Wednesday, March 08, 2006

A Night with the Brass

I had a golden opportunity tonight to enter the inner sanctum of the hockey world when just before the game started, Stars GM Doug Armstrong asked me if I wanted to watch the game in his booth with assistant coach Andy Moog. Despite the fact that I knew going in that it would be a tense endeavor, I could not pass on a chance that may never come along again.

So I pounced.

I wasn’t really sure what Stars brass does up top the arena during a hockey game after all of these years. You always see the assistant coach on the bench who appears to have a headset on, but you never knew what he was doing or what purpose was being served.

Now I know. Andy and Doug saved the final seat for me, last night during the Stars 4-3 Overtime/Shootout win in Edmonton, and here is what I remember from it all.

- Every play is the most important play in the history of hockey (I think). Wow. I looked at my calendar and saw it was March 7th, but from the tone of the room it felt like early June. I am not kidding. I still have a headache. I was as nervous about the outcome of a Stars game as I can remember being in years. This game meant the world it would seem, although I knew the whole time it was only one of 82. I swear, these guys must have amazing blood pressure readings because the intensity of the game and the intensity of the GM’s box was enough to give me the feeling of eating an ice cream cone so fast that you get “brain freeze”. Every shift was scrutinized, every player critiqued, every official was barbecued, and on and on.

- Every score around the league means something. I wanted to fit in, so I tried to convince myself that Chicago vs. Columbus was really a big deal. Of course, inside, I knew that there was no sporting event in the world that meant less than that abomination, but like I said, it was my job to fit in tonight. And man, when word made it around that Detroit had lost at home to Phoenix? Well, we all knew that this left two points on the table for the Stars to seize if they could win.

- Every Player is expected to perform perfectly. I am sure if I was around this environment more I would understand that there is room for understanding and the realization that nobody is perfect, but when the game is going on, it is quickly noted that each player has a job to do. If he fails to support the puck over here, or get the puck out of the zone over there, well, Armstrong and Moog make a mental note (and, at times, a very demonstrative verbal note). I am not sure what they do with these notes, but I assume they go in the file for future reference. The thing that got me thinking was this: When you watch a game this closely, you notice every single wart of every single player. For instance, a guy who I thought was infallible with this franchise was Mike Modano. Surely the most loved player in franchise history would be allowed to make a lazy pass once in a while, right? Trust me, that is not the case. The tone was similar throughout the lineup, but as the saying goes, “your best players must be your best players”. So, make your mental list of who the best players are on the Stars, and those are most likely the players who were most heavily critiqued for questionable decisions or performance. It would seem that over a season or several years of this, you would learn a player’s tendencies inside and out, and as a GM, the temptation would be to only recognize the warts of a player. Over that course of time, you may talk yourself into believing that he cannot get the job done for you. Would you then trade him away for someone that you only see in the highlights? Another player who is only obtainable because his GM also thinks his warts are too much to overlook? (Erskine for Niinimaa) Surely, if you look with the close eyes of these player judges, you can find the negatives in everyone’s game. I guess the job then becomes to also see those positives, and realize that every player alive is a combination of strengths and weaknesses, and try to find the combinations that you can live with.

- Cheering is allowed in the press box. As long as you have the door closed on your box, when Jussi Jokinen buries a penalty shot, feel free to pump your fist and say, “yeah!” This game means a ton to these guys, and when they score there is much rejoicing.

- When scored upon, remain quiet. I am not sure this is actually a rule or proper protocol, but when Edmonton mounted what seemed like an inevitable rally in the third period, I was not about to say a word until several minutes had passed. In the meantime, the uncomfortable silence was deafening. It is tough to compare it to anything else, but know this: It was tense, and it was not just another game.

- Here is what Andy Moog appears to be doing. He talks down to Derek McKinnon and Mark Lamb about the forecheck strategy of Edmonton and how the breakout execution is working. Edmonton employs a ferocious forecheck as all 3 forwards will go as deep as they please to try to create turnovers. Moog describes them as “horny” on the play, and if they get too horny, the Stars will get odd man rushes the other direction. Anyway, Moog tells McKinnon, who handles the video for the team, what scenarios need to be clipped for intermission viewing by Dave Tippett and his staff (I believe).

- Armstrong, on the other hand, is watching the game as closely as he can, watching the out of town scoreboard, watching the minor league scoreboard, watching the transactions, and offering red licorice to Moog and me. How he can be this wired all season long is amazing. He appears caffeinated to say the least, and aside from his players, the refs, and Edmonton’s players, everything is going well in the game.

- As the lead is disappearing in the 3rd, frustration is growing in the box. By the time it is tied, the brass is begging the boys to hang in there (even though no one can hear them but me), as this arena is trying to push the Oilers over the top. You can’t believe how cool the whole scene is. My head is pounding because the nerves are being asked to carry so much stress. Once again, I am reminded this is one of 82 regular season games. Win or lose, this is only important tonight, because Thursday there is another game either way. But tonight, it is game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals.

- We get to the overtime, as pucks whistle by Turco and nearly miss, while the Stars’ chances are becoming fewer and farther between. As Guerin charges the net and the puck is sent in by Stu Barnes perfectly, the boys upstairs think the game is over, but somehow the puck goes wide as Guerin is shoved into the net. Close call, game on. Time runs out on the game, but the shootout exists, and the result is a given, right? I felt it, I could sense they felt it, and after Jussi Jokinen’s feature on the front of the Edmonton sports page yesterday, the Edmonton crowd knew that taking on the Stars in this new shootout is like trying to out ride Lance Armstrong in the Alps. Zubov scores, Turco saves, Jussi scores, Turco saves, handshakes, smiles, fist-pumps, and on to Calgary.

- I sat there, tried not to say anything stupid, and observe what life is like when every game means so much. You can rest assured in knowing that your hockey franchise’s top spots are occupied by guys who are 100% committed to making sure this team does whatever it takes to win every time they drop a puck. Does it always work? Nope. But, it is sure an intense ride with these guys this week. It is a lot less stressful watching the game in Dallas with a walkman and a coke.


Mavericks avoid disastrous loss to Blazers …Avery not amused.

"I don't know what I'm going to have to do to get this team charged up," Johnson said during a loud postgame news conference. "But I'm willing to do anything, whatever it takes to get us going. So I'm open for any ideas. I couldn't even talk to my team at halftime.

"It's 100 days to the Finals right now. This is what the NBA season is all about. It's not when you have three days off between games. This is the nuts and bolts. Your body doesn't feel as good, you may be fighting a little fatigue – like every NBA team. You might have a few injuries and nobody gives a care about injuries.

"It's 100 days to the Finals. It's totally on my shoulders. It's not the referees. It's the coach. We haven't been playing well since the All-Star break. I'm going to have to do something because what we're doing isn't working."

Get em’ Avery.

The Sopranos are back with a vengeance Sunday: and here is a reset on where we were

My happiness will likely only remain for a few more hours (as Liverpool is dangerously close to being bounced today), but I rejoice as Chelsea is bounced. Here is a shocker, the Special One is not ready to admit defeat …What a dope Jose is…

Jose Mourinho suggested Barcelona's progress hinged on what he regards as Asier del Horno's unjust red card as he reflected on Chelsea's Champions League exit. "We were playing with 10 players for most of the first leg so we haven't seen two games where we had 11 against 11," the manager said. "Barcelona haven't won against 11 players, so that's all I can say."

Asked by ITV Sport whether the better team had won over the two legs, Mourinho replied: "I don't think so." He added: "We had a tough job after the first tie which was lost in circumstances that were minimum strange." But he was more gracious in front of the local media, saying Barcelona's progress showed that they deserved to go through.

Bonds is done …I would think…

If you believe Bonds, then you believe the third-leading home run hitter in the history of Major League Baseball is the victim of an unrelenting federal and media conspiracy designed to frame him for the use of performance-enhancing drugs.
If you believe the excerpts of "Game of Shadows," then you believe that Bonds and his mind-boggling, bloated numbers of 1998-2004 (he missed most of last season with an injury) are a fraud.

I believe the book. I think Bonds is -- or was -- a human Walgreens, a grotesque and insulting example of better baseball through chemistry. And I think he should slither away, joining Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Rafael Palmeiro in forced baseball exile.

Bonds is finished. He might play again, but there is only a chalk outline left around his integrity and home run totals. And the only way he gets into Cooperstown is if he spends the $14.50 for a Hall of Fame admission ticket.

That is all I can offer this morning from Calgary. I hope you enjoyed the report from the GM box.

For tomorrow, Since I am in big hockey mode, I promise a hockey mailbag. If you are a Stars fan or a hockey fan and you want email questions answered, send them to me or leave them in the comments below…


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the inside look -- you are indeed a lucky, lucky man.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the peek at the GM box--mucho interesting.

Question: were the guys up there just as hard on Tippett? Were there critiques on shifts or strategy? Did they ever communicate anything to him on the ice?

Anonymous said...

Stars seem to have issues holding a lead in games. Is this a result of coaching or player failing to do their jobs?

Anonymous said...

Was Zubov in the doghouse late in the game last night? I know he was in the shootout, but he was absent from the ice for most of OT.

Cool story about the GM box. The most stressful experience I have ever had at a game was the "Emmitt returns from holdout" game in PHX back in 1993. Through an odd series of events, my wife and I sat in Bill Bidwell's suite and watched the Cowboys dismantle the Cards. It was like a we were watching surgery or something. Sitting in a glass sealed, silent booth and no one is saying anything. I think Troy completed his first 8 passes or something insane like that, and midway through the 2nd period Bidwell turns to us and says "Do you know how lucky you folks are?". I just smiled weakly and contemplated jumping through the glass into the half-empty stands below.

The Cowboys brass was in the visitors owners box next door. Jerry and Co., were high-fivin' and backslapping... all with the "sound turned down" in our booth. Pretty funny.

Anonymous said...

Tell me this, does no one like Dan? Are we closer to making BaD Radio the Bob and Tom Show? Dan is the red headed step child.

Anonymous said...

damn i was looking forward to shield talk....then i realized you guys were in canada where there is no running water, electricity, or the shield.

Anonymous said...

Bob you are killing me. It's Johnny Sack not Johnny Sax.

PHE said...

Bob, thank you for the well-written report on the doin's behind the Stars scene. I'm curious, was there any agreement w/ Armstrong and Moog that you would post this report? Did they make any requests/demands of you as a quid pro quo for letting you in?

Keep up the excellent work, my Sturminating friend.

Anonymous said...


Benfica just scored in the 36th minute - LIVERPOOL NEEDS 3 DAMN GOALS TO MOVE ON!!!

Looks like the dream is over.

Anonymous said...

A brief question for you....while watching the game with Moog, does he ever talk smack under his breath about Turco? I imagine that it's like a hot girl that talks some trash to her friends about the hot(ter) girl that just entered the room and is dressed a little better than her. Did he ever say anything like, "I would have made that save," or "I would NEVER have let that guy abuse me like that?" Please tell me that this kind of thing happens.

Anonymous said...

Other questions to be answered....

Is Fake Strum a british cigarette?

Anonymous said...

Bob, I got a hockey question:

What percentage of hockey players have seen Brokeback Mountain?

It's a legit question!!