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[film promo] “The Nagano Tapes” by The Olympic Channel’s Five Rings Films

March 7, 2018 Leave a comment

After recently coming to terms with Team Canada’s men’s hockey team not wearing gold around their necks at the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics after previously winning 3 out of the last 4 tournaments, the last thing I thought I’d want to be reminded of was Canada’s first big letdown in the NHL-era Olympics — their semi-final loss to the Czech Republic in Nagano ’98. For most Canadians (myself included), recalling that game is not like ripping off a band-aid, it’s like dragging a knife down a scar. But what very few of us likely knew was how big of an event it was for the Czech Republic to beat the Russians in the final and win the gold for their country, amidst long standing political strife with Russia. The images of jubilation in the streets of the Czech Republic might be enough to make you feel like if Canada wasn’t meant to win, at least the right alternative team did.

The film includes multiple player and Olympic official interviews, dealing with how the NHL came to participate in the Games, players defecting from Czechoslovakia to play in North America, Marc Crawford talking about not choosing Gretzky for the shootout, discussion of the shootout determining the outcome of high profile games, the dominance of Dominik Hasek in goal throughout the tournament, Team USA trashing their rooms in the Olympic village after losing, and lots more.

You can watch the full length film for free here: https://www.olympicchannel.com/en/features/five-rings-films—the-nagano-tapes/

**PRO-TIP: Be sure to enable subtitles of your native language, as multiple player interviews are conducted in Czech.**

In the meantime, here’s the movie’s official trailer:

Here’s the official press release from the Olympic Channel:

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Press release

“The team no one saw coming. The victory no one will forget.”

Olympic Channel’s Five Rings Films Debuts The Nagano Tapes, the Inspiring True Story of the
Czech Republic’s Shocking Victory in Men’s Ice Hockey at the 1998 Nagano Games

Features never-before-seen footage and exclusive interviews with some of the game’s biggest
names including Hašek, Jágr, Lindros, Hull and Yashin

Select full match replays from the 1998 Nagano Games also available online exclusively at
olympicchannel.com

MADRID – 28 February 2018 – The stirring underdog story behind the Czech Republic’s heroic upset at the Olympic Winter Games Nagano 1998 in men’s ice hockey is featured in The Nagano Tapes, the first film in the Olympic Channel’s signature series Five Rings Films. The feature length documentary premiered worldwide on Wednesday, 28 February 2018 on the Olympic Channel at olympicchannel.com and its mobile apps, in addition to telecasts on NBCSN in the United States, Eurosport in Europe and beIN Sports in MENA.

The Nagano Tapes features the men´s ice hockey tournament of the 1998 Olympic Winter Games in Nagano, Japan, where professional players from the NHL participated in the Games for the first time. Among the many “Dream Teams”, the underdog squad from the Czech Republic led by Jaromír Jágr and Dominik Hašek stunned the world on its way to a historic gold. Their triumph in Nagano is recognised as a defining moment and a source of national pride at a time of the country’s resurgence.

“When I think of Nagano I think that was the best competition ever,” said Jágr of the 1998 tournament. “When I think of Nagano it means that anything is possible because even hockey players from a small country like Czech Republic could win it.”

Bringing the documentary to life are interviews with some of the world’s best ice hockey players who relive their experience in precise detail including the Czech Republic’s Hašek, Jágr and Petr Svoboda, Canada’s Theo Fleury, Eric Lindros and Marc Crawford (Coach), the USA’s Brett Hull and the Russian Federation’s Alexei Yashin.

The film covers aspects of the lives of Czech hockey players during the Communist regime and the entry of European players into the NHL.

“I worked on my craft to better my life and to have, not only for money, but to have a life that you can explore fully,” said Svoboda about his decision to defect from Czechoslovakia in the 1980’s. “So, I took that chance and I was really excited about just being in a democracy where you can grow as a human being.”

Also addressed are the rumours of Team USA’s unsportsmanlike behaviour following their loss to the Czech’s in the quarterfinals, and the infamous omission of Wayne Gretzky from the shootout in Team Canada’s semi-final loss.

“I’ve lived the rest of my life with the criticism of that shootout,” said Crawford, coach of Canada’s 1998 team. “I know that my epitaph will read on my gravestone, ‘here lies Mark Crawford, the dummy that didn’t choose Wayne Gretzky in the shootout’.”

Directed by Sundance award winner Ondřej Hudeček from the Czech Republic, The Nagano Tapes also features never-before-seen IMAX footage and exclusive International Olympic Committee (IOC) archive material. The Nagano Tapes moniker is a nod to the popular video tapes and VCR’s of the time, while the documentary also uses throwback music and video from the decade keeping with the 90’s theme.

The Nagano Tapes is the first film in the Olympic Channel’s signature documentary series, Five Rings Films, produced exclusively for the global media platform by Hollywood legend Frank Marshall(“Jason Bourne,” “Jurassic World” and “Indiana Jones”) and Mandalay Sports Media (MSM). Five Rings Films is a five-episode series of incisive and entertaining documentaries directed by some of the biggest names in film from around the world.

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About the Olympic Channel:

The Olympic Channel is a multi-platform destination where fans can discover, engage and share in the power of sport and the excitement of the Olympic Games all year round. Offering original programming, news, live sports events and highlights, the Olympic Channel provides additional
exposure for sports and athletes 24 hours a day, 365 days a year in 11 languages. The Olympic Channel was launched in August 2016 in support of the IOC’s goal, set out in Olympic Agenda 2020, of providing a new way to engage younger generations, fans and new audiences with the Olympic Movement. Founding Partners supporting the Olympic Channel are Worldwide TOP Partners Bridgestone, Toyota and Alibaba. The Olympic Channel is available worldwide via mobile apps for Android and iOS devices and at olympicchannel.com.

Social media:

You can follow the Olympic Channel on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, and YouTube, or log on to olympicchannel.com.

Editor’s Notes:

Link to film, trailers and select match replays: https://www.olympicchannel.com/en/features/fiverings-films—the-nagano-tapes/

Media Contacts:

Sarah Bronilla
sarah@vocalnyc.com

Catherine Philbin
catherine.philbin@olympicchannel.com

[Archive] 2014 interview with Matt Irwin

August 25, 2014 Leave a comment

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My interview with San Jose Sharks’ defenceman Matt Irwin posted on The Score’s Backhand Shelf blog on March 26, 2014. The NHL sophomore went on to play his first season entirely in the NHL, with no AHL appearances. He boosted his game appearances from 38 to 62, added 11 assists to his 2012-13 total for a career high 17, finished with a career high 19 points and +5 rating. He also made his first ever NHL Stanley Cup playoff appearance and scored his first ever NHL Stanley Cup playoff goal in the first round against the LA Kings. 

The audio of this interview can be heard on XP PSP: the eXPat Pro Sports Podcast, or on iTunes

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Interview: Getting to know San Jose Sharks’ defenseman Matt Irwin

Matt Irwin2

He may not be a household name just yet, but San Jose Sharks defenseman Matt Irwin may work his way into your mental NHL player directory yet. Now in his second NHL season, the 26 year old British Columbian is continuing a trend from his amateur career that has seen his point totals, ice-time, and contributions to his team’s success dynamically increase every year.

Irwin spoke with me at length about his long road to the NHL and what he’ll have to do to stay there, the tough decisions he was required to make and small window of opportunity he had to live out his dream, past teammates that helped get him where he is now, current ones that help make him better, what the San Jose Sharks will have to do to win their first Stanley Cup, what it takes to be consistently inserted into a lineup full of Olympians, All-Stars, and Stanley Cup champions, and more.

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Let’s start at the beginning. In 04-05, you got to play three games of Junior A hockey just up the road from your hometown of Brentwood Bay, BC, with the Nanaimo Clippers of the BCHL. You didn’t record any points, but did skate alongside future NHLer Jason Garisson. In 05-06, you played alongside future NHLer Colin Greening in Nanaimo for 56 games and had 9 points. In 06-07 you exploded for 49 points, was the team’s top scoring d-man, the Clippers won the BCHL, and you were named the BCHL’s best defenceman. 07-08 was more of the same, as you’re again the team’s top scoring d man, and win league’s best defenceman. So explain your rather dynamic development in junior hockey — what did you take away from the guys you played with that went on to play at higher levels of the game, and how did it help influence your junior career to produce what it did? 

Irwin: “Those three games were as an affiliate player. I played Junior B with Saanich in Victoria, and got an opportunity to play in three games [with Nanaimo] and see what it was all about. It was a big step for me. From there, I got the opportunity to sign and play [the following season] with them for the whole year where I got to play on a consistent basis. Not a lot of power play time, more five-on-five minutes. The following year when everything picked up, Bill [Bestwick] gave me a great opportunity to play on the power play. The first five games of that year I had five or six goals. It was all happening really fast, I wasn’t expecting it. I was working on my shot, Bill had me working on it all the time. That’s where the offensive side of it started to come together.”

After you completed your junior career, you moved on to play NCAA hockey with UMass Amherst from 2008 to 2010. Instead of playing four seasons you only played two, joining the AHL’s Worchester Sharks at the end of the 09-10 season, and did not return to the NCAA. Why did you choose not to stay for all four years after taking the BCHL scholarship route rather than major junior? Talk about making the choice to abandon a fully funded education.

irwin hit2Irwin: “It’s interesting how it worked out. When you mention the WHL, I never had any interest in it at all until my 19 year old year of junior. At that point, it made no sense to leave Junior A and forgo a scholarship that I was about to get at that time to play only another year and a half of hockey, when I could play five and a half more years with the four year scholarship instead.

“I had full intentions going in when I stepped on campus at UMass of playing my four years and getting an education. After my first year, San Jose and some other teams were interested in bringing me out to their development camps. I ended up going to San Jose’s, and they showed a lot of interest afterwards, regardless of whether or not I wanted to stay at school or leave then. I chose to go back for another year at UMass, and then after my second year, they offered a contract. It was the hardest decision I’ve had to make in terms of hockey. You’re leaving an education on the table that’s paid for, to pursue a dream that you’ve had since you were a kid with no guarantee that you’ll make it to the NHL, or even be able to stick in the AHL. It was a risk. I got a lot of support from my family. What they told me, and what made me make my mind up, was that school would always be there, but my window of opportunity to chase my dream to play in the NHL or play professional hockey at my age – I was 22 when I left school, so I was older — to establish myself at that level in the AHL and get a crack at the NHL wasn’t a large one. I figured that school would always be there. Jumping at the opportunity was something I had always wanted to do, and dreamt about as a kid. Afterwards, I could go back to school and go from there. I’ve been going back to school, and I’ll be getting a degree pretty soon, so everything’s falling into place.”

What are you going to graduate with? What’d you see yourself doing with that education if pro hockey hadn’t worked out? How are you taking classes while playing in the NHL?  

Irwin: “I hadn’t declared before, but it’ll be a Bachelor’s in Management Degree. I hadn’t looked too far into what I could do. It was more or less that I just wanted to get myself a degree. Something in the business world. I was deciding on what degree would interest me the most and which I’d be able to do the majority of online, so that’s where it went. I’m not quite sure what I’m going to do if hockey doesn’t pan out. We’ll let those chips fall where they may and cross that bridge when we come to it.”

While with playing in the AHL with Worchester, you skated alongside Logan Couture and Tommy Wingels who were on their way up to the NHL, and Jonathan Cheechoo who was rounding out his North American playing career. Was it reminiscent of your experience in Nanaimo, playing with future NHL guys? What did you learn from them at that level, now only one step away from the top? 

Irwin: “It was huge going there. It was definitely an eye opener going to pro. It’s a totally different lifestyle. When you’re in school, you’re either in the books or involved in your social life and hockey, whereas when you move on to pro it’s pretty much hockey in the morning and then you’ve got the rest of the day to do what you want.

“You learn a lot from those guys that I’ve been around. Cheech was a great mentor for me to have my first year — a guy that had established himself as a goal scorer in the NHL, and won the Rocket Richard trophy for most goals in the league while he was in San Jose. Just to see how those guys prepare for practices and games, seeing them get called up, sent down, and how they react to being sent down. It doesn’t change their game. They get a little pace, they get hungry, and keep pushing forward because the ultimate goal is to stick in the NHL. You learn from different experiences, and I think that helped my game a lot.”

You played two more seasons with Worchester afterwards — At 25 years old, did you still think you had a good shot at the NHL, or were you starting to think about other options? Some guys at that age who are playing in the minors start thinking about other career paths, and ultimately some decide to move on, thinking their window is closed. 

Irwin: “Well I kept up the school thing, but I was still chasing that dream of playing in the NHL. Like I said, when I left school, my window of opportunity was very small because of my age, and it’s not too often you see guys that are 25 and older that are getting a fair crack in the NHL. There are a handful of guys, but your chances get smaller and smaller because there’s so much young talent coming up. I knew where I stood in the organization. They always believed in me, and told me that I was on the right track — right where they wanted me to be as far as development. I thank them and give them a lot of credit for staying with me, believing in me, and giving me that opportunity. The first year that I got called up I never played, my second year I got called up, didn’t play, but got to practice with the team for a week. That was a cool experience. Then when the lockout ended last year I got invited to training camp, and was able to play with the team for the majority of that season. I never gave up on the dream of playing in the NHL. When I was 25 it was only my third year of pro, so I knew if I kept going in the direction I was going, playing well and being dependable in Worchester, they were going to give me a chance up here in San Jose.”

Last season you got called up to San Jose for 38 games. Talk about getting to play your first NHL games after chasing your dream for so long, and what the season was like trying to prove you belonged up there. 

irwin hitIrwin: “It’s pretty cool once you step on the ice, you hear the anthem for your first NHL game, your family’s in the building… it was a cool experience, something I’ll never forget. But then you realize you want to stay there, and prove to yourself, the coaches, and your teammates that you do belong in this league. It’s very cliché to say, but you just come to the rink everyday, work hard, prepare like you’re playing the game, practice to get better, improve and challenge yourself, and translate that over to the game and play consistently. Do what makes you successful, don’t try to do too much. All those things were running through my head. I didn’t want to over think and do anything I wouldn’t normally do. I just wanted to stay consistent and do the things that had gotten me to where I was at that point. I knew what those things were, tried to stick with them, and help the team win.”

How noticeable was the jump in level of play? You took a very incremental route of levels to get to the NHL, and must have seen tangible spikes in talent and speed at every league you ascended to. Did it take some getting used to?  

Irwin: “I was comfortable. From the BCHL to college, it’s a different game. Every level you go up, it’s faster. You’re playing with better players. Every level above is going to be a little bit better, little faster, more structured. From the AHL to NHL, there are similarities. The North American style pro game is the same, but the skill level of players is a bit better. The AHL is a great league. It allows you to develop your skill set to translate it into the NHL. The league does such a great job of developing players, and teams do a great job of getting players and not bringing them up too soon, making sure that they’re ready. Once you’re in the NHL, it’s not so much about developing as it is about being able to step in the lineup, play, and contribute, while getting better at the same time. There’s not a lot of time to wait on development because they’ll just find someone else. It’s a business at the highest level. Once you’re there, you’ve got to do what makes you successful and keep getting better. As you go up, the leagues are obviously a little bit better than the one before, but those leagues before were very helpful and were great stepping stones to getting me where I am now.”

So far this season, you’ve played entirely with San Jose. You’ve appeared in ten more games than you played last year and have six more points, but have also missed 17 games as a healthy scratch.  Still, you’re playing between 15-22 minutes a night, and are getting up to 28 shifts a night. Do you get a sense that you’ve hollowed out some permanent real estate in the San Jose dressing room? What do you attribute your boost in production and ice-time to? 

Irwin: “Coming into this year, I wanted to establish myself as a legitimate top six defenseman in this league. This year there have been ups and downs. We’ve got a great group of d-men between the seven of us. Any of us could play on any given night. We’ve got some young d-men, and some veterans in Dan Boyle, Scott Hannan, and Brad Stuart. Obviously Marc-Edouard Vlasic too, who made the Olympic team and won a gold medal – he’s my age, but he’s played almost 600 games in the NHL. He’s another veteran presence for guys like myself, Justin Braun and Jason Demers, who are the younger guys that don’t have as many games of experience as they do. We have a really solid group of d-men that any one of which can play on any given night. When you do play, you want to take advantage of that opportunity, and help the team win. I’ve sat out my share of games this year, but it’s part of the learning process. You get to see the game from a different angle, and you realize that you actually have more time with the puck than you think you might. It’s good to step back from the game a little bit. Obviously you want to play, but when you do sit out for a couple of games, you’ve got to take it as a way to learn and improve yourself, instead of dwelling on the fact that you’re not playing and being a bad teammate. You’ve got to stay positive until you get that next opportunity to step back in and play.”

You’ve got a pretty elite group this year – 4 Olympians in total between gold medalists Patrick Marleau and Marc-Edouard Vlasic, bronze medalist Antti Niemi (also 2nd in NHL wins), and Joe Pavelski, in addition to some of the NHL’s elite in Joe Thornton (2nd in NHL assists), Logan Couture, Dan Boyle, and others. The team is currently 4th overall. Is this the roster of San Jose Sharks that finally get past the seemingly cursed third round? What will it take to do so? How is it playing with guys who have accumulated the accolades they have?  

Irwin: “Those are so pretty impressive names to have all in one locker room. When you first get to the team you get caught watching, seeing how they go about their business. It’s pretty impressive what they do, because they’ve been doing it consistently for so long. That’s one thing I’ve tried to learn from those guys — consistency. That’s one of the greatest attributes someone can have playing in the NHL — bring it every night, be consistent, and help your team win. We’ve got guys who have been around for a long time and have won Olympic medals, Stanley Cups, NHL awards, and have been NHL All-Stars. There’s a lot of that in the room, and they’re great for young guys like myself and the others to look up to, and learn from.

“As far as whether this is ‘the year’ for us to win it all, of course we think every year is the year for us, but the league is just so tight, and it’s tough. It’s not easy to win the Cup. If it was, we’d have a handful of them already. The guys in the locker room are determined, we have a great group of core veterans and young guys, and we feel strongly about this year. Our goal is to get home ice advantage throughout the playoffs in the Western Conference, and if we’re fortunate enough to make the Stanley Cup Final, get it there too. We’re chasing Anaheim for it right now. We’re comfortable at home. We play well there. You’d always prefer that seventh game to be on your home soil if it comes down to that. Last year we lost in game seven in LA. We felt like we played well enough to win, but we ran into a really good goalie. This year’s going to be a lot of the same. With the way the new playoff format is, we’re going to have to play out of our division first, so we’re looking at playing Anaheim, LA, or one of those teams in the first round. That’s a tough first round matchup, but you’ve got to get past those teams at some point to get where you want to go. I think our team is built to make a deep playoff run. We’re a big solid team that skates well and can score. I like our team, and time will tell when we get to the playoffs.”

How’s hockey in California these days? With Anaheim and LA now both having won Stanley Cups, and San Jose being in the hunt every year as well, there’s been a real evolution of interest in the game there, and competitiveness of the teams located in the state – especially when compared to how teams in that area traditionally fared in the 90’s and earlier.  

irwin body positionIrwin: “It’s great. Growing up as a kid, it wasn’t a hockey hotbed here. I didn’t know much about them. You watch the Mighty Ducks movies, and that’s pretty much all you know about hockey in California. But nowadays, it’s three teams at the top of the league almost every year. LA and Anaheim won Cups, and we’re looking for our first. It’s good for the state of California. More and more kids are getting involved in hockey. The youth programs around here are picking up steam. We’ve got a junior Sharks program that we just had our first graduate player of just suit up for us last year in Matt Tennyson. The grassroots of hockey in California are picking up, and the sport’s becoming more and more popular. I would like to think that’s in large part because of the success of the NHL teams in the area. Kids look up to us and they think hockey’s a pretty cool sport to get involved in. You see more and more players from California in the NCAA, major junior, and the pros. The number of guys from California that are making it to the NHL is going up. It’s good to see.”

Back to your Olympic teammates – did you notice any extra fatigue in them after the tournament, especially considering the travel? Did they come back totally gassed, or energized from the experience and ready to go? 

Irwin: “When those guys came back – we had Patty [Marleau], Eddie [Vlasic], Pavs [Pavelski] and Nemo [Niemi] who were all at the Olympics and all played deep in the tournament —   they were confident. They all had good tournaments. I think the hardest thing on them was the travel and the time change. Tthat’s probably where the fatigue came in, but you wouldn’t know it when we played the games. They stepped right back into the lineup, played their 20 minutes a night, and contributed to helping the team win. I think Pavs had a hat trick in his first game back. I don’t think fatigue was much of an issue. They got a lot of confidence from playing in the Olympics, and for us, that’s great. They represented their countries and our organization really well. We’re happy to have them back. They’re four of the best players on our team. They came back and didn’t miss a beat.”

Has there been any light back and forth between any of those guys regarding the different places the countries they represented finished at the Olympics? Is it a sensitive issue, or just water under the bridge?  

Irwin: “There hasn’t been too much chatter, really. There might be the odd poke here and there, but other than that, there’s not much that has been said. Coming back, the Olympics are behind them now, and the focus is on the stretch run for us. We’ve got 13 games left, and our goal is that home ice. I think they embraced the opportunity they were given at the Olympics, and here and there there might be a quick jab, but other than that, everyone’s focused on the Sharks and making a deep run.”

How did you spend the two weeks off you got during the Olympic break? It seemed like lots of guys did different things; some just trained harder, while others took time off to spend with their families and other things.

Irwin: “I went home to Victoria and spent time with friends and family. I helped out with my old Junior B team the Saanich Braves, and the hockey academy that runs out of my old high school. Other than that, I just relaxed, got engaged, and that was pretty much it.”

Regarding another current teammate of yours, what’s Raffi Torres like in the dressing room now that he’s returned, considering the drama he’s been through? Is it distracting at all to you or the other guys?

Irwin: “We’re all happy to have Raffi back. It’s been a long recovery for him. Any time you get a player back after they’ve worked so hard to get back into the lineup, the boys are excited. He’s a really good teammate. He was great while he was injured, which is tough because you might not feel part of the team when you’re out, especially for that long, and don’t travel or participate in practices. He was always around the room, chilling with the boys. When we got him back we were thrilled. He brings a presence to the lineup, adds depth and scoring, and he’s relentless on the fore check. He’s one of the better guys in the locker room. He’s funny. It was almost like he didn’t miss a beat – he had a couple of goals his first game, a couple more the next night, and he was playing physical, the way he has to to be successful. He helps our team out so much when he plays like that. It backs up our d-men, and backs other players off of them when they know Raffi’s on the ice. He’s the kind of player you need this time of year, and especially in the playoffs. We love having him in the lineup, and he adds a lot more depth to our group.”

In such a tight and dominant Western Conference, what’s it going to take to be the team that tops this year’s powerhouses like Chicago, St. Louis and Anaheim? Who’s been the toughest for you guys to play this year, and who will it be toughest for you guys to beat in a deep playoff series? 

Irwin: “We always have tough games against LA. It won’t be a walk in the park for any team that makes the playoffs. There may be upsets based on your seeds and where you’re ranked going into them, but the parity in the league is so tight. There are teams on the wildcard bubble like Dallas who would be tough to play in the first round of the playoffs. Whoever you draw in the first round isn’t going to be easy, and as you go on it won’t get any easier. LA, Chicago, Anaheim all have great teams, big bodies, great players, depth throughout the lineup, rolling four lines – I think that’s what makes those teams so good, having four lines and six d-men that can play, and it’s not just a burden placed on two lines and four d-men to play heavy minutes. In a playoff series, that’ll take its toll eventually. To be able to spread the minutes out among the lineup is important. All those teams have that ability with the depth they have at all positions.”

As a defenseman, who’s one guy you don’t want to see bearing down on you on a 1-on-1 or an odd-man break? 

Irwin: “There are a lot of guys in this league that have the ability to make you look really funny if they get that chance. Datsyuk, Jagr – he’s just so good and so strong even at his age and with how long he’s been playing. He’s just a dominant force. He doesn’t look like he’s that fast, but he can move. His first couple of strides are so quick, and he’s a big body. He’s hard to get the puck from and he’s got great vision. Those types of players are the ones that on any given play can make you look silly.”

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Book Review: “Behind the Net: 101 Incredible Hockey Stories” by Stan Fischler

December 19, 2013 Leave a comment

If you’re looking for a great gift or stocking stuffer for a hockey fan on your Christmas list, or just a great collection of hockey stories for yourself, look no further than Stan Fischler’s latest book, Behind the Net: 101 Incredible Hockey Stories.

BTNFischler, an Islanders, Rangers and Devils correspondent for MSG and veteran author of over 90 books, writes a wide spectrum of hockey stories in BTN – everything from the Toronto Maple Leafs’ 2013 playoff collapse against the Boston Bruins, to puck tales that predate the NHL. There’s a story about how a game that went deep into overtime in the 1930’s was almost decided by coin toss – a crazy notion when you consider the discussion of the shootout and other game ending approaches these days. Today’s debate about preventing and managing concussions make the game’s stewards in the 1940’s look like primitive cave people – it sounds like it was commonplace for fights to spill into the stands and involve spectators, and sticks were regularly cracked over helmetless players’ heads. It makes for interesting commentary on where the game has evolved from when you read that teams used to only cost $75,000 and gunshots used to signal period ends, seasons used to last around 20 games, and the Art Ross Trophy winner would net 70 points in that short span.

As today’s hockey fans are aware, the NHLPA and NHL don’t always get along, but those of us affected by their disagreements may take solace in learning that the NHLPA has been a thorn in the side of NHL ownership since the 50’s. And as we are all reminded by Gary Bettman’s annual awarding of the Stanley Cup always being met by a deafening rebuttal of boos from fans in attendance, the NHL commissioner has not always been a fan favorite either. When Clarence Campbell was at the league’s helm, he had everything from insults, tear gas, and items from the produce section whipped at him by fans who did not agree with his suspension of Maurice Richard. Can you imagine Bettman having to make public appearances in riot gear?

Hockey players have always been known for their toughness, resilience, and overwhelming desire to keep playing the game. One of the best examples of this is included in the book. It depicts the story of Bill Chadwick, who lost sight in one eye from an injury but kept playing. He later injured his other eye too, and was forced to end his playing days. But he stayed in the game, becoming a referee, and then an announcer. Do you think they were having the visor discussion even then? The book also digs up interesting tidbits on player oddities, like how Jaromir Jagr runs the stairs of every arena he plays in, and how Gordie Howe was ambidextrous and gave goalies he faced double the grief in trying to stop him.

Fischler’s book gives us glimpses into the days when the NHL competed for fans and players with rival leagues like the WHA and the lesser known Eastern League. He tells us stories of when players were bought with, and arenas were built on, horse race winnings. It unveils stories of “Big” Bill Dwyer, a bootlegger in the 1920’s, who owned the New York Americans; and local rival New York Rangers coach Lester Patrick, who okayed the team publicist’s suggestion to modify to players names to Jewish and Italian last names to attract fans of those local minorities to Rangers games, and away from Americans games.

And if you thought the Winnipeg Jets had a tough travel schedule when they were still competing in the Eastern Conference, things won’t seem so bad when you read about the team from the Klondike that rode dogsleds to Ottawa to challenge for the Stanley Cup in 1905, only to get shelled 23-2 and see Frank McGee score 14 goals in a game against them.

It’s an enthralling and easy read – most of the stories are only 1-3 pages long, suitable for any age or level of reader, and any completion time frame. Any fan of hockey will be a fan of this book. You can find it a print or digital copy for around $20 on Amazon, Chapters, or your local bookstore.

Here’s the Press Release:

Stan Fischler’s latest hockey classic, Behind the Net: 101 Incredible Hockey Stories (Sports Publishing, November 2013) is a collection of short, zany (but true!) tales that have taken place over more than a half century of hockey-watching. An easy read for fans of all ages with photos to accompany the anecdotes, this book offers a unique perspective into the NHL from one of today’s most prolific hockey writers. Different from the typical NHL “game” stories, this book details everything, from the hilarious to the absurd.

Fischler details the time that:

• Bill Mosienko scored three goals in 21 seconds

• Rene Fernand Gauthier accepted a challenge to shoot the puck in the ocean

• Sam LoPresti faced 83 shots on goal in one game

• And 98 more unique stories!

So lace up your skates and hit the ice with Behind the Net, a comprehensive collection sure to entertain any hockey fan, regardless of team allegiances.

About the author:

Stan Fischler is a legend of sports broadcasting. He began his career as a publicist for the New York Rangers in 1954 and has been covering hockey in the over half a century since. The winner of five Emmy Awards, Fischler has worked in every medium from print to TV to Twitter. This “Hockey Maven” currently serves as the resident hockey expert for MSG and MSG Plus. He can be seen every week on MSG Hockey Night Live. He lives in New York City.

Contact the Publisher:

Skyhorse Publishing, Inc.

307 W 36th Street, 11th Floor | New York, NY 10018

Ph:(212) 643-6816 x 226 | Fax: (212) 643-6819

skyhorsepublishing.com

Canadians Should Cheer For The LA Kings, and Who American and European Fans Should Pull For in the 2013 Stanley Cup Final Four.

June 7, 2013 Leave a comment

With the elimination of the Vancouver Canucks, Ottawa Senators, Toronto Maple Leafs, and Montreal Canadiens from the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs — and every year Canadian city based NHL teams are either eliminated from the playoffs or do not qualify — there is a certain level of Canadian fan disengagement from the NHL as Canada’s best hopes of bringing the Stanley Cup back north are snuffed out. But with nationalistic pride in mind, there are still plenty of – predominantly, in fact – Canadian born players to cheer for on the remaining four American based teams. Here are the numbers to show you which teams are in fact the most Canadian, American, and European, and to whom your drifting allegiances would be best to land upon:

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Bruins

Boston Bruins:


Canadians:
Nathan Horton, Milan Lucic, Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, Gregory Campbell, Johnny Boychuk, Daniel Paille, Tyler Seguin, Shawn Thornton, Dougie Hamilton, Adam McQuaid, Wade Redden, Rich Peverley, Andrew Ference, Chris Kelly.

Americans:
Matt Bartkowski.


Europeans:
Dennis Seidenberg (Germany), Jaromir Jagr (Czech Republic), Zdeno Chara (Slovakia), David Krejci (Czech Republic), Kaspars Daugavins (Latvia), Tuukka Rask (Finland).

22 total active players

small CanadaCAN 15 = 68%

small USAUSA 1 = 0.05%

small EUEUR 6 = 27%

*********

Blackhawks

Chicago Blackhawks:

Canadians: Patrick Sharp, Duncan Keith, Bryan Bickell, Andrew Shaw, Jonathan Toews, Brent Seabrook, Dave Bolland, Daniel Carcillo, Corey Crawford.

Americans: Nick Leddy, Brandon Saad, Patrick Kane, Brandon Bollig.

Europeans: Michal Rozsival (Czech Republic), Marian Hossa  (Slovakia), Michal Handzus (Slovakia), Michael Frolik (Czech Republic), Johnny Oduya (Sweden), Marcus Kruger (Sweden), Niklas Hjalmarsson (Sweden), Viktor Stalberg (Sweden).

21 total active players

small CanadaCAN 9 = 43%

small USAUSA 4 = 19%

small EUEUR 8 = 38%

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Kings

Los Angeles Kings:

Canadians: Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, Justin Williams, Drew Doughty, Tyler Toffoli, Dustin Penner, Dwight King, Jake Muzzin, Robyn Regehr, Jarret Stoll, Colin Fraser, Kyle Clifford, Brad Richardson, Keaton Ellerby, Jordan Nolan, Tanner Pearson, Jonathan Bernier.

Americans: Jonathan Quick, Dustin Brown, Trevor Lewis, Rob Scuderi, Matt Greene, Alec Martinez.

Europeans: Slava Voynov (Russia), Anze Kopitar (Slovenia).

25 total active players

small CanadaCAN 17 = 68%

small USAUSA 6 = 24%

small EUEUR 2 = 0.08%

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Penguins

Pittsburgh Penguins:

Canadians: Kris Letang, Sidney Crosby, Jarome Iginla, Pascal Dupuis, James Neal, Chris Kunitz, Tyler Kennedy, Brenden Morrow, Matt Cooke, Tanner Glass, Craig Adams, Deryk Engelland, Simon Despres, Marc-Andre Fleury.

Americans: Joe Vitale, Brooks Orpik, Matt Niskanen, Beau Bennett, Brandon Sutter, Mark Eaton, Paul Martin.

Europeans: Evgeni Malkin (Russia), Tomas Vokoun (Czech Republic), Douglas Murray (Sweden), Jussi Jokinen (Finland).

25 active players

small CanadaCAN 14 = 56%

small USAUSA 7 = 28%

small EUEUR 4 = 0.16%

*********

Summary:

small CanadaHighest Number of Canadians: LA Kings (17)

small CanadaHighest Percentage of Canadians: LA Kings/Boston Bruins (68%)

small USAHighest Number of Americans: Pittsburgh Penguins (7)

small USAHighest Percentage of Americans: Pittsburgh Penguins (28%)

small EUHighest Number of Europeans: Chicago Blackhawks (8)

small EUHighest Percentage of Europeans: Chicago Blackhawks (38%)

 

Conclusion:

small CanadaMost Canadian Team: LA Kings

small USAMost American Team: Pittsburgh Penguins

small EUMost European Team: Chicago Blackhawks

So, with all that being said, if your favorite/regional team has been eliminated, and you are in the market for a new team to temporarily align with and would prefer to cheer for a new team and/or players based on nationality, you now should have all the information necessary to appropriately select your new allegiance.

Categories: Current Events, Hockey, Sports Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Knock Knock, Analyzing The Flyers Flop

May 12, 2012 Leave a comment

[Originally post for www.betonhockey.com on May 10/2012]

 There are plenty of legit reasons that could make a person believe the Philadelphia Flyers should have won the Stanley Cup this year.

At the time of their elimination at the hands of the New Jersey Devils this year, the Flyers had the leading goals (tied with teammate Briere – 8), assists, and points scorer of the playoffs on their roster (Giroux 8g, 9a, 17pts); as well as second place in playoff assists, Jakub Voracek (8), second place in playoff points (Briere — 13), two players tied for the lead in playoff powerplay goals (Giroux, Hartnell – 3), one player tied for the lead in playoff short-handed goals (Giroux – 2), and two players tied for the lead in overtime goals (Briere, Voracek – 1). And in the second round, all this firepower was being directed at a goaltender that turned 40 years old during the series. Mind you, that old goalie is a four-time Vezina Trophy winner, holder of more than 20 goaltending records, and wears the best looking blocker in the league, but I digress.

As a team, the Flyers had the number one rated power play (35.7%), scoring on 15 of 42 opportunities – that’s 6 more man-advantage goals than the second place team – and were second in goals for; only behind the Pittsburgh Penguins, who they disposed of in the first round.

With two of five games in the series being decided by one goal, another two of five being won by two goals, and even in the lopsided game 2 that New Jersey won by three, you’d think offensive numbers like these would have been more influential, and in Philadelphia’s favor.

So what in the world went wrong?

BetOnHockey_Flyers_Bryzgalov.jpgGoaltending, right? It always comes down to goaltending with the Flyers, it had to be that again, right? Well, as it turns out, yeah it kinda was.

Remember when Philadelphia allegedly cured their goaltending ailment by signing Ilya Bryzgalov to a 9-year, $51 million contract that maxed out their salary cap allowance? How’d he do? Dead last in goals against amongst goaltenders in the playoffs, with 37 on 326 shots he faced. The second worse, Braden Holtby of Washington, faced more than 100 more shots (albeit playing in two more games) and let in 9 less goals. More importantly, Martin Brodeur let in 12 less. Out of 23 goalies recording statistics in the playoffs, Bryzgalov placed 19th in GAA (3.46) and save percentage (.887%), and Philly’s backup Sergei Bobrovsky finished 23rd in GAA (8.11) and 21st in save percentage (.722%) [to be fair, Bobrovsky only appeared in one game]; meanwhile, Brodeur is currently pitching a 2.05/.920%. Bryz was so bad, he’s not even being invited to play for Russia at the IIHF World Championships — a tournament where participating national teams clamber for all the available NHL talent they can acquire in an attempt to legitimize their team and an overall watered down talent pool that is somehow allowed to influence world rankings – holding fast with Colorado’s Semyon Varlamov as their starter, and backing him up with two KHL goaltenders, despite Bryzgalov’s availability [also to be fair, much of the NHL’s top talent turns down the opportunity to play in this tournament for various reasons, and is unsubstantiated that he would have gone, even if invited].

Additionally, it didn’t help having Claude Giroux, leader of basically every offensive statistical category in the playoffs, suspended for the series-deciding game five, after a head hit he dished out in game four. Some may argue though, that while facing a 3-1 series deficit to the Devils, the series may have already been over for the Flyers. The on-ice absence of Philadelphia’s captain Chris Pronger was unquestionably missed as well.

BetOnHockey_Flyers_Eliminated.jpgSome may argue still the Flyers felt the relocation of former captain Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, who have both become substantial contributors to the success of the Los Angeles Kings, more so than the acquisition of Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn, and even Jaromir Jagr.

Whatever you want to pin it on, it’s back to the drawing board once again for the Flyers. They again bow out of the running for the Stanley Cup early, and now make it 37 years since their last Cup victory. At this point, after acquiring a highly touted goaltender and a bona fide offence, it’s got to feel like they gave all the right answers, and then someone changed the questions for that franchise. I can’t imagine it’s anything short of frustrating for all those involved. I wouldn’t blame Peter Laviolette is he felt like doing this with a real hammer. I regret having to say we’ve heard the last rendition of Mac Miller’s “Knock Knock” in the Flyers’ dressing room for another season.

Hockey Talkie: Simmonds Good Guy/Bad Guy Battle, Nabokov/Isles, Jagr, and #ShanaBanned.

September 29, 2011 2 comments

I heard this topic brought up on NHL Home Ice on XM Radio….The New York Rangers, Anaheim Ducks, LA Kings, and Buffalo Sabres play a total of 7 exhibition games against teams in Slovakia, Switzerland, Germany, Finland, Sweden, and the Czech Republic.  So my question is this: if an NHL player hits a Euro to the head, or commits another suspendable play, will the NHL’s Senior VP Player Safety, Brendan Shanahan, hold them accountable? Can/Would they get “#Shanabanned” (probably the best hashtag on Twitter, btw)? Could he Shanaban the European players? Some grey areas in this European exhibition experiment. The radio folks didn’t know, maybe one of you readers has some insight?

***********************

Judging by the fact that he has been starting in goal through pre-season, assumably everything is hunky-dorry with Evgeni Nabokov and the New York Islanders? You remember the Nabokov clustercuss from last year; came back from the KHL mid-season, picked up by Detroit, nabbed by the Islanders through the waiver system, and then refused to report to Long Island? Didn’t that make a bunch of people mad? Water under the bridge?

***********************

Granted, it’s only pre-season, but while pointing to his current point-total, clearly Jaromir Jagr can still hang in the NHL. But I have to wonder, black Tuuks still? Really, Jaromir? I mean, even Mike Grier finally upgraded from that style.

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Jagr’s Flyers’ teammate, Wayne Simmonds, sure neutralized that defence shield he had from the banana incident (apparently the banana thrower feels really, really bad; says he was just trying to prevent the game winning goal in the shootout.  But dude, if you’re going to attempt to do that by throwing a foreign object on the ice, throw ANYTHING ELSE besides a banana at the black player who’s shooting) with that alleged Sean Avery-directed slip of the tongue, hey? [note: Simmonds denied saying what people speculate he said, and was not disciplined by the NHL] Though Simmonds was caught on tape appearing to say what lip-readers insist was a homophobic slur, isn’t it odd that cameras were even on Simmonds? I mean, lots of NHL players say lots of bad things to other players during games; did Simmonds just have extra spotlight on him from the London incident? Or was someone looking for Simmonds to trip up after everyone was on his side? Lots of speculation. I think he’s a great player, and I hope we can focus on that, rather than this BS.  On one hand, this is a good opportunity for guys like Brian Burke to reinforce the progress made against homophobia in hockey last year.  On the other hand, there’s lots of people who want to take this far beyond learning a lesson. Here’s a press release I was sent this morning:

=============================================================================================================================

***PRESS RELEASE***

34,000 DEMAND NHL FINE PLAYER FOR ANTI-GAY SLUR

Explosive campaign on Change.org calls on National Hockey League to hold Wayne Simmonds of the Philadelphia Flyers accountable for homophobic slur against New York Rangers player Sean Avery

NEW YORK, NY – More than 34,000 people have joined an avid hockey fan’s campaign on Change.org calling on the National Hockey League to fine Wayne Simmonds of the Philadelphia Flyers for using an anti-gay slur against New York Rangers player Sean Avery.

Gloria Nieto, a gay rights activist and sports fan, launched the campaign on Change.org after watching an NHL exhibition game on Monday in which Simmonds reportedly called Avery a “f*cking f*ggot.” Avery complained to NHL officials, who refused to fine Simmonds, citing conflicting accounts of what was said on the ice. Activists claim that video footage clearly shows Simmonds mouthing the homophobic slur.

“All of us in the hockey community deserve a chance to enjoy games and the hard competition the league offers,” said Gloria, who created the petition on Change.org. “The National Hockey League has a unique opportunity to make a statement about fair play. As they hand out penalties for hits to the head, how about a penalty for hits to the heart, especially for all the fans who believe in equality for all?”

News of the online petition’s success is likely to increase pressure on the NHL. Within a day of the campaign’s launch, Gloria Nieto had recruited tens of thousands of supporters on Change.org, the world’s fastest-growing platform for social change. Prominent gay rights organizations across the U.S. are also demanding action, including the Human Rights Campaign, the Courage Campaign, and the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, which created its own petition on Change.org and gathered more than 1,000 signatures.

“There is clearly a lot of outrage that the NHL has refused to hold Wayne Simmonds accountable for his homophobic slur,” said Change.org Organizing Manager Joe Mirabella. “With no budget and armed with only a laptop, Gloria has managed to recruit more than 34,000 of supporters to take a stand against homophobic language in sports. Change.org is about empowering anyone, anywhere to demand action on the issues that matter to them, and it has been incredible to watch her campaign take off.”

The petition follows a recent trend of professional sports leagues fining their members for unacceptable language, including basketball players Kobe Bryant and Joakim Noah. Bryant, who plays for the Los Angeles Lakers, was fined $100,000 by the National Basketball Association for calling a referee a homophobic slur and Noah, from the Chicago Bulls, was fined $50,000 for using an anti-gay slur against a fan.

Live signature totals from Gloria Nieto’s Change.org campaign:

http://www.change.org/petitions/nhl-fine-wayne-simmonds-for-his-homophobic-slur-against-sean-avery

For more information on Change.org, please visit:

http://www.change.org/about

Change.org is the world’s fastest-growing platform for social change — growing by more than 400,000 new members a month, and empowering millions of people to start, join, and win campaigns for social change in their community, city and country.

CONTACTS:

Gloria Nieto, Petition Author, (408)280-6301 glorianieto@comcast.net

Joe Mirabella, Organizing Manager, Change.org, (206) 354-4931, joe@change.org

=========================================================================================================================

I have yet to be sent a press release for the ceasing of racism in the NHL though. Maybe that one’s coming next.

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