Well Worth The Wait

Canadian rock icons The Tragically Hip once sang “well worth the wait” – and so it has been for the hockey community – and now that rings especially true as the day is finally here. The day that Sidney Crosby returns to his team and returns to the NHL.

On Monday November 21st Sidney Crosby will make his long awaited return. Photo Courtesy - nhlsnipers.com

‘Sid the Kid’ has been out of action since January 5th. He’s missed over 60 Penguins’ games as he struggled to recover from the symptoms of the concussion he suffered way back then.

At the time of the injury, Crosby had 32 goals in 41 games and looked to be running up an incredible season for the ages. And then he was gone. Struck down by the scurge of the NHL for the past decade – the ‘C’ word – concussion.

Last January, no one predicted this lengthy lay-off. Many experts thought Crosby would be back in time for the playoffs. Crosby himself spoke about it too, hoping to get  back in uniform for the post-season. We were all disappointed that it never materialized. But we understood the complexities of head trauma, and wanted him to be properly ready and free from symptoms. We didn’t want him to rush back – we wanted him 100% healthy and back in his dominant form.

And now we are on the verge of his return to action. On Monday November 21st the Pittsburgh Penguins will host the slumping New York Islanders. Another Monday night in the long hockey season…but a night to celebrate nonetheless! #87 will be back where he belongs – back on the ice with his Pittsburgh teammates – doing what he was born to do.

Welcome back Sid – it was ‘Well Worth The wait.’

What to Watch!

Welcome to the What to Watch segment! Your key NHL match-up to post on the radar for your weekend viewing.

For this weekend’s pick I will have to go with the Washington Capitals at the Toronto Maple Leafs Saturday night. Two Eastern Conference clubs that have been playing some good hockey thus far in the 2011-12 campaign.

Keys to victory for the Capitals:

3 Strikes: The Caps have hit a mini-slump and have lost 3 in a row heading into Toronto. They obviously aren’t happy with that considering the great start they had. They will need to get back to the the 3-zone game dominance that propelled them to the top of the Southeast Division if they want 2 points Saturday.

The Leafs won't be rolling out a red carpet for Alex Ovechkin and the Caps.

Man-Up: The Caps have been pretty darn good on the power-play thus far. Clicking along at an 18.5% success rate, ranking them 4th in the Eastern Conference. They will need to take advantage of any PP opportunities they get Saturday Night at The Air Canada Centre if they want this win on the road.

Saint Nick: The Caps have been led on the stats page by C Nicklas Backstrom thus far. His 20 points (5G, 15A) has taken some pressure off Alex Ovechkin, and helped Washington win on nights when ‘Alex the Great’ has been kept off the board. For the Caps to be on form in T.O. Backstrom will have to keep his consistency going.

Keys to victory for the Leafs:

3’s are Wild: Like the Capitals, the Leafs are on a mini-skid at the moment, also with 3 losses on the trot. The good news for the Buds is that they have been solid on home ice with a 5-3-2 mark thus far. To get out of this slump they’ll need to take advantage of their ACC success thus far.

Phil the Thrill: Be honest here! Who had Phil Kessel leading the NHL in Goals – 13, and points – 25, at this point in November?! He’s the main reason the Leafs have been a real threat in the East thus far, and the reason that coach Ron Wilson still has his job. For both of these scenarios to go on, Kessel will have to continue his magical ride.

Phil Kessel has been huge for the Leafs this season. Photo courtesy - sportsnet.ca

The Killers: Despite the nice start, the Leafs have been dreadful on the penalty-kill. They rank last overall in the entire Eastern Conference with a horrible 74.3% PK rate! It’s a wonder they have been playing so well with the PK being that bad. If they are to win at home Saturday, they will need to be better on special-teams against a Washington team that can score goals in bunches on the PP.

Enjoy this tilt Saturday! It should be an interesting match-up, and one of these clubs is going to break a losing streak, so it’s all to play for. Post any comments or observations you have about the ‘What to Watch‘ game in the ‘Mailbag‘ section, and I will gladly respond! Have a great NHL weekend.

You can follow Murph on Twitter @MurphOnIce

Protect your Goalie! It’s not a suggestion – it’s a rule!

I know one thing that should have happened – right or wrong Saturday night in Boston – someone, anyone in a Buffalo Sabres jersey should have dropped the gloves with the Bruins’ Milan Lucic.

I know, I know, all the bleeding hearts will say “fighting is wrong” and all that, but Milan Lucic got away without as much as a face-wash from the Sabres after barrelling over the diminutive Ryan Miller.

Milan Lucic may have answered the media's questions - but the Sabres never asked the big winger to answer for his hit.

When your keeper is also your best player and he gets run over by a charging winger like that on Saturday night, someone needs to man-up or the whole team looks soft. All the Sabres did was serve notice that they could be pushed around, and even their MVP wasn’t off limits to the Bruins.

I hope Ryan Miller’s resulting concussion doesn’t keep him out of the Buffalo net for too long, but when he does return he may want to ask his teammates why they were gutless and looked the other way in Beantown. He may want to look around that dressing room for answers there instead of calling Lucic “gutless.”

And if I’m a Buffalo Sabre, I’m embarrassed today – not for the 6-2 drubbing from the Bruins…no I’m embarrassed because I let my goalie down and showed the entire NHL that I wouldn’t do anything about such a one-sided hit against my best player.

To add insult to injury for Buffalo fans, NHL Senior VP of Player Safety – Brendan Shanahan – has ruled there will be no further discipline for Lucic. This is the right call due to lack of intent on the play, and the speed at which it happened. So Lucic and the Bruins get a win, Miller is out, and the Sabres have now raised some nagging questions within their own ranks.

Can Ryan Miller really be that unpopular amongst his teammates, or are the Sabres really that soft?

Either way you look at it…Saturday November 12th was an epic fail for the Buffalo Sabres from top to bottom.

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 Dallas Stars at the Detroit Red Wings Saturday night. Two Western Conference clubs that may be going in opposite directions in the early going of the 2011-12 campaign. I was going to suggest both Penguins’ games on Friday and Saturday, but with Sid the Kid still ruled out by Penguins management, we’ll go with the surprising Stars, and the steady Wings.

Keys to victory for the Stars:

Keep Rolling: Nobody expected the Stars to be 1st overall in the entire league at this point! With only 3 losses in 14 games as I write this, they just need to continue doing the little things well, believe in each other and ‘Keep Rolling’!

Experts thought the Stars would fall apart without Brad Richards. The experts were wrong!

Pacific Heights: Again no one would have predicted that the Stars would be leading in much to start this season. But they lead the Pacific Division with 45 goals in 14 games, and have been the stingiest in the Pacific with only 33 goals against. With a Western Conference leading goal differential of +12, it’s easy to see why they have been surprising the experts and opponents alike. The Wings will have a tough time ‘running and gunning’ with the Stars if they continue this trend.

Net Gains: Who took Kari Lehtonen in goal early in their NHL fantasy draft this year?! Not many is my guess, but if you did you’d be smiling now! The Finnish goalie has an incredible record of 11-1, with a 2.13 GAA, and a .936 Save %. If Lehtonen keeps this up then the Wings will be having fits Saturday night.

Keys to victory for Red Wings:

Home Sweet Home: The Wings have had some scary moments in their own end in the early going this year – they really miss the retired Brian Raflaski on the blue-line. One place they have looked comfortable though, is on home ice at the Joe Louis Arena. With a 5-2-1 record in the Motor City, the Wings will be looking to keep that going, and the Stars will have a tough time stealing a road win.

Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom needs to get his club back into a playoff seed.

The Mule Factor: It’s long been said that one of the most talented wingers in the NHL is Sweden’s Johan Franzen. His only knock being health, and sometimes a bit of streaky play. But when this guy is going good, so are the Wings, and the Mule is going at the moment. With 8 goals and 13 points in 13 games, Franzen has been getting the job done. If he’s ‘on form’ Saturday night, the Wings chances of a win are that much higher.

Gazing at the Stars: The Red Wings find themselves in unfamiliar territory! They currently sit in 11th place in the West, looking way up at the Stars who sit in 1st. This motivation of playing the best team in the Conference could prove powerful for the veteran club. If they are to get back into the top 8 and beyond, Saturday is the time to start that ascent. If Lidstrom and company can tuck this incentive into their collective brains, they have a chance to win this one.

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

You can follow Murph on Twitter @MurphOnIce


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


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


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