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NHL Report: January 1, 2009

Okay, it’s starting to get a little silly now, with these media types tending goals for NHL squads.

Okay, it’s starting to get a little silly now, with these media types tending goals for NHL squads.

We told you recently that a web site producer named Brett Leonhardt was used as a backup goalie by the Washington Capitals during a game against the Ottawa Senators last month.

Leonhardt never got off the bench but was in uniform until early in the first period, when a real netminder, minor-league callup Simeon Varlamov, arrived and replaced him.

But the Phoenix Coyotes actually used their media relations director, Sergey Kocharov, in goal during a practice this week. Regular goalie Ilya Bryzgalov complained to coach Wayne Gretzky that he couldn’t participate in practice because of back tightness. So Gretzky, recalling that Kocharov once told him he plays goal in local beer leagues, put him in net. And Kocharov was peppered by the Coyotes for about 90 minutes, largely because Gretzky had them working on their power play.

Needless to say, Kocharov had a tough time keeping the puck out of the net.

"Hopefully, that will give our guys some confidence on the power play," Gretzky deadpanned. "Hopefully that pumps them up."

The Coyotes showed no mercy for Kocharov.

"We're going to have to work on his conditioning a little bit," forward Steven Reinprecht said. "He was lagging behind a little bit in the skating drills."

NHLPA types can’t find Eric Lindros.

And they’d like to find him to:

A) Find out if he’s alive and well.

B) Fire him.

Stumped?

This York Report published in Metro Toronto on Wednesday (the other Metro newspapers didn’t publish Wednesday) will help you understand:

Mystery surrounds former NHL superstar Eric Lindros.

Three sources with the NHL Players Association have told Metro they are unhappy with the work – or lack of work – from Lindros as the union’s ombudsman this season and are discussing the notion of dismissing him early in the new year.

At the same time, sources outside the NHLPA have told Metro that Lindros is dealing with health problems not usually associated with anyone as young as him.

Lindros, 35, couldn’t be reached for comment and his father and ex-agent, Carl Lindros, told an NHLPA employee that he isn’t interested in discussing his son with Metro.

Glen Healy of the NHLPA told Metro he has not seen Lindros in at least three weeks, comments echoed by several other union employees.

“Eric’s not easily accessible,” an NHLPA employee said. “You can’t leave him voice mail anywhere and he seldom comes into our office. We haven’t seen him in a very long time.”

CBC hockey analyst Mike Milbury, a former NHL general manager, coach and player, said the other day he has information that the NHLPA feels Lindros has been doing a poor job as ombudsman and has been causing problems between the players and executive director Paul Kelly.

Ex-NHLer Steve Larmer, a member of the NHLPA’s advisory board, told Metro he wasn’t “at liberty to either confirm or deny anything at all about Eric.”

Both Larmer and Healy said they weren’t aware of any health issues affecting Lindros.

Another NHLPA executive, however, said Lindros has put on “an unbelievable amount of weight” since retiring as a player after last season.

The Big E, as he is known, spent 13 seasons in the NHL. He joined the NHLPA in the newly created role of ombudsman before this season and was also supposed to double as a non-voting member of the executive board.

The NHL’s Winter Classic, as it is now known, was a successful, high-scoring, entertaining affair again on Thursday, and it’s pretty clear now that the outdoor game will become an annual event, if for no other reason than it raises NHL awareness in the United States, a country that generally doesn’t care for hockey and spends little time watching it on TV.

What was really neat about yesterday’s game at Chicago’s Wrigley Field was the attendance of so many of yesteryear’s stars for both the Cubs and the Blackhawks – Fergie Jenkins, Billy Williams, Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita, to name a few.

And there was even an oldtimer with a Chicago background playing in the game.

Yep, at 46, Chris Chelios thought he’d seen about everything during his 1,619 games and 25 years in the NHL. But on this New Year’s Day, he saw his city from the ice and the bench.

“To look out and see the rooftops and bleachers while being on an ice surface, it’s the craziest thing in the world, especially at Wrigley Field, if you stop and think about it,” the Detroit Red Wings defenceman said. “I never thought it my life this could happen.”

Chelios said he attended at least 200 games at Wrigley Field during his youth.

So, entering 2009, the best team in the NHL, remarkably, are the Boston Bruins, and you’re not telling the truth if you’re saying now you predicted that.

The Bruins, entering last night, were a sparkling 27-5-4. And they get to play their next six games on their home ice, where they had won 13 in a row.

Oh, and they’re not too shabby on the road, either. They’ve won six consecutive games as visitors and are a league-best 15-4-1 away from home.

Still, Bruins coach Claude Julien is dissatisfied with two of his lines and decided to switch left wings, with Milan Lucic dropping down from the top line to No. 3 and P.J. Axelsson moving up to the top.

“I guess it’s just preventing things from getting stale,” Julien said.

This is, of course, laughable.

By the way, the Bruins:

• Are an eyebrow-raising 21-3-4 against opponents in the Eastern Conference.

• Are enjoying their best best 37-game start since the 1929-30 team, which started 32-4-1.

• Are 19-0-2 when leading after two periods this season.

“We just want to win every game,” Bruins defenceman/captain Zdeno Chara said. "The stats and the history is one thing, but playing every game the best we can is another thing. After each game we want to look forward instead of back on whatever the record is.”

And, in case you’re wondering, the Pittsburgh Penguins Jordan Staal (20 years, 111 days) became the youngest player in NHL history this week to play in 200 games.

Marty York is Metro's national sports columnist as well as an
instructor at the College of Sports Media in Toronto. He can be heard
regularly on Vancouver radio station CKNW with Sportstalk host Dan
Russell. Contact Marty at marty.york@metronews.ca

 
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