So you might have heard that once upon a time, I played hockey and was a USA hockey certified coach. It may come as surprise however-given my slight stature- to learn that I played defense. Whenever I view a game, I see it very much as a defenseman would. And when I’m yelling at a Coyotes game, it’s usually to shout out much needed instructions to the defense. One of my favorite phrases is,
“GET IT OUT OF THERE!”
which is oft directed at my nemesis Yandle or Slo Mo.
Now, I know that Yandle is an All-Star. And I’ve been reminded that he’s been a league leader stats-wise. It just seems that whenever he’s on the ice, I’m looking for mistakes and I spot them. Unfortunately, the same thing used to happen whenever I watched Morris play. Bad passing, turnovers…it’s all so glaring when it’s all you’re looking for. Today, when I saw D-Mo at practice, he had clearly lost a ton of weight-and by ton, I mean the weight of a small toddler. He seemed quicker on his feet, more agile and more ready to play than I’ve seen him in years. He even scored from the blue line today-which was super fun to watch him do in a real game last season. So I’m looking forward to seeing what these two Vets can bring to the defense.
As I watched practice today, OEL, whom I’ve dubbed “The Next World’s Greatest Defenseman” stuck out clearly as the superstar that he is. He is absolutely midseason ready due to playing throughout the lockout. I think if he’s put in any defense pairing, he’ll bring up the play of his teammate. Last season, I received an OEL signed puck that sits on my nightstand table. And every night of the season, I pray that my little Swedish meatball stays healthy.
And finally, when looking at a team, the ultimate defenseman is clearly the goalie. We were lucky enough or perhaps our management was smart enough to choose Smitty off the scrap heap. In letting Bryz go off to the Flyers and ultimately the universe, we left some mighty big goalie skates to fill. Early on last season, Smitty was a mess. If he let in two goals, he let in four. His mental game was the part that needed fixing. I’ve had the opportunity to ask Sean Burke what it is that he whispers in these goalies’ ears to take them from spacey to focused but he’s completely mum on the subject. He’s probably saving it for his someday autobiography, “Goalie Coaching for Dummies.” That being said, the key that will drive this year for Smitty is to quiet every critic out there that wants to believe he’s a one hit wonder. Last year, he had something to prove and that drove him. This year, he has something to prove again and I believe it will drive him to be the type of goalie that wins games consistently. Long losing streaks will put any team out of playoff position with this abbreviated schedule. It is going to be rough on him though. It’s a pretty quick pace so the powers that be will have to plan which games LaBarbs can handle for him.
One phrase you hear all the time, which definitely applies to Smitty is this; “he’s good in the room.” Now, I’ve never been lucky enough to be in a pro hockey locker room.
Wait….I’ve read Roenick’s book, maybe I would never want to be in a pro hockey locker room.
But anyway, if I was in the locker room, I’d imagine someone being good in the locker room as this; when things go wrong on the ice, as they sometimes do, said player would NOT be throwing little girl tantrums and blaming the entire team for not backing him up. I’d imagine you can only do that for so long before the team gets fed up with you and sends you packing to the Philadelphia Flyers where they have deep pockets and a near endless supply of patience to endure your crap. And I’m just speaking theoretically here, not naming any Russian names that might rhyme with Smyzgalov.
So that’s what I have for you tonight…again, thank you for reading this…all two of you. You are zee best.