Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Shred Rich Rodriguez promotion by the Nailers

You gotta love this "Shred Rodriguez" Night promotion by the ECHL Wheeling Nailers. I especially like the Ohio State "mutual distaste" bit.

WHEELING, WV – The Wheeling Nailers, the “AA” affiliate of the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Philadelphia Flyers, have announced today that this Saturday will officially be “Shred Rich Rodriguez Night” at WesBanco Arena when the Nailers host the Charlotte Checkers at 7:35pm.

Rodriguez, who took the time to shred every file in his WVU office before departing to become the head coach at the University of Michigan, will have the favor returned at the Nailers game on February 2.

The Nailers are offering discounted tickets to any fan that brings in a newspaper article or picture of the former West Virginia University football coach to contribute to the industrial sized paper shredder that will be stationed in the concourse.

Additionally any fan who wears WVU apparel to the game will receive $2 off their ticket price. Ohio State fans will also receive the discount by wearing their gear to the game to demonstrate their mutual distaste for Michigan.

Any fan caught wearing University of Michigan apparel will be charged double in order to help Rodriguez pay his $4 million buyout to WVU.

If your first name is Rich or your last name is Rodriguez your ticket will be $8.25. If your name happens to be Rich Rodriguez you will get in free. Except, of course, if you actually are Coach Rich Rodriguez then you will be barred from the building and escorted outside state lines.

Escorting someone outside state lines isn't hard to do in Wheeling, as it's only about 10 steps to either Ohio or Pennsylvania.

In a somewhat related story, here's an essay by NewsHour with Jim Lehrer reporter Richard Rodriguez about his name and the Latinization of America. I saw it on TV, told in Rodriguez's soothing voice, but I'm glad there's a printed version for those who didn't catch it.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Thrashers and others on the All-Star red carpet

Here are the last bunch of photos from the All-Star game. I took these with an unfamiliar camera, but I think they came out OK.

Penguins mascot Iceburgh works the crowd like a pro. Look at all those smiling faces.

Alexander Ovechkin signs autographs.

Here he's interviewed by MTV Canada. I heard him say that the suit was Dolce. I had noticed his belt was earlier, but apparently the entire outfit was. A flashy designer for a flashy player.

Does someone dare sneak up behind Zdeno Chara? No.

Kovalchuk signs.

Marian Hossa waves goodbye as he heads for the door. I'll keep this shot handy...

Marc Savard signs autographs with his sons in tow (the little #91's)

Enstrom, in case you missed him. He was almost through the door and he heard me say "Toby," and popped back out for a photo.

Toby Enstrom on the red carpet

Sunday, January 27, 2008

All-Star weekend cheers and jeers

Cheers to:
1. Ilya Kovalchuk for some creativity in the trick shot contest. He dropped to his knees and managed to get a good shot off. It's not the ideal way to release a puck, but it did have the element of surprise.
2. The amount of media that showed up. There had to be at least 200 media members there, from a wide variety of outlets.
3. Penguins mascot Iceburgh, for showing how a red carpet walk should be done. He worked the crowd the best I've ever seen.
4. Atlantans for their part in the event. I couldn't walk 10 steps without seeing someone I knew, especially behind the scenes, and everyone had a role in making the event a success. I met up with Gladiators team photographer Dale Zanine shooting the red carpet walk for example, and Jason from the Gladiators locker room working the Eastern Conference room. I may have some photos of the red carpet later, by the way. I had a good angle from a photo pen, but had someone else's camera for it, so I need to get the photos from them. I got Enstrom to stop and pose, so hopefully I'll get that shot soon.

Jeers to:
1. The AJC for its coverage. Leaving aside the puzzling negativity surrounding a series of sold-out events and the constant mistakes on the website, it's astounding how they continually manage to do so little with so much staff. They had five spots in the press box, but I know of two items regarding the Thrashers that they should have mentioned this weekend but didn't. Beat reporter Craig Custance generally does a good job, but there's not much good to say about his employer. (Interesting side note on back-up Carroll Rogers -- her first foray into hockey was when the Gwinnett Gladiators went to Alaska for the ECHL finals in 2006. Six-foot-nine defenseman now turned basketball player Lane Manson spent a while teaching her about the game on that trip.)
2. Jeers to the selection of Scott Mellanby as a judge for the trick shot competition. A career garbage goal scorer who burned bridges with the Thrashers after retiring, that one was a head-scratcher.
3. General disorganization at the skills competition. The lack of recording of times for the fastest skaters is really inexcusable.
4. for monopolizing some of the players during media availability. You would think that the league would arrange times for them to talk, and allow other outlets a chance.
5. The weather. It was a chilly weekend in Hotlanta, which put a damper on things, especially the red carpet walk.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

All-Star Weekend, Day 2

This morning there was a morning skate, but I didn't get to see any of it because they had media availability at the same time, first Western Conference All-Stars and then Eastern. The YoungStars didn't have to go because they had theirs yesterday and apparently a couple of them took it upon themselves to make the morning skate optional too, namely Enstrom and Backstrom.

A few impressions. I really enjoyed listening to two guys talk: Tim Thomas and Vinny Lecavalier. When I wandered over to Thomas' riser, he was talking about bears -- real bears like grizzly bears, and bear behavior. Something about a hunting trip up north. I have no idea what got him on that, but it was the most off-topic I've heard any interview get yet. John Manasso then asked him to compare Marc Savard and Zdeno Chara. Thomas said they aren't anything alike, and seemed puzzled by the question.

Chara didn't need a riser, so he didn't stand on one. Marty St. Louis took advantage of his for sure. When he was asked who he was glad he was going to be playing with rather than against, he said "Chara. I think you know why." St. Louis looks a lot older in person.

Lecavalier was very thoughtful with all of the questions, which were many. He seems like a great spokesman. I asked which rookie he was most impressed with and he said Kris Letang (PIT). He also had nice things to say about Enstrom.

Best dressed would have to go to Ovechkin, in a silvery suit, Dolce & Gabbana belt and patent-leather pointy dress shoes. It was a lot of look for morning, but a little hair gel and he's ready for the red carpet.

I remarked yesterday about how much media was here. Even more showed up today. I saw Helene Elliott, Hockey Hall of Fame writer for the LA Times. She was one of only a couple women covering the game in the early days. Now there are too many women to count. I've never had any trouble at the NHL level because all the security people are so well-trained on who belongs where. It's in the minors that I've had issues, contrary to policies. Always the rent-a-cops, never players, coaches or leagues.

The Tennessean didn't feel it worthwhile to cover the weekend's festivities, despite Jason Arnott being named from the Predators, and it being a 3.5-hour drive. They also didn't cover the NHL draft in Columbus. I hear they do a poor job of getting to local events too, so I guess it is just dysfunction all around. MTV Canada, some Norwegian and Swedish outlets, and the Antelope Valley Press are here (I am not making that up), but not The Tennessean.

The nameplate behind Evgeni Nabokov had been papered over due to a misspelling. He lifted up the paper to see how they got it wrong: "Evengi". Everyone else had to look at it after he did.

The Buffalo News asked Brian Campbell a super-long question in which they stipulated facts and then asked him to comment. They apologized for the length and then let Campbell respond. "Yeah it was a long question," Campbell said. "What did you ask again?" He was serious too, he really forgot.

I'm sitting high atop Philips right now and they are practicing announcing the skills participants. They have a stand-in for each player and some can barely skate. This is pretty funny actually.

YoungStars quotes article up

The piece I did for Hockey's Future from yesterday's meeting with the YoungStars is now up. It's a collection of the best quotes. I think it kind of gives you a lay of the land.

Milan Lucic named Toby Enstrom as the best rookie he has faced as an opponent this year.

There were a couple guys I wanted to talk to that I didn't get to, like David Clarkson. Maybe today I'll get a chance.

Friday, January 25, 2008

YoungStars photos

Here are some photos from chatting with the YoungStars today.

First is Peter Mueller. It was tough to get him talking about anything interesting, so I didn't talk to him long.

David Perron. Last summer at the draft, I liked him as soon as I met him, and I still do. Great player, extremely focused mindset. He can talk your ear off. In French or English.

Erik Johnson must not have read the weather report before packing for Atlanta. He had to wear the hat to make up for the short sleeves.

Mike Lundin came from Tampa though, so he brought sweaters.

Here Lundin plays NHL2K with Matt Niskanen of Dallas. I found the visual of NHL players playing a video games that include their peers, with their peers, hilarious.

Niskanen concentrates hard. I talked to him for a while, he seemed really nice.

Sam Gagner is interviewed by a Cuba Gooding, Jr. lookalike. The guy was really good, got everyone laughing.

Gagner plays NHL2K.

Here's Milan Lucic. I asked him what he was going to wear for his red carpet arrival yesterday and he said something like "you're looking at it." He only brought one suit, which was given to him by Aaron Ward. Ward actually gave him like five suits. So I took a picture of him in the Aaron Ward suit. He's talking to Eddie Olcyk at this point. I also asked Lucic which rookie most impresses him this year, and he said Enstrom.

In case the poster behind him isn't clear enough, here's Kris Letang.

Where's Patrick Kane? Apparently late landing at the airport. He finally got there when the event was wrapping up. Someone said he was "mobbed" at the airport. How big was the mob, I asked him. About 30 people he thought. And he got out alive.

Look at those dimples on Kane.

Toby Enstrom listens very intently to a reporter's question. He said he's staying downtown at the hotel with the other YoungStars instead of his apartment this weekend. He's excited to finally meet Nick Lidstrom. Several YoungStars named Lidstrom as the guy they wanted to meet the most. I also heard Pavel Datsyuk, by Perron. Brandon Dubinsky was looking forward to spending quality time with teammate Scott Gomez.

Enstrom on NHL radio.

Alexander Edler. He talks pretty quietly, so I leaned in more and still couldn't understand him. Then I realized he was speaking Swedish. I moved on.

The last guy in the Swedish corner, Nicklas Backstrom. He always has a worried look on his face.

Don Waddell at the All-Star coaches roundtable

Thrashers GM and coach Don Waddell was named as an assistant coach for the Eastern Conference All-Stars this morning when New Jersey's Brent Sutter had to withdraw because of a family emergency. DW said he only found out about it this morning. It was a logical solution to a very late withdrawal by Sutter, with Atlanta as the host team. I wonder what they would have done if a Western assistant had withdrawn. I guess someone else would be on a plane right now.

Anyway, Waddell had some interesting things to say at the coaches roundtable. Notable also was that Turtleneck Don was the only one who wore a tie. A snazzy tie at that.

As most who have seen him in public speaking sessions know, Don jokes around a lot, but he seemed especially funny today next to the deadpan John Paddock. Don said he told Mike Babcock a week or so ago, something everyone on the panel could agree on, that NHL coaches don't get paid enough. There's a lot of sleepless nights getting ready for practice the next day when the game you just played didn't go the way you wanted.

The moderator asked how much of a coach's job is motivating the players, noting that the answers to this have varied widely. Don said that the Thrashers lost Mellanby this year and don't have that guy who steps up. The coaches have to step up. The amount of motivation depends on the chemistry of the team. Right now, it's a decent part of the Thrashers coaches' jobs.

Regarding whether the media are too intrusive, Don said the Thrashers are always looking for new avenues. What he doesn't like is speculation and rumor -- "let's deal with facts," he said. "Some guy in Ottawa makes something up -- not John (pointing to Paddock, laughing) -- and suddenly it's the Bible." He said they had to deal with this just last week. Babcock said the media are very important in hockey because we have glass between the players and fans. I thought that was an astute comment, one I wouldn't think about since I only do hockey. (Below is Babcock meeting with the important people. The woman next to him is
I think Helene St. James from the Detroit Free Press).

Is lack of scoring a problem in the league? Don said no, not the brand of hockey the Thrashers play, where they try to outscore the other guy. Babcock said the goalies are just too good, and mentioned Kari Lehtonen in particular. His 48 saves against Detroit are fresh in his memory.

Don finished by joking he was glad to be behind the bench "because they'll all be free agents someday," and the Thrashers could showcase the facilities and city. The moderator promised not to turn him in for tampering.

Philips Arena ready for All-Star events (photos)

Here are a few photos I took at Philips Arena today, as things were being set up for the 2008 NHL All-Star Game.

Lots of TV trucks are parked below street level.

Here's the NHL Network truck.

Now from inside the arena, looking out through the L and A. The flags advertise the All-Star Game.

Looking out to the street that runs between the arena and the Georgia Dome. I assume this is where the red carpet arrivals will happen. It's on the opposite side of the arena as the locker rooms, but it's the only side that makes sense logistically.

The bowels of the arena are filled to the brim with stuff. Here are the nets and bumpers for the Skills Competition.

Cones and target.

Media event with the YoungStars. Below is Jack Johnson. There were more media than I expected, and it will only get more crowded. There was someone there from the Portland Tribune. Yes, Portland, Oregon, who only has a WHL team. I'm not sure this is the best use of their travel budget.

Anyway, I have a feeling knowing the location of the freight elevator is going to come in handy this weekend as the hordes descend.

On the floor of the arena they were setting up a stage for the concert that will be part of the morning skate. This photo was taken from the top of section 319.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

How ECHL graduates to the NHL are changing

The Gwinnett Gladiators have recently had three former players make the NHL -- Kevin Doell, Pascal Pelletier and Colin Stuart. All three are forwards. They join three former goaltenders who had previously made it (Munro, Garnett and Berkhoel). It's not surprising that there was some time lag for skaters to debut, as they tend to work their way up the ranks in a more linear fashion than goaltenders. But anyway, the event sparked some discussion, but there weren't many numbers floating around to back it up.

About three and half years ago I wrote an article about the record-breaking 2003-04 season in which 40 former ECHLers made the show (record later eclipsed by 47 in 2005-06). The article was data-heavy, mostly demographics. So far this season, 15 players have made it, which is a good pace for late January. Today I looked at the demographics to compare this crop to the 2003-04 crop (essentially four years apart). Below is a chart of the highlights.

In a nutshell, this year's graduates played in the ECHL longer, scored more while they were there, and are scoring more in the NHL as well. More of them had NHL contracts while they played in the ECHL, though the percentage of those who were ever drafted was similar. This goes hand in hand with something Dan Marr said the other night, that the ECHL is getting younger (more developmental).

ECHL graduates to the NHL in 2003-04 vs. 2007-08

2003-04 2007-08
Position 20% G, 10% D 27% G, 0% D
ECHL GP 33 gp (range 0-98) 55 gp (range 5-174)
No. of ECHL seasons 70% one season 47% one season

20% two seasons 33% two seasons

10% three seasons 20% three seasons
Age at NHL debut 24 (range 20-33) 24 (range 21-28)
Drafted 65% 67%
Avg no. in draft 121st 127th
ECHL ppg .74 1.04
NHL ppg .23 .32
ECHL PIMS/gp 2.4 1.4
NHL contract one-half two-thirds

Interestingly, none of the graduates this year have been defensemen. Only 10% were defensemen in 2003-04. Goaltenders remain disproportionately represented. The total career ECHL games went up pretty dramatically, from 33 to 55, meaning players are spending longer in the league before moving up. The number of seasons among which the 55 games were spread was longer too. Over half spent more than one season in the ECHL.

The age of NHL debut and the percentage drafted stayed the same, as did the average draft slot. Points scored per game in the ECHL is up significantly, and the NHL scoring follows it. It's a more skilled player who is making it. As further evidence of this, the average penalty minutes per game in the ECHL by the graduates is also down.

As always, the best way to increase your odds of making it to the NHL out of the ECHL is to have an NHL contract while you're there. Two-thirds of players who made it this year had NHL contracts to start with.

Kevin Doell stands out as the oldest of this year's crop to make it, at age 28. Colin Stuart is tied with Daniel Winnik with the fewest ECHL games played at five. He was barely with the team and didn't really belong here at the time, but that's water under the bridge now.

You can view a complete list of the 345 ECHL alumni here.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Delete from IR: Me

After a 45-minute open skate today, I declare myself fit to play again. I'm recovering from the longest illness I've ever had -- four weeks of a sinus infection. If you've never had a sinus infection, consider yourself lucky. This was my first one and it kicked my ass.

As my favorite contestant on Project Runway said when he was struggling to make a prom dress for a difficult client, "I'm not feeling fierce right now."

You don't truly appreciate the sense of taste until you've lost it for a couple weeks. Two doctors, two kinds of antibiotics, and some prescription cough medicine -- finally I'm almost back to normal though woefully out of shape.

I sat down on the bench to rest for a bit at the rink today and overheard a skating instructor telling a little girl what she needed to do now to earn her Basic 3 badge. Ah, skating badges. Fond memories of my youth. I tried many different activities before I found some I liked. Gymnastics -- too dangerous. I always thought I was going to break a wrist or my neck. Softball -- too boring. The ball never came to you.

But skating was fun. My parents first put me on roller skates when I was like 3 or 4. Apparently I had a rough first time out. At the end of the night, they put the rental skates in the return slide, and one just sat there -- one of the wheels was broken and that's why I was having so much trouble. I was too young to know or express it though. My mom still apologizes to me about that -- and still laughs about it too.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Gladiators vs. Sea Wolves 1-19, Walby tossed

I went to this game to talk to Mike Egener, a Tampa prospect sent down from Norfolk for a conditioning stint. It snowed much of the morning, but wasn't supposed to ice over until late that night, so the roads would be OK.

Pre-warmups I found Ryan Munce out shooting around. I had talked to him two weeks ago the night he had the shutout. I think my feature on him came out pretty well.

No, he's not threatening me with his stick. I love this photo though.

Egener wasn't out at warmups, to my disappointment. I thought he probably wasn't there at all. But between the first and second periods, I was in the elevator with a guy who had to be a player and looked like his mugshot. It was him, and I told him I'd meet up with him after the game. That worked out well. Good thing I had just looked at the pronunciation of his name too (Egg-nurr). He was out because of bruised ribs.

Back to warmups. With Egener not out, I headed over to the Gladiators end. Here's Lou Dickenson.

Matt Anderson blowing bubbles again. This time in blue.

K-Wal entertains the kids who were guests on the bench. You can see the little helmets next to him.

In-game. This is Steffon Walby, the Sea Wolves coach.

This is a step-by-step montage of Walby losing it on the bench. He was mad over an interference call that was far from the worst call that night. It put the Sea Wolves down two men. Here he asks Munce to hand him his stick from the rack.

He starts banging on the boards. To the side, Munce can't help smiling.

Poor Rob Montepare (linesman) has to go tell Walby he's being tossed out.

He heads off through the tunnel.

While Walby had out a stick, Pyle had out a marker.

Walby went up and sat in the club level with his son during the remainder of the game. He returned to the tunnel at the end (you can see his blue tie here). His club won without him.