Puck drops: Too many goals, three fights in four seconds and a UFO.

Some random hockey threads that I’ve stumbled across in the past few weeks:


An awesome timelapse of the Joe Louis Arena rink being established. Auto show venue to Red Wings’ home ice in just 48 hours, when the lockout ended.

How awesome is this shot, by the Detroit News, from Wings v Canucks this week?

How awesome is this shot, by the Detroit News, from Wings v Canucks this week?


If you think it’s bizarre that we play hockey when it’s a blazing Australian summer outside the rink, spare a thought for the poor desert-based kid who gave up a shot per minute, playing for the United Arab Emirates. (Well found, Jay Hellis, or Dan Dixon, or Puck Podcast, or some guy named Joe, or whoever else originally dug out this story.)


What’s the most goals ever given up in a hockey game?

The rollercoaster that is the Detroit Red Wings season continued on Monday, our time, with an 8-3 smashing of the Canucks, which was very sweet indeed. It’s not often the Wings score 8, especially with our disjointed sum-of-parts line-up at the moment, as injuries continue to ravage the Wings in the lock-out shortened season.

The worst I could find, in terms of number of goals allowed, just to make Alexander Medearis feel better, was the Bulgarian women’s team being smashed 82-0 against Slovakia in a 2010 Winter Olympic qualification game. There are unsubstantiated reported of Thailand beating South Korean, 92-0, in 1988, but I’m not sure that’s accurate.

The Bulgarian horror story in the women’s 2010 Olympic qualifiers definitely happened, however. The Slovakians had led 31-0 at the end of the first period, which is ugly by most definitions, and clearly didn’t feel any need to go easy from there.

Bulgaria had already lost 41-0 to Italy and then 39-0 to Latvia, before the 82-0 demolition. It celebrated the end of the tournament with a morale-boosting 30-1 loss to Croatia.

To add some context, that Bulgarian women’s team surrendered more goals in that one tournament than my Red Wings did in the entire NHL season the same year. Ouch.

Dan Cleary misunderstands the term "crash the net". Pic: Detroit News.

Dan Cleary misunderstands the term “crash the net”. Pic: Detroit News.

But I also like the writer of the account for pointing out: “(Bulgarian) goalie Liubomira Shosheva’s amazing 57-save performance. Considering, you know, she faced 134 shots in 56 minutes.”

In the NHL, the most goals scored in a game is apparently 21, and it’s happened twice. According to Wiki Answers, on Jan.10, 1920, Montreal defeated the Toronto St. Patricks 14-7. On Dec. 11, 1985, the Oilers just edged the Blackhawks 12-9.

And just in case you thought the Canadiens’ effort was some kind of fluke, the team also scored an NHL record 16 goals, in beating the poor Quebec Bulldogs 16-3 on March 3, in the same 1920 season.


Of course, hockey is about more than remorseless goal-scoring. Which brought me to this game, between the Boston Bruins and the Dallas Stars. Three separate fights in the first four seconds. Then two goals in 45 seconds, once they finally decided to actually, you know, chase a puck.

The commentator is great: “Thirty-five seconds in. Three fights and a goal! Are you having fun yet?”


This has nothing to do with hockey but is bloody funny. Good cartoon too.

And yes, those reading from outside Australia, this kind of shit happens around here.

In fact, if you don’t believe me, here is another golden Australian dickheads-drive-cars-too moment caught on camera. This endlessly hot summer is starting to mess with everybody’s minds.

Roll With It - in bookshops from Friday.

Roll With It – in bookshops from Friday.

GRATUITOUS PLUG: Yes, my long-awaited comedy/crime novel hits the shelves later this week. It’s called “Roll With It” and is A LOT different to my earlier kids’ books, in case any unwary parents think: “Oh, wow, a new Nick Place book.” Step away, kiddos! Having said that, the more copies I can sell, the more likely that the publishers will demand a sequel and even turn the adventures of Tony “Rocket” Laver into a series. Just saying …

A full house of hockey life

Getting ready for the Aussie Ben Laden Cup.

Getting ready for the Aussie Ben Laden Cup.

So here’s something that I love about hockey; this allegedly crazy little cult of a sport in Australia, half a world from the heartland of chasing pucks.

On Saturday night, I went to a poker game being run by a friend from work. His name is Ben Laden, which I, being the sparkling world-renowned wit that I am, couldn’t help but notice was a similar name to a certain terrorist, recently dispatched. Turns out that Ben has a lot of trouble at passport control whenever he enters the USA – or did, pre-Abbottabad. Sometimes the entire passport team would ask to pose for a photo.

He’s embraced his fate and on Saturday night, we played for the Aussie Ben Laden Cup, and a stack of cash from the buy-in stakes. Ben’s a pretty keen player and has regaled me with a lot of stories about long, intense poker nights between him and his mates. Some have played professionally or semi professionally. Intimidating just to hear about. So I went in, knowing I was up against it.

But actually, the jeopardy wasn’t that great because I had all of 50 bucks on the line, the cost of buying in. Two tables of 8 players each. Two rounds of play. Best combined finishes went to the final table.

I fancy myself at cards so into the pot went my Edith Cowan.

Naturally, I was dressed as a cowboy. “Aussie” had convinced me that dodgy poker skills could be minimized by startling dress sense in this company. He was wearing a truly appalling and genuine Hawaiian shirt, so lived his preach. That afternoon, getting ready for the evening ahead, I donned my trusty cowboy shirt from a ramshackle second hand shop in Williamsburg, New York, and cowboy boots from the same store, and headed to the Icehouse to coach one of our rival Summer League teams, the TigerSharks.

Say what? You thought this was about poker. Well, eventually it is but first there was a game to get through, as they were down a bench coach. Kittens and I shared the duties – Kittens bravely donning his favourite poncho so I wouldn’t feel out of place as a cowboy. We were definitely setting new trends in bench coach fashion.

We were coming off a disappointing loss on Thursday night, never quite able to get the Interceptors rolling in the fog that envelopes the Oakleigh rink when 30-degree humidity outside meets a melting iceblock inside. The Blackhawks played really well on a night where the goalies could barely see beyond the red line, so pucks could come out of nowhere. I got an assist and played a decent game without ever feeling like I lit it up, so I wasn’t sure how I’d go trying to tell a Summer League rival team how to play.

Oakleigh brings the summer fog.

Oakleigh brings the summer fog.

It was my first taste of hockey coaching and it turned out that I loved it. As I think I’ve written before, I have a lot of friends in the TigerSharks and have enjoyed games against them, because they have a similar intensity-meets-have-fun attitude to the Interceptors.

Suddenly, here I was, two years into this whacky hockey journey, with a change room full of armoured players listening to my pre-game advice. How did that happen? And what I do know?

Only just enough, apparently, and yet not enough, because the game against the Devils was a 1-1 draw. The TigerSharks had most of the attacking but the Devils’ defence was resolute, with their goalie, Mark Stone, standing on his head to deny them time and again. I tried to observe and advise stuff other than the obvious and battled with not knowing all the players, yet found myself totally caught up in the moment, desperately wanting my team to win; a TigerSharks team that I was thrilled to beat a couple of weeks ago, while wearing my Interceptor #17 jersey. Now I was a cowboy, willing them to find that final goal. Suddenly I could see how much fun coaching would be, if you had a team for a whole season. Maybe, if my knee collapses completely, or I get too old to skate (never!), this could be a hockey path I could explore?

Although I would run out of cowboy shirts pretty quickly.

And so finally through the heat to the top of Sydney Road (I still can’t help but think of that area as Jill Meagher country) and on to the poker game. Battling 15 other players, 14 of whom I had never met and had no connection with. And as I said at the start, this I where I found yet another thing I love about hockey. Sitting outside on the deck playing for hours on a hot night, a couple of strange smelling cigarettes and light beers down, I finally took off my cowboy shirt to reveal a Zetterberg #40 Red Wings T-shirt underneath.

Immediately, one guy on my table, with a Canadian drawl, said: “You’re a Wings fan?”

Turns out he grew up in Quebec and played as a kid.

Inevitably, my stack dwindled, I had not much left to lose, went all in on a couple of picture cards that turned out not to be enough and was out of Round One, appropriately losing to Wild Bill Hickok’s “dead man’s hand”.

The most stylish coaches in Summer League Rec D. Pic: Rachael Hands

The most stylish coaches in Summer League Rec D. Pic: Rachael Hands

At which point, a tall guy from the other table, also out, wandered over and said: “Did I hear that you play hockey? I used to play for Queensland in goals, inline and on ice, in juniors. I’ve been in England for the last eight years but I’m looking to get back into it.”

And so we spent Round Two yarning about Datsyuk’s genius, and Thomas Jurco coming up behind, and inline hockey in London, and the standard of the local scene, and how he can join the Icehouse rookie family.

Do the maths. Sixteen players in a card game: three, including me, with a hockey connection. At the northern Brunswick end of Sydney Road, on a Saturday night. There are allegedly a thousand or so registered players in Australia, plus a few thousand keen fans, and yet here were three of us, out of 16. What are the odds?

If I could work out ratios like that in my head, I might have made the final table.

So long, 50 bucks.

The zeitgeist … now on a small screen near you

Last Wednesday, I walked into the St Moritz bar, looking down on the Henke Rink, at the Icehouse, and Jason Baclig was working behind the bar, which is probably not somewhere you would find Pavel Datsyuk if you were to hang out in Detroit during the Red Wings’ off-season.

As I waited for my glass of water (hey, dev league was an hour away; never let it be said I’m not committed), I complimented Bacsy on the fact he looked frighteningly fit – for a smallish guy, he’s got a lot of muscle at the best of times – and he said that yeah, the Melbourne Ice team was back in training in a big way.

But it turns out the No. 57 was onto some information I wasn’t: he’s set to become an Australian TV star this coming season. No wonder he’s pumping iron.

FoxSports has just announced that it will be screening one AIHL game each week, which is brilliant news for the local hockey competition, and has me already watching closely to see if Lliam Webster’s beard is just that little more coiffured, or whether Army’s head is bald and polished near game-time, from April.

Jason Baclig in action for the Ice. Pic: Hewitt Sports Network.

Jason Baclig in action for the Ice. Pic: Hewitt Sports Network.

In terms of landing sponsors and growing the sport even more, this is a brilliant development. Reading the press release from the Australian Ice Hockey League, it said:

“Ice hockey membership in Australia has grown more than 40% nationally since 2008, making it one of the fastest growing team sports in the country. Attendance at AIHL games has grown more than 25% each year since 2008. Many matches exceed 2,000 attendees, with many more watching online.”

Those figures are astonishing on lots of levels but especially for me, because they mirror exactly when I became interested in the sport. Have you ever had that zeitgeist experience? Where you start doing something – whether it’s wear a red hat around, or put chopper-style handlebars on your bike, or start studying an obscure language, and then notice other people wearing red hats, on bikes with the same bizarre handlebars, speaking in tongues? OK, maybe not to that extent, but this is the zeitgeist. (A book, The Tipping Point, by Malcolm Gladwell, does a great job of examining the moments and machinations that seemingly randomly explode something obscure into something not at all obscure.)

Anyway, it’s surprising to me that at the exact moment I got the flu, lay in bed, turned on the Stanley Cup finals for the first time ever, fell in love with the Red Wings, found out Melbourne had a team called the Ice, found out the Icehouse had just opened, found out you could take lessons, started lessons, started playing, corresponds almost exactly with a much wider explosion of interest in the sport. In Melbourne, a bunch of us who started lessons at more or less the same time two or so years ago called ourselves “The Rookies” and it seems we were riding a wave of deeper, broadening interest in hockey. I know there has been surprise among the original few at how many members the Rookies’ Facebook page now has; how many people keep flowing into the learner ranks. Hockey is booming. Maybe it is because of the tireless work of ex-player and Olympic committee veteran Geoffrey Henke, who now has the rink named after him? Maybe it was the Icehouse bringing a new level of facility (no offence, Oakleigh rink – you know I love you)? … I have no idea. But it’s happening and continues to grow and now it’s about to be a weekly feature on cable sports TV.

It should be noted that hockey and television haven’t always had an easy relationship. Legend has it that when the NHL tried to play hardball with an American TV network a few years ago, the network didn’t blink, as expected. The television execs instead politely excused themselves from discussions, and discussed what could replace the very-much fourth American sport as a TV option? Poker was on the rise at the time, and in TV terms, suddenly made a lot of sense. As against the expense of trying to have cameras all over a hockey stadium, where a puck is hard to see at the best of times, poker happens in one room, with a few geeks around a table, easy to light, easy to commentate. They dress like freaks, from Texan cowboy hats to upside down sunglasses, there’s high drama on the river and it’s possible to have women with low-cut cleavage in every second shot. (TV execs know their audience.)

Not hockey players.

Not hockey players.

Bam, before you could say ‘face-off’, the World Series of Poker was screening on sports cable instead of the NHL and boom, poker took off as a phenom, making global stars of the top players. In 2006, the situation reached its nadir with more American TV viewers watching a poker game than a Stanley Cup play-off between Carolina and New Jersey on a Saturday afternoon. A broadcast of surfing that led into that NHL game also out-rated the game itself. There are other examples too. On February 18, 2007, the Penguins versus the Caps (aka Crosby v Ovechkin) was out-rated by figure skating. And on April 1 that same year, two NHL play-off games, Detroit-Columbus and LA v San Jose, managed only a 0.71 rating, which was the lowest ratings anybody could remember, according to the definitive source that is Wikipedia.

Of course, they were the bad old days – all of six years ago. The landmark doco, ‘24/7’ leading into the annual Winter Classic, has been hugely successful, and NHL Gamecenter has made hockey a much more compelling and successful tv product. The AIHL is hitting the small screen at the right time, especially as the TV rights for AFL and NRL and other sports are going to become murkier in the years ahead.

I have no idea how well thought out a plan this has been, but one of the smartest things the AIHL has done, in my opinion (and, here, I feel an unusual need, on this blog, to offer credentials: see below, if you care*), is that local hockey has never sought to challenge the AFL or NRL for supremacy. Or A-League, for that matter.

I know it sounds ridiculous given the relative profiles of the sports, but trust me, it’s a mistake that has been made before by American sport. I was a sports journalist in the trenches when baseball and basketball tried to pitch their tents in a big way in the local sports scene, a couple of decades ago, more or less. (I even covered an underwhelming Aussie Bowl gridiron game between two NFL squads). Baseball in particular arrived with trumpets and fanfare and there was a lot of talk about how it would take over the nation, because, hell, it’s huge in America, right, so all those hokey local curiosities like Aussie Rules and, what’s that quaint little English sport again? Cricket? Yeah, they’ll make way. Baseball is here.

Guess what … it didn’t happen. I have nothing against baseball, and strangely quite a few of the local hockey crowd seem to have a background in baseball, but it turns out more than 100 years of Test cricket and AFL passion was a little harder to budge than expected.

I’ve been impressed that Australian hockey seems to know its level, if that doesn’t sound patronizing. The facilities, the crowds, the media coverage – it’s boutique. Several times last season, I wandered straight from a Richmond game at the MCG with 50,000 or so fans, to a Melbourne Ice game at the Icehouse. The two sports can and should co-exist. Many of the sensibilities of hockey naturally appeal to a footy fan: big hits, courage, speed, teamwork. I don’t know a single sports fan who has watched hockey for the first time live and been unmoved or unenthusiastic. But the very fact that the Henke Rink struggles to house 2000 fans says that hockey cannot currently hope to grow much beyond its current level until it has those extra rinks in Melbourne or other cities, with more capacity in the grandstands. But should the Mustangs start trying to book the Tennis Centre and put ice over centre court, ready for 20,000 fans? Probably not.

Hockey sits behind NFL, MLB and NBA in America. It’s always going to be a niche sport here, and as long as it remembers that, can thrive. In my humble what-do-I-know opinion, FoxSports is a brilliant start, finally moving hockey away from novelty slots on breakfast TV and weather-crosses, so that Australian sports fans can watch the real thing and fall in love. The challenge is to find where ratings and enthusiasm naturally sits.

One last thing on hockey’s sparkly new TV deal: I try hard not to get political on this blog because the endless politics that seem to rumble in the background of the sport can be profoundly boring and, anyway, the point of this blog was always to chart my own journey from guy flip-flopping around helplessly on rental skates to bad-ass hockey player (dodgy knee notwithstanding, it’s been a fun few weeks of Interceptor and dev league play, against teams full of mates, played with passion and commitment and smiles, as well as power-skating lessons with Zac, which I will write about more extensively once and if the trauma lifts).

But it needs to be said: I really hope the executives in the AIHL finally have the decency to buy Jason McFadyen and Shannon Swan of Resolution Media a drink, if not go all the way and throw them the street parade they deserve. Jason and Shannon are the guys who created, filmed, edited, entirely produced the 24/7-like documentary following the Melbourne Ice last season: The Ice: Road to 3Peat. (Still for sale – a brilliant series). Yes, I wrote some scripts at the last minute to help the voiceover, so I’m potentially biased, but my understanding (and I didnt hear this from Jason and Shannon) is that after the series screened, hockey officials gave the doco makers a hard time, largely because one league referee threatened legal action – feeling he had been slighted in a highly entertaining coach’s address (note to this faceless ref: I worked on the doco and I still don’t know who you are, and have no idea who that coach was referring to. Or to quote Oscar Wilde: “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.”)

When FoxSports discovered the glory of Australian hockey - a scene from The Ice: Road to 3peat.

When FoxSports discovered the glory of Australian hockey – a scene from The Ice: Road to 3peat.

Hockey officials also reportedly frowned and harrumphed that the doco didn’t always show hockey in a glittering PR light. The Gold Coast “facilities” were shown honestly, with no league-happy spin. I was close to charging AIHL headquarters, to shriek: “Can you not see what these guys have done for your sport, off their own bat, through sheer passion and storytelling?”

I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that the success of The Ice: Road to 3peat on FoxSports probably has a lot to do with the TV deal just announced.

Oh wait, my bad. Reading the AIHL press release again: “Commissioners from the AIHL approached FOX SPORTS with a proposal to increase viewership of NHL games and grow the grassroots ice hockey community. Airing AIHL games was the cornerstone of the strategy. The unique content will ultimately drive FOX SPORTS viewership as well as introduce audiences to the Australian ice hockey fraternity.”

Actually, that already happened. Audiences met the Australian ice hockey fraternity in all that fraternity’s glorious, slightly dysfunctional, passionate, committed, hilarious, brutal glory. Last year. In a self-made, self-funded labour of love that was the best national advertisement the sport could have hoped for. But apparently wasn’t recognised when the gift horse smiled from less than a metre away, waving and whistling and holding a sign reading: “YO! Gift horse!”

Alas, there is no mention of The Ice: Road to 3peat in today’s announcement. It would be decent if Jason and Shannon were finally recognized for their service to a sport they were barely part of when they started.

It’s not hard to find them, either. These days, I cross paths with them every Wednesday, as they have a beer in the St Moritz bar, fresh from Intro hockey class. Yes, they’re strapping on the skates, caught up in this crazy world we all love. Part of the zeitgeist, part of hockey’s community. Well played, boys.

* I was a professional sports writer for more than 20 years, off and on, across The Herald, The Sunday Herald, The Age and Sunday Age newspapers, working internationally as a tennis writer, as well as covering a lot of AFL, boxing and other sports, plus I wrote features and profile pieces for several magazines. I also worked as a sports writer and producer for the Seven Network for a decade, off and on. (My whole career has been off and on; some call it “impressive diversity”; I call it “short attention span”. ) Even now, in my day job, at Media Giants, we control and publish content for a bunch of major internet news sites, including Big Pond Sport and SBS and, for a while, created and published pretty much all the content for afl.com.au.

The walking wounded

A huge Oakleigh crowd watches the dying seconds of the Ceptors' win; Jay Hellis in perfect pose, mid shut-out. (Pic: Elizabeth Vine)

A huge Oakleigh crowd watches the last seconds of the Ceptors’ win; Jay Hellis in perfect pose, mid shut-out. (Pic: Elizabeth Vine)

“So, let’s get this straight,” I said, looking around the purple haze of Interceptor jerseys in the Oakleigh rink’s tiniest change-room. Pointing, and ticking off our players.

Two bad knees: one for the season, the other almost certainly for the season.

Next player: a suspected broken toe.

Next along: a badly swollen puck-hammered thumb.

Next along: separated shoulder, now strapped up and on a prayer to survive the game about to start.

Next to me, on the right: painful back that hurts badly after every game.

Me: dubious knee that is refusing to heal.

Next to me, on the left: another strained and painful lower back.

And so it went. Around the room.

“You know what?” I said, thinking aloud. “We’re a real hockey team now.”

Mid-season, winning some, losing some. Just about everybody carrying something; maybe major, maybe not. At the bare minimum number of players without forfeiting, because Interceptors were away or on hens’ nights or sick or elsewhere.

And about to face a bunch of our friends in the TigerSharks, who had played the night before and were also only just able to scrape a healthy team together on a Saturday evening for this clash.

It’s 30 degree C-plus almost every day outside at the moment in Melbourne, but in the magnificently dilapidated surrounds of the Olympic Ice Rink, sliding and scrapping across a block of freshly-laid ice, or at the Icehouse, the war of attrition between Summer Rec D teams continues.

Maybe this is not mid-season as much as just hockey. After the endless NHL lockout, the Red Wings returned to find they were alrady in disarray with a bunch of injuries that have stopped coach Babcock fielding what he would regard as his best team at any stage so far, a quarter of the way into the season. Heroically, my winged wheel team keeps finding ways to win, more than they lose, although there have been a few meek days. This photo from the game against the Oilers on the weekend is one of the best hockey shots I’ve seen (and well found, James Smith).

Red Wings v Oilers. Pic: NHL (I think) via Facebook.

Red Wings v Oilers. Pic: NHL (I think) via Facebook.

The staggering Ceptors managed a win, with my boy, Big Cat, scoring a hat-trick and his old man, camped in the slot at the moment that counted, managing to swipe a rebound through the goalie’s five-hole for our other goal. Unfortunately the refs didn’t see it like that, giving one of Big Cat’s goals to somebody else, and mine to the assist before it. But gave me the assist. Weird. If I had one take-out of my first summer league competition, it would be to politely suggest to Ice Hockey Victoria that the official scorers consult the coach and captain of each team before officially signing off on the score sheet. Nobody is about to deliberately steal somebody else’s goal, and it would be nice to have them right when they’re lodged. Every time I talk to players from other teams, they have stories of wrongly-attributed goals but I don’t blame the refs at all – they have a million other things to think about mid-game. We should just be able to correct mistakes before we leave the rooms. Then again, Pete Sav got the goal for his shot, which deflected off Big Cat’s leg. Does it change anything? All that really matters is that the goal went in. It counted.

So we had a win – goalie Jay having a kick-arse shut-out that I was crazy-excited about, for him, after all his hard work, over the last couple of years – and we shared our post-game beer with the TigerSharks, before I limped off into the dusk, my stupid knee still giving me grief. Don’t know right now if it’s going to last the season or not. Strangely, it is least troublesome when skating, but I pulled out of Powerskating with Zac, at the Icehouse last Wednesday (it is an intense class – everything I hate, but NEED to do, from intensive crossover work to outside edge work) because I wanted to make sure I made it safely to Saturday’s game where we were so short of numbers. The injury feels like a timebomb, yet hasn’t collapsed yet.

Nicko, v Champs at the Icehouse. Lots to work on, including not looking at the puck while skating, apparently. (Pic Elizabeth Vine)

Nicko, v Champs at the Icehouse. Lots to work on to improve, including not looking at the puck while skating, apparently. (Pic Elizabeth Vine)

I think this week I’ll play Dev League. And power-skating. No tomorrow; suffering in the interests of improving my ever-not-good-enough skating. If my knee folds, it folds.

It was strange to score a goal but leave the game feeling unsatisfied, knowing that I hadn’t skated well enough and feeling like I hadn’t put skating skills I know I have into practice during the actual games. Why don’t I do crossovers when carrying the puck? Why don’t I carry the puck more? Things to work on this Wednesday at Dev. If I can walk.

I don’t mean to sound like I’m whinging by the way. I loved our win and had an awesome weekend on and off the ice, even if painful when I walk or ride my bike. Then again, when I show up on Wednesday night and look around the change room, the chances are that everybody else at Dev League will  also be carrying a wound or strain or bruise or knee or back or something at this stage of things.

So giddyup, Nicko.

We’re hockey players. We need to go play hockey now.