Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Remember when

When is the next time the New York Islanders will make it to the cover of Sports Illustrated? The way the NHL is covered in this country, 'never' may be the best answer.

So enjoy this trip back in time, when the venerable E.M. Swift penned the SI cover story on the Islanders' victory over the Canadiens in the 1984 conference finals.

It's all there - the greatness of Bossy, the toughness of Gillies, the outstanding play of rookie Pat Flatley, the tenacity of Billy Smith. Swift goes on to predict the Isles winning a fifth straight cup, but his piece includes many signs of Islander vulnerability: too many penalties (especially by Trottier), a more time on the PK than the PP, injuries, and lower production from players like Potvin.

Still, it's a great reminded of the glory days, and I'll say it again - DAMN, were we spoiled!

Monday, May 26, 2008

Detroit looks dominant in game one

The Red Wings looked pretty unbeatable in the opener of the Stanley Cup finals, shutting out the Penguins, 4-0.

Over at ESPN.com, Scott Burnside asks the question: Do the Penguins need to fail in order to win later, as did the Oilers in 1983? Avid readers of this space recall that on May 20 I predicted a Red Wings victory in six games and noted that, like the Oilers, the talented Penguins are just not there yet and could follow the same path the Oilers did.

Short-time Islanders GM Neil Smith -- who was with the Isles in the Cup years -- comes to a similar conclusion in the article , and Kevin Lowe notes that it's a matter of learning how to win. Butch Goring confirms the legend of the defeated Oilers passing by the Isles locker room and seeing less celebration than relief, a sign that the Isles left everything out on the ice while the Oilers hadn't yet reached that level of comittment.

One can see the same scenario playing out this season.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The cult of the goon

Excellent piece on ESPN.com by Patrick Hruby about the culture of hockey fighting and the fans who are absolutely obsessed with it.

Recent Islanders acquisition Joel "The Wrecker" Rechlicz makes a cameo, although he's mentioned as having been pounded by Jon "Nasty" Mirasty of the Syracuse Crunch, so maybe he's not thrilled that his name is in there.

The fight fans featured in the story are die-hard followers of "the code" and spend hours watching hockey fights and the discussing them on message boards and websites. The older ones among them cut their teeth on videotaping fights and trading tapes, some even tapping into satellite signals to get them. Crazy.

When I was in high school, my younger brother and his friend taped fights but weren't nearly as obsessed - it was more of an annoyance as they seemed more interested in calling each other to let them know a fight was going on in the Devils game than watching an Islanders or Rangers game for, you know, the HOCKEY.

Of course, the hockey fight fans hate Gary Bettman and what the NHL has become, and so minor leagues like Mirasty are their folk heroes. I have to admit it's hard to believe the last bench-clearing brawl in the NHL was in 1987, and that having once argued that there's no place for fighting in an elite-level league like the NHL (you fight in any other sport and you're tossed from the game and likely suspended), I liked the old NHL better, where fighters had a role.

That said, I cringed at the description in Hruby's story about a 15-year-old, son of a cop, who "knocked out" three kids at a game in a tournament in Canada. Worse yet, the kid said "it was fun," and his dad couldn't have been prouder of how his son has learned to hit other kids so hard with a punch. In a hockey game.

To me, that's not hockey, at least at that level. You get to the pros, maybe it's a different story.

But they have to start somewhere.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Osgood will lead Detroit to the Cup

Remember when Chris Osgood was an Islander? The Red Wings dumped him for Dominik Hasek, leaving him on the waiver wire when they couldn't trade him. The Islanders picked him up and in 2001-02 he started 65 games and won 32 with a 2.50 GPA and four shutouts. Not bad, but he didn't last.

His stats slipped in 2002-03 and Garth Snow ended up getting the bulk of the starts in net, with Rick DiPietro making his debut that season. Osgood was dealt for Justin Papineau and a second-round pick, neither of which panned out.

To be fair, Osgood's career didn't exactly skyrocket from there. He was injured on and off and even this year was seen to be the backup for Hasek, but Hasek inevitably got hurt and Osgood took his game up a notch and has had an outstanding season, particularly in the playoffs as the Wings advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals for the 23rd time in their history.

They'll play the Penguins, who knocked out the Flyers in five games. Pittsburgh is dangerous, particularly since acquiring Marian Hossa to join Evgeny Malkin and Sidney Crosby up front. But Jordan Staal and Pascal Dupuis have also played well, as has goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury.

But the Pens are still a step away from being champions, much like the Edmonton Oilers in 1983 when they were bounced by the more experienced Islanders. The Pens' youth hasn't hurt them thus far but the Red Wings are another animal. Henrik Zetterburg, Pavel Datsyuk, Tomas Holstrom, Niklas Lidstrom, Brian Rafalski, not mention Osgood and Chris Chelios -- this team is stacked, with depth and experience the Pens cannot match. Detroit may still be without rising star Johan Franzen, but it won't matter.

Detroit wins the Cup in six games, but the Penguins -- like the Oilers did 25 years ago -- will remember what it took to get there and will likely be the team to beat next season. And they're in the Islanders division, of course!

Monday, May 19, 2008

Botta hits the nail on the head

Thankfully, Chris Botta is continuing his blog through July 7, answering questions and posting quality stuff like this, pointing out the hypocrisy of sports columnists like Serena Roberts.

One the one hand, she wants to make 'connections' with athletes like LeBron James who are encased in a cocoon of PR people. On the other hand, she feels she can throw someone like Eric Cairns under the bus and use him to make an example of the NHL without attending a game, calling the team or even trying to interview Cairns.

There are a lot of lazy sportswriters out there. They have their preconceived notions and would rather spout out their opinions, however misinformed, rather than do research, which may (God forbid) alter their perceptions and force them to write something different or fresh.

Apparently, Cairns wasn't big-time enough for Roberts to make an effort. Too bad.

Simon headed to Russia

Former Islander and Wild (Wilder?) Chris Simon has signed to play in the Continental Hockey League, formerly known as the Russian Super League.

Simon will play for Vityaz Checkhov, whose GM is Alexei Zhamnov, one of Simon's former teammates when he was with the Blackhawks.

Do svidanya, Chris!

Monday, May 12, 2008

Where in the world are the Islanders?

Not at the World Championships, that's for sure.

Sean Bergenheim is the lone Islanders representative at the 2008 IIHF World Championship tournament in Halifax and Quebec City, and he's not exactly burning up the ice, either (sorry, Dee). He has no points in 26 minutes over four games, but hey -- we don't want him to get hurt, do we? UPDATE: To be fair, Bergenheim came into the tournament with groin injury, which may have limited his play - thanks to NYIsles1 at New York Islander Fan Central for the reminder.

Meanwhile, there are a few ex-Islanders in the tournament, including Bergy's Finnish teammate, Olli Jokinen. Remember when the Isles traded Ziggy Palffy for the then-22-year-old Jokinen? He scored 11 goals, then was traded to Florida, where he hit his stride at age 25 after two more slow seasons. Patience is a virtue - the guy's got 173 goals in his last five seasons and is Florida's captain.

Then there's Sweden, which has enjoyed four goals and six assists from Mattias Weinhandl, who last played in the NHL in 2007 with Minnesota. But it's his teammate, Kenny Jonsson, who will give Islanders fans pain. Jonsson was one of the most underrated defensemen in the league when he was with the Islanders, but after the lockout he decided to remain in Sweden.

Seems like a long time ago, right? Well, Jonsson is just 33 years old, in his prime. Ouch.

One guy who is not playing at the worlds? Alexei Yashin. I know, shocked.

Meanwhile, the U.S. team lost a controversial decision to Finland, 3-2, in a game capped by a brawl. They were robbed. Best quote from U.S. coach John Tortorella: "I've heard about these horror shows as far as international refereeing. I have finally lived through one."

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Blogfather Botta resigns

Chris Botta ended his 20-plus-year tenure with the Islanders this week, resigning as the team's VP of media relations.

Botta created the Blog Box, and for that reason alone I'm indebted to him and his vision. The Isles were the first major sports franchise to give media credentials to a group of bloggers and will likely not be the last, regardless of what Buzz Bissinger has to say about it.

Botta had an interesting career with the Isles with more ups and downs than the Cyclone. He is also a terribly nice guy and a true professional and I'm sure he'll land on his feet in a situation that will be beneficial to him and his family. So Chris, best of luck to you and thank you again for the opportunity to cover the Islanders as a member of the Blog Box. I'm sure we'll be seeing you down the road.