Stanley Cup Preview
hockey season ends this weekend, but thankfully we don’t
have to give up pucks for the summer cold turkey. As the amateurs
put away their skates, things start to get interesting on the
pro level – and while we’d rather be in a barn with
our favorite pep band, four games in a night on ESPN and ESPN2
could be the next best thing.
Hockey provides a light-hearted look at the upcoming Stanley Cup
Playoffs, which begin Wednesday (or so they tell us; we’ll
start watching Sunday, thanks). Included are our predictions and
something we call the “INCH College Advantage.” It’s
a highly scientific formula that rates which team has more impact
players (or coaches) with a college hockey background –
and tells us who we’re rooting for.
The Simpsons recently aired its 300th episode,
and lots of people took note that it’s the longest-running
series on television. That completely overlooks the Dallas-Edmonton
showdown, which has become as much of a rite of spring as filing
your taxes, or Susan Sarandon flashing a peace sign at the Oscars.
The Stars’ move to their new rink last year took away one
interesting sub-plot, however, since commentators can no longer
compare the near-perfect playing surface in Edmonton to the damp
sandpaper-like substance they skated on at Reunion Arena.
INCH College Advantage: Edmonton. Here's why
we love the Oil: Of the team's top seven scorers (not including
Michigan State alum Dancin' Anson Carter, who was dealt to the
Rangers last month), five – Todd Marchant, Mike Comrie,
Mike York, Shawn Horcoff and Marty Reasoner – are ex-collegians.
INCH Prediction: Dallas in seven
The grandkids of the Red Wings’ players will recognize the
logo on their opponents’ jerseys from Disney’s Mighty
Ducks movies, even if Anaheim is a bit of a mystery to playoff
hockey fans. Those Wings’ children have more playoff experience
than the Ducks, too, thanks to the tidal wave of family members
that poured on the ice during last year’s Cup presentation.
Here’s a hint, Hockeytown: if you have to introduce yourself
to someone when posing for a team photo with the Cup, you don’t
belong in the team photo. The hockey gods will have their revenge,
but not at the hands of Emilio Estevez & Co.
INCH College Advantage: Anaheim. The Wings boast
a healthy triumvirate of collegians in CuJo, Chris Chelios and
Brett Hull, but Anaheim counts Hobey Baker winners Paul Kariya
and Jason Krog and All-American Adam Oates among its ranks, not
to mention stalwarts like Keith Carney, Andy McDonald and Dan
INCH Prediction: Detroit in five
Gaborik and the Minnesota Wild were the NHL’s feel-good
story of the first half, proving that you don’t need big
salaries to produce wins. But barring an Elizabeth Smart-like
reappearance by Gaborik – he’s scored just four goals
in his last 32 games – the only thing Wild in St. Paul by
next week will be the Wild Onion bar. The Gophers should win more
games this weekend than the Wild win in this series.
INCH College Advantage: Colorado. Sure, the State
of Hockey has a few former college guys in the fold. But quantity
(Laaksonen, Dowd, Roloson, Bombardir, Mitchell, Hendrickson and
Muckalt) doesn't triumph over quality (Blake, Reinprecht and Battaglia,
to name a few). Plus the Avs have Tony Granato and former University
of Denver equipment manager Dave "Soup" Randolph behind
INCH Prediction: Colorado in four
vs. St. Louis
One-line teams with no goaltending usually hold
us as well in the playoffs as Iraq’s Republican Guard. That
said, Vancouver is an entertaining team to watch, and the Canucks
didn’t draw a bad matchup in St. Louis, since the Blues’
goaltending isn’t exactly the U.S. 3rd Infantry Division
INCH College Advantage: St. Louis. The Blues
dressed 13 players with college experience this season, from Scott
Mellanby (80 games) to Peter Sejna (one game). Bet they wish they
had one of the college’s playoff-tested goalies.
INCH Prediction: Vancouver in six
vs. NY Islanders
It’s always a joy to watch rugged defensemen
emerge over the course of a playoff season, the way Ed Jovanovski
did with Florida in 1996 or Chris Pronger did with St. Louis in
1998. Similarly, it’s highly entertaining to see skilled
players vanish like stains in an infomercial, the way Alexei Yashin
does each year. So tell me again – why did the Islanders
trade Zdeno Chara and Jason Spezza for him?
INCH College Advantage: NY Islanders. With Jason
Blake (North Dakota) and Shawn Bates (Boston U.) on the roster,
the Isles have cornered the market on diminuitive, pesky former
college skaters. Shouldn't Mike Milbury trade for Brian Gionta?
INCH Prediction: Ottawa in six
Jersey vs. Boston
The only reason the woeful Bruins made the playoffs
was their fast start, the result of a fun-to-play, fun-to-watch
style crafted by head coach Robbie Ftorek. As soon as the B’s
lack of talent – especially between the pipes – caught
up to him, Ftorek got fired and replaced by GM Mike O’Connell.
It’s a scene right out of Office Space – like telling
your boss, “And I suppose you could do better?” Here’s
hoping Ftorek is living the Office Space dream: sitting at home
with Jennifer Aniston, doing nothing, while his old club goes
up in flames.
INCH College Advantage: New Jersey. The Devils
have a few notable ex-college stars, namely Joe Nieuwendyk, John
Madden, Brian Rafalski and the aforementioned Mr. Gionta. How
impressive would the list be had Scott Gomez, a one-time Colorado
College recruit, and Jamie Langenbrunner, coveted by Minnesota
and Minnesota-Duluth among others, not bolted for the major junior
INCH Prediction: New Jersey in five
Bay vs. Washington
Switch the channel from NASCAR, because the Caps-Lightning
series is on! The entire Southeast is revved up about this matchup.
These two teams have the most uninspired playoff histories south
of St. Cloud State, but both think things could be different this
spring. Tampa Bay has Nikolai Khabibulin in goal, while Washington
hopes its investment in Jaromir Jagr pays off. Jagr may need the
payoff that comes with a deep playoff run, too, if his NCAA basketball
bracket was as off the mark as mine.
INCH College Advantage: Washington. Close call
here. Hobey Baker winner Kip Miller, Jeff Halpern, Ken Klee and
Mike Grier are important parts of the Caps' nucleus, assembled
by the second player ever to win the Hobey, Washington GM George
McPhee. The 'Ning, meanwhile, will dress Martin St. Louis, Dan
Boyle, John Grahame and ex-Gopher defenseman-turned-forward Ben
INCH Prediction: Washington in seven
Maple Leaf Nation – a.k.a. all of Canada
– truly wants to believe that this is the year for the Leafs.
And why not: you’re counting on the always unstable Eddie
Belfour in goal, a dozen guys whose best years are behind them,
and the possible round-two return of Doug Gilmour. I’m confused
– was Wendel Clark not available at the trading deadline?
INCH College Advantage: Philadelphia. One gets
the feeling Leafs fans would rather see a Saturday night Thrashers-Panthers
match on "Hockey Night in Canada" than former college
guys in blue and white. They've got Ed Belfour, Tom Fitzgerald
and rent-a-geezer Phil Housley – who almost attended
Minnesota – occupying lockers at the ACC. Philly boasts
some big names, however, in John LeClair, Tony Amonte and Eric
Weinrich, which more than offsets the presence of turncoat Jeremy
INCH Prediction: Philadelphia in six