August 21, 2009
Our series "5 Reasons I Love Hockey" features puckheads from all walks of life revealing five things that either made them a fan or that keep them watching hockey. It will run every weekday through August. Enjoy.
If you're having trouble wrapping your brain around the whole "ESPN" and "loves hockey" thing as suggested in the headline, then you've never heard Dave Dameshek.
The caustic, insightful ESPN Radio personality lets his Pittsburgh Penguins freak flag fly and talks plenty of puck on his entertaining podcasts, which can be heard daily on 710espn.com (L.A.), 1250espn.com (Pittsburgh) and ESPN.com's Page 2.
What makes Dameshek our kind of fan? The puckhead nostalgia. To teams and divisions that no longer exist. To stadia whose doors are long-shuttered. To the aesthetics that drew our eyes to the ice long before the in-arena experience became a cacophony of cluttered sights and sounds.
If you have reverence for any of the above, you're going to love this list. Even if you don't, you're going to love this list. Here are 5 Reasons ESPN's Dave Dameshek Loves Hockey:
By Dave Dameshek
Wow, this is gonna be tough.
I could go with Chicago Stadium; Mike Lange; the old fiberglass masks of Mike Liut, Michel Dion and Mike Palmateer; the Civil War; Le Guerre Civil; Habs/Bruins; Hawks/Wings; Wings/Pens; Pens/Caps; the 10 minutes before the start of a playoff game in your team's home building...
Hmm. Like I say, tough. Hope these five do the trick:
1. Empty Net Goals
I love the highlight reel goals as much as anybody (and as a Pens fan since the days when the powder blue sweaters were the team's only sweater, I've seen more than my shared scored by #66, Jagr, Kovy, Geno and Kid), but some of my favorite goals ever were of the empty net variety.
It's the ultimate way to seal a victory that just moments before was legitimately in jeopardy.
It's like the "Victory Formation" in football, only instead of going backwards and curling up in the fetal position, you get to cut your foe's heart out while simultaneously adding to your point total.
Alright, fine... I guess basketball's tradition of taking out the starters and putting in the pasty, scrawny guy at the end of the bench has comedic value, but it isn't as good as the empty netter. And, of course, your team scoring with the extra man in the waning seconds of regulation ain't bad, either.
2. The National Anthems
I might be called unpatriotic for saying this, but "O, Canada" has "The Star Spangled Banner" beat, particularly when it's performed in half-English, half-French. I've never been to a Sens game, but Constable Lyndon Slewidge belting it out is still the best I've heard.
That's not to say the American anthem hasn't had its moments. Especially in Chicago Stadium.
I was lucky enough to be in the old barn for the Pens' Cup clincher back in '92 (less than a week after I was lucky enough to be in the Igloo to see this ...
... but I digress...). The way the crowd worked itself into a lather while Wayne Messmer sang and the organ played was just one of those things that had to be experienced in-person. It was so loud it literally made your body vibrate ... and that was on a night when everyone in the building knew their team had no chance of coming back from the 0-3 hole they were in.
That's not a dig, just a statement of fact. What would that building sound like if the Hawks were the ones about to win the Cup? We'll never know now, and not just 'cause Marian Hossa's(notes) on their team. Now that was a dig.
3. The Chicago Blackhawks' Red Sweater
Yankee pinstripes, Dodger blue, the Celtics' green, the Lakers' purple-and-gold, the Raiders' silver-and-black, the Steelers' black-and-gold, le bleu, blanc e rouge... all swell uniforms, but all pale compared to best getup in sports: the Blackhawks red sweater.
Now if only Commish Bettman would cut out this hooey requiring the road teams to wear their white sweaters, fans all around the league instead of just Chicago could get back to relishing it, along with all the other glorious uniforms the NHL offers (I'm looking at you, Canucks, old-school Sabres, Original Six teams and yeah, even the Flyers... just 'cause they're a loathsome team doesn't mean I'm blind to the appeal of that orange-and-black).
4. The Patrick Division
Alright, so it doesn't formally exist anymore, but my deep hatred for every team in the Patrick not wearing an angry penguin on their chest still burns white hot.
The Flyers don't even try to hide the fact that they're committed to playing the filthiest brand of puck since Racki's Bombers tried to goon their way past Youngblood's Mustangs; the Islanders, laughingstock though they've now become, are responsible for causing me more pain than any other team in sports (see: Tonelli in '82, Volek in '93, etc.); the Blueshirts and their fans, 15 long years removed from ‘94, continue to act like that season is the only one that matters; the Jersey Devils should be hated by every puck fan for just about killing the NHL with the talent-free, clutch-and-grab crap they've employed for the past decade-and-a-half; and the Caps... well, can't say they've done much to damage to the Pens come playoff time, but between Dale Hunter, Dino Ciccarelli, Alexander Semin(notes) and the Dirtiest NHL Superstar since Mark Messier, they've had plenty of players to despise.
By the way, the league really does need to go back to those old division names. It was something that distinguished the NHL from every other major sport. Here's another idea: How 'bout naming the divisions and conferences after the game's legends? The Orr Division and the Howe Division, the Gretzky Conference and the Lemieux Conference, which reminds me...
5. Mario Lemieux
In the name of full disclosure, I should mention that I'm convinced 66>99. I know the record books say otherwise, but then again, if we're going purely on numbers, then Emmitt Smith was better than Jim Brown, Rafael Palmiero was better than Mickey Mantle, and Rocky Marciano was better than Muhammad Ali. But listen, this isn't the time or place for a Lemieux vs. Gretzky debate. I'll save it for my 5,066-page, as-yet-unwritten book on the subject.
In the meantime, I'll say this: In the history of North American sports, there has never been an athlete who's meant more to one franchise than #66 has meant to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
I know it sounds like sweeping hyperbole, but think about it: Who else can claim winning two titles while playing his entire career for a team, then winning another one as the owner of that team, all the while saving the organization relocation or extinction?
The answer, of course, is no one. As for the on-ice deeds, well, some have scored more goals, but nobody ever had more spectacular ones.
And in the moments just after M.A. Fleury made like a secret service agent in stopping the Finals' final bullet fired from the stick of Nick Lidstrom, there was much to relish as a Pens fan: Kid Crosby becoming the youngest captain ever to hoist the Cup, Geno Malkin claiming the Conn Smythe, the general sense that this group of youngsters was just at the beginning of something very special ... but in the end, it was 66 who stole the show when he lifted the Cup once more, bringing tears to the eyes of those of who remember the youngster scoring that first goal on his first shift a quarter century ago.