Friday, January 1, 2010

Three Periods of the Condor: Green Monster, Ice Crew and Section 27

Every NHL fan knows that watching a game in person changes everything. You follow hockey differently after that. In a new occasional series, which we are calling "Three Periods of the Condor" with a nod to actor Robert Redford, Editor-in-Chief Bob Condor will be watching games from various locations at NHL arenas. Feel free to email ideas about where "Three Periods of the Condor" goes next to

Let's start with the desperation of Section 27 in the Fenway Park grandstand. Bruins fans were standing for the last dozen minutes of Friday’s 2010 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic, craning necks, standing shoulder to shoulder, body-Englishing on every Boston shot on goal like Carlton Fisk goading his 12th-inning home run to stay fair in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series.

"Just one!" yelled the fan in Row 4. He was wearing a floppy knit Bruins Winter Classic stocking cap with ear flaps.

"Seven minutes left and everybody is standing, look at this," said another fan up and over a bit in Row 5.

"Come on, play like you are earning your money!" screamed a clearly loyal jersey-clad fan in Row 5. She almost immediately apologized to everyone nearby for "losing her head."

With 2:18 left -- and 26 seconds remaining on a power play -- Mark Recchi helped every one lose their heads by tying the game by redirecting a pass from defenseman Derek Morris into the net. Honestly, I thought the guy next to me with the Winter Classic ear flaps was about to kiss me on the head.

There was something about the way the light hit the Fenway rink in those final minutes of the third period. Bob Costas said it on NBC a bit later in the network’s post-game coverage: It seemed like a bunch of kids trying to get up and down the ice a few more times before needing to go home for dinner.

When Marco Sturm bagged the Classic winner in overtime, there were high fives, hugs and fist bumps all around Section 27. Nothing brings fans together like a thrilling overtime victory on a near-perfect day for hockey at one of America’s cherished ballparks.

Of course, a B-2 stealth bomber can do the same. When the flyover occurred just before puck drop and the first period, no less than 20 grown men in the Green Monster seats atop the 37-foot left field wall ran from their primo seats to clasp chain-link and trying spot the B-2 first. Frankly, the plane was overhead and headed for a buzz-cut of the press box in a blink. Those 20 grown men spent the next few minutes comparing cell phone photos for a good five minutes afterward, plus basically saying "Did you see that!" to each other.

More kid stuff.

The view from the Green Monster was one of the best vantage points for a hockey game -- high enough to watch the play develop but still able to see the players' faces. And, come on, you are on top of the Green Monster.

Just over than a minute into the second period, two members of the NHL Ice Crew sprung up from their benches on the corner of the rink nearest the Monster to do some repairs to the faceoff dot left of Bruins goalie and Olympian Tim Thomas. Both Thomas and a linesman were naturally curious about the repair work, gliding closer to the Ice Crew members as their worked with ice chunks and a fire extinguisher that seals up the makeover job. They were back in their own version of a bullpen less than two minutes later.

Sitting in the corner with the ice crew afforded larger-than-life views of Thomas making some saves with his chest and, one time, his mask (punctuated by a sound somewhere between a thwack and a thud). You can also see the puck skitter on the Fenway rink’s lively boards and figure out how hard it is really is for a NHL goaltender only stop to stop that unruly puck but to control it and send it back the other way.

A distinct feeling you get from sitting on the corner at ice level: The rink can’t hold these guys. Pretty much every shift ends with loud crashes, bounce-offs, clattering sticks and players simply falling squarely and hard on their butts.

Another conclusion from the corner, ice-side: Zdeno Chara sure fills up the glass.
Watching the NHL Ice Crew from a dozen feet away as they each crouched on one knee and tucked snow shovels in the crooks of their elbows was impressive. Their runs out to the ice surface are practically choreography with shovel, trash cans and fire extinguishers. Think the coal miners' "Solidarity" number in "Billy Elliot." The finishing touch was using those fire extinguishers with the vapor spraying.

Dan Craig, the NHL's ice guru, was looking calm leaning on a temporary fence near the end of the second period. He was asked if the Ice Crew ever practices what appears to be razor-shape and hyper-fast work.

"No, never," said Craig, breaking into a smile. "What I enjoy about our team is each one of them knows what they are here for and that time is of the essence."

Same feeling everyone had in Section 27 during the third period.

Kane excited to be named U.S. Olympian

Patrick Kane called making the U.S. Olympic squad a dream come true, but he also had to know this was coming.

When you talk about locks for the American squad, arguably no one was as secure as Kane, the 21-year-old right wing out of Buffalo, N.Y. who already owns the Calder Memorial Trophy and 187 points in 202 NHL games.

Still, you could tell through the telephone during Kane's conference call Friday night that there was still some awe in his voice and plenty of excitement in his tone. Even if he was a lock, that call he got Thursday from Team USA Associate GM David Poile was one of the best Kane has ever received.

"It's the Olympics we're talking about, the highest state of hockey you can play and the highest competition level," Kane said. "I had a chance to meet some of the other athletes in other sports, and this is what they work for their whole life. As hockey players we work to make the NHL, but at the same time you realize how much it means to these other Olympians and it should mean the same thing to us."

Kane is the poster boy for the young team selected by Team USA GM Brian Burke. Thirteen of the 23 players are 25 or younger and only three (Brian Rafalski, Chris Drury and Jamie Langenbrunner) have previous experience.

Canada is bringing 12 players who are 25 or younger, but eight members of the host team have previous Olympic experience and Chris Pronger, Scott Niedermayer, Martin Brodeur and Jarome Iginla all won gold eight years ago in Salt Lake City.

Drury and Rafalski played for the American team that finished second to Canada in '02.

"Probably the strongest team on paper I'd have to say is Canada. Sweden is going to be pretty good, too, and obviously Russia has so many superstars," Kane said. "At the same time, it's one of those tournaments that if everything can click right and you can do things right for a couple of weeks, who knows what you can come out with.

"Going to Canada as an American team I am sure we'll take some heat, but I think it'll be pretty fun to go on their turf and maybe beat 'em," he added. "They did it to us in Salt Lake City. It'll be one of those times when maybe we can get some revenge."

Right away Kane mentioned Team USA's youth, but he also pointed at the Americans' speed, skill and goaltending as their best attributes. Either Ryan Miller or Tim Thomas will likely be the Americans' No. 1 in net, but Jonathan Quick may have a say as well.

"With the way Coach (Ron) Wilson likes to coach, he's an attack guy that likes to score goals and that should bode well for us because we have some players that can do that," Kane said. "And, if you look at our goaltending, if it's not the best it's one of the best in the tournament."

Kane agreed that Burke's selections signify a changing of the guard in USA Hockey from the old guard to the new school. Veteran international stars like Mike Modano, Bill Guerin, Keith Tkachuk, Doug Weight and Brian Rolston were left off the team.

"You look at a guy like Modano, it's probably tough to see him left off the team, but it is a changing of the guard," Kane said. "Look at the NHL, though, all the best players in the League are young anyway. It's a young man's League now."

And, this young man has a sense for history that maybe, just maybe will be on the Americans' side in Vancouver.

"I think it's pretty cool that it's the 30th anniversary of the 1980 team and the 50th of the 1960 team," Kane said. "Hopefully it's one of those years we can put everything together and bring the gold back to theU.S."

They're underdogs, a long shot, but Kane knew that all along anyway.

"People are probably viewing us as underdogs, but at the same if you put together the right chemistry and guys get along that can really help us and go a long way," he said. "I tell you, it will be a heck of a year if you could come home with both (Olympic gold and Stanley Cup)."

Syvret's 1st goal definitely a Classic

BOSTON -- Flyers defenseman Danny Syvret admitted shock when his only shot of the 2010 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic found the back of the net behind Boston Bruins goalie Tim Thomas.

Syvret had reason to sound pessimistic -- it happened to be the first goal of his NHL career. That's right. Syvret's turnaround snap shot from the top of the left circle that zipped past Boston's Tim Thomas 4:42 into the second just happened to be the first goal of his four-season career. It also gave the Flyers a 1-0 lead in an eventual 2-1 overtime setback to the hometown Bruins in the NHL Winter Classic before 38,112 at Fenway Park.

"I was sort of shocked when it went in because of all of my attempts on net, I didn't think that would have been the one that would have went in," Syvet said. "I was just hoping to get it on net and then go for a rebound because there were a lot of bodies out there. I rested (the puck) and threw it on net and (Tim) Thomas was battling with Hartsie (Scott Hartnell) in front of the net trying to clear him. I was expecting a shot on net, but it found its way in. That was good for me.

"My career has been up and down in the minors so, hopefully, I can continue my play and stay up."

Despite making just his 16th appearance this season with the Flyers, Syvret has improved this season when given an opportunity. He was acquired by the Flyers in a trade with Edmonton in June 2008 and posted career highs in goals (12), assists (45) and points (57) in 76 games with Philadelphia's American Hockey League affiliate -- the Philadelphia Phantoms.

He also won a gold medal with current Flyers Mike Richards, Jeff Carter and Braydon Coburn in the 2005 World Junior Championships.

"The main thing is you have to be able to control what you can and that's through your play," Syvret said. "If the people like it, they'll call you up and if not, they'll send you down. The only thing you can control is the way you play. For a defenseman, if there's net presence in front, your chances of scoring a goal are a lot better than if the goalie can see it."

Syvret's excitement of scoring his first goal in 44 NHL games, however, was tempered by the fact his team lost the game.

"It's frustrating because we had the lead for a good part of the game," Syvret said. "A couple of penalties got us into trouble (in the third period). They obviously were going at it pretty strong and once they got the equalizer, they took the momentum. Once they got that, things just kept going for them and we were sort of in our end for the rest of the game after that."

Still, to get a goal in the biggest game of the season, is something the 24-year-old Millgrove, Ontario native will never forget.

"My parents are here, so maybe I'll get a text message from them," Syvret said. "But my phone will probably have a lot of messages on it. The setting was great; it couldn't be any better. There was no rain, snow or a very cold climate.

"It was pretty cool to come in early, go out and tape your stick and see fans coming out to a ball park to watch a hockey game. It was loud and crazy out here with the bands and everything else."

Burke: "We're underdogs, but we're looking to win"

BOSTON -- Brian Burke preferred to stand clear of making any bold predictions or providing bulletin board material following the release of the United States team he'll send into battle at the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver next month.

However, Team USA's general manager did admit one thing -- "We're there to win."

"We're the last team to release a roster among all the major countries," Burke said Friday after Boston's 2-1 overtime victory over the Flyers in the 2010 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic.

"What's going to happen now is all the people who get paid to make these types of decisions and commentary will evaluate everything we've done," Burke said. "But I'm telling you one position where the U.S. doesn't have to take a backseat to anybody is in net."

Not only will Team USA have one of the NHL's hottest goaltenders on its 23-man roster in Buffalo's Ryan Miller, but it will also have the winning goalie from this year's Winter Classic -- Boston's Tim Thomas.

"Right now, in my opinion, Ryan Miller is the best goaltender in the NHL," Burke said. "And Tim Thomas, right now, is probably playing just as well. It's going to be a coaching decision who to start. The schedule lends itself early to a one-goalie tournament. We're playing every other night, there are no back-to-backs initially, so it screams for a one-goalie system."

Burke knows his team is not among the favorites.

"We're going in as underdogs," he said. "We're confident about that and comfortable with that. All the money is going to be on Canada and Russia and Sweden, to a lesser extent, and that's fine with us."

But is there any added pressure on the United States knowing this year's Olympic Games marks the 30th anniversary of the 1980 Miracle on Ice in Lake Placid?

"The only pressure that I can see on the horizon right now is that the pressure for the Canadian team is massive and unrelenting," Burke said.

At an average age of 26.5, this American squad is the youngest to participate in the Olympics since NHL players were introduced to the Games in 1998. The roster consists of 13 forwards, seven defensemen and three goalies.

"We're picking this team and going head-to-head with Canada and going head-to-head with Russia," Burke said. "We can't just take the 23 best. If they did that and we did that, we'd get our butts kicked. If Canada asks Jarome Iginla to play a third-line right wing and check, we're going to need to take a guy who can check better than Jarome Iginla. We also have to hope that our top six forwards get the job done on specialty teams. That's the only way we can beat the odds."

Burke, Team USA Associate General Manager David Poile, USA Hockey's Jim Johannson and fellow NHL GMs Dean Lombardi, Don Waddell, Ray Shero and Paul Holmgren were the architects behind selecting this team. No decision was easy.

"We've been watching these kids, and I think we have a good base," Burke said. "We have to try to pick the team based on a body of work rather than how a player has played at this particular time. A player who had a slow start should not be penalized if he's done good things in the past.

"We stressed character when we were putting this team together and wanted to identify people who would rise to the occasion. We've put together high hockey IQ's and versatile players with good foot speed."

Despite turning the page and selecting a younger squad, Burke is confident new leaders and specialists will emerge. He said a captain and alternates would be named at a later time.

"Guys like David Backes (St. Louis), who plays all three forward positions, can kill penalties and is a big, able-bodied guy is a possibility" Burke said. "Ryan Callahan (New York Rangers) has great foot speed, hits and is also a good penalty-killer. He's the top five in hits among forwards -- both Backes and Callahan are two specialists that screamed at us to take them."

Burke also likes the veteran corps his team possesses, including Jamie Langenbrunner, Mike Komisarek and Chris Drury.

"We think we have the leadership component we need," Burke said.

Bruins' Thomas starts new year in style

This is the way to start a New Year.

Forget half-hearted resolutions. That's too pedestrian for Tim Thomas, the Boston Bruins' goalie. Instead, Thomas lived a year of emotions in a 12-hour period.

"New Year's Day 2010 will go down as one of the most memorable days of my life and my career," Thomas said moments after skating off the Fenway Park ice as the winning goalie in his team's dramatic 2-1 overtime victory against the Philadelphia Flyers in the 2010 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic. "Between winning and the way that we won and being named to the Olympic team.

That's right, even before Thomas walked out of the Red Sox's dugout for the pre-game skate Saturday morning, his 2010 was made.

Thomas has talked openly about how much playing in the Olympics means to him. He thought he lost his best opportunity in 1998 when the Olympics transitioned from an amateur tournament to a showcase for professional players. Yet 12 years later, Thomas completed an incredible trek from European journeyman to Vezina Trophy winner and Olympic athlete.

"As I have said before, I have been waiting 30 years for this," Thomas said. "I feel like I have been waiting my whole life for this opportunity."

Team USA General Manager Brian Burke informed Thomas his long-awaited opportunity had finally arrived during a Saturday morning conversation.

"Obviously, I had to keep it quiet," Thomas said. "That's a good thing because I was able to control my emotions. I think I would have been a blubbering mess on national television if I had found out right before."

Actually, Thomas could not control his emotions throughout the duration of the Winter Classic -- and that almost became the dominant storyline of the New Year's Day game.

Early in the second period, Philadelphia's Scott Hartnell crashed into Thomas during some action around the Boston crease. The contact sent Thomas sprawling and left him vulnerable during a shot attempt from the point. Several seconds later, Thomas took an opportunity to retaliate, cross-checking Hartnell to the ice. The only problem was that Flyers defenseman Danny Syvret fired a slapper into the vacated net at the same instant to give Philadelphia a 1-0 lead.

"Basically, I lost my cool and I wasn't following the puck," Thomas said.

Bruins coach Claude Julien, though, excused his goalie for his lapse in reasoning.

"I'm sure he is going to be the first to acknowledge that he lost his temper," Julien said. "But, at the same time, that is what has made him a great goaltender -- his character and the way he battles.
"Every once in a while, he'll get those goals because of the way he battles, but he'll make 10 times more saves because of that character. The character and the battle that he has in him; it has helped him more than it has hurt him."

In fact, Thomas made every save asked of him after Syvret's goal, finishing with 24 as his team rallied to score the tying goal with less than three minutes remaining in regulation and adding the winner in the second minute of overtime.

"When Marco (Sturm) scored the winner, that was one of the most incredible feelings that I can remember," Thomas admitted.

But he had little time to savor it. Ten minutes after walking off the ice as a Winter Classic winner, he was walking back into Fenway Park in his freshly minted Team USA jersey to be introduced as an Olympian in USA Hockey's nationally televised Olympic selection special.

"I was at least prepared for the walk out," Thomas said. "It was just a great way to be named. To be able to be named at your home crowd, at Fenway Park; I mean, you add these things together and this is a story that will be told the rest of my life."

Boston mayor Thomas M. Menino on 2010 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic

BOSTON - Thomas M. Menino, Mayor of the City of Boston, today released the following statement regarding the 2010 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic:

"As one of the NHL's Original Six franchises in a city steeped with sports history, there was no one better than the Boston Bruins or the City of Boston to play host to this extraordinary event. Watching hockey in its most pure and elementary form outdoors at historic and beloved Fenway Park is a treat not only for all of the citizens of Boston but for hockey lovers around the world. I thank the National Hockey League and Commissioner Bettman for bringing the 2010 Winter Classic to the City of Boston and helping all of us ring in this New Year in grand style."

Bettman on 2010 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic

BOSTON – National Hockey League Commissioner Gary Bettman today released the following statement regarding the 2010 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic:

"This was a terrific day. The 2010 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic was played in a perfect setting by the world's best athletes for the world's greatest fans -- and the response was overwhelming. Thanks to Dan Craig and his crew for creating outstanding ice. Thanks to Don Renzulli and the NHL Events group for creating a magnificent spectacle. Thanks to the teams, to the city of Boston -- and to the Red Sox for having welcomed our New Year's Day tradition so graciously."