Real sports heros make grilled-cheese sandwiches


The most powerful force in this universe.

Whenever you feel good about yourself for scaling the NHL2K5 Dream Team ladder and beating The Otters, or selling some stock at the right time to buy that swimming pool/jacuzzi set up to impress your girl Giselle Bundchen, or nailing that crumpled up piece of paper into the garbage can across the office from 30 feet away, or that winning your fantasy league proves you could run an actual NHL team and thus were blessed with talents and a "feel for the game" the average knob will never realize, remember, Sparky, you ain't Jack-Hack squat compared to Mom.

I'm not a jealous kind of guy, but there ARE times I am unequivocally envious. And I am categorically envious of the existential bond my boys have with their Mom. Spending nine months inside a woman's belly will certainly create subconscious connective tissue, but there must be something physiological as well. Still, I was adopted as an infant, and the bond I feel with my Mom is just as strong as had she physically carried me in her gut around Hills Department Store, while nine months pregnant, looking for the Beach Boys "Pet Sounds" on vinyl.

Yes, in the final analysis, it's not so much a biological bond between mother and son, it's a relationship based on old-school omnipresence. For those of us whose Mom stayed home while Dad worked, we always had a spectator, cheerleader, valet and playmate. The things we remember most vividly are acts of selflessness and thoughtfulness, and Moms are always the leader in that clubhouse. Tiger-after-three-rounds-of-the-'97 Masters, leader.

It was my Mom who threw me wiffleballs until dark, and then dragged me in the house crying when I wanted to keep hitting until Johnny Carson came on. It was Mom who watched me shoot 300 jump shots a day at a basketball hoop nailed to a telephone pole. It was Mom who watched me play slow-motion football next to our cinder block house, while I hummed NFL Films music. And it was Mom who snapped off wrist shots in the driveway, while I played Doug Favell with my Mylec street hockey goalie stick and a baseball glove. Like Esa Tikkanen, Mom was always there and often said things we didn't understand.

The Hockey Mom takes this human bond to a whole other level of ligament love that can never be torn. Behind nearly every hockey player is a hockey Mom whose "sacrifice," in the words of Elton John, was "no sacrifice at all."

Bless the Hockey Mom who dresses her son,
So he can go have his Six AM fun.
Who loads her pink faced, excited knight,
Into the frosty, metal box in the last blink of night.

Bless the Hockey Mom, who takes the tiny hand,
Of the boy taking steps too quickly towards man.
Who buckles the straps and opens the door,
To a life and journey that's never a chore.

Bless the Hockey Mom who gasps and fears,
As her life starts his battle of smiles and tears.
And who feels the force of her green laser eyes,
As she pushes him faster as the burn fills his thighs.

Bless the Hockey Mom, who screams from her soul,
As the puck trickles softly to the back of the goal.
Whose constant chorus and consistent refrain,
Is effort and fun trumping the score of the game?

Bless the Hockey Mom and her post game phrase,
That doughnuts taste better on cold winter days.
And sticky fingers on a snowy December,
Are the moments and things you'll always remember.

So, Bless the Hockey Mom and her lifelong career,
Of holding you close and loving you near,
Of sacrifice, hugs, commitment and heart,
Of loving a boy, 'till death do they part.

Ray Ferraro's mom, Anna, died Dec. 28 in Trail, British Columbia. Anna was an old-school Italian Mom, or "Mum," as Ray says, whose answer to every kid query was "no problem." That, and sometimes "Ohhh, go to hell." For 15 years, she volunteered three days a week at a local hospital gift shop. For every day of her adult life, she volunteered her entire being to serve her boys. For those of you wondering what kind of woman to marry, I suggest one that can break down and transport a drum set on a moment's notice, as Anna once did for her son Tony. That's what Moms do for Sons.

Ray said when "Mum" would pick him up after before-school hockey practice in Trail, she would open the glove compartment and place a grilled-cheese sandwich on the little door as Ray got into the Ferraro family truckster. Those were the greatest tasting grilled-cheese sandwiches in B.C. because they were made with all the love in the world.

Adam Duritz of Counting Crows sings in "Anna Begins":

Her kindness bangs a gong
It's moving me along
And Anna begins to fade away,
It's chasing me away.
She disappears and
Oh Lord, I'm not ready for this sort of thing

No one is ready for watching a parent die. No one is ready to live without the unconditional love of one's life. But Ray and other sons like him know their Hockey Mom gave it everything they had, right to the end. They know a lifetime of grace and grit is a good way to make that No. 1 power-play unit in the sky.

At the end of that sad, cold, night three days after Christmas when the Ferraro boys kissed their Mom good night for the final time, Ray realized his childhood role model didn't play for the Boston Bruins. His hero didn't skate like the wind, fly through the air, and wear No. 4 for the Big, Bad Bruins. Ray Ferraro's role model and hero made grilled-cheese sandwiches.

Hi John:
Bob Goodenow and the players need to face the facts:

1) Hockey is less popular than any other major sport, including the MLB, NFL, NBA, NASCAR, and PGA,
2) Losing an entire season will be a financial disaster for all but the most highly compensated players in the NHL,
3) Hockey fans (including myself) have found other things to do with their time and, more importantly, money.

I love hockey, I love the NHL, I love getting the NHL Center Ice package on my DirectTV, and I love going to 10 Devils games a year. Goodenow, PLEASE deal with and accept a cap, get a lot back in return (lower free agency age, for example) and MOVE ON. This is 2004, not 1994; the times and economics have changed. To fold your arms and say, "No cap, end of discussion," is juvenile and not in the best interest of almost all of your players.

Richard Grisham

At what point will you realize that there will be no season?

Matt Hutter
Upland, Calif.

I'm using the Kobe Bryant analogy. Was he really EVER going to sign with the CLIPPERS??!! People talked like that was actually going to happen. THE CLIPPERS!!! Same thing with the NHL season. It would be like Kobe signing with the Clippers.

I may be a "new" hockey fan (started watching during the 2001-02 season), but I love the game with a passion. There's nothing better than the nights my husband and I can sit and watch a game, ANY game together. Not having a season is killing me.

Maggie Sebastian

A new fan?! Please join me on the "Make The Net Bigger Bandwagon," Maggie. The National Center for Health Statistics reports that on average, American adult men and women are about an inch taller than they were in 1960 and 25 pounds heavier. These numbers will continue to grow until the entire net is covered and every playoff game will go to nine overtimes.

Bob Goodenow owned a hockey camp in the Detroit area that I attended every summer from 1977 to 1982. Sometimes he would take the ice, but mostly he would watch from the bench area when he was around. I remember a time when Mr. Goodenow got mad and started yelling at us kids and the instructors from the bench for lack of effort. He got his skates on and came on the ice and looked like he was ready to kill someone. He made us do the "climb the mountain" drill over and over again yelling at us the whole time. In the five years I knew Mr. Goodenow, I never remember him smiling, he always seemed mad about something and just a mean guy in general.

Then, in 1985, I ran into Mr. Goodenow at Joe Louis Arena attending the Great Lakes Invitational college hockey tournament. I said hello to him and he remembered me, which was very nice, and he asked me how I was doing and how my father was, whom he got to know a little bit. After about 15 minutes of a nice conversation with him, I was thinking how mellow he had become. I shook his hand and we exchanged goodbyes, and as I was walking away he shouted, "Hey, you better still be working on that wrist shot." I could not believe he remembered that I had a weak wrist shot (it didn't help that I had skinny arms), but it goes to show how controlling this man is and he wasn't going to let me walk away without instilling a little fear in me even then.

I think Mr. Goodenow is doing what he believes is in the best interest of the NHLPA, and I, like you, think he will continue to try and work out the best deal possible with or without a salary cap. However, from my personal experience with Mr. Goodnenow, I'd hate to be on the other side of the table with him because the man is that intimidating. Unless of course you're a billionaire owner and you can just laugh in his face.


I've met both Gary Bettman and Bob Goodenow. Goodenow is low key. I imagine he's an irritable man to live with at times and probably to negotiate with. Very smart and coy. Bettman is high strung and fidgety. He looks uncomfortable in his skin at times, like he has way too much starch in his shirt. I think that rubs off on people and makes them feel uncomfortable. Neither man makes you feel at ease, which is why it doesn't surprise me this thing is taking so long. These two have the chemistry of a Tiger Woods/Phil Mickelson pairing at this year's Ryder Cup.

Dear John,
I read that letter in your e-mail bag about advising Shjon Podein not to buy a Japanese team. My son plays for a junior team here in Yokohama, Japan, and he has a tournament in January. The host team is the junior Nikko team, the senior team being the Ice Bucks, the team Mr. Podein is in the market for. There will be 20 teams or so competing in this junior tournament. To say there is no interest here in Japan is really shortsighted and extremely negative. I hope Mr. Podein does buy the team, and try to bring attention to hockey. A person like Shjon Podein would be a great ambassador for the sport of hockey in Japan.

Martin Kariya, You Know Who's younger brother, has just signed to play with Nikko. I believe any positive influence would be great for the sport, and perhaps Mr. Podein's intentions are not purely financial. If Mr. Podein's involvement produced the first NHL-caliber player born in Japan wouldn't that just skyrocket interest here?

Naoki Sakai

I can tell you first hand, Naoki, Shjon's intentions are not financial. Shjon is about making a difference in people's lives, expanding his soul and having fun. He's a modern day Robin Hood. And he'll paint himself green to prove it.

There is still some good hockey out there, unfortunately, it's not readily available to everyone. There were 17,898 hockey fans in Buffalo on Tuesday night to see the AHL Amerks and they were treated to a very entertaining game. Fans are so starved for hockey in Buffalo that they were cheering during the mite game between periods. I hope that there can be an NHL season this year. But, if not, at least I have the AHL.


You MUST come to Grand Forks, N.D., for the World Juniors. You want to talk hockey? This is hockey. Players playing their hearts out and playing for their country . . . for $0. Yeah, soon enough these kids will be making millions in the pros, but at least for now they're just kids playing the game for what it is . . . a game. (Plus, if you haven't seen Ralph Engelstad Arena, you are missing out.)

I must say, I saw my hockey hero, Ray Bourque, here last August for the U.S. selection camp and got his autograph. He did not disappoint. I was like a bumbling kid getting his autograph and I didn't even care. At the time, I'm not even sure if I'd have given the correct answer if you had asked me my name! Now he's back for the real tournament and I'm trying to catch him again!

I'm amazed that a tournament of this magnitude is happening in GF, ND. Also, so many people don't even know it's going on. It needs more coverage -- and you could do it justice.

Peace out,
Fargo, N.D.

I've been watching every game on ESPN2, Jeremy. It's my favorite TV show right now.

Just getting caught up on some reading and don't know whether to laugh or cry at the Canadian justice system's handling of Todd Bertuzzi's case. This (guy) should NEVER, EVER be allowed back on an NHL club -- and to think some dopes up in Vancouver are cheering for him and other dopes north of the border consider us barbaric?!?! Oh well, at least Michigan is STILL atop the CCHA. M GO BLUE!

Dennis Pepperack
Nashville, Tenn.

Bertuzzi missed 13 regular-season games and seven playoff games. Since he wouldn't have been paid for the playoff games, I wouldn't even count those toward the suspension. I'd suspend him for 27 more games and make it 40 games total. The NHL has to make a HUGE statement with this suspension.

What about the idea of a new league started and owned by players? Your thoughts?

Los Angeles

Their first order of business would be to implement a salary cap.

I certainly enjoy how you make your passion for both music and hockey quite obvious each week. So to remain true to that spirit, I was curious if using your five favorite (active) players, what song would be the perfect soundtrack for their careers? Also what would Ken the Otter's be?

Dan Shroyer
Princeton, N.J.

My five favorite active players right now to watch are probably:

1. Chris Drury: "Between A Laugh And A Tear," John Mellencamp
2. Ilya Kovalchuk: "Given To Fly," Pearl Jam
3. Daniel Alfredsson: "What You Wish For," Guster
4. Sergei Fedorov: "To All The Girls I've Loved Before," Julio Iglesias and Willie Nelson
5. Martin St. Louis: "Itty Bitty," Alan Jackson

Ken The Otter: "Coast of Carolina," Jimmy Buffett

Mr. Buccigross,
Just thank you. Thanks for being you and doin' your best to keep our spirits up in these sad, sad times. I was so disappointed with the new U2 album it was almost the final straw. That was until I made the NHL2Night Mix that you recommended in your U2 column. Now it is constantly in my CD player. All bands should consult with you for song order before releasing any new material. Have a happy holiday and hopefully someday I'll get to skate the backyard rink.

Matthew Smith

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