My hunch is Peter Forsberg will sign a contract to play for the Colorado Avalanche next season -- if there is an NHL season. Last weekend, I played golf in Forsberg's charity event in Breckenridge, Colo. Hundreds of thousands of dollars were raised for local children's charities with Forsberg as the point man on the power play.
You haven't lived until you've been hit with a spitball thrown by Forsberg at Downstairs at Eric's bar and grill. Foppa got me good in the right temple last Saturday night. I responded with a handful of sugar packs. Forsberg then dipped a pack of sugar in honey for a lethal projectile. Where he got honey, I'll never know. Eventually, we all hugged in a moment of world peace. Adults, all of us.
After a tough 2004 -- losing in the second round of the playoffs, a broken off relationship with his girlfriend, groin surgery, and continued intense vacillation of what to do for the upcoming hockey season -- Peter the Great seemed relaxed and at ease chilling with former teammates such as Brad Larsen and Rick Berry. Los Angeles Kings center Derek Armstrong, an NHL first team dinner and nightlife companion, and Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Ken Klee were also in town. Former Expo/Red Sox/Rockies second baseman Mike Lansing was also there. Lansing's personality is a lot like our own Chicken Parm's. He fit right in with the hockey players.
Now, I know Peter's dad coaches the Swedish Elite League team, Modo. I know Peter has talked about playing in Sweden for years. I know he has a new golf course in Sweden. I know that, if there ever was a perfect time to go home, this is it. And if there is no NHL season, of course he will play in Sweden this winter.
But it is my sense, if labor peace is restored this fall or winter, Forsberg will be back with the Avs. The NHL, its riches, its competition, its life, is like a hot tub to Foppa. When you are in a hot tub, you don't want to come out. Even as the minute, or hour approaches, that says you should get out of the hot tub, you always stay in just a few minutes longer. Never underestimate the power of the hot tub. The spitballs, the $11 million coming Forsberg's way (if the Avalanche qualify him), the fun. The NHL is still a hot tub to Forsberg. And personally observing him for two days in beautiful Breckenridge, my vibe is Forsberg isn't getting ready to get out.
The best week in hockey
Barry Melrose once told me that Robert De Niro once told him never to name drop. Still, there I was, sitting at a table last week listening to Ray Bourque and Patrick Roy tell stories from their short time together in Colorado.
The occasion was Bourque's first-class charity golf event in southern New Hampshire. It's an interesting way to write the final chapter to this column and another hockey season.
It capped off a dream job hockey week for me:
• Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals.
• The NHL Awards show on TV.
• Golfing for charity with the likes of Sergei Samsonov and his agent, Neil Abbott, Rick Middleton, Bourque, Roy, Steve Leach, Bob Sweeney, Rob Tallas and Andy Brickley.
This would be my exclamation point to another year covering hockey for ESPN and ESPN.com. It is an experience and an honor I never take for granted and still approach with enthusiasm equal to what I had as a kid when I listened to hockey games on the radio with my dad and when I bought my first Mylec street hockey goalie stick in 1975.
Days like Bourque's charity golf event are part fantasy camp, part business trip. They are childlike fun and a great way to meet new people in the hockey world to gain more perspective, reap new sources and drink free beer. All three of those things result, I hope, in a better column for you. I am not being disingenuous when I say just about every single hockey-related moment of my life is geared toward being processed for the benefit of this column. This space is the favorite part of my job at ESPN and the space to which I devote most of my energies and brainpower.
There I was, in the Lightning locker room, waiting to interview players during the locker room celebration. It was mayhem on the ice as Bolts players took turns posing for the picture that would go down as their all-time favorite: the Stanley Cup military press. Ten reps of 35 pounds won't build big deltoids, but they make the sweetest photo.
I was in the locker room with two other reporters, the benefit of working for a network rights holder. The next time the Stanley Cup is awarded, NBC will be the U.S. network airing the celebration, so this might have been the last time I'll ever be in that position. The room was empty. Then, in walks Lightning captain Dave Andreychuk. He places the Stanley Cup in the middle of the locker room, then leaves. Maybe he had to pee or something. So the Cup is just sitting there in the middle of the room. No one else was there. Just the Cup. It was a very surreal moment. The Cup runneth over in an emptyeth roometh.
Eventually, slowly, players made their way in. Brad Lukowich put his little girl in the bowl, bringing tears to his wife's eyes. Eventually, Andreychuk came back, and I interviewed him for SportsCenter. He said, in so many words, that he had just played his last NHL game. To go out with a Cup like Ray Bourque did in 2001.
Then we were sprayed with champagne, which ruined my $75 suit (I think it was Jassen Cullimore). The interviews were over, and the room was getting nightclub crowded. Before I left, I took off my suit jacket and had Lightning winger Chris Dingman sign the back of my white shirt with a blue Sharpie while I was still wearing it. Dingman is a good friend of our boy Shjon Podein, and he became a friend to me during the 17-day final series. My souvenir from the 2004 Cup final is a white dress shirt autographed by Chris Dingman. He wrote: "To John, Podes' bedfellow. Chris Dingman."
Please let me explain.
Podes has good friends on both Calgary and Tampa Bay, so he decided to pay tribute in true Podes style. Before leaving Minnesota for Calgary for Game 3, he painted his entire body red, put "Yelle 11" on his back, and sported a red Jofa hockey helmet sans the padding. And made it through airport security.
Let me clarify that: He spray-painted his entire body. Podes couldn't find body paint so he risked poisoning himself for the good of the team by emptying four cans of Krylon on his skin. Anyway, he flies on the plane painted red, walks around Calgary all day painted red, and goes to Game 3 ... painted red. Of course the best part for me is when I met him after the game for a nightcap; he was very easy to find. A hostess doesn't often hear, "I'm looking for the guy
spray-painted red and wearing Hakan Loob's Jofa helmet." Pretty good chance you are the first guy to utter those words to her.
Well, Podes needed a place to stay for the night and I said, "Stay with me." So, Podes comes back to the room and collapses from his long day in my bed. The only bed in the room. Now what? Well, the beds are Montana wide. You could comfortably fit Ken Hitchcock, Melrose and Mark Hunter in there without incident. So, I tuck myself in on the other side and call it a night. You could have laid four Stanley Cups between us. Really!
Anyway, Podes left at 6 a.m. to catch a flight. I woke up around 8. As I pulled the curtains and let in the day's light, it looked like a homicide had occurred in my bed. Podes left a body outline of red paint on the sheets. I was sure the Calgary police would have me arrested and questioned by noon. I waited until the
maid service arrived to explain the giant red blotch on the sheets, and I remained a free man.
As an addendum to this story, Podes shows up in Tampa Bay painted entirely blue with "DINGMAN" on his back before Game 5. The story is basically the same as above.
And now you know the Chris Dingman autographed dress shirt story.
NHL Awards night
I love this show. I love Ron MacLean of the CBC, and I love watching a live hockey show in prime time that I'm not on. If you look back in the archives of this column, you'll find I pretty much agreed with all of the winners, so I say, "Fine job voters!" The only change I would have made was have Bob Goodenow and Gary Bettman award the Lady Byng.
Ray Bourque's charity golf event
Even when Patrick Roy is sitting down after a five-hour round of golf under sunny skies, he seemingly isn't relaxing. His eyes are always far away and fiery. He was probably thinking of something involving the management of his Quebec Major Junior Hockey League team, the Quebec Remparts. Roy does not miss playing. He won too much stuff, and was too emotionally involved, to miss playing.
Also, while a lot of former NHL players miss "the guys" and the togetherness of a team, I don't sense Roy is one of them. He has moved on quickly and completely. He is a serious person, and the Remparts are his life. He was shocked at how there was so much to improve upon in running the team, and most of his thoughts are about how to keep raising the bar. Already, he is an innovator in the league as he was in net. His competitive gene and his badger-like relentlessness will make him a huge success. When he told me how badly he wanted to win a Memorial Cup, he practically burned a hole in my forehead. I asked him whether he would like to run an NHL team. He said he hadn't thought about it, and I believed him. This man is a single-mindedness freak. I don't know how much fun he is to live with, but this man is a born leader.
Now, when I look back at conversations I've had with Keith Jones and Podes about Roy, they resonate. Keith said how he was the greatest leader he ever saw. How he said very little, but when he did, it was perfectly timed and made you feet 10 feet tall and bulletproof. Podes mentioned how it's easy to get caught up in Stanley Cup fever, and how players on the Flames and Lightning can ride that wave for a spring. Podes said, Roy was the only player he saw who brought those competitive juices every night, every year. Podes has an amazing grasp on people, one that will make him an excellent coach someday, and he nailed Roy on the freakin' head. I was ready to follow Roy all the way back to Quebec and sell season ticket packages door to door.
Bourque and Roy speak French when they converse with each other. At one point, Bourque let everyone in on the conversation and said, "It was an amazing 15 months."
Leading up to the trade deadline of 2000, after he requested to be dealt, Bourque was convinced he was heading to Philadelphia. When he heard it was
Colorado, he was bummed. Denver is far from home, far from Boston. And when the Avs lost to the Stars in the playoffs, he was even farther from home.
However, winning the Stanley Cup the following year would mean more to Bourque's post-playing career than the previous two decades. His story and dreamlike ending have set him up for a lucrative and relevant retirement. When you hear his name, there are no negative vibes. He enjoys a healthy income, and his fame also allows him to assist charities lucratively by lending his Hall of Fame name.
Roy and Bourque are both simple men, with simple, non-negotiable ideals. They know how things in hockey work. I don't know whether they have been offered a chance to run NHL teams, but if they haven't, it's one of those things on my "Dude, what is up?" list. Both have young boys they want to share ice time with, so it's probably not time yet anyway.
Montreal and Boston both traded away these legends to see them win Cups elsewhere. How they won't eventually bring them back to run their organizations is beyond me. I would have the contract written up now, waiting for the day they are ready to sign.
In a hockey world of uncertainties, of the future, next season and beyond, it was good to end my fiscal hockey year sitting during a setting sun with these two rocks. There is so much petty stupidity going on in the periphery of the hockey universe, I needed to be brought back down to hockey earth. These men are why we love the game. Why we care. Why we spend our hard-earned money playing it and supporting it. Because they care. Because they don't do it for the money. They always played for the prize. Roy still is. In a league where a season ticket costs $350. Bourque, like Roy, is busy instilling his hockey values to his talented sons and succeeding in business to fill in the gaps.
As Patrick Roy called it a day, clutching his autographed picture of the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team he bought at the silent auction, I realized avoiding a CBA cold war will be a minor miracle. Because the men involved lack Roy's love of hockey. Here was the Cy Young of hockey, wealthy beyond our wildest dreams, primed to capitalize on all his fame, thinking about how his junior team can give butterfly kisses to the Memorial Cup next year, while clutching an
autographed picture of an amateur hockey celebration.
Patrick Roy: Hockey's saving grace.
John Buccigross is the host of NHL 2Night, which airs on ESPN2. His e-mail address -- for questions, comments or cross-checks -- is email@example.com.