Sunday hockey notes

Hats off to the players for keeping helmets on

By Kevin Paul Dupont
Globe Staff / January 9, 2011

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Only a night after an impressive 1-0 overtime victory in Washington with new guy Dwayne Roloson in their net, the Lightning took an 8-1 thrashing Wednesday in Pittsburgh.

Lightning sensation Steve Stamkos slipped and fell on a second-period penalty shot attempt, turning him into a metaphor for how the night went. The fallen Stamkos never got a shot on net.

“I had to get them both done,’’ Stamkos said, noting that his skate blades were as dull as butter knives after he crashed skates-first into the end boards prior to the free attempt. “There was no edge.’’

Back when the league introduced the OT shootout, the players chose not to exercise the option to remove their helmets during the shootout. Sounded a bit silly in that it denied them a prime chance to better their marketability via face recognition.

In days of yore, everyone knew Bobby Hull for his flowing golden locks and blazing slapper. To this day, does anyone have any idea what Finnish Flash Teemu Selanne looks like with helmet removed? Probably not.

But as comical and embarrassing as the Stamkos slip-and-fall might have looked during the penalty shot (who knocked him down, the Steeltown ghost of Ulf Samuelsson?), imagine the potential catastrophe had he cracked his skull on the ice with no helmet to protect him.

In hindsight, it was the right call by the players to keep hats fixed, especially now that some of them have started to work spin-o-rama showboating moves into the shootout. Now they just have to remember to keep their skates sharp.

US colleges still importing Ex-Whaler goalie and longtime broadcaster Greg Millen, now 53, believes that US college scholarship opportunities will be drying up for Canadian players.

In Millen’s view, because the US is developing top talent from nontraditional hockey areas (e.g. California, Texas), more of those kids will snag American scholarships. Ergo, more Yanks, fewer Canadians.

The good news, said Millen: better homegrown talent available for Canadian universities, in turn providing a boost to that system.

Millen could prove prescient, but according to Paul Kelly, head of Newton-based College Hockey Inc., there is no indication at the moment that Division 1 US colleges have sated their desire to stock rosters with the best Canadian boys.

“If you talk to coaches around the country, you’ll find that, if anything, they’ve increased their efforts to secure elite players from Canada, as well as Sweden and Finland,’’ said Kelly.

According to Kelly, current CHI books show there are 1,568 Division 1 NCAA hockey players (the vast majority on scholarship), and nearly one-third (481) are Canadian-born.

“That has been pretty consistent over the past 5-10 years,’’ said Kelly. “I think the truth is that the percentage of the Canadian kids would go higher if the Canadian Major Junior system weren’t so proficient at recruiting for its leagues.

“Right now, we have no indication that our schools are turning away from Canadian players, especially if you look at those schools along the US-Canada border, such as Clarkson, Cornell, St. Lawrence, North Dakota, Western Michigan, Canisius, and Niagara. The majority of those players are from Canada.’’

No room for two goalies Tim Thomas and Dwayne Roloson nearly became UMass-Lowell teammates in the autumn of 1993 when Thomas was an entering 19-year-old freshman and Roloson a 24-year-old senior sensation for Bruce Crowder’s River Hawks. Thomas instead opted for the University of Vermont.

“Bruce Crowder was great in explaining the situation, and I’ll always appreciate that,’’ recalled Thomas, who figures Roloson’s move from Long Island to Tampa last week makes the Bolts a top Cup contender. “Roloson was doing a great job at Lowell, and if I went there, I was only going to get a few games, at most.

“I didn’t have any guarantees at Vermont, but their top goalie, Chris Soucy, had unexpectedly turned pro with Chicago. It’s not like Vermont was guaranteeing me work. But they said if I came there, I’d have the chance to start. That tipped it for me. All I wanted was the chance.’’

Roloson, after playing 39 games the year before for Crowder, led Hockey East by playing 40 games in 1993-94. Thomas led the ECAC with 33 in net for the Catamounts, prompting the Nordiques to pick him 217th overall in the June ’94 draft. And only days later, Roloson signed as a free agent with the Calgary Flames.

And Soucy? He wrapped up his career in 2002-03 with the Anchorage Aces. His one game with the Blackhawks in ’93-94 was his only NHL work.

Lewis doing national duty Ex-Bruins coach Dave Lewis, his four-year deal finally off the Boston books this season, was named coach of the Ukraine national team in November. “Both my grandparents came from the Ukraine,’’ Lewis noted proudly via e-mail to a longtime friend. Lewis already worked a tour in the former Mother Russia, aiding ex-NHL goalie Glen Hanlon behind the Belarus bench. The Ukraine bench has another Boston connection. Dmitri Khristich, cut free in the Hub in the summer of ’09 when then-GM Harry Sinden felt his salary arbitration award was exorbitant, is one of Lewis’s assistant coaches.

No votes for Senators Senators GM Bryan Murray is clearly feeling the heat with his club south of the playoff border in the East. Wednesday morning, after giving his troops, shall we say, a clear and succinct depiction of his view from the corner office, he declined to offer coach Cory Clouston a public vote of confidence. “I can’t answer that, honestly,’’ said Murray, when asked if the 41-year-old Clouston would last through the season. “I’ve talked to the staff about that. We’re all in a position where we have to do a better job.’’ Read: If it all falls down, Murray and everyone else could be turfed by owner Eugene Melnyk, although the 68-year-old Murray might have to take over the bench as a space-holder. Tough sledding for Clouston — a proud son of Viking, Alberta (a.k.a. Sutterville) — who likely won’t have Jason Spezza (shoulder injury) back until the end of the month, at the earliest. Meanwhile, faded star Alex Kovalev stood a lackluster 8-10—18 through 40 games, and ex-Bruin Sergei Gonchar, never a defensive stalwart, was an incriminating minus-20.

Hip check Jonathan Roy, the 21-year-old son of Hall of Famer Patrick Roy, isn’t stopping pucks or beating down on opposing netminders (mornin’, Bobby Nadeau) for daddy’s Quebec Remparts anymore. Young Monsieur Roy instead is pursuing records of a different sort, working on his career as hip-hop singer/songwriter J.O.E. Daking (le roi translates to “the king’’). Easy to find images of Daking, looking all hip-hopped, on the Internet. Spitting image of a young St. Patrick, who continues to run Les Remparts in Quebec City, the quaint French villa that keeps a light on in hopes that the NHL returns to town. Patrick helped finance J.O.E.’s first release, “What I’ve Become,’’ in 2009. A total of 13 songs, none with a reference to hockey in the title. Hip-hop is not your faithful puck chronicler’s genre, but hey, you got to pay your dues if you want to sing the blues.

The inside story Capitals GM George McPhee let us know that we just don’t get it the way they get it with a glimpse into his psyche on the HBO show “24/7 Penguins/Capitals.’’ McPhee on the public/media outcry over his squad’s losing streak: “When you are having a tough stretch, there are too many reactionaries out there. All the experts come out, all the pundits come out with their opinions, and the truth of the matter is that if they knew anything about the game, they’d be in it.’’ Absolutely. This is a universal truth regarding know-nothing fans and media. Take, for instance, the late Tim Russert’s coverage of D.C. politics. Poor media slob, total loser from Buffalo, didn’t have a clue how Washington worked. If he did, wouldn’t he have been president? Of course. In hockey, as in politics and especially religion, it takes one to know one, and everyone else is just hanging out.

Grounded Following their sensational come-from-behind gold medal win over Team Canada Wednesday night in the World Juniors in Buffalo, the Russians showed up in party overdrive early Thursday morning for their flight out of Buffalo-Niagara Airport. However, access denied. Not a coach’s decision, but a pilot decision. The distant sons of the CCCP, whose forefathers slinked out of Lake Placid nearly 31 years earlier, had their esprit de corps spiked too high, putting them on the day’s no-fly list in the Buff. Another black eye for the hockey world, which too often links victory with out-of-control partying (let’s not forget Team USA’s disgraceful display at their ’98 Nagano Olympics digs). No truth to the rumor that the bronze-winning Team USA juniors, rubbed out by the Canadians two nights earlier in Buffalo, bought the Russians a few of those late-night shots (vodka?) that quickly became heard ’round the world.

Obstructed views Your faithful puck chronicler skipped the Winter Classic this year for the first time, opting instead for Bruins at Buffalo. Word is, fans at Pittsburgh’s Heinz Field had a much better look at the game than the thousands upon thousands of disgruntled folks in Chicago ’09 (Wrigley) and Boston ’10 (Fenway), in large part because a football field has many more seats well above ice level and Heinz is fitted with a massive TV screen at the open end of the field. Hockey in old ballparks is quaint but a real stretch. If the NHL goes old school again, it really has to do a much better job of showing the customers what’s actually happening on the ice. The NHL, by the way, forked out some $100,000 to have the Heinz Field sod replaced in time for the Steelers’ playoff game next weekend.

Loose pucks Ex-Bruins blue liner Brad Stuart will be sidelined 6-8 weeks with a broken jaw, suffered Friday night on a blind-side hit by Calgary’s Tom Kostopoulos. Earlier in the week, Stuart was luckier when his Don Awrey-like dive to stop a Flyer slapshot Sunday had him turning his head in time to take the blow on the back of his head, leaving him in need of only a few stitches to stem the bleeding. Last thing the Wings needed was another core player sidelined. They already are without Pavel Datsyuk (hand), Dan Cleary (hand), and Mike Modano (wrist). Nonetheless, they keep winning. It’s a Hockeytown thing . . . Stick salute and speedy recovery to ex-Bruins netminder Andy Moog, 50, who suffered a heart attack at his Dallas-area home just after Christmas. Moog and partner Reggie Lemelin were on the watch here when the Bruins finally chased away the Montreal playoff curse in April 1988 . . . The Rangers ditched one-time phenom Michael Del Zotto back to Hartford (AHL) for seasoning. “All part of the process,’’ coach John Tortorella said for days leading up to the demotion, Del Zotto in and out of the lineup. He had only 2 goals and 9 points . . . Fellow puck lover Bucky Gleason, the Buffalo News columnist, opined in print over the weekend that Jim Benning could be a prime candidate to take over the Sabres’ front office once Terry Pegula finalizes his purchase of the club (possibly to be wrapped up over the All-Star break, Jan. 27-30). Benning, prior to becoming Peter Chiarelli’s top aide de camp here in Boston, spent more than a decade with the Sabres, including eight years as head of their scouting department (gutted in a budget move). If Benning were to leave Causeway Street, fellow assistant GM Don Sweeney would add some responsibilities and the rest of Benning’s workload would be spread out among current staffers. Chiarelli wouldn’t comment on a possible reconfiguration of his staff. His long-held position has been that he would not prevent anyone from a promotion to a GM’s chair . . . NHL bosses remain optimistic that expiring TV contracts with Versus and NBC here in the US will lead to rich new deals, either with current carriers or someone else. No doubt the Original 30 suits in Manhattan were giddy to see ESPN fork over $2 billion per year for the NFL’s Monday night games. We repeat: $2 billion. Remind me again why most NFL players work without guaranteed contracts while NHL players all have guaranteed deals?

Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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