What I'm thankful for this season

I'm not a fan of Thanksgiving Day. I never really have been since it no longer means a day off from school for me.

I always volunteer to work on Thanksgiving weekend at ESPN because those days are holidays, meaning I receive compensatory days off that I can use at my discretion. I'd rather have two days off in July to hit the beach, the golf course, a ballpark, and/or a concert than two days in late November, when it's too cold to golf and too warm to skate in the backyard.

Despite working on the fourth Thursday of November, one can still make it a beneficial day at ESPN. All the suits are home reintroducing themselves to their family, the work scene is very laid back and those who work get a Thanksgiving Day meal. Either way, I'm watching football on Thanksgiving Day and hockey on Thanksgiving Night.

So while I'm not a big fan of Thanksgiving Day, I am a thankful person. I'm thankful for …

• All the Zamboni drivers who supply fresh coats of ice that, when stepped on, make one feel 10 years younger and lighter on that shiny new piece of ice.

• All of the on-ice officials, especially those who hustle and try their best to treat the game with love and respect. It's amazing how an electric scoreboard and referees can make even a Mite B game in South Windsor, Conn., feel like a big deal.

• The passion and energy of Alexander "Red Bull" Ovechkin, the most exciting athlete in Washington D.C. I'm thankful he turned down more money in Russia to play in the world's greatest hockey league. It's too bad his city's sports fans don't appreciate that -- only a select, passionate few.

• The careers of Steve Yzerman and Mario Lemieux. I think we are watching their final NHL seasons. They will win gold in Italy for Canada and then make a run for the playoffs. The Red Wings should be safe, but it will be a challenge for the Penguins. Right now the Penguins are not a playoff team. A couple of trades could put them in the Top 8.

• The fans in Calgary. The Saddledome crowd looks like the U.S. crowds from the 1980s. Working men and women in the lower bowl wearing sweaters and high-fiving each other after goals.

• Being able to watch and listen to Ilya Kovalchuk shoot a one-timer from the left point.

• The Center Ice Package.

• Just shooting a puck.

Mike Richards and Jeff Carter. As these old-school rookies get better this year, the Flyers will get better.

• My sons playing family-room, mini-sticks hockey more than they play Xbox.

• The Chicago Blackhawks finally have a bright future.

• Zach Braff, The Edge, Jack Parker, Kanye West, Ben Gibbard, Ween, Pamela Anderson, Jason Spezza, Ryan Whitney, Shawn Bates, Larry David, Monster Energy drink, Tampa Bay Lightning sellout crowds, Brian Gionta and Darren Pang.

• Coaches who haven't lost control of their game. Coaches have lost control of the game in the NHL. That component is even more vital in youth and minor-league hockey. Imagine if Van Gogh or Branford Marsalis were screamed at and directed like marionettes as they learned their craft? What kind of art would they really create? Imagine what art young hockey players can create if we guide them instead of directing them.

Jaromir Jagr loving hockey again. That focus on hockey will benefit him more than playing the stock market or blackjack.

• Ted Saskin is not representing me. When media members wax poetic about someone in a position of power, that usually means that person of power gave them information to gain their endorsement. I would want no such person representing me.

• Eric Staal's childhood backyard rink.

• Sidney Crosby's competitiveness. There are people who love to play and there are people who love to compete. When you find the person who has both and is blessed with talent, you have a superstar who wins Stanley Cups.

Ryan Miller of the Sabres and Ryan Miller of Guster.

• The family of the late Dan Snyder. I mean, really, name a better example of love and forgiveness. Their choice to look ahead instead of looking behind is one of the simple secrets of life. I'm thankful people like them exist. We should all be hopeful that there are more people in the world, especially influential ones, who have the clear heads and strong character of the Snyders.

So many focus on the negatives of hockey. The positives the game displays and instills, far outweigh the negatives, as one hockey family so gracefully and selflessly showed.

The season of thanks gives way to the season of hope. Hope for a better future and better decisions. I'm hopeful for more worldwide examples of forgiveness like those shown by the Snyder family these past two years. They took the best virtues of the game and instilled them in their everyday lives. That's the role of sports in 21st Century North America.

We can look at them and feel inspiration, pride and the ultimate example of role models. Hockey and the Snyder family are better off because of each other. We belong to them. And they belong to us. Thankfully.

The Mother of All Mailbags

Hey John,

Just wanted to follow up an earlier email of mine where I "thanked" USA Hockey for dropping Cammi Granato from the team (re: your article of Aug. 29, 2005). I read with interest today that after last Thursday's 5-0 drubbing of the USA, the Canadian women's Team followed this performance up with a 7-0 beating of the same squad in the finals of this pre-Olympic tournament, one of the most lopsided victories in the history of the rivalry between the two women's hockey powers. So, again, my thanks for making the road to Turin a little easier. I still cannot believe Cammi isn't on the US team -- what were they thinking?

Dave Yuill

As I stated before, the decision to unceremoniously cut Cammi Granato appeared then to be cruel and unusual on so many levels. Cruel in the manner that a veteran, gold-medal winning captain would be dispatched in such a bully, boys club manner. And unusual that such a respected and unequivocally revered leader as Granato was also arguably a top six forward and certainly a top nine forward. The results since the decision are not surprising at all.


I have a sports talk show at our university radio station, and I do a segment every week about the NHL. My question to you is do you think that Team USA will be using all the older, veteran players come February, or will they look to a younger, faster team to go into the Turin games?

Ryan Thomas

The 23-man Olympic rosters are due in about four weeks. I'll have a column on my USA Olympic team in the next couple of weeks. My inclination would be to go young and gain experience for Vancouver in 2010.

Hey John,

I need you to make a decision for me, please. Here's my problem. For our Christmas pictures this year, we're each going to wear a hockey jersey -- Adam in his Kings' road jersey and myself in my Avs' maroon third jersey. The issue is agreeing on what Michael will wear. Adam wants him to wear his L.A. jersey and I want to get him a Colorado one! Can you suggest the perfect jersey for Michael?

Lisa Burleson
Port Hueneme, Calif.

I would ask Michael what he wants to wear. The one he wants to wear is the perfect one. If he can't talk, go USA or maybe a Santa Claus hockey sweater.


The Hartford Wolf Pack have confirmed that Ron Francis, Kevin Dineen and Pack assistant coach Ulf Samuelsson will be in attendance in a ceremony to celebrate their careers at the Wolf Pack's home game Friday, Jan. 6 against Dineen's Portland Pirates.

Should true Whaler fans attend this event? A few hardcore Whaler fans I have talked to said they will never attend a New York Rangers-sponsored event no matter who it is for. I happen to think that filling the Hartford Civic Center with 14,000 fans for these former Whalers would be a great thing. What are your thoughts on this?

Michael Kataja

Funny, this conversation came up in a local rink here in Connecticut. I have no emotional attachment to the Whalers, so I cannot offer a personal perspective. I would think that some Whaler fans are definitely going. They wouldn't miss it for the world. Others are thinking about it. It would be painful to see those men in that rink and have a New York-owned team profit, but great to see the ceremony. And there are a small few who under no circumstances will attend.

Ron Francis and Kevin Dineen had such great careers in Hartford and gave so much, I guess if you are on the fence, I would say go. In fact, go to dinner in Hartford, go to the game, go for a drink afterward. Even if it's for a night, give yourself another NHL night in your home town. And use the experience to hope it might one day come back. You, Francis and Dineen deserve it.

Three vital questions, John:

1. How long until the first skate at your "Barn"?
2. Does Ken help with the flooding of the rink?
3. What's better; Cocoa Pebbles or Count Chocula?

Kurt Beyer

1. Well, it was almost 60 degrees last Sunday here in Connecticut. This is the fifth year for my backyard rink. The earliest was early December and the latest was New Year's at midnight.

2. No, he's union.

3. I am a certified chocolate lover. Except, when it comes to cereal. I would say neither.


My wife and I are having friends over for "Hockey Night in Henderson" -- a movie night featuring Slap Shot, Miracle and Don Cherry's Rock 'Em, Sock 'Em hockey -- next Saturday. You and Ken the Otter are invited -- send a reply and I'll send you the details. My wife Sara suggested that we serve "hockey-appropriate" food. What do you think we should serve?

Dan McCue
Henderson, Nevada

Chicken Parm, mozzarella sticks, brick-oven pizza, ziti, hot apple pie, pop tarts and any object caked in cinnamon.


I just found out my wife is pregnant and I need a name for either a boy or girl. I am a Red Wings fanatic and usually travel to a couple road games a year.

Doug Miller
Houston, Texas

A girl: Carla Meghan Miller (CCM)
A boy: Louis Joseph Miller. LJ Miller is a good playmaking center name.

Hey John,

By season's end, who do you think will be the worst team in the league? Hopefully not my Thrashers, but Chicago and Columbus look horrific. I could just see Phil Kessel in a Blues jersey next year.

Serrone Khan
Snellville, Ga.

Ray Ferraro lived in Snellville when he played for the Thrashers. There are no horrific teams in the NHL. The Blue Jackets won't be 5-15 in their second 20 games like they were in their first 20. I still think the Thrashers are making the playoffs. Chicago will keep getting better and should get at least 80 points. St. Louis will likely have the fewest points in the NHL at season's end. The Capitals will likely be around No. 29. After that, it will be all bunched up and with any number of teams from the Blue Jackets to the Panthers to the Penguins.


Catching up on your columns and saw that someone had asked if there would ever be a NHL player from Denmark. Well, keep an eye on Jannik Hansen, currently playing for the Portland Winter Hawks of the WHL. He's a 19-year-old winger who plays the game with speed, skill and grit. He is a ninth-rounder for Vancouver and he appears to have the goods to be a NHL player in a couple years.

With regards,
Andy Kemper
Hillsboro, Oregon


Two things.

Does it not seem as though the league could begin cracking down on this new diving epidemic by calling a diving penalty without calling a second penalty against the other player, as well? Basically, what I'm saying is, if he was the victim of an infraction, then logically speaking, he didn't "dive," he was inferred with, while on the flip side, if he embellished the contact to contrive a penalty, then the opposing player did not commit an infraction and should not go to the penalty box. How can you have a dive and a penalty at the same time?


Mike, I don't understand why we even have diving penalties. I don't understand why we waste our time with the whole issue. Like you said, it's a penalty or it's not. If a player dives, so what? We have two referees on the ice; they should just about see everything. If they don't see something clearly, then call nothing. Fines? For diving? Who is judging this whole thing, the USOC? Goalies "dive" ALL THE TIME trying to sell goalie interference. Are we going to fine them? Basketball players try to draw fouls, football players try to sell a call, baseball players sell catches that were traps, or phantom tags at second base. Should those athletes all be fined? Sidney Crosby has been labeled a diver and a whiner. First of all, he "whines" because he cares. He plays with a concentrated rage because the game means so much to him.

Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Tom Brady, Tiger Woods, Roger Clemens, Derek Jeter and so on, all "whined" or do "whine." These special athletes all should be allowed to squawk because, frankly, they understand and see the game better than the middle-aged men who call the games. But that aside, what Crosby is doing is trying to draw penalties. That has value to his team. And if someone like Crosby falls, it's probably very close to, or is, a penalty anyway. But to call diving? I've come to the conclusion that it's a waste of time. And if Flyers fans wonder where Crosby learned to snap his head back when he takes a shot near the face, look at Peter Forsberg and you will have your answer. Forsberg does the same thing. He tries to draw penalties to get power players, to create scoring, to win the game, and to win Stanley Cups. It's all very simple.


When did Canada become the indie rock hotbed, or have we Americans been sleeping for too long? Bands like The Arcade Fire, Stars, The Stills, and The New Pornographers have me pondering a move across the border, just for the music. Again, your thoughts are appreciated.

Keep up the great work,
Philadelphia, Pa.

Hip-hop is so gigantic here in the U.S., that it's hard to cultivate good, young rock bands. I imagine a lot of bands lose hope, thinking they can't make a dent on hip-hop dominated radio. One of the first "disco hits" was Gloria Gaynor's "Never Can Say Goodbye," which was on top of the charts in 1974. By 1975, KC and The Sunshine Band, The Bee Gees and Earth Wind and Fire were the biggest hit makers and Saturday Night Fever was just around the corner. That didn't stop someone like Bruce Springsteen from mucking and grinding and making the album he wanted to make. Springsteen's "Born To Run" is soooo hockey. The underdog, going against the grain, trying to make a name, coming from very little, up against flavor-of-the-month corporate thinking and saying, "I'm doing what I love." Clarence Clemons' extended saxophone solo on "Jungleland" took 16 hours to record. The title track "Born to Run" was tweaked for six months. Again. Again. Again. Again. It was Springsteen's Miracle on Vinyl moment. Young bands should follow that lead -- work hard, love what you do and believe in what you are doing.


If you had three choices of U.S. cities you could place an NHL franchise (that don't currently have one), which cities would they be and why?

Toronto, Ontario

Hartford -- Because Connecticut should have an NHL team.
Las Vegas -- Because it's Vegas. Booming population, conventions and Celine Dion. Who cares if people bet on the games? Wall Street brokers bet on games at their computer in midtown Manhattan. Should the Rangers move? The NHL is missing the boat. Hockey is a nasty game and Vegas is a nasty place. Perfect.
Baltimore -- It feels like a hockey city to me. I'd build a cool, intimate 15,000-seat arena on the harbor and move the Capitals there.

Hey John,

I have heard you mention that you think Phil Kessel will be taken first overall in next year's draft. I agree, but I have been hearing rumors that some teams would consider taking Jonathan Toews out of UND ahead of him. I was wondering if you think a Canadian bias has anything to do with Toews' stock rising so quickly.


Canadians love their hockey and certainly love their own, and the media certainly tends to favor Canadians. But I bet Marc Crawford's hair that Wisconsin-bred Phil Kessel (six goals and 10 assists in his first 12 games at the University of Minnesota) will be the first pick.


Love your column, though you need to give more love to hip-hop!

Best regards,
Karthi Natarajan

I remember first hearing Run DMC's "Hard Times," "Rock Box," and "It's Like That" on a cassette some girl made for me. (How come tape-to-tape decks weren't illegal, but file sharing is? Maybe CD sales are down being the music that's marketed is terrible and good music is ignored.) Anyway, I remember like it was yesterday. It was truly a music epiphany. Like the first time I heard REM on a train, or the first time I heard The Shins, Guster, They Might Be Giants, Pete Yorn, Radiohead, Chris Cornell's voice, Allison Krauss, and so on. I like hip hop/rap when it's sexy, witty and fun.


I know you are a big music guy and was wondering what you thought of the Rangers choosing Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline" as their victory song to be played in the locker room after every win.



The melodrama of Neil Diamond has brought me and my friends countless hours of joy and laughter. The Red Sox play "Sweet Caroline" at Fenway Park during the eighth-inning stretch, which is a "we-might-as-well-all-sing-this-cheesy-song-from-1969-since-we-can't-buy-anymore-beer" anthem.


Settle a bet please. Which is more difficult, scoring a goal in the NHL or hitting a home run in MLB?

Rik Wahlrab DC
Laguna Niguel, Calif.

Barry Melrose has scored an NHL goal. Wayne Gretzky has never hit a home run, probably anywhere. There is your answer.


I think the NHL seems to be counting feet as opposed to bodies with their "increased" attendance they keep talking about. Numerous games I see on the NHL Center Ice Package have thousands of empty seats. Only 14,000 in New Jersey for a Devils-Rangers game? That used to be an automatic sellout!

Washington is always in the 11,000's, never higher or lower. Even games in Detroit have empty red seats dotting each section. Here in Phoenix, they keep announcing 14,000, yet I have been to those games and there are far less than 14,000 in the building. Other teams that I have seen struggle in drawing fans by observing the games on the Center Ice Package: Columbus, Carolina, Nashville, St. Louis, Dallas, Anaheim, Atlanta and Buffalo.

Believe me, I want the NHL to succeed, but some of these attendance figures seem a little bit shady. They are only fooling themselves.

Tempe, Ariz.

I'm with you there, Chris.

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