Tuesday, May 28, 2002 Updated: May 29, 9:10 PM ET
Why U2 should love the West finals
By John Buccigross Special to ESPN.com
I wish it was the best-of-107 games.
Watching the Wings and Avalanche play their best-of-seven epic reminds me of the first few seconds after watching "Usual Suspects" or listening to songs four, five and six on U2's "The Joshua Tree" CD.
(Hold on. Gotta go get the CD and put it in the computer while I type the rest of this. In fact, I just got an idea as I typed that last sentence. I don't plan these things. I like to let them happen. Like a Dave Matthews concert.)
I can't imagine there ever being a CD recorded for the rest of my insignificant days that can possibly rival the quality and impact that "The Joshua Tree" had on me when it was released. And still has on me. There are not many albums or CDs recorded with threads anymore, but this one weaves through the veins and around the world. It conquers the head, heart and guts. That is also what the Avs and Wings have done. They have conquered the hockey head, heart and gut. Smarts, hearts and desperation. In my mind, the Olympics are no longer the hockey story of the year. The Western Conference finals surpasses them. Salt Lake City was shiny and relatively harmless.
Hockey is the original extreme sport.
(HELLO NHL. THERE IS YOUR FREE MARKETING PLOY FOR THIS SUMMER AND NEXT SUMMER: "THE NHL: THE ORIGINAL EXTREME SPORT." BUY ADVERTISING ALL OVER THE X GAMES ON ESPN AND HAVE A PRESENCE AT THE GAMES. MARRY YOURSELF TO THIS NICHE. INTEGRATE X GAME FOOTAGE WITH NHL FOOTAGE FOR TELEVISION SPOTS. BUY A 60-SECOND SPOT DURING NEXT YEARS SUPER BOWL, DURING THE WORLD SERIES AND DURING SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS. GET TONY HAWK TO VOICE NHL PROMOS. DON'T UNDERESTIMATE THE MILLIONS OF FUTURE CASH PAYING SPORTS FANS FOLLOWING EXTREME SPORTS. CARPE DIEM.)
But, I digress.
The Western Conference finals trump the Olympics because of the additional factor of hate, violence and will. All things that are part of life, and just three of the numerous things we love about playoff hockey. I can never be convinced that this best-of-seven series between the Red Wings and Avalanche, and the hunger for the Stanley Cup can be matched or even approached by the Olympics. Sergei Fedorov was quoted as saying about the Western Conference finals, "It's the best hockey I've ever seen."
I understand the impact and importance of the gold medal to hockey-loving countries, but the satisfaction, joy, and euphoria Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, Chris Chelios or Steve Yzerman would feel lifting the sterling silver Cup would trump the puck-sized gold medal with the ease of Bret Hedican's stride. The Western Conference final have illustrated that with flying colors of red, white, burgundy, silver, black and blue. This is extreme hockey at its best. Extremely intelligent. Extremely heartfelt. Extremely desperate. Extremely soulful. It is one for the ages that will likely not be reproduced for a long time. Just like "The Joshua Tree."
1. "Where The Streets Have No Name"
It really doesn't matter where these games are taking place. There is no home-ice advantage. The teams are too good and too bright to for the street name to matter. As I type this, the Avs are up 3-2. This has to go seven, doesn't it? I hope it all comes down to Game 7 Friday night in Detroit at The Joe. When I go there, I'll go there with you. It's all I can do.
2. "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For"
With apologies to Riku Hahl, Darius Kasparaitis, Brian Willsie, and Radim Vrbata, but this series is about Luc Robitaille and, to a larger extent, Dominik Hasek trying to carve their names on a Stanley Cup. Especially Hasek. His rival, Patrick Roy, is working on getting a ring for his thumb. A fifth championship. Hasek has a gold medal, which Roy doesn't own. But Hasek's name isn't on the Cup. There is an ENORMOUS void in his career. And this might be his last shot.
3. "With or Without You"
Forsberg needed a break. Now he needs to establish himself as the game's best player. This man was bred and trained to be a Stanley Cup hero. Now that he's had his break, he can't get enough. If the Avs win the Cup in two weeks, Forsberg will wake up the next morning and probably say to himself, "Man, I wish there was another game." And another. And another. He doesn't have Sakic's release, or Mario Lemieux's reach, or Paul Kariya's speed, but he has a state of mind no other 28-year-old player matches. "Life's battles won't always go to the strong or fast at hand, but sooner or later, the man who wins is the man who thinks he can."
4. "Bullet The Blue Sky"
The rattle of bodychecks and the hum of world-class shots from Fedorov, Sakic, Rob Blake, Nicklas Lidstrom, Brendan Shanahan, Brett Hull, and the rest bring to this series a skill level of the highest proportions. There could be 15 Hall of Famers in all, if you include the skill of toughness and clutchness. As this series shows, it's not all about numbers when it comes to the Hall of Fame.
5. "Running to Stand Still"
Where is Shanahan? My pick for the Conn Smythe before the playoffs began was inches away from winning Game 5 when, out of nowhere, Peter Forsberg, the going away Conn Smythe leader thus far, got a stick on Shanahan's roof attempt in the waning seconds. The Avs are a great defensive team with a great goalie. That is a tough safe to crack. Game 5 was Shanny's best. Maybe he sees the combination now and will carry the Wings' offense in Games 6 and 7. If he doesn't, Detroit will be teeing it up at Oakland Hills next week.
6. "Red Hill Mining Town"
A depressing song of days past. The looks on the faces of Wings fans after Forsberg's overtime winner in Game 5 was striking. "Our faces frozen still against the wind" ... "Our labour day has come and gone" ... "As the lights go down, I'm hanging on" ... "We're wounded by fear and injured in doubt" ... "We see love slowly stripped away, our love has seen a better day" ... "I'm hanging on. You're all that's left to hold on to." Man, these Bono's lyrics summed up the feeling in the faces of Red Wings fans as they sat, shocked, watching the Avs celebrate their Game 5 overtime win.
7. "In God's Country"
"We'll punch a hole right through the night." One of my favorite Bono lyrics. It's Adam Foote and Darren McCarty. I think this series could use a little more punching. A little more letting-it-all-hang-out. I think the Wings should try to open and up and just go for it. Dare the Avs to outscore them. Punch a hole right through the night. Don't jab. The fight is late and will likely take a knockout. The Avs have proven to be better boxers. To win this fight the Wings have to go for it. It's risky, but necessary. The Avs are Ali right now. Smart, talented and mostly rope-a-doping. The Wings have to play like Joe Frazier fought. It's the only way Ali was beaten in his prime. Go for the left hook.
8. "Trip Through Your Wires"
"Angel or Devil, I was thirsty and you wet my lips." This series was worth the wait. There ARE too many players and too many teams in the NHL. There ARE NOT enough teams with multimple scoring threats -- players or lines. And there are NOT enough SMART PLAYERS. Forsberg and Drury are Lennon and McCartney. Lennon was more talented and unique, while McCartney had a consistent melodic sweetness of good form about him. Watching Drury lift the bottom of his shin guards with the shaft of his stick as he croutches for a faceoff, play with his mouthguard during a stoppage in play, wind up big for a slap shot, pop a wheelie with his right skate as he weaves around a defender, and matter-of-factly wins games is melodic to me. Forsberg is Lennon unique. I mean there is NO ONE LIKE HIM. Maybe ever. Together, the music Forsberg and Drury create is much more classical than it is pop. Enjoying and seizing the musical space the two create is Steve Reinprecht. Smart and fast. The perfect compliment to the visionaries. The quiet George Harrison. Reinprecht is learning the greatest talents in hockey and in life: VISION AND FINISHING. This is the best line in hockey right now because they see the ice and they finish. The two most important values of the game. A Canadian, an American and a Swede.
9. "One Tree Hill"
Alone at the top is Roy. Slowly, methodically, he has built a resume unmatched in NHL history. "Where poets speak their hearts and then bleed for it." Throughout the season in this space I have written of Roy's PRESENCE. Of how no other goalie in the league today, Hasek included, rivals Roy's presence, and how vaulable and important that is to become a champion. It's a factor Ken Dryden and Bernie Parent had that made their teams champions. For all of Forsberg's greatness and Sakic's sick, dripping hockey talent and Drury's clutchness, when talking about the Avs, you always have to start with Roy.
"The pistol weighed heavy, his heart he could feel was beating, beating, beating, beating oh my love." This U2 song, from the 2:10 mark to the 3:35 mark, sums up playoff hockey. The day-long anticipation. The churning-stomach moments before faceoff. The beating of the heart during an odd-man rush. The worry, fear, jubilation and excitement of feeling alive. That's what this sport and this series has given. The fear of exit is real.
11. "Mothers Of The Disappeared"
"Through the walls, our daughters cry, see their tears in the rainfall." We can hear the heartbeat of the players. How much they care. How much the lifelong dedication to this sport has prepared them for a series like this. How knowing a loss in this series will scar them for the rest of their lives. We can hear their heartbeats. We can see it in their eyes. It will be sad when this series goes away. A collection of players like this might not be together on one sheet of NHL playoff ice for some time. When one side disappears it will be sad.
Enjoy the moment and pray for a Game 7.
The more the merrier.
It's been seven years since Barry Melrose left coaching and entered the ESPN studio. He has been close to returning to the NHL coaching ranks a couple of times, but he remains under the bright lights and in the big city of Bristol, Conn. I don't know enough about the NHL to know who makes a good coach, but I know that Barry has presence and I know THAT is a very important quality when one is seeking a person in a leadership role. Barry has presence like your dad had. The kind of presence that made you not want to let him down. I never played for Barry, but for those players who played on his championship teams in junior and in the American Hockey League, I can imagine they felt his presence as well. I could feel his presence as I sat down and asked him eight questions.
No. 1: What was your childhood like?
Barry: I grew up on a farm in Saskatchewan. I had chores to do in the morning around 6 a.m., before school. I had to milk the cows and feed the pigs. During the hockey season, I got a little break and I lived with my grandma and grandpa in town because I was playing hockey everyday. When I was with my parents, we lived 20 miles from Kelvington, so the bus ride to school was about 90 minutes with all the stops. My dad ran the rink in town in the winter, which gave me extra time on the ice helping out scraping the ice and stuff. We only had two channels on TV, we didn't have a phone, and we didn't have running water.
Barry was born July 15, 1956.
No. 2: What aspect of your upbringing shaped your personality the most?
Barry: The work ethic of my parents and my grandparents. How hard they worked. My grandparents came from Scotland with nothing and built a farm on their backs. And they did it all for us.
Barry likes to read and going to the movies. He wasn't overly impressed with Spider-Man or Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones.
No. 3: You're only 45 and both of your parents have passed away. How has that changed you?
Barry: It's interesting you mentioned that, I just read the finished story of "The Bridges of Madison County." It deals with growing older and death, and it really hit me hard. It was a tough book to read. It affects you. You miss them and are used to talking with them everyday. It changes your life and I think about them everyday.
During his 11 years as a player, Barry played 335 games as a defenseman in the NHL with Winnipeg, Toronto, and Detroit from 1979-86. He also played three seasons with Cincinnati in the World Hockey Association from 1976-79. He played with Mark Messier in Cincinnati, Steve Yzerman in Detroit and Darryl Sittler in Toronto.
No. 4: At what age did you feel you could be an NHL player?
Barry: When I was in grade nine, we had to do a paper on what we wanted to be when we grew up. I said I was going to play in the NHL. My teacher came up to me 20 years later and said he thought I was wacko. I'm a big believer in goals, and I always thought I would play hockey. I think in my case ignorance was good because I didn't know maybe I shouldn't have been there!
No. 5: What kind of player were you?
Barry: I've always said I wasn't good enough to play for me. I wasn't that style of player. I was a fifth or sixth defenseman. I worked very hard. I knew I had to play tough and fight and hit. The viewers know my line "you can't make cake out of icing." Well, I was the cardboard underneath the cake.
Barry began his coaching his career in 1987 with the Medicine Hat Tigers of the Western Hockey League, a Canadian major junior team. He won the Memorial Cup in his first season. He then went on to coach the Seattle Thunderbirds. In 1989, he began coaching the Adirondack Red Wings of the AHL, and led them to the Calder Cup two years later. In 1992, Barry was named head coach of the L.A. Kings. In his debut season, the Kings advanced to the Stanley Cup final for the first and only time in team history.
No. 6: Did you always think you would be a coach?
Barry: As I got older, I wondered why Montreal always won. I knew they had great players, but there had to be a reason. I really got interested in that. I thought about what made a good practice. I wanted to stay in the game and coaching was the path I took.
No. 7: You've won at almost every level of coaching, what was your strength as a coach?
Barry: I can get people to play hard. I could get people to feel the importance of a team, whether it was a fourth line guy or the star. I coached talent and talent played very hard for me. Motivation and getting players to play hard. I should coach again. I have a lot to offer. I know a lot of GMs think my personality is too strong because of the movies and the TV and the commercials. I've sort of become a caricature and that has hurt me, but things happen for a reason. But, I love what I'm doing now. I can honestly say that not once have I come to ESPN and felt I HAVE to be here. I'm a very lucky who enjoys what he does. But I miss coaching a lot and I would like to coach one more time.
No. 8: It seems like New York would be a perfect place for you to coach. Big media, which you know and understand -- you coached in a big market with the game's all-time most productive player with the Kings, and all your past success. You interviewed two years ago for the job that went to Ron Low. Any chance you could end up in New York?
Barry: I don't think there is a chance, although I would love the chance. I had a great interview with Glen Sather two years ago and really thought I had the job. I would love to coach the Rangers. Expectations are low because of their recent lack of success, and they have great players. If you looked at all the teams I coached, they were very physical and overachieved. New York would be a fun place to coach because if that team wins, well there is no better place to win than New York.
Naturally, it's too early to pick the Conn Smythe winner, but the field has narrowed. Also, it is clear that for a couple of teams to win the Stanley Cup they will need an MVP performance from their goaltender. It is a good bet this year's Conn Smythe winner will come from this list.
1. Peter Forsberg, Colorado Avalanche: The playoffs' leading scorer was made for the playoffs. Talented, physical and smart. He is also well rested having bypassed the seven-month hell called the regular season. He missed the net at the end of regulation in Game 5, but in overtime he calmly planted the game winner as if he was back playing fiord hockey on Iddefjorden. Forsberg is hockey for wisdom.
2. Joe Sakic, Colorado Avalanche: Tied with Forsberg in goals as I wrote this. With Forsberg getting so much attention on and off the ice, Sakic can lay in the weeds and then unexpectedly foist himself on the festivities. I think Joe likes operating this way best. Sakic is hockey for stealth.
3. Steve Yzerman, Detroit Red Wings: He's done everything he has on one knee. The mental exhaustion hangover he will have this summer will be overwhelming. He has scored all the important goals for this team. If Detroit wins the Cup, it will be because of everything he has done and meant to the Wings' cause. It will take a long time for him to recover physically and mentally from this grind. Yzerman is hockey for will. Pure will
4. Curtis Joseph, Toronto Maple Leafs:Gary Roberts hadn't scored a goal through the first five games of the series with Carolina. It is now clear that for the Leafs to win the Stanley Cup, Joseph would have to win the Conn Smythe.
5. Arturs Irbe, Carolina Hurricanes: The 'Canes haven't had a standout offensive player in the playoffs. Their goaltending has been the difference. It is now clear that for the Hurricanes to win the Stanley Cup, Irbe would have to win the Conn Smythe.
You forgot to mention the REAL reason Erik Cole has been such a bad mamma-jamma this postseason. His PLAYOFF BEARD. It is so great seeing a rookie respecting the old-school traditions and breaking out the playoff beard.
BETTER THAN BREAKING OUT THE PLAYOFF BACK HAIR LIKE BARRY MELROSE DID.
I normally love your stuff, but I think you missed the boat with your recent homage to Erik Cole. His shameless taunting of Doug Gilmour in Game 1 of the Canes-Habs series put him in my "face wash that little puke 'till he learns some respect" category. If you want to write about a hard-working, classy Hurricane try talking about Martin Gelinas.
Vancouver, British ColumbiaJohn,
I've got to absolutely disagree with your tune on Erik Cole. No theatrics? What do you call him veering into Gary Roberts and flopping to the ice like he just got hit by Rob Blake? The guy is as guilty as Tucker, Corson, Maltby or any others like them.
Where does Peter Forsberg's playoff points per game stand in the history of the NHL playoffs?
Foppa is well over a point a game but behind Wayne and Mario's playoff numbers. Gretzky played 208 playoff games and had 382 points and Mario has played 107 playoff games with 172 points.
Why is it that the 'Canes power play stinks more than limburger cheese?
LIMBURGER IS A BRICK TYPE CHEESE THAT IS ONLY MADE IN WISCONSIN. IT IS A SEMI-SOFT CHEESE WITH A BEIGE INTERIOR. KNOWN FOR ITS PUNGENT AROMA, IT HAS A FULL, EARTHY FLAVOR AND RIPENS WITH AGE (AS DOES BILL CLEMENT). IT IS OFTEN SERVED ON RYE BREAD WITH ONIONS. YOU CAN BUY A POUND OF IT FOR $4.95. IF THE MEMBERS OF THE CANES RUBBED LIMBURGER CHEESE ALL OVER THEMSELVES AND THEIR UNIFORMS BEFORE THE GAME, MY GUESS IS THE POWER PLAY WOULD IMPROVE DRAMATICALLY.
Three quick ones:
1. Has Ted Nolan been blacklisted?
2. Is it me or does Gary Thorne say "Wed Wings?" Check the tapes.
3. How was that party at your house that your cousin Mark bailed on?
1. I was told Nolan thought he had the Islander job last summer, but then Peter Laviolette became available when the Bruins hired Robbie Ftorek. It does seem odd. Maybe it's just a case of him and being picky and bad timing.
2. Thorne doesn't say "Wed Wings," but he does say "Give me another order of wings."
3. Party was good. Jimmy Eat World showed up and played, while me and Denise Richards played lawn jarts against Dennis Franz and Yanni. While Jimmy was playing "The Middle," Yanni told me he never would have shown up if my cousin Mark had attended.
Dear Mr. Buccigross,
I am a huge hockey fan who grew up in Kansas City. It's not a big hockey town, but we did have the IHL's Kansas City Blades for 10 years. I was able to watch Arturs Irbe win a Turner Cup for us and cultivate into an NHL caliber goalie. I was told his name was pronounced Ar-TOUR Irbe, without the "s." Does anyone know the actual pronunciation?
Overland Park, Kan.
Jutin. I'm not ure how Artur ays hi name. Perhap it i with a ilent _. I'll ee if I can find out.
All the bet.
How is it going? Since you work with Barry Melrose, can you be sure to tell him that Steve Reinprecht was not a "throw in" in the Blake deal. Kings fans were extremely disappointed when they traded him. I assure you the deal would not have happened without Reinprecht. He was not a "throw in" and is missed here a lot more than Rob Blake.
I've always known that Adam Foote reminded me of someone and I finally figured it out when I saw "Top Gun" on TV. It's Rick Rossovich, who played Slider.
First, I must declare my undying love for you, even though I am a Flyers fan. But back to the matter at hand, Barry's mullet has been spotted here in Virginia quite a few times and proceeded to hit on me and some of my friends. Please tell Mr. Melrose that he needs to get some control over that thing. It's running wild!!
Ann, I love Flyer fans. As far as Melrose's mullet. There are restraining orders in 14 states as a result of it's "Party Hard, Party Hard" mentality. I recommend when coming across Melrose's mullet to do three things: 1) Sing a Husker Du song. Any well written, well constructed song that Bob Mould is involved in confuses the mullet. 2) Don't, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, mention slow-pitch softball, pick up trucks, or Shannon Tweed. 3) Begin reading "The Fountainhead" very slowly. The mullet will tire from misunderstanding. When it falls asleep, put it in a zip lock bag and keep it in your pocket, keep it in your pocket, keep it in your pocket. Then mail it to ESPN and everything will be back to normal.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.