Saturday, April 25, 2009

Catching Up: ECHL, WHL, AHL, NHL and some really cool Blogs

It’s been so busy at work; I haven’t had a chance to write all week! And there’s so much catching up to do!

First off, CONGRATULATIONS to the ONTARIO REIGN for making such an amazing run in its very first year!

The Reign took the STOCKTON THUNDER to 7 games in the first round of the ECHL playoffs. They lost Game 7, but really put themselves on the ECHL map! And one name kept cropping up in the game recaps: BUD HOLLOWAY.

Bud Holloway (#14)

I attended Game Two of the playoffs in Ontario. That night, Holloway scored the team’s first hat trick on home ice for the Reign. Looking back at his numbers, it’s easy to see that this former T-Bird's star is just rising. Regular season: GP: 21, G: 14, A: 7 for 21 points. Playoffs: GP: 7, G: 5, A: 9 for 14 points. The only question I have about Bud is whether he comes back for the Reign’s second season, moves back up to the MANCHESTER MONARCHS of the AHL, or gets called to the big club: LA KINGS.

I looked over the Reign’s roster and found some more WHL alumni among the ranks.

TIM KRAUS played for the Vancouver Giants from 2003 – 2007. He started the 2008 season with the Giants, but finished out the year with the Regina Pats.

BRAD MEHALKO has a long hockey career in a number of leagues with a number of teams. But one name stuck out. Seems, Mr. Mehalko played for the now-defunct Tacoma Sabrecats in 1998-1999. Small world.

Big D-Man COLTEN TEUBERT joined the Monarchs for the post season, after the Regina Pats failed to advance to the playoffs. I enjoyed seeing Teubert trying to use his size to help the Reign. I can see why the Kings placed him in Ontario. This is a great place for him to get his pro feet under him, with some good seasoned d-men to help him grow.
I thoroughly enjoyed the game I attended. The music rocked, the fans rocked and the arena rocked. I know that future trips to LA will include a drive to Ontario to watch more of this team.

Moving on to the WHL. I have sorely neglected this league since the TRI CITY AMERICANS and SPOKANE CHIEFS knocked the EVERETT SILVERTIPS and SEATTLE THUNDERBIRDS out of the playoffs. I followed Tri City’s fight against the KELOWNA ROCKTS, until Kelowna dispatched the Americans in 6 games. Tri City fought hard and came out strong, but could not hold off a stronger Rockets team. Reigning Memorial Cup Champion Spokane took the division leading VANCOUVER GIANTS to 7 games, but in the end, didn’t have what it took for a 2nd consecutive run at the Cup. Still, D-man Jared Cowen is expected to go very high in the NHL Draft- the last prognostication has him going Top 5. Not bad for a guy who spent the post season nursing a knee injury.

I had great fun attending a number of regular season and playoff games for both the T-Birds and Silvertips. This has been such a wonderful learning experience. I am writing a separate blog recapping this amazing season and all the people who helped make it such an amazing time.

One person I have to recognize right now, though, is AMY VAN DALEN. We knew each other from posting on another blog site, but actually met each other at a Silvertips playoff game. She is funny, kind and extremely generous. When I had to take photos with no flash because my seat was so close to the Everett bench, I worried that my photos would not come out. She offered up a number of great photos, which I used in a game recap for the big KING 5 site. Since then, we have become great friends and I am a huge fan of her personal blog, “Chuck A Puck.”
Check it out for yourself here:

At the end of this season, we said good-bye to several T-Birds and Silvertips who graduated out of the WHL. Several went on to the AHL and seamlessly transitioned to their new teams.

Thomas Hickey

D-Man THOMAS HICKEY (T-Birds) scored 4 points in his first three games with the MANCHESTER MONARCHS, including his first AHL goal. I'm really happy for Thomas and know he will go far, but I will miss watching him at ShoWare Center. He is simply amazing.

Taylor Ellington

D-Man TAYLOR ELLINGTON (‘Tips) scored his first AHL goal within his first week with the MANITOBA MOOSE (Vancouver Canucks’ AHL affiliate).

JIM O’BRIEN joined the BINGHAMTON SENATORS with much fanfare from this Ottawa affiliate.

GREG SCOTT (T-Birds) joined the TORONTO MARLIES (Maple Leafs affiliate). The Marlies are in a playoff battle with the Moose, but from what I can see, neither Scott nor Ellington are on their team’s rosters.

Kyle Beach

Former Silvertip standout KYLE BEACH, who was traded to the LETHBRIDGE HURRICANES at the beginning of the season, got called up to the ROCKFORD ICEHOGS (CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS’ AHL team), after Lethbridge fell in the first round of the WHL playoffs to the CALGARY HITMEN in 4 games.

Following players like Hickey, Ellington, Scott and O’Brien to the AHL opened my eyes to a league I had skimmed over for the past… oh, many years. I knew the AHL existed, but never really paid attention to it. I focused more on the NHL and in a smaller way, the WHL (mostly because we have 2 teams within driving distance to my home, and because I’ve sung at T-Birds games for the last 12 years). That changed this past season.

Mitch Love

One night at an Everett Silvertips game ended up introducing me to the AHL in a very jarring way. I was singing at my first ‘Tips game. What happened that night led to an interview with MITCH LOVE, former Everett D-man now playing LW with the HOUSTON AEROS (the MINNESOTA WILD’S AHL affiliate). As many of you know, he’s been writing a weekly blog about life as an AHL player. Mitch and the Aeros are in the thick of a first round battle against the PEORIA RIVERMEN. Houston scrabbled and fought to win Game 5 and keep the Aeros in the thick of things. They square off for Game 6 tonight. GO AEROS!!!

Riley Armstrong

I’ve also been learning about the WORCESTER SHARKS, thanks to my good friend JoJo, who has visited Worcester on a regular basis and written about San Jose’s AHL affiliate. Jojo’s blogs are as entertaining as they are informative and I’ve been happily cheering Worcester in their playoff battle. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that former Everett Silvertip RILEY ARMSTRONG (brother of former Pittsburgh Penguin /current Atlanta Thrasher COLBY) is a major force for the Sharks. Some of you may have read her blogs at the big KING 5 Hockey site, but if you want more, check out her personal blog, “10 Minute Miss Conduct (plus 2 more minutes for hitting like a girl!)”:

So… now we arrive at the NHL. I have been a hockey fan for years. I’ve liked the PITTSBURGH PENGUINS since they drafted MARIO, and was excited to see them make it to the Stanley Cup finals last year. This season has been a labor of love for Pens fans, as we watched the team struggle with injury (SERGEI GONCHAR for the first half of the season); off season moves (too many players to name here- went to other teams, most notably the TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING), and rumors of dissent within the ranks. Add to that a coach (MICHEL THERRIEN) who was rumored to have many problems with players, and by the halfway point, we fans were left wondering just what the heck was going on.

When the Pens traded RYAN WHITNEY to the DUCKS for CHRIS KUNITZ, my first reaction was, “WTF?” When they picked up BILL GUERIN from the ISLANDERS for a prospect, I scratched my head. My husband loved that move (picking up Guerin, not me scratching my head). He said, “You’ll see. Guerin is just what the team needs. You’ll like him more than you liked Gary Roberts.” That was a tall order, as I liked Gary Roberts quite A LOT.

Well, I have to admit here that hubby was right. DID YOU HEAR THAT, STU? YOU WERE RIGHT.

Kunitz, Guerin, Crosby line

Kunitz and Guerin have helped inject life into a team that frankly sat OUTSIDE the playoff race just a couple short months ago. The Pens took things a step further by cutting ties with THERRIEN (who for some reason wanted to be called “MIKE” or “MICHAEL” this season, instead of “MICHEL” <- as if he didn’t have more important things to worry about than what he wanted to be called!) and calling up DAN BYLSMA from the AHL Baby Penguins. You know the saying that “enthusiasm can eclipse experience” sometimes? (Don’t worry if you haven’t heard that- I think I just made it up). Well, the man affectionately known as “DISCO DAN” has proven that in spades. The Pens are now in the thick of a first round playoff battle against cross-state nemesis PHILADELPHIA FLYERS. Game 6 starts in just under 2 hours and this Pens fan is excited… and scared.

Speaking of the FLYERS, I’ve had a hard time cheering AGAINST them this season! There are several reasons for this.

Braydon Coburn

1. BRAYDON COBURN. I simply love this guy. He’s big, he’s tough and he’s a former WHL’er. Okay, so he played for the Portland Winter Hawks and as a T-Birds/Silvertips fan, I should hate the Winter Hawks. After all, they're the mortal enemy, and there's especially bad blood between the 'Hawks and T-Birds. But still... it's WHL. It’s kinda in the “family.”

Jared Ross

2. JARED ROSS. Okay, so the last memory I have of this kid is as an 8 year old playing in a pee wee (or whatever that league is called) tournament in Huntsville, Alabama at which I sang the national anthem. His dad, DOUG ROSS, was Stu’s hockey coach at the UNIVERSITY OF ALABAMA, HUNTSVILLE. Doug is a heckuva nice guy. He was extremely gracious and one of the best guests for the weekly UAH Coaches show that I produced for WAFF-TV, the NBC station there. Okay, so I got ribbed for being introduced as “Su Ring, English Major”, every time I sang at a Chargers hockey game (which was a lot- I was the school’s “official” anthem singer for 3 years). But Coach was a good guy. And I’m extremely proud to see that Jared is doing well, as a UAH’er and a hockey fan.

3. My friend CHRIS SHAFER. I met this guy at NHL Connect as was immediately impressed by his hockey acumen. He knows his stuff. His handle there is “22” and he writes for several blogs and websites. The one I like is one he just started with another one of our friends, Kate-the-Great. She’s a ‘CANES fan, but they get along like a house on fire. Check out their blog “The Hockey Writers” here:

Well, I’ve reached the end of this post, I think. If I write anymore it will take on epic proportions. Before I go, I want to recommend a few more blogs I am really loving right now:

1. “Concentrated Juice”: This is my friend Justine’s blog. She waxes poetic on all things hockey, but especially her beloved Red Wings. And this isn’t just a bunch of homeristic posturing, either. Before you read Juice, you’d better brace yourself for a lesson, because Juice is gonna SCHOOL ya.

2. “Damn, It’s Good to be a Red Wings Fan”: This is my friend Jessica’s blog. If you can’t tell by the title, yes, she IS a Red Wings fan. But like Justine, you read her blogs and come away richer for doing so. I highly encourage you to see Detroit through Jessa’s eyes.

3. “Raw Charge”, “One Timers and Deflections”: My friend Cassie helps run these two blogs. My other friend John Fontana also helps run “Raw Charge”. RC follows the TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING, but again, transcends the team.

If I’ve missed anyone else’s blog, I’ll get it next time. But for now, I need to go get ready to watch a crucial GAME 6 for the Pens and buy a new coffee maker, not necessarily in that order.

Friday, April 17, 2009

New Mitch Love blog plus AHL playoff stuff featuring local boys

Mitch Love has posted his final regular season blog at the KING 5 site.

He and the Aeros are taking on the Peoria Rivermen in the first round of the AHL playoffs.
He'll post again once their run is over... hopefully in June!
Mitch Love/Photo Courtesy of Fred Trask

Other local notables whose teams are fighting for the Calder Cup:

Taylor Ellington (Silvertips): His new team, the Manitoba Moose, face the Toronto Marlies (and T-Bird Greg Scott) in this first round.

Riley Armstrong (Silvertips): His current team, the Worcester Sharks, face the Hartford Wolfpack.

Zach Hamill (Silvertips): His current team, the Portland Bruins, face the Portland Pirates.

Kyle Beach (Silvertips): His new team, the Rockford Ice Hogs, face the Milwaukee Admirals.


Sunday, April 12, 2009

ECHL: Ontario v. Stockton, Game 2 photos

Photos from Game 2 of the ECHL Kelly Cup playoff between Ontario Reign and Stockton Thunder.  Saturday, April 11, 2009 in Ontario, CA.  All Photos by Su Ring

Former T-Bird Holloway shines with Ontario Reign

                                                                Bud Holloway/Photo: Lee Calkins/Ontario Reign

I went to Los Angeles over the weekend to catch the Kings’ final home game of the season, but received an extra treat: a trip to Ontario, California to see LA’s ECHL affiliate Ontario Reign in playoff action.  The trip came courtesy of the Kings’ music director Dieter Ruehle. He told me he was doing music for the Reign Saturday night and offered to try to line up some tickets for my friend Justine and me.  He came through with flying colors and after the Kings honored their fans at Staples Center, Justine and I hopped into our rental car and hit the highway for Ontario.

We hit a few pockets of traffic but made it there with enough time to grab some dinner before the game.  I was especially excited to see this team because former Seattle Thunderbird forward Bud Holloway was on this team.  I had worn a T-Birds jersey to the Kings game to pay tribute to T-Birds Captain (and LA’s first round draft pick) Thomas Hickey. I figured the “T-Birds” theme would also be good for the Ontario game.  The seats Dieter had secured for us happened to be right behind Ontario’s bench but about four rows up.  We were practically center ice.  What a great view for the entire game! 

The first period got off to a slow start for the Reign. Stockton controlled much of the play and you could sense the frustration among the Reign bench pretty early.  Winger Brad Mehalko and Stockton D-man Cleve Kinley exchanged blows within the first minute of the period and went to the box on twin roughing penalties.  Stockton got its first power play chance just under 7 minutes in when Bud Holloway was called for tripping.  The Thunder could not capitalize on their man advantage.  Neither could the Reign, when Stockton was hit with a “too many men on the ice” call at the 9:20 mark.

Mike Lalonde scored the first goal about 12 minutes in to put the Thunder up 1-0. Thirty seconds later, Cleve Kinley scored to put Stockton up 2-0.  Teammate Brandon Naurato found the net five minutes later, and before you knew it, Ontario was down 3-0 with three minutes left in the first.  With less than a minute left in the period, Bud Holloway finally put Ontario on the board, by slapping the puck past a diving Bryan Pitton.  The first period ended with Stockton carrying a 2-goal lead (3-1).

During the first intermission, Justine and I went to get some coffee. She stepped away to make a phone call and I waited in line.  I was looking around at the different people in line when something caught my eye.  A woman was standing in line a short distance from me and she was wearing a Seattle Thunderbirds jersey! I grabbed my coffee and made my way over to her.  I noticed that her jersey sported Bud Holloway’s number on the back. She stood with another woman wearing a Holloway Reign jersey.  They saw me walk up and noticed the “Seattle” on my jersey.  We complimented each other on our good taste in hockey tops and I introduced myself. I asked the women if they were also down from Seattle for the game.  “No,” replied the woman in the Reign jersey. “We’re here from Saskatchewan.”   Of all the people to run into Saturday night, I had found Bud Holloway’s mother and aunt!  We chatted for a few moments about Bud’s career and agreed that everyone is extremely proud of him.  Then it was time to head back to our respective seats for the start of the second period.

The second period had barely gotten under way when the Thunder found the net for a fourth time.  Craig Valette took the rebound from a shot by Judd Blackwater and shoved it past Reign goalie Jeff Zatkoff.  The rest of the second featured more aggressive play by each team and a number of penalties.  Ontario’s Tim Kraus was called for hooking.  Teammate Geoff Walker went to the box for tripping.  Stockton’s Judd Blackwater got hit with an interference call and a shoving match between the Thunder’s Igor Gongalsky and Ontario’s Geoff Walker in the final seconds of the period set the Reign up for a power play in the third.  Walker received just two minutes for roughing, but Gongalsky got slapped with a double minor and would spend four minutes in the box.  Stockton scored one more late in the period.  Ryan Huddy flipped the puck over Zatkoff. The second period ended with Stockton up 5-1 and the Reign facing a daunting challenge—to make up four goals in the final 20 minutes of play.   Some of the fans around me grumbled that it couldn’t be done.  They did not realize that the best plays of the night were yet to come.

During the second intermission, I strolled around the arena with Justine, looking at the merchandise on sale when a man and woman stopped me to comment on my T-Birds jersey.  Turns out, the couple are from Tacoma and were long-time T-Birds and Tacoma Rockets (now Kelowna Rockets) fans before they moved to California.  They were extremely excited that Ontario had a team and were proud season ticket holders. In fact, many of the fans I spoke with had season tickets and were extremely excited that the ECHL had a team in their city.  One of the ticket takers told me the Reign average about 5,000 people per home game during the regular season. 

The third period began with Ontario firmly in charge on the ice.  Mike Howe scored about two and a half minutes in, with a decisive shot that bounced off the back of the net.  A minute later, d-man Colten Teubert, freshly called up to the Reign from the WHL’s Regina Pats, whose season had just ended, showed that he’s as good with his fists as he is with the puck.  He and Craig Valette got into a scrap that ended with both players losing their balance and falling on the ice, still swinging.  Valette received a 5 minute major for fighting.  Teubert did too, but the refs tacked on an extra 2 minutes for interference.

 The Reign continued controlling the ice for the next ten minutes.  Then, the “Bud Holloway Show” began.  Holloway scored a tricky goal at 13:27 that looked as though it had bounced out of the net without going in.  But no one on the ice had any doubts and neither did the refs.  Instant replay showed that Holloway hit the puck so hard, it bounced off the back of the net and popped back out.  Holloway scored again about two minutes later, and hats rained down on the ice as fans celebrated Holloway’s hat trick.  (I later learned that this was the Reign’s very first hat trick on home ice). 

The score was now 5-4 and the Reign had plenty of time to tie things up.  Coach Karl Taylor pulled Zatkoff from goal to give Ontario an extra attacker on the ice.  It looked as though his strategy would work, too, until the Thunder’s Igor Gongalsky stole the puck and passed it to Craig Valette, who scored an easy empty netter.  Here’s what’s heartbreaking about this: Ontario did find the net again before time ran out!  Reign right wing Denny Johnston scored with 25 seconds left in regulation.  Coach Taylor called a time out to strategize what would surely be the last chance to tie things up and send the game into overtime.  But the Reign could not capitalize, even with an extra man on the ice.  Stockton cleared the puck and a Reign player made a desperate shot from next to Ontario’s net.  The puck flew down the ice and missed Stockton’s goal by about two feet.  The clock ran out with Stockton ahead 6-5, and the series tied at one game apiece.

The 3 Stars of the Game:  1. Bud Holloway, 2. Mike Lalonde, 3. Mike Howe

The action now moves to Stockton.  Game 3 gets underway Wednesday, April 15 at 7pm.  You can find more information about the team and the playoffs, including how to watch or listen to the games if you can’t make it to one in person.  Just click here.

It was great to see T-Bird alum Bud Holloway doing so well. He was a fan favorite during his years in Seattle. The fans I spoke with absolutely love him, too. Many predict he won’t be in Ontario much longer because he will move back to the Manchester Monarchs' lineup (the Kings' AHL team where Bud began this season), or to the Kings themselves. And I know his mom (and the rest of his family) is brimming with pride for this young man who is working hard to make his hockey dreams come true


Friday, April 10, 2009

WHL/AHL: Former 'Tip Kyle Beach signs with Rockford Icehogs

Chicago Blackhawks General Manager of Minor League Affiliations Mark Bernard announced on Friday that the Rockford IceHogs of the American Hockey League have signed winger Kyle Beach to an ATO (Amateur Tryout Contract).

Beach was the Blackhawks' first-round draft pick (#11 overall) in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. The 19-year-old winger split his third full season in the Western Hockey League between the Everett Silvertips and Lethbridge Hurricanes.

The Kelowna, British Columbia native began the season in Everett and appeared in 30 games notching 9g-21a-30pts before getting traded to Lethbridge. Beach played the final 24 games of the regular season with the Hurricanes accumulating 15g-18a-33pts.

Beach helped guide Lethbridge into the WHL's second round of the playoffs before bowing out to the top seed Calgary Hitman. The winger played in eight playoff games with the Hurricanes chipping in a goal, assist and 27 penalty minutes.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Wanted: Anyone who played youth hockey

Young Kyle Beach/Currently plays for Lethbidge Hurricanes (WHL)

I'm researching a story about the benefits of playing hockey at a young age and am looking for anyone who played hockey as a kid, whether they continued playing or not, to share their experience with me. I will also feature the various youth hockey organizations in the area.

If you are interested in contributing or would like to recommend a youth hockey organization for me to feature, email me at:

Thanks for you help!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Southern Hockey

(NOTE: This blog was originally written in response to someone else's blog about NHL in the South.)
Just because a team is south of the Mason-Dixon line, doesn’t mean it automatically sucks. Every team has good seasons and bad seasons. That holds as true for the oldest and most established teams as the newer franchises.

But back to hockey in the South. If you’ve read my profile or know me, you know that my very first NHL game was a Rangers/Islanders game at the Garden in 1986. That was on a blind date and I knew pretty much zilch about hockey, except that players crashed into the boards a lot and fought.
I did not fall in love with hockey until I moved to Alabama and enrolled at the UNIVERSITY OF ALABAMA in HUNTSVILLE. UAH is pretty much an engineering school, although I was an English Major. I enrolled because it was near the TV station where I worked and tuition wasn’t as bad as transferring to the main campus in Tuscaloosa would be.

UAH- “Hockey Capital of the South”

I enrolled and immediately started singing the national anthem for the soccer team. (I had a friend who knew the coach). The assistant sports administrator heard me sing and asked if I would serve as the SCHOOL’S national anthem singer. Flattered, I said yes and received a small scholarship (under the “cheerleading” moniker) that mostly paid for my books.

I started singing at every sporting event and enjoyed myself, but the first night I set foot in the Von Braun Civic Center, I knew I was in for something special. It was freezing, it was noisy, they were playing rock music on the loudspeakers. Then, the opening strains of “Sweet Home Alabama” came on and these guys in blue and white invaded the ice. The sounds of skates, sticks and pucks mingled with the sounds of Lynyrd Skynyrd in a way that will never leave me.
Things got quiet. The announcer introduced me and I sang. It was the most nerve-wracking experience, and the most exciting. All the players banged their sticks on the ice as I finished, and then the game began.

I started learning about the game because I had to. The station thought it would save money by having me shoot highlights after I sang. So, I lugged a camera and a 3/4" deck around with me. I learned quickly to follow the puck and anticipate the plays. I learned to zoom in on a potential trouble spot, sometimes just seconds before a fight broke out. I started learning about players. I had to, because the station tapped me to produce a weekly UAH coaches show, which meant I had to book the coaches and players, write interview questions and pre-interview guests. I learned that guys had come from all over to play at UAH. They came from New York, Michigan, Minnesota, Maine, Massachusetts, Washington and Canada. I met my first French-Canadian player. There were one or two players from Alabama, but the majority were from what are considered “hockey states”.

Stu Vitue & Jean-Marc Plante(“Frenchy“)

UAH has had some measure of success, both as a Division I team and a Division II team. They have never put up the numbers of a UND, BC or BU, but the guys played just as hard. Our favorite rivals were University of Alaska- both Fairbanks and Anchorage, and Mankato. My best memory, though, was a home game during the first Gulf War. West Point had come to play (Huntsville is a big military town), and I went to sing the anthem. I am a military kid and seeing all those active duty and retirees at the VBCC to watch the game made my heart swell with pride. That night, instead of singing alone, I asked them to join in and sing in tribute to the men and women fighting in Kuwait. You should have heard the nearly sold-out center respond. I’ll never forget that night.

But I digress.

Even though I love the Pittsburgh Penguins, I did not follow them in the 80’s and 90’s as diligently as I followed the UAH Chargers. One of our alum is now part of the Flyers organization. Our long-time coach, Doug Ross’ son Jared plays for the Phantoms and got called up for one game with the Flyers at the beginning of this season.

Jared Ross as a Flyer

Jared Ross as a Charger

Okay, maybe my blog is not the same as Kate’s, which talks about NHL in the South. But I hope you read this and see that even the SEEDS of ice hockey have been being planted in the deep south for a long time, and whether you mock UAH or cheer for them, I’m glad the school had the wherewithal to support a hockey team.

UAH – CHA Champs

And as glad as I am for UAH, I also applaud fans like Kate, who support the Carolina Hurricanes and my good friend Cassie, who staunchly supports the Tampa Bay Lightning through thick and thin. And if a Florida Panther fan showed up here spouting love for his/her team, I’d applaud that person, too.
We are here because we love hockey. It shouldn’t matter what city our team calls “home”. Never doubt their passion— or the passion of their fans.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Mitch Love Blog #16 and other New Stuff

I just posted Mitch Love's newest blog at the KING 5 site.
Here's the link:

There are also a couple of great photos by Fred Trask.
I'm including one here. For more, check out his amazing blog about the Houston Aeros: The Third Intermission. Here's the link:

Mitch Love/Photo Courtesy: Fred Trask

Also... my good frind and blogger extraordinare Joanne Giuliano takes a look at the players who have helped drive the San Jose Sharks to the top of the NHL heap, including a key player from the Worcester Sharks. Here's the link:

I'm still working on the season retrospective and thank my good friend Amy Van Dalen SOOO much for her amazing photos! If you want to check out Amy's other photos and her excellent blogging, click here to visit her blog:

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Power Plays & Power Chords: Hockey's Rockin' Deejays

There are several things you can count on happening at a hockey game: the referees will get booed; someone will go to the penalty box; and there will be some rockin’ music driving the players and the fans.

Music has been a mainstay at hockey games as far back as anyone can remember. In the old days, an organist provided the tunes during stoppages in play (anyone remember the scene in “Slapshot” where Reggie Dunlop fires a puck off the organ player’s head?) Nowadays, you can still find the occasional organist. But at most arenas, a music director cues up snippets of songs to break the silence, drive the team or perk up the crowd.

Take a recent Saturday night at ShoWare Center in the Seattle suburb of Kent. The arena slowly filled with fans excited to cheer their Seattle Thunderbirds to victory in WHL playoff action against the Spokane Chiefs. The refs took the ice to a chorus of boos. So did the Chiefs. Then, announcer Tom Helm bellowed, “Are you ready!” and music filled every corner of the arena. On this night, as in other nights during this season, it’s the chorus to the popular song “Let it Rock” by Kevin Rudolf. The crowd goes wild as the white-clad T-Birds take the ice and skate around furiously.

With one song, music director Mitch Brotherton set the tone for a game that would be as hard rockin’ as it was hard hitting. This is what he and many others do in hockey arenas around the world. And it doesn’t matter what league you follow. From the major juniors of the Western Hockey League, to the big boys of the NHL, the song, as they say, remains the same. Only the tunes are different.

Take the goal song, for instance. Many teams, like the T-Birds, stick to the tried and true anthem “Rock and Roll, Part 2” by Gary Glitter. It’s been Seattle’s goal song almost since the team’s early days as the Breakers in the late 1970’s/early 80’s.

“If I remember correctly, we were one of the first sports teams to use that consistently during games,” remembers Mitch Brotherton. “A couple of years ago, we tried to experimenting with a variation of it by a local band. It didn’t go over well.”

Cross-town rivals, the Everett Silvertips, turn to “Zombie Nation” by Kernkraft 400 to celebrate their goals. Music Director Aaron Wilson, “Our goal song has been the same ever since we got here. I think we’re the only ones who play it after goals, at least in our league.”

The Wilkes Barre/Scranton Penguins of the American Hockey League have also stuck with Gary Glitter. But Bill Dotzel, who handles songs for the Pittsburgh Penguins affiliate, inadvertently launched another post-goal tradition. “We started something last year where after we scored a goal and the song played, the public address guy would announce the goal and we would play a guy in the office yelling ‘whoo!’ We made an MP3 of it and it took off.”

It’s not uncommon for little “extras” to be edited into songs. Dave Levinson, who’s been handling music for the NHL’s Vancouver Canucks since the 2000-2001 season sometimes goes crazy with the sound effects to complement the team’s goal song, “Crowd Chant” by Joe Satriani. “I dub in sirens, goal horns, whatever’s handy,” says Levinson.

The main thing seems to be to make things fun. Steve Rudolph keeps the beat at Xcel Energy Center, home of the Minnesota Wild. He also uses “Crowd Chant” as the goal song and for Wild fans, it’s one big sing-a-long. Steve wants to take it one step further, though. “We’ve been trying to get Joe Satriani to come play live for us during a game. So far, the schedule hasn’t worked out but we’re working on it.”

Head to Los Angeles and you’ll hear something completely different when the Kings score. Music Director Dieter Ruele says the songs he plays fits the city quite well. “Two songs are played after every Kings goal. First is Randy Newman’s ‘I love LA.’ After about ten seconds of that I play a song called ‘Power Ride.’ It’s an original song specifically for our goals. Newman because we’ve been doing it since the 80’s, and what other team can play it? And ‘Power Ride’ because it’s original.”

Still, other teams choose not to stick with one goal song, but shuffle through several, or change things up every couple of months. Take the Philadelphia Phantoms (Philadelphia Flyers affiliate) and Minnesota Wild affiliate Houston Aeros of the AHL. Phantoms’ music director Mike Menschner cycles through specific parts of two songs: “Do You Wanna Touch” by Joan Jett and “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” by the Who. “I play the chorus part of ‘Do You Wanna Touch’, the part that goes ‘yeah, oh yeah.’ For the Who, it’s the screaming part at the beginning of ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again.’ He pauses to demonstrate and does a fairly good imitation of Roger Daltrey’s tortured wail.

Houston Aeros’ music man Tom Entwistle says team management chooses a different goal song from time to time. He also plays something specific when the opposing team scores. “We try to play a song that makes fun of them, like ‘One is the Loneliest Number.’ We recently started playing sound effects of crickets.”

Many music directors, like Brotherton, Entwistle, Menschner and Levinson, have backgrounds in radio or as party deejays. Entwistle and Rudolph have also played music for pro football (old Houston Oilers, Minnesota Vikings) and baseball (Houston Astros, Minnesota Twins). Ruele was originally hired to play organ for the Kings. He’s also played for the San Jose Sharks, Phoenix Coyotes and the NBA’ s Los Angeles Lakers. Dieter still plays organ at Kings games, but is also in charge of all the other music.

Penalties get extra attention from these guys. Says Houston’s Entwistle, “We have songs for our own players when they go to the penalty box. One of those we play is the theme from ‘People’s Court.’ Or a song by Cowboy Mouse called ‘Why You Wanna Do Me Like That?” At a Seattle Thunderbirds game, fans might hear “It’s a Mistake” by Men at Work. The Everett Silvertips’ Aaron Wilson actually has a playlist of songs to play, just for bad penalty calls.

With a plethora of songs at their fingertips, do any of these guys still get special requests from players?
You bet.

Mitch Brotherton recalls one request from team captain Thomas Hickey. “Thomas asked me to find a version of ‘Hick Town’ by Jason Aldean and use that when he scores. I had it ready our next game.” And Mitch doesn’t reserve that song just for goals. Recently, he played it after Hickey laid a monster hit on an opponent and helped turn the tide in a very close game. The T-Birds scored on the next play.

Thomas Hickey/Seattle Thunderbirds
Houston’s Tom Entwistle has a special song for Mitch Love, a fan favorite who has gotten into a few scraps on the ice. “When he fights, we have a special button on our computer called the ‘Mitch Love’ button. We hit the button when Mitch fights and the song, ‘Who Do You Love,’ by George Thorogood plays. “The song seems to be a hit with Love as well as the fans. “For some reason, the other player will try to pull Mitch’s jersey off him. Mitch will wave the jersey in the air as he heads to the penalty box or to the locker room.”

Mitch Love/Photo: Fred Trask
The Wild’s Steve Rudolph also has a special song he plays when enforcer Derek Boogard gets into a scrap. “A year or two ago, Boogard passed along an AC/DC song (“Boogie Man”) that he wanted to be played after his fights. It’s a lesser-known track so he actually sent the CD up through someone, to make sure we had it.”

Derek Boogard/Minnesota Wild
Philadelphia Phantoms music guy Mike Menschner takes a “Southern” approach to saluting two of his team’s top players. “I play ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ for Jared Ross and Scott Munroe.” (Note: Both Ross and Munroe played college hockey at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. “Sweet Home, Alabama” was the team’s theme song.)

Jared Ross/Philadelphia Phantoms

Scott Munroe/Philadelphia Phantoms
Another mainstay at many hockey games at all level is 80’s heavy metal. Every guy interviewed gave the same response when the topic came up: a chuckle, then a seal of approval. Says the Canucks’ Dave Levinson, “In its day it was dubbed ‘arena rock’ and it works. The guitars and drums have a driving edge. There are a lot of songs from that era that have good intro elements that add to a game.”

The Kings’ Dieter Ruele agrees. “I would guess hard rock appeals to hockey fans because the game itself is kind of like hard rock. It’s a physical game, the ice is hard, the skates are sharp, etc. There’s a certain ‘toughness’ that hard rock music and ice hockey share.”

The Aeros’ Tom Entwistle plays all the greats. “RATT, Twisted Sister, Quiet Riot, Scorpions. The 80’s will never die in hockey circles. They have great intros and all you need are 15 seconds nowadays.”

Bill Dotzel plays about 4 or 5 AC/DC songs during the course of a WSB Penguins game. “We have a video ice projector and do a nice slide show to ‘Thunderstruck.’”

There’s one song you’d never expect to be popular at a hockey game but nearly every music director interviewed says the crowd goes crazy whenever they play it. It’s a rendition of “Cotton-Eyed Joe,” by a band called the Rednexx. The Everett Silvertips have incorporated that song into a contest during the second intermission. “It’s called ‘Dance for your dinner,’” says Aaron Wilson. “We almost always start with the ‘Chicken Dance’ and then we’ll have some kind of rotating song for second one and always end with ‘Cotton-Eyed Joe. How it got so popular, I don’t know. I guess it’s one that really fires up the crowd.’”

The T-Birds have a dance contest during the first period. The winner gets to ride in the Zamboni during the first intermission.

Dave Levinson gets even more adventurous at Canucks games. “We try them all,” he says. “’Country Boy’ (by John Denver), ‘Zorba the Greek’, ‘Dueling Banjos.’ I’d like to say everything I’ve played, the crowd likes.’

I ask these guys if they’ve ever played a song that just completely bombed with the crowd. Most say they haven’t, that if a song seems awkward, they switch to another one pretty quickly. However, the T-Birds’ Mitch Brotherton and Canucks Dave Levinson each shared a situation where a song crashed and burned.

Mitch: “I could have sworn it would have had a better response but we played John Denver’s ‘Thank God I’m a Country Boy. The song starts off with clapping. I thought it would be a crowd involvement song and it just fell flat on its face.”

Dave’s musical faux pas elicited an unexpected response. “There’s one song I played – ‘The Happy Wanderer’ and I played it in Vancouver (against the Montreal Canadiens), hoping the crowd would sing along. Right after the whistle blew, the phone rang and it was the GM. He said, ‘Don’t ever play that song again.’ That was the first and last time that anyone ever called and said, ‘don’t play that.’” (Note: “The Happy Wanderer” is actually popular with Montreal Canadiens fans.)

These guys have song collections that would make even the most serious music collector drool with envy. They find their music in a myriad of ways: through partnerships with local radio stations, sites like iTunes and, subscription services like “Promo Only,” or even from record labels.

Before you think about running out and trying to hook up with your local hockey team to spin songs, you need to know this: nearly every guy has another job, some, within the organization. Mitch Brotherton is the Seattle Thunderbirds’ IT guy. Aaron Wilson is in charge of ticket sales for the Everett Silvertips. So is Bob Dotzel of the Wilkes Barre/Scranton Penguins. Mike Menschner, Tom Entwistle and Dave Levinson all have outside jobs. They call their hockey mix-master jobs a “labor of love.”

The fans love them right back, judging by the way they respond during games. Some even email the teams, asking about a certain song. If these guys can answer, they will. One thing most say they can’t do right now, is post their song lists online. For some, it’s just too busy up in the music booth to even keep track of the songs they’ve played. That’s not the case with Dave Levinson. He regularly posts playlists online at the Vancouver Canucks website.

So, the next time you go to a hockey game, sit back and listen to the soundtrack that accompanies the action on the ice. See if you don’t find yourself responding as much to the driving beat of the music, as the players driving up the ice toward net. Only please try to restrain yourself when “Cotton Eyed Joe” comes on. Or just let it all hang out and show off your best moves. You never know. In addition to seeing your team win, you could win dinner. .. or even a ride in a Zamboni