John Buccigross

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Monday, March 31
End of one season, start of another

By John Buccigross
Special to

Today, I tore down the backyard rink. I took down the boards, unearthed the brackets which held said boards, folded up the 60"x40" rink liner, gathered the 57 pucks strewn like frozen Ring Dings on the lawn and revealed after spring stole the snow, and stashed it all away into the shed that sits in the backyard that was built for the sole purpose of being a backyard rink warehouse.

Every week we will present an NHL photo and I'll provide a caption. E-mail me your suggestions (include your name and hometown/state) and next week we will use best ones and provide a new photo.

Boston Bruins GM Mike O'Connell:
"I need you to save my job. Will you help me?"

Your submissions:
"40 bucks? You ask me for 20 bucks? What do you want 10 bucks for?"
- Sumit Arora, Toronto

"Where'd the coach go? Oh, that's me. Crap!"
- Steve Sheridan

"...and that's how I lost all pigmentation in my right hand, boys."
- Sean Wacker

"Ray Bourque is not walking through that door! Cam Neely is not walking through that door!…"
- Larry Gering, Dudley, Mass.

"Listen, all I'm saying is that for my entertainment dollar, you can't beat Liza."
- Rolland Bryar, Cleveland, Ohio

Chicago Blackhawks coach Brian Sutter:
"What are all those dollar bills doing in his pants?"
And now I am depressed. Another winter gone.

In New England, this is the muddy season. Too warm to skate and too wet to golf. With the exception of isolated public golf courses that are playing, lift, clean, sometimes shovel, place, splat, and towel off. In fact most of my life this time of year is muddy. The NHL season has few meaningful games left. We yearn; CRAVE for the playoffs to begin. The weekend morning trips to the local rink are over, as America's youth looks to begin sloppy spring training for the Little League season. And musically, I'm as staid as a Darryl Sutter sport coat. I find myself shoving the same CD's into the car CD player, and Lord knows nothing on the radio will move me.

"…It's your birthday. We gon' party like it's your birthday. We gon' Darren McCarty like it's your birthday…"

And the whole depression started with the removal of the backyard rink.

A backyard rink is tons of work. Time consuming to construct, maintain and disassemble. When I construct and disassemble, I vow every year that "this is the last year." When I maintain and use the rink, it is the most satisfying, surreal experience I have other than listening to Barry Melrose butcher the English language. I am never in a bad mood when skating and I always finish satisfied, fulfilled, exhilarated, and relaxed. Like hockey, being a backyard rink owner is an emotional occupation.

This year, Year Three of the Buccigross Garden, was by far the most satisfying. The lone downer was not being able to skate at midnight, New Year's Early Morning because of unfavorable ice conditions. Last winter, was a hideous skating season. I keep a backyard rink diary and last winter saw just six skating days. However, one was at midnight, January 1. A full moon, a Jupiter sighting, and a million stars all around. A Peaceful, Easy ice skating Feeling. That one skate was worth all the sweaty construction and muddy dissembling, even though only five more skating days would follow. The last skate was January 8. I took the rink apart on February 20, 2002.

This year was different. Backyard rink nirvana. Where 2001-2002 saw six skating days. This winter saw five times as many -- 30. The first one was a "before school skate" on December 5. The last was a bumpy outing on February 25.

Here are some diary excerpts:

December 5: Entire rink is frozen. An awesome half-hour of skating. The year is off to a fast start.

December 7: Sunny, 33 degrees on No. 33 Larry Bird's birthday. Brett and Malorie skated from 8 a.m-9 a.m., and again from 10 a.m.-noon. Brett went out again at 3 p.m. Ice holding up well.

December 18: Seventh day of skating, surpassing last winter's total. I skated at 3 a.m. after coming home from anchoring the late SportsCenter.

January 12: Brett had a 6 a.m. hockey practice. After practice we skated for 90 minutes. Brett went back out at 11 a.m. and skated for three more hours. He then went to his 4:30 p.m. game. Surprisingly, HE DIDN'T HAVE HIS LEGS FOR HIS GAME.

January 18: I skated with Carmen Electra, Jennifer Garner and Michel Goulet. I convinced Michel to go into the shed and get me a wrench. I then locked him in the shed. After our skate, Carmen and Jennifer gave me a massage, served me hot cocoa and begged me to tell them all about my Steubenville, Ohio, street hockey days.

January 28: Jackson, my 3-year-old, and I went out around 2 p.m. This was the best Jack has ever skated. He moved all around the ice by himself for a good 15-20 minutes. I tried to act nonchalant as I snapped off wrist shots, so not as to make him self-conscious, but inside I was doing the Ickey Shuffle.

Those are just six of 30 amazing days on ice. Actually, five of 30. One of the installments was embellished just a tad. It was Curt Giles, not Michel Goulet.

Either way, they are now just memories in a skating journal. Gone forever. Every spring is a bereaving season. The death of beautiful times on ice and kids that are never the same age again. I find being a dad as painful as it is joyous. I don't want Jackson to stop being three. I want him to always say, as his face beams a 100-watt smile while handing me a mini-stick in the family room, "I'll be Joe Sakic and you be Patrick Roy. OK, daddy??!!"

Stashing away the rink makes me think of these things.

So, I'm trying to get over my somber emotional state until the playoffs start on April 9. The rink is in the shed, but I can take away the satisfaction of all the hard work and time it took constructing, maintaining and disassembling the ice cube. The first round of 18 is days away. Baseball is back. And while MLB is not the NHL, it's certainly not the NBA, and I just purchased three new CDs at the local Borders to play in the car for the Stanley Cup playoffs: "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots," by The Flaming Lips; "Slow Motion Day Dream," by Everclear; and "Break Your Mother's Heart," by Tim Easton.

One more week to go. The rink may be melted, but life is still cool. One more week. The Titleist will be in the air, Nomar will be hitting .448, I'll have Tim Easton's "Poor, Poor L.A." memorized, and the one of the most exciting NHL playoff seasons EVER will begin. I can feel it in my thawed bones. Something special will happen every night. I can feel Joe Thornton's fury, Peter Forsberg's IQ, Steve Yzerman's will and Tony Amonte's exuberance. Feel, observe, participate and enjoy. The greatest tournament of them all is upon us.

Let the games begin.

Somthing to look forward to
So your team isn't making the playoffs? Here are the top 15 draft-eligible players according to the February report from Hockey's Future -- an on-line source for hockey prospect news and notes covering the NHL, CHL, AHL, NCAA and European leagues, as well as the NHL draft.

1. Nikolai Zherdev, C, Russia
Still the favorite for the top spot, Nikolai is the most explosive player in the draft. A pure offensive forward, Zherdev is an expert stickhandler with an impressive arsenal of shots. Lack of passing game is his only flaw.

2. Milan Michalek, LW, Czech Republic
Arguably the top two-way forward in the draft, Michalek is a playmaking center with excellent puck skills and effortless skating ability. Will give Zherdev a run for No. 1 spot, but faces a challenging year in the Extraleague.

3. Eric Staal, C, Peterborough
A versatile centerman with exemplary hockey sense, excellent puck skills and playmaking ability. Has good size and is defensively aware - but is not physically punishing.

4. Nathan Horton, C, Oshawa
Has power forward's makeup - good size and toughness. Horton is an excellent skater with a hard shot. Has good understanding of the game - due for a breakout year.

5. Marc-Andre Fleury, G, Cape Breton
The QMJHL delivers yet again. A pure butterfly goalie, Fleury is already the cream of the crop in the league. He possesses an excellent glove-hand and thrives playing the angles.

6. Braydon Coburn, D, Portland
A big, hulking blueliner with an edge. Coburn has excellent strength for his age and is a dominant specimen along the boards. Excellent puckhandler, number will increase with more special teams duty.

7. Thomas Vanek, RW, Minnesota
The gifted Austrian is looking forward to a big year with the University of Minnesota. The former USHL star is a dominant scorer and puckhandler, but lacks defensive awareness.

8. Dustin Brown, RW, Guelph
A pure offensive talent, Brown is coming off a 41-goal sophomore season with Guelph. Dustin's puck skills are top-notch, but his all-around game still requires work.

9. Zach Parise, C, North Dakota
All he seems to lack is size, but with his heart, it might not matter. Extremely gifted offensive player who can create and finish. Thrives in the open ice but will also get involved along the boards. Very strong on special teams and has very good hockey sense.

10. Robert Nilsson, LW, Sweden
His game has been compared to Peter Forsberg's - Nilsson is a playmaker with good hockey sense and willingness to play the body. Had a disappointing showing at the U-18 tournament in April.

11. Ryan Suter, D, U.S. National Team Development Program
The son of Bob Suter, member of 1980 "Miracle on Ice" squad. Ryan is a promising offensive defenseman who excels as a puck distributor. Member of the gold-medal winning US U-18 squad last spring.

12. Dion Phaneuf, D, Red Deer
A big, mean defenseman with a solid two-way game. Phaneuf is a very physical kid who is not afraid to drop the gloves. Has a hard shot and good understanding of the game.

13. Ryan Getzlaf, C, Calgary
Big guy, (6-3, 190), Getzlaf has exploded offensively this season. A much stronger player than last year, Ryan plays the game aggressively in the corners and goes to the net hard. Trails only Fredrik Sjostrom in team scoring.

14. Konstantin Glazachev, LW, Russia
Skilled forward has recently made his Russian Superleague debut. A speedy winger with a booming shot, Konstantin can mix it up physically as well. Good confidence and goes to the net aggressively.

15. Mark Stuart, D, Colorado
A fluid skater with a booming shot and good understanding of the game. Has a large frame and doesn't shy away from contact. A hard worker and plays with intensity.

He has a better save percentage than Martin Brodeur, Patrick Roy, Ed Belfour and everyone else in the world not named Marty Turco. He has a lower goals-against average than Brodeur, Roy, and Belfour, as well. Yet, the hockey world doesn't bring up Dwayne Roloson's name when Vezina discussions come up. Or MVP. I believe Jose Theodore won the MVP last year because he plays for the Montreal Canadiens and an influential Canadian media led the charge. Dwayne Roloson's goals-against average is lower than Theodore's was last MVP season, and when the week began his save percentage was almost equal when the week began (Theodore was .931 last season, Roloson's is .929). Does that make Roloson the NHL MVP? Not in my mind, but his value matches Theodore from a year ago, and he certainly is the Wild's MVP.

Dwayne Roloson
Dwayne Roloson helped the Wild clinch their first playoff berth with a 4-0 blanking of the Red Wings.
No. 1: What has been the key to your success this year? Roloson: Things haven't been going well just this year, it's been the last three or four years. My last year in Buffalo I began intense off ice training and it's been a nice ride since then.

"Rolie" was born October 12, 1969, in Simcoe, Ontario.

No. 2: After St. Louis signed you as a free agent in 2000, the assigned you to Worcester. You were a 31-year-old goalie in the AHL. How tough was that? Roloson: Any time you take a step back it's pretty hard. You wonder, "What's up next?" I just took advantage of the ice time in the minors and hoped I'd get back up to the next level.

Dwayne went 32-15-5 in Worcester with an AHL leading 2.17 goals against average. The Wild signed him after that season.

No. 3: Are you surprised the Wild have had so much success this year? Roloson: You see all the articles and you see you are picked last before the season. And we just said, "We'll have to prove them wrong again." And that's how we approach it. We have a lot of third- and fourth-liners from other teams, with a few exceptions, and we have to claw for everything we get.

Dwayne was a not drafted. He began his pro career when Calgary signed him on July 4, 1994.

No. 4: Were the playoffs a preseason goal? Roloson: At the beginning of the year we said we wanted to do better than we did last year (73 points 12th in the West) and shoot for the playoffs and keep it realistic. Also, we wanted to concentrate at the task at hand, and that's winning game by game.

He appeared in 70 games for Calgary, going 20-30-11 (nine no decisions).

No. 5: Why are the Wild playing well this year? Roloson: I just think we play so well together. We don't have superstars to go out and score four goals a night. We have to play smart offensively and defensively. We try not to make too many mistakes and try to capitalize on the other team's mistakes. We've been doing that really well this season. Jacques is one of the best coaches in the league and he really simplifies the game for everybody. It's unbelievable to sit there and listen to what he has to say.

Dwayne won the Baz Bastien Trophy for top AHL goalie in 2001 with the Worcester IceCats. Other Bastien Trophy winners include: Jon Casey (Baltimore Skipjacks), Felix Potvin (St. John's Maple Leafs), and Manny Legace (Springfield Falcons).

No. 6: Many people thought the Wild were doomed when the NHL sought to enforce clutching and grabbing. Why hasn't that been the case? Roloson: Everyone was saying the new rules would hurt us because we like to trap and clog up the neutral zone. Actually, the new rules help us because we're such a fast team; we can forecheck and get on guys before they can do anything. When we're skating well, we're playing well. We have two simple rules: at our blue line, make sure the puck gets out; at their blue line, make sure the puck gets deep. When we do it right, we play well.

Dwayne played four years of college hockey at UMass-Lowell and was named MVP of the 1994 Hockey East Tournament despite losing to Boston University, 3-2, in the final. He was also a First Team All-America selection that season.

No. 7: When your sons are 18 and have the option of playing junior hockey or college hockey, what would you recommend? Roloson: I would like to see them get their schooling. It was one of the things I looked at. Hockey isn't going to last forever. I figured I could use hockey to get an education and that's something no one could take away from me. I always thought it was important to get an education. If you don't have that degree it's tough to get a job after hockey.

Dwayne loves to play golf. He has no holes-in-one. He likes Phil Collins and his favorite Collins song is "In the Air Tonight."

No. 8: What was your first job growing up in Canada? Roloson: I picked tomatoes when I was 14. And then I picked tobacco after that. It was painful. I had bad allergies and hay fever and the tomatoes were always growing with ragweed all around it. It was terrible. I hated it.

My question is this: What's up with the Chris Drury bandwagon???? If there has ever been a more overrated player it's him. The only reason Drury looked so good in Colorado was because he played with Peter Forsberg. I would score 20 a year with Forsberg as my linemate!!!
Rod Selem

I admit I am the driver on the Chris Drury bandwagon and I treat the horse well, I feed him well. Drury is not a superstar. He has probably been miscast in the role by fans and the media and thus when one looks at his stats, they are under whelmed. Drury is a grinder. Unrelenting and tough, yet smart and creative. That's why he's a better playoff scorer than a regular-season scorer and why the Avs will miss him this spring.

You have a minivan?! I just can't see you blasting Nickelback in a minivan (with your otter riding shotgun of course.) Say it ain't so John, say it ain't so.
John Zellers

I don NOT have a minivan. You know it, I know it, Bob Dole knows it, the American people know it. And Ken and I are more into Stereophonics, Coldplay and Tenacious D these days.

How's Ken? Do you think Jiri Fischer will have the same kind of impact this year with the huge portion of the season he has missed?
Ed Kleinjan
Zeeland, Mich.

Ray Ferraro said that coming back from ACL surgery is difficult and that he expects Fischer to be a bit under 100 percent. Ken is fine. He just got back from an all-day otter spa in Mingo Junction, Ohio.

Jere Lehtinen will win the Selke hands down. You don't know what the hell you are talking about.
Chad Luttrell

Lehtinen is having an outstanding year and would be a deserving. Some of you Lehtinen supporters cite his goals this year. Bob Gainey won four straight Selke's and his goal totals for those four years were 15, 20, 14 and 23. Goals don't matter. It's all about defense. And be careful with plus/minus. That is as much a team stat as an individual stat.

With all due respect to your MVP Todd Bertuzzi, as well as to Joe Thornton and Markus Naslund, the MVP without a doubt is Forsberg. He is the best player in the world.
Ian Tracy

No one appreciates or loves Forsberg more than me. I just thought since the Canucks will likely win the division, despite injuries to Ed Jovanovski and Dan Cloutier, and the fact they have little scoring support, I thought Bertuzzi's value was a hair higher. He is the reason for Vancouver and Naslund's success, not the other way around. He is a great skater, passer, and gives Naslund lots of room to move.

If the Penguins dump Rick Kehoe, who would you like to see take the reins. Would Melrose fit?
Chris Heintzelman
St. Clairsville, Ohio

Barry would be a good fit because his teams always play hard and tough and getting young players to play hard and tough is the fastest way to get them to improve. However, I imagine if the Penguins hire a new coach he will be an inexpensive one. Of course, if Mario were player-coach, they could save a salary and have the assistants make the defense and line changes.

Great to see you back on I got the call in January and have missed the second half of the NHL season. There's no TV where we are, so you'll have to provide a Melrose mullet update via the column.
Lieutenant Russ Hardy
United States Navy

Keep in mind while you watch the Stanley Cup playoffs that there are brave and strong men and women in great danger fighting a war. Some are hockey fans. Hope for a quick ending soon, so they can be home with their family and friends, safe, sound and feeling the joy of watching Mike Modano skate or Al MacInnis shoot a puck. Be well, Russ. Peace.

John Buccigross is the host of NHL 2Night, which airs on ESPN2. His e-mail address -- for questions, comments or cross-checks -- is

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