John Buccigross

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Monday, February 4
Updated: September 23, 10:06 AM ET
From a pool of marinara, a star is born

By John Buccigross
Special to

What's the deal with Chicken Parm?

It's not only a question I get, but it's one Atlanta Thrashers captain Ray Ferraro gets himself. Imagine walking through the Denver airport, having just lost to the Avalanche 12-3, and having someone yell, "Hey, how come they call you Chicken Parm??!!"

HIT THE ICE by Michael Fischer
With that in mind, it's time to put this totally unimportant and meaningless question to rest.

I gave Ray the nickname in the spring of 1999. It was my first season of hosting NHL 2Night, which meant I was suddenly involved in what was fast becoming an NHL 2Night tradition: Ray's annual migration to Bristol, Conn., to serve as an NHL 2Night analyst for the playoffs.

Most days, the NHL 2Night crew meets around 4 p.m. to talk about the night's show. Ray often shows up in his running shoes and drenched in sweat from his afternoon workout. You would think he'd bring a spray bottle and towel to wipe off the chair after we're done with the meeting, like people do at the gym, but he never does.

After the meeting, Ray and I usually decide on what to do for dinner. If our schedules mesh, we pick a spot. In Bristol, those options are limited. Fortunately, there is a friendly Italian place called DaVinci's, a driver and two 3-woods away from ESPN. We go there often. Sometimes we order take out and eat in the office while watching the games on our wall of monitors. Which is what we decided to do on the night in question.

We both ordered the chicken parmesan dinner. Ray said that spring that hockey players eat tons of chicken parm. Ignoring the melted cheese, it's a good combination of protein and carbohydrates. We brought the parm down to the studio to eat and watch the rest of the playoff games taking place that night. It was kind of a late dinner, about 9 p.m. Because we were going on air at about 10:30 p.m., Ray had already changed into his dress shirt and tie.

You have to understand, when I host NHL 2Night, I put on my shirt, coat and tie about an hour before I go on the air. I'm writing this at work right now while wearing Hilfiger jeans, a white T-shirt I got at Eddie Bauer, and a navy blue long sleeve thing from Structure. I change into my television uniform as late as possible.

However, on this night in 1999, Ray lost his focus and broke the one-hour rule. It's a bad idea for a number of reasons, but especially when one has yet to eat his dinner.

We were both enjoying our parm and watching the games without incident.

Then, it happened.

Ray had just stuck his plastic fork into a piece of parm. As he lifted the parm to his mouth, the unthinkable happened: the parm fell off the fork. I can still see it as if it was in slow motion. The parm tumbled in the spring Connecticut air, like a Martin Gramatica kickoff, and plunged into a small pool of marinara sauce. That caused a tsunami of marinara to go flying out of the dish and splash onto Ray's freshly dry-cleaned and neatly starched white shirt.

Anyone who knows Ray understands THESE KINDS OF THINGS HAPPEN TO RAY. Once, after he pumped his car with gas at a self-service station, he drove off with HIS WALLET ON THE ROOF. His mind is always two steps ahead. That comes in handy when you're compiling close to 500 NHL assists, but it's bad when you are eating parm.

Somehow, Ray was able to conceal the stain on his shirt with his jacket and tie. He learned a lesson and also got a nickname. That incident, as well as our shared Italian heritage and a propensity for parm every spring, led me to start calling him "Chicken Parm" the following season. What started as a simple little shout out to my boy stuck like cheese on chicken. Everywhere he goes, it's not Ray, it's Chicken Parm. The guy scores 400 NHL goals and what he's remembered for most is "Chicken Parm."

This will be Ray's last year in the NHL. Come spring, he'll be back as playoff analyst on NHL 2Night as he begins his second career. As you watch Ray on SportsCenter, ESPNEWS and NHL 2Night, listen to his vast hockey knowledge and savvy, but also look closely for a stain on his shirt. You'll know how it got there.

Washington's Sergei Gonchar leads all defensemen in goals. Despite that very important part of a hockey game (you can't win if you don't score), he is rarely a finalist for the Norris Trophy. A lack of Chris Chelios grit or Chris Pronger nastiness often relegates Gonchar to an afterthought. Of course, there is so much more to a defenseman than the ability to cross-check an opponent in the kidneys. Puck movement, the ability to beat a defense with legs, and yes, scoring. Those skills got Gonchar an invitation to the All-Star Game and a berth on Team Russia for the Winter Olympics.

Sergei Gonchar
Sergei Gonchar registered a 93.2 mph blast in SuperSkills competition Friday in L.A.
No. 1: What is the No. 1 reason for the Capitals' lack of success this year?
We are not playing well in our own zone, giving up too many goals. It seems like we are not there for 60 minutes. We have a tendency to relax for a couple of minutes, and other teams take advantage of it.

No. 2: Why are you leading defensemen in scoring this year?
Every year you get more confidence in yourself. Also, when you are out there with Jaromir Jagr, he creates so many things around him and makes everyone around him better. Often there are two guys covering him, and that creates more room for the rest of us. I am trying to take advantage of it.

No. 3: Do you think you should be considered for the Norris Trophy?
I don't know. Honestly, I don't think about it. I'm more concerned with making the playoffs. I am a minus right now, but there is plenty of time left to fix that. I can be better defensively. I have a few things I want to work on and that can only help my team.

No. 4: What was your childhood like?
I grew up in an industrial city in Russia and went to one of the best hockey schools in Russia. It was nice because it was near my regular school. We used to skate all the time. When I think of my childhood, I think of getting a new pair of skates and just skating all the time. We had rinks besides the hockey school, so we had plenty of ice just to have a good time.

No. 5: What is an interest of Sergei Gonchar's outside of hockey?
Tennis. I love to watch tennis. Bondra, Nickolishin and Zubrus also like tennis. I play almost every day in the summer when I go back to Russia, against Victor Kozlov of the Panthers. He lives near me in St. Petersburg.

No. 6: How much are you looking forward to the Olympics?
A lot. When players my age were growing up in Russia, we weren't thinking of the NHL or the Stanley Cup finals because Russian players weren't playing yet. We thought of international competitions like the World Championships and Olympics. And even now, friends and family from home are calling, asking about the Olympics.

No. 7: What does Slava Fetisov mean to you and other Russians?
We grew up looking up to him. Anyone who played defense wanted to be like Slava. He was our idol. He definitely has had the biggest impact on young defensemen.

No. 8: You are a multimillionaire. When you get back home, is there pressure from people to get some of your money?
I wouldn't say it's pressure. You're always happy to help your family. It's a part of you. I'm sure a lot of guys are helping support their families back home because a lot of people are not making a good living, so you're happy to help out any way you can."

The Norris Trophy is for the best all-around defenseman. Toughness in front of the net, scoring, puck movement, power-play production, stopping 2-on-1s ,and making smart plays with the puck in one's own end all have to be considered. Chelios has been a plus-minus leader, Gonchar might score 30 goals, and Brian Leetch (why doesn't he have a power-play goal yet?) and Brian Rafaski would be most teams' best defenseman. These are the five right now who best exemplify that and who every GM would love to have.

Chris Pronger
1. Chris Pronger, St. Louis Blues: This is not based on his entire season. Since Christmas, he has played up to his MVP form. No one is nastier in front of the net. He is scoring. He's a good puck mover. He is producing big time on the power play. His reach is always there and his nastiness is back. He was playing like a country club snob making $9.5 million earlier in the year. He still makes $9.5 million, but now he is playing like he has nine cents in his pocket. If he keeps it up he will win the Norris going away.

2. Rob Blake, Colorado Avalanche: When I was typing these words, he was leading defensemen in power-play goals. They just don't make many Rob Blakes, and Pierre Lacroix knew that when he gave up so much to get him. The Avs GM knew getting Blake ensured a Stanley Cup threat in Denver for three more years.

3. Nicklas Lidstrom, Detroit Red Wings: Defending titlist. His team just doesn't need him to go full throttle. He's just ol' dependable St. Nick. Never misses a game. Never a minus. Never takes a dumb penalty. One of the classiest players in the league. Maybe the classiest.

4. Kim Johnsson, Philadelphia Flyers: A 25-year-old who keeps getting better. Bobby Clark knew he had to get someone like him for Eric Lindros. If Toronto would have given up Tomas Kaberle, Lindros would have been a Maple Leaf. But Pat Quinn also knows the value of these guys. They make any team better. Dallas, Boston and Pittsburgh would love to have one.

5. Al MacInnis, St. Louis Blues: He turns 39 in July, yet he's a good puck mover, plays chippy and owns a shot that can be heard around the world. If he stays healthy and stays on this list, the Blues will be tough in the playoffs. Although the Wings outclassed them last weekend on their own ice.

Five for Fighting is largely an alias for John Ondrasik. Just about everything you hear on a Five For Fighting CD is the product of Ondrasik's creativity. Ondrasik, 33, was born and raised in the San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles.

John Ondrasik
John Ondrasik and Five for Fighting sang their hit song "Superman" during the 2002 All-Star Game.
His latest CD is "America Town." The third track on the CD, "Superman," has been nominated for a Grammy for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group. The Grammy's are Feb. 27 at the Staples Center is Los Angeles, the same place Five for Fighting was on Feb. 2, singing "Superman" during the first intermission of the All-Star Game.

How our conversation began: "I was on my couch watching NHL 2Night last year and you did one of your "what John Ondrasik is to Five for Fighting, Dominik Hasek is to the Buffalo Sabres," and I fell off my couch, man. I gotta tell you, I've had a lot of cool things happen to me, but that's pretty close to the Grammy nomination."

How hockey became a part of his life: "I was one of those three people going to Kings games BEFORE Gretzky came to town. I watched (Marcel) Dionne and (Bernie) Nichols and (Luc) Robataille when he was rookie. Then I got to see Gretzky those years. When it came time to name the band, I thought of Five for Fighting. The music business can be like a hockey fight and I thought it was appropriate."

Early hockey memories: "Watching the Miracle on Manchester on television and people still talk about that. I remember Dave "Tiger" WIlliams getting in a few scraps. I've seen Gretzky at concerts because he's a big music fan. His wife, Janet, used to take voice lessons from my voice teacher, so I used to run into her, and I'd see Wayne backstage at Elton John concerts and stuff. In '93, when the Kings were in the Western Conference finals, me and my buddy took a red eye to New York, took a hopper to Buffalo, drove to Toronto, bought tickets from a scalper and got beer poured on us from the balcony when the Kings won. It was like the greatest experience of my life. So, to sing at the All-Star Game in L.A. with all my friends and getting to meet some of the players was amazing."

What's up now in the studio?: "I'm actually cutting a song for a Mel Gibson movie called When We Were Soldiers, and I'm doing a song for the soundtrack. I cut a little piano vocal and they loved it. "Superman" is on the "Bandits" soundtrack, but this is the first time I've written a song specifically for a soundtrack."

Did you know "Superman" was going to be a hit?: "My God, are you kidding me?!! This is the age of 'N Sync and Limp Bizkit. It's not the age of songwriters. I grew up on Elton John, Billy Joel, U2, Nirvana and The Who. So, for me, I was shocked that the song found itself on the radio. It's such a climate of boy bands and rap. It's tough."

All-Star Game performance uniform: "I was going to wear a U.S. Olympic sweater, but considering the game was aired in Canada, I didn't dare do that or we'll never sell a record there.

I should have brought a Chicken Parm Ray Ferraro 1,000th game, game-worn L.A. King sweater for you: "You know what, if you brought it, I would have worn it!! There are only a few guys who can talk as well as they play hockey and he's one of them."

Dear John,
I tuned in to your broadcast last week only to be shocked by the no-glasses look. Was it one of those sweeps weeks? Maybe you just left the glasses at home. I'm very concerned about this development.
Steve Ginsberg

Steve, I'm trying contacts. I got them in that day. The next day, I tried to get them in and I lost both of them. I thought I dropped them. A week later, my optometrist took them out of my eyes. They were curled up in a ball and lodged in my upper eyelid for a week. Can you find me a good laser surgeon?

So this is what I woke up to on last week: "What Rivers Cuomo is to Goat Punishment, Alexi Kovalev is to the Penguins." Thanks for the "GP" bust-out. How's the rink coming?
Joe Rubens

Goat Punishment is an alias band name for Weezer when they have played live in the past. Get a CD of the stuff if you can. The rink? You mean pond. Melrose had the Speedo on doing backstrokes yesterday. Pool or a pond. A pond would be good for you.

I was so upset after a '98 playoff game that I wrote Gary Bettman a letter asking him that we get into the 20th century and add a second referee. Now that we have two referees -- where are we getting these guys?! I was at the Staples Center last Saturday against the Avalanche and saw one of the most brutally refereed games I've seen in a while.
David Gartner
Reseda, Calif.

Just because it came in a loss, Ron Francis is snubbed and hardly a mention is made of his 1,170th assist? How many others have that many? One!! Because he plays in Raleigh, N.C., the most hated town in Conn. (home of ESPN). The "people" at ESPN still refer to the Hurricanes as the "former Whalers."
Forgotten in Carolina (like the first-place Hurricanes)

Barry and I talked about Francis extensively during the intermissions of the Red Wings-Blues game last Saturday night. Barry called Francis one of the best players of all-time. As far as the Whaler thing, I never call them that, but you're right, some here do, and they should stop.

Me and my buddy at college play NHL 2002 on our PlayStation 2 and I find myself quoting you on things like, "Simon Gagne is clutch and clutch is everything," when I score that game-winning goal. My roommate just says, "OK, John Buccigross ..." Anyway, I never hear the end of "Chicken Parm" Ray Ferraro. I even heard Michael Peca say his bobblehead, "wasn't as good as Chicken Parm's."
Dave Jarrard
Kent, Ohio

Those were very nice things you said about my book, "Home Ice," which -- when it first came out a year ago -- was so obscure that a clerk at the Barnes and Noble downtown Boston bookstore, helping a friend of mine search for the book, asked again about the title: "Did you say it was called Whole Mice?" True story. I am in the early stages of researching my next book, which I hope will be a kind of "Friday Night Lights" treatment of hockey in the culture of French Canada. Feel free to give me a call and come by for a skate.
Jack Falla
Natick, Mass.

Do you think Mark Messier will retire after this year? If he retires, will he have to wait for the Hall or will they waive the wait?
Tim Campbell
Williamsburg, Pa.

My guess is Messier will retire. The Hall says it won't waive the wait anymore. They proved that with Raymond Bourque.

I thought you were a big dork until you listed They Might Be Giants as one of your favorite bands.
Greg Weimer

I still think you're a dork, Greg.

Hi John,
I used to watch NHL 2Night here in Rio De Janeiro when ESPN used to show it at the painful time of 7 a.m. (I had to tape it and get to class by 7:30.) Now, they don't air your show here anymore.
Thomaz Alexander
Rio De Janeiro

Blame it on Rio.

NHL 2Night rules! My question to you is what do you think the NHL can do to market itself better so it gets the exposure it deserves?
Matt Roadfeldt

Me, 10 babes from Rio and a vat of suntan oil, driven around Brazil in a convertible 40-foot Hummer limo by Thomaz Alexander while Duran Duran's "Rio" is screaming from the Bose speakers. That and free beer.

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

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