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December 17, 2007
Growing up Hockey

(LOS ANGELES, CA) -- Although I've lived in Los Angeles going on 10 years (January 8 marks the day a decade ago when I hit the shores of Santa Monica), I will always be a New Yorker.

As the eldest of two brothers in a middle class family that resided a couple of stops on the D Train from Yankee Stadium, the game of hockey didn't really grab my attention until I was seven-years-old, circa 1965.

My first recollection of the game was reading a game story in the New York Times about this team called the Montreal Canadiens who had this player named Jean Beliveau. Not only did I pronounce the name "Gene" but I wondered if they have female hockey players in the league.

Some say my knowledge of the game hasn't increased much since that day.

I attended my first game not long after that at New York's Madison Square Garden. I had the misfortune of being a New York Rangers fan, a bad habit I gave up many years later. My dad took me the World's Most Famous Arena and we sat far from the action in the infamous "blue seats."

t the end of the first period, a man came up to my father and after a brief discussion, we were led to seats in the first row behind the penalty box; in those days you weren't jammed in behind the sin bin and they were the best seats in the house. I couldn't tell you if the Rangers or the Blackhawks won that night but it didn't really matter.

Since you're reading this, I'm sure you have your own tales to tell and yours are probably better than mine. I didn't grow up in Canada and believe it or not, never played the game (well, does schoolyard hockey on concrete in the Bronx count? I was a pretty mean stand up netminder back in the day).

A colleague of mine, Brian Kennedy, grew up in Montreal and like me escaped the North for the sunny climes of Southern California. Unlike me, Brian is a very accomplished writer and decided to recant his experiences in the recently released book, "Growing Up Hockey."

While hockey started as a curiosity to me, Brian had the advantage of generations of Canadiens fans as a legacy when he was first introduced to the game at the age of five. Specifically, his grandmother launched fiery outbursts that had to be cleaned up in his presence. While a lifetime of hockey memories were stored in Kennedy's brain, the tipping point didn't come until he reached Southern California.

"During the 2003 playoffs, I recalled an anecdote that didn't even make the book," he said. "I recalled sneaking a TV up to my room to watch the Canadiens play the St. Louis Blues and I wrote the story. The next day I came up with another story to write and before I knew it I had 15 stories. I thought of more instances and disciplined myself to sit down every morning and write one story."

Brian's original thought was not to write a book but once he gathered s many stories, it was a logical project to pursue.

"When I got to 50,000 words (the final book has 95,000), I knew I had something so I wrote every story I could recall," he explained. "After doing that, I just wrote to the gaps in the stories. It took me a year to give the project form and these, the innocence of the kid, the innocence of the adult and so on."

A major part of any creative process has to do with birthing ideas, songs or stories. Like any parent, an author has his favorites and I pinned Kennedy down to what his were.

"My favorite memory was when the goal was scored by Paul Henderson to win the 1972 Summit Series and my sister and I were on the school bus and the bus driver threw up his hands in celebration," Kennedy recalled. "We still talk about that every Christmas when I go home and I watch the eighth game with my brother-in-law."

Only in Canada , eh?

"My other favorite is about the yellow hockey stick that the bully on the pond took," he continued. "When I do readings, it's the one I choose most often because of its narrative flow."

And for those that have never seen or don't like the game (perish the thought), why would someone be motivated to pick up his tome?

"Because it's about being a kid and loving something that makes you who you are," the author conveyed. "It's about passion, it's about identity, it's about collecting, and it's about schoolyard bullies. People say, 'you wrote a book about hockey, ' to which I reply, 'no, I didn't I wrote a book about growing up.' "

Published by Folklore Publishing, Growing Up Hockey can be found at most major books outlets throughout Canada and 24/7/365 at You can also visit the dedicated website, for more info. The book makes for a great holiday gift for those who love the game or those that love a great story.

Waddling Through Confusion

Hmm, so the Anaheim Ducks find themselves in a bit of disarray. With their shootout loss to San Jose on Sunday evening, they stand at .500 through 35 games and holding down the eighth playoff seed in the NHL's Western Conference. They did get a major boost when their most irreplaceable part, Conn Smythe winner Scott Niedermayer stepped on the ice for the Sharks' tilt. With his return to the lineup, the Ducks hope to return to the stellar defensive play that led this team to the Stanley Cup this season.

Surprisingly, Anaheim is fourth from the bottom in surrendering goals in the West, a combination of Niedermayer's absence and a sub-par first half by Jean-Sebastien Giguere.

But you know who else has had a sub-par first half? The GM. One of the smartest guys in the league, you know him better as Brian Burke. His bad season actually commenced in the summer.

There is one caveat as we start our rant. I STILL feel that once Teemu Selanne gets enough of the 3AM feedings of his new born daughter, he'll come back to the fold and the Ducks will stand as a good a chance of coming out of the West. But with that said, Burke, through miscalculations and miscommunication, had left his team very exposed.

The evidence started gathering this summer with the status of Selanne and Niedermayer. Coming off a championship, it's the GM's job to know the status of free agents and those veterans considering retirement. I would believe that if Burke closer with these two veterans, he would have known what their status would have been long before they left for the season opener in London.

Of course, Niedermayer reserved the right to come back but you'd think Burke would have more of an inkling before eating up cap space by signing Mathieu Schneider. After just 35 games, Schneider is now targeted as one of the players to deal for additional cap space to sign more valuable younger players. Whoops.

And if you're talking about young, more valuable players, you're NOT talking about Todd Bertuzzi.

Through 35 games, all Bertuzzi has proven is that he's NOT Dustin Penner, with four goals in 21 games as all the evidence you need. To make matters worse, Bertuzzi's lack of production was put at the feet of solid citizen Andy McDonald. Burke not so delicately said so when he dealt McDonald (not one of Burke's favorites) for Doug Weight, a prospect and a pick.

After playing and winning with Selanne on his wing, McDonald was poorly matched as could be with the lumbering Bertuzzi on his flank, a marriage made in hell for certain. Burke claimed that Bertuzzi needed a power center to play with him. Maybe he should have considered the reverse, maybe you replace a 40 goal scorer with another proven one to insure your point a game center keeps pace?

I'm sure Paul Kariya in St. Louis won't be complaining once McDonald works some chemistry with him. I'm sure he's already got the call from his old pal Selanne about the virtues of McDonald and it may prevent the Finnish Flash from making one more bow in the OC. Without Selanne as a threat, the Ducks become as one dimensional as most of the opposition.

Burke also claimed that he didn't want to break up his defensive corps by dealing away Sean O'Donnell instead of McDonald. OK, O'Donnell has been a nice fit for the Ducks, but it is his sixth team, you know? He's ultimately more replaceable than a speedy second line center, which McDonald becomes without effective wingers.

The deal does create cap room to sign the other golden child, Corey Perry (Ryan Getzlaf, clearly the team's best player once Niedermayer retired, was locked up earlier). Perry and Getzlaf play nicely together but they really need a power forward, a road grater, a space eater, to open up space to work those two can work their magic, something current line mate Chris Kunitz can't physically do.

I actually have the perfect guy for them.

Dustin Penner.

Whoops, that's right, there was the matter of that ridiculous offer sheet that Edmonton's Kevin Lowe signed him to in the summer.

Hmm….maybe it wasn't so ridiculous after all. The Ducks' weakness two-years ago was scoring from a secondary line, it was the reason that Edmonton and Chris Pronger shut them down. Frankly, at the midway point they don't even have a complete FIRST line.

Three years from now, Penner's deal is going to look cheap and Burke will probably regret not signing it; after all look at the deals that LA's Dustin Brown and Philly's Mike Richards got since then (a 12-year deal for the ninth best center in the league, nice work by Pat Morris, Richards' agent).

While we're killing Burke softly here, we'll give him a mulligan for the cap clearing issues for next season because there's no way Scott Niedermayer returns next year, yet the GM has to clear because Scott has a contract for next season, that's a Catch 22 or Catch 27 as the case may be.

Maybe Scott Niedermayer comes in with his swift strides and great decision making ability and turns a mediocre defensive team into a great one, again. Maybe Selanne comes back and takes a bit of mileage off of Weight. Maybe Bertuzzi wakes up, scratch that, it's not happening. Maybe Giguere rounds into form and doesn't let in the softies he has over the last couple of weeks.

Lots of maybes, perhaps too many maybes for the defending champs and their fans and because of that Brian Burke just may owe you one.

Dennis Bernstein, the man behind SCORE! Media, is a columnist for and the Los Angeles Correspondent for The Fourth Period Magazine.



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