Summer is Officially Here

The draft is done. We got Stephane Matteau. That name rings a bell, doesn’t it? Scouts say he skates better than his father. It will be great to see him on the ice when the Blueshirts come to town. But that is probably a couple years down the road.

Speaking of what’s right up ahead, the new season schedule is out. It’s available on the Devils and NHL websites. The season home opener is Saturday October 13 against Boston.

One event is not on the list. Keep June 28-29 open on next year’s calendar. Why? Because the 2013 draft will be held at The Rock that weekend. Odds are, next year is when the Devs will forfeit a first round pick, to pay off the Kovalchuk contract penalty.

But the Rock will be rockin’, with the entire hockey world on hand. It will be our chance to show ‘em that the Devils Army cares for our hometown boys. Especially if the NHL owns the franchise by that time (which could happen).

Hockey Rules!

Where Oh Where is New Jersey in the NHL Universe?

The Awards party is upon us.  I’ve been listening to the hockey radio press, NHL Live and so forth. Aside from Adam Henrique, I have not heard of one Devil nominee.  And Henrique is apparently in third place for the Calder Cup. Two other rooks scored ONE MORE POINT than Adam during the regular season.

Forget about his performance on the penalty kill, his 3 game winning goals (regular season), his +8 rating.  Henrique came out of nowhere, an 82nd pick in the 2008 draft, and in his first year arguably lights up the Devils (and elevates his playoff performance to near-Claude Lemieux clutch levels).

But somehow Henrique and the Stanley Cup runners up are out of the awards mix. And that’s not all.

The predictions for next year’s Cup winners are already circulating.  Among 10 teams mentioned, the names Kings, Rangers, Penguins and Flyers show up. But not New Jersey.  Why?

I think the answer is simple. New Jersey does not have its own media. The Newark Star Ledger does not have the national impact of, say, a Detroit Free Press. Even though populations are comparable (Essex County NJ alone has 800,000 not to mention the greater northern NJ population of 3.5 million).

The major media in northern NJ are the New York papers.  Today, the NY post published a story which highlights the NJ Devils shaky finances – so shaky that the NHL is rumored to be considering a takeover a la Phoenix Coyotes.

Until and unless a real New Jersey media outlet develops – perhaps a merger of the Star Ledger and Record organizations – New Jersey sport franchises will continue to labor and linger in the dust.  And the NHL sportswriters, GMs and general public will focus on stars in Winnipeg, Quebec, Atlanta and Glendale.  (See if you can pick the two places which do NOT have NHL teams).

Hockey Rules but the Medium is the Message.

Garden State Ice Hockey Blues

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I’ve been following the Devs since 1981, been skating in Montclair since 1968, and really donned my first pair of double runners in South Orange sometime around 1955.  Ice runs in the family, you might say.

Today has been a blue day. I am trying to remember what it felt like in 2001, against the Colorado Avalanche. It wasn’t as bad, probably because I had a soft spot in my heart for the old Quebec Nordiques, and I lucked into seeing the Avalanche play in a Cup Final in 1996.

This time is worse. I have to admit that the LA Kings were the better team. Their special teams ripped the Devs to pieces. And even with an injured #17, somehow the Devs managed to stay in the fight. And then came last night’s officiating.

I’ve listened to all the blather on NHL Home Ice, all the talking heads. But to me it boils down to this. Steve Bernier is no Matt Cooke. There was no intention to hurt or injure. Rob Scuderi turned the wrong way, and that cost Bernier and the Devils dearly.

If the rules were different, if players were allowed to defend themselves with a high stick (you would put up your arms if someone was charging at you around 30mph, wouldn’t you?) – this penalty would not have happened. Scuderi might have gotten two minutes. The score would probably have remained tied – or maybe not.

So, one bad call – and it WAS a bad call.  And before that, one non-call (the hit on Steve Gionta) – and the floodgates opened up. The series was done the moment the first LA goal went in, on home ice.

The refs influenced this outcome and that will forever mark this series as tainted. Sure, the LA power play did the damage. But taking a player completely out of a Stanley Cup Final?  This decision cannot be the spirit of the NHL regs.

Give me Old Tyme Hockey, any day. Let players decide the outcome. Like last year’s Cup final, like the Conference finals against the Blueshirts, that’s the hockey that I want to see.

NHL, get the message – officiating is in decline, and some way has to be found to develop and train better refs. Maybe simplify the rule book?  Hey, that’s a radical idea.

For now, I applaud the Los Angeles Kings on their tremendous playoff run. They are the Champions. And I commend the New Jersey Devils for taking their game to the limit. In my book, they are Champions too – but only for half the league, here in the East.

Hockey Rules!