I haven't gotten a chance to speak about it on a Hockey Prospectus Radio podcast yetwith Matthew Coller and myself taking last week offbut I had quite the hockey road trip two weeks ago. Then again, I wasn't the only one. Our Richard Pollock (from Winnipeg) as well as Kent Wilson's buddy Robert Cleave of Jets Nation (from Calgary) came all the way out to New York to catch the Jets' three games in four nights against the Devils, Islanders, and Rangerson vacation, mind you. In fact, Rich made the trip with a small group of 15 friends, all for a hockey-based bachelor party. And we Americans thought those Canadians didn't know how to party.
I caught up with each of Rich, Robert, and Matt in my travels. Here's my travelogue from the last two weeks
Wednesday, November 2, 2011 11:00 am
Connecticut Whale at Bridgeport Sound Tigers
With: Richard Pollock
After swinging down to Williamsburg (Brooklyn) to pick up Richthe first time we'd met in personwe headed to Harbor Yard in Bridgeport, Connecticut to catch the AHL matchup of the Rangers' and Islanders' farm teams, the Connecticut Whale and the Bridgeport Sound Tigers.
Side note: the McDonald's in Williamsburg was out of coffee and orange juice for breakfast, although they did offer Coke, Diet Coke, and milkshakes. We decided to pass on everything except the restroom.
The headline of the game was the return of 2010 fifth overall pick Nino Niederreiter from injury, starting a rehab stint before hopefully making an impact with the Isles. Rich was impressed by Islanders blueline prospect Calvin de Haan, but if you're thinking about possible reinforcements to Long Island, forwards David Ullstrom and Casey Cizikas are more likely candidates. For the Whale, Mats Zuccarello was (and is) languishing down in the AHL, though he's clearly good enough to be in the NHL. Carl Hagelin caught my eye as well, even though he didn't figure in the scoring. Rich pointed out how often former NHLer Wade Redden was caught up ice on Sound Tigers' goals.
Final score: Bridgeport 4, Connecticut 3 (OT) with former Penguin Tim Wallace getting the game winner on an incredibly unlikely hat trick. And no, I didn't see that one coming. With the arena filled with grade school kids on a field trip, I didn't see one hat or cap hit the ice.
Rich and co. were at MSG on Sunday for Jets-Rangers, but I didn't run into them there.
Wednesday, November 2, 2011 4:00 pm
Dock's at 40th and 3rd in Manhattan, New York
With: Robert Cleave of Jets Nation
I'd known about Rich's trip a couple of weeks before, but Robertwho I'd met with our Kent Wilson at the NHL Entry Draft in St. Paullet me know a few days prior that he'd be making the pilgrimage to New York as well. After my OnStar turn-by-turn navigation started to send me somewhere in the direction of Staten Island (I desperately need to get a real GPS), I readjusted, meeting Robert at one of my favorite haunts in Manhattan (from back in the day), albeit about 45 minutes late thanks to the navigation snafu and trying to get anywhere in rush hour traffic.
Robert writes for Jets Nation, but his allegiance is with the Flames (shhhh
) so we talked plenty about the pipe dream of blowing the Calgary team upor at least dealing Rene Bourque, Matt Stajan, and Niklas Hagman (the last one has come true since). That, and the Flames dump-and-chase style that neither Kent nor Robert understands (or agrees with), especially when dealing with your skill lines.
Later on my trip, it was pointed out to me that the highest percentage dump-and-chase team in the NHL is the Penguins, obviously with much success. Touche.
Robert's day job is in the business of weather prediction. Apparently, we're going to get hammered by La Nina this winter. Great, like Connecticut needs more bad weather after a year-plus of it.
Final tally: three beers for Robert, a couple of Cokes for me, and only $12. Robert heads off to a Matthew Sweet concert, whoever that is.
Robert discussed some of his stops here and here.
Thursday, November 3, 2011 8:30 pm
Denny's in Batavia, New York
With: Matthew Coller
My family lived in LeRoy, New York from 1976-1981. I started following hockey then; the first Cup Finals I remember is the Canadiens of Lafleur and Dryden (and Jacques Lemaire for that matter) triumphing over the two-time defending champion Flyers of Clarke and Barber. I followed the Sabres as much as I could on TV, and my dad used to take me to a couple Amerks games every season.
So in passing through, I took the opportunity to drive down the street where we used to live (How's this for a bygone age, and a small townI used to walk to school). I stopped by to see an old buddy at his law office as well. Turns out that he used to golf with Marty Biron. How about that? It's a small world, especially in this part of Western New York.
I met up with Matt at a Denny's in Batavia, the seat of Genesee County. Along with working at WGR 550 in Buffaloand a few other gigsMatt's the play-by-play voice of the Batavia Muckdogs, the St. Louis Cardinals Class A affiliate. Therefore, you can imagine how gaga my friend was over yet another improbable St. Louis World Series victory (Yes, the sun tends to shine on a certain part of Tony LaRussa's anatomy). Over a positively disgusting veggie burger and whatever Matt was eating, we discussed the amazing underrated Yadier Molina and conversely, the many unappreciated shortcomings of Jorge Posada. If we talked about hockey, it was probably about how everyone in Buffalo is giving Ryan Miller such a hard time, ready to jettison him for Jhonas Enroth on an extremely small sample of games.
Friday, November 4, 2011 10:30 am
Morning skate at First Niagara Center
As my public service to other OnStar navigation subscribers, I let OnStar know that it's not called HSBC Arena anymore. You're welcome.
It's a relaxed and short game day skate for the Sabres. Optional, no doubt, as a few key players are missing. Like Tyler Myers. I especially note the playful chemistry between Paul Gaustad and Nathan Gerbe, as well as their work ethic, challenging each other in some one-on-one on the side. Ville Leino also looks loose, even though any early criticism/controversy that's not directed at Miller has been directed at him. Mike Harrington of the Buffalo News, there with his son, informs me that it's Enroth in net again tonight. Hmm.
Friday, November 4, 2011 4:30 pm
In studio at 1280 WHTK in Rochester (which in this case meant at a bar)
With: John DiTullio of the John DiTullio Show
I used to be a weekly guest on John's show a year or so ago, so it's good to see the gravelly-voiced old guy againI'd been in studio (the real studio) twice before. Though Western New York is gearing up for Jets-Bills (and yes, the Jets did turn out to be the more desperate team), we find some time to talk hockey (touching on the Miller/Enroth controversy, of course), and John's nice enough to plug the Hockey Prospectus 2011-12 book. Ironically, John, a Penn State alum, is excited over his upcoming trip to see the game this weekend. Everything hit the fan within 24 hours.
Friday, November 4, 2011 7:00 pm
Calgary Flames at Buffalo Sabres
Crisscrossing the region again, I'm back in Buffalo. Nice arena, by the way, and they sure do have lots of free cookies and ice cream sandwicheswhich ends up as a meal replacement for me. Let me say that I'm thrilled to get back for a home cooked lunch the next day. I tend to skip meals when I'm traveling.
Final score: Buffalo 2, Calgary 1. The Sabres let the Flames hang around way too long, despite outshooting them 44-30 (and they were doubling them up for quite a while). In the locker room, the Sabres players are calling it their best game of the season. I ask Gerbe about his chemistry with Gaustad, and Leino (in Finnish and English) about the pressures of having the big contract on a new team.
Saturday, November 5, 2011 7:00 pm
Washington Capitals at New York Islanders
After a couple hour pit stop at home, it's off to Nassau Coliseum to see VUKOTA's top pick, the Washington Capitals. The Islanders play a spirited game, but it's really a weak night by Tomas Vokoun that's the difference.
Final score: New York Islanders 5, Washington 3. I'm stupefied that there isn't one question from the Caps media to the players or coach about Vokoun's off nightnot a single one. There's a bunch of press passes that should be revoked.
Sunday, November 6, 2011 7:00 pm
Winnipeg Jets at New York Rangers
With: Robert Cleave
Once I actually looked in the right section, I caught up with Robert and friends at the second intermission. With Nik Antropov out injured, the Jets were dressing seven defensemen. We all agree that it's a very sluggish game, with both teams playing the second night of back-to-backs.
Final score: New York Rangers 3, Winnipeg 0. Biron gets the shutout, but I don't get a chance to ask him about his golf game, as I head to the Jets locker room. Between coach Noel, Ladd, Stuart, and Thorburn, they all seem to have their chins up and their noses to the grindstone, on what's one of many long road trips for the Winnipeg this season.
Since my road trip, I've gotten a chance to catch several more games over the past couple of weeks. The one that sticks out is my drive up to Springfield on Friday the 11th to see Mark Dekanich's one game rehab stint. Unfortunately, his comeback lasted all of a short-lived 10-12 minutes of warm-ups. So sorry, Columbus fans, the cavalry isn't coming quite yet. A GM can plan well, but it doesn't always work out like you want it to.
Timo Seppa is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
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