Sunday, February 27, 2011

Prepare Yourself for NHL Trade Deadline

Just setting the table for Monday, when hockey talk is served up fresh and hot, that is, if you know where to get it.

On cable, those of you who get the NHL Network can tap in to the day's activities. That network will grab the feed of TSN from Canada and bring it right to you. Usually, the NHL's website will do some sort of production. Here is a detailed plan for the website and the network. TSN treats the day like the main U.S. news networks take on a presidential election.

A lot of talking heads, projections, graphics and analysis, and that is before anything happens. And when a trade occurs, look out.

If you don't get the NHL Network (And why not? What are you waiting for?), you can go to the TSN website and pick up the audio feed and the live trade tracker there. Actually, for those of you who are employed and would like to stay that way, the audio feed and popup trade tracker is the best way to go.

For the most part, you really don't need to see these guys. And, more important, your boss doesn't need to see you seeing them either.

Another way to go is via Twitter. Signing up for an account is free. Once you do, just start plugging in some names of the top or self-proclaimed top hockey writers, columnists and TV commentators. Find the ones you like and start following them.

Like trading cards: Helene Elliott, got it. Bob McKenzie, got it. James Duthie, got it. Michael Russo, got him, too. Also Pierre LeBrun. Following them is better than the radio. They get the story and you get it quickly, and in no more than 140 characters. No adjective-crazy prose here. Save that for the dying newsprint publications, who will give you 2,000 words without saying anything.

Another site to have is CapGeek, which pays close attention to all things related to the NHL's salary cap. You can also follow CapGeek on Twitter.

And once you identify the Tweets you want to follow, that will lead to suggestions on more interesting hockey talk to get in on. It's easy, it's free and it's addictive.

Warning, some newsprint reporters tend to think Twitter is a place to work on their weak standup comedy skills. Case in point, David Shoalts and Damian Cox. Both spend more time taking shots. Very little news passes through these accounts.

Now get to work, get your links and Twitter feeds, and get yourself ready for full day of hockey talk.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Isles and Hawks Take Holiday Matinees

Happy to say that my workplace honors Presidents Day and I honor that decision by firing up both HD screens in the Lounge for hockey.

Two games in to the afternoon, we have seen a fine performance by Matt Moulson and Al Montoya in the New York Islanders' 5-1 blowout of the Florida Panthers. And we just saw the Chicago Blackhawks spot the St. Louis Blues two goals before racing back to take a lead and hold on the final seconds. An empty net goal gave the Blackhawks a 5-3 victory in St. Louis.

Tonight, it's Washington at Pittsburgh on Versus. It's the final meeting of the regular season between these two teams, but excuse me if I am not the most excited person in the Lounge.

Don't get me wrong here. I love hockey, but it seems as though Versus, NBC and the NHL Network (U.S.) has decided to show nearly every game the Cap and Pens play. Great if you like those teams, but I can remember a time when there were other teams in the league.

They're still there, but they'll have to wait until the Penguins and Capitals either pay a visit or play host to them.

Right now, I am getting ready to make the Lounge's Monday night special. Penne with shrimp fra diavolo sauce will be served tonight in the Lounge, along with a fine selection of wines or, should you choose, a Smuttynose in a bottle or a Naragansett in a tall boy can.

Hope the crowd appreciates the effort, the warm conditions on a chilly night and the Caps and Pens, too.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

My Hall of Fame Can Be Used for Weddings

The Lounge has a very intricate, highly byzantine code of achievements that a player must solve to be considered, let along gain entry, into Vic's Hockey Hall of Fame.

The standards, if you will, are so demanding that many who have gained entry to the halls in Toronto and Eveleth, Minn., would not make it in. My hall, my rules. You must have more than a shirt and shoes to get served here. (Pants, after all, are required.)

I bring this up because Jeff, a trusted patron who has been known to take a few shifts behind the bar here in the Lounge, asked me whether Rod Brind'Amour should be in consideration for the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Well, he would pass the first test for entry in Vic's Hall. He has been on a Stanley Cup champion. See, I run you out of the Hall if you have not played for a champion. I will have to adjust the rules a bit now to allow for the fact that professionals play in the Olympics, but I do so only slightly. We all acknowledge that the Olympics can be the best All-Star tournament around, but I don't think much of All-Star games, so you might gain a half-point for winning gold in the Olympics. And a Cup championship's value. Five points.

You don't like that price? There's the door.

After that I go into things like dominating the game on a variety of levels. Can you lead a team? (Vic's Hall is for leaders, not followers or specialists.) Have you changed the way the game is played? You may skate as fast as Bobby Orr, but can you put a team on your back and then possibly score again and again while having the entire opposing team hanging on your sweater hem, trying to stop you?

Bobby, your in. The rest of you? Do not put your pencils down just yet.

Would your team, without you, not win that Cup. Like I said, there are a lot of ifs and ands to qualify for enshrinement, but fail to answer in the affirmative to several of these questions means there are fewer butts to be seated honorably in Vic's Hall.

Mine is a much more spacious place than the old Bank of Montreal building in Toronto that now houses the Hockey Hall of Fame. There, you can see the plaques of a number of good players, along with the greats of the game.

Here in the Lounge, only the great ones get in, which leaves plenty of room for a little pool or, for more formal occasions like a wedding reception for our good friends from Iowa, a little polka.

I'm a big fan of Mr. Brind'Amour, who is under review right now, but I am a bit skeptical about his fate. I will have to reserve final judgement for a few years. Here's a warning, Rod. Pick your songs on the Lounge jukebox with care.

Farming and Hockey: It Takes Time

Saturday afternoon. Just finished a little pizza and a big pot of Joe while I attempt to get ready for the evening.

We have the replay of the Dartmouth/Colgate game. Earlier, we had dual screens on the replays of Western Michigan/Michigan game and the Michigan Tech/Denver game (a huge upset by Huskies from Houghton and a very disappointing show on home ice by the Pioneers).

What I noticed here in the Lounge was the nice representation of players from the regions of the United States that draws a lot of scorn from Canadians and Americans in the Northeast. Yes, players from Texas, Arizona and California playing NCAA Division I hockey.

OK, not major junior hockey or the NHL, some might say, but the spread of hockey is showing at the next levels. And that, I would argue, is why any plans to shrink away in shame from the American Southeast, South and Southwest would be mistaken. Granted, I am not picking up the tab for the losses in Atlanta, Phoenix or South Florida, but I do see teams in these areas as paying dividends for hockey as time goes on.

Building up a talent base is much like farming. You keep plowing the same land over and over and over again, and eventually, the land grows tired, not more wheat, corn, soy or cotton.

What the NHL in the warmer climate represents is not a grand payoff now, but an investment down the road in more players. Developing talent is not at the top of the business plan for the NHL, and therefor a priority for NHL fans, but it should be. Look, the KHL is making moves to help the IIHF keep as many talented young Europeans on that side of the Atlantic for as long as possible.

I'm not saying we are going to go back to the days when certain players had to defect to get out of a contract, but I will say that the price of freedom will be what the market dictates. And when governments and international organizations are the capitalists, the cost will be prohibitive.

So build up the domestic market. Clearly Canada has developed the infrastructure for that. And so will the United States, if there is a team nearby to inspire the younger kids to want to take it up. Look, those kids from Paradise Valley, Ariz., Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif., and Austin, Tex., didn't come into this world expecting to play hockey.

Everything dictates that they might naturally play baseball, football, golf, soccer, tennis, video games or hooky, but definitely not hockey. And yet they do. If a kid in the Southeast sees the Thrashers and decides the game works for him, great. But if the kid cannot find a local or regional team to watch, the game becomes that much more distant, less likely to inspire. And I enjoy seeing the eyes of inspired children grow into their dream.

Look, you can grow pretty much anything anywhere if you want to. Rice can be grown in the arid Central Valley of California. Flood some land, take a long-term approach toward doing it right and get it done. Same for hockey in the Sun Belt. Flood the rink, plan to be in it for the long haul and get it done.

Time to clean up the Lounge. Be back in a bit. Have to put the Atlanta-Edmonton game on the big screen.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Brind'Amour Tribute Is the Real Deal

After Hockey Day in Canada and Hockey Day Minnesota last weekend, here comes Hockey Day in America and the Heritage Classic. And if that doesn't tug at your heart and purse strings, well then the folks who put on these affairs have not done the job.

Either that or you just want to manage your own nostalgia, and not the marketed memories that have been or will be on display during these special events. The outdoor games in Moorhead, Minn., last week were fun for a bit, but I cannot help think things would have been better had Hill-Murray and Moorhead met on a rink that could take the heat of competition and the day.

The slush they had to deal with just did not do them or the day justice. Too bad because Hockey Day Minnesota is my favorite event to watch. Hockey Day in Canada used to be fun, but the features have grown a bit stale, and this year's little dramedy with Ron MacLean playing a rouge in the Yukon and Don Cherry as a Mountie was just way too much corn (A new low begins 4 minutes 38 seconds into the video.)

(Pure nonsense. These two men were nowhere near as entertaining as Savoir Faire and Klondike Kat. Although MacLean and Cherry can be cartoonish at times, neither can top the original animated series, a glimpse of which you can see next.)

This week will have Hockey Day in America leading into the Heritage Classic in Calgary. Let me say right now, do not have a hangover going into this one. The Flames' special sweaters will not agree many of you in the best of health. You have been warned.

But I will allow a bit of nostalgia when I watch the ceremonies in Raleigh, where the Carolina Hurricanes will retire the number of Rod Brind'Amour for his fine years of service in the league. From a young lad with the Michigan State Spartans to the St. Louis Blues, Philadelphia Flyers and Hurricanes, Brind'Amour and his work ethic reminded me of the professional rodeo cowboy.

Brind'Amour got his work done, and then hit the road to get ready for the next ride. Paul Davis' song brings that all back to me. The hard work, the tough life and what it must be like to leave a job done well for the final time.

Excuse me while I hit replay on "Ride Em Cowboy." Drinks, smiles and tears are on me.

Back Behind the Bar

The blog era is dead, I hear. Gawker's change in format was hailed by media critics who stated that ditching the most recent post on top format was dead.

I guess alphabetical order is the next to go. Well, the Lounge is more than willing to be the last bar/blog open if need be. I took some time off to determine my next path, and decided I am going to do what I do. Fewer scoreboards, more commentary. Fewer attempts to be a weak link to everything going on in the game of hockey, or music. More time spent on being a personal window into hockey, music, food, drinks, whatever.

Have you ever seen the last bar on the block? You know, the one with most of the houses either torn down or burned down? Yes, the block near you where, regardless of how sunny the day is everywhere else is sunny, it is always gray, poised to rain or snow, and decorated with bent, rusting trash cans and snow piles, crusty and black.

Vic's is that Lounge on the corner. That bar in a dying part of town. But we are open and we are going to have some fun until they plant us all in the ground.

To those of you taking a chance on visiting this part of town, thanks for coming back. I missed you.