What We Learned: Why canceling NHL games could give us the best season ever

22 Oct

Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend's events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.

We can all agree that there's no way the lockout ends in time for Gary Bettman's fictional 82-game full season, right?

They'd have to agree to the new CBA, like, as I'm writing this, for the Nov. 2 cutoff date to be met; and even then, it might be a stretch.

I know the League canceled the dates — not the games, an important distinction — through Nov. 1 on Friday. There are also rumors that when the next batch of cancellations comes, it could be larger than the two preceding it. At this point, I think I'm starting to be fine with that, because I came to the realization that a season shortened by 24 games could make for the best one ever.

I decided the other day that what I'd really like to see — and I know it'll never ever happen for a bunch of reasons — is for the NHL to go to a 58-game schedule, just this once. In it, each team could play every other team in the league twice, once at home, and once on the road. In a league that loves reminding everyone about its competitive balance, what better schedule could exist than that?

It solves a lot of problems about competitive balance as well. No longer would the Canucks, for example, get to beat up on Edmonton, Calgary, Minnesota and Colorado a combined 24 games a season as a means of padding their Presidents Trophy credentials while teams in the Central play their way through a 24-date divisional meat grinder.

This way, all 30 teams' playing field for making the playoffs and racking up wins over the course of a season becomes as level as it can possibly be.

(Coming Up: More Alex Ovechkin threats; Pascal Dupuis is fiscally responsible; Nik Kronwall, next captain of the Red Wings?; Predators talk lockout with fans; Don Cherry high on Habs; Islanders to Staten Island; Rich Clune picks the wrong fight; getting Scott Gomez to the Flames; goalie issues for the Blue Jackets and Flyers; and a beautiful goal from the NCAA.)

The Jets play the Oilers just as much as the Kings play the Panthers, and there can be little complaining about strength of schedule. Of course, injuries and other factors will play a part in individual contests, but over the course of 58 games, it works itself out.

This also preserves the slight randomness of what a shorter season can do to get teams into the playoffs when they otherwise might not have. The thing to remember is that playing 82 games gives you a really good idea of teams who deserve to be in the playoffs, so by definition playing 29 percent or so fewer makes it easier for more chaos.

Perhaps one reason it'll never happen is, of course, that teams will object to all the travel.

Even one two-week road trip that bumps six or seven Western Conference road opponents off the docket for teams in the East will be trying, and you know the Red Wings will have a lot to say about all of it as well. This also disproportionately plays to the advantage of Western Conference teams because when they come to the East Coast, they won't have nearly as much travel to deal with going from one city to the next. The NHLPA would probably kick up a bit of a stink about that, and the owners won't be happy to foot the bill for all that jet fuel.

The other issues is that games like, say, Toronto versus Montreal or Detroit versus Chicago (and so forth) are a big deal for this League; and only having two of them a year doesn't make much sense from either a publicity or financial perspective. That, and geography, are why so many long-time rivals are grouped together in the same division, and why there's an unbalanced schedule in the first place.

The upside, though, is that every fanbase gets to see every one of the league's best players and teams. No waiting another two years to see the Oilers kids, or Sid Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. You want to grow the game again? Make sure every fan gets an eyeful of the very best the league has to offer. This could also increase the potential for those home-and-home grudge matches for closer-together teams that don't always get to play each other.

There's no reason at all, for example, you couldn't have a Thursday/Saturday series between Pittsburgh and Detroit. And that would rule.

Again, it would be interesting to see the NHL adopt the schedule-making policies of other leagues, like those in soccer, just for a year. It works very, very well over there, and could work just as well here.

Of course, given that it makes even a little bit of sense, we can all rest assured that it can't happen. Not with these guys in charge.

What We Learned

Anaheim Ducks: Ducks prospect Nic Kerdiles had his full-season suspension reduced to 10 games by the NCAA, and an Anaheim executive says that's enough for the kid to stay in school and not jump to major juniors. Nonetheless, he won't get to start his freshman season until the end of November.

Boston Bruins: Here's a video of the Kings' Rich Clune biting off way more than he can chew in a game that ended up being Providence's first win of the season. Bobby Robins delivered a savage beating here.

Buffalo Sabres: Mikhail Grigorenko is making a joke out of the QMJHL, scoring 10 goals and 13 assists in the first 11 games of his season. Not bad for a 25-year-old.

Calgary Flames: The Flames, not unlike their northern Albertan neighbors, would really like to build a new rink. But given how things are going in Edmonton, they're really just sitting back and watching, and they're wise to do so. It's a very entertaining situation, after all.

Carolina Hurricanes: Justin Faulk is injured oh no oh no oh no. Oh wait. It's just a muscle strain and he's fine. Dodged a bullet there.

Chicago Blackhawks: Poor Carter Hutton. His Rockford IceHogs have played four games, and he's been very good, allowing just nine goals in that time. Nonetheless, the team is 0-3-1 because it has scored just five goals in those four games. Not good enough, Brandon Saad and Andrew Shaw.

Colorado Avalanche: Tyson Barrie had a goal and two assists in Lake Erie's win over Oklahoma City, which isn't such a bad team to do that against.

Columbus Blue Jackets: I clicked this link about the Blue Jackets' organizational depth expecting a laugh, and I was richly rewarded by that goaltending situation. Man, I almost forgot they were really willing to enter the season with a Sergei Bobrovsky/Steve Mason combo in net. Is there a place lower than 30th?

Dallas Stars: Not a good weekend for the Texas Stars' PK. It went 38 percent (killing 3 of 8) in a weekend sweep at the hands of Houston. Now, okay, Houston is super-talented. But try to keep the percentage above 50 for the rest of the season.

Detroit Red Wings presented by Amway: Could Nik Kronwall be the next captain of the Red Wings? I mean, he probably has enough frequent flyer miles saved up, right?

Edmonton Oilers: Ben Eager really hit a guy with a chair in a Toronto bar? That's not the Ben Eager I know. I'm still waiting for the police report to confirm whether the guy was facing away from him.

Florida Panthers: The San Antonio Rampage won 1-0 over Milwaukee. Wow, that Jacob Markstrom kid really is the future of the fra… what's that? Dov Grumet-Morris was in net? And Markstrom has a 3.01/.908 line this season? Hmm. Might wanna start looking into that Luongo situation again.

Los Angeles Kings: The LA Kings won something called the Mobile Excellence Award, so you know Matt Greene wasn't involved.

Minnesota Wild: Craig Leipold recently told a group of entrepreneurs that they have to come up with a "bodacious" idea to be successful. Yeah, like signing contracts in bad faith and almost single-handedly causing the lockout.

Montreal Canadiens: Don Cherry is hyped for the current Canadiens roster. Which is weird because I checked and there's only two Good Ontario Boys on it.

Nashville Predators: Someone tell Gary Bettman there were Preds employees who had the audacity to actually discuss the lockout with season-ticket holders. The nerve! Fine them into oblivion, Gary.

New Jersey Devils: This is pretty much the do-or-die, make-or-break season in Bobby Butler's career. So it doesn't bode well that he has a measly single assist through three games.

New York Islanders: The Islanders on Staten Island. That's a new one. Although, I do like the idea of them being straight from the slums of Shaolin.

New York Rangers: The Connecticut Whale are 0-3-1 to start the year, but at least Kyle Jean, a rookie and free agent signing, has six points in those four games.

Ottawa Senators: I love what a lunatic Robin Lehner is. He tried to fight two different guys, then settled for beating the hell out of Riku Helenius. (And sure the Senators blew that 5-0 lead but still, fun.)

Philadelphia Flyers: What a headline: "Is Ilya Bryzgalov's KHL inconsistency reason for concern?" Yeah I dunno what about his NHL inconsistency?

Phoenix Coyotes: Today is Day No. 73 since Jude LaCava of Fox 10 in Arizona said Greg Jamison would have the deal for the Coyotes sewn up within the next five days. And now, even Glendale's mayor is all like, "Yeah would it really be the worst thing in the world if they left though? Because, like, then we'd get to have libraries and stuff still. Do people like that? Libraries? I feel like they do. Anyway the no one cares about the Coyotes. Just think about it."

Pittsburgh Penguins: Pascal Dupuis has saved a lot of the several million dollars he's made in his 10-year NHL career and therefore isn't all that worried about money right now. What a concept.

San Jose Sharks: The Worcester Sharks have designs on making the AHL playoffs this season. Their coach, who's been behind the bench there for 15 seasons, thinks they have five or six 20-goal scorers on the roster.

St. Louis Blues: Actual hockey fan on seeing her first AHL fight: "I was like, yay!" That red-haired 10-year-old girl is part of the problem in hockey's culture of violence.

Tampa Bay Lightning: I swear if this lockout means we've seen the last of Marty St. Louis I'm gonna be pissed.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Clarke MacArthur knows what it is: "A week ago, it would be easy to get all excited. Then after this, you could be down in the dumps again." Blah.

Vancouver Canucks: Real nice goal from Zack Kassian in Friday's shootout win over Abbotsford (skip to 30 seconds in).

Washington Capitals: Alex Ovechkin is back to threatening to stay in the KHL. Big talk, bud. No one buys it.

Winnipeg Jets: The Jets may regret drafting Jacob Trouba? Because he might not one day be as good as Filip Forsberg could be? Oh boy are we ever in the middle of a lockout. (For the record, Trouba, a defenseman, has two goals and two assists as a freshman at the University of Michigan.)

Play of the Weekend

PRETTY NICE goal by Alex Petan of Michigan Tech, as the Huskies knocked off No. 1 Minnesota on Friday night. (They lost on Saturday, but that game was awful close too.)

Gold Star Award

Decent weekend for Justin Schultz. Three goals, two of them shorthanded, and an assist in two games. He now has 4-2-6 in four AHL games. That signing could work out okay for Edmonton.

Minus of the Weekend

Pierre LeBrun says he spoke with a team executive who says if there's no deal struck this week, you might as well go ahead and cancel the whole season. Good to see Gary's willing to negotiate.

Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week

User "noahhabib" is trying to infuriate two fanbases at once.

To Montreal:

Jay Bouwmeester

To Calgary:

Scott Gomez



Whatcha got under the foil, Mr. Party Pooper? Some party poop?

Ryan Lambert publishes hockey awesomeness almost never over at The Two-Line Pass. Check it out, why don't you? Or you can e-mail him and follow him on Twitter if you so desire.

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Watch Alex Ovechkin shatter a pane of KHL glass with his head (VIDEO)

20 Oct

Alex Ovechkin is a large man and he hits with a great deal of force. On Saturday, Atlant Moscow forward Alexei Mikhnov experienced this phenomenon firsthand.

A split-second later, so did a pane of glass. And, judging by the way it shattered from fairly harmless contact with the big Russian winger, it's a wonder Mikhnov's nostrils didn't shoot clouds of dust from his bones exploding. Here's what happens when Alex Ovechkin meets KHL glass:

Holy cow, what is Ovechkin's helmet made of? High-pitched frequency?

The shattered pane wasn't the only thing that needed cleaning up. Ovechkin left the game briefly so that the Dynamo medical staff could sweep away the shards of glass in his equipment and bandage up a massive gash on his hand.

[More NHL: Donald Fehr addresses 'greedy' player myth]

When Ovechkin headed to the KHL a month ago, he made the ominous suggestion that he just might stay there if his salary was reduced. We called it an empty threat, citing the fact that a) his salary came from a contract and b) his sponsors weren't paying for him to play in Russia. But this clip gives us another reason.

Anyone who watches Ovechkin on the regular knows he really, really enjoys leaping into the glass, back-first. It's his jam. But as it turns out, KHL glass isn't quite as conducive to Ovechkin's signature celebration. Heck, you can't even back into it.

s/t to Dirty Dangle.

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Tags: , Alexei Mikhnov, Atlant, Atlant Moscow, Donald Fehr, , , Mikhnov, , , pane of glass, shards of glass, shatter, ,
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How were the KHL’s ratings on ESPN2? Better than Dan Le Batard, not as good as poker

19 Oct

When analyzing the ratings for professional hockey on ESPN, fans inevitably have one standard for success or failure:

"Did hockey beat poker?"

This Pavlovian response was born out of the trauma we suffered in the NHL's waning years on the World Wide Leader, when televised Texas Hold'em tournaments seemed to take precedence over pucks. Poker became the symbol of ESPN's apathy towards hockey; a rivalry between the two sports (OK, one sport and one game of chance) still rages, as we early await Daniel Negreanu to be our Gandhi ...

With the NHL having locked out its players, Russia's Kontinental Hockey League signed a slew of star players and cut a deal with ESPN: Games would be streamed live on ESPN3 online, and a select few would be featured on ESPN2, marking the first time in several year that professional hockey had a home on the Deuce. (RIP, NHL2Night.)

The first broadcast was Tuesday, Oct. 9 between Alex Ovechkin's Dynamo Moscow and HC Lev Praha, Zdeno Chara's team. On Oct. 14, it was Ovechkin vs. Amur, a game that Dynamo won, 4-1. So, in other words, they weren't under Amur. (Drops mic.)

So how did the KHL on ESPN2 do in the ratings?

Son Of The Bronx had the ESPN and ESPN2 ratings from Oct. 8-14, including the details on the three KHL broadcasts. (For the record: "P2+ (000): Viewers, in thousands, aged 2 years or older.")

So the KHL's Tuesday night broadcast ranked No. 78 for the week on ESPN2, ahead of a mid-afternoon episode of "Dan Le Batard is Highly Questionable." It was the highest rated of the three broadcasts, which isn't too shabby considering the same game was shown hours earlier; wonder if the hype about the Steve and Barry Show helped goose the ratings.

But to answer the question we're all asking:

"Did hockey beat poker?"

Well, no. Poker ranked No. 32 on the weekly ESPN2 ratings. Even Alex Ovechkin can't overcome fat white guys with funny sunglasses bluffing each other.

Overall, that initial KHL rating showed promise. If the lockout continues, it might be enough to have the KHL on ESPN2 a few more times. Provided it includes more Barry Melrose commentary. And by that we mean more references to the Soviet Union-as-current-Russia.

s/t to Son Of The Bronx, our favorite place for cable ratings fun.

Tags: , beat, Bronx, Dan Le Batard, , , ESPN2, , Kontinental Hockey League, , poker
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Joe Thornton expects to play full season in Switzerland, thanks to NHL lockout

12 Oct

During a public relations offensive, it's difficult to separate the truth from the spin.

The National Hockey League Players Association has been laying it on thick since the summer — the latest example being the "hey, look at the NHL players that just so happened to drop in on a youth hockey practice, wearing their #ThePlayers jerseys!" campaign on Twitter.

Part of the players' PR front from the start: Leaving for Europe en masse, to show the owners they're in this CBA battle for the long haul.

But after they arrived there, things have gotten tricky: When we hear Alex Ovechkin or Ilya Bryzgalov talk about staying in the KHL even when the lockout is settled, is that the from the heart or more union marching orders being parroted?

When Rick Nash of the New York Rangers left for Davos in the Swiss League, he said there was a chance he'd play there for the full season — just like he did in 2004-05.

His teammate, then and now, was Joe Thornton of the San Jose Sharks. In an interview with Berner Zeitung, Thornton became the latest NHL star to cast doubt on the season:

Q. Today (Thursday, Ed) should have started the NHL season. Got news on lockout ending?

THORNTON: No. I am in contact with some people, but there is nothing concrete. I'm now expecting to play the whole season in Switzerland.

"Expecting" could probably mean "prepared to", but either way the pessimistic message from Thornton is clear. The only question is whether it's from the heart, from the NHLPA handbook or perhaps it's a way to sell more Davos swag by convincing the locals they're not part-timers.

s/t Andreas Boos

Tags: , Association, , Joe Thornton, , National Hockey League Players' Association, , , NHL season, Switzerland, , youth
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Puck Daddy’s KHL on ESPN2 recap: Ovechkin scores, Barry Melrose’s funny Euro names

09 Oct

As the Kontinental Hockey League debuted on ESPN2 for the first time Tuesday afternoon — with an evening replay at 8 p.m. ET — some considered it an embarrassment for the National Hockey League. Here were Alex Ovechkin and Zdeno Chara, established NHL stars, shining a light on Dynamo Moscow and HC Lev Praha respectively, on a network with whom Gary Bettman's had some bitter history.

Was the NHL embarrassed? Yeah, not so much. The KHL was, however, as their debut game on the WWL was a tepid sub-NHL affair with little that would compel a casual fan to tune in again.

Also, because the ESPN2 team of Steve Levy and Barry Melrose spent as much time on the NHL lockout, ads on the ice, guys named Mikuš and time zones than on the KHL itself. Was it fun? Yes. Did it remind me of calling high-school football games with the rest of my buddies in the AV club? Yes.

Here's our live blog on the KHL on ESPN2. Follow along when you're watching it again to get your hockey fix anyway you can.

• • •

1:00 p.m.: ESPN2 transitions from a shot of Drew Brees celebrating a touchdown pass to the villain from a 1960s Bond film singing the national anthem. We see his lips moving as ESPN's theme music blares, and then fades out awkwardly. Which is weird, because ESPN has never pushed hockey aside awkwardly for another sport. Steve Levy: "Well, if you were tuning in for 'O Canada', you were out of luck. While the NHL is away, the KHL will play."

1:01 p.m.: First Alex Ovechkin name check and sighting, in the lineup for Dynamo.

1:02 p.m.: Melrose: "If you're a casual fan, you'll recognize some names like Skoula, Chara and Ovechkin." Someone tell him that causal fans think Skoula is a brand of chewing tobacco.

1:04 p.m.: Melrose notes that Ovechkin is wearing No. 32 in the KHL while he wears No. 8 in the NHL, and that is "something we'll have to track down." Point No. 1: Nice show prep, Barry. Point No. 2: This took us roughly 1.8 seconds to track down, from Sept. 19.

1:06 p.m.: Good job up front by ESPN breaking down the differences between KHL and NHL hockey — less hitting, less board work, more of a chess match, and a little more "fancy" with the offense.

1:08 p.m.: The KHL rink crew (a.k.a. a dude in a Lev jersey with a power drill) hits to the ice to the delight of the ESPN crew. "Everyone's sorta hoping that he falls on his butt out there," said Barry Melrose.

1:10 p.m.: Chara with a hit. "No one told Chara he isn't supposed to hit in Europe!" says Melrose. I'm starting to really like the "Steve and Barry Take The Piss Out of Euro Hockey" routine.

1:10:30 p.m.: Case in point —

"Josef Jandač is the head coach for Lev Praha. What do you know about him, Barry?"

"Not a thing, Steve. I'm not going to sit here and lie to the audience."

[Much laughter]

1:11 p.m.: We find out that Barry Melrose thought that Yuri Gagarin was a hockey player, to the surprise of no one. "And for you space fans out there, Russian astronauts are called Cosmonauts." An actual quote from the actual Barry Melrose.

1:14 p.m.: More KHL knowledge, as we learn there isn't a hell of a lot of shot blocking, even on the power play. Which means Ovechkin would play HC Lev 10,000 times before he ever plays the Rangers again. Maybe he is staying.

1:18 p.m.: We have KHL cheerleaders on ESPN2!

1:20 p.m.: Melrose and Levy thank the hockey gods for having one Erik Christensen in the game since 80 percent of the other players are named Seirgevey Khalanonvovzyigovzy.

1:22: p.m.: The crowd chants something that sounds like "C-M-PUNK". Melrose is asked what it means. "We want a goal," adding that it's the universal hockey chant.

1:25 p.m.: There are two players named Juraj Mikuš on the HC Lev team, a.k.a. Zdeno Chara's team (as told to us by ESPN). The first Juraj Mikuš is a 25-year-old center. The other Juraj Mikuš is a 23-year-old defenseman. The boys find this endlessly amusing. And with that, we creep forever closer to a "Who's on Juraj Mikuš?" routine that would rival that of Abbott and Costello.

1:32 p.m.: Ovechkin is without a scoring chance and hasn't had the puck all that much. How did ESPN2 not inform us this was a playoff game?

1:34 p.m.: NHL lockout talk to end the period, with Melrose and Levy lamenting the work stoppage and Melrose predicting the players will return in December. Levy's outro for the scoreless first period is cut off by a WNBA commercial, which is weird, because ESPN has never pushed hockey aside awkwardly for another sport.

END OF FIRST PERIOD: One of most interesting moments of the first? Barry Melrose on Ovechkin and Washington Capitals fans, saying, "If I'm a fan back in DC watching my captain play for a different city and team, I'm angry"

1:50 p.m.: Nice job but Levy publicizing the Lokomotiv comeback story, as the resurrected team sits in first place in the KHL. Keep it up, and Lokomotiv is setting itself up to me honored by ESPN at year's end. Oh, who are we kidding?

1:54 p.m.: Melrose wonders if the 'T' is always silent in Russian names. Levy mentions several Russian names in which this is not the case. The preceding was sponsored by Rosetta Stone.

1:56 p.m.: Apropos of nothing, the KHL penalty benches look like something the players should carve their initials into while sitting there. "CHRIS SIMON WUZ HERE." That kind of thing.

1:58 p.m.: Ovechkin gets his best chance of the game with a driving shot to the net while falling that Malkin would have obviously buried. Levy and Melrose think he has better jump in the second period, which probably means someone from IMG called him between periods to subtly remind him the game was on ESPN2.

2:00 p.m.: "You said something that sounded like 'Yakupov', and Nail Yakupov was the rookie of the week in the KHL." Best. Segue. Ever, Steve Levy.

2:03 p.m.: For the record, Melrose likes the "Prague" jerseys more than the Dynamo jerseys. Also for the record: Melrose has given up trying to call HC Lev Praha anything but "Prague."

2:06 p.m.: "I wish Mrs. Mikuš would tweeter or twitter something about her son to us. Or both mothers." Barry Melrose, a man and his Mikuš.

2:08 p.m.: "That sounds like a law firm! Mikuš, Mikuš and Klepis!" Once again confirming Barry Melrose outsources most of his legal work to Zagreb.

2:11 p.m.: Remember before when I said it was cute that Melrose and Levy were taking the piss out of European Hockey? I take it back. I take it all back. It's degenerated into Barry Melrose's Funny-Sounding Names Pun-tacular. Our breaking point was turning Yuri Babenko of Dynamo into a Vegas-inspired "You can Babenko on it" stretch of Mr. Fantastic proportions.

2:13 p.m.: Ovechkin's inept play on the man advantage made me look to the blue line to see if Dennis Wideman had turned the puck over. Pavlovian response. Won't happen again next season. Sorry Calgary.

2:18 p.m.: As lockout talk continues, Levy mentions that every NHL home game brings in about $1 million to the local economy. Which we assume means it brings in roughly $3 million per game across the League and the Islanders bring down the average.

END OF SECOND PERIOD: And we're still scoreless, as the KHL captures the hearts and minds of American fans with tedious play, little physicality and nothing on the scoreboard. In other words: hockey in October.

2:38 p.m.: We begin the third period with a scintillating discussion of Barry Melrose's Twitter habits and a call for John Buccigross to follow the broadcast with KHL tonight (huzzah!)

2:39 p.m.: So here's a KHL goal — Ovechkin scores after the referee refuses to allow the Lev goalie to freeze the puck. He mishandles it, as a KHL goalie is wont to do. Ovechkin then shovels it in while inside the crease. So, in ESPN summary: "OVECHKIN'S BRILLIANT GOAL GIVES DYNAMO THE LEAD; CROSBY SOMETHING SOMETHING."

2:44 p.m.: Despite having the KHL create an exception so he could be paid more than any other NHL import in Russia, "it's not about the money" for Alex Ovechkin, according to Melrose.

2:45 p.m.: Melrose blasts the union members that jetting to Europe for millions while "80 percent" of the players are back in North America. Strong stuff. "If we're in a lockout, we should all be in a lockout." Wonder what Donald Fehr thinks of that?

2:48 p.m.: When the action picks up and Levy and Melrose are calling it as it happens, this feels like a real pro hockey game. When Melrose interrupts that flow to declare he's identified a Chevrolet logo near center ice, it feels the Sklar Brothers are watching a lumberjack competition, minus the jokes.

2:51 p.m.: "You wouldn't think a guy like Chris Simon would be needed in the KHL." Yes, why ever would they need someone of Simon's unique skills set?

2:53 p.m.: Legit LOL when Melrose said he'd call the booth to get a replay and ask for "Ivan." (Levy and Melrose are calling the game off the TV, in case you didn't know.)

2:55 p.m.: Melrose predicts that the NHL will have ads on jerseys.

2:58 p.m.: Levy notes that it's the fifth anniversary of the KHL (hence, the No. 5 in the logo we've seen after every replay) and asks Melrose if he ever played against some of the former Super League Russian stars. Melrose says yes. Levy, deadpans: "Summit Series?" A hearty laugh was shared.

3:01 p.m.: Ovechkin doesn't come out immediately for the power play, leading Melrose to opine: "Uh oh, Dale Hunter's gonna have to explain why he hates Ovechkin."

3:04 p.m.: If this game was any more tedious, it would qualify for the NHL preseason.

3:09 p.m.: Ovechkin on the ice for the final seconds of the game. Do Russian fans care about padding goal totals with empties?

3:10 p.m.: Levy asks Melrose to evaluate the 1-0 win for Dynamo, leading Melrose to realize he had just watched a hockey game.

3:10:30 p.m.: Melrose and Levy end the broadcast with lockout talk, with Melrose again reiterating that the Winter Classic will be the great obstacle to a cancelled season.

3:11 p.m.: "Now stayed tuned for NASCAR NOW" in lieu of a postgame show. Which is weird, because ESPN has never pushed hockey aside awkwardly for another sport ...

Tags: , Barry Melrose, , , Juraj, Lev, , ,
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NHL 2012-13 Campaign Preview: Washington Capitals

08 Oct

Yes, indeed, despite the promise of impending labor Armageddon and a prolonged work-stoppage, your friends at Puck Daddy are previewing the 2012-13 NHL season (whenever the heck it starts). Why? Because this is the most important election in the history of all-time ever, and you need to know the candidates — like the Washington Capitals.

The Capitals had retooled during the summer, jettisoning a few players (including the Semyon Varlamov trade) and bringing in veterans like Troy Brouwer and Joel Ward, with an eye on finally finding postseason success.

But first, they had to find regular-season success again: Two days after a humiliating loss to a depleted Buffalo Sabres team, the Capitals fired Coach Bruce Boudreau following a 12-9-1 start (that included benchings for both Alex Ovechkin and Alex Semin). Boudreau had a record of 201-88-40 for the Capitals, led the team to the playoffs in each of this seasons there and once did an entire interview on HBO with food on his face.

Enter Dale Hunter, the Capitals legend who had coached the London Knights for the last 11 seasons. Long coveted by GM George McPhee, Hunter brought a conservative defensive style that the team finally bought into in the postseason; leading to a win over the Boston Bruins in the first round and the ascendance of rookie goalie Braden Holtby to postseason star. Alas, the run ended at the hands of the New York Rangers in Game 7.

After the season, Hunter walked away from the Capitals to return to juniors, and Washington inked another former player to replace him: New Jersey Devils assistant coach Adam Oates.

Can he be the one to finally get the team past the second round of the conference playoffs?

"Finally Drained of Semin"

As was just crudely mentioned, Alex Semin and the Capitals finally parted ways after seven years of brilliant offensive moments but frustratingly inconstant play and questions about work ethic. It was time for a change for both teams, as Semin signed with the Carolina Hurricanes -- but his offense isn't easily replaced.

The Capitals bid farewell to goalie Tomas Vokoun, who was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins; forward Mike Knuble, who was unsigned; defenseman Dennis Wideman, who signed with the Calgary Flames; winger Chris Bourque, was traded to Boston fro Zach Hamill; center Keith Aucoin, who signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs; and center Jeff Halpern and defenseman Sean Collins, who signed with the Rangers.

The Capitals weren't overwhelmingly active in free agency — they added Wojtek Wolski, Ryan Stoa, Jack Hillen and Joey Crabb — but swung for the fences with a big trade: Acquiring C Mike Ribeiro from the Dallas Stars for C Cody Eakin and a second-round 2012 draft pick.

At forward … Alex Ovechkin finished with the lowest points per game average (0.83, the first time he was under a point per game) of his career, although he surged to 38 goals with a late-season push. Having center Nicklas Backstrom limited with 42 games due to a concussion was no doubt a factor. With Oates behind the bench, perhaps Ovechkin can make up some of the points he's lost on special teams in recent seasons.

Backstrom had 44 points in 42 games, skating to a minus-4. Having Ribeiro on the second line will help take some of the pressure off the talented pivot, rather than having a revolving cast of characters as the second option at center.

Marcus Johannson was third on the team in points, but managed only 3 in 14 playoff games. Still, he showed solid offensive promise in his sophomore season skating with Ovechkin and Backstrom.

Ribeiro should have Troy Brouwer on his line, as the former Blackhawk netted 18 goals last season. Mathieu Perreault is undersized but can create his own chances, as he frequently did in scoring 30 points in 64 games last season. Or perhaps, the Capitals will give speedy Jason Chimera a look after his breakout season with 20 goals.

Brooks Laich had 16 goals and 41 points on the season, and should be able to slide back into a defensive mode with the top two center spots solidified. Joel Ward, hero of Game 7 (well, at least to some) against Boston, will settle into a checking role again for the Capitals. Washington has several other truculent options down the lineup, like fan favorites Jay Beagle and Matt Hendricks.

Where Wolski and AHLer Stanislav Galiev fit are anyone's guess.

On defense … It wasn't a sterling year for the Capitals' top two remaining puck-moving defensemen (with Wideman gone). John Carlson posted 32 goals, but finished at a minus-15, taking a step back from a stellar rookie season, Mike Green was limited to 32 games due to injury and posted seven points. He had a very strong postseason and earned a new contract; will we ever see the old Mike Green again?

Carlson should be back with Karl Alzner again, who may have been the team's best defenseman last season. Roman Hamrlik, the 38-year-old defenseman who averaged 19:13 TOI last season, will be back in the top four.

Rounding out the lineup: Defensive defenseman John Erskine and speedy Dmitri Orlov, along with Jack Hillen and Jeff Schultz. Then there's Tom Poti, still under contract but likely done.

In goal … Holtby should enter the season (whenever it starts) as the top option between the pipes, and is getting more work in the AHL during the lockout. He thrived in Dale Hunter's system; can he do the same for Oates?

Michael Neuvirth called Holtby the "weakest competition" he'll have faced in a goalie tandem, and then walked away from that statement briskly. Which ignores the fact that he's right: Holtby doesn't have the body of work in the NHL that Varlamov and Vokoun had. But Holtby's also been groomed to be the starter for years, considered by many to be a better prospect than Neuvirth. Two young goalies trying to beat the other out of a job. Not a bad problem to have for the Caps.

BEAT DAT BEAT UP! GTL 4 LIFE! (Mike Green pops collar.)

Oates arrives having never been a head coach in the NHL but having served well as an assistant with the Cup Finalist Devils last season. His hockey smarts are off the charts, and his offensive credentials are unimpeachable. If he can apply some of this power-play efficiency to this Capitals roster, their offense could roll.

That said, Boudreau lost the team and Hunter didn't feel compelled to return. Can Oates manage this locker room?

McPhee once again has attempted to add the last touches to a contender, in the hopes that this formula works. He deserved much credit for hiring Hunter and making some of the moves that paid off in the first two rounds of the playoffs (like Ward, finally). But he didn't replace Semin's offense, he may miss Wideman's points from the blue line and there's a creeping sense that the window is closing on this group — despite McPhee having locked up so many of them long term.

We'll go with Backstrom, who from an offensive and defensive perspective might be the most complete forward on the team. He's two seasons removed from his 101-point breakout, but should thrive with Ribeiro behind him and Oates there to teach him.

Orlov. He was a scratch in the playoffs, but had 19 points in 60 games for the Capitals during the regular season. He's got speed and size, and is yet another offensive option for the Caps on their blue line.

Holtby. While we think the kid has the goods, let's take a step back and see what the numbers look like without Hunter Hockey in front of him -- and with teams being a tad more familiar with him.

[Female Narrator]

"Childhood obesity. A scourge on our society. A drag on our health system.

"Candy bars and potato chips: leading causes of childhood obesity.

"And yet Alex Ovechkin violently covets these treats:

"And tries to trick our children into thinking they can be used to create rips in the fabric of time and space:

"Let Alex Ovechkin know that childhood obesity matters to you.

"And by that, I mean poke him in the belly during the offseason.

"Paid for by George McPhee."

The Southeast is a more interesting place than last season: The Carolina Hurricanes have Jordan Staal and Semin; the Lightning have bolster their blue line and addressed their goaltending; the Panthers were a division champ last season (and are waiting on Luongo). The Capitals need a smooth transition to Oates next season, because a playoff spot isn't predestined for any team that gets off slowly in the East.

That said, the Capitals should be a playoff team. And Ovechkin should reclaim his form.

Tags: Adam Oates, , , goalie, , , , , , Wolski
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What We Learned: When ESPN meets the KHL, it’s Alex Ovechkin that wins

08 Oct

Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend's events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.

In an effort to fill the void in hockey fans' lives and potentially capitalize on whatever vague remaining interest they may have in Alex Ovechkin's exploits — and let's be honest, for almost all of us, that interest is waning about as rapidly as his goal totals — ESPN recently announced that it would begin airing KHL games on whatever it's calling its ESPN3 platform these days.

In addition, they will also air a game on ESPN2 — actual hockey on an ESPN television property! — at 1 p.m. Tuesday, and then again at 8 p.m. that night.

A great idea for disenfranchised hockey fans in theory. Hockey fans are starved for the sport, since the season was meant to have started in just five days, and apart from the AHL, which has its own broadcast things going on, the KHL is undoubtedly the best league on the planet. As an added bonus, it has no connection with the NHL, with which the Worldwide Leader in Sports is current embroiled in a bit of a Cold War, but does feature a number of very recognizable NHL players.

Alex Ovechkin is one. Jakub Voracek, Zdeno Chara, Evgeni Malkin, Pavel Datsyuk and Pekka Rinne are others. These are people ESPN knows hockey fans might tune in to see. At least they could be. Maybe. If fans are really bored.

The problems with this whole thing are three-fold, and each is why it's odd to me that ESPN would pursue this other than as an "eff you" to the NHL.

(Coming Up: Bobby Ryan calls out the Euro NHLers during lockout; Bryz says KHLers might not return; Nathan MacKinnon's brilliant goal; Nashville, Carolina keep the fans engaged; Mikhail Grabovski's apathy; Blackhawks on the fence about leaving; Mikael Granlund and Alex Steen, killin' it; Kevin Bieksa is charitable; Braden Holtby is human after all.)

1. It is almost exclusively showing games for Ovechkin's Dynamo Moscow.

Sure he's the biggest name over there right now, but he's also the only name I even recognize on it. I tend to follow this sport FAIRLY closely, and this is a bunch of Russian names I've literally never heard in my life. Ovechkin, yes, but also Gynge, Kasanchuk and Pestunov. There are other KHL teams with a larger number of names you and I have heard.

For example, there is Ovechkin's opponents for the TV game, HC Lev, which actually has players hockey fans have heard of if they've been paying attention. Yes, they have Chara and Voracek, but also semi-recognizable names like Martin Skoula, Marcel Hossa, Erik Christensen, Jiri Novotny, Michal Repik, Tomas Surovy and Jaroslav Svoboda. I don't mean to imply that people are saying, "Honey hold the kids outta school, Petr Vrana's playing this afternoon!" but at least these are names people who've played NHL 09 would recognize, for the most part.

2. Very few people have ESPN3, and those who do probably aren't hyped to watch hockey on it.

This right here says the ESPN3/WatchESPN platform has 40 million subscribers. It was semi-recently crowing about having 108,000 unique visitors watching at least part of a match between Premier League champions Manchester City play Queens Park Rangers.

To put that into perspective, at the time the NHL signed with OLN in 2005, that network had 64 million subscribers. Remember all the jokes then?

3. No one cares about the KHL outside Russia.

Therefore, when the diehardest of diehard hockey fans tune into these games, guess what they're going so see: Ovechkin. And nothing but.

Remember how bad hockey coverage was back in the NHL's OLN days? Every game had Sidney Crosby in it, and every action was viewed through the lens of "How does this affect Sidney Crosby?" You can expect one whole hell of a lot of that come once again on Tuesday, as Ovechkin's every move and lazy backcheck will be dissected ad nauseum. You might get a little of that with Chara as well, in that "Alex Ovechkin and Dynamo Moscow take on Zdeno Chara and HC Lev" way, but make no mistake, they're focusing on Ovechkin because they want you to remember he scored 65 that one time.

The biggest issue for actual hockey fans who might be tempted to watch these games, though, is who's going to be calling them. Steve Levy and Barry Melrose. Both, presumably, have the job because they raised their hands when one of the executives asked a crowded lunchroom who there liked hockey.

For most hockey fans, this pairing is a non-starter. Levy is of course a very familiar face on a network that has largely ignored this sport to the point where mentioning the two in the same breath is, 99 times out of 100, for the sake of a punchline.

Meanwhile, Melrose is known mostly as the guy with the mullet, and, for those with somewhat longer memories, the guy who was hired for name recognition purposes by two of the NHL's more recent incompetent owners, then benched Steven Stamkos, and was predictably fired after 16 games.

Plus, as anyone who has watched the NCAA hockey tournament on ESPN the last few years can attest, he has only the vaguest recognition of players he claims to have watched all season. Listening to him try to figure out all the little accent marks over Czech players names tomorrow might be the only reason to tune it at all.

Don't get me wrong, I'm happy to be able to watch hockey, because I am the absolute target audience here because I would watch you and your friends play hockey on a 13-inch black and white television with a blurry picture.

But the question, for a network that has done all in its power to tell hockey fans to cram it with walnuts for the last seven years, should be whether this is something that appeals to more than a few thousand people who have no lives (again, like me), and the answer, you'd think, is "Of course not."

What We Learned

Anaheim Ducks: Bobby Ryan has no plans whatever to play overseas during this lockout. "I think it's important to stay here (in the United States) and be part of the solution and not just run from it," he said. That's a shot across your bow, Alex Ovechkin.

Boston Bruins: Chris Bourque played his first game for the Providence Bruins in a 4-1 exhibition loss to Springfield. Did you know his dad is legendary Boston defenseman Ray Bourque?

Buffalo Sabres: Zemgus Girgensons is the youngest player in the AHL this season, at  just 18 years old. He's 15 days younger than Hampus Lindholm, who's also in the league, which just goes to show that if you're 18 and in the AHL, your name is required to be pretty awesome.

Calgary Flames: The Flames are pretty pumped to have drafted Max Reinhart, who they believe is almost at Sven Baertschi's level of NHL preparedness. That's pretty high praise, but it also doesn't matter since there's a lockout that will probably last the whole season. An extra year in the minors never hurt anyone.

Carolina Hurricanes: This is my favorite link of the week: "Hey just so you know the AHL isn't also locked out. Oh, you weren't aware that the NHL was locked out? Right, I forgot, we're in Charlotte."

Chicago Blackhawks: As with most NHL players who haven't gone to Europe yet Duncan Keith's agent says doing so is still an option if the lockout stretches on. Same for Toews and Kane and Sharp.

Colorado Avalanche: I find it hilarious that Semyon Varlamov went over to Yaroslavl to be the backup to Vitaly Kolesnik. This guy is the future of Avs goaltending?

Columbus Blue Jackets: Those rumors of John Davidson to the Jackets just won't go away, and if he goes there, I expect Scott Howson to be carrying a box with a fern sticking poking out of it out the backdoor of Nationwide Arena within a week.

Dallas Stars: Here's a Q&A with Jamie Benn after he signed with the Hamburg Freezers. After reading it, I was very hungry.

Detroit Red Wings presented by Amway: Jonathan Ericsson is yet another player who will go to Sweden during the lockout, but right now he's only committed to playing in three games over there. Seems like the shortest-term deal ever.

Edmonton Oilers: Expect to see headlines like "Oil Barons pummel ______" all season long. Especially because they beat talent-laden Houston Friday night, 4-0, without either Jordan Eberle or Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

Florida Panthers: Florida's farm team in San Antonio is starting to draw some respectable crowds. How respectable? Some 16,151 showed up to see a preseason game last season, and drew 7,134 on average last year. The team hopes to beat that this year.

Los Angeles Kings: Jordan Nolan and Andrei Loktionov are pretty much the only two actual Kings on the Manchester Monarchs' roster, but they also scored the only two goals of a preseason game against Bridgeport, so I guess that's all they'll need.

Minnesota Wild: Despite that first loss to Oklahoma City, Mikael Granlund and Charlie Coyle might already be way too good to play in the AHL. In Saturday's return engagement, they scored six goals. Four of them were Granlund's in his first semi-official pro game in North America. Doesn't seem fair.

Montreal Canadiens: That "La Tournée des Joueurs" tour is still going very well, and will be at Le Colisée in Quebec City on Thursday. They have 15,000 seats available, and have sold out everywhere else they've gone. Carey Price recently joined the tour too.

Nashville Predators: The Preds are hard at work trying to keep the fans they have engaged even during this lockout. That includes by getting discounts for fans who wear branded merch to local businesses.

New Jersey Devils: Travis Zajac on how the lockout effects his Devils: "We're in an area where there's tons of sports, the Yankees, the Nets, the Knicks, football. All these teams are in competition for fans and it definitely hurts us coming off a successful season like we had." Yeah, the Knicks, Nets, and Jets are really drawing a lot of positive interest.

New York Islanders: Lots of defensive depth in the Islanders' pipeline, if you count Ty Wishart, which you shouldn't.

New York Rangers: Not that it will come as a surprise, but Chris Kreider is officially committed to playing for the Connecticut Whale. "It's still pro hockey. I don't look at it like (this isn't the NHL)," Kreider said. "It's still a huge jump up from where I played most of last year, so I have to be ready and I have to be focused." He'll get big-time minutes in the AHL.

Ottawa Senators: Kyle Turris to Kärpät of the Finnish elite league, where he'll be able to play with Jason Demers and Jussi Jokinen. Exciting times to be a hockey fan. Jeez.

Philadelphia Flyers: Oh, maybe never mind on Jake Voracek playing for Lev on Tuesday.

Phoenix Coyotes: Today is Day No. 59 since Jude LaCava of Fox 10 in Arizona said Greg Jamison would have the deal for the Coyotes sewn up within the next five days.

Pittsburgh Penguins: Speaking of European signings, Dustin Jeffrey might now lead the league in "weirdest." He's going to play with the Tilburg Trappers of the Dutch Eredivisie. The most notable player on that team currently is former decent UNH forward Josh Prudden.

San Jose Sharks: Apparently no one reported on this until now but Brad Stuart got a no-trade clause on his new deal with San Jose. I feel like I knew that though. Someone must have come up with that, right?

St. Louis Blues: Alex Steen is killing it in Sweden so far. Four goals and 10 points in just six games.

Tampa Bay Lightning: The Bolts seem to really like having their AHL team start training camp in Newfoundland, as they're now doing it for the second straight year. Their new affiliate, the Syracuse Crunch, have 11 players that have gotten into at least one NHL game in their careers.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Mikhail Grabovski says it doesn't matter if the entire season is locked out. Cool, man.

Vancouver Canucks: Kevin Bieksa will host a charity game with a pretty damn good roster. The Sedins, Dan Hamhuis, Manny Malhotra, Max Lapierre, Cory Schneider and Willie Mitchell will all play against UBC on Oct. 17 to raise money for a number of Canucks charities.

Washington Capitals: Braden Holtby got his first exhibition action of the year, giving up two goals on 10 shots against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. "Where was this guy last spring?" wondered the Boston Bruins.

Winnipeg Jets: Andrew Ladd was gonna go play in the KHL but now he's not, for reasons that I should think are obvious.

Gold Star Award

This was a pretty decent goal by future No. 2 overall pick Nathan MacKinnon. Too bad he's no Seth Jones.

Minus of the Weekend

Ilya Bryzgalov says some Russian players might not come back from the KHL after this lockout. "Oh that would be really terrible don't do that," said Ed Snider, probably.

Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week

User "Vankiller Whale" is on top of things.

To Vancouver: Hossa, Ott 1st, Anderson

To Ottawa: Luongo, Hjalmarssen, Connauton (VAN's best D prospect)

To Chicago: Turris, Lehner, Raymond, Van 2nd

Yes yes yes. Yes across the board.


If you want, you can read a bloated government report on smoking, or go straight to the horse's mouth and get the facts from the tobacco industry.

Ryan Lambert publishes hockey awesomeness almost never over at The Two-Line Pass. Check it out, why don't you? Or you can e-mail him and follow him on Twitter if you so desire.

Tags: , , , , , , , , recognition
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Alex Ovechkin will play KHL hockey on ESPN2, with Barry Melrose on the mic

05 Oct

ESPN2 is, in some ways, the channel that hockey built (OK, and Jim Rome). So there's a bit of nostalgia — and more than a little irony — in Friday's news that pro hockey is returning the Deuce for the first time in several years.

KHL hockey, to be exact.

The Kontinental Hockey League's deal with ESPN3 was formalized with an announcement today, with some unexpected news about a broadcast component:

ESPN today officially announced that it will deliver a minimum of seven games from 2012-13 season of the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) exclusively on ESPN3 in the US and on ESPN UK.  Coverage begins Tuesday, October 9 at 1 p.m. ET with ESPN SportsCenter anchor Steve Levy and NHL studio analyst Barry Melrose calling the Lev vs. Dynamo Moscow game live on ESPN2 and ESPN3.  The game will re-air in primetime on ESPN2 at 8 p.m. ET and will air on delay on ESPN in the UK (Wednesday, Oct. 10 at 2 p.m. BST).

Confirmed games through the end of the month feature an all-star lineup of hockey players, including Alex Ovechkin (Dynamo Moscow), Ilya Kovalchuk (SKA), Evgeni Malkin and Sergei Gonchar (Metallurg Mg).

In addition to Levy and Melrose, commentary will be delivered in English language by play-by-play announcer Paul Romanuk and analyst Aaron Murphy.  Previously, ESPN3 in the US carried more than 50 games from the KHL live in Russian throughout the 2009-10 and 2010-11 regular seasons and playoffs.  In January 2010, ESPN3 distributed the KHL All-Star Game with Levy and Melrose commentating live from Bristol.

Steve and Barry, talkin' KHL hockey, pronouncing KHL names. Awesome.

At the moment, the Oct. 9 game between Lev vs. Dynamo Moscow and Alex Ovechkin is the only game scheduled for ESPN2. One wonders if this is a trial balloon for further simulating of KHL games if there's an audience for it — like getting your Evgeni Malkin fix on Oct. 22.

So if you want your fix of NHL stars, you better watch ESPN. And no, we never thought we'd ever type the previous sentence.

Tags: , , Barry Melrose, , ESPN2, ESPN3, , , Kontinental, Kontinental Hockey League, , Lev,
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What happened to KHL on ESPN3′s big debut?

03 Oct

Alex Ovechkin and Dynano Moscow faced Janne Pesonen and Ak Bars on Wednesday, which was scheduled to be the big season debut for the KHL on ESPN3.

Except when fans went to go dabble in Russian hockey … there was no game on the WWL's streaming site.

What gives?

According to Shawn McBride, the KHL's North American media contact:

"I just heard that there was a miscommunication and they used today's game to test the transmission; broadcasts will start this weekend."

This, despite the KHL having announced that the first game streamed would be Oct. 3.

McBride said that, "It's now looking like first ESPN game won't be until this weekend."

This isn't the first season the KHL has streamed on ESPN3, but it is the first time the League has the extra interest from fans yearning to see NHL stars overseas.

Our own Dmitry Chesnokov reports that there are two American cable networks in talks with the KHL to broadcast games, while the Russian league is in talks with a Canadian network as well.

Tags: , Dynano, ESPN3, , Janne Pesonen, , , , , , Shawn McBride, site,
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Goal celebration fail: Watch NJ hockey player jump through glass (VIDEO)

30 Sep

He may not have invented the jumping-into-the-glass goal celebration, but Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin has definitely popularized it since he entered the NHL in 2005-06. Since then, we've seen that celly occur at every level of hockey with players sharing their exuberance with both the glass and whoever has seats right in front of that pane.

And sometimes that celebration goes wrong. Very wrong.

You might remember Henrik Andersen of Leksand in 2009 scoring a lovely goal and then crashing through the glass during his celebration. The same thing happened to Taylor Cox of the New Jersey Junior Titans of the Atlantic Junior Hockey League in a game Saturday night against the New Jersey Rockets. Another nice goal was followed by a memorable end to a celebration:

Oh, the walk of shame is never, ever fun.

The clip has gone viral overnight and even garnered attention on "SportsCenter" in the U.S.

The Junior Titans would go on to win 4-1 after a delay to clean up the shattered glass. Judging by his Twitter account, Cox is fine and enjoying his newfound fame.

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Tags: , Atlantic Junior Hockey League, exuberance, Goal celebration, , New Jersey Junior Titans, , , shattered glass, , ,
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