Wednesday, May 11, 2016

B.U. Men Shine Under Hottest Lights

Penguins rookie coach Mike Sullivan was living out a Kafka-esque nightmare Tuesday in Pittsburgh. A period away from closing out the NHL's best regular season team, his squad took three straight delay of game penalties for firing the puck over the glass. None of the network broadcasters had ever seen anything like it. The resulting manpower became 5 on 4, then 5 on 3, then 5 on 4, and then 5 on 3. When the ice chips settled, the powerhouse Capitals had tied the game at three, sending it to overtime.

Remarkably, Sullivan appeared calm throughout his tumultuous journey to Bizzaro-world. His face was only one shade closer to red as he sought an explanation from the refs after the third straight delay of game call. "I've never seen it in all the years I've been around the game, I'll tell you that," said Sullivan to in the post-game. "Three delay of game penalties in a row like that. That's a tough one to swallow, you know?" Sullivan's college coach, B.U. legend Jack Parker, knows Sullivan well and was one of the few that detected the immense stress his protege was under.

"When he had is arms folded in front of him, look how hard he was grabbing his stomach," said Parker. "It was like he was in a straight jacket."

Sullivan and the Pens weathered the unprecedented storm, ("It could have been a lot worse," said Parker), got to overtime and then overwhelmed the Caps with a non-stop flurry in the extra session. Former Terrier Nick Bonino was the man of the late-hour, pounding in the series-winner to catapult the Cinderella Penguins into the conference final. Kudos are in order for Sullivan for standing firm when America's top hockey pundits were loudly questioning his tactics.

In the third period prior to the delay of game triple nightmare, Pierre McGuire, a single stride from Sullivan inside the glass, wondered aloud when Sullivan would rein in his run-and-gun Pens, and collapse back into a defensive shell. He asked Sully point blank whether he was worried about all the odd-man rushes against during his in-game interview spot. Sullivan said his troops just needed to make better decisions with the puck. He would not take his foot off the gas.

McGuire and Milbury, From the Gallery
In the overtime intermission Mike Milbury was incredulous that journeyman minor leaguer Conor Sheary was getting the same amount of ice time as superstar Sidney Crosby. Parker leaped to Sullivan's defense. "I heard Milbury," said Parker by phone the next morning. "I always tell people It's real easy to coach someone else's team. Crosby doesn't kill penalties, that's why he was so fresh for the overtime." As far as McGuire advocating for a defensive clampdown? "I've always felt the 1-2-2 defense is like the prevent defense in football," said Parker. "It prevents you from winning the game."
Parker: "It's real easy to coach someone else's team."
Sullivan stuck to his philosophy, distributing ice time through all four lines who hunted pucks down all over the Penguins defensive zone. His fresh troops simply swarmed Washington in sudden death, choking the life out of the Caps with their relentless pursuit. The face of the Penguins franchise,"Sid the Kid," was all smiles in the jubilant post game, and couldn't wait to take on Tampa in a conference final that should resemble a track meet. "It will be fast hockey for sure," said the gleeful Crosby to McGuire after completing the traditional handshake line.

Sullivan has a history of facing down neighsayers. B.U. national championship hockey alum Todd Johnson recalls another bizzare Sullivan anecdote when he was in his original NHL coaching job with the Bruins. "During the lockout (2005), Mike coached a local pee wee team," said Johnson.
"He did all the right things, taught them all the game, shared ice time equally. You'd think the parents would be honored that a former NHL player and the coach of the Bruins was coaching their kids. Well what did they do? The parents had a big meeting and protested that their kids weren't getting enough ice time. What a joke, unbelievable."

After being confronted by passionate youth hockey parents, the slings and arrows from television talking heads is pretty routine for Sullivan. His triumph over both the bizarre circumstances in the series clincher and the NBC neigh-sayers brings to mind the Rudyard Kipling classic Poem "IF."

If you can keep your head when all about you
 Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
  But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
  And treat those two impostors just the same;
—you’ll be a Man, my son.

One of the biggest stories heading into the NHL's final four is the courageous leadership of Mike Sullivan. A man, indeed.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Back to the Future for Stan Fischler

The Maven
Stan Fischler is an incredibly spry octogenarian, often found riding his bike in Central Park or hustling for a game of "Paddle." He still blogs and reports on camera for MSG Network, patrolling NHL press rooms before games sharing R-rated jokes, and then writing his post-game hockey blog deep into the night. A quintessential New Yorker, he insists that he is from Brooklyn. RinkRap caught up with Fischler prior to Game 4 of the Islanders-Tampa Conference semifinals from Barclays Center. 

"I started watching hockey in '39. The Americans were still playing into the '41-'42 season, I'm living in Brooklyn. By that time I'm 10 years old, so I was very deep into hockey with what the hell is going on. And I knew that Red Dutton changed the name from the New York Americans to the Brooklyn Americans because he wanted to build a Brooklyn rink for the club downtown, right about where the Barclays Center is, where we are now. So I was very aware that something like that might happen, and of course the dream was, since I lived within walking distance, 582 Marcy, near Myrtle, I could walk to the games. That was a nice dream. Now I subway to Barclays. I take it all the time. I get on my home stop 110th and Broadway, I take the local to 96th and then I catch the 2 or the 3 and they go right to here.

What's the commuting time?
Oh about 40 minutes, or about five pages in a book. I read slow.

When did you start realizing that your dream of NHL hockey in Brooklyn might become a reality?
During the last lockout (2012), when they announced that the team would be coming here, I came here, they had a press conference, the commissioner Gary Bettman was here, Charles Wang of the Islanders. Already the building was done, the signing was the fait accompli, dotting the 'i's and crossing the 't's. Naturally I was excited about it because I knew exactly where Dutton was... I used to play hockey at the Brooklyn Ice Palace where Dutton's Americans used to practice in '41-42, and the Ice Palace was only about a 10-minute walk from here. It was on Atlantic between Nostrand and Bedford.
You didn't ask me how I played hockey.

Well, how did you play?
The answer is badly.

There Used to be a Ballpark
Last Tuesday, when you saw all the pomp and circumstance of a Stanley Cup second round game in Brooklyn, that must have been a bit of a dream.
The first thing I did was get goose pimples. From the very first time I went to Madison Square Garden in 1939 I was absolutely awe-struck by the whole hockey scene, the ice, the color the whole thing. Even when I worked for the Rangers in 1954-55, the first thing I would do is walk into the building and just look at the ice, it always fascinated me. Of course the fact that this thing was in Brooklyn just knocked me out. Plus it was done very classy, with a color guard and with the anthem sung. What I did, which was sort of a reflex going back to when I was in publicity, I always looked around to see the crowd, to see a full house, a very intense, high decibel count, it was the equal of Nassau Coliseum, which I loved also. It was a combo. I get goose pimples for certain songs, and certain events, and of course when I think about hockey I think about the fact that it was my father that took me to a game. If it wasn't for that, who knows what would have happened?

Of all the New York boroughs, where does Brooklyn rank?
I grew up in Brooklyn. People ask me where I'm from, if I go to visit relatives elsewhere, in Israel with my  son, I say "From Brooklyn." Always Brooklyn. I went to Brooklyn College, my father and mother were both born in Brooklyn. I lived at 582 Marcy for 22 years, you can't get more Brooklyn than that.

I covered the Dodgers for the Journal American newspaper when they won the Series in '55, also covered Game 7 in '56 when they lost to the Yankees. Just recently when my grandchildren were here from Israel with my son Simon, we went to Coney Island, twice. Not for the rides, but for the beach because it was warm. You can't have more Brooklyn than Coney Island and Nathan's hot dogs and the whole schmear.

Didn't you play a lot of paddle ball on Coney Island?
I haven't played paddle for about three years. The last guy I played paddles with was Alan Kreda of the Times, and I beat the crap out of him, he can tell you that. Brooklyn is a good place for paddles. I was supposed to play Sean Avery and he backed out. Lame excuse, too. Of course, I love paddles.

Do these Islander games against Tampa remind you of "The Bums" heartbreaks against the Yankees?
Of courseI was there in '41 when Mickey Owen missed the third strike and Tommy Henrich goes to first base, DiMaggio comes up and starts the kill. That scar never goes away for anybody who was around then. The Dodgers theme was always "Wait Until Next Year," until finally '55. Losing in overtime the way they (the Islanders) did, it was "Wait Until Next Game."