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Tuesday, March 28, 2006
Updated: March 31, 10:13 AM ET
I'm on my own little island, and I don't care

By John Buccigross
Special to ESPN.com

It would be incorrect to call myself an outcast. I've had too "normal" a suburban American life to fit that definition. Still, I've always had an aversion to piling on, whether it be with the top fraternities or any group setting where there are too many like-minded people. My instincts say those can be potentially dangerous groups. If I sense too many like-minded people or ideas, I will harshly and passionately take the opposing view just for the sake of balance, even if I am ignorant, dispassionate or completely uninterested in the topic.

When I'm around Democrats, I think like a Republican. When I'm around Republicans, I think like a Democrat.

I don't know when I started being this way. Perhaps it's from a deep-rooted childhood issue of being in a terrifying situation where a small, frail child has no recourse. Like the humiliation of receiving a world-class wedgie or something.

SHOT OF THE WEEK
Every week, we will present an NHL photo and I'll provide a caption. E-mail me your suggestions (include your name and hometown/state) and next week we will use the best ones and provide a new photo.

LAST WEEK:
"Guys! Really! I can play! I'm good! GOOD TIMES!"

Your submissions:
That's got to be the ugliest Garfield window stick-on doll that I've EVER seen.
-- Philip Hlavaty, Richardson, Texas

"I'm in a glass cage of emotion!"
-- Chris LoGerfo, New York, N.Y.

"Help! Help! I'm being held up! OK. Take the wallet, just don't take the beer!"
-- Ken, Campbell, Calif.

"Which one of you jokers put the Mike Vernon bobblehead up against the glass?"
-- Daryl Odnert, Los Altos, Calif.

"OH MY GOD! That's Johnny Damon out there with Joe Thornton. Boston, you don't know what you're missing!"
-- Jim O'Brien, Rockland, Mass.

While it started out as a training camp experiment, it finally came to be that Bubble Boy just wasn't gonna work out on the top line.
-- Jeff Yot, Pittsburgh

"Ready guys, on three; one ... two ... three ... THANKS MIKE O'CONNELL!"
-- Rich Nutter, Uxbridge Mass.

THIS WEEK:
The Atlanta Thrashers hold their 1st Annual Sidney Crosby Human Bobblehead Night.

In 1983, I can remember listening to a Memorex cassette tape with Run-D.M.C. on it. I never heard anything like it before and instantly liked it. Eventually, Run-D.M.C. broke the color barrier on MTV, and many years later, white suburban kids all over America would help make hip-hop the mainstream monster it is today. But I can tell you, "that kind of music" (make Chris Farley finger quotes when you say "that kind of music") was not typical in 1983. In other words, if 50 Cent came out then, he'd be lucky if he were a nickel.

When more and more people started listening to rap, I shifted to country in the late '80s (it's something I will only do now after four Belvedere cigars and Red Bulls). Then what happened? Country exploded in the late '80s and early 1990s. People often look at Nirvana and the grunge scene as the music of that time. But I think the explosion of country music had a much bigger and longer-lasting impact than short-lived grunge. Let's face it: Garth Brooks kicked everyone's ass.

So when everyone went grunge, I went Weezer. Which I suppose was around the birth of Emo. When too many people went Emo, I went hip-hop until I realized everyone was in that pool, so I got out. Now where to turn? Blink 182. Perfect. I've always had an affinity for punk. I like the speed and raunchy cleverness. Now, Blink was getting too big. Great. "Rockin the Suburbs" by Ben Folds? Perfect. It's great and I know he'll never get too big. He's waaaayyy too talented to become too popular. Jack Johnson, Idlewild, Guster, Bruce Hornsby, scaled-down R.E.M, and soon-to-be-scaled-down U2. Comforting. I wish Kanye West didn't want so much attention and fame. I would probably listen to him more.

As usual, I just took about 500 words to get to my point: that I am an "outcast" at ESPN. This past week, while every set of eyeballs was on some basketball tournament, my eyes were on a hockey tournament. The NCAAs, and, for all intents and purposes, the NHL "playoffs."

As described in my above stream-of-consciousness manifesto, I suppose part of me was watching the hockey to avoid the "group," the tribal tendency of doing what everyone else is doing to decrease the chances of being ridiculed or not welcomed into the group. Again, I'm not comfortable within the majority. Majorities can be dangerous. Or boring. I try to steer clear of both.

My genetic freakdom aside, is there really a comparison between the two forms of entertainment? I swear Jim Nantz and Billy Packer were about to fall asleep calling the Florida-Villanova game on Sunday. Clang! Oh, Villanova just missed another jump shot. How many timeouts do those evangelist/preacher/sell your soul/coaches get each half?! I screamed across the newsroom to revered ESPN Coordinating Producer Judson Burch last week, "Hey, Jud, was that UConn's 26th or 27th timeout?" He replied: "I believe in nationally televised games, you get an extra eight timeouts inside of two minutes."

What other game allows coaches to stop the game whenever they please?! Whenever the game is at its best, its most passionate, its most exciting, what do they do? They stop the game! Allowed to call a timeout on an inbounds pass? But the game hasn't started again! How can you call timeout when time was never in? Seriously, two timeouts a half. That's it! Can you imagine being allowed to stop a Stanley Cup playoffs game whenever one sees fit, when the crowd is going crazy and there are hits and saves and one-timers?

"Attentions ladies and gentleman. We are all enjoying this athletic event way too much at the moment. Let's all sit down for three minutes and stare at the Jumbotron while Marc Crawford screams at Jarkko Ruutu."

So, while the eyeballs were watching the basketball, some of us were watching the NCAA hockey tournament. We watched Holy Cross upset Minnesota, which is the equivalent to a hoops team ousting a No. 1 seed with a game-winning shot at the buzzer. We saw Boston College finally get by Boston University when it really mattered. We saw the pride of Maine and North Dakota shine through again. And yes, we saw Wisconsin, the team I was crazzzzzzzzzy-taking to win it all, prove that while winning is about luck, it's also about Skille.

Yes, a very small part of me would probably have watched the NCAA hockey tournament even if I didn't like hockey, because everyone else was watching basketball. But personality traits aside, it was crystal clear which was the better television.

The point of all this? Don't be ashamed of what kind of music you listen to. If you like it, you like it. And don't be ashamed of watching hockey when everyone else is watching basketball. Because whether it's listening to music or watching sports, it's much more exciting in a small group than a large one. While Villanova and Florida were missing jump shot after jump shot in the gigantic, cavernous Metrodome, Wisconsin and Cornell were playing edge-of-your-seat, overtime hockey at the cozy Resch Center in Green Bay.

College basketball lost its intimacy a long time ago, and that is precisely why I hope college hockey never goes mainstream. It would be ruined in bigger arenas. The NHL has already effectively squashed intimacy with its Wal-Mart rinks. The NCAAs would do the same if it suddenly got "popular."

So here's to you Mr. watching-hockey-while-everyone-else-is-watching-another-Type-A-egomaniac-college-basketball-coach-call-his-49th-timeout-of-the-game guy. Enjoy your hockey. Love your hockey. Don't be ashamed of watching your hockey. Remember, watching U2 in concert in a small Boston club in 1980 was not as popular as watching them in the Bruins' ATM Machine Arena in 2006. But it was way more interesting, revolutionary and exciting for those lucky enough to be part of something that you just knew was special and different. That is freedom, my friends. Give yourself the freedom to choose the better options in life. That is the essence of freedom.

Swim against the tide, don't follow the group, stay away from the majority, seek out the fresh and new, stay away from the poseurs, and don't be a barnacle.

Be original, be different, be passionate, be selfless and be free. Be a hockey fan.

Five Alive with Chris Drury

For just the second time this season, the Buffalo Sabres are in a funk. In late October/early November, the Sabres lost 6 of 7 games after starting the season with a 6-2 run.

Chris Drury
Chris Drury says the Sabres are looking to get back some momentum heading into the postseason.
The Sabres' latest skid reached six games after a shootout loss Monday to the New York Rangers. Six of their 11 remaining games are on the road and their home games include matchups against Montreal, Ottawa and Philadelphia.

This is not the time to get into a funk. The playoffs are approaching and the Sabres' hold on first-round home ice is slipping away. I called on Sabres captain Chris Drury to get some answers.

Question from Buccigross: You guys are scuffling. What's the problem?

Answer from Drury: A little bit of everything. For some reason, once we lost two in a row, we got a little tense. We are not making the plays and lacking a little confidence from everyone.

Q:Putting aside this recent slump, why have the Sabres had such a good season?

A: Initially, we were getting unbelievable goaltending, and goaltending might be the most important position in all of sports. So when you have that going for you, it allows you to play with confidence. Our good play has largely been the byproduct of great goaltending. It allows us to play with more aggression. I said it back in January when we lost two straight in Western Canada to Calgary and Vancouver; there comes a time in the season when teams turn it up a notch and we have to be ready for that.

Q: How would you rate your season individually?

A: I'm my own worst critic, but I think overall, I've been pretty steady. Steady is about as far as I'll go when I self-evaluate.

Q: You are in the top 10 in faceoffs. Why are you good at faceoffs?

A: A lot of it is confidence. I really don't do anything fancy. I think every team knows I just go in on my backhand no matter where the draw is. I don't think I'm surprising anyone. My timing has been good this year. Also, there are a lot of neutral draws, and if your wingers are paying attention and quick, they can win you a lot of those neutral draws.

Q: You guys are going to make the playoffs. As the playoffs approach, you as a Stanley Cup winner, what is important for the team as the playoffs near?

A: Initially, the most important thing is to get out of this funk. We don't want to go into the playoffs limping. We want to get our groove back, our confidence back, and our power play back, which is another reason we are struggling. But once we get in, there are some distractions. The weather gets good, people ask for tickets and you have to sharpen your focus.

The Mother of All Mailbags

John,

Does Joe Nieuwendyk make the Hall of Fame?

J. Bennett

Absolutely. 550-plus goals. The lockout might cost him a shot at 600. Olympic gold medalist. Three-time Stanley Cup winner. Conn Smythe winner. Rookie of the Year. King Clancy Award winner. A beautiful player to watch. Fluid, clutch and forearms of steel. Great faceoff man. Playoff performer. Hall of Fame lock.


John,

You Can Quote Me
"When you think something has to be done, and you believe it has to be done and the consensus is that it has to be done, you have to do it. And Mike, in some of the things he did when he was here, believed in the same principle."

-- Boston Bruins president Harry Sinden on the firing of GM Mike O'Connell.

I'm hoping this third time to try and get on your ESPN mailbag will be the charm. I'm 0-2 so far. What do you think the Flyers' chances are in making a Stanley Cup run? They do have some injured players coming back, but their offense hasn't been the same since late December-early January. Can the other scoring lines, beside Gagne and Forsberg, contribute enough for a long Cup run?

Rob Burke
South Philadelphia, Pa.

The Flyers have played a little better of late and clearly they have an excellent chance of getting to the Cup final.


John,

As a Michigan native and many years (36 years) of hockey playing, my personal experience is to recommend teaching kids to skate when they are learning to walk and run well, say, 18 months to 2-plus years old. Both my sons skate OK, having learned early. They did not choose hockey, and given where we now live (rural upstate N.Y.), that is easier on all in the family. I learned when I was 5, almost 6 years old, and later wish I had learned earlier.

But it can be effective to learn very early as long as a parent/loved one is there and supportive. And it's just a game, and you only spend short periods of time to start.

Lou D. Heavenrich


Hey John,

Your advice to Laura in Michigan was good, but my dad did it a little differently with me. I don't really remember it, but I have pictures of me ice skating at 2½. My dad would have to hold me the entire time, but only a few times later, I was skating on my own (holding on the boards). By the time he enrolled me in Travel Mites at 6, I was the best skater on my team.

Unfortunately, Boston College wasn't an option, but Division III is. And I'm still one of the better skaters on the team. Get them skating as early as possible, once they love that, they're only a hockey-jersey-for-their-birthday away from loving the game, too.

Jeremy
LET'S GO RANGERS

Read and react is a good way to go through life. Read your children and react. Ed Jovanovski did not start playing hockey until he was 11.


John,

A lot of people in and around the game are saying that this year is going to be "The Captain" Steve Yzerman's last year to play. But no one has really heard from the man himself, and he is playing at a level that I haven't seen him play probably since the 1997-98 season. Do you think he is hanging it up this season?

Thanks,
Nate
Dayton, Ohio

I do think Stevie Y will retire after this season. He would never announce his retirement now because it would be a distraction to the team and he's not a rocking-chair-retirement-ceremony-while-he-is-still-playing kind of guy. After he retires, I would then make him the head of Hockey Canada for the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. It would be great for him to run that team before he takes over an NHL team, preferably the Red Wings, as team president. Wayne Gretzky had too much on his plate this past year and made poor roster decisions.


Hello Mr. Buccigross,

Every week I wait with trepidation for your newest article to come out on the current state of the NHL, and to this day, I have not been let down. I've always wanted to write, but I never got up the courage, until now that is. Your taste in music is excellent as I am sure many people have told you. I've always felt the passion that can be found in music is so similar to that of hockey and it was finally good to see someone who agreed.

Just a few weeks ago, I read your article about your son's first goal, and it nearly brought tears to my eyes. I remembered my first (shutout) being a goalie and all, and was overwhelmed with emotion. You see, my competitive hockey career just came to an end as our ACHA season wrapped up. It was very tough for me to think of life without it, sure there are adult leagues and all that, but it was very hard trying to cope with that fact.

One thing that comforted me as I dealt with life minus hockey was something my dad, my hero, told me. When I was younger, playing club hockey, I would take losses very hard. But my dad was always there with this quote "Son, even if you would have won, you are still heading to school on Monday and something bigger and better is waiting for you."

At the time, I didn't believe him, all I knew in life was hockey. Now, as I graduate college and enter the world of auditing, I realized what he said was true. Sure, hockey is a huge part of my life, but there is something bigger and better, and I am very thankful he taught me this lesson. When I read this quote in your latest piece, "Just the other day, he asked me whether he will be good enough to play at Boston College. I said, 'Why not? But are your grades going to be good enough?' Oh, Daaaad," all of these memories came back to me and made me realize the importance of hockey dads in our lives.

Without mine, I don't know where I would be in life. Sounds like your son has an alright one, too. Here's to all the hockey dads out there.

Thanks,
Colin Sebastian
Pittsburgh, Pa.

I don't usually print e-mails this long, but Colin had me at hello. Hockey moms get a lot of attention, as they should. But those hockey dads, who balance soft intimidation and tenderness, along with always prodding for a little more, deserve equal praise.


John,

Pavel Datsyuk is to hockey what Barry Sanders was to football. I just wanted to make that declaration on some sort of forum. Thank you for providing that forum.

David Sparks
Detroit

With the hyped rookie class, the resurgence of Jagr, the out-of-nowhere explosiveness of Staal and the Cinderella triumvirate of Carolina, Buffalo and the Rangers, Datsyuk has snuck under the radar. He is in the top 10 in scoring, works hard every shift and every night, and does it with humility and class. He is Jean Beliveau meets Rick Middleton meets Jean Ratelle meets Igor Larionov. A jewel.


Hey Johnny boy,

Why do you hate the Islanders?

Domenic Longo
Middle Village, N.Y.

I swear to Yzerman I don't hate any team. I have stated here many times that broadcasters and referees don't care who wins games. If I covered a local team, they would be my favorite team, because I would create relationships within the organization and I am a sucker for the human touch. And broadcasters of teams get paid by the game, so the more playoff games a team wins, the more money they make. But since I am essentially an international columnist (Hello Guam!), I have to look at the league and teams equally. I do tend to root for my predictions and the four-legged parlays I played in Vegas last week (boy, I did well), but my love for the 30 NHL teams is platonic. Speaking of Plato, he would have been a Red Wings fan.


John,

My question to you is, how can you possibly say that Leetch will be done playing hockey in the NHL next season unless he is on a really good team? I believe and hope that the Rangers will be really good next season, but either way, how can you argue that he will not end his career as a Ranger? Messier did it.

John Hayducky
Seymour, CT

Perhaps the year off hurt Brian Leetch in terms of his hockey muscles. Perhaps the 38-year-old defenseman thinks he will be quicker if he were to play next season. Only he knows that. But if I was a close friend of Leetch, which I am not, and if Leetch asked me my opinion on whether he should play next season, which he most assuredly will not, I would suggest retirement. His greatness is gone. Yes, the Rangers will be good next season. And, perhaps, the stimulation of putting on the red, white and blue will be enough to add a step to his aging game. It may for a few weeks, but I don't believe it would. Brian Leetch doesn't have to play another minute to retire a Ranger. He can retire this summer, and next season, have his number retired by the Rangers. Then, it's off to the Hall of Fame.


John,

Wisconsin is a good pick to win the Frozen Four. I think they'll make it, but lose. BU will win. We have seniors that play with a lot of heart (One of our captains is only 5-foot-5. And he plays the hardest of anyone) and freshman with a lot of talent. John Curry is a GOD.

Last weekend, we beat the unpredictable UNH squad 9-2 (shoulda been 10-2). The next night, we beat our arch-rivals, BC, for the Hockey East championship. IN OVERTIME. I was at the game with hundreds of other BU students. We filled nearly over four upper sections at the Banknorth Garden. The BC students? A little more than a half section. This season, BU has won the Beanpot (that's exactly half the titles now!), regular season Hockey East, playoffs Hockey East and now head to Worcester with a No. 1 seed. There's no stopping the Terriers now.

Erica B.
BU '09

My dad went to Boston College. My Uncle Jim went to BC. My cousin Mary went to BC. Doug Flutie went to BC. All fine people. BC beat BU in the second round. Hang in there, Erica. By the way Erica, Class of '09? Are you 115 years old, or 19?

So, here is the Frozen Four lineup with both games happening on April 6: Boston College vs. North Dakota (3 p.m. ET, ESPN2) and Wisconsin vs. Maine (8 p.m. ET, ESPN2).


Hi John,

The new set on OLN looks like an old ESPN set. Did you ever catch Melrose wiping any boogers under it?

Dan Jones
Budd Lake, N.J.

No, but we cleaned the bottom of the set with Barry's hair. He makes an excellent industrial strength cleanser. Now, Darren Pang was another story.

John Buccigross' e-mail address -- for questions, comments or cross-checks -- is john.buccigross@espn.com.