My Top 10…

Everyone these days is doing some sort of top ten, and recently I read a blogger who listed their top ten favorite players and the idea intrigued me. If you have a top ten (or five) player list, let me know & here is my submission:

10: Zach Parise (New Jersey) — This kid has done nothing but score since making his debut after the lockout and he never seems to take a shift off. Other coaches visiting New Jersey have instructed their healthy scratches to watch Parise shift after shift and pattern their games after him. The best part is that Zach is only 25 and still has room to get even better (if that’s possible); oh and he is as nice a person as he is as good a hockey player — one of the few players that says thank you after being interviewed.

9: Patrik Elias (New Jersey) — My buddies & I nicknamed Elias ‘The Finisher’ back in the 2000 season because of the Czech star’s penchant for scoring big goals (See Philly, Game 7 2000 East Finals) as a member of the A-line (Jason Arnott, Petr Sykora). There have been times when I doubted that he would stay in New Jersey his whole career, but the franchise’s all-time leading point-getter has been a treat to watch and still has some gas left in his tank.

8. Saku Koivu (Montreal-Anaheim) — I instantly became a Saku fan when I first started participating in fantasy hockey and Montreal’s top line was the lethal trio of Koivu-Mark Recchi & Martin Rucinsky. After I read the detailed stories of his battle with stomach cancer, a battle he would survive, how could you not pull for the little guy? One of the most memorable games I ever attended was when he played his first game (after going through treatments for almost a year) at the end of the 2001-02 season in New Jersey. It’s sad that he couldn’t finish his career as a Hab, but I’ll always be a fan.

7. Kirk Muller (NJ) — Captain Kirk spent the first seven years of his career in New Jersey and was my first favorite player when I began watching/listening to games in 1988. I don’t remember many specifics from back then, as I was still learning the game, but I do remember that he seemed to get a point, or do something to help the team win every night. Meeting him a few years ago in New Jersey (he’s now an assistant coach with Montreal) is one of the highlights of my career so far.

6. Jeremy Roenick (Chicago-Phoenix-Philly-LA-San Jose) — I remember JR’s back-to-back 50-goal seasons and his three consecutive 100-point campaigns, but what everyone remembers most is his outspokenness and willingness to say what was on his mind. The Rooming with Roenick spots that ran on Center Ice were hilarious. He’s probably the one player that I ever liked that played for the Flyers (his OT goal in Game 7 against Toronto was a classic) and one of the few great players of my era that never won the Stanley Cup. He did some great TV work during these past Olympics — and hopefully we see more of him doing stuff like that in the future.

5. Sergei Fedorov (Detroit-Anaheim-Columbus-Washington) — He just about all you could do in an NHL career: won three Cups, league MVP, two Selke Trophys and now plays in the Russian league (KHL) after a great 19-years here in the US. Sadly, when I interviewed him I never got the chance to tell him about the ‘White Russian’ Nike poster I had hanging in my basement for 10 years; but he was one of the best players I’ve ever met and had the honor of interviewing. It also annoys to me no end when media outlets like MSG (gag!) spell his name wrong on their bottom line: IT’S FEDOROV NOT FEDEROV!!

4. Brett Hull (St. Louis-Dallas-Detroit) — Hull, like Roenick was never shy when it came to saying what was on his mind, but on the ice he was lethal. His 741 career goals are an amazing number and he’ll probably always be remembered for his Cup-clinching, foot in the crease goal for Dallas in Buffalo in the 1999 Finals, but I also remember the seasons when he tallied 72, 86 & 70 (in consecutive years) while skating in St. Louis. Hull clinched his spot on this list when he decided to suit up for the US team rather than Canada in the 1996 World Cup, prompting boos from the Montreal crowd every time his face was on the jumbotron during the Final series (I was at Game 2 of 3).

3. Scott Stevens (Washington-St. Louis-New Jersey) — When Stevens came to New Jersey, he immediately impacted the franchise and became one of the fiercest open-ice hitters the NHL has ever seen. There were so many memorable hits (See: Eric Lindros, Paul Kariya, Slava Kozlov, Ron Francis) but one of the things I think of when I think about  Stevens is he was the guy who led New Jersey to three Stanley Cups — turning the Devils from a “Mickey Mouse organization” into a team that the NHL has twice adjusted it’s rules for. The only other franchise I can think of that has that distinction was Montreal.

2. Dominik Hasek (Chicago-Buffalo-Detroit-Ottawa) — Ten years ago, I would’ve never picked Hasek for my list, but times change. He was always Martin Brodeur’s biggest rival during his Buffalo days, and Hasek’s unorthodox, yet successful style led him to six Vezina Trophies and two league MVP’s. I wish I could have been a fly on the wall when he and Brett Hull became teammates in Detroit, and I’m sure Hasek’s pain was eased a bit when the two Hall-of-Famers became champions together in Detroit. The Dominator had some strange moments throughout his career, and he suffered too many injuries to contend for some of the NHL’s goaltending records. Talking to him late in his career after a game in NJ, still feels very surreal, but he was willing to talk until all of my questions were answered, something I’ll never forget.

1. Martin Brodeur (New Jersey) — He’s been my absolute favorite player since 1994 and when he retires, I may actually shed a tear. Brodeur owns just about every major NHL goaltending record and still has some good years left so who knows what those numbers will be when he does hang up his skates. It’s still a little intimidating to interview my favorite player, but his easy-going personality makes my job a lot easier; and the fact that I can tell that he recognizes me (he should after five seasons!) is pretty neat. He became the ultimate comeback when being taunted by dopey, Rangers’ fans: ‘Devils suck! Yeah but we have Brodeur and you don’t! Whatever, you guys suck!’ I’ll never forget where I was when he scored a goal in the playoffs vs. Montreal or when he broke Patrick Roy’s wins record vs. Chicago, or when he was the backbone of three Stanley Cup championship teams, and one of these days, I will make sure to thank him for all of those memories…and hopefully a few more!

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Devils-Rangers Postgame Quotes [03.10.10]

Here are some of the postgame quotes after the Devils 6-3 win over the NY Rangers on Wednesday night:

Martin Brodeur:

Talking about the game…

“It was kind of a weird game early on, but we were able to establish our game after we scored the fifth goal.”

Is it easier to get motivated for a game against the Rangers or Pittsburgh, i.e., teams in your division?

“Well I think it shouldn’t be like that, the crowd gets into it a lot more; especially since we haven’t played a home game for a while here with the Olympic break. It was nice to get back home and play in an emotional game, we needed something to get ourselves jump-started here and hopefully a game like that will do it. We have a big challenge on Friday against Pittsburgh – who’s playing real well.”

Travis Zajac:

Talking about his goal…

“Good play by Zach and Zubie to get the puck through the neutral zone; Zubie made a good pass to me and I was all alone coming down (the wing) and I was able to sneak it by him.”

The first half of the game you gave up three goals, the second half none, what if anything changed?

“I don’t think anything did. We played a pretty good hockey game all night, we were competing. Those goals (we gave up) its not because we weren’t trying, they’re going to get one once in a while. We did a good job countering that, making sure when we had the two-goal lead to continue to pressure them and continue to get (scoring) chances.”

Have you been making an effort to shoot the puck more this season?

“A little bit; Zach’s always yelling at me to shoot more so (laughs) I’m trying to shoot more often. Even if you don’t score it creates rebounds for Zach and Zubie to get in there, and that’s what they’re good at — around the crease, that’s where they get a lot of their goals. I think it helps the whole line when everyone is shooting, everyone’s dangerous.”

You scored your career-high 21st goal tonight, any significance to you?

Not really; I think every year you want to build on the year before, get better and become a better hockey player. That was my goal coming into this season, just become more of a dangerous player and a guy who can be counted on to score some goals.”

Zach Parise:

Talking about playing the Rangers…

“When you play your rival it’s always a fun game. It always seems that regardless of where the two teams are in the standings, it’s always a tight, good game and both teams are pretty excited about the match-up.”

Was the meeting yesterday or playing against the Rangers the cause for the offensive explosion?

“I don’t want to, blow the meeting out of proportion, but I think it helped (get us back on track). It was good to get a team in here that a lot of times, brings out the best in us. We have to get excited to play them because we know they are fighting for their playoff-lives; it’s a rival, you have to play well against them.”

Jamie Langenbrunner:
Is this a byproduct of having the team meeting yesterday?

“It’s easy to point at that and say that, I’d like to think that it’s a byproduct of once you hit a certain point that there’s nowhere to go but up. I think it just got our focus going in the right direction; I don’t remember who said it in the meeting yesterday, but it was like we were waiting for something to happen. Finally something was said and I think you saw a better effort tonight — a lot more of the determination and battle that we’re going to need to get points down the stretch and going forward.”

The first three times you scored, they responded; how did the team keep its focus?

“I think three days ago we might have (lost our focus). We had a different mindset tonight; you could hear it on the bench. After they scored the third goal, we were like ‘it’s no matter, we’re still going to get it.’ That wasn’t there the last little while, where when something goes wrong it’s like ‘here we go again.’ We had a much better mindset and I think it showed in the way we played as solid a 60 minutes as we have in a while.”

Why do you think it was a better mindset, was it the meeting?

“That’s part of it, maybe; but we had a lot of guys focused out there tonight. We hit a certain bottom point and hopefully a little bit of a wakeup call.”

Seeing Henrik Lundqvist get pulled after the fifth goal, was that an accomplishment?

“I think the win was the accomplishment, I don’t know how many of those you can fault him on. There were a lot of deflections, a lot of going to the net; that’s the way we need to play hockey. I’m sure it was them trying to shake things up a bit too.”

Is this game a nice reminder of what your team is capable of with balanced scoring?

“I hope so, I think the key for us will be how we respond with these next games; we have another tough battle on Friday (Pittsburgh) and then another divisional game on Saturday (NY Islanders) and then turn around again on Monday (Boston). We need to have that same intensity and same focus night-in and night-out, we’ve shown spurts of it and the key for us is to make sure we get out of it and play good hockey for the duration of the season.”

How many questions have you answered so far about the meeting?

“Too many (smiles).”

The first half of the game you give up three goals, none after that, did anything change?

“No, I think that’s part of playing hockey games, you have to realize that everything’s not going to always go perfect and you just have to continue to play the game. In January we played them to a 0-0 game heading into a shootout; tonight it wasn’t going to be that game — you have to play this (night’s) game. I think we did a lot better job tonight of not getting rattled even though we didn’t play the perfect game. We just went out and played.”
Jacques Lemaire:

Is it that easy where you have a team meeting, say you want team unity and you get this kind of performance?

“It’s not that easy; I think the players did their share and that’s the reason it worked. The guys were focused to play this game; this was probably one of the few games where we played three periods — the same way. We still did some mistakes here and there, but we played hard three periods, the same way.”

Team Russia Looks as Good as Gold…

The ice hockey tournament begins tomorrow and after long consideration I’ve made my pick for who will win the gold medal. In looking at all of the rosters I feel that the Russian squad is poised to win their first Olympics gold medal in 18 years, mainly because of their firepower and their strength in goaltending.

Up front the Russians can throw two lethal lines at their opponents with any combination between Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Ilya Kovalchuk, Pavel Datsyuk, Alexander Semin and Maxim Afinogenov. In my mind it doesn’t matter how you combine these six and they are still the scariest two lines in this short tournament.

Finishing out the bottom six forwards will be familar names gone from the NHL, but in active duty for the Russian league — the  KHL: Sergei Fedorov, Viktor Kozlov, Alexei Morozov and Alexander Radulov. All players who are capable of taking over a game when they are in a groove.

The Russians will be led on the blueline by the always-steady Sergei Gonchar and the underrated Andrei Markov, with solid depth provided by Fedor Tyutin, Anton Volchenkov, Dmitri Kalinin & Denis Grebeshkov. Gonchar will be the key player here — his passing and work on the power play will go a long way in determining the difference between evenly-matched teams in elimination games.

In goal Evgeni Nabokov, the backbone of San Jose’s great regular season success over the last three seasons, will begin as the starter, but if he should falter they can still turn to Washington’s Semyon Varlamov (who proved last postseason that big games don’t faze him) or Ilya Bryzgalov, who has pulled Phoenix from the ashes of the NHL to fourth in the West with 19 games left. Between the three of them, most likely Bryzgalov or Nabokov, they have the ability to shut down an explosive, high-powered team a tad more than some of the other goalies in the tournament — including Martin Brodeur and Henrik Lundqvist.

I think the gold medal game will be Russia vs. Team USA, final score 5-2 Russia.

Canada will win the bronze medal game 4-3 in ot against Sweden.

Hope that I am wrong…but I won’t be…

Devils-Predators Postgame Quotes [02.12.10]

Here are some of the postgame quotes after the Devils 5-2 win over the Predators on Friday night:

Travis Zajac:

Talking about his goal…

“It was all Jamie (Langenbrunner), I just put it into an open net. A good play by him coming across the middle and taking everyone with him. He threw it in front and I had an open net; not too tough of a goal to score.”

Did you find yourself open by staying back a bit on that play?

“Yeah I just went towards the net and the puck just came out to me; he made a good play and knew someone was coming in.”

Your thoughts on the win…

“It was a good win for us; we did a lot of good things and we scored one on the power play, which was a big goal for us. We got scoring from different lines and different players which we haven’t had in a while.”

Are there any adjustments you have to make when the lines change as much as they do?

“You just have to be aware of who you’re playing with and make sure that you’re talking a lot. That’s the only thing that could get us in trouble, when you have new guys on a line and you aren’t talking. As long as we are sharp, talking and making plays we should be all right.”

Ilya gets his first goal as a Devil finally…

“Yeah a huge goal, it’s nice to see him get one finally because he’s hit some posts and had some great opportunities. To come away with a big goal when we needed it was huge.”

Martin Brodeur:

After a game like this, what do you make of your team’s offense?

“Well we had a lot of chances, it could have been a greater score — I think their goalie played well and made some good saves. I think it’s the reason why we went after Ilya Kovalchuk, to get our offense to a different level; we just have to combine our overall game with having a big weapon like him and he’s definitely going to get other players dangerous out there because of him.”

The second goal did that go off of Andy Greene at all?

“You know what, I don’t know. He (Jordin Tootoo) made a pretty good shot from where he was; it was about 14 inches off the ice and just inside the post. I doubt it touched him because he had a big gap and he walked right into Greenie, a little bit like the goal James van Riemsdyk scored (Monday in Philly); it was similar to that. It kind of becomes a screen if the guy hits their shot; the guy made a pretty good shot, even though it was far out it was a pretty good shot.”

You took a pretty good shot in the throat in the third period, you were okay?

“Yeah a stick, it’s okay, I was coughing a bit. I was surprised because I was looking one way and the stick just came and jabbed me right in the throat.”

A much needed win after three straight L’s?

“Yeah, it’s always nice to win; I think it’s nice for Kovy to get the first one under his belt and get that monkey off his back a little bit. As a team, it’s been a struggle for us to win games, so definitely any win we’ll take it.”

Ilya Kovalchuk:

Talking about his goal…

“It’s very easy to play with good players; it just takes a little while to know them. I’ve gotten a lot of chances every game, a lot of shots, but they didn’t go in so finally today I got that one and hopefully a lot more.”

Were you worried (that you hadn’t gotten a goal yet)?

“No, I was worried because we’re not winning, but the most important thing for us is to win. It really doesn’t matter in this locker room who’s scoring, we just want to get two points every night; and stay on top of our division.”

Isn’t scoring goals why they brought you here though?

“It’s nice to get a goal, especially at home and I’m sure the fans they all expect the goals from me; finally I did it. Like I said we played a solid defensive game and we got the two points.”

Did moving Patrik to center have anything to do with why you scored your goal?

“I don’t know; it was just a great play by everybody putting pressure on their D and Patty made an unbelievable pass, so.”

How’d that feel when it went in and you heard the crowd roar?

“It was nice. It always fun to score, but it’s more fun to win; that was a big win for us.”

When you saw the hats go on the ice what did you think?

“I don’t know; I don’t know what to think. It was kind of a welcome goal and I appreciate that they did it.”

You’ve been here for a week now and in a few days Marty will be your enemy again at the Olympics, what’s that going to be like?

“Unbelievable, I know the guy more now and it’s always good to play against you’re teammates; it’s fun. You play for your country and it’s important, a big honor and I think it will be a great challenge for both of us.”

Have you learned any secrets that you may share with your Russian teammates?

“No, he’s so good you don’t know where to shoot on him. But every goalie hates traffic so you have to make it tough on him.”


Patrik Elias:

Talking about Kovalchuk’s goal…

“Sometimes it goes in and sometimes it doesn’t. Obviously the way he plays, sometimes you look at three goals and you don’t see him on the score sheet you think that he doesn’t do his job, but he always does. He’s getting a lot of opportunities, a lot of shots — and hopefully this will keep him going.”

Were you looking for him there or just anyone?

“Often plays like that we’re just trying to cycle it and you always look for the high man. He was smart enough to find the open spot.”


Jacques Lemaire:

In all your years did you ever see hats thrown on the ice for a non-hat trick?

“We had three goals (smiles).”

No, one goal that Kovalchuk scored…

“Yeah, but it made it three for our team (smiling). It’s been a long time since we scored three goals.”

What did you like best about the team tonight?

“Well our top guys, I think our top guys were better than their top players. They pretty much all scored, they played good. I think we moved the puck better — we even scored a goal on the power play.”