Face-Off

Welcome  to another new 1-on-1 “Face-Off” segment here on Murph On Ice! We will continue to bring you Murph’s conversations on a regular basis with some of the best hockey minds in the business!

Murph had the pleasure of chatting with a fellow Murphy, an NHL colleague, and a Boston Bruins beat writer recently for this feature. Enjoy his interview with James Murphy.

James Murphy covers the Bruins as a beat reporter for ESPNBoston.com and hosts the Hockey Primetime Show heard every Saturday 2-4 PM ET on NHL Home Ice XM 92 and Sirius 208.

Murph On Ice – Thanks for taking some time to join me from Boston here on the new website!

James Murphy – No problem, thanks for having me on!

MOI– What a ride you were on last season Jimmy! Following a team to a Stanley Cup championship must be a dream. What were the top few moments covering the Boston Bruins last year?

James Murphy shares a quick drink with Lord Stanley.

JM – My fellow Murph, it was an amazing ride last season. Many ups and downs through the regular season but the roller coaster that was the Bruins’ Cup run was simply surreal. I never imagined a team could go through so many peaks and valleys in the playoffs. I mean three Game 7 wins?! Three overtime wins in the opening round against their rivals, the Canadiens and coming back from 2-0 in that series and the finals were simply things I never thought I’d witness as a sports fan, let alone a reporter covering the game of hockey! I’d have to say the Montreal series as a whole and then the finals of course capped off by the Game 7 win were the highlights. The travel miles via car and plane in both series were insane and it was basically a whirlwind I am still recovering from!

MOI – For all the readers that haven’t had a chance to be in an NHL dressing room, what was the Bruins room like after Game 7 in the final last year?

JM– I am sad to say that thanks to the NHL — who always find ways to screw something up — I was not in the dressing room for the celebration after Game 7. Prior to Games 6 and 7, the league handed out fliers that said only media rightsholders from winning team would be allowed into winning dressing room. Then instead of sending a mass email or text, they changed their minds and spread word by mouth. I unfortunately was already fast at work typing away on my numerous post-game stories and video. I’m sure it was great in there but my colleague at ESPNBoston.com Joe McDonald made sure we had our own celebration of our hard work during the playoffs, buying a $320 (CDN) 24-pack of Molson Beer cans from the Rogers Arena suite manager! We wrote and polished that off to the last drop and then waited until the riots were cleared in downtown Vancouver to return to the hotel. The next morning we were up at 7 AM to drive to Seattle for our flight which we just made. Lots of details left out to that story but you get the picture!

James Murphy hits the ice at the 2011 Stanley Cup Final.

MOI – In a city like Boston that has had so many great championship moments over the past 8 years with the Patriots, Red Sox and Celtics, how important was it to the Bruins as a franchise to join that winning trend in Beantown?

JM – For the Bruins to finally get on the map in the Boston landscape again with this Stanley Cup win was immense for this franchise. Boston has always been a hockey town. Kids grow up on hockey and there has always been a strong and somewhat to a fault, loyal fan base that was never rewarded and until the post-lockout years taken advantage of by ownership with high ticket and concession prices that didn’t translate into a championship product on the ice. But now with the Patriots not the dynasty they were, the Red Sox in disarray and the Celtics not playing because of a seemingly pending NBA lockout, the Bruins couldn’t have won the Cup at  better time. This city is theirs to take over and nothing short of another solid playoff run will do that.

MOI – Tim Thomas had a year for the ages! Was it fun to see his epic campaign night in and night out? Do the fans in Boston know how truly special it was?

JM – Your absolutely right about the season that Tim Thomas had and to be honest, I’m not sure it will settle in with the mainstream sports media here just how amazing he was because they don’t understand hockey. But the hockey media and fans do and after what Thomas had gone through to reach the top of the mountain, he is a cult hero here. His perseverance and dedication to his dream and team, playing almost ten years in the minors and overseas before finally getting a legit chance in the 2005-06 season is a story made for a movie and I’d be surprised if one isn’t already in the works. People still knock Thomas for his style but no one needs to “pump his tires” for him or those who paid attention to know what he accomplished.

MOI – In your travels and all the interviews over the years, what’s your favourite moment or interview behind a microphone to date?

JM– This is a very difficult one to answer here because thankfully I’ve had so many great moments on the job. Right now, I guess the one that comes to mind since we’re talking mostly about last season would be interviewing the now retired Mark Recchi on the ice in Vancouver after he won his third Stanley Cup and called it a career. Over the years, through mutual friends I had the pleasure and honor of getting to know this class act of a man and to be there with him for that magical moment was a thrill I’ll never forget. I hope one day I can look back on my career as a reporter like that and feel the pride and happiness I saw in him that night!

Murphy shares the Cup with his daughter.

MOI – Who’s the best player skill wise you’ve covered in your time in hockey? Why?

JM – This is another very difficult one to answer but in no particular order, I’d have to say Joe Thornton, Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron and now as we’re seeing with his breakout season so far, Tyler Seguin. All have unique skills and god-given talent and a feel for the game that is a pleasure to watch.

MOI – Who’s the nicest guy with the media that you’ve dealt with?

JM – Well, as I told you above, Mark Recchi is all class and was always accessible to the media, win or lose. He loved to just sit around after a practice and talk hockey and life. I learned a lot from him and he made my job a lot easier. Similar to Recchi, is Shawn Thornton. While he is not as skilled on the ice, he is skilled in people skills and is sincere in his answers to questions and in his general day-to-day actions and probably has one of the best sense of humors of anyone I know. I’d also have to look back to Glen Metropolit, Brian Rolston, Nick Boynton and Mike Knuble as guys who like Thornton and Recchi had class and always made you laugh.

MOI – If you take the 2011 Boston Bruins, and stack them up against the Bruins Championship teams from the past, does that 2011 team have a chance against Bobby Orr’s 1972 Bruins?!

JM – Unfortunately for the 2011 Boston Bruins, I think if we matched them up in a video game, they would get absolutely smoked by the 1972 and 1970 Bobby Orr-led Bruins. There was just too much skill on those teams and I’d even take them against the Red Wings, Oilers and many of the Canadiens dynasty teams. But one thing the 2011 Bruins could match up in against those 1970 and 1972 teams was heart and perseverance. They may even have them beat in that! They by no means should have their accomplishments diminished when comparing them. There was just too much skill on those teams and specifically in Orr!

MOI – Thanks again Murph, always a pleasure to catch-up with you and chat about the B’s!

JM – No problem Murph, anytime mate, keep in touch!

“Face-Off” is a regular feature here on Murph On Ice. Keep an eye out for Murph’s next 1-on-1 as he talks all things hockey with James Sharman.

You can follow Murph on Twitter @MurphOnIce

What To Watch!

Welcome to the latest What to Watch segment! Every week I will bring you a key match-up to keep on the radar for your weekend hockey viewing.

For this weekend’s pick I will have to go with the Montreal Canadiens at the NY Rangers Saturday night. Two Original 6 clubs that are trying to find their way in the early going of the 2011-12 campaign. Whenever they meet at Madison Square Garden you can be sure of fireworks!

Keys to victory for the Canadiens:

Winning Ways: After a horrendous start to the season, a start so bad that the faithful in Montreal were calling for the axe to fall on Coach Jacques Martin, the Habs seem to have steadied the ship. A sweep of a home-and-home series with the hated Bruins has led to 3-straight wins for the Canadiens. They play Ottawa Friday, but this match-up in New York Saturday will be crucial to keeping the winning ways going.

Road Warriors: Montreal is 2-2 on the road thus far. Being .500 on the road isn’t bad, but the Canadiens will have to be better than that if they want to move up from 11th place in a really tough Eastern Conference.

Murph knows life on the road is tough, but the Habs need to step up in NYC Saturday.

Top Guns: So far this season the Habs ‘best players’ have not necessarily been their best players! They will need to get more consistent nights from Tomas Plekanec and Brian Gionta to name a few. The club has been relying too heavily on Carey Price, and need some of their top forwards to get rolling on the score sheet. A Saturday night in New York is as good a time as any to start that trend.

Keys to victory for the Rangers:

1 is the Loneliest Number: The Rangers need to take advantage of historic Madison Square Garden. The team has only 1 win on home ice (1-1-1). Currently sitting in 10th place in the East, they need home wins now to get back into the top 8, and create some breathing room heading into mid-November.

The King is in the Building: Henrik Lundqvist has been the Rangers best player night-in and night-out thus far. King Henrik has a 2.35 GAA, and a .929 Save %, and if he’s in good form Saturday night, the Habs will have a tough go in NYC.

Henrik Lundqvist has been great in the Rangers net so far this season.

Finding the Twine: The Rangers haven’t exactly been lighting it up in the goal column. Ranked 18th in the NHL with 2.5 goals per game, they need to start burying some pucks to take the pressure off Lundqvist. Brad Richards (3 goals in 10 games) needs to step up and lead the way if the Broadway Blueshirts want to beat Montreal.

Enjoy this one Saturday! It should be an interesting tilt. Post any comments or observations you have about the ‘What to Watch‘ match-up in the ‘Mailbag‘ section, and I will gladly respond! Have a great NHL weekend.

You can follow Murph on Twitter @MurphOnIce

Face-Off

Welcome  to another new 1-on-1 “Face-Off” segment here on Murph On Ice! We will continue to bring you Murph’s conversations on a regular basis with some of the best hockey minds in the business!

Murph had the pleasure of chatting with a former colleague, and Canadian Broadcasting icon recently for this feature. Enjoy his interview with James Cybulski.

James Cybulski hosts the afternoon drive show CYBULSKI & COMPANY on TSN Radio 1050 with a little help from his friends – TSN’s best sports experts and insiders in the business – as he tackles hot-button issues from the sports realm and beyond. The show airs from 4-7pm ET.

James Cybulski hosts his own sports show on TSN Radio 1050.

Murph On Ice – Thanks for taking some time to join me from Toronto here on the new website James!

James Cybulski – My pleasure Murph, thanks for having me on!

MOI – You’ve been involved in all aspects of sports media coverage, from World Junior Hockey Championships to Olympics. What’s been the highlight of your time behind the microphone?

JC – Probably my favorite experience would be covering the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver. Everything about it was outstanding. The stories, atmosphere, drama, interaction, teammates, and best of all to have my family there with me was a highlight.

MOI – Of all the interviews you’ve conducted over the years, who has been your favourite guest or interview?

JC – There’s interviews I love for different reasons, but interviewing Bill Russell and Stephen Colbert was a real highlight as well. Russell asked me with a scowl right before our interview what the ‘T’ in TSN stood for. When I answered ‘the’ he roared for the entire interview.

Colbert jokingly apologized for making fun of Canada in a series of comedic segments leading up to the Games, and later that night, they used my interview for the lead item on CTV National News with Lloyd Robertson with the headline ‘Colbert apologizes to Canada’.

MOI – Have you ever been star-struck by a guest or celebrity?

JC – For the longest time, I always got nervous in a scrum with Wayne Gretzky. He was my hero as a kid, and my heart would pound anytime I threw out a question.

MOI – There has to be a few ‘not so memorable moments’ too James! Any funny moments you’d like to have a ‘do over’ for?

JC – There’s an infamous youtube moment where I called Bruce Willis ‘Bruce Wilson’ during a Raptors playoff game.

Doug Berry, when he was coaching the Bombers, and at halftime served me up 3 one word answers. In hindsight, I wish I called him a prick at the time.

MOI – How’s your current gig going with TSN 1050? What can listeners expect in the next while on the show?

JC– A fresh look at sports news and issues. We strive to be smart and fun. You don’t always have to be pissed off talking about sports. I think we’re changing the culture in respects that way. We’re also in the process of finishing up a new studio that will carry the show on TV, radio and online. I’m pretty excited going forward.

Cybulski and Company has plans to grow and bring the radio format to on-line and TV platforms.

MOI – Way back in the day we worked together at The Score! We had a great group there in those days – Elliotte Friedman, Brian Duff etc…Do you still keep in touch with some of the guys and swap stories about the industry?

JC – I think for a lot of us, working at The Score is a badge of honour. It helped shape all of us into who we are as professionals today. Look at the talent that has come out of there in recent years: Elliotte, Cabral Richards, Martine Gaillard, Tim Micallef, Sid Seixeiro, Steve Kouleas and countless others. Working with Duane Forde, Cabbie, and tons of others behind the scenes now at TSN always gives us a chance to laugh and reminisce about moments. It was a big frathouse when we first started, but we all cared, and our efforts reflected that in our work and also in where we are all today.

MOI – You’re an Ottawa boy – any plans to take the radio show on the road for the NHL All-Star game this year in your old stomping grounds?

JC – Not likely for business, but maybe for pleasure!

MOI – You mentioned the Vancouver Olympics earlier, and what a highlight they were for you! Will you be joining me here in London for the 2012 Games? If you are I guess I’ll buy the 1st round!

JC – I certainly hope to be there next summer and cash in on that pint!

MOI – Thanks again C-Ball, always a pleasure to catch-up with you!

JC – No problem Murph, it was fun, keep in touch!

“Face-Off” is a regular feature here on Murph On Ice. Keep an eye out for Murph’s next 1-on-1 as he talks all things hockey with ESPNBoston.com’s James Murphy.

You can follow Murph on Twitter @MurphOnIce

Friday’s What to Watch!

Welcome to the new Feature here on Murph On Ice – What to Watch! Every Friday I will bring you a key match-up to keep on the radar for your weekend hockey viewing.

On this first posting I have to go with the Bruins at Canadiens on Saturday night as my pick. It’s the most bitter rivalry in the NHL, and after Thursday’s game between the teams in Boston, this return tilt Saturday should be a beauty. On a side note you may want to keep an eye on Brad Marchand and P.K. Subban – just in case they didn’t get enough of each other Thursday!

Keys to victory for the Bruins:

Captain’s Concentration: Zdeno Chara will hear plenty from the crowd, and be asked over and over by the Montreal media about the Max Pacioretty incident. The big captain will have to tune this out and be totally removed from the media frenzy to lead the Bruins to a win on hostile ice.

Bruins captain Zdeno Chara will have to tune-out the media in Montreal.

Bury the Biscuit: The Bruins have not been scoring – averaging a measly 2.11 goals per game. A stat that has them ranked 26th overall in this category. If they want to win in Montreal they need an explosion of goals to get going on the right track.

Discipline, Discipline: The B’s can’t get sucked into stupid emotional penalties in this one. Much like Chara having to be removed, his team might have to turn the other cheek and not get involved in silly scrums after the whistle. If they can stay out of the box and focused, then they have a chance to win.

Keys to victory for the Canadiens:

The Price is Right: It seems so far for the Habs that as Carey Price goes, so goes their fortunes. He was very good Wednesday in a 21-save win over the Flyers, and impressive again Thursday with 29 saves against Boston. If he plays well Saturday, the Bruins will have their work cut out for them.

P.K. Subban always ends up in the middle of the action against the Bruins.

Home Sweet Home: The Habs need to tighten up on home ice and use their cosy confines to their advantage. With only 1 win in 6 attempts at home thus far, Montreal will have to start winning at the Bell Centre now.

Man Up: The Habs have not been great on the powerplay. If they want to win Saturday, they will have to take advantage of any PP’s the Bruins concede. Montreal is ranked 27th in the league with a 10.3% powerplay.

Enjoy this one Saturday! It should be a good clash. Post any comments or observations you have about the ‘What to Watch‘ match-up in the ‘Mailbag‘ section, and I will gladly respond! Have a great NHL weekend.

You can follow Murph on Twitter @MurphOnIce

Face-Off

Welcome  to the new 1-on-1 “Face-Off” segment here on Murph On Ice! We will bring you Murph’s conversations on a regular basis with some of the best hockey minds in the business!

Murph had the pleasure of chatting with the driving force behind hockey excellence in Belfast recently for this first feature. Enjoy his interview with Giants legend Todd Kelman.

Todd Kelman has been the full-time General Manager of the Belfast Giants since  April 2007. He also had a great career as a player in Belfast, and is the franchise’s all-time leader in games played, appearing in 419 games and is the top scoring Giants defenceman of all time.

Todd Kelman has brought an exciting product to the ice in Belfast as the Giants GM.

Murph On Ice – Thanks for joining me to chat hockey here on the new website Todd!

Todd Kelman – No problem Murph, my pleasure!

MOI – As a GM in the Elite League, what are the biggest challenges you face in keeping the product on the ice in Belfast at the highest level possible?

TK – The biggest challenge right now is getting the bums on seats in order to maintain the top level team we have had over the last few years.  People are very selective about how they spend their money these days and there is no second chances for grabbing those valuable entertainment £££’s that people are willing to spend.  We have to ensure that we provide high level entertainment with top quality professional players that makes it worth the price of admission. If we lose a customer or send someone away with a bad experience, it is unlikely they will be back to give us another chance.

MOI – When you talk to foreign players about coming to play in Belfast, what is the reaction you get about hockey in the UK Elite League?

TK – A few years ago we used to get the usual reaction of “they play hockey over there?”, but now I think we have done a good job of putting our league on the international hockey map.  We had NHL players come to the Elite League during the lock out and we hosted the Boston Bruins last season, so now players know about this league before they get here.  Players nowadays have the opportunity to research the place before they arrive, and we make it easy for them.  We have a special website for incoming players to show off everything that Belfast and the Giants has to offer.

MOI – When you look back on your career as a player on this side of the pond, what are your favourite memories from your Giant days?

TK– Definitely my biggest thrill as a player was winning the playoffs in 2003.  That was the best Giants team in history and probably my favourite group of guys I ever played with.  After that, the 2 league titles I won as a Giants player were awesome, and as a GM, winning the playoffs in 2010 was a big thrill.

Todd Kelman had a great career as a player in Belfast, appearing in 419 games for the Giants.

MOI – Of all the guys you played with in the Elite League over the years, who are the top 3 guys to have played over here?

TK – Theo Fleury, Jason Ruff and Paul Kruse.  All 3 of them for different reasons were probably too good to be playing in the UK, but for whatever reason they ended up here. Theo was my hero when I was a kid, Ruff was the best player on our team when we were the best team in the Superleague and Kruse was the best Captain I ever played with.  He knew how to lead, quietly but with authority.

MOI – You mention Theo Fleury, he was of course a high profile addition to the Giants in 2005/06…Any special memories of his time in a Belfast jersey?

TK – The whole season with Theo was magical.  Playing with him made me understand why he was able to play in the NHL and dominate for so long.  He was so talented, and remember we saw him at the end of his career.  He did things with the puck then that the rest of us couldn’t fathom.  His stories were great, it was a surreal experience playing with him.  So many guys hear stories about Theo and what type of person he is or was.  We got to know him as one of the boys.  He was committed, he worked hard, he pushed all of us and made us better players.  He was the most intense player I have ever seen.  We won the league because of him, no doubt but besides the championship, it was so much fun getting to hear his stories all season.  He can tell a good story and he has a lot of them.

MOI – The Odyssey is a fantastic rink, for those who haven’t been to a game there yet, give us an idea of the experience in Belfast on game night?

TK – We are lucky to have such an amazing building to play our home games at.  We have tried to market our games as an entertainment product because we know not everyone understands our sport, but we know people all like to have fun.  You are going to have a good night out at a Giants game, because there is plenty going on besides the game itself.  We have prize giveaways, cheerleaders, great music, video screens and a great atmosphere because of the passion and enthusiasm that our fans bring to the Odyssey every home game.

MOI – The fans in Belfast are a passionate bunch! What’s the hockey community like overall in Belfast?

TK – Very committed and very supportive.  Most teams talk about how their fans are loyal when they win and lethal when they are losing.  I know our fans expect us to win, but they understand that we aren’t going to win every game, they just want us to compete and put the effort in.  It makes a difference when you have a great support behind you and I think we have awesome fans.

MOI – And finally, how has the season been thus far, and what can the Giants’ fans expect the rest of way in this campaign?

TK – Hopefully we can keep winning and someday soon get back to full strength. It seems like every year we have a load of injuries right from the start and the same has happened this year.  We have yet to play a game at full strength, so hopefully when we do, we can get on track and continue the way things have been going lately.

MOI – Thanks again Todd, good luck the rest of the way, and I’ll see you at the Odyssey for a game soon.

TK – Thanks for having me Murph! Take care.

“Face-Off” is a regular feature here on Murph On Ice. Keep an eye out for Murph’s next 1-on-1 as he talks all things hockey with TSN Radio Host James Cybulski.

You can follow Murph on Twitter @MurphOnIce

 

Leaf Nation

Well Leaf fans – you wanted it you got it! Your Toronto Maple Leafs are off to a pretty darn good start to this 2011-12 campaign.

The Buds currently sit atop the Northeast Division at 4-0-1 for 9 Points. This has been a team effort if you believe the talk from the Blue and White dressing room, but truly the story has been Phil ‘The Thrill’ Kessel.

Phil Kessel was chosen last in the 2011 All-Star player draft - the way he's playing now he might be 1st overall pick!

Kessel has 7 goals and 5 assists for an NHL leading 12 points. He has looked tenacious, and focused. His 5-on-5 play has been superb and his speed is noticeable each and every night.

As relieved as all you fans are with the Leafs and Kessel, the most relieved man in the whole of Leafs Nation is Coach Ron Wilson. Many of my Canadian sources have been saying that Wilson needed the Leafs to come out and click straight away. Rumour was that a bad start would have been the death march, and Brian Burke may have been urged into action. Despite all his bluster and bravado protecting the beleaguered Wilson, Burke is the GM of a club that is on a streak of futility…eventually Burkie would have had to think of a shakeup if the Leafs had indeed been 0-5 perhaps.

“There’s no way Burke can keep saying Wilson’s job is safe,” my CBC source told me on the phone, “if they come out and limp through October then something would have had to happen. You can’t fire the whole team, and Wilson has had a long time to get this team going.”

Luckily for Wilson, Burke, and Leafs Nation that’s not the case at this point! They all can thank Phil Kessel for that. They just need him to keep playing like a man possessed, and maybe, just maybe, make things interesting in the East for a long suffering fan base.

You can follow Murph on Twitter @MurphOnIce

NHL Premiere Stockholm

Stockholm is a beautiful city – throw in a few NHL games and you’re on to a winning weekend! I was fortunate enough to be on hand at the Globe Arena from October 7-9th for the NHL’s annual opener in Europe. Hockey is back

The Kings, Ducks and Rangers were on the menu in Sweden and the product on show was top notch. Henrik Lundqvist was the busiest guy in the entire hockey world here! He patiently stood and gave more interviews than the other teams combined, and did so with a smile. He also had a truck load of family and friends along for the ride, and his time was precious.

“It’s kind of nice to get on the ice and forget about all the distractions this weekend,” King Henrik told me, “when I’m at the rink I can just focus on hockey, and all the other stuff goes away.”

Henrik Lundqvist was a fan and media favourite in Stockholm.

On the ice Lundqvist continued to be busy. He kept the Rangers in their season opener versus the new-look Kings. His 27 saves were the sole reason the Broadway Blueshirts salvaged a point on the Friday in a 3-2 OT loss. Without his stellar performance there would have been no way the Rangers would have gotten to overtime. The same fate awaited him Saturday as Corey Perry and the Ducks were next up on the schedule. Once again Lundqvist was beyond busy. The Ducks first line of Ryan Getzlaf, Bobby Ryan  and Perry were a thorn in his side all night. Again his colleagues relied heavily on his steady presence between the pipes. He was responsible for the team salvaging another point in overtime and his shootout stops were nothing short of fantastic. Sadly for Lundqvist the Ducks would take the win on a Bobby Ryan goal.

“He was great tonight for them,” Ryan said of Lundqvist, “we couldn’t seem to buy a goal, he was the best player on the ice tonight.”

So the Rangers headed back to New York with two out of a possible four points on their European adventure. New Captain Ryan Callahan was optomistic that his club could grow on their efforts overseas and come together for a successful campaign.

“We will take the positives away with us from here, obviously we wanted two wins, but we got two points and can go back home and get to work,” Callahan said after the shootout loss to Anaheim, “everyone in this room wants to win and we won’t be satisfied with OT losses, but we can’t get down about this weekend.”

Rangers Captain Ryan Callahan speaks to the media in Sweden.

So with a 3-2 OT loss Friday, and a 2-1 shootout loss Saturday, the Rangers will have to wait a week to get in the win column. They can get their first ‘W’ of the year against their Long Island rivals on Saturday October 15th.

It was a brilliant few days of NHL action here in Stockholm. It’s a great hockey city with great fans who are both knowledgeable and passionate. Lundqvist may be their favourite son in Sweden, but all the players here were given great support and receptions everywhere they went. The NHL Premiere is a great event that brings the best hockey league on earth to the people of Europe. Hopefully the NHL and it’s clubs will continue to participate, grow and expand this annual tradition.

You can follow Murph on Twitter @MurphOnIce

 

 

 

Cruel Summer

Murph reflects on a tragic NHL offseason, and has a word with hockey colleague Barry Melrose.

As a fan of any sport, we only want a few things from our chosen favorite’s off-season. We want expediency. We want our team to improve, we want things to be smooth and without drama. We need to have the feeling that the next season is coming and that things will be back to normal soon in our sporting lives.

This is every summer for me. I wish that hockey was back, I dream about it, as I get anxious for the physicality and speed which makes up the most exciting game on the planet. Don’t get me wrong I enjoy baseball, and love the summer, but hockey is what fuels my sporting passion.

This summer started upbeat. It seemed that the offseason would be full of fantastic stories from the Boston Bruins and their Stanley Cup parties. They ran up a $150,000 bar bill at a casino back in June and we just knew they would enjoy the dog days of summer, and provide us with some off-ice entertainment.

There were of course a few questions we all wanted answered too! How was Sid, and would he play again? Would the Leafs make some big moves to break the playoff slump? Would greats like Lidstrom and Selanne come back for one more year? Fun questions, things that tickled our off-season hockey brains. Nothing serious, just things at the back of our collective hockey heads.

But all these nagging questions and fun thoughts to pass the summer were nothing compared to the events that would crop up and sink our spirits throughout the summer of 2011. The worst summer of all for the hockey community.

We actually had a glimpse of what was to come. It was to foreshadow a long period of sadness and grief for everyone around hockey.

Derek Boogaard (1982-2011)
RIP: Derek Boogaard (1982-2011)

A sad reminder of the frailty of life. The frailty of people no matter how tough they may be. May 13th will long be remembered as a shocking and sad date. It was the date that a larger than life player was lost to us forever.

Derek Boogaard the ‘Boogy Man’ was as big and as tough as they come in a hockey player. At 6’7 and 265 pounds, there weren’t many larger on the ice than Derek. Boogaard had a tough year in New York battling concussion and maybe his inner demons. Many surrounding the giant knew of his addictive personality and his past troubles. Despite these warning signs, no one could have predicted his death on May 13th after a night of drinking and drug taking.

His death was ruled ‘accidental overdose’ with the cocktail of booze and pills he had consumed before returning to his Minneapolis apartment that night. It was a huge blow. Derek had just returned from rehab, and seemed in high spirits to get back to his career and be healthy after the concussions and issues he battled last season. His death seemed pointless and unfair. It was indeed a wake-up call that life is precious, and we should always be on the lookout for friends and family who may have similar problems to the ones Boogaard bravely fought.

The hockey world mourned Boogaard. Life went on though. The NHL playoffs got more interesting, and the on-ice battles and triumphs helped us all move forward from the May tragedy.

In an eerie bit of coincidence, the Canucks were to be vanquished in seven hard fought games against Boston. They lost this fight without one of their toughest battlers.

Rick Rypien was a tough guy. He wasn’t as big as Boogaard, but at only 5’11 and 180 pounds Rypien packed a punch. He was missed by his teammates against the much more physical Bruins without a doubt in that final series.

Rick Rypien (1984-2011)
RIP: Rick Rypien (1984-2011)

Rypien was not with the Canucks to fight their battles because of his own demons. He was on leave from the club to deal with ‘personal issues’ away from hockey. The Canucks had granted him that time. He had in fact been on a similar break a few years ago (2008-09), again in the midst of a hockey season. His ‘personal issues’ were well known to his employers and teammates alike. Rypien had been dealing with a life-long struggle with depression.

It’s one of those taboos in the professional sports world. These men are larger than life heroes who are tough as nails right? They surely have no emotional problems or personal issues right? Well the whole system couldn’t be more wrong. Rypien’s death on August 15th was ruled a suicide, after a shocked family member discovered his body in his Alberta home. Despite the warning signs, despite the past history, no one could help Rypien. He had ended his life and his battle with a force none of us could possibly understand. He was no coward, we know that. But he was sick with a disease that is not supposed to prey on professional sportsmen in our macho psyche. He lost a battle off the ice that no one could help him win.

The hockey world again mourned the loss of one of our own. We thought that surely this was it for the tragedy this offseason. We thought it couldn’t get worse. We were wrong.

There was no one in hockey more liked than Wade Belak. Despite his years as a tough guy in the NHL, even the guys he fought liked him! Wade’s smile and self-deprecating humor were legendary. He had just retired as a player, but had many opportunities lined up. He had a wonderful wife and family. It appeared that Wade had so much going for him. Wade was another behemoth, at 6’5 and 230 pounds, there surely was nothing he was afraid of or couldn’t handle.

Then on August 31st our beliefs and our faith were once again destroyed.

Belak was found dead in a condominium he was staying at in downtown Toronto. He had been there preparing to appear on a Canadian Television show Battle of the Blades. The police said the cause of death was not ‘suspicious’ and the case was treated as a suicide. After the death had made the news, the truth started to come out. Belak had hidden his depression for years. Only those close to him knew about it. Unlike Rypien who had a more public battle, Belak had hidden his affliction with a big smile and a fantastic wit and sense of humor. How bad were his inner problems that all the success and love in the world could not stop him from wanting out? It was a sucker punch of epic magnitude. A death that shook us all and continued the horrible trend of hockey’s darkest summer. The loss of Belak proved that we could not possibly understand his disease. It was something that was immeasurable and left us all empty.

For all the sadness we had poured out for Boogaard, Rypien and Belak, we could never have been prepared for September 7th.

I was waiting for a flight in Lisbon, Portugal. I had been at an affiliate meeting for ESPN America. It had been a successful few days, and I was looking forward to getting on my flight back to London. I received a text from a hockey colleague in Toronto. The words on my phone will stay with me a long time “KHL team killed in plane crash, what are you hearing?” I wasn’t hearing anything. I was in shock. About to board a plane myself, and pretty much punch drunk from the summer’s earlier tragedies, this one took my breath away. I was a zombie. I did not tell my colleagues of the news. I didn’t want to speak of a plane crash as we were about to board one. It was surreal and I felt empty and confused about all the horrible news that had transpired since May.

The Lokomotiv Yaroslavl team was taken that day. Every one of them has perished. It is not a hockey tragedy. It was a world tragedy. They were on their way to a game in Minsk and the start of the KHL season. Excited about the start of a new campaign, and full of hope with new Head Coach Brad McCrimmon at the helm. McCrimmon was a fantastic NHL player and was an assistant coach in Detroit. He wanted to be a head coach and took his opportunity in Russia. It’s unbelievable.

Other former NHL players on the plane that fateful day were – Ruslan Salei, Pavol Demitra, Karel Rachunek, Karlis Skrastins, Josef Vasicek, Alexander Yasyunov, Alex Karpovtsev and Igor Korolev. All gone far too soon. All pursuing their love of playing hockey. If there is kind sentiment for their families it is indeed that fact – they died being what they loved – hockey players.

We all mourn in our own way. We all feel for the families of all those lost this dark summer. We pray that we will not have another period like this in hockey or otherwise. It has been a cruel summer.

In search of answers and maybe even some wisdom to make sense of it all, I spoke with my NHL colleague Barry Melrose about all the summer’s tragic news. His wise words summed up a lot for me.

“For those of us that love hockey, the start of this NHL season can’t come fast enough. I don’t think the hockey world has ever had a summer like this past one,” Barry told me. “Every bit of news was bad and every story was worse than the last one ending with the terrible plane crash in Russia. We need good news, good games, good stories and good thoughts.”

“The great game of hockey will help in most of these areas and our great athletes will do the rest,” Barry continued. “Make sure we don’t forget the stories of this summer, but from now on let’s focus on all the great things this time of year has to give us.”

Amen Barry … I think we can all agree with that.

Murph has been covering the NHL for five years. He also covers other sports and special events. Any comments or questions are welcome.

You can follow Murph on Twitter @MurphOnIce

Murph wraps a fantastic 2010-11 NHL Season

Well NHL fans – what a ride this 2010-2011 hockey season has been for us all! From my time in Prague way back in October covering the Coyotes and Bruins, to the All-Star Game in Raleigh in January, and of course being in Boston for Games three and four last week – this has been a phenomenal journey.

Tim Thomas speaks to media in Prague
Tim Thomas in Prague

I had a weird feeling back in Prague that Tim Thomas and the Bruins had some plans up their collective Black and Gold sleeves – but I had no idea of how grand those plans were!

Tim Thomas had a season for the ages. This guy has had to scrape and fight for his job, and ultimately respect from NHL fans and media alike. Will this Conn Smythe effort finally bring him into the talk of the greats in our game?! Thomas will surely win the Vezina trophy in Las Vegas next week, and no one can take away this playoff run. His 798 saves in the playoffs this season is the best total in history – enough said! Oh I guess his numbers were ok too – a .940 SV%, and a 1.98 GAA with four shutouts – superhuman.

I remember at the All-Star game that Bruins captain Zdeno Chara seemed restless when asked about his team and the issues they had against the Flyers in the last playoff run. He had a steely look – a look that said he had unfinished business and that he would attain his goal. It’s funny looking back now how focused and business-like both Chara and Thomas were. I guess Chara’s resolve paid off in this run – his plus-16 led all players. He was physical night in and night out, and a pillar of strength for Boston on the penalty-kill…he was a true leader – the definition of a Captain.

Zdeno Chara in Raleigh

The Canucks had a great run – make no doubt about it. Beating the Blackhawks in seven in the opening round and showing great character after blowing a three game lead to advance. The Predators played hard against them, but they found a way to win, and the Sharks went all out. Ryan Kesler was on fire against the Preds and the Sedins got it going against San Jose. They seemed to be able to find a hero throughout to get the job done. Kevin Bieksa’s big goal will be remembered amongst Vancouver fans for years to come. The shame here is that there had to be a let-down for someone in this final. Canada’s Stanley Cup drought continues – going back to 1993.

The B’s are the first team in NHL history to win three game seven’s in one playoff run. They went the distance with bitter rivals Montreal, Tampa Bay, and of course again in the final. They swept the Flyers in round two to avenge the crushing defealt Philly handed them last season. You could say that the loss in round two of the 2010 playoffs – blowing a three game lead to lose at home in seven to the Flyers, was a galvanizing moment for the Beantowners. They knew they were better than that…they knew they had to make up for it.

The acquisitions at the trade deadline of Rich Peverley and Chris Kelly were also shrewd moves by Boston General Manager Peter Chiarelli. Both played huge parts in this incredible story – proving that depth – not big names wins championships.

The fans I encountered in Boston last week were hungry for a Bruins’ result. They had tasted glory with the Patriots, the Celtics and of course their beloved Red Sox all in the past seven years. I spoke with plenty of NHL fans who were calling it ‘the Bruins time.’ Well it has arrived – with a 4-0 Game seven gem. They have taken their place in Boston sports folklore. They have attained the top prize.

“You’ve been waiting a long time, but you got it,” Tim Thomas said to the fans, “You wanted it, you got it. We’re bringing it home.”

For the Canucks this could be their galvanizing moment. Falling just short of their goal must be beyond tough – but they know how good they can be. Losing Aaron Rome and Mason Raymond was hard on their lineup. Roberto Luongo’s struggles in Boston also a blow. But that team is a great team. That team – if they can re-group and come back strong and focused next season – could once again be Stanley Cup Contenders. We just have to hope that the riots in Vancouver in the aftermath of the loss Wednesday can soon be forgotten.

Murph on the TD Garden Ice
Murph on the TD Garden Ice

Bruins ‘grey beard’ Mark Recchi will leave the game on top as he announced his retirement after the win at age 43. Recchi is a testament to hard work and mental focus. While his younger counterparts on the Canucks – the Sedin brothers – struggled statistically in the series, Recchi had seven points in the seven games. ‘Rex’ as he is called by his teammates, leaves the NHL with three Stanley Cups (Penguins, Canes and now Bruins).

Well it was a pleasure to cover the NHL and some key hockey events in the 2010-11 season! Murph On Ice is back this year bringing you along again for another great NHL run.

You can follow Murph on Twitter @MurphOnIce