Dammit, Gary…

It’s just after 6 pm on Friday, October 12, 2012.

I should be at Joe Louis Arena. I should be down in my spot at the bottom of the stairs, pressed up against the glass waiting for the guys to come out for warm-ups so I can take pictures. And then I should be up in my seat somewhere up near the rafters waiting for the season-opening player introductions. (Which, in a perfect world, would be done by Budd Lynch. Rest in peace, sir.) And then I should be up on my feet cheering, and at the end of the game I should be happily singing “Don’t Stop Believin'” with all the other fans.

But none of this is happening today.

I’m at home in Toledo, typing from my desktop computer, the Joe is locked and dark, and at least half the team has scattered to play for European teams.

Curse you, Gary Bettman! *shakes fist at sky*

I know Bettman’s mostly the mouthpiece for the owners. But he does guide the policy of the Board of Governors, and this is the third lockout of his tenure. He’s awfully trigger-happy with the arena padlocks, let’s put it like that.

During the 2004-05 lockout, I was completely hockey-deprived. I didn’t realize then that I had non-NHL options. But now I know better.

I ordered a Grand Rapids Griffins TV package. Hooray!

So for this season (because with the rhetoric coming from the NHL and NHLPA, I really don’t think they’re going to salvage much of a season), this is going to be a Griffins blog.

I’ll admit that I may be getting in over my head with this. I know the Griffins pretty well from watching them last season, but the rest of the AHL teams? Barely at all. I can’t even name all the TEAMS yet without looking them up, let alone tell you about key players for each of the Griffins’ opponents.

It’s going to be a learning process.

But I will try to bring you quality Griffins blogging as best I can. I’ll try to include some coverage of the Toledo Walleye as well, but that may be a little harder. I live within 10 miles of their arena, but their games only air on our local public access sports channel, and they almost NEVER air live. But I’ll do what I can.

Meanwhile, the puck is about to drop on the 2012-13 AHL season in about half an hour. I’ve got my place on the sofa for tonight’s game, and I actually have tickets to go up to Grand Rapids to watch the Griffins play the Hamilton Bulldogs in person tomorrow night.

I’m not just going to try to make the best of the lockout, I’m going to try to have fun with it.

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Player Expectations for the Playoffs

Just a little blurb for each player, giving what I hope and expect from them as we head into the Nashville series. I’ve got the guys listed more or less in line order. I didn’t include the new callups Riley Sheahan and Chris Conner, as I don’t quite know enough about them to write much, and I also didn’t include any of the other callups we’ll likely have when the Griffins’ season ends, like Brendan Smith and Tomas Tatar. If they get called up and make it into some games, I’ll write about them then.

(As I’m sure you can guess, I wrote the most about the goalies.)

Forwards:

93 Johan Franzen: Oh, Playoff Mule, it’s time to wake up! It’s your time of year! We saw a glimpse of you in the game against St. Louis last week, when David Backes got you angry and you promptly scored two goals to win the game. But then you went back to sleep against New Jersey and Chicago. Wake back up, Playoff Mule. Mules don’t hibernate in April.

13 Pavel Datsyuk: Our magician, our wonder. What I expect of you, now that you seem to have shaken off any lingering injuries, is that you simply be yourself. Dazzle us and make Pekka Rinne cry.

44 Todd Bertuzzi: You know that thing you do where you’re an aging power forward who’s still a scoring threat with a bit of a healthy mean streak if someone messes with one of your boys? Do that.

51 Valtteri Filppula: You’ve had an amazing season, Val. You’ve really kicked up your scoring touch since finding great chemistry with Hank and Huds. The three of you have been the most consistent line all season. Now can you carry that into the second season? I think you can.

40 Henrik Zetterberg: You’ve been the backbone of this line all season. You’ve given Val and Huds the confidence they need to get out there and be effective producers. And you don’t need anyone to tell you how to keep doing that; that Conn Smythe Trophy you were carrying on your head in the 2008 parade shows you understand quite well how the playoffs work!

26 Jiri Hudler: You’ve redeemed yourself after a rather sub-par post-KHL season. Your work ethic has turned around drastically and you’ve developed a surprising knack for annoying goalies while Hank and Fil move the puck into scoring position. Keep doing this. Just… try not to give any of your teammates a concussion this year? Please?

20 Drew Miller: You’ve been one of the unsung heroes this season. You’ve been a scoring threat at unexpected times and your penalty killing and defensive play have been top notch, particularly with Darren Helm sidelined. If there’s any aspect of your play I’d like to see you change, it would be to add a little bit of grittiness. You’re a big guy, you can probably hit pretty hard. (But cleanly, of course- we don’t want one of our best penalty killers in the box!)

8 Justin Abdelkader: You’ve been kind of quiet this season, Abby. It’s like you’re not quite sure what your role is on the team or how you’re supposed to fill it– except that you’ve increased your penalty killing minutes, which is excellent. But we need you to play a mean and gritty game even more than we need Miller to do it. I love that you’re willing to drop the gloves and go up against the toughest bastards your opponents have to offer. The hardest part of going into a fight is deciding to do it. But you need some refinement of your technique. Ask around. If Darren McCarty or Joey Kocur aren’t willing to help you out I’d be shocked.

11 Danny Cleary: After Monday’s practice you told reporters that your knees were so torn up that you were playing at about 50% of your capability. Hockeytown let out a collective shout. Why is Mike Babcock letting this happen? You’ve got bone grinding on bone but you’re out there checking, killing penalties, and mucking guys up in the corners. How are you doing this? And are you ruining your knees for life in the process? We, the concerned fans, we know why you’re pushing yourself. It’s what you do and what you’ve done since you came to Detroit. Even though I have my doubts, can I just say how much I love you for being willing to get out there when you’re this torn up? Every team needs a heart like our big Newfie Warrior.

14 Gustav Nyquist: Our baby ninja, learning from Pavel, Hank, and Fil at every opportunity. I do hope we get to see you play with Pavel at least some of the series. You’ve begun to develop quite a bit of chemistry and the seeds of a nice scoring touch. But even if Coach keeps you on the third or fourth line, I’m sure you’ll keep working and pushing and waiting to make your chances. I’m kind of thinking you’ll be like Helm was in the 2008 run, unexpectedly clutch.

48 Cory Emmerton: I’m not sure quite what to make of you, honestly. I can’t fault you for not trying and working hard, but I’m not sure exactly where your talents belong. So you’re our fourth line center. I do like how you and Mursak work together, but I wouldn’t guarantee that your line won’t be shaken up before the playoffs are over.

96 Tomas Holmstrom: You know exactly what to do. You go stand in front of Rinne and drive him to distraction. You INVENTED this. You are THE goalie screener of all goalie screeners, and no one does it better than you. Also, eat some beans before you go stick your shorts in front of his face.

43 Darren Helm: First, come back from that knee injury, but don’t push yourself to come back too fast. A knee injury is not to be trifled with, especially for someone like you who lives by speed. But when you’re ready, come back and use that wonderful speed to wreak havoc on the Preds attempts at offense. Kill off those penalties and free up Pavel and Val for some extra power play time. And when you do get a breakaway (not if), remember what Bert has been trying to teach you about patient hands.

39 Jan Mursak: You’re another one like Cory Emmerton, kind of a mystery to me. You have some amazing speed, though. Stay patient, stay responsible, and keep one eye on your assigned coverage and the other eye on everyone else.

Defensemen:

5 Nick Lidstrom: I hardly even dare write one of these to you. Be our team’s rock of stability, as you have been for so long.

52 Jonathan Ericsson: I’m surprised to say it, but your play has improved drastically since you came back from your injury. Some people have said it’s just because you’re paired with Captain Nick now, but it seems like more than that. You seem much calmer in your defensive decision making and you seem to have made leaps and bounds in figuring out when you should play the man and when you should play the puck, plus you’ve actually been using your size to hit people and box them out. I’m tentatively impressed, Big Rig. Keep it up.

55 Nik Kronwall: HIT SOMEONE. Oh, and continue to impress us with your responsible defensive play. We like it, we like it a lot.

23 Brad Stuart: See note for Kronners. Also, PLEASE DON’T LEAVE US TO GO BACK TO CALIFORNIA.

27 Kyle Quincey: I’m kind of still reserving judgement on you. I haven’t been all that impressed since you were picked up at the deadline, to be honest. I’ve seen you make a lot of costly mistakes. But I do realize you’re trying to fit back in to a system you left quite some time ago, and you did seem to be pulling it together the last few games. I’ll be cautiously optimistic about you.

18 Ian White: Your play has dropped off a bit from what it was at the beginning of the year. I’m hoping the start of the playoffs will be a nice new beginning for you to pick things back up.

4 Jakub Kindl: Unfortunately, you seem to have gotten yourself into Coach’s doghouse. I kind of doubt we’ll see you in this run unless someone gets injured. Just stay ready, work hard in practice, and learn everything you can from the more experienced players. Patience is the key for you at this point.

Goaltenders:

35 Jimmy Howard: Here you are again, finally healed up from your nagging groin injury and ready to go. Do you have the fire you need, are you ready to steal some games when needed, are you ready to shake off any bad goals and forget them as soon as they happen? Are you ready to be simultaneously the calmest and the fiercest man on the ice? You’ve been an All-Star, you’ve been key to setting the home win record. But you must know that none of that matters until you take your playoff game to the next level. I think you’re ready.

29 Ty Conklin: I know full well we won’t see you outside of warmups and practices. You know it too. But you know? The team needs you for that. Jimmy needs your stability and your humor to balance his intensity. The young players need you to teach them how to find weaknesses in other goalies. You’ve heard of locker room cancers? By all accounts you’re the exact opposite of that (locker room t-cells, maybe?) and the importance of a guy like you to team morale over what we’re hoping will be a long playoff run can not be discounted.

31 Joey MacDonald: First things first– get that back feeling better. Then when you do come back, your role will be the same as Ty’s. Work yourself so hard in practice, keep yourself ready, and wait.

And then maybe at the end of this we’ll have a rare situation of having three goalies to get their names on the Cup? You’ve all worked for it so hard in your very different ways.

And now it is time for your humble blogger to head off to sleep– assuming I can! There are playoffs! TOMORROW! It’s ALMOST HERE! It’s the best time of year, absolutely and for real.

What am I going to do with this blog?

My attempt at being a hockey blogger has been kind of discouraging so far.

Game previews and in-game live blogging are all well and good, but since I can’t post from work, my previews usually didn’t get posted until just a little while before game time. By then all the news sites and the larger blogs have posted everything you could hope to know about a game before it starts. And the live blogs– the wireless connection on my netbook is kind of unreliable, to say the least. It makes it kind of hard to update the blog with a penalty or goal when I’m swearing incoherently in various languages (some of which may not even be real) as I try to coax the bloody thing to reconnect. Quite honestly, the attempt to do two pieces per game was wearing me out. That’s why I disappeared for awhile– it was plain old writing burnout.

So what can I do? I’m never going to be able to keep up with the legitimate news sites and the large blogs. It’s their actual paid job to bring you up to the minute Red Wings news, and I can’t really post from work on a reliable basis.

What I’m going to be trying, for now, is to just offer opinions and analysis. Trying to keep up with the big dogs is too much for me to handle just now. I’m backing off and regrouping, and I’ll be trying to write more frequent opinion pieces as we go into the playoffs.

It’s a crazy internet out there, but I’ll try to keep this corner of it nice and tidy.

Game Live Blog, Red Wings at Flyers

Pregame: Now that Mark Howe has been properly honored with his jersey being retired by the Flyers, we can get on to the game!

1st period:

19:36 Holding penalty to Nik Kronwall.

Mickey Redmond says Brendan Smith plays like a very young Mark Howe. Not a bad compliment at all.

16:00 GOAL for Henrik Zetterberg! Jiri Hudler carries in to the zone and leaves the puck for Valtteri Filppula, who makes the drop pass to Hank. Z backhands a high shot over Ilya Bryzgalov.

14:39 Hooking penalty to Andreas Lilja.

6:10 Goal for Jakub Voracek. A miscommunication between Joey MacDonald and Doug Janik leads to a turnover, and Voracek taps it in.

1:49 Goal for Claude Giroux. The puck bounces over Kronwall’s stick at the Philly blue line and Giroux gets out on a clean breakaway.

Shots on net were 9-2 for Philly. Detroit didn’t have a shot on goal for the last 14:39 of the period.

Ouch.

2nd period:

16:00 MacDonald makes one hell of a sprawling save on Jaromir Jagr.

12:29 Voracek gets KRONWALLED. No penalty on the play, but replay shows Kronwall’s shoulder went to Voracek’s head. Shanny will be reviewing this one for sure.

11:59 Penalty to Zac Rinaldo for unsportsmanlike conduct (trying to make Kronwall fight to answer for the hit).

6:14 Penalty to Scott Hartnell for roughing.

5:50 Goal for Max Talbot, another breakaway after Giroux stole a bouncing puck from Ian White. Talbot had the rebound.

Shots 16 to 8 for Detroit in the second, but few of them were really quality shots. Bryzgalov didn’t have to work too hard on most of them.

3rd period:

The world’s tiniest octopus was on the ice to start the 3rd period. I swear this little guy must have been one-dimensional. Octo-string theory?

15:01 Justin Abdelkader and Wayne Simmonds tussle near the Philly net.

13:16 Hartnell goes to the box for interfering with Joey Mac.

11:13 GOAL for Mule! Brendan Smith makes a quick hard pass to Mule in the high slot, and Mule snaps a shot past Bryzgalov (screened by Tomas Holmstrom). It wasn’t technically a power play goal, but Hartnell hadn’t made it back to the play yet.

4:15 Slashing penalty to Darren Helm.

1:02 MacDonald out of the net.

0:56 Bryzgalov manages to make a blind save on Filppula.

Detroit timeout.

Lots of scramble and pressure by the Wings, but Bryzgalov comes up big and the Flyers hang on to win 3-2. Total shots 39-23 Detroit. Hell of a game by Bryzgalov, I have to admit.

Next up: The Wings return home to face the L.A. Kings on Friday night at 7:30.

Game Preview: Red Wings at Flyers, 7:00 PM

(Game Preview: “What are all these Griffins doing here?” Edition)

I suppose the best way to start explaining what the Wings will be facing in Philadelphia tonight is a simple injury report. Here we go. You may want to sit down for this and have your smelling salts and fainting couch handy.

—G Jimmy Howard (lower-body injury) is day-to-day.

—D Jakub Kindl (upper-body injury) is day-to-day.

—RW Todd Bertuzzi (lower-body injury) is day-to-day.

—D Nicklas Lidstrom (swollen ankle) is expected to return in early March.

—D Jonathan Ericsson suffered a fractured wrist on Feb. 25 and is out until late March.

—C Pavel Datsyuk had arthroscopic surgery on his right knee Feb. 21 and will be out until mid-March.

—RW Patrick Eaves (fractured jaw on Nov. 26) is out indefinitely with post-concussion symptoms.

In light of all this, Kenny Holland went raiding Grand Rapids and called back Chris Conner, Doug Janik, and Jordan Pearce. (Ty Conklin would have had to re-clear waivers if he were to be the recalled goalie.)

So here’s what we’ll have on the ice tonight:

Filppula-Zetterberg-Hudler (Our only normal intact line!)
Miller-Helm-Franzen (Not a bad idea. Maybe Miller’s tenacity and Helm’s speed can inspire Mule to a strong game.)
Cleary-Abdelkader-Mursak (A proper checking line.)
Holmstrom-Emmerton-Conner (It looks weird, but it’s the kind of weird combination that could actually work pretty well.)
Kronwall-Stuart (Keep your head up.)
Quincey-White (I’m not really sold on Quincey yet. I’m trying to withhold judgment until he’s had a little more time to relearn the system.)
Smith-Janik (Comfortable with this. Smith has been phenomenal in his two games since being called up, and Janik has been a good reliable plug-in defenseman.)
MacDonald (starting)
Pearce (charting faceoffs)

Oh my!

I get the feeling, though, that Mike Babcock, in the back of his mind, is grimly enjoying this challenge. It’s like being MacGyver, but with hockey players instead of paper clips, string, and bubble gum. “It’s all about opportunity, isn’t it?” Babcock said. “You can go around feeling sorry for yourself, which is an absolute waste of time, or you can find more players.”

The Flyers haven’t exactly been avoiding the injury bug either. They’ll be without defensemen Andrej Mezsaros and Kimmo Timonen (lower-body injuries, and winger James Van Riemsdyk (broken foot). On the other hand, goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov has been playing strong after some mid-season difficulties; he just posted a shutout in a 1-0 win against the Capitals on Sunday. The Flyers come into tonight’s game on a 2 game win streak, holding the knowledge that Detroit hasn’t won in Philly since 1997. (Granted, with the way the NHL schedules non-conference opponents that only encompasses 6 games, but still.)

Nik Kronwall says the Wings will be up for the challenge. “We got some guys out, but at the same time it’s a good opportunity for these other guys to show what they can do. Times like this is when guys get a chance to show what they’re made of.”

I see they gave you that A on your jersey for a reason, sir.

Prior to the game, the Flyers will be honoring former defenseman and current Wings scout Mark Howe by retiring his #2 jersey. The ceremony is supposed to be at around 7:00 with puck drop at approximately 7:26. FSD will be showing the ceremony. CSNPhilly.com has an excellent article by Jay Greenberg about Howe and his time as a Flyer, which you can see here.

Game Live Blog, Wild at Red Wings

Pregame: We’ll be without Nick Lidstrom for at least a couple more games, it seems. Our Captain has a deep bone bruise in his ankle and will be re-evaluated on Monday. Kyle Quincey, at least, is back in the lineup, and the Wings reassigned Doug Janik to the (undoubtedly relieved) Grand Rapids Griffins. Jimmy Howard will be our starting goalie for the evening.

The Minnesota Wild are somewhat injury-depleted as well (understatement). They lost goalie Niklas Backstrom to injury last night against Montreal and discovered today that he’s expected to be out for 2 to 4 weeks. Expect Josh Harding to get the start tonight. The Wild are also missing Clayton Stoner, Guillaume Latendresse, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Mike Lundin, and Miikko Koivu.

That’s a lot of guys.

1st Period:

19:25 GOAL for Valtteri Filppula! Gets in alone, picks up his own rebound and backhands it past Harding while falling to the ice. This is Val’s 20th goal of the season– his very first 20 goal season!

18:52 Delay of game penalty to Cal Clutterbuck.

13:04 Penalty to Nick Johnson for slashing.

3:56 GOAL for Brendan Smith! Justin Abdelkader tries to kick it up to his own stick right in front of the net but Smith picks it up and roofs the shot. It’s his first career NHL goal. (And both of his parents are in the crowd to see it in person!)

Shots in the first were 13 to 5 in favor of Detroit. Hits were 11 to 9 in favor of Minnesota. I guess we should be relieved they didn’t get the hit counter from Columbus in for this game…

2nd period:

12:55 GOAL for Darren Helm! Tries to make a pass but the puck bounces back to him and he gets the shot through and past Harding.

9:15 Holding penalty to Jiri “Garden Gnome” Hudler.

3:25 GOAL for Filppula! Detroit controls the puck for quite some time in the Wild’s zone (1:14). Takes a nice pass from Henrik Zetterberg and rips a hard shot from the high slot.

2:18 GOAL for Ian White! Shoots from right side, and the puck bounces through and fools Harding.

Shots 12-5 for Detroit in the second.

3rd period:

19:24 High sticking penalty to Matt Cullen.

14:30 GOAL for Hank! Filppula returns the assist favor and sets up Hank for a nice shot into a mostly empty net.

Wings’ Twitter feed reporting that Todd Bertuzzi has left the game with a lower body injury and will not return this evening.

14:12 Holding penalty to Darroll Powe.

11:21 Penalty to Dany Heatley for roughing.

Drew Miller and Darren Helm are getting some power play time.

6:22 Interference penalty to Brendan Smith.

2:50 Powe thinks he spoiled Jimmy Howard’s shutout, but the refs waved it off as Powe pushed Howard into the net on the way through. Incidental contact, not a goalie interference call.

And that’s it! Howard gets his 6th shutout of the season, but isn’t even one of the three stars of the game, which should tell you how anemic Minnesota’s offense looked tonight. (They managed 19 to Detroit’s 35.) Three stars were: # 3 Brendan Smith, # 2 Henrik Zetterberg, and # 1 Valtteri Filppula.

Next up: Detroit hosts the Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday at 4:00.

Game Live Blog, Red Wings at Blue Jackets

(I apologize for the lack of preview article today; it was a late day at work!)

Pregame: The Wings’ defensive corps is going to look considerably different tonight. With Mike Commodore shipped off to Tampa Bay, Jonathan Ericsson out for a month with a broken wrist, and Nick Lidstrom and Kyle Quincey day to day with a sore ankle and groin respectively, well, Mike Babcock had to make some adjustments. Jakub Kindl will be back in the lineup after being a healthy scratch several game in a row, and Brendan Smith and Doug Janik were called up from Grand Rapids. Babs also shuffled the forward lines with Pavel Datsyuk still out, most notably moving Johan Franzen to the third line with Darren Helm and Justin Abdelkader. Joey MacDonald gets the start in net.

Columbus shook up its roster considerably at yesterday’s trade deadline, although noted pain in the goalie’s arse Rick Nash was not traded. Let’s just say I’ll desperately need to follow along with the live box score on Yahoo! to keep track of who the newbs are! Curtis Sanford will be starting in net.

1st period:

17:58 Penalty to Derek MacKenzie for slashing.

15:52 GOAL for Johan Franzen! Kindl snaps a hard shot from the blue line and Mule stuffs the rebound past Sanford.

13:39 High sticking penalty to Todd Bertuzzi.

13:05 Goal for Nash. Maybe? He was kind of climbing over Joey Mac at the time. Goalie interference? Nope, it’s a goal.

As a point of interest, with Lidstrom and Datsyuk both out, the team needed a 3rd assistant captain. They chose Tomas Holmstrom– very deserving and I totally approve!

9:41 Penalty to Cam Atkinson for hooking.

9:12 Interference penalty to The Todd (because a guy ran into the back of him). Babs is livid and screaming at the refs.

6:16 Tripping penalty to Brett Lebda. Fortunately he’s with them, not with us.

0:10.4 Hooking penalty to Jiri Hudler.

Shots 10-5 for Detroit in the first.

2nd period:

Helm gets a nice shorthanded chance.

15:39 Slashing penalty to Ian White.

10:25 Joey Mac makes a very good pad save on a tricky slow shot by R.J. Umberger.

7:27 Tripping penalty to Hudler.

6:51 Slashing call to Atkinson.

Shots 12-6 Columbus in the second. Do not want. Hits apparently 27 to 2 for the Jackets after two periods. I’m… having trouble believing this.

3rd period:

18:04 Interference penalty to Lebda.

17:47 Shorthanded goal for MacKenzie. Breakaway past Hudler, flips the puck over Joey Mac’s blocker.

17:17 GOAL for Nik Kronwall! Backhand shot squeezes past Sanford.

14:56 Roughing penalty to James Wisniewski.

11:34 GOAL for Henrik Zetterberg! Looking like a power forward there! Gets a nice pass from Valtteri Filppula, banks it off Sanford from a tight angle.

10:45 GOAL for Jan Mursak! Homer works hard behind the net to keep the puck, Mursak gets it and does a neat little spin to put it past Sanford. (Mursak’s first goal of the season.)

6:08 GOAL for Filppula! Franzen leaves the puck for him, and Val has plenty of time in front of the net to set up a high shot.

And that puts the game away nicely. We had to “sing” “Don’t Stop Believin'” with other fans via Twitter since it’s a road game, but hey, you do what you gotta do. Final shot count 30 to 25 Columbus. I’m told the final hit count was 33-2 Columbus. I still don’t believe it.

Next up: The Wings return home to host Minnesota on Friday night.

The Strange Snowy Journey of Ty Conklin’s Goalie Paddle

Part 1: Shopping at the Joe

My husband and I were at Thursday night’s game against the Vancouver Canucks. We had gotten tickets for this one long ago, actually as soon as they went on sale. It was Bobblehead Thursday! And as my husband’s Twitter name is @fakebertuzzi44, we really kind of need to have an actual Fake Bertuzzi in our large bobble collection, don’t you think? Only as it turned out (because it’s hard to plan in September what you’ll be doing on a given day in February), he’s currently assigned to a clinical rotation in Findlay, about an hour south of Toledo where we live, which is of course about an hour (in really good traffic) south of Detroit. So we decided to go in separate cars– I would leave straight from work to make sure I was at the Joe when the doors opened to guarantee we’d get one Bobble Todd for sure, and he would get there as soon as he could.

So we were there to see the home win streak come to an end, and it was absolutely a hell of a run, and I feel very privileged to have gotten to see as many of the wins as I did. It was strange walking out onto the concourse; quieter than I’ve seen it in months. I’ll call it bittersweet.

It was also HOT. I’m not sure if the ventilation wasn’t working properly that night or if the collective will of 20,066 fans heated the building or what, but it was overheated and everyone was eager to get outside. We, however, had a stop to make: the small Hockeytown Authentics shop. (Their main store is up in Troy, MI, but they have a tiny shop at the Joe.) They sell game used sticks and jerseys, autographed pucks and photos, that kind of thing. And there were two goalie paddles hanging on the wall which I’ve been coveting for MONTHS– both game used and autographed, one from Jimmy Howard and one from Ty Conklin. After some careful budgeting and much dithering and wharrgarbling, we decided that one of them could be my birthday present. (I know my birthday is still over two months away– humor me here!)

The Howard one had been sold, but the Conklin one was still there. In a way, this is actually better because this way I didn’t have to make a choice. In theory, I will have many years to get a Jimmy Howard goalie stick. (I know he’s only signed through next season, but come on, do you really think Kenny Holland is going to let him go?) But with Conk having been demoted to the Griffins, well, a goalie paddle from him could become hard to find. And I really did want this one, it wasn’t just an instance of taking what I could get. Because Ty Conklin is my FRIEND.

Part 2: Why a NHL/AHL Goalie Is My “Friend”

We met Conk at Hockeyfest before the season started, and there weren’t too many people in his autograph line, so we spent a few minutes talking to him and welcoming him back to town. He’s really a super-sweet guy who seemed to thoroughly enjoy talking with the fans.

Well, I think after that, he would recognize me when I’d go down to ice level to take pictures of warmups. (My hair is kind of a bright purplish-red, so I’m pretty easy to pick out in a crowd. Not a lot of people around Detroit with purple hair.) But if he noticed I was there against the glass, he’d flash this grin at me, like we had a joke the other people around weren’t in on. It was the sort of grin that invariably should make the recipient feel warm and fuzzy and happy, and it did. Now maybe Ty just smiles at all the female fans that way, or maybe, as the season went along and his numbers got worse, he was just happy to see a friendly face. But whatever the reason, basic human psychology dictates that if someone smiles at me like that on something resembling a regular basis, my brain will start registering that person as a friend.

Don’t worry, I’m not quite crazy enough to believe that these interactions mean any sort of connection deeper than what they are on the surface: an exchange of smiles between two people who met one time. But they were very nice smiles, and I’ll be honest with you: that night without Conk there, I missed his smile a lot more than I had thought I would. I know Joey MacDonald earned the second string spot and I know demoting Ty was the right choice for the team, but I still missed seeing him there and wish things had gone differently. (This is why I’m glad I don’t have Ken Holland’s job.)

Anyway, that’s why I was walking out of the Joe Thursday night with a signed, game used, Ty Conklin goalie paddle.

Part 3: Goalie Paddle Fun Facts

Did you know that when you walk down the Riverwalk from the Joe to the RenCen, and then through the RenCen to the Port Atwater garage, carrying a great big goalie paddle, people will either be like “Whoa! Cool!” or they’ll look at you, their eyes will get huge, and they’ll get as far away from you as possible as quickly as they can? So that was fun.

And did you know that a goalie paddle is kind of heavy if you take it for a one mile walk while stinging snow is blowing in your face? (Google says it’s a mile; I’m not sure this is true, but it felt like it Thursday night!) I came out of that walk with a whole new respect for goalies’ arm strength if they can wield those paddles for an entire game, let me tell you! Granted it was specifically designed for a guy who’s considerably taller and stronger than I am, but still! (Fake Todd Bertuzzi would have carried it for me, but I wouldn’t let him– it’s from MY friend!)

And did you know that it takes some odd contortions to try to fit a big goalie paddle into a small Saturn? It turned out that it was really a good thing that Fake Bert and I had to drive up separately, since the best way to get the stick to fit was to have the paddle part in the floor of the passenger seat with the stick/knob part stretching into the backseat.

And did you know that goalie paddles are not really great conversationalists, but they’re pretty good at listening?

Part 4: Goalie Paddle Anxiety Therapy

We (Fake Todd and I, not the stick and I) had been joking on the walk that I would have a nice long conversation with the stick on the way home.

As it turned out, the roads were absolute shit from a snowstorm blowing through. (We’ve had about 4 storms that have made the roads terrible so far this winter. Three of them were on nights we went to games and the other was a night we were driving home from helping my aunt who lives Downriver to move house. WHY do we keep getting the storms ONLY on long drive nights?) It started out in Detroit with poor visibility from snow, but the roads not too bad, just wet. Then Downriver the visibility was still poor and the roads were getting kind of slick. (The visual effect of the blowing snowflakes looking like hyperspace from Star Wars was entertaining for only about 30 seconds, since I couldn’t see past them.) Then just north of Monroe, the snow turned to sleet, so the visibility improved some, but the roads were just brutal and a convoy of three semis deliberately tried to run me off the road. (I was chugging along in the right lane at about 45-50 mph, and I can swear truthfully I was fully in the lane because I’d drifted right and been checked by the rumble strips just before, and they came barreling through, straddling the lane line, and blaring their horns at me like I was the one doing something wrong! Fucking douchebag bullies.)

Needless to say, I was kind of white knuckling things. I had a spinout on I-475 a few years back– I didn’t hit anything and landed safely on the shoulder, but I’ve never been the same about snow and ice driving since.

So I really did wind up having a long conversation with my goalie paddle in an attempt to keep myself calm. I started out addressing it as “Ty Conklin’s Goalie Paddle,” but over the course of the 2 hour drive (which should have taken 1 hour), I wound up just calling it Ty. Yeah, I’m on a first name basis with my game used, autographed, Ty Conklin goalie stick.

Part 5: What Does One Talk About With A Goalie Paddle?

Part of the time I talked to him (yes, it’s a boy) the way I might to a dog or a stuffie if I were nervous and by myself, more or less just talking myself through the bad drive but addressing it to him. Part of the time I talked to him the way I might to the real Ty if he were a real friend instead of a smile-through-the-glass friend– about the Wings’ chances, the Griffins’ chances, the strange nature of goons, the strange nature of goalies, the strange nature of goalie girls and whether a goalie girl’s particular goalie crush reveals aspects of her psyche. That kind of thing. And singing along with the radio whenever a song came on that I know and that is at least vaguely near my range. Which means I was singing Matchbox 20 and Katy Perry songs. To a goalie paddle. Whatever it takes to keep my mind off the ICY DEATH FALLING FROM THE SKY, right? And then I had a (VERY) minor visual hallucination– thinking the clock said 1:22 when it was really 12:27. And then I told Ty I was hallucinating.

And then I realized I just told a goalie paddle I was hallucinating.

Part 6: Aftermath

Once we reached the state line, the road improved vastly. I guess ODOT must have brined I-75 recently, to which I must say, thank you, ODOT! The surface streets were pretty slushy, but no big deal. So Ty (the paddle, not the goalie) and I made it home in one piece. (I’m sure Ty the goalie also made it home in one piece, but I had no direct personal involvement.) And there you go.

To add insult to injury, the snow and ice pretty much all melted off during the few hours I was asleep. That whole traumatic thing left no evidence of itself!

But here we are safe and sound.

Here are Ty and I defending our hallway against incoming wrist shots:

And here we are doing our best Dominik Hasek impression:


And here’s a closeup of the autograph:


And just for good measure, here’s @FakeBertuzzi44, holding a fake Bertuzzi, in front of a picture of Bertuzzi:

 

 


 

TODDCEPTION!

 

Game Live Blog, Sharks at Red Wings

Pregame: NBC coverage starting us with Penguins at Sabres. Liam McHugh assures us we’ll be switched over to Sharks at Wings at 12:40. He’d better not be lying.

Meanwhile, FSD’s Dana Wakiji reports on Twitter that the Sharks will be starting Antti Niemi in goal, with Joe Pavelski, Joe Thornton, and Tommy Wingels up front and Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Joe Pavelski on defense. The Wings will be starting with Joey MacDonald in net, Nick Lidstrom and Ian White on defense, and the Pavel Datsyuk, Todd Bertuzzi, and Johan Franzen up front.

Oh, Liam wasn’t lying! Here’s our own game.

1st period:

13:30 GOAL for Henrik Zetterberg! Backhand shot from the slot that manages to go through the legs of Jiri Hudler and Colin White who are effectively screening Niemi.

Detroit doing a decent job of breaking up the Sharks’ attempts to cycle the puck in the offensive zone, but they need to get some more scoring chances. Shots 6-4 Sharks with 6:10 left to play.

5:12 Penalty to Brent Burns for slashing.

0:06.9 Penalty to Todd Bertuzzi for goalie interference.

Shots 8-6 Detroit. Faceoffs even at 8 each.

2nd period:

18:12 Excellent quick right pad save by Joey Mac on a hard shot.

12:56 Penalty to Logan Couture for tripping.

11:31 Penalty to Johan Franzen for hooking.

Darren Helm gets a great shorthanded chance.

9:20 GOAL for Drew Miller! Rush down ice by Justin Abdelkader after a MacDonald save, then Miller picks up Abby’s rebound.

8:43 Penalty to Mule for boarding.

Joey MacDonald is having an amazing game here.

6:12 Penalty to Jonathan Ericsson for interference.

5:27 Possible Sharks goal, knocked in by Couture. Being reviewed to see if it was a high stick.

It was a goal, apparently.

Shots 19-8 San Jose in the second. Ouch. Faceoffs surprisingly still even at 10 each.

3rd period:

19:19 Strong save by Joey Mac to start things off.

18:23 Penalty to Jason Demers for holding.

17:41 Vlasic hurt by an Ian White shot. Looks like the puck smacked him in the face, deflected off Dan Boyle’s stick.

14:58 Pavelski  blocks a Lidstrom shot with his FACE. He’s staying on the bench, though.

Colin White also hurt– he took a shot off the knee, apparently.

13:15 Niemi comes up big with a quick succession of saves against Franzen and Datsyuk.

12:59 GOAL for Helm! Miller steals and carries into the zone, makes the centering pass to Helm.

5:06 FIGHT! Abby vs Ryane Clowe. The linesmen let them go for awhile, and it ends in more or less a draw.

4:44 Goal for Patrick Marleau. Gets a rebound from Pavelski’s shot.

1:15 Empty net for San Jose.

0:03.8 Offside, stop in play. Gah! The crowd is taking the opportunity to belt out “Don’t Stop Believin’.”

And they’ve done it! 3-2 win. 23 straight home wins. Three stars of the game: #3 Helm, # 2 Miller, # 1 MacDonald.

Next up: Tuesday night at Chicago, 8:30 PM.

Game Preview, Sharks at Red Wings, 12:30 PM

Good morning! Who’s ready for some early afternoon hockey?

The Red Wings are looking for some personal validation as the Sharks come in to town. Think about it. They’re on top of the NHL standings. They’ve won 22 straight at home. They’re staying ahead of the competitive Blues and Predators in the tight Central Division race. But they haven’t yet beaten the Sharks. Five straight regular season games (two already played this season). Two straight playoff eliminations.

The motivation today should be not so much to keep the home win streak going as it is to beat the Sharks for the sake of their own heads.

Drew Miller agrees. “They’re the team that put us out of the playoffs; it leaves a bitter taste in your mouth. You definitely want to continue the streak, but I think there’s going to be extra energy to beat them.” Joey MacDonald added, “We don’t want to see these guys come in and push us around.”

As Mike Babcock put it, “It must be time to say enough’s enough.”

The Red Wings will put off their Goaltending Conundrum for one more game; MacDonald will be starting this afternoon, giving Jimmy Howard a couple of extra days for his broken finger to heal up. Joey Mac, as you can imagine, is more than happy to get another chance to shine. “The coaching staff have the confidence to throw me out there again against another good hockey team. I just gotta keep building on them and take advantage of the opportunity.”

Howard and Danny Cleary are both expected to return Tuesday against Chicago. No other injury changes to report; Tomas Tatar has been reassigned to the Griffins. I’d expect Babs to go with the same line configurations he’s been using with the possible exception of swapping Mike Commodore for Jakub Kindl. A little added sandpaper against San Jose could never be a bad thing.

Sharks coach Todd McLellan says his team would certainly love to be the one that ends the historic winning streak, but that they don’t need any extra motivation against Detroit. “We could use that as a motivating tool, but I think there’s enough between the two teams that you wouldn’t approach it any other way if it were the first game of the season.”

San Jose is likely to be playing like a team desperate for points; they lead the Pacific Division, but they’re only two points up on the suddenly surging Phoenix Coyotes (albeit with three games in hand). They’ve lost their last two, 3-2 to Carolina on Friday and 6-5 (OT) to Tampa Bay on Thursday. Yahoo! Sports claims the biggest problem has been the inconsistent play of goalie Antti Niemi, quoting McLellan as saying, “He wasn’t any good. I protect him… and talk about the team. He has to be better. Flat out, has to be better.” Niemi is likely to start today, however, given his past successes against Detroit. The Sharks will be without left winger Marty Havlat (torn hamstring) and defenseman Jason Demers (lower body), and may also be without defenseman Douglas Murray. Murray took a puck to the throat (!!!!) during the Sharks’ game against the Lightning. Initial reports claimed his Adam’s apple was fractured (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!), but later testing showed that to be not the case.

What I hope to see today from the Wings is same sort of efficient, relentless play they displayed against the Stars last Tuesday. Patient. Insistent. Unyielding.

Like, oh, I don’t know, a carpet shark eating a bamboo shark.

NBC (proper network NBC, not NBCSN/Versus) will have the game for you as part of their Hockey Day In America coverage; however, FSD’s Ken Daniels will be doing the play by play with Darren Pang as his color commentary partner.

Let’s go, Red Wings! *clap clap clapclapclap*