Popsicle Brothers Report (Part Five)

By Michael-Louis Ingram & Gary Norris Gray
Updated: March 2, 2009

NHLPHILADELPHIA — As we skate by February and Black History Month, The Popsicles are leading a two-on-one rush on springtime.

While the League may have been quiet during February in recognizing achievements by Black folks in hockey, the impact of the current crop of Goal Brothas has been significant enough to warrant some major milestones.

Fortunately for the League, Willie O’Ree is still the hardest working man in Goal Business, as he keeps cranking out good will for the game during the NHL’s Hockey is for Everyone Month with assists to Wayne Simmonds, Tony McKegney and Donald Brashear.

So it doesn’t get twisted, we mean some great hockey is being played league wide, but the numbnuts who run Versus have done their level best to insure many American fans miss out.

While the channel has hung its’ star on Sidney Crosby’s media thunder, it has been Alexander Ovechkin’s lightning displays of skill that have done the damage to opposing defenses all season long.

Maybe Commissioner Bettman should take a page from the Florida Panthers, who are promising their fans that if they don’t make the playoffs, season ticket holders will receive four games free; hell, at least they’re trying.

The Panthers (with Anthony Stewart), are currently sitting seventh in the Eastern Conference playoff slot right now, with Carolina and Pittsburgh just a victory away from stepping over them.

Exchange Rate

In spite of Crosby’s talent, his attempting to put a league on his shoulders may be too big a burden. Now we know that’s never going to be a Canadian problem, but it will become a humongous issue in the States if the NHL can’t get their promotional / exposure thang together, especially in these days of depressed economy.

Many fans could argue Penguins’ teammate Evgeni Malkin has eclipsed Crosby in overall skill sets, but it would be hard for these reporters to verify that since we don’t even get to see them as much as we’d like – and that’s with Pittsburgh being a featured team on Versus!

Hockey managed to maintain as a major sport in America because of exposure. From the rein of the Bryan Trottier / Michel “La Machine” Bossy and Bill Smith New York Islanders to the Gretzky / Messier / Fuhr / Kurri / Coffey / Anderson Edmonton Oilers to the Brodeur / Stevens New Jersey Devils and Detroit’s Hockeytown, the 1980s to the millennium had flagship teams which were consistently successful if not downright dominant.

The glaring lack of media attention on the San Jose Sharks and their stroll through the Pacific Division has to be one of the biggest boondoggles in recent sports history.

Never mind that in an area which has had major sports shlubs like the Raiders, Athletics, Giants and Golden State Warriors, the Sharks still can’t light the lamp in a league dying for anyone to look at it!

This plus the return of Original Six teams like the Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks to prominence are story lines that would have kept American fans buzzing all season long, had there been a place to buzz…

As much as Commissioner Bettman would have you think the NHL was immune to the police blotter, a recent article in the French-Canadian paper La Presse revealed two Montreal Canadiens skaters, Andrei and Sergei Kotstitsyn, were mentioned as being linked to a known drug trafficker.

Pasquale Mangiola, arrested in a sting operation on February 12, was allegedly connected to an ongoing struggle for control of the drug trade in Quebec among biker gangs. The Brothers Kotstitsyn were said to currying favor of Mangiola by asking for hookups with women and exotic cars.

The blight has dampened what seemed to be a resurgence of Les Habitants, who are now sitting merely seven points above the playoff border after a great start.

Perhaps threats to the league’s credibility will wake the Commissioner’s ass up in time for the playoffs….

And now the Good News:

Goal Brotha #1 has another hit record.

Jarome Iginla, the Soul Man of the Calgary Flames, had his lickin’ stick ready to stroke as he scored five points (2G, 3A) to become the all-time leading scorer in Flames’ history; but the Tampa Bay Lightning (who seem to be harder on Iginla and the Flames than in-laws) defeated Calgary 8-6 at the Saddledome Sunday evening.

With a franchise leading 400 goals (and counting) scored during his 12 year tenure out West, Iggy’s 834 points had him surge past little big man Theoren Fleury (831). In spite of the loss, the points from the game completes Iginla’s franchise hat trick, as he also holds the lead for games played with 922. Somewhere in Ontario, our man Herb Carnegie is smiling.

The return of the great Martin Brodeur was a boost for the New Jersey Devils. Brodeur, injured and out for the first significant gap of time in his illustrious career, is now only five wins away from surpassing Patrick Roy’s number of victories in goal (551).

As we predicted, the Devils not only held serve, they gained and maintained a lead in the Atlantic Division. The play of LW’s Zach Parise on offense, the reliable Patrick Elias, and last season’s pickup of D Bryce Salvador proved to be the formula which re-energized the defense-first Devils (tied for third league wide in goals allowed).

Great play from an emerging Scott Clemmensen in goal along with Kevin Weekes helped the Devils to maintain their never stressed, protect the net posture, and the smooth skating Johnny Oduya is turning heads with his playmaking ability on defense; looks like this Goal Brotha has Sergei Zubov-esque skills as an offensive defenseman and potential point man on the power play; the more ice time the better!

We also predicted Chicago would kick someone out of the playoff mix, and so far we are lookin’ very 2 for 2. Blackhawks are tied with Jersey for fewest goals allowed and have that big – ass pipe organ singin’ again.

While Patrick Marleau is enjoying a superlative season in San Jose aside Joe Thornton, Mike Grier is doing his thing, leading the Sharks with 140 – plus hits.

Trade Talk

The trade deadline looms and last licks for anyone will likely mean defensemen will be the flavor to savor. The Canadiens welcomed back Mathieu Schneider from Atlanta in time for the playoff push, while Ottawa (still a one – line team), picked up C Mike Comrie (We guess Ray Emery wasn’t the only problem in Canada’s capital).

While Montreal looks to solidify, Ottawa looks lost; however we like what the Carolina Hurricanes did in picking the flashy Finnish winger Jussi Jokinen from the Florida Panthers.

Draft News

There’s a current commercial in the rotation which uses the catch phrase (paraphrasing), “for each king, an heir.”

While Jarome Iginla would never shirk his cape as Goal Brotha #1, a young man is heating up the ice out in the Western minor leagues.

Evander Kane, leading scorer for the Vancouver Giants, seems to have raised enough Cain to warrant Top 10 consideration for the upcoming draft.

Kane, at 6-feet-1 and a buck eighty, has drawn raves for his fluid skating and puck – handling ability and is rocking the WHL. Like the man he seems to be patterning his game from, Kane, who was named after fighter Evander Holyfield, doesn’t shiver when it comes to scrapping or grinding in the corners.

While the consensus feels London Knights/ Oshawa Generals’ star centre John Tavares is the first overall selection, word is Kane is a “can’t miss” at the next level.

It will be really interesting to see if Bettman doesn’t try to pull a “Patrick Ewing” (steered to the New York Knicks for all you draft conspiracy buffs) and drop Kane in a spot for Washington (who, to their credit seemed to be aware of their Black fan base from time of inception with Matt Marson, Bill Riley and later Reggie Savage) Philly (who passed up a chance to get Grant Fuhr before Edmonton became the Frost Giants of the 1980s) or Atlanta, where he would fit in nicely alongside Ilya Kovalchuk.

The Giants, who also sent New York Ranger Nigel Dawes to the pros, are going to get a lot more attention in future years should Kane hear his name before the number 11 is drawn; and yes, that was where Iginla was drafted in the first round.

Stay cool!