Month: October 2010

TO “BAG” OR NOT TO “BAG”

Minnesota Wild coach, Todd Richards, put his team through a “bag skate” recently and his team responded with a big win over the Vancouver Canucks in their next game. “Bag skates” have been a tradition in hockey for as long as I can remember. The origination of the name “bag skate” is not quite clear. In technical terms a bag skate is “A team practice made of repetitive, strenuous skating drills and sprints, usually without pucks”. Some say the name originated because the pucks were left in the bag, others say that it’s because a bag may be needed in case you get sick…. Whatever the meaning, it’s quite clear to players who have been through it. It’s tough, it’s hell, and it’s a character builder. Coaches use it to send a message when all other tactics failed.  

The worse “bag skate” I ever went through was in the AHL, late in my career. I was 33 years old and playing as a player/assistant coach for the Rochester Americans under Mike Keenan. I had just spent 14 straight seasons in the NHL when I signed with the Buffalo Sabres. After a 2-7-1 start, Mike put us through a workout I will never forget. We were in Moncton on a long road trip. The workout was so tough that players labeled it the “MONCTON MASSACRE”. We skated for about 90 minutes without any pucks. Players were throwing up over the boards, (no bags to be found) sometimes yelling their lungs out pleading for mercy. In my hotel room that night, I even contemplated retirement. I could put up with this abuse in the NHL but I wasn’t ready to endure such punishment in the minors. My wife, Nicole, in her usual wisdom convinced me to finish the trip and discuss it when we returned. The players rallied, mostly against Mike, but nevertheless jelled as a team and we went on to play 21 games with only one loss and eventually won the Calder Cup.   

It’s a risky tactic for a coach but one that is often successful when used in a timely fashion. Overuse is very dangerous. The coach will lose its effectiveness and alienate the players. Other tactics will be exhausted before deciding to put the team through this agony. Changing line combinations, team and individual meetings, motivational speeches are usually the first line of defense against lackadaisical play. But when all else fails…the “bag skate” leaves no doubt that the coach is not happy. . .

PHIL-BITS: PHOENIX @ DETROIT

  1. Chris Osgood hadn’t played in 14 days and showed signs of rust in the first period. He should have stopped 2 of the 3 goals. But he redeemed himself the rest of the game to give his team a chance for a comeback.
  2. Mike Babcock showed great patience keeping his veteran net minder in the game after the 3rd goal, ignoring the “Boo Birds” in Joe Louis Arena. A good decision that almost worked for him tonight but will pay dividends later.
  3. Mike is also showing a lot of patience with Mike Modano who really has been playing below expectations so far.
  4. The NHL “Brass” was in attendance tonight. Commissioner Gary Bettman, Deputy Commissioner, Bill Daly and V.P media relations, Frank Brown. (Thanks for reading my blog Frank)
  5. The Coyotes PK was excellent and made the difference. Special mention to Belanger, Korpikoski and Fiddler and the defense in keeping the Wings on the outside and preventing the best puck retrieving team down low to get second chances.
  6. Ilya Bryzgalov was excellent in goal. (43 shots) He’s an excellent first shot blocker and he didn’t face many second chances.   
  7. 19 year old Oliver Ekman-Larsson looks like a “keeper”. He’s cool under pressure, has good size and skills. Makes an excellent first pass on break-outs.
  8. WORLD SERIES: I don’t watch a lot of baseball but I had never seen a baseball bat propelled into the stands from a player swinging for a strike like it did in the first game of the Series. Has any of you ever seen that?

HAVE A GREAT HOCKEY DAY!

Phil Myre

DO WE NEED SEX AT SPORTING EVENTS?

The Edmonton Oilers announced last week that they will be the first NHL Canadian team to add “Cheerleaders to their game entertainment. The sports industry is in an era of “TOTAL ENTERTAINMENT”. Today’s fan who attends a sport event expects to be entertained from the time they enter the venue until they leave. Sometimes, the game itself seems secondary to the special effects, giant screens, giveaways, loud music and fireworks that are all part of the “show”.

Live entertainment, like bands, mascots, trumpeters and cheerleaders, also adds to the spectacle and the interactive connection with the fans. Football and basketball have a long history and tradition with bands and cheerleaders, longer than I can remember. The basic idea is good. Fans enjoy watching talented musicians, athletic dancers and enthusiastic cheerleaders. They help them get involved with the game and interact with other fans. I don’t have a problem with any of that, I think it’s great!

I do have a problem with some teams that allow “skimpy outfits” and suggestive dances and movements from their cheerleading squads. Many teams are REALLY PUSHING THE ENVELOPE! The premise that sports demographics mainly cater to men may be true but more and more women are avid, knowledgeable sports fans. Among the spectators, there are families; there are women and 7, 8, 9 year old kids. For half dressed women to walk the aisles and stands shaking the “boobs” and “fannies” in front of young kids is not my idea of entertainment.  It’s condescending to women attending the game, it’s a poor role model  for young girls who are there watching and certainly doesn’t encourage young boys to respect women.

Sports events should be “G” rated, for people of all ages to enjoy, interact and cheer on their favorite team. Let the half-naked women parade in the bars and strip-joints where men ARE the highest demographics. Total entertainment at our favorite sports event is here to stay. Live acts like cheerleaders are part of the “show”, let them chant their cheers, show their dance skills and athletic ability for ALL fans to enjoy.

HAVE A GOOD HOCKEY DAY!

Phil Myre

FLAMES BATTLE BUT STIMIED BY HOWARD

Jimmy Howard

The Calgary Flames played a strong game in Detroit last night despite injuries to some key players like Daymond Lankow, David Moss and Ales Kotalik. They had a chance to beat the Detroit Redwings but Jimmy Howard made some timely saves in the first and third period to gain a 4-2 victory for his team.

Howard has played much better in the NHL than many scouts, including myself, had predicted. He has improved his positioning and control of movement. He’s playing a more “static” game, waiting for the puck instead of guessing, slipping and sliding away from his net. The most prominent improvement is the control of his rebounds. When playing with the Grand Rapids Griffins, his rebound control was atrocious to say the least. Some of the credit goes to the Redwings development process and to goalie coach Jim Bedard. He’s catching more pucks now and he’s able to trap the puck into his body so much better. His focus and decision making are improving as he gains more confidence.

Special teams were also a factor last night with the Wings going 1/7 and the Flames 0/11. But on most nights, if you’re going to beat the Redwings, you must shut down their top two lines or at least play them even. Calgary’s top lines failed to do that last night. Very few teams do, especially in Detroit. The Flames best line was their 3rd unit with Glencross, Backlund (2 goals) and Bourque. They outplayed the Modano line who doesn’t appear to have jelled yet as a line.

PHIL-BITS  

Same old Jokinen: neutral zone turnovers, lost a battle for the puck on the winning goal. Brett Sutter sat him late in the 3rd period, including a 5 on 3 power play.

Mikael Backlund scored two goals. He has good speed and great mobility.  Very good hands, vision, offensive sense and play making.  However, he will dish-off the puck early along the boards or in physical confrontations…to watch…

Whatever happened to the “physical presence” of Robyn Regehr? He was outfought for puck possession several times last night and didn’t use the physical dimension he has. He must play with more of an edge to be effective!

Miikka Kiprusoff made some good saves but should have had a couple of the goals. He was deep in the net on the point shot by Lidstrom and should have stopped Bertuzzi from a right wing rush on the insurance goal.

I like Mark Giordano’s competitive edge although he lost his man on two goals last night, he’s a keeper.

Why did Anaheim give up on Brendan Mikkelson so soon? He has some shortcomings, he’s prone to mistakes, I know, but he’s still young, he’s big and a great skater. Calgary, who picked him up on waivers should show patience with this kid and continue his development.

HAVE A GREAT HOCKEY DAY!

Phil Myre

NHL Playoffs hopes crushed!

Five teams have missed the playoffs with 92 points or more since the NHL has instituted the shoot-out to decide a winner in 2005-06.

Before the shoot-out, in my unofficial  survey, only two teams have accomplished that record. The Edmonton Oilers in 2001-02 and the Montreal Canadiens in 1969-70.

I have the distinction of being a member of two teams that were excluded from the playoff season with 92 and 93 points respectively. The Canadiens in 69-70 and the Florida Panthers in 2008-09. Interestingly enough, both situations have a special twist to them. Here is the Montreal story.

My first year in the NHL was with the MONTREAL CANADIENS in 1969. I received the call to go from the Montreal Voyageurs of the American League to the Canadiens. It was only a few steps away since both teams played in the Montreal Forum,  but it was a very big step in my life. (where did I hear this before?) The Canadiens had future Hall of Famers all around the dressing room and players I had grown up watching every Saturday night on TV. Jean Beliveau, Henri Richard, Dick Duff, John Ferguson, Cournoyer, Lemaire, Savard and on and on…Rogie Vachon was the goalie and I was replacing “Gump” Worsley.

I ended up playing only ten games that season but what an experience to be rubbing shoulders with all those great players. The Canadiens had won the Stanley Cup the previous year and was on its way to making the playoffs again. But it was close. With two games to go, we had a 2 point lead on the New York Rangers.  On the last week-end of the season, we had a back to back encounter with Chicago and the Rangers with Detroit. Both of us lost the first game. We were still in good shape, two points up, one game to go.

We flew to Chicago very confident to make the final playoff spot. In the event that we would lose, the Rangers had to win of course and score 6 more goals than us in the process because the tiebreaker was goals for.  Odds were on our side. . . Not so fast!

The Detroit Redwings clinched a playoff spot by beating the Rangers on Saturday. So they decided to rest their top players and play their backup goalie who hadn’t played in a long while. It also happened to be a rare CBS afternoon game which we all watched from our hotel room in Chicago. It was ugly and not what we wanted to see. The undermaned Redwings were no match for the Rangers.  It seemed like (I do specify “seemed like”) they were conspiring to put the Canadiens out of the playoffs. At least it felt that way. The score: DETROIT 5 NEW YORK 9

The situation became very tense for us. Win or tie, we’re in.  If we lost, we would need to score at least 6 goals. Rogie Vachon was our goalie. We played as hard as we could to win. It was a one goal game halfway through the third period in favor of Chicago. Then they scored to make it 4-2. Our coach, Claude Ruel, made the decision to try to score 4 more goals by substituting Rogie for an extra attacker. We never scored and the Blackhawks scored 6 goals in the empty net to end the game MONTREAL 2  CHICAGO 10 and missed the playoffs. Both teams had the same record. The two extra goals scored by the Rangers were the difference. The NHL changed the rule for tiebreaker the next season.

My top Pet-Peeves

Phil Myre

Hockey has been very good to me for 42 years as a “pro”. It brought me a lot of pleasure and satisfaction and a good life. But I also developed several pet peeves and I want to share them with you. Maybe, you feel the same way…   

My first two pet peeves have to do with goalies. The one that irks me the most happens is when I see a goalie shrug his shoulders following a goal showing everybody that  a teammate, not him,  was responsible for the miscue. He wants to show the world that he didn’t see the puck or that a deflection occurred.  I think that it’s a copout and a failure to take responsibility.  It shows a lack of team unity.   

My second pet peeve involving goalies happens when they handle the puck behind the net and shoot it with no purpose right by an oncoming teammate, usually a defenseman. Those plays are very seldom successful and often result in a turnover and put the defenseman in a vulnerable position. The ability to handle the puck for a goalie is an excellent skill which helps teams breakout of their zone. Very few have that vision and instinct. Most of the time, the easiest, simplest play is the best one. Let the defenseman handle the puck when he is in the clear.   

Another pet peeve of mine has to do with defensemen leaving their feet in the defensive zone. Yes, there are times when a defenseman will leave his feet to block a shot. As a goalie, I was very thankful to many defencemen who did that in front of me over the years. Former teammate, Bob Plager with the St-Louis Blues, was the master at blocking shots. He was even diving in front of pucks in an alumni game we played a few years back. I see more and more defensemen today leaving their feet on a 2 on 1 attack or outnumbered situation. Smart, skilled offensive players simply let the player slide away and often get a good scoring chance.  Whatever happened to leaving a lane for the goalie to take the shot and taking the pass away with good body and stick position?   

Finally, my last pet peeve of the day: Teams being rewarded with a point in the standings for losing. It’s time that the NHL reconsiders allowing a point to the losing team in overtime and in sh00t-outs. It’s the only league among the four major pro sports in North America that allows points for a loss. There has to be a better way to promote and reward winning. The Montreal Canadiens made the playoffs in 2008-09 while losing their last 4 games but earning one point in an OT loss to Boston. That one point tied them with the  Florida Panthers and earned them a playoff spot winning the tie breaker.  It’s ridiculous and needs to be changed. Some suggestions have been made, some good, some not so good. I have my own ideas but I will save them for a full blog at a later date. I would also like to hear what you have to say about it…   

HAVE A GOOD HOCKEY DAY!   

Phil Myre