Wednesday, August 23, 2006

New seasons, new blogs

Now that we're all seeing an uptick in hockey news in newspapers, Web sites and even television, it's time to put this blog, which covered the hounding within the 2005-06 season, in archival status.

That doesn't mean, though, that the basic premise behind Hound Central (see above, under the title) won't live on:

Hound Central 5.0: Chronicles the 2009-10 hounding campaign

Hound Central 4.0: Chronicles the 2008-09 hounding campaign

Hound Central 3.0: Chronicles the 2007-08 hounding campaign

Hound Central 2.0: Chronicles the 2006-07 hounding campaign

Either way, thanks for stopping by. Really.

Friday, August 11, 2006

The good, the bad and the downright silly

With another season of hockey hounding approaching, it's about time that I reflected on the past season. Not only did my hounding efforts move 1,200-plus miles south, where the coolest days are in the 60s, but I'll still be able to harass a few dipstick dealers.

For simplicity's sake, my review will be broken down into three separate categories:

The Good: As a whole, the Bruins were a good bunch. Did Joey Thornton eventually park behind the Ristuccia Arena? Wouldn't you? Did Ray Bourque get tired of seeing us? Certainly. Did Glenn Murray s sig become more of a scribble as the season wore on? You betcha.

But, hounds were blessed by the likes of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Boyes and Hannu Toivonen, who always made a point of signing. Late-season additions Brad Stuart and Marco Sturm, part of the Thornton deal, were quick with a Sharpie, too.

Even better than adding to the collection were the memories from the Bruins' practices. Taking the buyout from the Boston Herald allowed me to attend far too many, and spend way too much money. I don't mind, though. It was always fun.

After arriving in Tampa Bay, I quickly found that Martin St. Louis, Ruslan Fedotenko and Darryl Sydor didn't have any problems signing multiples. Vinny Lecavalier and Brad Richards would sign, but usually limited it to one per person. You know what? Sean Burke never once asked to personalize an item.

As always, certain teams lived up to their hound-friendly billings: the Buffalo Sabres, the Florida Panthers and the Habs.

The Bad: Though he first came across as a down-to-earth person, Brian "The Lone Star Stiff" Leetch quickly became the no-hit prima donna that Big Apple fans can have back. The Maple Leafs, too, were downright rude, but what do you expect from a group of chronic underachievers?

I will say, though, that the Leafs did provide one of the season's funniest moments. One night, outside the Ritz Carlton, Toronto's aging midget thug, Tie Domi, became the third man in after teammate Jeff O'Neill started mixing it up with some hounds. All we could think of, as he stood among quite a few taller people, was how short he was. From there, a visualization of Li'l Tie wearing a little boy's sailor outfit, skipping along the sidewalk, quickly became seared in our minds.

The Downright Silly: What in God's name was Bruins GM Mike O'Connell (who was later fired by Boston) thinking when he traded away Joey Thornton after watching his two major free-agent signings Alexei Zhamnov and the abovementioned Leetch contribute very little to the season? As I've said many times on this blog, it was the coach, Mike Sullivan, who was the problem. He never had the respect of his players. Sullivan was fired, too, but it was way too late by then.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Hershey is way better than chocolate

In making plans to move to Florida from New Hampshire, we knew we'd spend the first night in Chocolatetown, U.S.A., otherwise known as Hershey, Penn. What we didn't plan on, though, was that the Portland Pirates would be playing a pivotal Game 7 against the Hershey Bears in the Eastern Conference finals for the Calder Cup. We decided to attend.

We ordered our tickets somewhere along a New Jersey highway, when I was able to finally get through to the Bears' ticket office. After quickly checking in to our hotel, we made it to the Giant Arena, the Bears' home barn, just in time for the opening faceoff.

After the Pirates scored, I soon found myself jousting verbally with Bears fans near us. Foolishly, they thought I'd back down, but I had no problems taking on the 8,200-plus in attendance.

My goal, that night, was simple. If I could get people yelling at me, at least in one section of the arena, at least they wouldn't boo the Pirates. Egotistical as it may sound, I held my own -- giving back as good as I got, maybe even a little better.

Ultimately, this emotion-packed game ended in a tie, forcing sudden-death overtime. Fans were hoarse and drained, but not nearly as much as the players. I mean, what more could you ask for? It was Game 7, the winner heading to the Calder Cup finals. It was pure hockey heaven.

Early on in OT, Portland's Ryan Getzlaf missed a great scoring opportunity. Minutes later, the Bears won the game, and the right to meet, and later defeat, the Milwaukee Admirals for the Calder Cup, on Eric Fehr's laser from the top of the right faceoff circle.

And as I fully expected to have heapings of humble pie rocketed toward me, something weird happened. Most of the very same fans, who only moments earlier had despised me, were offering their hands and best wishes. I easily returned the favor.

We had just witnessed a thrilling game, perhaps the best that any of us would ever see. I'm sure their reaction was filtered through the Bears' victory, but I'm also pretty certain that they realized that the Pirates, as well as one large, vocal Portland fan, were worthy opponents. Hockey fans, I believe, are one big family.

P.S.: For the record, we did score some autographs from the Hershey players, including Fehr, who happily added a Game 7 game winner notation to Colin's mini goalie stick (shown above). And, no, I wasn't being a hypocrite. After the change of NHL club affiliations, Hershey's 2005-06 Bears had been Portland's 2004-05 Pirates.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Checking in, if only for a moment

I know it's been some time since I've had the opportunity to file a posting. But we're down to putting boxes into storage and hanging art on the walls. That doesn't mean, though, that I haven't been thinking about hounding.

I also know that I'm way behind on my year in review. It's coming, as well as some of the milestone pucks collected since moving to Florida in late January. As a bonus (ooohhh!), I'll also share an impromptu night of hounding in Hershey, Penn., following a very exciting and emotionally draining Game 7 between the Portland Pirates and Hershey Bears.

As for my Stanley Cup picks, at least I was correct that the Oilers would win the Western Conference. Other than that, I'm happy that the Hurricanes won and, even moreso, that Cam Ward (souvenir goalie stick, signed to Colin, shown above) won the Conn Smythe. I'm sure glad I loaded up on Ward during his time in Lowell.

Until then, I continue to ask for your patience. The new season is coming.

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Thursday, May 18, 2006

Sabres rule!

My picks for the final two rounds of the NHL playoffs:

Eastern Conference finals: Sabres in five
Western Conference finals: Oilers in seven

Stanley Cup finals: Sabres in six

Conn Smythe winner: Daniel Briere

Weird prediction: Somewhere, probably down at the corner 7-11 in Dubuque, Iowa, the fat pig Brett Hull will choke on a Ho-Ho. (Too bad that didn't come true, eh?)


Monday, May 08, 2006

Calling it a year

Now that I'm fully recovered from a whirlwind trip back to New England, it's time to put the helmets, pucks and blue Sharpies away for another summer.

The last weekend, though, was memorable.

After landing in Boston and squeezing in a two-hour zap nap, I joined my wife, Lisa, and son, Colin, for a quick trip to Portland, Maine, to watch the Pirates try to close out the Providence Bruins in a first-round AHL playoff series.

Sitting in the second row, within earshot of the visitors' penalty box, we had a pretty good view of the game. The view got much better at the end of the first period.

Jason McDonald, one of the Baby B's, skated over to the boards with a puck in his hand. He tapped his stick on the glass, pointed it at Colin and tossed the still-frozen puck over the glass.

Much to my chagrin, I dropped the puck amid the scrum. It landed behind us, where another fan found it.

McDonald, however, stood his ground. This time, he slammed his stick against the glass, pointed to the man and then pointed to Colin.

Sheepishly, the man handed the puck to Colin. McDonald nodded, smiled and headed to the locker room.

And people wonder why I like hockey so much.

P.S. As a side note, Colin got 14 Pirates, one coach (Kevin Dineen) and the media director (Greg Glynn) to autograph his Pirates sign.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Road trip reasoning

Of all the reasons to travel, tending to family matters is one of the most important. In my case, I'm headed back to New England for my son Colin's fifth birthday. The fact that my wife, Lisa, and I will celebrate our 13th wedding anniversary on Monday helps, too.

I'll let you in on a little secret. With my work schedule, and the resulting sleep pattern, making it difficult to hound either the Ottawa Senators or the Tampa Bay Lightning, another reason, albeit a minor one, that I'll be boarding a jet in less than six hours is to take in tonight's AHL playoff contest between the Providence Bruins and Portland Pirates.

It shouldn't be too hard to guess that I'll be doing a little more than hoping the Pirates, with a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series, close out their first-round matchup. Bobby Ryan, Anaheim's No. 1 pick and second overall last year, is playing for the Pirates. And while I like to get at least a dozen pucks signed in an outing, I'll be more than content to get a couple from him. (For the record, I scored a hat trick. Proof positive, I dare say, is shown above.)

After that, though, I'm not sure there will be any more trips this season.

I will say, though, that I've found out where MLB teams stay when they play the Tampa Bay Devils Rays. I'll likely restrict my trips to the Red Sox, mainly so Colin can meet his favorite player, Trot Nixon, and perhaps entertain him with a rousing rendition of the "Trot Nixon Song."

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Hossa was Grand

Earlier this season, an acquaintance said it would be simple to reach 1,000 autographed pucks. I didn't believe him. Want to know something? He was right.

When Atlanta's Marian Hossa signed the first of two pucks, one depicting the 2003 NHL All-Star Game in Sunrise, Fla., it became the 1,000th of the collection. For the record, he also signed a 2004 World Cup of Hockey puck.

Just like my 500th puck, signed Feb. 13, 2005, by Ottawa's Jason Spezza at the 2004-05 AHL All-Star Classic in Manchester, N.H., I was psyched to have Hossa, one of my favorite players, sign the 1,000th puck.

The milestone came as the Thrashers were boarding the bus Tuesday to play the Tampa Bay Lightning. The pucks from Hossa were two of 11 signed, including a pair from Garnet Exelby and singles from Petr Bondra and Marc Savard.

As an aside, Ilya Kovalchuk, the Thrashers' star forward, didn't sign at game time. Despite repeated requests, the sullen Russian only grumbled something under his breath.

Another disappointment, too, was that an injury sustained against the Lightning on April 6th kept Kari Lehtonen back in Atlanta.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Can you believe this?

One of the items I brought to the Tampa Bay Lightning's practice last week was a game-used Darryl Sydor stick.

As usual, Sydor was one of the first to leave the practice facility. As he drove toward us, I pointed at the stick, then at him and shook my paint pen. Though he looked and waved, I was disappointed that he didn't stop.

As he drove past, I stepped behind his car and repeated the hand signals. I could see that he was looking at me through his rear-view mirror. Still, he kept heading out of the parking lot.

In a poor attempt at spin, I told the other hounds that I can always wait until the next time and put the stick back in my trusty Taurus.

What I didn't notice, though, was that Sydor had turned around up the road and was headed back to the parking lot. Once someone told me, I grabbed the stick again and met up with Sydor.

"Sorry about that," Sydor said, as he signed the taped-up blade of the CCM Vector that had a handwritten "110%" high on the shaft. "I didn't know that was one of mine."

Pretty classy move, if you ask me.

Not too bad, but ...

Even though the regular season is dwindling to its final days, Pittsburgh Sidney Crosby remained in midseason form during the Penguins visit to Tampa Bay late last week.

Not only did The Next One blow off a handful of collectors waiting for him to leave for the team's morning skate, but he never gave the hounds a chance to ask. Two steps outside the hotel's front door, a yawning van door awaited Crosby and his nearly inseparable teammate, Colby Armstrong.

The day, thankfully, was not a total loss. Crosby's teammates, save for John Leclair, who apparently opted out of the practice, stopped and signed for everyone.

My big scores were three pucks from Sergei Gonchar (Penguins, Bruins and Capitals) and two pucks from Marc-Andre Fleury (Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins and Team Canada).

My luck was a little better a day earlier when I hounded the Lightning after a practice in Brandon. Not only did I witness a rarity (see related posting above), but of the 16 pucks I got signed I was able to get multiples from Brad Richards (Lightning Stanley Cup Champions and Rimouski Oceanic*) and Martin St. Louis (Lightning Stanley Cup Champions and Calgary Flames*). (* = shown above)

All in all, the two trips produced another 49 autographs, including 24 pucks, for the collection. For those interested, the puck collection stands at 992 with trips for Atlanta (April 11) and Washington (April 18) in the works.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Shhhhhh!! ... It's a secret

Forgive me, please, for whispering, but The Next One will be in Tampa Bay on Saturday.

Yep, none other than Sidney Crosby, who's looking up at Washington's Alex Ovechkin for Calder honors, will join his Pittsburgh mates when they take on the Lightning.

I'd love to tell you where Crosby and the Penguins are staying, but I'm afraid it'll only add to the fathers, mothers, sons, daughters and family pets, including goldfish, that will likely swarm the hotel is search of an autograph.

Having gotten Crosby to sign a Team Canada puck earlier this year in Beantown, I'll only have a Pittsburgh puck for him, provided the Penguins, who play the Panthers on Friday, take a morning skate.

In the meantime, I'll warm up on the Lightning at their practice facility. According to the team's schedule, it'll be the last regular-season practice at the Brandon facility.

I've got a ton of pucks waiting for them, including some 2004 Stanley Cup Champions models, as well as game-used sticks from John Grahame and Darryl Sydor. With any luck, I'll also finish my mini Stanley Cup (needs Brad Richards, Dan Boyle, Vinny Lecavalier and John Tortorella) and mini Lightning helmet (needs Richards, Boyle and Tortorella).

Looking ahead, I'll chase the Atlanta Thrashers at game time on Tuesday. Like the Lightning, I've got plenty of pucks for them. With such stars as Peter Bondra, Marian Hossa, Ilya Kovalchuk and Kari Lehtonen, it could be a very productive trip.

Monday, April 03, 2006

A momentary diversion

Yes, I know that this blog is supposed to be about hockey hounding, but I have one question for everyone:

How 'bout them Florida Gators?

Though I wouldn't call myself a major fan of college basketball, it was very easy to jump aboard the bandwagon during the Gators' magical run to the national championship.

Having been a Gators sports fan since the days of Emmitt Smith, I imagine I have a pretty good seat, too.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Running through the Isles

Having hounded the New York Islanders during a preseason trip to Manchester, N.H., I really didn't have much to get autographed. That didn't stop me, though, from making the trip over to Tampa last Sunday.

And, much like everything else in life, the effort was rewarded.

The biggest scores of the day, so to speak, were Team USA* and Islanders 2003-04 official game pucks signed by Rick DiPietro, Islanders pucks signed by recent acquisitions Denis Grebeshkov and Jeff Tambellini*, and a Bridgeport Sound Tigers* puck by Trent Hunter. (*=shown above).

For the most part, the Islanders were a great signing team. As usual, the much-maligned Alexei Yashin signed everything (including my four cards) that anyone put in front of him. Somewhat toughies Jason Blake (on an Islanders puck) and Garth Snow (two of four cards) even stopped to sign. (Addendum: What is the Sam Hell Houston was Charles Wang thinking when he named Snow as general manager of this once-proud franchise?)

The day's only disappointment (and a minor one at that) was Shawn Bates, who seemed content to sit on the air-conditioned bus rather than brave the sun-soaked afternoon and sign a few items.

Looking ahead, my ever-changing work schedule, coupled with the fact we close on our house in late April or early May, means I'll have very few opportunities to hound over the next few weeks. So far, I have trips penciled in, and plenty of item ready, for the Atlanta Thrashers and to the Bolts practice facility.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Kids ... Gotta love 'em

After collecting just five autographs this morning at the Tampa Bay Lightning's practice facility, I've come to two conclusions:

1.) Never go hounding on a Saturday at a rink where a youth league tournament is taking place.

2.) The best hounding, I believe, takes place during weekdays, when said youngsters are in school and other, ahem, collectors are working.

I may not have gotten many today, but I did score some quality items:

1.) Vincent Lecavalier and Ruslan Fedetenko, who scored the Bolts' Cup-winning goal, on a Lightning mini helmet.

2.) Fredrik Modin, riding a wicked cool Harley, on a game-used stick.

3.) A Springfield Falcons and cheap skate cards of Evgeny Artuykhin, a Tampa Bay fan favorite, especially after he whacked Ottawa's Antoine Vermette in the head with his own helmet.

Up next, the New York Islanders at one of Tampa's ritziest hotels. The weather calls for mostly sunny skies, a high near 80 and a slight breeze. Oh, to be back in Boston, eh?

Monday, March 13, 2006

Maybe, just maybe ...

With a little luck, I should be able to get a little hounding in over the upcoming weekend. I'm close enough to getting my 1,000th signed puck that I really have to make the effort.

The Bolts, quickly slipping out of the playoff race, are practicing in Brandon on Saturday. I'm also hoping to chase the Islanders on Sunday.

For a look at Colin's stint as a bench assistant for the Bruins, check out this picture:


Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Finding some time

Trips to the Tampa Bay Lightning's practice facility as well as downtown Tampa over my extended weekend yielded more than a handful of notable autographs.

The Bolts' practice rink, in Brandon, sells game-used sticks. I picked up a couple of goalie sticks, from Sean Burke and former Bruin John Grahame and a wooden game from Fredrik Modin. The bill? A measly $51.

After the practice, only Burke signed his stick. Grahame and Modin were in Italy, representing their nations at the Winter Games.

Don't believe, though, that Burke was the only player to sign. Though Darryl Sydor and Timmy Taylor drove past, a handful of players, most notably Cup-winning goal-scorer Ruslan Fedetenko, who signed Lightning and Philadelphia Flyers pucks as well as a miniature replica of Lord Stanley's hallowed Cup.

Craig Ramsay, a former Buffalo Sabres forward and now an assistant coach with the Lightning, signed a Bolts puck (shown above) for the 950th of my collection.

The best part of the day, though, was having Lisa and Colin with me. They flew down to do a little househunting (we're leaning toward St. Petersburg or Bradenton) and we made some time to watch the team practice and get some autographs, specifically on Colin's new Lightning jersey.

On Monday, only a few hours after putting my wife and son on a Boston-bound plane, I was the only hound waiting for the Florida Panthers to check in. Notable signers included Joe Nieuwendyk, who signed Calgary and Dallas pucks, and Hall of Famer Denis Potvin, who signed a couple of cards.

With any luck, I'll be able to score a few from the Montreal Canadiens and the Ottawa Senators this weekend. It seems that teams from north of the border (defined as any place where snow stands on the ground and the daily highs are measured in the teens) like to stay after the games, especially when their next games usually take them to Miami.

In the meantime, though, keep an eye out for Colin as he serves as a bench assistant for the Bruins during pregame warmups this Thursday against Atlanta.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Getting back at it

Aside from wearing T-shirts and shorts in Florida's balmy winter, the lure of chasing a new home team (and hopefully adding a dozen or so pucks to the collection) is more than ample motivation for making my second hounding trip as a sunburned resident of the Sunshine State.

Adding to the buildup leading to Saturday's planned trip, weather permitting, to the Tampa Bay Lightning's practice facility is that I'll be joined by my wife, Lisa, and son, Colin, down for nine days from New Hampshire.

More than anything, the trip to watch the open practice will hopefully provide a quick-fix cure to a serious case of hockey withdrawal brought about by the Olympic break.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Imagine that

Here I am, down here in tropical Florida (finally!) and who will I be briefly chasing this weekend?

Why, none other than Stan Mikita, a Hall of Famer from the Chicago Blackhawks. He's signing at a golf store and, apparently, there are no fees. Thankfully, I found a couple of Blackhawks pucks and he signed the one at left for me.

Later that day, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays are holding a fan fest, where players will be signing. Though I can't name but a few players (Rocco Baldelli comes to mind) it'll still be worth a stop before heading into work.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Getting a life

Now that I find myself down in sunny Florida amid the NHL's Olympic break, how can a hound possibly be expected to get ramped up over nothing to do. In fact, maybe it's time to slow down.

Not only do I have a new job to learn, but I also have find a new house once we close on our house in New Hampshire. It's a damn shame, I suppose, that these "trivial" life matters are being viewed by others as an inconvenience to my hockey-hounding efforts.

I'm also getting very tired of having to repeat this for certain people. Some people, like myself, have lives beyond hounding. If hounding is your life, I'm sorry, but you really need to get a new one. Hounding is better suited to being a component, not a mandate.

I'm sorry if some people can't understand this. Perhaps, it's best to close a chapter of my life and look forward to new ones.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

One down . . .

As promised, my first hounding trip in Florida was done while wearing a T-shirt and shorts. A consistent northwest wind, though, necessitated a windbreaker.

This past Saturday marked the inaugural voyage to Tampa for the sole purpose of hounding. After finding the Washington Capitals in a downtown Tampa hotel, getting my gear together and taking a leisurely drive into the city, my efforts were rewarded.

Besides snagging two autographed pucks (shown above) from uber-phenom Alex Ovechkin (Washington Capitals and WJC 2005-Russia) , I also scored pucks from Eric Fehr (Hershey Bears and Brandon Wheat Kings), Olaf Kolzig (Capitals) , Brendan Witt (Capitals) and Dainius Zubrus (Montreal Canadiens and Philadelphia Flyers).

For the record, Witt, a defenseman for the Capitals, signed my first puck in Florida.

At day's end, I went home with 30 autographs, including cheap-skate cards from Fehr, Mike Green and Brooks Laich. It was fun, too, catching up with Brian Sutherby, who spent the 2004-05 season playing for the AHL's Portland Pirates.


Monday, January 30, 2006

Sunny Florida?

If you believe that it never rains in Florida, today's weather would prove you wrong. After enjoying three gorgeous days upon my arrival, I get to take my first drive to work (in nearly eight months) in light rain. Oh well, at least it's not snowing.

As for hockey, the Caps will be in town this weekend. Depending upon the work schedule, I could make my first Florida-based hounding and begin loading up on Alex Ovechkin. A trip to the Bolts practice facility is in the works, too, for later this week. All in all, I should make five to eight trips in February.

I'll let you know what happens.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Making a move

After seven-plus months of sitting on the sidelines of journalism, I'm getting back into the game.

Granted, we'll have to head deep below the Mason-Dixon Line, but we won't have to deal with snow, ice and the wind tunnel that's known as Avery Street.

On the bright side (other than hounding in T-shirts and cargo shorts during January and February), I'll be making friends with Brad, Martin and Vinny.

For those who care, my last hounding trip in New England will be this Friday, down to the Bruins practice (I'll catch up with the Rangers once I'm down in Florida). My journey south begins Monday.

The first scheduled Florida-based hounding (journalism permitting, of course), will be Feb. 4, when Alexander Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals travel to the lightning capital of the United States.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Missions accomplished

Long Bruins Wives Carnival stories short: It was great getting Cam Neely and Ray Bourque to sign pucks in the same day, as well as Patrice Bergeron recognizing Colin.

Exhibit A:

Early-session keepers (top row, from left), obtained within 20 minutes at the end of event:
Boston Bruins 05-06 official game puck: Cam Neely
Boston Bruins fan puck: Patrice Bergeron (One instance where a black Sharpie works well.)
Boston Bruins 05-06 official game puck (After signing the fan puck, Patrice looked up, grinned at the familiar face and said, much to the surprise of one volunteer, "Hey, Colin. How'ya doing?) : Patrice Bergeron

Exhibit B:

General-session keepers (bottom row, from left), obtained after paying $20, waiting about 45 minutes and giving Ray his family's two-card set (his son Chris shown playing for the Hershey Bears, scored seven goals in Team USA's disappointing WJC in Vancouver, B.C.) in this year's ITG Heroes & Prospects set:
"Welcome Back Ray" puck (Limited edition marking his March 24, 2001, return to Boston following the March 6, 2000, trade to suddenly everyone's favorite Western Conference team, the Colorado Avalanche.): Ray Bourque
Colorado Avalanche 2000-01 Stanley Cup champions puck (Celebrating the team's second Cup win and, more importantly, Ray's first and only of his stellar 22-year career): Ray Bourque.

Carnival: $weet one-timer

The Bruins Wives Carnival, quite simply, is a hoot. Prepare, though, to dig deep.

Donations let Colin play, among other things, bubble hockey with Marco Sturm, score a last-second air-hockey goal on Andrew Alberts (see above, thanks to Jaci) and, in his greatest moment, scatter chairs and volunteers while driving a mini Zamboni.

Colin’s biggest donation earned him a seat on the Bruins bench during warmups at an upcoming home game. How cool is that?

It’s one of the ways I give back to the team. As a hound, I can get these autographs for nothing more than the cost of items and travel. The carnival, thankfully, can be highly entertaining.

Yeah, you spend a lot of money. But you have a great time. The players notice, too.

Is it just me?

My first impression of Planet USA’s jersey (above) for the American Hockey League’s 2006 All-Star Classic: the patch on Converse Chuck Taylors.

See what I mean?

Road trip report

Before I share a milestone in my collection, a posting that will likely appear later today, there's a very good chance that I'll soon be experiencing what it's like to collect autographs far below the Mason-Dixon line.

Though I had plenty of pucks to hound the Lightning, I paid homage to Dave Andreychuk's forced "retirement" by not making the trip over to Brandon. Besides, with a little luck, I'll have plenty of opportunities in the years ahead.

Imagine, too, hounding in January and February wearing T-shirts and cargo shorts? It sure beats sub-zero windchill factors and the need for hand warmers, eh?

Now that I'm back home, it's time to catch the last few West Coast teams, the Dallas Stars and Mighty Duck of Anaheim.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Maineiac for Patrick Roy

Simply put, we all have our heroes. For me, in hockey, it’s Patrick Roy. Sure, he’s a top contender for the greatest goalie ever to strap on the skates. He’s the father of the famed butterfly stance, giving birth to a legion of followers across Canada and the States. What I respect most about him, though, was his last game for the Canadiens.

Though it will never go down as one of his better performances, what he did on Dec. 2, 1995, when finally being pulled after giving up an embarrassing nine goals in a 12-1 loss to the Detroit Red Wings, is legend. After skating off the ice, he went behind the bench and told the Habs president, Ronald Corey, that this game was, indeed, the last he’d play for le Blue-Blanc-Rouge.

After restoring glory to the famed Original Six franchise, to leave a goalie of his caliber and history in while having such a terrible night was inexcusable. And, sure enough, that was his last game as a Canadien. In the weeks ahead, tending net for the Colorado Avalanche, Roy only cemented his reputation as one of the game’s greatest players ever, bringing his first of two Stanley Cup championships to the Mile High City.

These days, Roy is owner, general manager and coach of the Quebec Remparts, a top team in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Earlier this week, the Remparts made the 5 1/2-hour bus trip to Lewiston, Maine, to play the league’s only U.S.-based team, the Maineiacs.

I made the trip as well. Thankfully, mine was from near the New Hampshire-Maine border.

After checking in with a member of team management and catching up on each other’s lives, I waited for the team bus and Roy to arrive at The Colisee. Though I would’ve waited hours, mine lasted minutes. And after the team bus backed up near the visiting team door, my hockey hero stepped off. Even better was that I was the only person waiting for an autograph, the dream of all hockey hounds.

The recognition was mutual. It’s hard to forget a hero and Roy knows the look of a hound. He walked over, we exchanged greetings and he signed a Patrick Roy model (not game-used) goalie stick personalized to Colin (see above) and my Team Canada goalie mask.

If you get the chance, you should check out the Maineiacs. The Colisee, on Birch Street, is pretty close to Interstate 95 and Lewiston is only about 35 minutes north of Portland. Governor's, on Lisbon Street, offers great food at reasonable prices. You’ll also find knowledgeable fans, moreso than any AHL rink I’ve visited in the past few years, and, for the most part, pretty friendly people.

I had the pleasure of sitting near the family of Lewiston Maineiacs' Jonathan Bernier, a top goalie prospect for the 2006 NHL Entry Draft. It’s quite a thrill living and dying, so to speak, with every shot and save. It was very easy to get into what proved to be a pretty exciting game.

The only downer, and I mention this only because of the team’s efforts to attract fans, is that all fans should view themselves as ambassadors for Lewiston, the Maineiacs and the Q. It’s my opinion that people should be applauded, and not condemned, for making a 162-mile round trip and spending more than $125 (including one incredibly cool third jersey) in less than five hours.

One gentleman, known locally as the Wrong Jersey Guy, didn’t quite seem to grasp that concept. He’s real easy to recognize – he’s the big guy (like me) who apparently prides himself in wearing a game-used jersey of the visiting team.

After getting autographs from Remparts defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic (a San Jose Sharks prospect whose nickname, unfortunately, is "Pickles"), the Wrong Jersey Guy piped in with a "We’ll see that on eBay tonight" comment. I’m sure all of the folks who know me will attest that the Wrong Jersey Guy made more than one mistake that night.

When I tried to convince him that I, too, was a collector and was sincerely interested in learning more about his 135 game-used jersey collection, it was met with more derision, including that I made the trip only to snag Roy’s autograph. I’ll plead guilty to that. Who wouldn’t? Besides, what’s wrong with that?

Granted, I certainly enjoyed our "conversation," giving as well as I got (much to the delight and, probably dismay, of a few Quebec Remparts players), but I can’t help but think how many people, including hounds, had an enjoyable night soiled by a chance encounter with the Wrong Jersey Guy.

It seems, too, that I wasn’t the first person ever to rattle swords with him. More than one person told me later that "he wasn’t worth the time."

All in all, though, dealing with one "misguided" fan was just a mere inconvenience compared with getting not just one, but two autographs from one of my hockey heroes. Trust me, it was well worth the ride.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

For me, 2005 was a top-shelf year

Normally, I wouldn't brag about getting two pucks signed during a hounding adventure. But when those pucks represent the 549th and 550th of 2005, I'm going to crow.

Now, I know that there are other collectors and dealers who have posted numbers, but even I'm simply amazed by my productivity. Though there were many cold days and nights, skirmishes with security and some verbal jousting with a handful of less-than-willing players, those efforts were definitely worth all the work.

For the record, Gerald Coleman, a rookie goalie with the Springfield Falcons, signed a London Knights puck (above, left) for the 550th of 2005 and 902nd overall. Coleman played a vital role in the Knights' magical 2004-05 season, including a Memorial Cup championship over the Rimouski Oceanic and Sydney Crosby.

Springfield coach Dirk Graham, who probably enjoyed his long NHL career with the Chicago Blackhawks and the Minnesota North Stars more than he is his AHL coaching stint in western Massachusetts, signed the North Stars puck.

Both pucks were signed New Year's Eve following the Portland Pirates' 5-4 overtime victory over the Falcons.

In an interesting (at least to me) side note, the trip yielded the most diverse fruits of my labor. Besides the pucks, I also got signatures on:
  • a Pirates team program (Portland's Dustin Penner);
  • a Team Canada mini stick (Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry), which has plenty of room for Boston's Patrice Bergeron, Philadelphia's Jeff Carter and Mike Richards, and, if I'm really lucky, Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby;
  • an index card (Springfield assistant coach Phil Russell, who signed that instead of his card);
  • four cheap-skate player cards (two each from Gerald Coleman and Ryan Vesce);
  • a cheap-skate team sheet (Darren Rumble and Zybnek Hrdel (yeah, I know, who's he?) );
  • a bunch of team cards (including Springfield's Mitch Fritz, who got his fanny kicked -- twice -- by Portland's Trevor Gillies despite having a height and weight advantage); and
  • a contest-winning ($20 gift certificate to Gritty's in Portland's Old Port) game program (Aaron Rome).
All told, I went home with a milestone and another 26 autographs for my collection.

Friday, December 30, 2005

What are friends for?

For those of you who mistakenly believe that Santa Claus doesn’t exist, you should have been at our home on Christmas morning. Tucked away among the trains, trucks and puzzles was a very tall and slender wrapped present from the Jolly Old Elf.

To the trained eye, the item was no mystery. It was a hockey stick. The mystery, though, was to whom it belonged. One look at the tag, written in red ink, showed the present was a gift to my son, Colin, 4, from "Santa-opoulos."

For those who know Colin, I’m not bragging when I say that he’s pretty smart. He, too, knew it was a hockey stick. Still, he tore off the wrapping paper with enthusiasm, trying to determine its ownership.

As the paper fell to the carpeted floor, it was clear that the game-used stick once belonged to Boston Bruins star Patrice Bergeron. Colin, having seen the name many times, even recognized the lettering on the shaft.

"Daddy," he exclaimed, "it’s Patrice’s stick! It’s Patrice’s stick! Santa brought me Patrice’s stick!"

Fast forward, now, to the day after Christmas. We find ourselves in Wilmington, Mass., dodging raindrops in the parking lot of the Bruins practice facility. A large, black truck pulls into a parking space. Bergeron hops out.

As Bergeron makes his way to the locker room, Colin’s voice rings out: "Hey, Patrice. Gonna sign my stick?"

I didn’t know whether to be proud or embarrassed. All I could do was laugh.

Bergeron, who has come to recognize the voice through their many meetings and the trading of autographed photos, stops in his tracks, turns around and smiles.

"Sure, Colin," he says.

Labels: , ,

Opening bid = $200

It’s no surprise that rookie cards of Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby are hot commodities. What is a surprise, though, is that I now have one.

Though there will be other top-shelf jersey, patch and autograph cards of The Next One, the 2005-06 Upper Deck Hockey Young Guns Card No. 201 (shown at left) will always be the first league and players association licensed card to feature Crosby in an NHL uniform.

While I’ve missed out on some of the old-timers’ rookie cards, this card, valued between $100-$200 in the January 2006 edition of Beckett Hockey Collector (17/178, with San Jose's Joey Thornton as the cover boy), will be safely tucked away along some of my other prized, and much more current, rookie cards.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Netting No. 900

Earlier in the season, when I was a considerable distance away, I set a goal of 915 autographed pucks for my collection. I’m somewhat embarrassed to say, that with just a few days left in 2005, I’m only 15 pucks from my goal.

When Matt Stajan, a young forward for the Toronto Maple Leafs signed a St. John’s Maple Leafs puck (see above) outside the team hotel in Boston on Dec. 21, he produced the 900th of my collection. Not bad, I’d say, considering I started the season with 600 signed pucks.

Now that I’ve reached that milestone, putting myself thisclose to my goal, I’ve decided to honor Maslow’s Hierarchy of Need (or some might say Greed) and raise my target to an even 1,000 autographed pucks by season’s end.

Seeing that I’ve collected 548 autographed pucks alone just in 2005, including an awesome 102 over a two-day span at the 2005 American Hockey League All-Star Classic in Manchester, N.H., this past February, I’m pretty confident I’ll reach that goal. After that, we’ll see. Maybe I’ll shoot for 1,250.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Birthday twins

Every once in a while, when the planets align perfectly and the wind is blowing from the south-southwest, my wife, Lisa, and I have a day off together. Most days, we run errands or work around the house. Every so often, though, we go on a date, so to speak.

One of our more recent "dates" found us at a Bruins practice in Wilmington. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know I’m quite the romantic. But I swear it was Lisa’s idea. She hadn’t been to a practice this season. And with Ray Bourque, one of her favorite hockey players, likely at practice as a Bruins consultant, it was a true no-brainer to make the trip.

The biggest reason why Lisa’s a big fan of Bourque’s is that they share the same birthdate. Bourque may be a few years older, but they were both born on a Dec. 28th. (Come to find out, too, that Bourque has a sister who also was born on a Dec. 28th.)

Lisa caught up with Bourque during our "date" and was fortunate enough to get the Hall of Famer to sign a Bruins 75th anniversary puck (shown above). Not only did he put down a wicked sweet signature, but it’ll also look real good displayed with the Colorado Avalanche Bourque jersey that he signed for her earlier this year.

Since Bourque joined the team, his presence has prompted more hounds, such as myself, and some of the low-life, oxygen-thief dealers to show up. As a result, getting him to sign is, at best, a 50/50 proposition. It’s a shame, too, because it makes it even more difficult for fans, such as my wife, to meet their favorite players.

Cujo was a real Pang

In the world of journalism, sources are your best friends. They give you scoops, point you to the trees that need to be barked at and, generally, make your life pretty easy.

The same, I’m glad to report, can be said in the world of hounding.

After getting a tip that the Phoenix Coyotes would be practicing at a local rink before checking in to the team hotel, I found myself among a handful of hounds who had heard the news (Next time, boys, I might not be so free with the information).

After getting over the disappointment that The Great One wasn’t traveling with the team, the fact that we were able to watch the practice and then score autographs from nearly every player was a bonus.

Most players were cordial, willing to sign multiples. Some signed, but couldn’t resist taking a dig at us. And then there was Curtis Joseph, or CuJo.

Though the goalie, nearing the twilight of his mediocre (at best) career, signed for everyone else, he refused to sign a couple of pucks for me. When I told him that I was a collector, and not a dealer, his response was "Yeah, buddy, everybody’s a collector." Later reports indicated, too, that CuJo signed the next day, too.

Needless to say, I wasn’t too happy. And I let the team’s security director, who seemed to be much more cordial than most, know that CuJo couldn’t have been more wrong.

A few minutes later, after some fellow collectors asked what happened, another goalie walked toward us. It was Darren Pang, former NHL goalie and ESPN hockey analyst, who now serves as a color commentator for the Coyotes. He willingly obliged (see above), putting my silver paint pen to the Coyotes puck I had reserved for CuJo.

Looking back, I really shouldn’t have complained. I had a great day of hounding, collecting more than 85 autographs, including 29 pucks, on stops to Wilmington, Boston and Lowell. And I learned I can live without a puck, or two, signed by CuJo.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Yeah, I know it's been two weeks ...

... but with the holidays, job-hunting efforts, hounding trips and the fact that another blog has upset a few Beantown-based mouthbreathers, I've been challenged to find the time and energy to add some posts.

Don't fear, though, as I'll have a few more by week's end. You can look forward to my run-in with CuJo, which really turned out to be a real Pang (done, 12/28), as well as scoring my 900th puck (done, 12/29). I'll also have a funny story (done, 12/30) concerning Colin's growing friendship with Patrice Bergeron.

Until then, all I can say is that I've appreciated your patience. I've got a few trips planned in the weeks ahead, including a visit to the practice facility of the defending Stanley Cup champions so I can see firsthand what warm-winter hounding is like.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

We're getting old

Every once in a while along the journey of life, one encounters a moment that reminds us that it's fruitless to fight the aging process. Sure, we can take care of our bodies and stimulate our minds. But nothing, other than the passage to eternal sleep, stops the passing of time.

One of those reminders came late Saturday night. After a day of hounding the Bruins in Wilmington and the Phoenix Coyotes in Boston, I found myself outside the Tsongas Arena in Lowell, Mass., finishing up my cards for the Portland Pirates.

One of my fellow Hub-based hounds, Eddie O'Keefe (undoubtedly, the best in Boston) was there, too.

As the Pirates were making their way to the bus, we spied Jon Awe, a rookie defenseman for Portland, headed our way. Earlier, Eddie and I saw his picture on a wall at Northeastern University's Matthews Arena. And, of course, it led to this exchange:

Eddie: Hey, we saw your picture today at Matthews.
Awe: Really? What were you doing there?
Me: Chasing the Coyotes.
Eddie (who proudly wears his Northeastern class ring): That's where I went to school.
Awe: Really? What year did you graduate?
Eddie: 1980.
Awe: That was a good year. I was born in 1980.
Me: (Giant belly-laughing and hooting, recognizing a classic moment in hounding history.)

Really, I shouldn't have laughed. I was just a year out of high school.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Snow day

There's something about the prospect of a foot of snow that keeps me safe at home, not out standing in a Wilmington, Mass., parking lot hoping to add another dozen pucks to my collection.

Though I had every intention of making the trek down to Massachusetts, I found something better to do.

It seems that Colin has been paying attention to the practices he's attended. Whenever we hold "practice" down in the basement, he insists on stretching. He said he saw the Bruins doing it, so he has to do it.

And for my friends who are truly Bruins fans, please accept my apologies for the Avalanche jersey. I'm only trying to teach Colin about diversity.

Monday, December 05, 2005

G! No. 850!

It’s surprising, to me at least, how quickly the pucks pile up. At the beginning of the season, I believed it would take me at least until the 2006-07 campaign to near my goal of 915 pucks. And now, less than three months into this season, I find myself within striking distance.

As the magic number draws near, I find myself becoming much more selective. There’ll be no gimmes here. I want the pucks to mean something. I want a story behind each puck. As I’ve said before, quality takes precedence over quantity.

That’s why I was pretty psyched to get Ken Gernander on the 850th puck of my collection. Granted, Gernander, or "G" as he is called, is not a household name. But, to hockey fans, Gernander is a great story.

A fifth-round (96th overall) draft pick of the Winnipeg Jets in 1987, Gernander played only 27 games, including playoffs, in the National Hockey League. The right winger did, however, notch 624 points in 973 games in the American Hockey League, mostly in the New York Rangers farm system, becoming the AHL’s highest-scoring American-born player.

Gernander, the only team captain in Wolf Pack history, now serves as an assistant coach with the team.

What I like most about Gernander, though, is how he made a career out of hockey. Though it would have been easy to be disillusioned by having no more than a "cup of coffee" in the NHL, here is a guy who played hard, became a leader and, I believe, is a living tribute to perseverance.

Brrrr-aving the elements

Anyone who has ever played hockey knows that the mind is just as important as the body. You must be able to think positively, visualize scenarios and, more importantly, block out pain.
Hounding, I’m beginning to believe, is no different.

Standing for hours in all forms of inclement weather, dealing with hotel security guards unable to pass a police department’s psychological profile and getting the increasingly all-too-often egomaniacs to share 10 seconds of their precious time requires a certain mental toughness.

This past Saturday night in Portland, Maine, when the Hartford Wolf Pack played the Pirates, provides a good example. It wasn’t so much having to deal with the delightful, but dippy, beer-soaked Hockey Annies to my left, or the gargantuan, hockey-loving-but-face-stuffing Trekkies to my right. Even the overzealous, seat-stealing, cliché-driven, trenchcoat-wearing daddy didn’t bother me.

No, it was the fact that the crystal-clear night sky and the crisp northern wind reminded me that winter, and all of the booger-freezing wonder that goes with it, is right around the corner. Maybe it’s just that I’m another year older and that ecological changes apparently enhance the piercing effects of sub-freezing temperatures. But, boy, was it ever cold.

I’ll tell you something, though. This was the earliest I’ve ever had to employ the mind games I use (visualization of tropical climates, fireplaces and a certain Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue from the late 1970s) to help keep my nose and toes warm.

With any luck, my hounding efforts will soon shift way south of the Mason-Dixon Line, to a place where a long-sleeve T-shirt and cargo shorts will suffice in a year’s earliest months. Until then, it’s long johns and woolies for me.

Pucks, among the 16 gained during the shivering night, shown above:

Top row:
Hartford Whalers: Ulf Samuelsson
New Jersey Devils: Jim Schoenfeld
Washington Capitals: Jim Schoenfeld

Bottom row:
New York Rangers: Al Montoya
Hartford Wolf Pack: Al Montoya
University of Michigan: Al Montoya

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Joey, Part II

It was hard not to feel a little sad after watching Joey Thornton’s introductory press conference as a member of the San Jose Sharks.

You could tell that he was still in shock, so to speak, after being traded from the Bruins. And though he said all the right things, it was his body language – the red eyes, the withdrawn look, droopy shoulders and forced smiles – that belied his true hurt feelings.

Those feelings, too, were felt throughout New England. Some people were upset. Some were livid. And some, including myself, were resigned that Joey’s departure, no matter how hard it was to fathom, may prove to be exactly what the team needed.

There was one comment that Joey made, though, that has stuck in my brain. To some degree, it has helped me get my arms around this deal. It came when he spoke about loving Boston and its fans – mainly that he grew up in Boston, coming to Beantown at the "tender" age of 18.

Looking back, we all watched Joey grow up. He arrived as a fuzz-faced kid, full of optimism and a ton of that dreaded word – potential. That potential grew into skill, as the boy became a young man. And that’s what Bruins fans must remember.

We need to think of Joey as our kid brother, our favorite nephew or grandson or the goofy kid who lived across the street. We’ve watched him grow up, but now it’s time for him to move on. Sure, we’ll see him from time to time, though not as often as we’d like, or in our favorite colors – Black and Gold.

In the meantime, it’s OK to think about him, wish him well, keep him in our prayers and, even, cheer for him and the Sharks (Think Ray Bourque and the Avs in 2001). Above all, Joey’s a part of Boston. And Boston will always be a part of Joey.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Black and, uh, Teal

The collective jaw of Bruins Nation hit the rain-soaked floor earlier tonight upon news that Joe Thornton was traded to the San Jose Sharks.

Given that the Bruins were in turmoil, struggling through most of the season, a move to shake things up should not come as a great surprise. Many Bruins fans, myself included, clamored for the team to make such a move.

But trading Thornton? That caught everyone by surprise, even leading to some diehard fans questioning their allegiance to the Black and Gold.

Though this certainly isn't a knock against any of the players the Bruins received in return -- Brad Stuart, Wayne Primeau and Marco Sturm -- but it will be hard to replace Thornton, on and off the ice. I've seen too many people wearing Thornton jerseys not just at games, but in malls, on the streets and in other cities.

As a hound, I've crossed paths with Thornton many times over the years. Some of my autographs carry the number 6, rather than the current 19. He's signed pucks for me, my son and my nephew. For the most part, he was a likeable enough guy.

My favorite Thornton story took place not too long ago. Standing outside a Boston hotel, waiting for Sidney Crosby and the rest of the Pittsburgh Penguins to head out for dinner, I spied a tall guy wearing a Team Canada truckers hat walking toward me.

At first, I thought it was Sid the Kid, dressing down in an attempt to elude a handful of hounds. As he drew closer, though, I realized this guy was too tall to be The Next One.

He ducked his eyes at my moment of recognition. It was too late. I knew it was Joey.

Seeing that he was with friends and family, I made no move to get yet another autograph. I did offer some advice as he walked past.

"Behave yourself tonight, Joey," I said.

"I'm always behaved," he said, flashing a smile.

Godspeed, Joey.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

I rest my case, your honor

With Momma having to spend the day at work, Colin and I headed down to the Garden to watch the Bruins play the Philadelphia Flyers yesterday. While watching our favorite game with some of our favorite people is an easy recipe for a great day, the main reason why we left Boston reared its ugly head.

Thanks to one wicked awesome Bruins fan, we had tickets in the second row in the Bruins zone. Trust me, too, when I say that the game takes on an entirely different perspective when you’re that close – facial expressions are crystal clear, crushing bodychecks produce shockwaves and it’s easy to feel that you’re part of the game.

The problem, though, is that some people feel compelled to steal your seats. After spending the first period down low, we made our way over to where our friends were sitting, with intentions of watching the second stanza there. Midway through the period, the original ticket holders arrived (mind you, these folks were half a game late), so Colin and I packed up, bid good-bye to our friends and headed to the concourse.

On our way down, one fan couldn’t resist making a comment that we should go sit in our "real seats." I politely (in the loosest definition of the term) informed this gentleman that we were indeed headed that way and that we would enjoy a much better view than he would.

The exchange, though somewhat civil, had an effect on Colin.

"Did we get in trouble, Daddy?" he asked.
"No, not much," I replied.
"That man yelled at us," he said.
"Well, Daddy yelled back at him," I said.
"Did we steal those seats?" he asked.
"Well, in a way, we did. That isn’t right, is it?" I said.
"No, Daddy," he said, "it’s not."

After the period ended, we met up with out friends again. They told us that two seats remained empty and we should join them. They also told us that the gentleman who engaged us also had to leave the section, apparently he, too, didn’t have the right to sit there.

At first, we thought about joining our friends. But as we were walking up the tunnel, Colin asked one very smart question: "Daddy, won’t we be stealing those seats again?" He was right. If we went back there, we would be stealing those seats. In a heartbeat, we turned around and headed back to our seats.

It wasn’t much of a surprise, then, when we found two people – young girls – sitting in our seats. I politely asked them if we could have our seats back. Their father, sitting in the front row, told me, without looking at me, that we had left those seats. I agreed, but reminded him that we were back and wanted to sit there.

"Besides," I said, "what kind of lesson are you trying to teach your children? That it’s OK to cheat and steal?"

He turned to confront me and then realized that not only did I have height, size and conviction over him, but I also was clutching the tickets. He also saw Colin. Sheepishly, he told his daughters that they had to go. But rather than heading back to his original seats, most likely in the Garden’s upper tier, he simply moved one section over.

Apparently, I was the only parent to learn a lesson that day.

One of the major reasons we left the Boston area (besides the area’s overinflated cost of living and its misplaced sense of importance) is that we wanted to live in an area that valued substance over style. And while I confess to painting my distaste for this Boston attitude with a very wide brush, these exchanges only confirmed our decision.

Thankfully, too, we’ve come to realize that good people, like Marilyn, Jaci and Tracy, are the exceptions, rather than the norm, to our perceptions. Should my job hunt lead us to relocate, and it likely will, it’s these kind folks who will provide us with the most pleasant memories of our time in New England.

A classic moment

Following the Manchester Monarchs' shootout loss to the Portland Pirates on Thanksgiving Eve, the usual group of suspects (myself included) gathered outside the players’ entrance to the Cumberland County Civic Center looking to score some autographs.

Though the night offered the opportunity to land quite a few top prospects, there was one particular player who drew plenty of attention.

Manchester’s Yutaka Fukufuji, an eighth–round (238th overall) draft pick in 2004 of the Los Angeles Kings, served as the backup goalie in the contest. The fact, however, that he was born in Tokyo, Japan, drew the interest and, quite humorously, produced a classic moment in my hounding career.

As he left the CCCC for the team bus, a group of young fans approached him. "Are you the Japanese goalie," they asked.

With a roll of his eyes and a quick smile, Fukufuji told them that, yes, he was the "Japanese goalie."

A minute or so later, as he was signing two pucks for me (shown above), I asked how often he heard that question.

"A lot," he said. "And you’d think (as he pointed to his face) that it would be easy to see."

Get ’em while you can

If I ever get around to posting my collection of autographed pucks, observers will notice that No. 1 draft picks make up a fairly significant component.

Good (Sidney Crosby, Eric Staal, Joe Thornton, etc.) or bad (Alexandre Daigle, 1st overall by Ottawa in 1993; Tom Fitzgerald, 17th overall by the Islanders in 1986; and Vaclav Nedorost, 14th overall by Colorado in 2000; etc.), there’s a certain allure that comes from being a team’s top pick in the NHL’s annual crapshoot. And it certainly makes them puck-worthy.

A game in Portland earlier this week, featuring the surprising Pirates playing host to the Manchester Monarchs, offered hounds a chance to snag four No. 1 draft picks:
  • Ryan Getzlaf, Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, 19th overall in 2003
  • Corey Perry, Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, 28th overall in 2003
  • Jeff Tambellini, Los Angeles Kings, 27th overall in 2003
  • Lauri Tukonen, Los Angeles Kings, 11th overall in 2004
In a night when I added 21 pucks to my collection, taking it up to 845, these top picks signed a total of 11 -- Getzlaf: Mighty Ducks, Mighty Ducks-Portland Pirates and Calgary Hitmen; Perry: Mighty Ducks, MightyDucks-Portland Pirates and London Knights; Tambellini, Los Angeles Kings, Manchester Monarchs fifth anniversary and University of Michigan; and Tukonen: Los Angeles Kings and Manchester Monarchs fifth anniversary.

Pucks shown above (clockwise from top left):

Mighty Ducks of Anaheim: Ryan Getzlaf
Mighty Ducks of Anaheim: Corey Perry
Los Angeles Kings: Lauri Tukonen
Los Angeles Kings: Jeff Tambellini

Tuesday, November 22, 2005


To the people who know me, and I mean really know me, its no surprise that I spend a lot of time getting ready for each hounding adventure. Between roster moves, puck orders and player research, the time spent actually hounding the players often pales in comparison to the legwork.

This preparation, just like practice, pays off. Sometimes, it’s something as simple as using the last of a bunch of obscure pucks. Often, it’s recognizing that a player knows you’re a collector, rather than a dealer.

Every so often, though, it’s an exchange with the player or, in this case, a player-turned coach that provides the reward. Case in point:

Saturday, Nov. 12, Portland, Maine: New Portland Pirates coach Kevin Dineen, who enjoyed a long career in the National Hockey League, signs two pucks – a Portland Pirates official game puck and a Hartford Whalers souvenir puck.

PH: (That’s me, Puckhound): The last time I saw you we were at the Greensboro (N.C.) Coliseum, when the (Carolina) Hurricanes called it home. My wife and I were some of the faithful 3,500 who attended.
K.D.: Yeah, those were pretty tough years. It wasn’t much fun.
PH: Having fun now?
K.D.: Much more. Much more.

Pucks shown above, from left:

Winnipeg Jets: Scott Arniel (Buffalo Sabres, Nov. 18 in Boston)
Hartford Whalers: Kevin Dineen
Drummondville Voltigeurs: Daniel Briere (Buffalo Sabres, Nov. 18 in Boston)

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Time to go, Sully

If ownership needed any more excuses to give Bruins coach Mike Sullivan the boot, it came just moments ago. Boston’s 4-1 loss tonight to the Toronto Maple Leafs, coming on the heels of a four-day-off stretch for the Black and Gold to regroup and reload, epitomizes the failure of the head coach and his staff.

One would think the team, fresh from the respite, would jump out early and often against the Buds. Sure, Boston outshot Toronto, 15-5, in the first period, but even then, the Bruins looked flat. And, then there is that little problem called a complete collapse in the third period.

The loss, the B’s fourth in a row, drops the club below .500 on the season. Furthermore, the team is just 1-7-1 within its division. Poor starts like this lead to only one thing – a high draft pick in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft.

Sullivan, to his credit, is saying the so-called right things – the team needs to work harder, play 60 minutes, stop beating itself, blah, blah, blah. The bottom line, though, and I’ve mentioned this before (this is my third and final call for his removal), is this guy just doesn’t know how to win.

In his playing career, the teams of which Sullivan was a member had a combined 385-434-122 record, a .409 winning percentage. During his run, nearly half of those teams never made the playoffs. One team, the 1992-93 San Jose Sharks, went a putrid 11-71-2. In the six seasons in which his teams made the playoffs, all lost in the first series.

Sound familiar? It should. In his first two seasons as a head coach, in Providence and in Boston, winning regular-season records were capped by first-round playoff exits.

If Bruins brass doesn’t pull the trigger (and they likely won’t as Sullivan’s failure is an indictment against their own careers), Sullivan should step back to his role during his on-ice career – being a team player. His resignation, effective immediately, would be seen as taking one for the team.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Crimson ties

Getting a degree is one of the benefits of kids picking college hockey over major juniors. Provided they fulfill their educational obligations, college gives them something to fall back upon should their hockey careers fall short of expectations.

Just ask Noah Welch, a rookie defenseman for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. After being picked in the second round, and 54th overall, by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft, Welch continued his studies and graduated from Harvard University.

That diploma sounds like a pretty good Plan B, or Harvard Business School model, to me.

Cheap skates, Part II

After being spoiled last year by the caliber of players toiling in the American Hockey League, collectors are facing a challenge this year – putting together enough cards to warrant a trip to hound these second-tier teams.

With a new lockout-induced payroll structure in effect in the league, and more marginal players playing in the bigs, it’s this scarcity of relevant cardboard that has prompted me to create cards targeting the few remaining jewels playing in the AHL.

Sure, one can order team sets or spend hours culling half a dozen cards out of 20,000, but I’d rather apply my design skills to create truly one-of-a-kind items to complement the handful of items I’m bringing on my minor-league trips.

This card (above) of Mighty Ducks prospect Ladislav Smid, created with Microsoft Word, was made in minutes. Player photos and logos can be easily found on the Internet, too. And as long as these images aren’t being used for personal gain, copyright issues don’t come into play.

For another idea, one I use for my son, please visit

Scoring an Orr for No. 800

As I inch closer to my Holy Grail of 1,072 pucks, I’m trying to become much more selective as I incorporate quality into the quantity.

Aside from upcoming trips to hound some of my favorite signing teams (the Buffalo Sabres and Ottawa Senators) and further confuse Boston's intelligence-challenged dealers, the premise behind puck-worthyness will soon take center ice.

My latest milestone, autographed puck No. 800, is no different.

Quality certainly took precedence over quantity. I was looking for a world-class name. Someone with instant name recognition, able to conjure images of on-ice glory at the mere mention of this milestone. A player who resonates not just with fans, but with players as well. One of God’s gifts to hockey.

Who did I get for puck No. 800? It was an Orr. Not Bobby Orr, the greatest defenseman to ever play the game. It was B's enforcer Colton "One-Punch" Orr.

Opposite ends of the spectrum? You bet! But, an Orr is an Orr, and both were/are pretty good at their trades.


Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Another momentary diversion

Though the primary purpose of this blog is hockey autographs, I feel the need to remind the Boston Bruins that games last 60 minutes, not 57.

After believing Joe Thornton's deft tap-in wrapped up the B's 3-1 win over the Flyers last night, I was stunned to watch the Flyers score two goals to take it into overtime. I wasn't surprised, though, when Joni Pitkanen scored the game-winner. The Flyers show desire, something that the Bruins are sorely lacking.

The Bruins, I'm afraid, are sleepwalking through games. And while you can blame the players for slacking off, it's the coach's responsibility to motivate them. Mike Sullivan is failing - miserably.

Simply put, the team lacks a killer instinct. Even in wins, they let up at game's end (This past Saturday against Pittsburgh comes to mind.). Aggressive hockey must be played every second of every minute of every game. Sullivan has not -- and will not -- instill that in this team.

Being a relative newcomer to the Black-and-Gold bandwagon, I may not have the credibility as some other Bruins fans. But I am a hockey fan and have rooted for far-lesser teams (Buffalo Sabres) that the Bruins. Team management must do something soon to shake up -- and wake up -- the team. Other than a blockbuster trade, there's only one option, and this is a repeat call -- get rid of Sullivan.

If the Bruins don't, it's going to be a long season. And I'll have no problem, whatsoever, telling everyone that I told you so.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Cornering "The Rat"

Living here in hockey-rich New England, there’s no shortage of opportunities to hound for autographs. Besides NHL teams in the so-called Hub of the Universe to take on Beantown's Bruins, a handful of AHL teams within an hour’s drive and a top-shelf college league, Hockey East, hockey hounds also can catch Bruins alumni games.

I made my first-ever trip to an alumni game last night, down to Salem, Mass., where such former Bruins players as Ken Hodge Jr., Bob Sweeney and Gary Doak suited up against an "all-star" team of shaky-ankle beer-leaguers.

Not only was it an entertaining night, but I also scored the 799th puck (shown above) of my collection -- former Bruin and Philly Flyer Kenny "The Rat" Linseman. While some of his mates were far from game shape, The Rat looked as though he could’ve suited up for current Bruins. And while he was known for being a pest during his playing days, Linseman was far from it last night.

As a side note, not only does this puck put me next to another milestone in my collection, but it was also the 100th in the past 30 days. Though I’m well-stocked for certain teams in the days ahead (Hershey Bears, another trip for the Sabres, Ottawa Senators and the Manchester Monarchs), I’ll have to plead guilty, or at least attempt, to cherry-picking as I take a more methodical approach to reaching No. 915.

Who will be No. 800? Who knows. Maybe it'll be No. 77. Stay tuned!