Posts Tagged ‘NHL


When Ivy League Diplomacy Failed…

I’d be remiss if I failed to mention what I think was one of the more odd moments from my hockey season.

During the Winnipeg Jets-Minnesota Wild game back in February, the Jets’ Tanner Glass got into it with the Wild’s Darroll Powe. A fight during an NHL game isn’t unusual. What made it unusual was that the combatants are supposed to be bright human beings, at least brighter than your average dolt on the street. Besides the fact they are both from the providence of Saskatchewan in Canada — surprise! — they also have another thing in common: They both attended Ivy League colleges. Glass went to Dartmouth and Powe went to Princeton.  And they spent all four years there, which means it’s likely they are Ivy League graduates! You won’t know that by reading their bio info on their respective team’s web sites because it’s not mentioned. A missed opportunity to get a story line out there, but that’s a subject for another blog post.

Nevertheless, I don’t think either one of them majored in any sort of government relations/diplomacy field of study. If they did, they’d probably get peace-loving Canada into a war with another country. Seriously, who doesn’t like Canada? Than, again, hockey doesn’t lend itself to on-ice diplomacy.


Muzik’s Best Hockey Photos from this Year’s State of Hockey

There’s no playoff hockey here in Minnesota (again) this year, so we are confined to watching the Stanley Cup playoffs on TV (once again). All I’m left with now are souvenir photos. And more time to complete my taxes and let my sore lower back heal up.

Along with my co-editor (my dad), I put together my best hockey photos from thirty-three NHL games and a bunch of Minnesota Gopher games. While I live in St. Paul, Minn., judging by the photos you’d think I lived in Edmonton, Alberta. That’s because we saw the Oilers four times four times  (one preseason game, three regular season) by the first of the year. Please let me know what you think. You leave a comment on my blog or friend me on Facebook and leave a comment there. (To go to Facebook, please chick HERE.)


“Broad Street Bullies”: A Review

HBO hit the timing bulls-eye when it debuted it’s latest documentary film, “Broad Street Bullies,” a film about the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers teams in the 1970s, on May 4. The current version of the Flyers are now playing in the Stanley Cup Finals (against the Chicago Blackhawks) and would certainly make the guys from that era proud. I grew up watching those teams as a little boy growing up in Southern Minnesota. This was before ESPN and countless sports programming was available. When you saw your team on TV, it was truly an event. And the Flyers were an event you didn’t forget. When I was in college one of my biggest mentors, Ron Woodey, was a scout for the Flyers and he taught me a lot about their philosophy. Seeing this documentary brought back a lot of memories.

Before I saw the film, I read the New York Times review of the film which basically described it as a love story between a city and their team. The Flyers won two back-to-back titles in the mid-70s when Philadelphia was going through tough times. (It was about that time a film about an average boxer named Rocky Balboa debuted at the box office and captured the heart of a nation.) True to the review, the film chronicled the times in which the franchise was born, in 1967 when the NHL’s original six were joined by another six teams (one of which was the ill-fated Minnesota North Stars). After its first six seasons — mediocre ones to be sure — the team started winning and never looked back. The film credits the arrival of Dave “the Hammer” Schultz in 1973 with transforming the team into what Philadelphia writer Jack Chevallier called the “Broad Street Bullies.” Schultz was a tough customer, known for fighting. In his first year he run up 259 penalty minutes. (That’s a little more than four games sitting in the box.) He “infected the team” said Bob Kelly, who along with Moose Dupont, Don Saleski, and Schultz changed the nature of the NHL brand of hockey. It certainly expanded the NHL rule book. But keep in mind one thing: While they had more than 600 more penalty minutes in 1973-74 than the next team, the NHL never disciplined the Flyers for their style of play. Not once!

Bobby Clarke

The Flyers are credited with using fighting as a tactic, winning through intimidation. I think that’s a fair argument. However, the documentary spent more time chronicling that than emphasizing some of the great achievements the Flyers organization has accomplished. Yes, I think the physical style of play changed the team; it opened up things for the world class players the Flyers had at the time. Bobby Clarke, Bill Barber, Rick MacLeish, Reggie Leach, Bernie Parent — these were some great players in their day. Their coach, Fred Shero, was a genius. He knew he had a team that liked to fight so he let them do so. Shero was also a student of Eastern bloc training methods and Soviet hockey. Aside from coaching the Flyers to two Stanley Cups (1974, 1975), Shero orchestrated one of the most memorable games in NHL history when his team defeated the Soviet union’s superpower Red Army hockey team, 4-1, on Jan. 11, 1976.

There’s an old saying that goes “It starts at the top.” For the Flyers it started with their founder and owner, Ed Snider. He pooled an investor group together and paid $2(m) for the expansion franchise in ’67. Mr. Woodey always told me about the personal touches Snider did for the people in his organization. Start with the fact he knew every employee’s name and go from there: The Flyers were the first to offer career counseling and voluntarily renegotiated contracts. They were the first to hire a full-time assistant coach, a full-time goaltending coach and a full-time strength and conditioning coach (Pat Croce). They helped their players find housing when they came to Philadelphia and any special needs a player might have away from the rink. People didn’t show up to watch just one of the Flyers like people would pay to see one guy play like Wayne Gretzky; people showed up to see the whole team. Talk about brand name recognition! Ed Snider provided the leadership to make it happen.

They have always had a consistent philosophy: They want players with good work habits! “We look for overachievers,” Mr. Woodey would tell me. Even if you were a talented player, Flyers scouts were instructed to find out how you went about your work. If you were lazy, forget it. And they have always wanted big (no one under six feet tall), aggressive players. The size thing has cost them some players in the past who would’ve made great Flyers (Theo Fluery, Gary Suter), but you always knew what a prototypical Philadelphia Flyer was. Anybody remember what a prototypical Minnesota North Star was? Neither do I — because there wasn’t any!

It would have been great to see how the Broad Street Bullies legacy carries onto today’s Flyers, but the doc didn’t go there. Nevertheless, the “Broad Street Bullies” is a fun tale cast into a 60 minute piece. It’s definitely worth the time.


Sid vs. Ovi: A Picture is Worth a 50 Goal Scorer!

Kudos to for running this data point chart to illustrate the difference in the style of play between the NHL’s lone 50 goal scorers this season, the Pittsburgh Penguins Sidney Crosby and the Washington Capitals Alexander Ovechkin.  These charts illustrate in a compelling manner where each player scored their goals from during the regular season and are evidence of each guy’s style of play: Crosby is a “puck holder” (a playmaker) and Ovechkin is a “puck mover” (a shooter). Both players are great and you’d want them on your team if you had a chance to get them. However, in this case the argument goes, Ovechkin, whose team was eliminated in the first round of this year’s Stanley Cup playoffs, was the easier player to defend because he shoots a lot from the high slot (i.e., farther away from the net) where as Crosby waits and waits and moves closer to the net before shooting. Crosby and his teammates are facing a decisive seventh game versus the Montreal Canadiens tonight in Pittsburgh, and he has been limited to only one goal in this series. Nevertheless, the charts do a great job of giving a visual picture to the way each guy plays the game.

Why don’t we see more of this? Clear, concise use of the English language is the foundation for effective communication. However, in the time I’ve spent using new media over the past year I’ve noticed a lot of people lack the ability to illustrate their message visually. In the age where we are inundated with information on a daily basis, I believe the ability to get your point across with a photograph or a chart can be a difference maker like an Ovechkin slap shot in communicating your message.

While thinking about this recently, I stumbled across Amy Mengel’s blog posting on this very subject. Her words sum up my thoughts succintly:

“Written pieces certainly have their place and purpose, but an eye-catching chart, infographic, or photo set may convey your message more memorably and in less time. Presenting information graphically forces us to trim away the superfluous details that can clutter our writing… Often it doesn’t occur to us to present information in a different format.”

Perhaps the father of modern visual communication is Professor Edward Tufte. Just recently I started reading two of his works, Visual Explanations: Images and Quanities, Evidence and Narrative and Beautiful Evidence. He’s a very “rich” writer, meaning I think you need to read his stuff more than once to really get it. And he absolutely hates Microsoft PowerPoint, by the way. But he is tremendously insightful on how to use visual information in modern communication.

I don’t know if Tufte prefers Crosby over Ovechkin, but he’d love the chart.


Where Did 20 Years Go?

Country singer Kenny Rogers once did a tune entitled “20 Years Ago,” a song  about the idea of going back to your hometown 20 years later and reminiscing about all the memories. (The older I get, the harder it is to stomach that tune.) When I was younger, I thought it would take forever to get to the point where you could look back 20 years in your life. I always wondered what it would be like when that time arrived. Now I know. Former Philadelphia Flyers president Jay Snyder gave Sports Illustrated in 1987 one of the most insightful quotes ever: “It’s amazing how fast the future shows up.”

Mike Modano must have had that on his mind Saturday night in what was probably his last game in the NHL, ironically in the same state where his career started 1989: Minnesota. The No. 1 overall draft pick of the Minnesota North Stars in 1988, Modano fought back his emotions several occasions during the game. At the end of the game, he was named the No. 1 star and pulled off a great PR move — coming out wearing his North Stars jersey with his name and number on the back. Modano returned to Minnesota playing against a robust franchise, unlike what he came to when drafted in 1988.

Going into the draft in ’88, the North Stars had the No. 1 pick courtesy of being the worst team in the NHL under first-year coach and hockey legend Herb Brooks. One year was all Herb got. His old friend, GM Lou Nanne, decided to step down from his position. The new GM, Jack Ferreira, didn’t retain Herb, prompting my mentor, Ron Woodey of the St. Paul Vulcans, the man who gave Herb his first head coaching opportunity with his team, to say, “If the Gunds (the owners of the North Stars) ran their other businesses the way they run the North Stars, they’d be broke.” It was a PR disaster.

Enter Modano. Having the No. 1 pick in the draft generated some excitement, but none of the players available were tabbed to be the next franchise-maker like Mario Lemieux. Modano had left suburban Detroit (Livonia, Mich.) to play major junior hockey in Prince Albert, Sask. — and you thought Minnesota was cold in December? — and became an offensive force for the Prince Albert Raiders of the WHL. However, there was some debate over whether the guy rated No. 2, Trevor Linden, wasn’t the guy to take. A natural leader and mature beyond his years, Linden had won everywhere he’d been to that point — two Memorial Cup championships with his junior team, the Medicine Hat Tigers, and a gold medal for Canada in the world junior tournament.  And he turned out to be a good one: He was named captain of the Vancouver Canucks by the time he was 21, played 19 years in the NHL, and had his number retired by the Canucks in 2008. A couple other guys did well, too. The first round included another productive American player in Jeremy Roenick (8th overall), Michigan State and St. Louis Blues star Rod Brind’Amour, and the “Finnish Flash,” Teemu Selanne, whose record for goals by a rookie (76) may never be matched.

In the end, Modano became the best American forward ever and recorded a milestone few professional athletes achive — he played his entire career with the same team. If he gets a case of Brett Favre-itis and decides to play again next year, I’m sure some NHL would find a spot for him. If not, he’s done enough to justify the ovations Minnesota hockey fans gave him at the Xcel Energy Center.


Making a Coach’s Day…

Photo by Vince Muzik

Rarely, rarely, rarely have I ever engaged in conversation with an athlete during competition. It’s not professional and can be downright dangerous to your career. Ever great now and then, when the spirit moves me, there’s an exception — and Monday night’s game between the Minnesota Wild and the L.A. Kings was one of them.

One thing I noticed about TV timeouts in the NHL is that they can completely bring the momentum of a game to a stand still, particularly when you are on the bench. As I was shooting from the team bench during the second period, the first TV timeout out did just that. I noticed just around the glass next to me sat King’s defenseman Jack Jackson, a guy who played a year for my friend Tom Ward down at Shattuck-St. Mary’s (SSM), a boarding School in Faribault, Minn., with a killer hockey program and a list of impressive alumni: Actor Marlon Brando was expelled, but lengendary Oklahoma Sooners football coach Bud Wilkinson and sportscaster Brent Mussberger went there along with nine guys who became NHL first round draftees, including some guy named Sidney Crosby. On my way back to the Twin Cities a couple days earlier, I stopped by to see Tom. SSM doesn’t hide their success. Hanging in the on campus arena lobby are the jerseys of their accomplished alumni — Zack Parise, Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews hang from the ceiling and greet you as you walk in. Jack has his jersey hanging just around the corner with a bunch of others.

To get to the point, as we were all staring off into space I turned around the glass with my Nikon to the short lens and ripped off three frames of Jack sitting there. When I finished, I put the camera down and said, “Tom Ward says to say hello,” then turned around to resume looking off into space. (I figure if Tom knew I was standing next to one of his guys he’d want me to say hello.) A few seconds later I felt the tap, tap , tap of a hockey stick on my right shoulder. I looked back to see Jack leaning up to me, figuring he was probably to tell me what to do with myself using some hockey player language. Instead he said to me, “Tell Tom I miss playing for him.”

Boy, does life get any better for a coach than that? That’s a pretty complimentary thing to say. The brotherhood must run strong for those Shattuck-St. Mary’s guys.