Guest blogger: Phil

91

“Hey Keeeith…”

The voice boomed down through the stands at the Times Union Center in a manner that just about anyone on the ice could probably hear it. Goaltender Keith Kinkaid, a Union College standout and second-year player for the Albany Devils, stared forward stoically as the words showered down around him like a hail of hot lava.

“Hey Keeeeeeith,”  the voice rang out a second time, deliberately drawing out the name as if to assure that everyone in the arena heard it. “How much do you pay for ice time…Or do goalies in this league skate for freeeee?”

The clearly audible taunts were just beginning and the heckler never skipped a beat. Whether it was touching upon Kinkaid’s time at the expensive area college or ragging on his spot behind future Hall-of-Fame goaltender Marty Brodeur, the boisterous fellow pulled out all stops to deliver what amounted to a verbal beat-down; never crossing into the profane, but caustic enough that it was blisteringly clear some of the words were beginning to rattle around somewhere beneath the netminder’s mask.

Moments later, a puck whizzed by him. Then another. And then another. Within a span of 30 minutes, the rattled sophomore goalie yielded five goals to various players of the Connecticut Whale, the New York Rangers’ farm team in the American Hockey League. The sparse Wednesday night crowd erupted in cheers, even though the home team was in the process of getting shellacked.

Though attendance was never announced, the number of people at the game couldn’t have exceeded 1,000 — the two hockey teams and their support staff included. And those who did turn out to watch the Devils get pummeled were making sure they got their money’s worth — some at the expense of Kinkaid.

Arena workers seemed to quickly realize that this wasn’t the standard crowd of families and children that typically attend games on weekends. Perhaps it was the booze-addled heckler and several less-audible ones like him. Or maybe it was when the area’s “kiss cam” focused on one 20-something couple for a brief moment until the man stood up and unzipped his pants. Either way, they made sure to give fans a bit more rope than normal, which is a daring fete in itself

See, AHL hockey games aren’t like the stogy professional ones in big cities. They’re gritty and real; beer soaked and filled with the exact type of erratic behavior you would expect to follow a sport like ice hockey. There’s a sense that just about anything could happen. They’re the type of games where if you heckle a player, there’s a good chance he might be waiting to give you a few not-so-friendly words in the parking lot after the game.

Weekend games usually attract families, but the tenor is the same. There’s still the beer-gutted man with a scraggly beard wearing a cape and shouting taunts through a traffic cone; there’s the booze-soaked gang of diehard hockey fans bibulously carrying on with the on-ice action. There’s still a sense that this sport hasn’t been thoroughly co-opted and conquered by the talons of the fetid corporate media complex that has seized and eviscerated professional hockey.

Hockey at the NHL level is inarguably the best in the world. There is simply nowhere in the world that has the degree of players that perform in NHL arenas. Their skill is undeniably high and causes a palpable excitement even amid the bottom-feeding teams of the league. Simply put, it’s impossible to watch a bad NHL hockey game if you’re a true fan of the sport.

But the gap between the NHL and some of its lesser counterparts isn’t as far as you might think. The AHL, for instance, is just a half-step slower and a little bit sloppier than the professional league that feeds from its talent. In truth, the vast majority of fans wouldn’t recognize the difference were players from the Connecticut Whale — the AHL affiliate of the New York Rangers — to strap on professional jerseys and skate at Madison Square Garden for a game.

It’s a sad reality NHL owners probably already realize and will foist as an underlying reason for continuing to stick the screws to the players’ association. They know they can find a new brand of talent for pennies on the dollar; young players looking to realize a dream and older ones hoping to revisit it. They crowd rinks across the country waiting for a chance to play somewhere for enough scratch to cover food, lodging and the occasional corrective surgery.

Owners also understand the value of marketing and brand — or rather name — recognition. They know that a guy like Zach Parise is going to sell jerseys and fill seats. They know they can market him as a good American kid. And for Minnesota, a hometown hero. Yet even as talented as Parise is, there’s nothing he’s done in his life that is worth $98 million.

The truth is, however, someone was going pay Parise’s tab, no matter how ludicrous it happened to be. That’s exactly why he didn’t stay in New Jersey after coming within two games of hoisting his first Stanley Cup. See owners are embroiled in a competition for players which is a lot like the decades-long arms race between the United States and Soviet Union. Only this race makes nuclear proliferation in the face of mutually assured destruction sound reasonable.

By challenging one another to pay ludicrous salaries for talent, the owners are pricing themselves out of their own game. They can’t raise ticket prices any more. They can’t squeeze more pennies from concessions or television contracts, and they can’t continue paying eight-figure salaries. That means the only place left to chop lies at the very foundation they’ve built upon. Drag the players into center square. Bloody them up. Threaten to cancel the whole season unless they agree to fork over some of the dough they’ve been given during these last few years of unfettered spending — the very spending they made a half-ass attempt at stopping by imposing a salary cap.

Meanwhile, fans are languishing and the sport is withering on the vine. As the lockout moves from weeks to months, hockey fanatics are finding new places to pledge their allegiance. And in many cases, that’s in an AHL arena. The league is remarkably similar to the NHL. The difference being that it doesn’t cost nearly as much to enjoy.

Moreover, the crowd that attends these games consists of people who honestly want to watch hockey. They’re not going to see Springfield Falcons on a corporate dime. They’re not rolling into downtown Hartford because it’s a chic thing to do on a Friday night. They’re going to watch bodies get slammed into the boards; they’re going to shout until they’re hoarse; they’re going to feel the adrenaline rush of a true blue-collar sport.

It’s something the owners might want to mull as the pulse of the NHL gets fainter by the day. Hockey’s true fans are awakening to the brutish reality of a sport that has been perversely raped to its core. And pretty soon, they’re going to find a safe haven elsewhere — one that reflects the true nature of hockey.

 

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91 Comments

  1. Olga Folkyerself on

    Owners losing money? Yes.
    Players losing money? Yes.

    I haven’t spent a dime on hockey.

    Good plan!

  2. Good article Phil – its crunch time, if nothing happens after these “marathon” sessions nothing will

  3. Anyone in the New Rochelle area, the Mobil Station near Iona College (North and Mayflower Avenues) had gas as of 7:45am and there were no lines. Note sure how the lines and the gas are holdings up now. Their gas is $4.29/gallon.

  4. @KatieStrangESPN@ #CBA According to NHLPA, seven players attending today’s session: Backes, Campoli, Darche, Hainsey, Hedberg, Malhotra and Westgarth.

    Wonder is *Westgarth* is there to bleed all over everyone…

  5. Every once in a while I find myself with an opportunity to tell of a strange happening which I was present for in the old New Haven Arena ( which is now a parking lot).

    I’m quite aware of the fact that such tales of yore may incite more than one yawn among the
    blogsters ,but what the hell, some of them need something to sneer at from time to time……..
    keeps them from eating too much junk food.

    The old Arena had no glass nor plexiglass or any other material surrounding the boards of their rink, and instead it was covered with that old cris cross steel wiring that was prevalent in those days, and is now found on many yard fences to keep dogs out. Rangers farm team ( the Ramblers) had some very good players to bring up, like the line of Sherm White, Chick Webster, and Jackie Gordon. They also had a couple of fine young defensemen who really deserved a shot, but couldn,t crack the set line like Allen Stanley Fred Shero Pat Egan and Frank Eddolls.
    One of these of these Ramblers was named Orval Lavalle and, he was a terrific skater who dealt heavy checks, as well as being a scoring threat. Well this chicken wire was pretty high over looking the rink and one night Lavelle got hit into the boards, his legs went up over his head, and the one of heals of his skate blades went into the chicken, and he was caught dangling from the wire with his head on the ice, and the other leg waving in the breeze so to speak. His hands didn’t reach the ice and he had no leverage to extricate himself. None of the other players on the ice seemed to notice him dangling there and the action went on without him, until finally a referee noticed his predicament whistled play stopped and then it took two of thh Arena personnel to go out, lift him out of the wire, and set him back on his feet. There was much laughter in the old bujilding that night, and as afar as I know he never did make it to the majors. But it was a hilarious nmoment, many many years ago.

    You also know that it was before the Zamboni was brought to light, and they used a fifty gallon drum of water and hand pushed scraper blades to resurface the ice along with a cloth wiper after the scraping was done. But this was also true of the Garden back then.

  6. Thanks guys, Carp! Little long, I know.

    Julie – yeah, that game was fun. The heckling kept me in stitches.

  7. @Real_ESPNLeBrun@ Sources on both sides feel this is a huge day – either way

    It’s only *huge* if it goes one way.

  8. How bout the Lets Go Rangers chants too Phil? That cracked me up. It seemed like there were more Rangers fans there that night.

  9. anyone else drive in those pitch black 6pm conditions last night? No moon light, no starlight, no street lights working, snowfall blocking even your headlights. 3 MPH seemed too fast. Like one of those dreams we’re you’re driving literally blind, hoping not to hit anything

  10. NYP_Brooksie – NHL will have to apply transition rules to next year. If cap dives to $59.9, Bost, for example, would have 2.6M of space to sign 7 players. Flyers would have 2.4M for 7 players, *NYR 8.1M for 7*, TB 2.4M for 8, Pitt 7.3M for 7, Chi 2.7M for 6, SJ 5.6M for 9, Van 4.5M for 10

    ————————–

    OH OH!!! Bye bye Gaborik!

  11. Ilya Bryzgalov chides Russian reporters for writing ‘filth’, asks them to touch his jersey

    Question: Can you talk about the win tonight?

    Bryzgalov: What do you want me to say? You’ve been writing filth about me and now you are asking for an interview. Go look around; there are so many good players. You can go talk to them. Why me? In reality, my wife, Zhenya, forbade me from giving interviews and so did my parents. If you call them in Togliatti and they give you their permission, then I might do it. Do you think I’m joking? No, I’m not joking in this case. I am telling the truth.

    Question: At least share your impressions about the game?

    Bryzgalov: What impression are you talking about? I didn’t have to work hard. Even my uniform is dry. You can touch it yourself if you want just to make sure.

    http://tinyurl.com/b4to6w3

    You have to love this guy! Bryz!!!

  12. IBleedRangersBlue on

    Gary Bettman was quoted as saying “theres still alot of work to do” im going to spin that as good…to me that means even though theres still alot of work to do…theres work being done and their making progress

  13. Gomez to play………………..

    He is not a Ranger but it is still hockey

    Alaska NHL veteran Scott Gomez to play for Aces
    ===========p=====================================

    RECENT HEADLINES
    Aces rediscover defense behind Guggenberger’s 26 saves and Crabb’s short-handed goal to beat Las Vegas 1-0
    Alaska NHL veteran Scott Gomez to play for Aces
    Aces open five-game road trip by getting torched in Stockton
    Aces will hit the road with a bolstered blue line
    Aces hold on to beat San Francisco 3-2
    By DOYLE WOODY — dwoody@adn.com

    Practicing with the Alaska Aces teased locked-out NHL center Scott Gomez.

    Consulting on their power play proved rewarding, but not close to the excitement he would feel actually quarterbacking it in a hockey game.

    Watching Aces games at Sullivan Arena only compounded Gomez’s itch to play.

    And when he joined Aces play-by-play man Josh Bogorad for a radio and television game broadcast recently, all Gomez could think was, “I want to be out there so bad.”

    Wednesday, Gomez scratched his itch, signing to again play for his hometown Aces, just as he did during the NHL lockout of 2004-05, when he led the ECHL in scoring and was voted its Most Valuable Player by league coaches.

    Gomez is currently in Las Vegas with the Aces, who are in the midst of a five-game road trip. He won’t play the three games in Sin City — Gomez said he needs a few practices first — and expects to make his season debut with the Aces in a home game against the Colorado Eagles on Nov. 14.

    Gomez, 32, had said for months he didn’t intend to play for the Aces again. But he said being around the team, with no indication the current NHL lockout will end soon, and knowing he can’t afford a prolonged absence from games as he gets into the back end of his pro career, all helped change his mind.

    “Just practicing (during training camp) got the competitive juices flowing,” Gomez said by cell phone from Las Vegas, where he paid his own way. “It was just time. I still love the game, still love playing and being back home.

    “It was tough watching at Sullivan. It was a decision I couldn’t hold off any longer. I wanted to play. It’s what we do.”

    Gomez said he had an offer to play in Russia, and other feelers from Europe, but felt more comfortable rejoining the Aces in the town where he was born and raised, where he still owns a home and where he returns each offseason.

    He said he and the three other NHLers on the Aces — winger Brandon Dubinsky (Columbus Blue Jackets), center Nate Thompson (Tampa Bay Lightning) and winger Joey Crabb (Washington Capitals) have played for the club since season’s start — appreciate having a hometown team they can help and that, in turn, can help them during the lockout.

    “And the chance to play in front of family and friends again was just too much,” he said. “Just to be home and have a team here — we’re so proud of that. There’s no need to leave.”

    Gomez, a two-time Stanley Cup winner and former NHL Rookie of the Year, is the most accomplished, most prolific and most compensated player among the 13 Alaskans who have played in the NHL. He is currently under NHL contract with the Montreal Canadiens.

    In 12 NHL seasons with the New Jersey Devils, New York Rangers and Canadiens, he has played a combined 1,042 NHL regular-season and playoff games, and generated 785 points. He has made $45 million in NHL salary. Were it not for the lockout, he would be in the sixth year of a seven-year, $51.5 million deal he originally signed with the Rangers as a free agent in 2007.

    Aces coach Rob Murray said Gomez approached him last week about his interest in playing. They talked again earlier this week and struck a deal.

    “We’re extremely excited to have him,” Murray said. “His playmaking ability is uncanny, watching him in training camp. He’s just amazing.

    “I think he’ll really help our power play.”

    Gomez, who will wear No. 23 for the Aces, said he needs to play games to stay sharp, especially as a guy entering his 14th season as a pro.

    “We all know when you’re in your 20s, you’re unstoppable, but that’s not the case now,” he said. “I have to get my feel back for the game, and that’s what games provide.

    “(Another) reason I came on the road is to find my routine, to practice.”

    At 32, Gomez becomes the oldest player on the Aces, which struck him as funny — Gomez debuted as a pro in the NHL at 19, and has only played in the minor leagues during lockouts.

    “That could be a first,” he said with a laugh. “I don’t think I’ve ever been the oldest on any team.”

    Playing will actually cost Gomez money out of pocket. Before they can play in the ECHL, contracted NHL players are required to buy insurance against this season of their NHL deals, and published reports have estimated that can amount to roughly $25,000 for every $1 million in a deal for 2012-13.

    In Gomez’s case, he was scheduled to make $5.5 million this season with Montreal, according to capgeek.com, so he’s likely looking at a six-figure insurance policy. The Aces do not reveal salaries of their players, but with an ECHL weekly salary cap of $12,400 per team, Gomez could not possibly make enough with the Aces to pay for his insurance policy.

    As the lockout has lengthened — the NHL has canceled all scheduled games through Nov. 30 — more and more NHLers have gone to Europe to play. Some NHLers are playing in the American Hockey League, one step below the AHL. Also, NHLers are joining ECHL clubs — earlier this week, Minnesota Wild winger Devin Setoguchi signed with Ontario Reign and San Jose Sharks winger Ryane Clowe signed with the San Francisco Bulls.

    Gomez’s signing does complicate one thing for the Aces. The ECHL considers him a “veteran” — each ECHL team is only permitted to play a maximum of four veterans in any game — and that gives the Aces seven veterans. Besides the NHLers, defensemen Steve Ward and Sean Curry, and winger Matt Robinson are veterans.

    Ward, the Aces captain, is out until at least January with a broken leg that required surgery, trimming available Aces veterans to six. Still, it appears Murray will have to juggle his veterans game to game.

    Murray said Gomez is “invested” in helping the Aces, and Gomez said he has goals in mind in his return to the club.

    “First of all, to win,” Gomez said. “That’s always the most important thing. And also, I want to help these guys out, just like older guys have helped me out.”

    Gomez’s father, Carlos, an Aces season ticket-holder, said lately he could sense his son was getting eager to play.

    “I did notice he was getting a little antsy, no doubt,” Carlos Gomez said. “You can only work out so much. With the lockout, my hope is it’s over soon and (Scott’s signing with the Aces) is moot.

    “He’s 32, he’s a big boy. It’s his call and, God bless him, I’m 100 percent behind him.”

    Scott Gomez said his biggest reason for returning to the Aces was simple.

    “I play hockey,” he said, “and I want to play.”

    Find Doyle Woody’s blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.

  14. I am going to stay neutral and unenthusiastic about this meeting. Nothing good has come from the past few excitements…

  15. “I think he’ll really help our power play” – he might, providing 2 things;
    1. Perry Pearn is not behind the bench
    2. You don’t expect him to shoot

  16. Sorry to let you guys know this, but, today will yield nothing but a more ridiculous gap between the players/owners/league/fans/etc. We are in for a long lockout. Pick a KHL or AHL, ECHL, OHL, etc. team and start rooting.

  17. Julie – yeah, it’s hilarious. I don’t know if you were at the Rangers-Devils exhibition there, but it was almost the same thing. I only go to Devils games when they’re playing the Whale and it almost always seems like Ranger fans are the majority. Or at least a 50-50 split. I’ve heard rumors recently that the Rangers were thinking of moving the Whale to the Albany area, probably Glens Falls, which would make since from a fans perspective. Not sure how great it would be from an organizational stance, because players and coaches would have to take another hour or so drive between NYC and upstate. But they’d have me as a season ticket holder.

  18. Manny – Don’t know if you could tell from my guest blog, but I’m already there. I’ve given up hope that there will be any season. Even if there is, I’m just downright pissed now. Kind of feel like the fans have been screwed on all fronts and in every orifice, and that’s not the feeling I want when I’m spending my free time to watch something.

  19. I’m not surprised, last year on this blog I posted there wasn’t going to be a season and I haven’t changed my opinion. What really pisses me off is when they finally do agree and sign a new CBA the rangers will have to dismantle the team because the cap will be much lower and the rangers will be forced to let go of there core players because they will be up for free agency. There goes any chance for the rangers winning a stanely cup. If I’m right, I will be done with the NHL, maybe not forever but for a long while.

  20. “Pick a KHL or AHL, ECHL, OHL, etc. team and start rooting.”

    Let’s Go Metallurg Magnitogorsk!!!

  21. Phil, I have heard those rumors too about the Whale moving up this way. I would be a season ticket holder for sure! I go to the games when I can get tickets. I have a friend who sometimes gets me suite tickets, which is great! I was lucky enough to get tickets to both Whale games this time around.

  22. NYP_Brooksie Every day the lockout continues, the NHL dies a small death. Not a news flash, but even the most committed fans are fed up. Insanity.

    *YUP*

  23. KatieStrangESPN #Isles Josh Bailey confirms via text he is leaving today to play overseas in Germany during lockout

    SEASON OVER.

  24. Carp

    _C3, I’m starting to get the vibe that you’re not a big fan of this lockout._

    yeah… mildly put.

    I just want my Rangers. Why can’t i have my Rangers? Why?!

  25. @BrandonPrust8@ Unreal rt “@cacommencebien: L’équipe a mis le paquet pour la sortie de Skyfall. Que pensez-vous de leurs looks? #CCBIEN

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

    Our hero has become a Europansy.

  26. I emailed him through my fantasy league he was in last season (cuz that is the only way i know how to contact him) but he never replied.

    _ORR is no more._

  27. Au Revoir Orr! Good news comes in 3s. Mike Brown firing, disappearance of Orr, end of NHL lockout!!

  28. KatieStrangESPN #CBA Sounds like this current session is a small group meeting on pensions.

    Good idea. It looks like next time most of them are playing hockey there will be pension eligible.

  29. I wonder if there is a member of the Knicks since Bill Bradley ( and he’s a shaky maybe) who has even the slightest idea of what the name Knickerbocker means or from where it originated.

  30. Julie – I had my fingers crossed when Glens Falls was stumping for an AHL team right around the last time MSG’s lease with Hartford was running out. And what do I get of all things? Both the Flyers and the Devils farm teams. Funny thing is, the Flyers team is doing real well in Glens Falls, averaging 80 percent capacity at most games. The Devils, on the other hand, are landing about 22 percent capacity of the larger Times Union Center. But both are averaging below 4,000 in attendance and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them both in different cities starting 2015. The Phantoms are gone in 2014 without a doubt. The Devils, however, are signed through 2015. But I heard they want to move them to Trenton.

    Unfortunately, I think the timing is ultimately going to dash any hopes of the Whale coming this way. I think MSG’s lease ends in 2013, which means they’ll either move the team then or sign another five-year deal keeping them in Hartford. Or possibly move them to another large NHL arena that was recently left empty. Fancy that: The Long Island Rangers. Gives me the willies just mentioning it…

  31. This carcillo with the lockout et al is making me really, really thirsty. I hate, hate, hate to say this, but at what point does it make not even worth having a “season”….

  32. Manny – was a very nasty hit with a capital ‘N’ and Cote didn’t let up one second. But with that said, it was 100 percent legal. Geoffrion wasn’t paying attention from the looks of it. I watched the replay a couple times and it appears as though he has his head down, which is a no-no when you’re bolting up the boards. I think the real problem was Cote was just a bit off in his timing. He actually hammered Geoffrion a split-second early. Totally a no-fault hit in my books. A guy who has skated in the NHL should know to pay close attention when going along the boards. Nevertheless, hope he’s alright. Sounds bad, but not career-ending.

  33. Is it a “must win” negotiation for NHLPA? Is NHL “fatigued” after so many tense meetings? Is this season REALLY over? Is ORR getting married or switch sports, becoming Breasts Competition Referee?
    Too many questions – too little sense…

  34. FYI, in case I miss the day here….An early salute to our veterans for Veterans Day…..and to our boneheads vets….a special mama love…

  35. Things appear to be getting a bit better in disaster areas. Still looks like a war zone, but at least people have enough food, warm clothes, water etc. The NY community really stepped in. It will take forever to get back to normal, but at least it’s bearable for them. If you are looking to help, what they need now mostly is physical work- help cleaning up, some light construction work. But try not to go spontaneously because that creates extra traffic and congestion. Plenty of places ( churches, other organizations ) have buses to bring people in and out of those areas. Unfortunately, we saw a good amount of idiots who drove by for entertainment purposes. Jackwagons.

    If you are in the medical field, and looking to volunteer, email me at ilb2001@nyp.org. You need to be able to administer vaccines, provide simple triage, treat minor injuries, and refill prescriptions (MDs, NPs). A few hours per week, after work, weekends, will do. It appears that will be needed long term.

  36. Oh, so they’re meeting again today? On Sunday, no less. Now, that’s a commitment! Yesterday they met during informal lunch. What’s today, a formal brunch? Do you know who’s paying for all this food?

  37. _Do you know who’s paying for all this food?_

    The question most often heard asked by the New Jersey Devils training staff…

  38. I think I am with you Phil. I think the hit itself is “legal” by all definition but I think plying on National Television in Canada in a real arena, which was packed, combined to fuel a pretty brutal hit there.

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