Bubba and I caught the Princeton-Union ECAC quarterfinal game last night at Baker Rink. It’s always a wonderful trip; the ice equivalent to a Wrigley Field or Fenway Park pilgrimage. Built in 1922, Baker Rink has been refurbished and re-introduced more times than David Cone. It has, and always will, hold a special place in my heart as the first rink on which I played hockey, got to see Patty Kazmeier skate, and have eaten some of the worst soft pretzels known to man.
Biggest surprise of the night (the pretzels were an expected downside; our seats were an expected upside): Seeing Travis Zajac’s younger brother (I’m assuming) Kelly Zajac skate for Union. Zajac was an under-appreciatd draft pick, and this year he’s been instrumental in the success of the Pops line. Face-off machine, much stronger skater, and a career year in just about every category. Who knew there was another one in the college hockey pipeline? Lou has a habit of sibling signing (Stephen Gionta, Mike Pandolfo, Jordan Parise) so perhaps we’ll see Zajac the Younger suited up in something more suitable like the horns-n-tail.
I hate having torn loyalties at a game; Tuesday night I was cheering for Mike Cammalleri while more seriously rooting for the Devils (2-way win, Devils won, Cams had 2 assists); last night I was watching Zajac (#21) on the wing while more aggressively cheering for the Tigers. Another good night of hockey, with the Tigers holding on to a 3-2 ECAC Quarterfinal game win. Game 2 tonight at Baker Rink!
Calgary did better at the trade deadline than any other team. In addition to picking up a first-line center in Olli Jokinen, they grabbed D-man Jordan Leopold to add to a blueline previously defined only by the slightly scary visage of Dion Phaneuf. First game together as a line, Cammalleri-Jokinen-Iginla light up for 3 goals (two to the newbie), Leopold pops one in from the point, and frankly, Calgary would rather be in Philadelphia where left the Flyers on the short end of a 5-1 game.
Tuesday night’s game at the Rock will be a nice test of the relatively unchanged Devils (I like Havelid, solid player with experience) against the newly fanned Flames. At this point in the season, leading teams seem to get streaky; both the Sharks and Bruins have lost 3 in a row with absolutely no dependency or blame to be placed on trades. A meeting of division leaders seems to be a less charged environment than a bubble team chasing a playoff spot. Points are more valuable when you’re looking at a playoff share versus golf in April, and games against higher-ranked teams make up ground and pride.
I’ve had a soft spot in my Tri-State area hardened hockey heart for Mike Cammalleri since last season. Playing for the Kings, he seemed out of place, out of (contract) time and out of luck. The guy can skate, shoot and create plays; he is (flame suit on) the Jewish Scott Gomez at a greatly reduced price. He was the first Flame this season to reach 20 goals (ahead of All-Star Iginla). He’s tied for 7th in the league in points. His face-off win percentage looks like a money center bank failure rate since the season began. On November 27, he had a hat trick on three shots. 100% face-off wins is one thing; 100% goals on shots is freaky. Oh yeah, he’s only 26.
The Flames are riding high in their division, 9 points ahead of rival Edmonton. A playoff run is not only possible but expected; how well the team continues to play into the spring will answer questions about chemistry and off-season moves that included bringing Cammalleri north from LaLaLand. It begs the larger question of exactly what the Kings were doing by not making sure they had a spot for him, and used him literally and figuratively as the center of a rebuilding effort. Cammalleri commands about $3.3M from the Flames this year; he’s an unrestricted free agent this summer (thanks to the new CBA that lowers the UFA age and only signing a 1-year deal). If the Flames go deep in the playoffs, riding high on Mike HaMelech (Mike The King), expect some Flame-hot money love. Otherwise, he’s a hot property who has shown that given the right environment, he can create offense – even if none was taken in LA.
Almost precisely 3 months ago I posited that Scott Gomez and Alex Rodriguez were increasingly alike.
Let me add to the list: neither one has shown up for big games in October. At least Gomez recorded three shots tonight (plus one miss, and one blocked, is it me or are the new NHL statistics not bad once you learn to decode them)? A-Rod is A-WOL for the Division Championship Series (let’s hear John Sterling make a big deal out of that one). That giant sucking sound you hear is the extra $7 million or so that Rodriguez thought he’d coax out of a team next year when he exercises his contract option. I think I’ve invented a new unit of measure: The Gomez, more specifically, $7M paid for non-performance when people are watching.
Some other random thoughts, two games into the season:
I like Kevin Weekes. He brings his A-game, a solid effort, and he has no fear. Goalies are always a few sigma off of normal anyway, but he has impressed.
The Islanders are 2-0, and the Sabres are 0-2 as a result. So much for the predictive power of the hockey press. Yes, it’s early, but c’mon. Shuffle off to Buffalo for some ugly practices this week.
The Capitals are better than anyone thinks, and the Rangers will miss Nylander as they realize why.
Mike Cammalleri is now in my top five favorite players. Three goals, same pace as Dany Heatly through week one. The Kings aren’t as bad as everyone thinks, and the Ducks might not be as good as everyone predicted.
Normally this space is reserved for Devils, Yankees, Mets and occasionally a sci-fi or writing reference. But I’m expanding my horizons and frontiers, literally: I’m now a member of the Mike Cammalleri fan club. To be honest, I noticed him two years ago when he was fed by Matthieu Schneider for a goal, creating what is probably the first (and only) all-Jewish goal/assist scoresheet combination. It doesn’t exactly sound like a High Holiday pledge sheet, but it’s true (read The Jewish Sports Review should you doubt my Jewish geography).
After Schneider motored to Detroit, Cammalleri proceeded to utterly rock the record for most points by a Jewish player, putting up 34 goals and 46 assists for 80 points in 06-07. For the Los Angeles Kings, where he didn’t get the benefit of consistently high-scoring teammates. So this year I’m going to be watching Cammalleri along with Anze Kopitar, hoping that at last hockey lights up the Staples Center.
How’s this for a perfect start to the season: Cammalleri has two goals as the Kings knock off the defending Stanley Cup champs, earning first star of the game honors? Yeah, the game was in London, but it was a regular season game. And #13 wasn’t lucky, he was just good. And during Sukkot (for those of you observing) — the “season of rejoicing” starts 5 hours earlier for fans of the black, silver and purple. Camalleri’s sukkah (temporary shelter, in Biblical terms) is lit by a red light. And there is much rejoicing.