Goal Brothers’ Roll Call

By Michael-Louis Ingram
Updated: June 25, 2008

PHILADELPHIA — As another frustrating National Hockey League season comes to an end, the invisible sport did its best to remain hidden; as one of its better overall seasons this decade evaded most American eyes.

The two minute spots of fights and goals on Sports Center notwithstanding, the lack of exposure has cost the league due to its carrier Versus, who not only doesn’t hold a prominent place on the cable postings, but whose lack of vision has deprived American viewers — especially lay fans — a chance to see what the sport is all about.

Unless you live in Hockeytown, U.S.A. (Detroit), where the fabulous Pavel Datsyuk redefined the phrase “two-way forward;” where the skills of Henrik Zetteberg and Niklas Lidstrom are not lost on those getting splashes of national attention during the Stanley Cup playoffs; no nationwide effort was made on the part of major networks to give American hockey fans the full-meal deal.

It would’ve been very difficult for curiosity seekers to ignore the electric Washington Capitals’ Alexander Ovechkin, whose scoring touch mirrored his passion for the game. Ovechkin earned the Lester B. Pearson award for Outstanding Player as given by the NHL Players Association.

You could’ve been privy to the rise of the Chicago Black Hawks, infused with new blood with Calder Memorial Trophy winner Patrick Kane, who along with players like Jonathan Toews and Dustin Byfuglien, are ready to serve notice that there is no easy points anymore for opponents in the Windy City.

And the lack of exposure for the Canadian teams further exacerbates fans of the “old-time hockey” played in the west by the Alberta tandem of the Edmonton Oilers and the Calgary Flames.

The Oilers, who feature players like forwards Ales Hemsky and Andrew Coligano, and the Flames would surely gain new fans South of the border if everyone could see skaters like Kristian Huselius, goalie, Miikka Kiprusoff, hard-hitting defenseman Dion Phaneuf and my man, power forward par excellence Jarome Iginla doin’ their thing on a semi-frequent basis.

Iginla, who was a First Team all-league selection by the NHL Players Association at right wing, capped off another brilliant season with 50 goals and 98 total points and 83 penalty minutes.

Now if Commissioner Gary Bettman would get off his ass and promote more of his league’s stars instead of just attempting to ram Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby down everyone’s throat, he might be onto something.

The Future

There is no doubt three major issues aside from exposure will merit some concern coming into 2008: the Russian Super League’s attempt to woo talent from the NHL; they have cash to spend, and in spite on their inability to bring back front-line talent like the Pittsburgh Penguins’ Evgeni Malkin, they will be harder to get rid of than in-laws.

The impact of the compelling, upcoming documentary “Black Ice” by the Fosty Brothers; will it force the NHL and Canada to come to grips with their own attitudes about race?

Lastly, the status of former Ottawa Senators goaltender Ray Emery, whose contract was bought out at $6.75 million over his last two years; Emery, reportedly a lightning rod in the Sens’ locker room during the season, lost his starting spot to Martin Gerber and was taken to task for lack of work ethic.

My take on Emery is that he is a bona fide number one goalie, who needs to be somewhere where a coach won’t mess with his head about being a number one net minder.

I can see Edmonton, Saint Louis, Toronto (yes, I said Toronto — he’s better than anyone they have in net right now on his worst day!) and Washington making interesting fits for this young man who put Ottawa on his back two years ago, carrying them to the Stanley Cup finals.

Goal Brothers’ Three Stars

Since everyone except Gary Bettman knows what an exceptional player Iginla is, there’s no need to insert him here; so let’s give our three stars to some of the new crew:

Third Star: Dustin Byfuglien, Chicago Blackhawks: Big Buff woke ‘em up with elbows and elbow grease. Has one of the hardest slap shots in the league and his 36 points (19 goals) may signal a breakout season this fall.

Second Star: Nigel Dawes, New York Rangers: After being bounced back and forth to the American Hockey League affiliate, Dawes finally got some ice time with the big club, showing flashes of brilliance (14 goals, 15 assists) and becoming one of the Rangers’ shootout specialists in overtime affairs.

First Star: Trevor Daley, Dallas Stars: The Toronto native established himself as one of Dallas’ steadiest and most versatile defensemen. After a shaky start in the Stanley Cup final against the champion Detroit Red Wings, Daley scored a game-winning goal for the Stars, providing some momentum for their belated comeback.