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Monday, November 4, 2002
Updated: July 29, 5:09 PM ET
Why Cam Neely should be in the Hall of Fame

By John Buccigross
Special to ESPN.com

THIS WEEK'S ZAMBONI RIDE ...
• The Great 8: Bryant McBride
• What's Up With: Ron Wilson
• More stuff
• E-mail bag
Ladies, Gentleman, esteemed NHL colleagues, Hall of Fame selection committee, all you sucker MCs, Greg Polis, Commissioner Bettman, the Ice Girls who shovel the snow during timeouts at Dallas Stars home games, my beloved otter Ken, and all immediate family members of Penguins defenseman Dick Tarnstrom. It is with gratitude and humility that I have been given opportunity to speak before you on what I feel is a grave injustice in the hockey world:

The omission of Cameron Michael Neely from the Hockey Hall of Fame.

This is hardly a new or original plea. Neely fans are numerous and passionate and have made arguments similar in tone and evidence for years.

It should be understood that I have no personal or professional relationship with Cam Neely. I have never met him or invested in Ray Bourque hair care products with him. This is purely a hockey argument. A Hall of Fame argument that, I feel, could be made for a Tim Kerr or a Brian Sutter. A pure goal scorer and a play-to-the-death leader. Hockey's two essentials & outside of goaltending. You HAVE to have goal scorers like Kerr, and you HAVE to have tough, blood-and-guts guys like Sutter. Last year, the Red Wings had Brett Hull, Sergei Fedorov and Brendan Shanahan, but they also had Kris Draper, Kirk Maltby and Darren McCarty. High-level hockey is skill and toughness, and it is my belief that Cam Neely's level of skill and toughness, combined, was Hall of Fame stuff despite a career cut short due to injury.

Neely's career lasted 726 games, more than enough to define a player. It's more games played than Sid Abel (612) and just a few less than former Bruin Bill Quackenbush (744). In those 726 games Neely had the numbers in relation to his games played -- 395 goals, 299 assists and 694 points. As a Bruin alone, his numbers are staggering -- 524 games, 344 goals, 246 assists, 590 points and a +140. The Bruins had a couple of very good teams in that time, but certainly never a GREAT one. During the 1993-94 season, he scored his 50th goal in his 44th game that season. Only Wayne Gretzky reached 50 goals in a season quicker. From the start of the 1989-90 season through the 1993-94 season, Neely scored 176 goals in 216 games.

HIT THE ICE by Michael Fischer
TOONS ON ICE Hockey (www.toonsonice.com)
I understand, my friends, that projecting statistics is an inexact science, and I believe in the case of Neely, not even necessary. I think his actual numbers stand alone. But, estimating on the side of caution, it is my belief that Neely would be entering this season as a 37-year-old with 700 goals. And with weight training and nutrition now part of the NHL scene, Neely would STILL be a strong and vibrant goal-scoring force. So, my friends, it is clear that this man, No. 8, had the offensive firepower we associate with Hall of Famers. And if that's all he did, he would worthy of induction.

But, as we know, there was more. He was a relentless forechecker, and insane body checker, and one of his era's better fighters. He set tone with his physical play. He made buildings rock. He lifted teammates with his checks and won games with his goals. A former NHL player told me over the summer that Neely was "the only player I was EVER actually AFRAID of as the game was going on."

As I look at the fine players who have been inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame the past few years, I see players who couldn't match his physical game, and others who couldn't match his goal-scoring prowess. NEELY DID BOTH. And he did it in the clutch, when it mattered most - 57 goals and 89 points in 93 playoff games.

And he did it with class. Class in terms of fighting guys his own size, not resorting to cheap hits, and hitting with purpose. He showed courage and love of the game as he battled his serious injuries. He showed perseverance in dealing with the death of both his parents. He didn't dive, take cheap shots or flop. He was the kind of player who could have played in any era. Mothers and fathers named sons after him and he was a new generation of Bruins fans' Terry O'Reilly. He gave his heart, soul, hip, quad and knee to the Bruins, until every bit of hockey life was sucked out of him.

This is how we want our sons and daughters to play. With fire and within the rules. To be a beast on the ice and likable off it. To pummel Scot Kleinendorst on the ice, and open the Cam Neely House for families of cancer patients off the ice. In so many ways, Neely is the model. So much time is spent on how can we improve the NHL. HOW CAN WE IMPROVE THE NHL? Have everyone play with heart, fire and passion. That would improve the game REAL fast.

Norman Augustine said: "Motivation will almost always beat mere talent." Cam Neely and his teams won most nights he played in the NHL. His motivation and talent was a big reason why. Some players were great and not really remembered. And some players are remembered, but not really great. For a generation of hockey fan and player, whether NHL or squirt, Neely was the blueprint -- tough, courageous, persistent, talented and popular. A blue-collar star. The people's champ.

In closing, I ask the esteemed Hall of Fame Selection Committee to reconsider the career and case of Cam Neely. Look at the latest wave of inductees and say to yourself, "Would an NHL GM trade Neely in his prime for him in his prime?" A room in a house is better with classic, timeless pieces of furniture. The inclusion of Neely into the home of the brave and gifted would make the Hall of Fame a model home. A house that never turns its back on a family member who always did what the great game asked.

Last year, Jason Allison. This year, Byron Dafoe. Bryant McBride is an agent for just two NHL players - Allison and Dafoe. Last fall, unable to surpass the apparent Martin Lapointe salary cap, the Bruins decided not to sign Allison and sought a trade. At the same time, McBride had to seek out a team that WOULD pay Allison AND make a trade with the Bruins. This summer and fall, McBride's other client, Byron Dafoe, was and still is an unrestricted free agent. Dafoe was hoping this would be his summer to get the contract of his life. He was coming off a 35-win season and four years ago was a Vezina finalist after posting 32 wins, a 1.99 goals-against average and 10 shutouts. But, the goaltending carousel hasn't stopped and Dafoe remains unsigned.

Jason Allison
Jason Allison will miss 2-3 months after injuring his knee on Oct. 29.
Allison and Dafoe. Not exactly a red carpet welcome for a rookie NHL player-agent like Bryant McBride. But if you think McBride and Dafoe are wallowing in the mire of missing $150,000 take-home paychecks, think again. Bryant McBride is a positive thinker whose life has been sprinkled with diverse achievement.

He was born in the poorest of ghettos in Chicago in 1965. He moved to Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, when he was 5 and grew up in Canada. As a youth, McBride was a member of an accomplished choir that toured Canada. He attended West Point for a year and a half and was elected the first black class president in the military academy's history before deciding against being an officer and transferring to Trinity College in Hartford, Conn. At Trinity, McBride was a Division II All-American in hockey and was that school's first black class president his senior year. He got his Masters at Harvard.

In 1993 he was hired by the NHL and named director of New Business Development. Last weekend in New York City, he ran his 14th marathon. Whether a road race or a free agent signing, some things take time.

No. 1: How did you become an NHL player-agent?
McBride:
"Last year, Jason Allison and Byron Dafoe approached me about representing them. At first I said no. But, finally I agreed to do it if I could do it as part of a bigger sports marketing company called Vision Sports and Entertainment partners. I represent three minor league players as well.

No. 2: What is the plan for the company?
McBride:
"I want to grow the number of players we represent. Our whole focus is providing better service for lower fees. There are some good agents out there, but the majority are charging too much and doing too little. And I definitely feel strongly about that. Word of mouth has been terrific and we've gotten interest from other players. But I'm not going to recruit players or try to persuade players to leave their agent."

No. 3: Lower fees and better service, you sound like the bad guy among other agents.
McBride:
"They don't like me anyway. There are a few agents that I'm good friends with and other guys who are challenged. I love owning what I do. My dad taught me when I was young, EQUITY IS KING."

No. 4: What was unique about your first few months as a player-agent and the negotiating game?
McBride:
"It's wasn't and isn't really that different from any negotiation I've been in. There are deal points. You look for leverage. You look to build the best case for your client. It's funny, I was once a representative and "agent" for the owners. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman is an "agent" for the owners. It's not often looked at that way by the public. You have a responsibility to do what's best and right for your client whether they own the team or play of the team."

No. 5: The primary motivation in negotiation is money. Is there ever more?
McBride:
"Sure. I met Jason Allison when he was 19 years old. He's a top-notch guy who works really hard and he takes incredible pride in what he does. He makes a lot of money, but he plays as hard as can every shift, every night. It's easy to represent guys like that."

No. 6: Allison is out until January with a knee injury. How disappointing is that for him?
McBride:
"I've seen Jason Allison train and there is NOBODY who trains harder than this guy. You wouldn't believe it. He lives in the weight room. He's one of the strongest guys in the game. He watches everything he eats. To see this happen is just bad luck. He called me at 2 a.m. after it happened. I told him, 'I completely blew out my knee at West Point and went on to play four years of college hockey and run 14 marathons. You'll be fine.'"

No. 7: What is going on with Byron Dafoe?
McBride:
"It's been a tough process. Byron is a No. 1 guy who has run into a string of bad luck and hasn't been able to find the right fit. As is the case with Jason, he is resilient."

No. 8: You've worked for the NHL and now you work for NHL players. What is your take on the labor war that is slowly creeping its heinous head?
McBride:
"My take is that hockey is a terrific industry that has grown drastically. With the revenue that has been produced, there is a formula out there that will allow both sides to benefit and share in those spoils. The sooner that gets discussed the better. I feel that it is going to be a fight, but we do not want to alienate fans. Baseball did the right thing and they figured out a way to fix their problems. Let's not wait until the last second."

Last year, during an NHL 2Night show, I turned to Barry Melrose on the air and said, "I really hope the Capitals fire Ron Wilson."

Melrose was, for once, speechless. I filled the silent air with my explanation.

Ron Wilson served as head coach of the Capitals for five seasons.
"So, you could get back into coaching and I could work with someone better than you as a TV analyst and a golfer and who makes ME look better."

Ron Wilson is gifted and natural as a TV analyst and a golfer. He would actually make me look worse at both, so Melrose not getting the Capitals job was probably a better result for me.

Wilson is living a dream year. Live and golf in Hilton Head, S.C., visit your grown family, watch High Definition TV, and drink cappuccino, all while being paid by the Washington Capitals. The Capitals fired Wilson on May 10. And if you are a coach in professional sports and get fired, you still get paid the rest of your contract unless you take another job.

Getting paid while recharging the coaching batteries. Not bad.

Ron Wilson has hockey in every cell of his body. His dad and uncle both won Stanley Cups as members of the Detroit Red Wings organization. As much as surfing the web, golfing, and watching HDTV sounds a lot more fun than trying to figure out why Jaromir Jagr won't try hard every night, the paid, fired coach wants to coach again and it won't be long until he does.

How he spends his days: "I get up around 6:30 a.m. and make myself a cup of cappuccino. I've gotten good at making cappuccino. Then I go on-line and read up on hockey news around the league. I keep up on everything. Then around 8:30-9:00 a.m., I head over to the driving range and practice, and then play a round with a group of guys around 9:30. I collect my winnings and go home. I do some stuff around the house in the afternoon and then read my e-mails. At night I watch hockey on my home theatre until I fall asleep on the couch. I'm like YOU. I'm a geek who has nothing better to do than to maintain my golf handicap and look up goals-per-game averages. RIGHT?"

Ron has High Definition TV and loves it: "It's incredible. Once it's available to everybody, it will revolutionize how people watch the game. You feel like you are right there. I was watching a football game this past weekend and when they took a shot from high up, I thought I was falling out of the sky. For a hockey game, you can read the names on the back of all the players, unlike on a normally televised hockey game."

Watching his old team, the Capitals: "I've watched about five games. If I'm home and not doing anything, it's the first game I'll watch. Nothing much has changed. The one difference I see this year has been the play of Olaf Kolzig, but then he got hurt. And that team is really dependent on solid goaltending and Olie. For some reason, I always felt the team played better in front of Kolzig then Craig Billington. It's hard to explain. They are probably on a learning curve. The players are saying the same things as last year. They have to find a way to get their act together. They made a bunch of changes and are going to have to get better. That model of the one big superstar, you wonder if it really works."

The hurry up line change? "I think that's excellent. It requires you to think quicker on your feet. I would say most of the teams are more concerned about their best defensive pair getting on the ice. I think it's just a matter of being quicker."

Does he miss coaching? "I certainly miss it. It's what I do. I was a head coach for nine straight years. I'm enjoying the break immensely. I'm able to do things I've never been able to do. And I'm still getting paid. If I wasn't getting paid then I'd be working at a Starbucks making cappuccinos for other people and not for myself. I can do that, I've got a skill now."

If someone called you tomorrow with an NHL coaching opportunity, would you take the job? "If it's the right situation, of course I would take it. Providing the situation was right, I would seriously consider anything. But you have to feel right about the situation. I want to win the Stanley Cup and considering the shelf life of a coach is about 4-5 years, taking a job with a very young team might make that difficult."

Analyze that: "I did some TV work in Canada for TSN. And I'm going back again on November 19th for three more days."

The state of the golf game: "Very good. If you put quality time in your game can improve. I'm hovering between plus-2 and plus-3 handicap. (That's two BETTER than scratch) I've never had a hole-in-one. I shot a 70 at a U.S. Mid-Amateur qualifier and missed by a shot."

Stuff ... and more stuff
  • In the first 128 games of this season, NHL games featured 5.7 goals a game compared to 5.3 per game last season. In Games 100-128, the increase was one goal, to 6.2 this season from 5.2 through the same span in 2001-2002.

  • The hurry-up line change rule and quicker face off drops have trimmed regulation-game times by 16 minutes to an average of two hours, 19 minutes. On October 15th, the Stars and Oilers played a regulation game that finished in 2:05 -- 88 percent of the games have been played in less than 2:30 and 40 percent of the games have been completed by 9:30 p.m. local time.

  • Referees this season have assessed an average of 14.3 penalties per game (minors and majors), compared to 13.3 through the same number of games last season.

  • Of the first 1,830 penalties called by referees this season, 921 were obstruction, restraining or other interference fouls. In the same time frame last season, there were 1,703 penalties called and 672 had been for such infractions.

  • Also in the first 128 games, the number of shutouts dropped 67 percent, from 18 to 6, and the number of shutout periods, in which neither team scored, dropped to 50 from last year's 68.

  • If Mario Lemieux plays three more healthy years, he will likely surpass Gordie Howe and wherever Mark Messier finishes, and be No. 2 all time in scoring to Wayne. Lemieux is going for his seventh scoring title. Can he break Wayne's record for all-time goals? He entered this season 241 goals away from passing Wayne's record of 894. Mario is on pace for 48 goals this year if he plays 80 games. Let's give him 40 goals this year. He would have to play five more seasons to have a go at it. Not completely out of the question. Gordie Howe scored 15 goals in the NHL as a 51-year-old for the 1979-80 Hartford Whalers. Mario playing until he is 42 is hardly implausible. Igor Larionov turns 42 on Dec. 3. Two major obstacles are in Mario's way: 1) His health. 2) The Great Hockey Stoppage of 2004-2005.

  • The NHL and HDNet began their second season of NHL in High Definition on October 27. A total of 65 games will be presented in High Definition. Currently, to get High Definition broadcasts, you need Direct TV (channel 199), a High Definition TV, and a special High Definition receiver. HDNet is available at no extra charge to all DIRECTV customers with an HDTV set and receiver. You can also receive HDTV signals with an antenna and feed into an HD receiver. It can't be emphasized enough how good hockey looks on HDTV. ESPN will start broadcasting some of their sporting events in HDTV in April of next year. I bought (actually financed over a 75 year period) an HDTV last year and the same model is now $600 less. I'm having a hard time finding a receiver and don't have DIRECTV yet. Why am I telling you this? Because I'm lonely. Will you be my friend?

  • Steve Sullivan and Jocelyn Thibault purchased a suite in at the Blackhawks home rink (no free corporate ad here) and will donate it to various charities and youth groups throughout the season.

  • Jose Theodore purchased a suite in Montreal for the next three seasons, which will allow hundreds of underprivileged children from the Ste-Justine Hospital and Montreal Canadiens Hospital to attend Canadiens home games.

  • Peter Forsberg and Adam Foote will paint pottery with a local elementary school classroom in conjunction with the Colorado Avalanche's community program, The Art of Sport, on November 7. The event will take place at local pottery store, Color Me Mine. Foote will end the proceedings by smashing his clay yak over Forsberg's head, causing the children to run for the doors screaming. Foote will explain later that clay yak smashing is just part of the game, and if that if potters don't police themselves, it wouldn't be long before potters went around poking each other in the eyes with brushes and throwing clay down each other's pants in an attempt to win Denver Magazine's "BEST YAK OF 2002" award.

    Hey John,
    What's your take on the Spezza situation? Stay or go? It's been on the radio and TV here like it's the most important thing in the world. Sens fans love their team just like the Habs and Leafs. Love the column, keep up the great work.
    Chris LeBelle
    Ottawa

    Jason Spezza
    Spezza registered an assist in 13:58 of play in his season debut against Boston.
    Jason Spezza gets it. He understands the game of hockey to its core. He is only 19, yet has a deep appreciation and awareness for the game. His first NHL assist and first NHL goal were things of beauty. I am a firm believer in signals and those signals tell me he will have a fantastic Hall of Fame career. There is no doubt in my mind that he will evolve into a leader, a winner and a champion. I love that No. 39 on him. It looks phresh. Jason Spezza belongs in the NHL.

    John,
    As a long time B's fan, I was wondering what you though about the possibility of the Bruins shipping Kyle McLaren and draft pick to St. Louis for Fred Braithwaite and, say, Bryce Salvador? Or how about a trade for Jeff Hackett? Would either option work or is the rotation of Steve Shields and John Grahame enough to put the Bruins in the playoffs? Thanks.
    Adam Najarian
    Rockland, Mass.

    The Bruins would want more than that from St. Louis for McLaren. McLaren and something for Mike Van Ryn and Jamal Mayers? Mayers would be a good Bruin. I don't see the Bruins and Canadiens pulling off a significant deal now that both are playoff candidates. I don't think the Bruins goalie rotation is a enough to make the playoffs, although the East looks worse than it did a year ago and the Bruins are on pace to score almost 300 goals this season. If they keep scoring like that, they will probably make it. But, I imagine their goal scoring will slow down a little and they will be battling for a playoff spot at the end.

    John,
    It's always a good day when you post a new column. Having said that, I have to take exception to the constant hair pulling antics of people who bemoan (or delight in) the decreased percentage of Canadian born players in the NHL.
    Amit Saha

    Amit, my brutha. It seems as if the only "people" who bemoan the decreased percentage of Canadian born players in the NHL are ... CANADIANS!! I assure you that we here in the U.S. DON"T EVEN DISCUSS IT. We're too busy ogling hot women in beer commercials. And I'm sure in Europe they are still too excited that they can play hockey in the U.S. for millions of dollars a year and then tool around in the summer in their "Benzos" dating hot, European women. You see, Amit, here in the U.S...

    WE... LOVE... JOE THORNTON IN CCM'S!!!!!!!
    CANUCKS GAMES THAT NEVER END!!!!
    WATCHING STEVIE Y,
    AND ... TWINS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    WE...LOVE... HOCKEY ON CBC!!!
    HOCKEY CARDS OF PETER LEE!!!
    DON CHERRY'S RANTS
    AND ... TWINS!!!!!!!!!

    AND, AMIT, I LOVE YOU, TOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    John,
    I am thinking of getting a Jiri Fischer jersey and framing it for my home. Should I go with red or white?
    Thanks for the good column,
    Biff Fischer

    Always go with the white. Get it matted on a dark background and have Fischer sign it in a slightly used Sharpie pen. If the pen is too new the ink won't spread enough to give it that bold look. Have him sign it between his name and his number. And ask him politely to SIGN IT NEATLY. I am appalled at the sloppiness most hockey players exhibit when signing stuff. I understand it can get difficult when there are a lot of people. But for a sweater like yours, demand a little care.

    I got a catalog recently from a well-known company that sells autographed stuff and I couldn't believe how sloppy the signatures were! You couldn't even read Pavel Bure's and Mark Messier's name. It's a HUGE PET PEEVE of mine. Take a little time and make it nice. I wrote a little about signatures in a column on the Travis Roy benefit golf tournament I attended last summer that is hosted by Chris and Ted Drury.

    Butchy,
    Next week, I am taking a road trip from Raleigh to Boston to see an old friend and finally see the Bruins. What are three essential CDs I need for this road trip?
    Brian Scott
    Raleigh, N.C.

    I always consider geography when choosing my CDs on road trips. U2's "Joshua Tree" made its indelible mark on me while I attended college in Ohio. So, if ever I am driving through Ohio, it is one of my selections. Considering you will be mainly driving on 95 North, you will need five CDs. I suggest a CD to get you from Raleigh to Richmond, to the New Jersey border, one for the southern coast of New England, and one as you are entering Boston.

    1. Raleigh-Richmond -- Fewer, if any, part of the United States is more beautiful than this stretch of land. I can still remember driving home after a week in Myrtle Beach for a post-high school graduation Meister Brau fest with Mike Pizzoferrato, Petey Potenzini, John Mascio, Gene DiMario and Co. (Soprano youth do Myrtle), and thinking, "Wow, I'd like to live here some day." I'd pick something smooth and timeless, like a Steely Dan compilation that has to include the "Gaucho" CD.

    2. Richmond to Deepwater, N.J. -- Still on a good ride. Homey. I want songs from the heart from a band with an edge. I would go with songs from Everclear in this stretch. "Songs From an American Movie" is a good pick. "Wonderful" is one of my all time favorite songs. Burned compilation CDs from all of these picks is the best move.

    3. Deepwater, N.J. to the George Washington Bridge/New York City -- This part of the ride starts scenic and ends a bit grungy. Bruce Springsteen's "Born to Run" and "The Rising" burned on one CD is your guide through Jersey.

    4. New York City-Braintree, Mass. -- There is a grunge factor to this stretch of road as well. Potholes, some traffic and some tough towns. "Throwing Copper" from Live. I feel Ed Kowalczyk is about a good frontman in rock and roll as there is. He is a force live in concert.

    5. Braintree-Boston -- You are almost there after a long drive of tolls, trees, and "ahh, why not, go ahead and super size that, 64 grams of saturated fat is just not enough!!" Just about a half hour left to Boston, one of the world's best cities. You can go many directions. Aerosmith, J. Geils Band, Jackdaw, Sinatra, Dire Straits, Godsmack or The Samples. But for me, approaching the Boston skyline on a cold, starry, autumn night means one thing: U2's "Achtung Baby" as loud as you can stand it.

    John,
    I gotta know.
    Is it an ACTUAL otter?
    See, logically it doesn't make much sense.
    But, I can't rule it out.
    Is it a REAL otter?
    Is it a dead stuffed otter?
    It is a stuff animal?
    What is the CONDITION of your otter?
    Anonymous

    Not only is it a real otter. It plays the pan flute.

    John,
    Love your column and appreciation of old time hockey. NHL fans CAN unite together at www.nhlfa.com.This organization has surprisingly made great strides of the last five years. They have been able to sit down with Gary Bettman a few times. But efforts to meet with Bob Goodenow have been refused. Spread the word, so that hockey fans can join and make their voices heard.
    Shuaib Shams
    Frustrated Hawks fan
    Chicago

    John,
    I am a 9th grade social studies teacher in a suburb of Philadelphia. One of my before-school rituals is to read the NHL page of ESPN.com. Obviously, your weekly column is the highlight of my week. Last week, I planned on spending the day discussing Lincoln's Second Inaugural. In my plan time, I was reading your column and it fortuitously fit right into our discussion. I printed it and highlighted portions to read my class. They loved it and we spent much of the class period talking about how selflessness is a good quality in a leader, teammate and classmate. Your weekly articles get the attention of hockey fans and Mr. Stanziola's 9th grade history classes.
    Gerry Stanziola

    I have enjoyed few things in my life more than history. Hockey, music, mozzarella sticks, otters. The list is short. When I was in high school, I memorized Kennedy's inaugural address. Just for fun. I got a D in Biology, but I could recite JFK's speech WITH the accent. This is why I never got good grades. I studied things I liked instead of what I was supposed to. Lack of focus. SHOCKING ISN'T IT? ME WITH A LACK OF FOCUS and direction and flow and organization and when did I start growing hair in my ears?

    John,
    You stated in your last column that the FleetCenter is lifeless. I agree with you, but now that it is already built, how would you suggest improving this for the future?
    Brian
    Boston

    Tear it down or build a new one. A hockey only. The building is lifeless, not because of the fans, but because it is too big. I've been saying this since my column first appeared last year, and in the previous sentence, but I'll say it again. The new NHL arenas are too big. Intelligent architects understood that Three Rivers Stadium, Veterans Stadium and the rest of those mammoth parks were bad for baseball. Improper for baseball. I feel almost all of the new NHL arenas are equivalent to those 1970s concrete mountains that took away from the baseball's pulse.

    The next wave of NHL arenas should be built like Chicago Stadium or Boston Garden. They can have their luxury boxes strategically placed to horde revenue, have fewer seats, a higher ticket demand and most importantly, a better hockey experience. Maybe after the labor agreement gets a control on salaries, this can be realistic. Intimate arenas also televise better. The cameras are closer to the ice. The Penguins want to build a new rink. I hope they take the lead and build a hockey rink like the Pirates built their baseball park. Simple, intimate, perfect. I hope Mario Lemieux demands that his new rink makes his fans feel as if they are holding it in their hands, and not that the arena is holding them. It would be his greatest assist.

    Hi Mr. Buccigross,
    First, I would like to say that you write an outstanding column. I can't wait to read it whenever it comes out. I am a college kid confused on what I want to do with my life. It seems like you have the life. I am a 19-year-old sophomore at Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania, and as of right now, I have no major and am not sure what I want to do with my life. I was wondering if you could possibly give me guidance about my situation.
    Hoping for your reply,
    Timothy Wallin

    The only advice I can give you Tim is my path. My parents gave me a tape recorder when I was 12 and from that day on I knew I either wanted to be a professional athlete or broadcast games of those who were. This was pre-ESPN, so my dream was play-by-play. I played with my tape recorder as play-by-play man and a disc jockey. I chose a college, Heidelberg College in Ohio, that was small enough to compete in NCAA sports and equipped with a campus radio station to deejay on, a school newspaper to write for, and television station to broadcast on. I did that for four years. Then, I was willing to work for free, five days a week for five months at a small television station while working part time at CHESS KING. Thereby, proving my passion for television and lack of long-term fashion trends, simultaneously. Then, I was willing to go to even a smaller cable station and work there for over five years and making about $17,000 a year. Then, I went to work at a larger station in Providence, R.I., for two years before somehow winding up working thirty feet from Chris Berman's desk.

    Besides that quick rundown, how did I get here? Again, I'm not sure. Tim, all I can give you in terms of advice is MY approach. Not the best for everyone, I suppose. In over 12 years in the business, I've never called in sick. (Watch. Tomorrow: BUBONIC PLAGUE!) I've tried to write each word and/or read each word with all I've got, knowing effortless talent has never been my companion in anything. So, I better write from the heart and I better have good hair. I don't listen to anyone else because they are wrong and I let chance furnish me what I need. And when someone asks me how I got such a cool job and how I've had the opportunity and honor to write a hockey column for the past year, I tell them PURE UNADULTERATED LUCK. I got lucky, babe. I hope you do, too. Out.

    John Buccigross is the host of NHL 2Night, which airs Wednesday-Sunday on ESPN2. His e-mail address -- for questions, comments or cross-checks -- is john.buccigross@espn.com.