Tag Archives: New York Rangers

The Sporting Muse: The New Jersey Sports Fan Hits the Sh*t

The following  feature interview   originally appeared in the February 2013 issue of NJ Wag, published out of Red Bank, New Jersey- Monmouth County.

The Sporting Muse
The New Jersey Sports Fan Hits the Sh*t
by Heidi Pope Werner

Love the games, but hate the $10 dollar watered-down stadium beer? Been busted in a Tebow Jets jersey lately? The New Jersey Sports Fan feels your pain. Armed with attitude and comedic cracks at sports fans in the Garden State, this Jersey Shore native takes to the road to find the best and worst from Soho to Seaside.

Memorable games and plays remain in the history books, but who remembers the fans?  Enter The New Jersey Sports Fan, the man known for his love of New Jersey and the sports that go with the territory.

Armed with a video camera, sunglasses and a Jets hat, this crude and rude fan rants and raves on his days off about the love of his life- sports. Not much can tear him away from the field, the track or the arena.  This is the story of the guts and glory of the average hard-working Jersey guy.

Despite his busy shooting schedule, the Jersey Sports Fan took time out to sit down with NJ Wag to talk sports, celebrities and snacks:

So who are your teams?
JETS, METS, RANGERS, KNICKS

What do you have to say about your beloved Jets?

Ya know the worst storm in history hit the Jersey Shore and the Jets
have managed to be a bigger F-ing disaster.  This season made me sick.
Literally, week 13 I became very ill.  Pneumonia, shitting my pants,
the works. The doc said that I was suffering from emotional trauma.
It was true.  They did me in.  I’m glad to be into the winter.  I pray
the Knicks and Rangers make me forget the Fall.

Best game day munchies?

On a big game day I start with around 4-6 coffees and a porkroll egg
and cheese. Four hours before kick off, tipoff, puck drop, or first
pitch, I like to get into some cold ones, and I match the suds with a
few dogs.  I usually have 4 beverages for each tube steak.  I usually
do around 8 tube steaks before the game.  You do the math sweetheart.

What team do you hate the most?

I truly despise the Phillies.  One time I went to a Phillies/Mets
game down in Philly. It was when the Mets had Pedro Martinez.  He got
lit up in the first inning.  Naturally I was very upset and had some
choice words for Phillies fans around me.   Long story short those
Philly creeps put me in the hospital for 3 days just because I made a
comparison between their city and a toilet in an all you can eat
Chinese buffet.

Do you listen to sports radio?

Oh yea.  I’ve logged a lot of hours with Mike Francesa.  He can be
like a prophet at times.  Lately half of his commentary is just his
fat ass breathing heavily into the mic.  He’s a pig, but I still
listen.  I’ll always listen.

Best word of advice form a sports celeb?
Nothing gets the crowd going better than a good fight and beer.

Describe your perfect sports outing?

WOW that’s tough….It would probably start in a hot tub with some of
the girls that work at Fantasies out on 36.  Maybe catch a matinee at
the Garden and get a Jets playoff night game.  But Lord knows that
won’t happen.  I am sick of fantasizing about stuff like this.  All
I need is some wins and teams to be proud of.  Ya know being a Fan can
hurt.  It can hurt so bad you forget what it’s all about.   It’s about
drinking, screaming, and showing your kid how to act like a man at a
special event.  Maybe if you’re lucky you can beat up a Phillies fan
while you’re at it.

Are you married?

Married to what?  I am married to my teams.  I have found that
marriage and I don’t mix well.  I prefer to date dancers that don’t
ask many questions.

Best Bruce encounter?

One time I saw the boss late night in the Windmill.  He was solo so I
took a seat next to him.  I noticed he didn’t have Kraut on his dog.
This was upsetting for me because the Windmill has great kraut and his
dog looked naked without a kraut dress on it.  So I said to him “Let
me put some kraut on your dog for you” he said, “don’t touch my dog
man.” I said “trust me Bruce just trust me.” He said alright.  He
loved the dog dressed with kraut.   He still calls me when he is in town.
Love that guy.

The laughter and inspiration behind the videos are hidden gems of a satirical sideline fan and the frustrations most sports lovers face. Every video stems from a situation we all have found ourselves in at one time or another, and that’s what makes the viewpoint priceless.

In “Dreams Do Come True,” the New Jersey Sports Fan says it best, “Hello New Jersey, I feel much more comfortable,” as he heads to the Meadowlands with The Boss blaring on the radio.

Can’t get the Rangers game on TV?  NJ Sports Fan takes on the multi-million dollar renovation of Madison Square Garden in “MSG vs. Time Warner Cable.” He hits NJ Transit and lands at the Garden for an experimental field trip, because he can’t get the game on cable.  If you have an extra ticket to the game, please contact the New Jersey Sports Fan.

Ever thought of working in sports?  Yep, he has too. “Referee Replacement Rep Application” takes him to the field to get a fall gig in the NFL, a dream job he feels he is qualified to fill.  The wealth of material from experience, talent, and the dedication to take the hardcore to hilarious reminds us all to keep trying, even if it is painful, futile, but ultimately fun.

The videos stem from characters he and the crew grew up with around the neighborhood and eccentric fans he has met along the way. Everyone remembers the dad on the block who got mad at the lawn mower on a quiet Sunday afternoon, or the golfer with the brown and orange plaid pants, but New Jersey Sports Fan wants you to remember the classic characters we know and can’t forget because of their absurdity.

A must watch for any New Jerseyan is the now historical June 2011 stroll through Seaside Heights reminiscing about teenage dreams on the Jersey Shore in “Summer in Seaside.” The sights and sounds of the boardwalk and the commentary on the Bennies classify this as the real deal. Sports website, Bleacher Report, called this “A true classic.”

Closer to home, “Just in Time for Preakness,” takes the Jersey Sports Fan to Monmouth Park. Sporting the obligatory denim jacket over the tank-top, while smoking a stogie, he utters the words that best fit the moment “make me wiser my friend..be a buddy and bud me up.”

“Breaking the Barrier,” brings new meaning to women’s lib.  Explore how three dudes could portray a relationship faux paus not discussed in most circles, and simplify the message beyond expectations.  Share this video with someone you love.

Based out of Bernie Hatefield Productions, the crew of three takes their stories and love of sports to a new level of comedic bromance.  Every person, every place and every event is fair game to be reworked and remembered in the twisted viewpoints of some sports guys, but it’s truthfully local and contagiously continental.  Jersey jargon is included in the way only brash jersey boys can dish.

Follow the Jersey Sports fan and Bernie Hatefield productions on their website http://www.berniehatefield.com, Twitter https://twitter.com/BernieHatefield, Brobible.com and of course, You Tube.

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Hey Hockey, What’s Up?

I’m really glad the NHL has returned. I missed the righteous slapshots of Pavel Datsyuk,the energy around Madison Square Garden on game day, the Enforcers, and my fellow fans- the best fans in sports.

Though I am wearing my Wings jersey, I really wanted to boycott the NHL and not watch a game. I don’t really care about all the past chaos, I’m just happy I can sit down and watch a game every night. All is forgiven. The lockout forced  me into a path that pays.

Blood, sweat and tears is the art of journalism. The drive is insatiable. No more up all night to hit the news wire, no more fantastic editors to work with….I’ve been so blessed, and no more play-by-play. I got a great marketing job, write for a local paper and get to interview people in sports, music and design….so, I think we’re okay.

I’ve covered the Colorado Avalanche, the Detroit Red Wings, the New York Rangers and will continue to follow. I’ve had the privilege to attend University of Denver Pioneers games, watching Matt Carle and Paul Stastny. Michigan hockey and the Detroit Red Wings have my allegiance. I can’t quit hockey.

Living on the east coast does provide the hockey fan with the best hockey coverage outside of Canada. Almost every night, I have a choice of watching a Devils, Rangers, or Islanders game. The only deprivation I face now is not getting enough Red Wings.

Fantasy hockey owners are scrambling to repair broken teams as players face injuries getting back on the ice. This is the time to watch out for the newbies on the roster. The fantasy hockey portion of my blog will be up next week.

Welcome back hockey fans!

Fighting Ends with NHL Lockout

The Ontario Hockey League(OHL) refuses to justify fighting and won’t allow it, and they’re fighting back. The NHL is listening and may follow the call.

“For years, Campbell and his staff in Toronto have chewed on the subject. The Rangers-Devils game last season, where three staged fights broke at the drop of the puck, was a black eye for the league and certainly caused some in-house deliberation at the NHL office.”

The influential intolerance of violence is trending as the NHL lockout lingers. Fighting is a problem in hockey, but just how much fighting is really happening?

Brandon Prust and Shawn Thornton are the two grinders who have racked up the most majors in the league. Prust, formerly of the New York Rangers, accrued 156 penalty minutes. Shawn Thornton of the Boston Bruins racked 154 minutes of bad behaviour. Not all penalty minutes are for fighting, rather diving, tripping, misconduct, slashing, boarding, and high-sticking (which can rip open a lip, eye or nose).

Is this the death of the doomed fighting controvrsy to make way for a kinder, gentler hockey agenda? The lockout may be a contributing factor for initiatives to curb relentless fighting in the NHL. Players do not make a habit of fighting and the enforcer role has diminshed on every roster. With the NHL work stoppage, fans may expect to see a stoppage of the bloodbaths on the ice when the season returns.

Can hockey survive a cultural shift so great to adapt to the new culture?

Fans have many options to watch hockey for less expense and travel time. This may be good for hockey overall to take us back to our roots in local ice arenas. The mention of the delapedated concrete building that house large ice rinks and skates, brings joy. It’s the environment where every hockey fan got the itch. It’s the same traits that bring fans to other arenas. It’s a hockey culture where your neighbors are enchanted with the scraping of skates, the whoosh of the ice, the cold, and the fortitude to watch every last minute.

A large part of that willingness, for hockey fans like myself, was the promise of a scrap or two. That culture is dying for the sake of a new breed of hockey player. They’re faster, analytical, and avoid roadblocks like a Prust or Thornton. The new skater must be keen and lean.

Growing up with the Detroit Red Wings, you knew that the Wings represented wth wheels of speed and innovation. Players like Steve Yzerman modeled the quiet, calm leader with the intelligence to create. The Wings moved like a machine. The story of the  tragedy and triumph of the Wings was your story too.

Now, living in New York, the glory of the New York Rangers is quickly falling. Talented players are exiting to play the game they love, and who can blame them? While most fans realize these players enjoy their job, they are men who have families to support. An energized city, an energized Madison Square Garden has dimmed for the Rangers fans this October.

The NHL has shut down neighborhoods.  Hockey fans are resourceful enough to know how to handle their hockey fix. “Run for the exits” is what the NHL has done to the fans.

I really don’t want to start a fight, so perhaps we will see you in the near future. I’m working on locating a KHL channel.

 

Let’s Talk…..

The heat is on. Enter the Collective Bargaining Agreement to shake up your summer. The same waiting game on the CBA is exactly what was experienced by New Jersey Devils fans as captain Zach Parise’s fate was out of their hands. Let’s hope the hands holding the CBA’s fate ends in a positive outcome.

This summer Rick Nash, Bobby Ryan, Alex Semin and Shane Doan will decide what to do with their 2012-13 season, depending on if there is a season. With the continual rise of hockey’s popularity, this lockout would change the momentum of the entire game, the NHL and its players. Fans are holding their breath.

The snubbing of New Jersey by Zach Parise was a shock. It shouldn’t have been. Parise voiced his displeasure over the course of several seasons. The Devils were never seen as contenders without Parise. Now, without Parise, the team rebuilds with alum Scott Stevens returning as an assistant coach. Fans had faith that Parise would return….supposedly, he was a fan of the Shore. Career moves are nothing personal in the NHL, but those moves are taken personally by the fans.

Shane Doan’s fate in Phoenix is another conundrum. Doan has taken that community and ran with it. Doan and his family have been supporters of charitable organizations in the desert for some time. The impact of a Doan loss could cause a ripple effect on the deal to keep the team in Glendale. Fans are loyal but moody on attending games. Very few fans wait after morning skates to get a glimpse of their favorite ‘Yote. Doan may be contemplating the move for a last push on his career since the Coyotes did remarkably well in the playoffs.

Shane Doan after Morning Skate in Glendale (HPWerner)

Bobby Ryan, Alex Semin and Rick Nash just want to move on and feel appreciated. Semin needs a boost to his game and a new team may solve the problem. Ryan isn’t seen as a valuable asset as he once was in Anaheim, so off he goes to some lucky team (Let’s Go Rangers). Ryan is fresh, young and has the skill for a team to build upon.

And who can blame Rick Nash for wanting a change of venue in Columbus? Nash is an island in Columbus. Unfortunately, he’s the face of the Jackets and his departure will be felt heavily. GM Howson can’t replace Nash with another big name, rather a few newbies who will take time to grow. With a rejected trade offer from the Detroit Red Wings, it’s apparently clear that Howson doesn’t want to deal Nash to division rivals or western rivals. The San Jose Sharks, who are also in the Nash lottery, probably won’t land him either.

The CBA talks now coincide with TV deals and those logistics. Hockey writers shiver when the lockout is mentioned. It is debatable whether the strength of the current NHL will withstand the blow and recover. Let the GM’s do the talking until they’re blue in the face. This summer, patience is the new sunblock. Don’t get burned is the name of the game.

Relax, it’s Summer…Let the GMs do the Work

Hockey fanatics everywhere can’t let go just yet. Too many deals, trades and speculations are in works that leave the hockey community a little uneasy. The NHL Entry Draft, the July 1 free agent scurry, and the Collective Bargaining Agreement looming have descended upon backyard barbeques and the beach.

Relax, enjoy the summer and let the GMS, agents and players worry about the outlook for the 2012-13 season.

If you are a New York Rangers fan, then you have plenty to talk about as the Rick Nash acquisition conjures up “what could’ve been and what could be” talk. Scoring is needed for New York to move past their demons, but at what cost? Fans may have to bid adieu to Brandon Dubinsky, Derek Stepan, rookie Chris Kreider and Michael Del Zotto if they want the big name to save the day. Get ready to rock New York, because the shift is coming. New York has too many solid players and potential to go unnoticed.

In Detroit, it feels like when Steve Yzerman left the organization. with the retirement of Nicklas Lidstrom, Hockeytown is without another legend. A new arena and a new captain will recharge the Wings for years to come. The Red Wings will always be a constant influence in the hockey community, but now will have to rebuild mentally and physically.

If any fans are breathing a sigh of relief, it’s the Los Angeles Kings fans who are sitting at the beach. Congrats to a job well done. The Kings have been proactive in bringing their story and talent to the forefront. GM Dean Lombardi turned a dream into a reality. Jonathan Quick as MVP brought home the contributions of the goaltender back in vogue.

Dreams in New Jersey are still alive. Next up for GM Lou Lamoriello is to secure Zach Parise for another Cup run, if Parise isn’t snatched away. Parise has registered for many as a better deal than Rick Nash. As an unrestricted fee agent this summer, Parise will be able to pick his destination.

And then there is Shea Weber, Ryan Suter, Bobby Ryan and Ryan Getzlaf who are in the mix. Around, around, nobody knows, where any one of these will go. Keep your hockey news source close at hand on the boat, at the barbeque, at the beach or at the ballpark. This summer will be a hot one.

Stanley Cup Playoffs Round 2- Breaking New Ground

New teams  have graced this run for the Cup. Unexpected losses and battles in overtime have created a fresh group of teams who have finally broken hallowed ground. No. 1 seeded Vancouver could not make the case against the surging Los Angeles Kings and the defending Stanley Cup Bruins were eliminated at the hands of Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals. What to expect in the Round 2 is more of the unexpected.

The Pittsburgh Penguins and the Detroit Red Wings saw their dreams dashed, while the Nashville Predators and St. Louis Blues have had dream seasons. This season launched a new generation of players and teams turning the tide on the old favorites and diminishing  dynasties.

Eastern Conference:

(1) New York Rangers vs. (7) Washington Capitals-
We’ve been here before. In 2009, the Rangers blew a 3-1 series lead and lost in seven, then last season the No. 1-seeded Caps smoked the eighth-seeded Rangers in five games. This season, The Rangers were caught off quard by the Ottawa Senators in Round 1 but found their style and won. The Caps will have an opportunity for Ovechkin to take control of his destiny and emerge as the elite player he knows he can be. Goaltending is the test. New York’s Henrik Lundqvist, finalist for the Vezina, is no doubt a Stanley Cup goaltender. Hank epitomizes what the best of the best can be. Braden Holtby has soared. His performance to beat Tim Thomas is enough to lift the Caps, but can he sustain?
This will be a tight race: Rangers in 7.

(5) Philadelphia Flyers vs. (6) New Jersey Devils-
The Devils will not be able to stop Philly’s Claude Giroux. While the Devils impressed in their win over the Florida Panthers, it was luck. Yes, Adam Henrique  is good, Marty Brodeur is a legendary goalie and so on….but it’s not their year. The Flyers are too good to lose this round. Philly’s only weak spot is the goaltending. Bryzgalov needs to stay healthy and on top of his game, because he was brought to the Flyers to win the Cup.
Flyers will prove in 5.

Eastern Final: Rangers vs. Flyers- Flyers in 7

Western Conference:

(3) Phoenix Coyotes vs. (4) Nashville Predators-
Nashville beat Detroit finally getting over the hump that has haunted their playoff run. Pekka Rinne is a Vezina finalist and deservedly so. Barry Trotz is one of the best coaches in the NHL and will take his team far. The Coyotes can brag about Dave Tippett and his fabulous coaching. Goaltender Mike Smith was a snub for the Vezina. Smith’s season was incredible and he could use this to deflect goals from the Kostitsyn boys and Shea Weber. While Nashville has greater player depth, the Coyotes will not go down without a fight.
Nashville in 6.

(2) St. Louis Blues vs. (8) Los Angeles Kings-
Two Cinderella teams and the best game going in this round. Blues have an amazing crew of players with depth and determination. Goaltending is solid with Brian Elliott in for Jaroslav Halak, but it’s not what Quick can bring. It’s tough to not pick the Blues, but their campaign for the President’s Trophy ran aground. The Kings have Jeff Carter and Mike Richards united to win a Cup, throw in Anze Kopitar and you have an offensive power that even Alex Pietrangelo can’t contain. The Kings have Vezina finalist Jonathan Quick, who could be better than Rinne or Lundqvist in the end. LaLa Land has produced a star studded No. 8 seed. Bad news for the Kings is that no eighth-seeded team has ever won a Cup, so the odds are stacked against them. They’ll put up a fight.
Blues in 6.

Western Final: Blues vs. Preds- Blues in 6

Wow, what an opportunity for these teams to have made it over the hump of the Detroit Red Wings, the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Vancouver Canucks. The passionate play of the finals will slow down, particulary in the Western Conference. The Eastern Conference may put up the dukes often if the Flyers and Rangers square off. The discipline hasn’t hindered the culture hockey completely, so don’t expect the professionalism and courtesy to suddenly appear.

On the Road to the Stanley Cup

Heading into the Stanley Cup playoffs, there’s a little for everyone. From traditional old-school matchups like the Pens and Flyers, to irksome bumps a team must get over like the pressure Nashville faces with Detroit. An interesting pairing in the West puts the Kings and Canucks in a must-see series.

The season starts here and now with a clean slate heading towards the coveted Stanley Cup. Whatever the ranking,the odds, the previous wins, teams have this chance once no matter what happened a few days ago. It’s now or never. The honor of making it to the playoffs can change the course of any team’s season.

East:

(4)Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (5)Philadelphia Flyers– One of the best series to follow. The battle of Pennsylvania is always a regular season blowout. The Flyers have the talent in Claude Giroux and the moxy of Scott Hartnell to take on the challenge. With Sidney Crosby back for the Pens, Pittsburgh has the extra power-forward to take the points. Goaltending seems balanced in both nets. Pittsburgh can’t lose with Crosby. Pens win in 5.

(6)New Jersey Devils vs. (3)Florida Panthers The Devils have done a tremendous job this season rounding out their talent and finding ways to win. Though Brodeur was shaky in net early on, goaltending looks fixed for now. The Panthers have the momentum and the spirit to clinch this series. Panthers in 4.

(8)Ottawa Senators vs. (1)New York Rangers– New York clinched the East, so that would make this an easy series win…..not so fast. The Senators have had an upswing that could have them be the upset team. The Rangers may have some concerns and could take this for granted. Henrik Lundqvist wants this and has the tools to finish it. Rangers in 5.

(7)Washington Capitals vs. (2)Boston Bruins– Ovechkin and crew made it by an inch. Boston knows the path and with the depth, even top players for the Caps can’t get it done. Bruins in 4.

West:

(4)Nashville Predators vs. (5)Detroit Red Wings– Nashville always comes to face the Wings in the playoffs at some point. Detroit is the Preds’ brick wall. This year, with home-ice advantage, Nashville have the opportunity to swing it their way. Don’t underestimate the Wings performance this season. Hockeytown finds a way to win. Wings in 7.

(8)Los Angeles Kings vs. (1)Vancouver Canucks- Winner of the President’s Trophy, Vancouver is on a journey to win their destiny. Last season, the Canucks  lost in game 7 releasing chaos into the streets of Vancouver. Canucks can’t afford to lose again. The Kings have made an impressive run and will be formidable opponents. Quick can beat Luongo. Carter, Richards and Kopitar can beat Kesler, Burrows and at least one Sedin. The Canucks will take the series, but not without a fight in 6.

(7)San Jose Sharks vs. (2)St. Louis Blues– St. Louis will win. That’s all I can say. The Sharks have been a disappointment in many areas. The Blues have been an amazing team this season. Blues sweep.

(6)Chicago Blackhawks vs. (3) Phoenix Coyotes– Tight fight. The Coyotes just seem to find a way to win, but mostly goaltender Mike Smith has found a way to win and a nod for the Vezina. Chicago may not have it. The momentum going in to the series will determine the outcome. Coyotes in 7.

With the Western Conference team surge, the competition is fierce. The Eastern Conference has been the victim of sharp criticism for the sagging efforts of the traditionally winning side. New York serves as a good measurement of the talents of the Eastern teams. The West is growing in strength and the race was tight. The East brings the skill and sharpshooters,  while the West brings the intensity and passion play. What a great season it has been! Good luck to your playoff team and enjoy the games.

March Madness- Eastern Conference

The NHL’s month of March creates madness for fans cheering for their respective teams to make the playoffs. Glued to the TV, blogs and any news have the hockey community in a frenzy, including this blogger. The Red Wings have slumped and then some losing six straight, Franzen out with back spasms, and Jimmy Howard and backup out has Detroit down; thank goodness for the 23-home game winning streak. The Wings will make it, but other cusp teams may not get the break. Even if the team with the best record makes it, all signs depend on if they can withstand the playoff series. Travel and injuries can stall a playoff run, but many of the teams in good standing have depth to carry through.

Beasts of the East:

New York Rangers-
Just a few seasons ago, the Rangers made the playoffs but stank in the clutch. This years, goalie Henrik Lundqvist has a solid backup in Martin Biron. But not all has gone so well for the Rangers who have only one point on the Pittsburgh Penguins. Brad Richards, Marian Gaborik and Carl Hagelin make a great front line with a supporting cast that is truly worthy of playing on Broadway. Brandon Dubinsky, Michael Del Zotto to name a few create a winning team that are projected to win, yet the loss of their seemingly firm grip on the Eastern Conference has many wondering if they can hang on to the lead again this season.

Boston Bruins-
Boston has pulled some punches this season, but not as far ahead as the Rangers or Penguins. Boston’s division hasn’t gained the expected returns hoped for in the Northeast. Not betting on Boston to get to the finals with the stirrings within the club. Goalie Tim Thomas made political news with few jumping on board. Debates on if Thomas’ actions hurt the team’s dynamic grew and speculation on if Boston was a Cup contending team became a concern. The Bruins are hockey professionals and certainly Thomas knew his actions were newsworthy, but not splitting. Expect the Bruins to do well, but not all the way.

Florida Panthers-
A point behind the Bruins, the Panthers have nothing to lose and that attitude will give the team momentum. Low expectations and a beach-league team have the critics intrigued. Veteran talent will steer the team, while young talent will ignite. The team spreads the scoring duties and should make for some interesting games down the stretch. Expect surprises. Buy some flip flops.

Pittsburgh Penguins-
It wasn’t looking good for the Pens with Crosby out for so long, but the team filled the gap and maintained a presence that has put them in the game confidently and quite comfortably. Crosby’s scoring could boost the Pens over the competition. Evgeni Malkin took the role of leader and has led the troops to the battle. James Neal, Kris Letang, Matt Cooke, Tyler Kennedy, and the other boys who have won before, are ready to support goalie Fleury in winning the Cup. They’ve done it before and can do it again

Philadelphia Flyers-
Tenacious. Stocked with talent in Jaromir Jagr, Claude Giroux, Danny Briere, Matt Read, and an outstanding year for Scott Hartnell caps the goaltending of Bryzgalov for a team built for speed. The Flyers have been to the Cup celebration recently and the plan was to build for another Cup run. They’re so ready and could do it this year as they are four points from Pittsburgh and five from the Rangers.

New Jersey Devils-
What a great time to have relocated to the Jersey Shore with access to Rangers, Flyers, and Devils dominating the Eastern Conference playoff spots. The Devils are the super surprise this year, despite bad press on the team’s bankruptcy and the free-agency this summer of Zach Parise. As the recently named captain of the Devils, Parise was a maybe next season due to the lack of Cup playoffs. If that doesn’t give the Devils the drive to win, I don’t know what else to say about Parise’s quest for a winning team. The question will be the measurement of their bid and Parise’s desire to stay.

Squeezed in down the standing sits the Washington Capitals, Buffalo Sabres and the Ottawa Senators. Buffalo has a great chance of making it with Ryan Miller’s revival in net. The entire team has woken up from a bad dream and is alert.

The Western Conference run down will appear in the next week or two, so check back for the Los Angeles Kings climb, The Red Wings injury woes, and the sensational team in St. Louis making believers out of Blues fans.

Instant Cup Classic: Red Wings vs. NY Rangers

Stanley Cup predictions are streaming in now, right? If it’s too early, oh well, but this blog is predicting and hoping in an instant Cup Classic between the best team in the West and the best in the East: Wings vs. Rangers.

Each team could fall from their top standing, but with the records and winning streaks, the chances are looking pretty good right now. The Red Wings just acquired another defensive dude in Kyle Quincey who is happy to return to the Wings after a stint in Colorado. The Avalanche have had so many delays in their success that talented players get lost in a sea of mediocracy.  Paul Stastny is a great player, but where’s the Cup for him?

Armed with Zetterberg, Datsyuk, Lidstrom, newer additions in Ian White, Drew Miller and Justin Abdelkader have the Wings on a home-winning streak. In net, Jimmy Howard has returned after a broken finger after Joey MacDonald filled in. Despite the injury, the Wings were able to maintain an excellent record- a sure sign of a Cup team. The question is whether or not the goaltending tandem is really Stanly Cup material, because the rest of the team can hold its own. MacDonald let plenty of goals in; it was the defensive line and offensive scoring keeping the Wings in the game.

The New York Rangers are the best they have ever been. Torts and the crew have a system in place that has fans happy and the standings in their favor. Weathering a few losses, and trade rumors, New York is finally creating a team they have wanted to build based on a similar system the Wings use. When all the pieces fit, the entire puzzle falls into place and it works. Henrik Lundqvist is stellar in net and occasionally needs a break, but backup Biron holds it together.

Both teams have a great traveling fan base, both are Original 6, and both would draw ratings. There are enough high-profiled players who would make this year’s Stanley Cup run a media frenzy and great storytelling material.

On March 21st, the Detroit Red Wings will visit Madison Square Garden for a glimpse into what the playoff run could look like. This season, the defending Champions Bruins are still in the race, but as March approaches the time is narrowing on opportunities. Florida has rebuilt and looks promising. Whether the Panthers can keep the momentum going is another factor no one is certain of.

In the West, Vancouver could make it a close race. After last year’s mishap in Vancouver, the Canucks must repair that gap if they hope to beat the Wings. While St. Louis has come back strong, Nashville is closing in.

A dark horse may appear as a Penguins or perhaps the Chicago Blackhawks will regain their energy and make it a race. Whomever gets the opportunity will be making the case in the next few weeks, so hold on for the fury of the playoffs.

Breaking the Ice: Brawlers with Brains

The blue line is what this blog is about. The brawler is also what this blog is about, so I will not give up on the enforcers in the NHL. The goon has almost disappeared and the hockey culture has been reborn in a kinder, gentler, business-like approach. The passion of the sport is purely in scoring. Fans don’t seem as eager to jump at the sight of a fight. Fans do however, still appreciate the posturing and the dropping of the gloves, but no further. Like any good business, bad PR and negative campaign ads can diminish the return on your investment.

The Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) nears, and this is just the right time for players to behave and play to collect their piece of the pie. Just as any ruckus on the ice can put the power-play in motion, the ruckus from players must be substantiated by profitability they bring to the table. Popularity of players through Twitter lends the credible case for players to reap some rewards, but also gives personality to the cause.

Some enforcers have curbed their thirst for blood as they know their days could be few. Instead, these smart players circumvented their talents into a positive approach, especially as younger players enter the arena with little history of brawling in junior leagues. The unfortunate tragedies of Wade Belak, Derek Boogaard and Rick Rypien only reminded the crowds that the limits on the game went too far in many ways. Fighting cannot be blamed for every pitfall in the NHL. Toronto Maple Leafs GM, Brian Burke, expressed remorse on the changing culture in the NHL for enforcers. Burke sent tough guy Colton Orr to minors for his diminishing role on the ice, despite having a key role in the team’s chemistry.

New York’s Carl Hagelin is an example of a player who has exemplified the meaning of defending with smart play. With his speed and ability to be a two-way player, Hagelin wins the race to the puck often and floats on by without incident.

New Jersey Devils star David Clarkson was good for a weekly fight the prior two seasons. After some cycling training with Lance Armstrong, Clarkson’s focus is maturing into more than just a brawler. Don’t get me wrong, Clarkson has racked up 88 penalty minutes thus far this season, including misconduct calls, but he’s not just all about the fighting. When you’re job is in danger because you are not changing for the times and the job description, re-training is in order. Clarkson was smart to recognize he’s not just a fisticuffs kind of guy.

Dropping the gloves creates a certain feel to the game of hockey that other sports don’t possess. This topic has divided the hockey world for the past few years, and the culture has changed quite a bit this season. Brendan Shanahan’s tight watch has players like Daniel “car bomb” Carcillo in trouble for his hits. The recent suspension of Alex Ovechkin has us wondering if his skill can overcome his physical play that leads him into troubled waters. Ovie’s physical thwarts are entertaining and just his make; the tragedy would be for him to tone down his fingerprint on the hockey world.

Sidney Crosby, arguably the greatest hockey player right now in the NHL, is suffering from a hit, not a brawl. Sid the Kid riled a few fights that were highlighted as an additional benefit to his talents.

Ex-Raners agitator Sean Avery’s skills are not needed in New York, but he’s moving on to other things. Avery was a guest judge on Project Runway’s All-Stars this past week. His input was minimal, but he’s rebounding with his fashion involvement.  It actually was a good opportunity for him, but kind of  sad moment to see his almost extinction from the NHL.

When will the hockey world really embrace a fight? When is it okay to let it rip? Obligatory violence is stupid, but fighting can be smarter.