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Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Roz's Rant: NHL Legends in Port-aux-Basques

File:Newfoundland Port aux Basques.jpg
When the NHL Legends game was announced as coming to Port-aux-Basques I made my mother take a cab up to the arena to get tickets that very morning. We popped for the second tier VIP tickets, which meant an autograph session and a meet and greet with the players after the game.

Frankly, I didn't recogize a lot of players other than Glenn Anderson, Sergio Momesso, and Stephane Richer. Also on the ticket were Alain Cote, Rick Middleton, and Mike Krushelnyski along with a few others. Hey, if they never played for the Habs chances were good I have no clue who they are.

I did some research, hit my brother up for some cards to get signed, and listened to my father gripe about the trading of Richer for which he has yet to forgive the Montreal Canadiens. Oh game day I threw on a Tomas Plekanec sweater and headed for the Bruce Arena.

"Are you nervous?" Mom wanted to know, since we were going to be schmoozing with the players.

"Not really," I said. I don't impress easily, but I do have periodic bouts of shyness.

The game itself was called by John Horrigan who is a witty and personable guy but suffered greatly by the truly terrible sound system in the rink.

As soon as the players hit the ice you could practically smell the blood. There was also a major height discrepancy between the two teams, clearly visible when they lined up for the Canadian anthem.

One Leafs fan in the front row sang in off-key English, I massacred the half-French half-English version I'm used to for the Canadiens game, and some old guy in a Leafs jacket dropped a ceremonial puck.

The Port-aux-Basques Mariners were badly outmatched from the get go but the Legends seemed to take a bit of pity on them for the first period and the score was 4-3 after the first twenty minutes in favour of the ex-NHLers.

It's not that the Mariners are particularly bad — they have a wall full of trophies to attest to their team's success within the league — it's that even retired NHLers still have a much higher skill set.

Before the end of the first period a local kids team was send out onto the ice to face the Legends, who suddenly turned into the on-ice version of the Keystone Kops. I watched Glenn Anderson dive like he was trying for Olympic gold.

"There's too many men on the ice," I said to Mom, eyeballing the twenty or so kids facing off against the Legends. "And just look at these shoddy line changes. Who do they think they are? The Habs?"

Richer had a lot of fun hauling down some of the younger players, but was the first one to laugh, cheer and raise his sticks as the youngsters put three into the Legends net. Krushelnyski kept slip sliding all over the place and taking out the kids like they were bowling pins.

It was all great fun of course and it was hard to tell who was having the most fun — the Legends players, the kids or the spectators. After that it was time for intermission and a Q&A session with Anderson and Krushelnyski, none of which I got because the audio was so terrible.

After the game, Legends goalie Roy Nolan told me that standing in the corridor before hitting the ice for the second period he flat out warned the Mariners that those three were all they were getting and he was done playing nice. His teammates seemed to up it a notch as well and before the second period was half over the Legends had opened up a four goal lead and were clearly toying with the Mariners.

At one point Richer, apparently frozen by the slower pace of the game, took to skating laps around the rink and interfering with the puck at both ends of the ice. He's a big guy and he's retired but he's still got plenty of juice left in the tank. His shot is also still powerful, fast and accurate, something the Mariners found out the hard way.

Meanwhile Glen Anderson completed the first of his two hat tricks for the night. He was having a blast and it showed, at one point hollering at a ref when an errant puck bounced off the ref's skate and back into the Legend's corner.

"Get out of the way!"

Andre DuPont took to passing into the offensive zone while seated on the bench. When DuPont wasn't doing that he also literally held a Mariner's player against the boards like a lover leaning in for a kiss while a ref shrugged, laughed, and skated away.

Mike Krushelnyski tormented the Mariners players mercilessly, constantly stripping them of the pucks and racing back up-ice. Between that and all the tripping, hooking, holding and slashing it was like watching hockey from days of old.

In fairness, despite the onslaught Mariners netminder Steve Osmond made some nifty kick and glove saves, including a brutal attack by Richer that caught the entire Mariners squad flatfooted. After kicking away Richer's first shot he got a bit of glove on the rebound that directed it into the corner and got a nice burst of appreciation from the crowd.

By the end of the second the score was 15-3 in favour of the Legends.

During the second intermission when the Tier 1 VIPs were sent down to the dressing room to meet the players Mom and I got accosted by one of the organizers who flashed some Stanley Cup rings at us. Of course I grabbed Richer's and tweeted a photo. Altogether he was carrying around 300K worth of NHL Stanley Cup rings, three belonging to Edmonton Oilers players.

Heck I even took a moment to admire the Toronto Maple Leafs Division Championship ring, which is quite frankly a nice piece of jewelry.

After that Mom and I got hauled up to the announcer's booth where we joked with Horrigan and made a good show of cheering for the home team even though they were getting their butts kicked up and down the ice.

Krushelnyski decided to have a go at tossing his stick into the booth. "That's the highest high stick I've ever seen!" Horrigan shouted at him, but since no contact was made it was decided no penalty was necessary.

It was just as well. There didn't seem to be a penalty box anyway and I wasn't keen on having Krushelnyski get any closer with his stick since he came pretty close anyway, so I didn't want him in the booth with us.

Indeed no penalty was called during the entire game, and since the only stoppages in play occured when the players shot the puck out of bounds into the netting, the time just whipped by. Towards the end it was decided that a shootout was necessary and both teams scores were re-set to 3 goals apiece.

The two best goals of the shootout game courtesy of Gary Leeman who scored major points with the crowd for creativity. His first goal came after picking the puck up with his stick blade and throwing it into the net. The second came when he kicked the blade and puck with his skate.

The final score on the board was 6-4 in favour of the Legends, but in reality it was more like 18-4, Nolan having let one in during the third period despite his resolve not to do so. "Yeah they got one more past me than I was hoping," he said afterwards, shaking his head.

During the meet and greet I won a Mike Krushelnyski jersey which he was kind enough to sign for me even though I hassled him about trying to hit me with his stick. "But I missed you, didn't I?" was his defense and since I can't hold a grudge I gave him a bag of Newfie Screech coffee in return.

I'd like to say how I got a scintillating interview with the guys but really I'm not a hardcore reporter, just a hockey fan, and as a fan I have to highly recommend going to these sorts of games if you get the chance.

Not only is it usually for a great cause, as it turns out there's an awful lot of opportunity for comedy in the world of hockey.

---
Rosalyn used to frequent the old Forum during her early childhood when her father was a corporate season ticket holder, where she fell in love with Larry Robinson, so her lifelong obsession with the Habs is entirely his fault.

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(Photo by Aconcagua via Wikipedia)

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