination.

Barry Melrose on drums.

Barry was raised in Western Canada. He is less refined than Panger. Actually, Barry isn't refined AT ALL and that's why most love him and why everyone listens to him. Last year, during the Stanley Cup finals, the image that will stay with me forever, is not Bourque holding the Cup, but the entire Pepsi Center chanting "Melrose sucks!!!" after Game 2 because Barry picked the Devils to win the Cup. I was in the tunnel preparing to jump on the ice and interview Rob Blake after the buzzer sounded, when the chant started. I looked up at the luxury box ESPN rented from Peter Forsberg for the finals and there was Barry on the ESPN set smiling and laughing. Those big fake teeth smiling from ear to ear.

He can give it and he can take it. His laugh could scrape the plaque off a llama. He is generous, quick witted, and loyal. He'll move during your back swing and laugh when you snap one out of bounds, but, you'll still love to hang out and golf with him for four hours and that's the best test to pass. He hasn't coached since his days in L.A. because he won't lobby for jobs. Hockey is in his blood. It's time for him to coach again. He coached a junior team to a championship, an American Hockey League team to a title and was one illegal stick away from most likely coaching a Stanley Cup champion. Likes country music, movies, cigars and war documentaries.

Butchy on lead.

An amalgamation of Panger and Melrose. My job is to keep the show moving and set up my wing man. I'll never win any awards or make any TV all-star teams, but I'll keep it fast-paced and fun, with some statistics to chew on. Our NHL2Night band includes about ten other behind the scenes "roadies." We meet at 4:30 p.m. and eight hours later spew out what we spent eight hours inhaling. We are all equals in the nightly effort. Our show is actually half jazz, half rock. Like jazz, we riff around a discipline and a passion. Like rock, we don't breathe until we say good night. And without you, we ain't worth a damn.

Happy holidays and we hope you enjoy the show.

Right now, there isn't a hotter band in North America than the Canadian quartet Nickelback. Record industry contacts tell me they are blasting through all kinds of radio formats. Their current disc, "Silver Side Up," is approaching the five million mark in sales. Honest, straight ahead, high energy, rock will usually find a home in the CD changers of NHL players. Among a lot of NHL players, Nickelback is the hot band of choice.

From L to R: Drummer Ryan Vikedel, singer/guitarist Chad Kroeger, bassist Mike Kroeger and guitarist Ryan Peake.
Bassist Mike Kroeger is the No. 1 hockey fan of Nickelback. He said he was "upset" with me because while watching NHL2Night last week he heard me say, "What lead singer Chad Kroeger is to Nickelback, Mats Sundin is to the Maple Leafs."

"He doesn't even know who Mats Sundin is!!!," he laughed and screamed into my cell phone.

So, for now on, any Nickelback references on NHL2Night, and I'll make one this week, will include "Mike Kroeger," for he and drummer Ryan Vikedel are the hockey nuts in Nickelback's lineup. (Go to Nickelback's website and click on Ryan's picture in the bio section. My God, it's Chris Osgood!!!!!)

"One of my first images of hockey growing up for me in Alberta," said Kroeger, "was my mom making me wear a scarf, because the arena that we played that was so cold, that she thought I would catch frostbite. I was one of the only kids with a scarf wrapped around my helmet."

Growing up Alberta in the 1980s and worshipping Wayne Gretzky and the Edmonton Oilers was the case for most kids, Kroeger included. Gretzky and Kurri will always be the hockey image that has seared his brain. His love of the Oilers ended in August of 1988, when the Great One was traded to Los Angeles. Kroeger was sixteen. As a result of the trade, he became a Detroit Red Wings fan. Needless to say, with the success of the band and the success of the Wings, it's been a good year for Mike Kroeger.

Chris Osgood
Ryan Vikedel
Last week, after playing a concert at Hofstra University on Long Island, Kroeger and his mates were able to hit the ice after an Islanders practice.

"We live in British Columbia now and met Dave Scatchard over the summer, so we've gotten to know him pretty good," says Kroeger. "He invited us to watch a practice and we were sitting there and Garth Snow was talking trash through the glass and bashing on the glass with his stick saying that 'this isn't MTV guys, come on out here, this is the real world' or whatever. So, we laced him up and took a few shots at Garth and I can say I beat Snow two times! The Islanders are in big trouble with their backup netminding."

Scatchard isn't the only player the band has come across. Brad Lukowich, Darryl Sydor, Brett Hull, Jason Williams, Brad Isbister, Eric Cairns, Steve Webb, Mark Parrish, and Snow are players who call themselves fans of the band.

The band constantly is coming up with new material, and Mike says the record company loves them because they are the type of band that could start recording a new disc today if they had to. The band will continue touring throughout next year.

The best part of Nickelback's success?

"It used to be that we wanted to go to a hockey game, but, our manager would be like, 'no, you have to do this'", said Kroeger. "Now,(after selling five million CDs) we can make time. We don't blow off commitments, but we can flex our rock muscles more now. We just say 'No! Forget it! We're not going to do that, we're going to a hockey game.' Clearly, more important."

Crystal clear.

If you are looking for gold in the Rocky Mountains, latch on to Cammi Granato and the U.S. Olympic women's hockey team. Last Saturday, they rocked Sweden 8-0 to move their Olympic preparation record to 20-0. They out shot the Swedes 47-7, adding new meaning to the term "Swedish full-body massage." Finding equal competition in the U.S. has been difficult and when they get to Salt Lake City in February, few teams other than Canada will be any where near their skill level.

Cammi Granato
After she's done beating goalies, is Cammi Granato headed for the NHL2Night studio?
The U.S. won the gold in Nagano in 1998 -- the first time women's hockey was an Olympic sport. In February, they go for two in a row.

Cammi was born in Downers Grove, Ill., on March 25, 1971. She learned to skate at a local park and in her back yard, which her parents, Don and Natalie, would flood. She played for the Downers Grove Huskies boys' team from kindergarten until her junior year in high school. The much younger sister of Tony Granato, Cammi scored 139 goals in 99 career games at Providence College. As a freshman she was the ECAC rookie of the year and was named player of the year in each of her remaining three seasons. In June of 1997, Mike Milbury invited her to participate in the Islanders training camp. Cammi declined. At the '98 Olympic games, she notched four goals and four assists in six games, and was selected by her fellow Olympians as the U.S. flagbearer during the closing ceremony.

No. 1: Should Tonya Harding have been a hockey player instead of a figure skater?
I picture Tonya playing goalie. She'd wear the white Jason mask and could do a lot more hacking with the bigger stick.

No. 2: What is your attitude heading into the Olympics?
Anything less than a gold medal would be disappointing.

No. 3: What kind of music is played in the women's locker room?
Music is the one thing we disagree on most. The spectrum of music covers from the Carpenters (Karyn Bye) to DMX (Natalie Darwitz). I and many others like neither. So, we decided to burn a few CDs and each player put two of their favorite songs on it.

Nothing like preparing to knock the snot out of Latvia than cranking the Carpenter's "Close to You"

No. 4: Tell me about when you did analyst work for the Los Angeles Kings on the radio.
I was the radio color analyst for one year (1998-99). It was more mentally challenging than anything I've ever done.

No. 5: What is your recommendation for parents and their athletic offspring?
I think parents should let their boy or girl to play different sports and let the kid figure out what sport they like best.

No. 6: Tattoos? Movies? TV shows?
No tattoos on me, but they are quite popular on our team. The most recent flick that I liked was "Traffic." I don't get out much. My favorite TV show is "Will and Grace." It makes me laugh a lot.

No. 7: Can I get a Cammi Granato bobblehead?
I can get you a Cammi bobblehead, but it doesn't do much for my confidence...I look more like my brother.

No. 8: What are you going to do with your life after the Olympics?
I'm going to buy a house, play a lot of golf and lay out on the beach. I'm not sure what I'm going to do job wise. It would be cool to do color commentary for the women if we ever get on TV. Of course, my dream job is to work with you.

You go, girl.

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

The season is only two-and-a-half months old, and there are four more months to go. Plenty of movement is still possible, but the following have been good for two solid months.

Patrick Roy
1. Patrick Roy, Colorado Avalanche: He began the week with 497 wins. If he wins his three home games this week against Anaheim, Calgary and Minnesota -- my bet is that he does -- he will win No. 500 Sunday night. Statistically, he has had the best year in net. Add all that stuff that he's proven in the postseason, and he's the guy you would want in net in a Game 7 today, or say, an Olympic gold medal game.

2. Nikolai Khabibulin, Tampa Bay Lightning: He has seen over 150 more shots than Roy. He plays on a team that can't score, gives up tons of shots, is awful on the road, and has not handled their budding superstar very well, and yet the Russian's play in net has them at least sniffing the eighth playoff spot in the East. They won't get there without the perfect trade, but Khabibulin will keep them from the basement. He should make Russia a legitimate medal threat at Salt Lake City.

3. Evgeni Nabokov, San Jose Sharks: Plays when most on the East Coast are on their third Shakira dream of the night. Solid numbers, wins games, and his team is in first place. There is still something not quite right with the Sharks, but if they tweak their lineup a little, they could get to the finals.

4. Curtis Joseph, Toronto Maple Leafs: It's been an easy run so far for Cujo. His team has played well from the get go. They can skate and they can score. The Leafs are, by far, the best-looking team in the East right now. The Olympic thing had to play on the minds of a lot of players, especially the goaltenders. I expect Cujo, Martin Brodeur and Ed Belfour to play really well the next two months. They all want to start. Brodeur shut out Ottawa the day the Canadian team was announced, his first superb game of the year.

5. Mike Richter, New York Rangers: He will be the first goalie to see 1,000 shots this season. He has flat-out won games for the Rangers this year. I still don't think the Rangers are very good. They have lots and lots of holes and anything but great goaltending makes them a barely .500 team. I feel it in my gut that Richter is destined for Olympic glory this February.

Next week: the Norris Trophy.

The Vezina Trophy is an annual award given to the goalkeeper adjudged to be the best at this position as voted by the general managers of all NHL clubs. Leo Dandurand, Louis Letourneau, and Joe Cattarinich, former owners of the Montreal Canadiens, presented the trophy to the NHL in 1926-27 in memory of Georges Vezina, outstanding goalkeeper of the Canadiens, who collapsed during an NHL game Nov. 28, 1925, and died of tuberculosis a few months later. Until the 1981-82 season, the goalkeeper(s) of the team allowing the fewest number of goals during the regular season were awarded the Vezina Trophy.

Get rid of that mug you have on the website. It looks too much like your senior high school picture. I expect to see "Chess Club" written under that thing. You must know someone who can remove it.
Orange, Calif.

You don't like my "JC Penney-model-looking-way-too-happy-to-be-wearing-this-flannel-shirt-while-holding-an-inexpensive-football-smile?"

If Barry Melrose's and Brian Engblom's mullets got into a fight, which would win?
Mike N.,
Louisville, Ky.

Brian chopped much of his mullet and got bigger glasses. He looks sooooo HOT, now. But, even in a full-blown MulletBot confrontation, the shear size and amount of hair care products of Melrose would be way too much for Brian to overcome. Last week, Barry found one of Jim Peplinski's elbow pads from 1982 in his mullet.

Excuse me, John,
Mike Modano, and let me quote, "He's the best talent in the NHL." You lost all credibility with that statement. The greatest player in the NHL is Mario Lemieux. Ask anyone who knows anything about hockey. You're Olympic predictions are so whacked I think I should bet you, but I'd hate to take your money. Drury is overrated.
Rod Salem
Somewhere in Canada

1. The Dallas Stars would not trade Mike Modano for Mario Lemieux. 2. I lost all credibility when I allowed myself to rent "You've got Mail" in 1999. 3. No, he's not. 4. I'm waiting for Melrose to be replaced, then I'll have someone to ask. 5. The USA will win the gold. 6. Sorry, about your fingers, because I'm sure they burned down to your knuckles when you typed "Drury is overrated." Watch what he does in Salt Lake City.

Thanks for keeping it real. I am a staff sergeant in the U.S. Army in Germany. Can someone get the Flyers out of their funk? And give a shout out to the 212th MP CO if you feel so inclined. You have a lot of fans out here.
SSG Scott Brone

Vie Gehts, Scott. Bobby Clark will be patient with his boys until mid January and then start thinking about some serious tweaking. They have a lot of perimeter guys. They need to adopt the attitude of a staff sergeant.

I had just about convinced my wife to name our new baby Cameron Michael after Cam Neely. After reading your "Cam Neely belongs in the Hall of Fame" column she is in total agreement. Done deal! Keep up the great work, you've got the best 30 minutes on television.
Chuck Young

For my money, the best 30 minutes on television is when Enrique Iglesias's video for "Hero" is played for a half hour straight. Wait, my bad. That's the 30 minutes on television when I want to STICK LAWN DARTS IN MY EYES!

I like reading your column better than kissing my girlfriend.

Martin, I like kissing your girlfriend better than writing my column.

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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