Blackhawks Confidential

Niemi, Sharp spur Blackhawks to a NBC shootout win over Detroit 4-3

So much good. So much bad. Let's start at the beginning and lay this out like a road map, because we know this story will finish well with a 4-3 Chicago win Sunday on NBC-TV from Patrick Sharp's shootout score.

The first three periods were a roller coaster. The Blackhawks went up-and-down with four straight power plays in the first period, then Detroit tried to catch a wave with three straight power plays in the second period. That resulted in a 3-2 Hawks lead after 40 minutes with a pair of power-play goals: one by Patrick Kane, one by Henrik Zetterberg.

The third period was almost all the Red Wings, and if not for Andy Niemi's stellar work, the Hawks would have lost in regulation. Detroit's defense limited Chicago to three shots in the first 15 minutes of the third period before the Hawks pressured a little bit better offensively, raising the prospect Marian Hossa might deliver the game winner with a couple chances.

Niemi never saw Patrick Eaves' point shot from the left to tie at 3 in the third, blocked by his own defenseman, Brent Seabrook, as much as by Detroit's Darren Helm alongside Seabrook. Eaves basically rang a pinball shot into the right side of the net with Niemi, Seabrook and Helm stacked up around the left crease, all looking in the wrong direction.

Niemi wasn't the ony one not to see the shot. Neither did the NBC audience live. Talk about too many men in the broadcast booth. NBC got caught talking too much and showing tape to support their analysis, unforgivably allowing Eaves to tie the score with no cameras on him. A quick replay naturally followed, but imagine the furor for the NFL or NBA or MLB if a big score eluded their cameras.

Do better, NBC. Or hockey will never be able to go from minors to majors in the eyes of the nation.

Now we come to the overtime period, which should be able to win over the casual sports fan. If you don't get a charge out of watching the constant back-and-forth and ebb-and-flow of the overtime, you're not truly a sports fan.

Zetterberg threatened to end it early, poking the puck from Seabrook high in the Hawks zone and rushing in on Niemi, who made the big saves when he had to.

Then before long, defenseman Brian Campbell stood nude before the Joe Louis Arena crowd. He was undressed a couple times, perhaps showing the strain of playing back-to-back after Chicago won at Columbus Saturday to open the 8-game trip.

Pavel Datsyuk was one of the Wings' shining lights the entire game, and if not for Niemi, all those recent praises of Campbell would have dried up and been blown into the wind like so much needless hot air. Datsyuk had Campbell spinning like a revolving door.

Campbell was so lost and inattentive and downright myopic as Datsyuk skated by, around and through him that I surely hope he was able to find the team bus for the ride to the airport without the Hawks having to hire a seeing-eye dog to guide him to his window seat.

Jimmy Howard was just as good as Niemi in the Detroit goal. Howard and Niemi might both have hatched a major rivalry for years to come with both goalies perhaps the future for these organizations. If so, it was an appropriate clash to begin what may be a series of big games between them.

It appeared in the closing seconds of overtime that former Wing Hossa, who was lustily booed all day by the Detroit crowd, was going to provide a fitting end to this one. Sharp looked up at the Joe Louis clock as he skated down the left side with Hossa on the 2-on-1 rush with time almost up, and when he passed over to him, you sensed Hossa might be the magic man.

Instead, he missed a possible game winner by shooting high, clanking glass and watching the puck deflect back to Howard's defenseless backside. Instead, this puck fell short of being a refilming of Howard's End, landing in the webbing top of the net and Hossa looked perplexed by his miss as he awaited the shootout.

But this was a game where potential Hawks goats found ways to be heroes. Just as Sharp avenged a dumb second-period tripping penalty that led to Zetterberg's goal with a middle-period goal himself, sweeping in a stick-to-stick pass from Duncan Keith that was awful pretty, Hossa made his amends during the shootout.

Hossa makes goal scoring look simple and he flicked a forehand past Howard that put the Hawks in control after Niemi had looked extremely shaky facing Datysuk, Zetterberg and Todd Bertuzzi to start the shootout. As good as he was, Niemi was bad in the shootout.

Datysuk went into slow motion as he made his charge at Niemi, freezing him by slowing down the more he neared him and lifting a soft shot off Niemi's glove for a soft goal. Then Zetterberg rang one off the crossbar and Bertuzzi did a spinarama at the last minute and totally deked Niemi out of his skates sweeping to a backhand slam dunk into the empty opening on the right.

But after Hossa scored, Niemi finally made a stop. He rejected Dan Cleary. That set up Sharp's game winner as he went high right on Howard, who slammed his stick in disgust following this outcome. Who could blame him?

As opposed to spanking the Wings 3-0 twice this year, this one hurt Detroit. Sure, no Johan Franzen, no Tomas Holmstrom, no Nik Kronwall. But it stung them all the same, injuries or not.

What did we learn? Well, the Red Wings often have a better rush than the Hawks, even so many men down due to injuries. But as long as the Hawks make as many turnovers as they did here, Detroit is going to be much harder to put away. The turnovers must stop now.

We learned what we already knew in that Kris Versteeg is one tough monkey and you had better think twice before trading him. He and Eaves both got in their blows in a fight, but Versteeg won the first half of the match and Eaves the second half in a good, clean battle commissioner Gary Bettman won't be embarrassed to show a nation that is not steeped in all hockey traditions of fighting the good fight.

We learned the Hawks defense was sometimes as porous in this game as they were solid other times. We learned too many forwards were coughing up the puck and giving up those turnovers to the Wings through the neutral zone and around the blue lines.

Good news? Cam Barker returned on defense. Bad news? Cam Barker returned on defense. Let's just give him a mulligan and hope for better down the road.

We learned again that Niemi can be so good that the argument of when the day will come he eclipses Cristobal Huet as the starting goalie (and that will happen someday) will be a non-stop debate. Let's argue it all the way into the Stanley Cup.

Oh, and one last thing, as much as I liked Jeremy Roenick when I covered him and heard from him back then how much he yearned for a TV job one day, I learned that Roenick as a guest talker between intermissions on his 40th birthday was not as polished as the Roenick that thrilled us with his physical play on offense and defense when he was a Hawk.

JR, you need some practice, just as you did long ago learning how to score. Talking for a living isn't easy as some think. So JR, learn how to be polished. Just barging ahead saying whatever you want, even when others are talking, works on the ice, not in the NBC studio.

I come to the end with a lot left unsaid from a game you could talk about for a day. But here is what we should remember.

The Hawks have beaten Detroit three in a row and three out of four this year. The Hawks are the NHL's best team and the Wings are scrambling to show they can win a playoff spot.

The Hawks have six games left on this grueling trip. I think we're all going to feel a little jet lag before it ends, but in a good way.

Anyone willing to go to Las Vegas and bet on a 8-0 trip? Nah, can't happen, can it? How about 5-3.

That means the Hawks go 3-3 in the remaining six? Nah, let's shoot for 6-2 and hope it goes as easy and smooth as a Hossa shot.

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39 Comments

Dave Morris said:

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Mike, I can overlook all the flaws in the network coverage, and all the flaws in the Blackhawks' play today.

A third period comeback, and shootout win at the Joe...and hearing the air go out of that building.

It doesn't get any better.

Onward and upward...Here Come The Hawks.

Mike Kiley said:

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Hard right now not to be grinning ear to ear. But Calgary, Vancouver and San Jose are all going to be out for blood. Something to look forward to.

LordStanleyOfPreston said:

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It was Patrick Eaves versus Versteeg, not Derek Meech.

Mike Kiley said:

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You know what, my lord, I have Eaves written in my notes and somehow Meech made it into the fight in my story. I think the answer is I'm related to Brian Campbell and that one just swept by me. Thanks for the help. I corrected it with your assist. As all my past editors will tell you. I'm exceedingly porous on occasion.

Jerry Kayne said:

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It was a perfect fight for national TV. They took off they're gloves, visored helmets, and pulled up they're sleeves, and went to (Hockey town.

Versteeg took a couple, one on the chin but the rest in the back of the head. But, he gave 2 that totally rocked Eaves.

VegasHawksFan said:

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Reading Detroit fan contempt was very sweet today, many pleasant returns to them. As always, turnovers and stupid penalties hang on them like anchors. What I am happier to see is more dumping when they have a lead. Versteeg had his typical attempt to dangle through three defenders, but as a team, they have gotten better about this. This wasn't Detroit's full team, and this wasn't the Hawks best effort. Both still have some upside.

A full strength Detroit is still strong enough to go deep in the playoffs, and beat this Hawks team if they have a sloppy night or get careless. That said, I think this is the year that Detroit has aged a touch too much and don't have enough depth to make up for losing guys like Hossa, especially when he went to their top divisional rival. They will have to play their ass off to win the cup, but I still think it's there for the taking for the Hawks.

Dave Morris said:

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Nuckle, the Wings have to make the playoffs first.


iplagitr said:

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If Huet stole the game against the Jackets the other night, then this was absolute Grand Theft. A superb effort by the Hawks netminder today. The Hawks looked great in the first period, but had very little business winning the game after that third period and OT domination from the Wings. How many virtually uncontested chances did the Wings' best guys have to score?! Let's make no mistake about it, the Hawks won, but the Wings are getting back into their old form. When they get their whole team up to full health again, they're going to give the Hawks all they can handle (that is, as Morris points out, if the Wings make it to the playoffs!). This is not the same Wings team the Hawks shutout twice last month. Great to see the Hawks persevere in a much tougher battle.

Contrary to Mike's take, I didn't see Niemi as shaky in the shootout at all. The two goals scored on him were world-class. That first goal by Datsyuk was absolute genius by one of the best and most creative offensive players in the game. Moving to the right, pulling the puck back, and then shooting to the left with a deftly soft lob shot like he did is unbelievably difficult. No goalie is going expect that, and I would guess not many (if any) are going to stop it either. Then keeping any shot from Zetterberg out of the net is worthy of praise, and Bertuzzi scored on a shootout move that is almost impossible to stop if done correctly at the speed he came in with.

All that said, well done Hawks for finding a way to win a big, tough game, and for getting three goals in the shootout - something they've struggled with. Kane is awesome but has done that same shootout move about 4 times in a row now. It may be time to change it up, Patrick....

Big road win today in one of the most exciting games of the season. Let's go Hawks!

Mike Kiley said:

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Well, I might as well stir the shit. If Huet is in net do we win or lose in Detroit? My son and I debated that one. Let me say that I have my doubts. Niemi seems to instill more confidence and security with how he approaches the critical segments of games. This is a no-win argument, I know, and the Huet supporters will be out in force. And it's not that I'm not a Huet supporter. But is it only because Niemi doesn't have to shoulder the burden of starting more games? I don't think coach Q has the answer to this one, but I'd sure like to hear more from so-called experts about whether the future is brighter for Huet or Niemi. Which one would you pick with a chance to pick just one to start a team?

iplagitr said:

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Wow, Mike. Just remember, you brought it up!

I think I'm in the same boat as you. I'm a loyal Hawks fan and I'm not against Huet. But I think it would be hard to argue that Niemi hasn't been the more consistent of the two so far this season. They have different styles, but IMO, Niemi moves better, and has come up much bigger in the tougher games. He appears to be mentally solid as well in tense situations.

Arguing that Huet's performance suffers due to more game-time really doesn't really help his case either. Goalies are supposed to thrive on more starts. And what happens when the playoffs come around and they have to play big games every other night?

A lot of fans seem to be against giving a rookie goalie more playing time, but look at what Howard is doing for Detroit this year.

Hostile Hawk said:

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I agree,
There is no way that Huet makes some of the saves Niemi did tonight. Niemi is stronger and more able to stand his ground. He makes tuff saves and holds on to face rebounds and not to mention, he gives up less rebounds. Just watch his movement in today's game. He followed the puck everywhere, side to side up and down quickly, he was everywhere when the Hawks needed it. Wish I could say the same for Huet, but he has let the Hawks down on too many occasions. Everygame that goes by seems to strengthen the argument in Niemi's favor, but it is still a hard choice to go with a rookie goalie. A friend of mine thinks that they will continue to switch games even into the playoffs, maybe, who knows.

This was a really exciting game to watch and a show for what can come at the Hawks in the playoffs, Niemi is the guy I would want backing them up when they have tuff games.

FearlessFreep said:

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I'm not about to throw venom at Huet, but one has to wonder if Niemi is the guy to take this team into the playoffs and beyond. I'm not saying Huet is a poor goaltender, but I think Niemi has shown that he is up to the task to play against the best teams. The question remains, is he strong enough to take on a starter's workload?

I'll let others debate...I still believe that the current rotation works well. But at some point, the issue will come to a reckoning; as of right now, I can pretty safely say that I believe Niemi is proving to be the stronger goaltender at this time.

Dean Youngblood said:

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I agree, Niemi was not shaky or bad in the shootout. The goals by Datsyuk and Bertuzzi were first class brilliant, something you might see in an all-star shootout contest.

FearlessFreep said:

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I actually feel pretty good that it took two "gadget" goals for Detroit to get as far as the did in the shootout. I still hate shootouts. Today's game was a great example of two evenly matched teams, and I would have no problem having each team split the point and be done with it.

People call the third point a "loser" point. I look at it as a "charity" point, in that both teams played well and neither team distinguished themselves as the winner - but because there are a group of fans out there who insist on declaring a winner of each game, a shootout must decide a winner - and thus the "charity" point. No way a shootout should have determined an extra point in this game. I have no problem with OT game winners awarded the extra, but shootouts are such a roll of the dice, I find it hard to get excited about being the winner in this type of game.

iplagitr said:

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I love the 4-on-4 OTs with the incentive of an additional point to the winner, but agree that shootouts are a foolish way to decide a game after that. If they wanted to give more opportunity for a clear winner, then maybe they should extend the OT to 10 minutes. The OT periods are way more exciting than a shootout anyway.

mikeyo said:

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NHL On The Fly this evening had Denis Potvin and another multiple cup winner (whose name I'm blanking on) as analysts and both of them were commenting on how they believed that our goaltending was solid with the tandem. They were both 'answering the questions'.
I have a question: Why do I feel STONE COLD TERROR when somebody throws a deke at Huet and then goes top shelf? On the other hand, Niemi has seemed human, too. Large and imposing in the crease, but human. I also have to cut Niemi slack on both of those shootout goals, which I recorded in High def, and looked at a couple of times. If it's legal to blind a goalie with a shower of ice, then more guys should be practicing that backhand stop move. That slow puck still hypnotizes me, and I know what's coming. And we get the hell out of there with the 2 points. Nothing comes easy in Detroit. Go Hawks on the deadly long road trip...

FearlessFreep said:

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That would be Dave Reid. And I liked how Potvin suggested that Detroit "sent a message" that they will cause the Hawks trouble when they are healthy. As far as I am concerned, I wouldn't want to face Detroit in the first round of the playoffs, but "sending a message" was not was I saw out of this game. I saw two very good teams playing great hockey - and one team came out with an extra point.

It's one game Denis - didn't the Islanders blow out Detroit a few days ago 6-0? If today's game was a message, what was Detroit's message on that night to the rest of the league?

Let's go impeach those Senators Tuesday!

iplagitr said:

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One of the first times I saw that move was when the Wild's P.M. Bouchard pulled it off on Khabby a few years ago. Not only did he send up the shower of ice, but also ran right into Khabby in the process of falling down while completing the move! Totally ridiculous. The refs let the goal stand - mostly because they didn't know what else to do at that moment. After that goal, there was a big to-do about whether the play is even legal because the puck doesn't continue towards the goal 100% of the time during the maneuver. I think they even had to add a line to the rulebook to state that a 360 move was legal. I think it's a cheap way to get a goal.

Hostile Hawk said:

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Thats actually what I was thinking about that goal too.
The rule was that the puck must keep a forward movement in a shootout, unless they changed the rule.
It was amazing, but after a second of realizing what happened I commented to my buddies that I thought was illegal.

Dean Youngblood said:

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The goal looks good to me. If you watch the puck, relative to the ice, it is always in forward motion.

The ice shower is a different matter. Did Bertuzzi intend to screen Niemi with ice, or was it just a result of him braking?

I enjoy shootouts as a contest, but hockey is too complex of a game to be decided in a one on one matchup.

Jerry Kayne said:

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Bertuzzi cheap? He's defines the word.

iplagitr said:

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Yeah, Bertuzzi does do a better job of keeping the puck moving forward than Bouchard did. Either way, they do have a 360 spin allowance written into the penalty shot rules. 4th paragraph:
http://www.nhl.com/ice/page.htm?id=26308

Mike Kiley said:

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I suppose in retrospect I was too hard on Niemi in the shootout. But I believe you have to stop has-been Bertuzzi. As for Datsyuk's chip shot, I'm a believer you have to hit (and stop) the knuckleball, even when it flutters so softly and disharmingly. I'm holding Niemi to a high standard and he has lived up to it. He was an inch shy of knocking Datysuk's butterfly shot away.

TonyO said:

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I thought the same thing about the shoot out snow shower.
But we'll take 2 points on the road. Mike, you are dead on, the Flames and Nucks want our heads. So let's not only show up boys, let's make a statement. Even a .500 trip will be a success when we're up 11 pts. Just kinda found this site recently. Great insight and comments all around. So give me a couple posts before you beat me up! On to Ottawa.

VegasHawksFan said:

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I'm one a dem Huet supporters, and even I found myself wondering how he would have fared today. I have no qualms seeing Niemi win the job, but I'm not quite there yet. To Dave, I would be absolutely stunned if Detroit does not make the playoffs. So stunned in fact, that I just don't consider it a possibility. Barring more injuries, I just don't think the teams immediately ahead of them can win enough games to keep them at bay. Even with injuries, Detroit is just too good to not make it at least into the playoffs.

Dave Morris said:

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OK Nuckle, as long as you're making predictions, who misses the playoffs so the Wings can get in?

Tab said:

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My money says Colorado misses the playoffs and Detroit jumps to the 7 seed, ousting San Jose in the first round. Mark it down.

Dave Morris said:

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Tab, hope you didn't bet your house on that one...the Avs have just won three in a row and BTW they've been leading the Northwest for months.

VegasHawksFan said:

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Actually, I could see any one of the teams from the current 5th through 8th standings fall. When and if Detroit makes it back to full strength, I don't believe that any of those teams are better. Much as I hate them and their arrogant fan base, I don't see but a couple of other teams that are as dangerous as they are.

Northernhawk said:

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My question is this Mark: is there anything wrong with putting our hope and faith in both goalies, working in tandem as they have been thus far (albeit huet getting a bit more play)? I know it doesn't make for great journalism or blogging, in comparison to a good old fashioned goalie debate, but my gut feeling is that Chicago will surprise many this spring with their own formula of tandem goaltending. And for the record, I love Niemi!

Mike Kiley said:

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Nothing wrong at all as long as it works. But for whatever reason, be it two goalies or two closers, the winning forumula throughout the history of sport is usually THE ONE. But we will see Huet/Niemi right up until someone just sucks too bad or Q has to ride one horse in the playoffs, as he did last year with Khabby. And for the record, I got nothing against Huet, either.

Jerry Kayne said:

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I have one more comment if you'll indulge me. These bush-league baby tantrums have to stop. I'm already seeing them emulated in bantam hockey. I've now seen several games where if anything goes wrong, from missing the net with a shot to giving up a goal, kids are slamming their $100 sticks on the goalpost, crossbar, & the glass as they skate away from the play. Most of the time they're sent to the box or the coach is warned to discipline the kids but that's not where the bad behavior starts or ends. These NHLers are young but they're supposed to be disciplined. They're starting a trend and sending a bad message. I see 3 or 4 kids on the ice with their mouth guards hanging out too. With all the good examples the pros convey, this is really trickling down to the kids. The league NHLPA needs to send the word around.

Mike Kiley said:

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You make a great point, Jerry, but as bad an example as emotion sometimes is for young players, no one will ever legislate emotion out of the pros. The TV execs, the few who even give a damn about hockey, would despise you for it. Those are the shots they replay most. Duncan Keith isn't not going to wing his stick netward like a boomerang, as he did after his recent giveaway to end a game, just to keep the kiddies from rioting on their own. And as much as coaches crack down in youth hockey, kids will also imitate their heroes' bad qualities along with the good. As long as we can keep them off steroids, cracking a net or a skull here and there won't be so bad.

Jerry Kayne said:

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Gotcha but it's still exhibiting bad sportsmanship and 99% in pro sports. TV can show the replays of great skill. It shows the NHL in a bad light and we need all the good lighting we can get.

Great skill breeds great skill, bad sportsmanship breeds more bad sportsmen. And yes, it will lead to cracking sticks on heads. Kids can't differentiate anger management.

iplagitr said:

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I have two young hockey-playing sons and would love to see the pros behave more responsibly as role-models, but as Mike says, they're never going to. As old-fashioned as it may sound, it's the parents that need to be more responsible for governing how their kids act on the ice. Unfortunately, I see the same imitated type behavior from adults on the rink at the men's rec league games every week.

I do think the NHL could call more unsportsmanlike penalties for all the stick slamming - especially after what happened to Vokoun earlier this season:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U-3sPQ0jH_g

Dean Youngblood said:

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Talk about bad sportsmanship... What is worse than the fight you talk about in your post above? Not Much.

Jerry Kayne said:

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Hey guys, I'm not looking for confrontations. I'm taking about kids and role models and I'm not blaming anyone but the perpetrators. My comments are about kids emulating adult role-model's behavior. And if it's bad, destructive, and a danger to themselves and others someone with authority should hand out consequences. This is the 21st century and folks should be responsible for their actions. Old-time hockey is an antiquated term and now laughable in this NHL. Also, a detriment if we're trying to promote the game to the general sports consuming public.

My personal opinion as a father and a coach of kids is this; someone needs to teach kids self-control on the ice. What they do in their homes is their business. What happens on the ice is the coach's (mine). Like everything else it starts in the home. I'm willing to bet most parents teach it and have consequences attached for those that mis-step. And most kids behave properly in the context of their arena. But some believe the same rules don't apply when you're playing hockey. Those are the dangerous ones.

I play in a men's over 30 C-level league too. As I like to call it the "I've got a family, job, and mortgage league." There are the very few guys that have a mean streak. Many times there's an underlying reason for their anger. Money woes or spouses with frying pan issues. They are disciplined on the ice by the refs. USA Hockey has it's own set of sportsmanlike rules that are at the ref's discretion and where I play they take it very seriously.

My other comments about fighting were not about whether there should be fighting, just Versteeg put on a good show for himself. When 2 players decide to fight each other there're both making that choice. Kids can't make that distinction. It's always one sided. Instigated by the bad sport.

Once again it's my feeling that there should be an addendum to the un-sportsmanlike rule that should be ruled on the ice and if missed, by the league They've already allowed for the head-shots and knee-on-knee. I'd like to hear what Gary Bettman thinks about it. They've disciplined Avery for running him mouth, agree or not.

Mike, thanks for the opportunity to make comments and interact with this group. All are very intelligent and thoughtful and I look forward to reading, if not commenting, everyday.

fattybeef said:

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The smashing of the stick was the highlight of my weekend. If you cant teach your kids good sportsmanship and how not to be a huge prick on the ice and blame "society" and the "media" and all those "role models" for bad behavior you probably shouldnt be making babies. Take some responsibility, or blame George Bush because its probably his fault anyways. Theres nothing wrong with getting pissed and throwing something every now and then, it happens. But if it happens again he should probably get punched in the face, fined and Q should bench him a few games. One random out burst after a year and a half of emotionless hockey is more than welcome though. Id rather see that over the way those football players dance and fist pump and jump around after every takcle, catch, block and successful jock adjustment. Talk about a bad light.

fattybeef said:

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Oh two good wins this weekend by the way : )

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