Tag Archives: zajac

Zajac the Younger

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.

Kelly Zajac
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!

Six Things In Six Games

Six game road trip, big change in perspective. Lots can happen in a hockey work week:

1. Riding atop the Atlantic Division is such a sweet thing. I’m looking at the Hockey News’ 08-09 conference predictions with the entire division minus the Islanders ahead of the Devils. Predictions are made to be broken.

2. Shanahan still has “it”, whatever “it” may be. He gives hope to over-40 hockey heads everywhere. Two years ago, I called him a nudnik, but maybe he was just looking for better team chemistry? I yelled “dangle” so loudly that The Bubba put down the Rock Band drum sticks. It qualifies as an event.

3. If Shanahan continues to score at this pace, he’ll have more goals on the season than Gomez by about Valentine’s Day. With just one goal, Shanahan is now 300% more cost efficient than Gomez (8 goals for $10M versus 1 goal for $400K, your spreadsheet mileage may vary).

4. Travis Zajac is horribly under-rated. Everyone said “huh” when the Devils drafted him.

5. Speaking of draft oddities, how badly are the Islanders kicking themselves for passing over Parise? JP Parise (like, his father) played for the Islanders, and was respected, revered and remunerated for being a killer of Ranger dreams.

6. Patrik Elias is on Twitter, and it’s really him. A bunch of the other puck heads on Twitter trusted, then verified, but the Snowman has unnamed sources. Meanwhile, no tweets from Elias in ages. Maybe Lou found out? Something tells me Lou would tweet in all caps. Just a thought.

Not making the list: Salvador’s stomach credited with Nashville goal; Who needs shutouts when you’re winning games; We miss Pandolfo but he is a Team Player; Mike Cammalleri gives Calgary hope and consistency (actually, that may be tomorrow’s list).

Puke Through My Nose

One of my college friends had a variety of ways of expressing disgust, typically involving creative uses of other people’s body parts. My favorite, after nearly three decades, is that he was so disgusted with something that he would “puke through his nose.” That searing, burning, horrendous, watching-garbage-trucks-collide with nothing you can do to stop it feeling? That’s it.

That’s what it’s like watching the Devils over the last two weeks. Five losses, a handful of goals, and seven in a row to the Rangers. Seven? The last time the Rangers beat a team seven times in one season “expansion” referred to leagues, not salary caps, and my nasal friend was vomiting in grade school. We entered March like a lion, thinking about a first seed in the playoffs, and we’re going out like a slaughtered lamb, hoping to hold on to a playoff spot or at least avoid Montreal or Pittsburgh in the first round. My only consoling thought is that I now know what my co-author, and long-time suffering Jets fan Evan Marcus feels like every Sunday from September through Christmas.

Like the Jets, the Devils are inventing ways to lose. Doesn’t Zajac know how to take a center out of the play without dumping him into his own goalie, particularly when the puck has deflected off of Brookbank’s skate? Didn’t someone tell the Devils to cover the center in the low slot on the power play? Help, please. How about picking some number of defensemen (out of NINE) that can play this game? How about picking up some talent this summer, and dropping the dead weights? It’s March, and I’m talking about the off-season. It’s stupid talk, it’s the talk of a deranged fan, it’s the language that precedes a vomit incident.

Size Up The Middle

I got to catch about half of last nights Rangers-Devils pre-season game; even given modern technology I had to put the game on DVR and get to synagogue live. I missed Weekes getting hurt, and the first two Rangers goals, but what I saw after that gave me hope and a bit of a smile. Realizing that pre-season games in the NHL mean even less than they do in the NFL, I try not to read too much into events. But there were bright spots last night (other than the over/under on the rabbi’s annual list-making coming in at 6 and not 8 items)

Vishnevski is a big boy. Bad news: bloggers will have to learn to spell his surname. Good news: it’s because he’ll be dumping smaller centers and wingers on their highly efficient Reebok-reinforced rear ends. My wife’s family’s name was Vishnevski before someone on Ellis Island truncated it, and both #2 on the Devils and #1 in our house come from the same part of the Ukraine. So I’ve taken to calling Vishnevski “cousin”, lending a distinctly Perfect Strangers air to my in-game ranting. Even if we’re not related, I’m going to cheer for him. Loudly.

Zubrus is a bigger boy. Hello, forecheck. Last season I could have counted the number of times the Devils made the extra effort to hold the puck in the attack zone on one plate of Meadowlands chicken fingers; last night they were a forecheck on fire. Zubrus in particular just controlled the flow. It’s not just that Rafalksi and Gomez weren’t making bad, blind passes or failing to keep their sticks down; it was intentional, positional hockey at its best.

Gionta could score from the press box. Yeah, it was against the number three or four goalie, and yeah, it was late in the third period, but what a goal. Valiquette wasn’t faked out of his jock; he didn’t know anything had happened until there was that rocket’s red glare behind him. With some puck control (see above), Gio might break his own goal record this year.

There are still some rough edges, like who plays in the third defensive pairing and where precisely Brylin will end up. My advice (such as it is) is to take Sergei off of the checking line, and replace him with someone with more size (Clarkson), and maybe match up Brylin with Parise and Zajac until Langenbrunner’s leg is glued back on. And of course, everything changes in tone once the Lowell Devils head back to Beantown and the season’s first roster is set. And I can’t wait.

Practice Makes Perfect Endings

I ended up with a free half hour yesterday, thanks to an unusually quick doctor’s appointment. Seizing upon the good fortune, and the proximity to South Mountain Arena, I popped into the last half hour of the Devils practice. Watched the first power play unit work out a bit, and saw lots of practice on play below the hash. Heard some shouts when shots missed wide, and it’s a good sign when it’s someone other than the coaches doing the yelping. As the players were leaving the ice, Elias fired two buckets worth of pucks into the net, one-timing a store’s inventory of rubber with perfect consistency. It was a thing of beauty to watch.

Practice makes perfect. We say it to our kids repeatedly, and we mean it. With tonight’s game against Montreal tied 1-1 deep into overtime, the Devils had a face off in the attack zone. Gomez won the draw, to Rafalski, to Elias, who just exercised the muscle memory from yesterday. A thing of beauty to watch, especially with a lonely snowman — all of 8 seconds — left on the OT clock.

Elias has 5 points in 3 games in a 6-day span. Zajac is playing Calder-quality hockey, but the rookie to watch is Johnny Oduya. Quick hands, quick feet, and a great view of the ice. It’s remarkably hard to find out anything about him, other than he was drafted by the Capitals in 2001, and never signed a contract, playing in his native Sweden instead. hockeydb.com shows only two players with that surname, one of whom happens to be his brother, Fred “Knuckles” Oduya. So if he says his brother used to fight with him, there’s some circumstantial evidence to that effect. Aside from showing up with 3 assists and a handful of penalties in online reports, he’s hard to find via search engine (the brotherly love reference was 3 pages Google-deep).

Here’s the tip-off to why he’s a winner — I asked him for an autograph as he was leaving the ice (which he gladly provided), and he gave me a look like (a) he was surprised I knew his name (b) he was surprised someone wanted his autograph and (c) that it was pretty cool. Thanks, Johnny, it was pretty cool of you, attitude and style wise.

3 Points, 1 Point

Poor Patty. He notches three assists in tonight’s shootout loss to the Predators, including flipping the puck to Gionta for the tying goal with 11 seconds left. In the shootout, after Erat scored the lone goal for the Preds, Patty dropped the puck, recovered enough to get a shot off but left it in the goalie’s pads.

I’m not worried, at least not with Patty playing on the second line with Zajac and Gunner (Lipper, Langs, Jamie Langenbrunner, pick your nick). He has 7 points in 7 games, enough to put him on an 80-85 point season. The goals will come, especially when he continues to take as many shots per game as he’s been rifling toward the net. But sometimes you need a goal, you want to will a goal to happen, and the little rubber biscuit just bounces around the wrong way.