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Book excerpt: Curtis Joseph on being the ‘factor’ vs. the Blackhawks

This excerpt from Cujo: The Untold Story of My Life On and Off the Ice by Curtis Joseph with Kirstie McLellan Day is printed with the permission of Triumph Books.  For more information and to order a copy, please visit Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Bookshop.org, or www.triumphbooks.com/Cujo.

***

I remember after one of the anthems, Chicago started a checking line, which meant they were going to dump it in and then run our defence. It set the tone right away. Jeff Brown came back to me and said, “Cujo, play the puck,” because he didn’t want to be plastered up against the glass. They had speed and size. Wingers like Jocelyn Lemieux or Jeremy Roenick would rocket in at a hundred miles an hour, ready to clobber anybody near the puck. The strategy was to flatten our D every chance they got, wear them down. The more we got hit, the more likely a turnover might happen, and in the playoffs, you only need one to turn a game around. It worked like a symphony. And they were very good at it.

When they dumped it in, I went after everything. This meant that, instead of turning around and skating back for it, our defenceman would put his stick out and hold up the offensive player for a second and a half, and then let him go. That second was all the time I had to skate around behind the net, stop the shoot-in and pass it off. If one of their forwards hit me, they’d get a penalty.

The first ten minutes of a game were crucial. We had to hold off the attack and the enormous energy they brought. It was “Okay, this is survival. I’ve got to play the puck around the glass and make sure my D doesn’t get hammered. And make sure we don’t get scored on early. They can’t keep up this intensity for sixty minutes. If we can weather the storm, we’re going to be okay.” That’s what it was like, playing those guys in that building at that time.

After we upset the Hawks 4–3 in Game One, we knew they were going to come after us harder than ever three nights later. It was rough out there. Most of the eleven penalties called in the game were for roughing, charging, high-sticking and even kneeing.

We were competitive because we had traded a lot of toughness for talent. We still had Kelly Chase and Garth Butcher, but mostly we were loaded. Hully would become the fourth-leading goal scorer in the history of the league. Shanahan is a Hall of Famer, and then there was Craig Janney.

Craig was one of the greatest centres ever. He had 106 points that year. He was so smooth, and so underrated, a brilliant hockey player and a super-compassionate man. His game was directly related to his off-ice personality. He was a giver. Terrific at finding the open man. He’d rather pass the puck than put one in. He was reminiscent of Adam Oates, for whom he’d been traded. Don’t get me wrong, he scored plenty, but he was generous to a fault. I loved Craig Janney. He’d sit there and smirk and smile and laugh. Always fun, happy and positive.

Bob Bassen was all heart, as were Richie and Ronnie Sutter and Dave Lowry. And then look at our D, led by Jeff Brown and Rick Zombo. Z was integral, but you never heard much about it. He always played against the best of the best. And yet, even at the pinnacle of his career, he was more or less unknown. Shutting down the opposition’s best line? That’s big. You have to be damn good. But he never got the accolades he deserved. He didn’t have points, and his plus/minus was average. That’s all a lot of sportswriters see. But as a goalie, I relied on him big time. Just one of a long line of amazing players we had through the early ’90s.

As for the Blackhawks, they definitely had talent. Chelios was good — at thirty-one he was so incredibly fit that he was still, effectively, a young player. He’d come down to my end every once in a while and start yelling at me. Oh man, the obscenities — the gist being “We’re coming for you! We’re coming for you and we’re going to kill you!” I was trying to maintain focus and he was trying to get me off balance. But I recognized it as a great compliment to me. I thought, “This is good. It means I’m a factor in this series.”

I remember Roenick running around crushing people. For a skilled guy, he could hit. But like I told you before, the one guy I had to really pay attention to was Steve Larmer. He was thirty-two and he hadn’t missed a game in eleven years. He was two years from retirement, but he was still dangerous. He seemed unfazed by anything that was happening in the building. He had great patience, great poise, and then, suddenly, he would just rocket that puck into the top corner. I had to know where he was at all times.

That entire week, it felt like I was in a bubble and I was riding a wave. I didn’t think about it too much. I just got up, went to the rink and followed my routine. No superstitions, no rituals. I made a conscious decision early on not to hang my game on rituals. I concentrated on one thing. Focus.

Standing in my crease in Game Two, I found myself in a calm spot in the middle of the hectic world around me. The game ended with my first playoff shutout, 2–0. I was in the zone. It starts with the eyes — specifically, the fovea, a small depression at the back of the retina where visual acuity is highest. The fovea only picks up a tiny bit of your field of vision, so if you’re looking at something large, you need to move your eyes to take it all in. A lot of adjustments are needed. That’s why you see goalies moving and twitching so much. The more experienced goalies get, the quicker we are to get into a “quiet eye” state, meaning we stop shifting our gaze around sooner. We know where to focus our eyes.

Game Three, in St. Louis, was another shutout. It was 3–0 this time. Game Three is always the big game. It’s the swing game. Again, I was in the zone, connected to the puck. I could feel it moving along the ice and knew exactly where it was going. Other times, it seemed to be the size of a beach ball and moving in slow motion. When you are a goalie and in the zone like that, the opposing team gets frustrated.

In Game Four, Chicago scored early in the second period, ending my shutout streak at 174 minutes, 18 seconds, during which I had stopped 105 Chicago shots. We were tied 3–3 at the end of regulation, but if you look at the overtime, the Blackhawks knew they were finished. We could smell blood, and that’s when we found our stride. We had one scoring chance after another. There was nothing they could do to turn the tide.

Finally, Brett Hull made this wonderful play. A shoot-in sent the puck into their end. Ed Belfour went behind his net to play it, but it bounced over his stick. While Eddie was trying to get back to his crease, Brett took a shortcut, chasing the puck, and Eddie, trying to get back to his crease, bumped into Brett. Meanwhile, Craig Janney, who was such a quick-thinking player, recognized what was happening and slipped a quick wrist shot from the boards towards the net. Eddie, in a panic, dived and took a stab at it but missed. The puck dribbled in. Our guys leaped over the boards to celebrate, and Eddie went nuts —screaming at the refs, whaling his goal stick at the goal- posts. He gave it three full Paul Bunyan swings, hard enough to bend the iron, but he couldn’t make that stick break.

That was the game, and that was the series.

Eddie was pissed and complained to the ref. Brett yelled at him, “You’re an idiot, Eddie! I wasn’t doing anything. You tried to hit me!” The horn blew and Eddie beat up the crossbar and pushed the net over, something I would’ve done myself. On the way to the dressing room, he knocked over a big coffee urn and a water jug. I will always respect him as a fiery, tremendous competitor. Any time you come out on the winning end as a goalie, after facing a Hall of Fame goalie at the other end, you feel like you’ve done a good job.

The fans in St. Louis were going absolutely crazy. We were always happy to stick around and sign a few autographs and sticks, but we couldn’t get to our cars for three hours after the game. We could not get through the mob who were still waiting and cheering after that Chicago series.

I remember feeling the complete opposite of the way I felt getting that haircut once every two years when I was a kid. I felt proud. I felt great about myself. I felt good about being a good teammate, contributing to the win. And honestly, I can’t remember any moment, in all the time I played hockey, that I was a factor like that. When I played at Notre Dame and we won, it wasn’t because I dominated in any of the games or anything like that. For the first time in my life, I was a big factor.

PHT reviews hockey video games: ‘Super Blood Hockey,’ a gory good time

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Every week, PHT will spotlight hockey video games you might not have heard of. Previously, that meant looking back at games that are now largely inaccessible. This week’s edition, on the other hand, can be found in many spots: “Super Blood Hockey.”

As we look back at old and very old arcade-style hockey games, it’s almost inevitable to wallow in the sadder elements of nostalgia. Why can’t current games capture those good old days?

Well, games like “Super Blood Hockey” aim to do just that. After spending some time with the Switch version of the game, I think solo developer Loren Lemcke’s aim ended up being mostly on.

“Super Blood Hockey” is an evolution (and devolution) of NES “Ice Hockey”

Earlier in this series, we looked at the NES classic “Ice Hockey,” which originally released around 1988. Thanks to the Nintendo Switch’s SNES emulator (available with Switch Online), you can toggle between “Ice Hockey” and “Super Blood Hockey” on the same device.

Of course, it really might come down to letting your kids play “Ice Hockey,” but not “Super Blood Hockey.”

On one hand, SBH carries a lot of the same spirit of that Nintendo classic. There are “fat, skinny, normal” players, with the skinnier being more elusive, and the “fat” being tougher to knock off the puck than vintage Eric Lindros. Much like “Ice Hockey,” “Super Blood Hockey” only involves four skaters and a goalie, rather than the NHL standard.

Fights definitely play a role in the game, as much like in classic titles, the team that wins a fight — actually a wild line brawl — goes up one player. In fact, as I learned earlier today in researching the game a bit more, you can also go up four skaters to one.

A meaty and gory franchise mode

The not-so-family friendly stuff boils down to the gore, and the dark gallows humor of the franchise mode.

Rather than a dry GM mode setup such as games like “NHL 20,” you begin the “Super Blood Hockey” version by … giving up a kidney to afford your team?

Super Blood Hockey screen kidney
via Super Blood Hockey

When you lose a fight, you don’t just essentially go on the penalty kill. You also risk being “down a man” in a dark way. Like, say, losing your best player “Ryan Bretzel.”

Super Blood Hockey poor Bretzel
via Super Blood Hockey

The game’s lack of an NHL or NHLPA license means that you get some fun names (Adam “Pates,” huh?) and the game can go down some literal dark alleys with drug use.

 

When it comes to the humor, your results will vary. As someone who worries that players might be put at risk to return to play, there’s some catharsis in the satire of “Super Blood Hockey,” though. The tone generally works for me, possibly thanks to the throwback pixel art.

Super Blood Hockey discard
Players are inmates in this dark franchise mode. (via Super Blood Hockey)

In a May 2019 interview with Nintendojo, “Super Blood Hockey” developer Loren Lemcke explained the tone of the game:

The omnipresent evil of profit-motive haunts the US Healthcare system and poisons our compassion by injecting into us the necessary machinery to dehumanize others. One doesn’t have to dig very deep to discover a terrifying crypt of nightmarish and surreal ordeals inflicted upon the sick and dying in the name of profit. Super Blood Hockey is a mere cartoonish effigy of the very real kafkaesque horrors levied upon the poor.

(How many other sports video game franchise modes inspire use of the term “kafkaesque?” OK, beyond the microtransactions in the NBA2K series.)

Ultimately, “Super Blood Hockey” follows its retro roots as being a fairly stripped-down game. You won’t play 20+ seasons in this franchise mode, seeing Connor McDavid and Jack Hughes retire along the way.

Yet there’s a lot to like. I’m not sure how much of a difference it really makes when I tell my little pixely players to rest vs. hit the gym, but it’s fun to tweak their stats.

An impressive effort could be just a bit better with more resources

If you follow indie video games, you realize that small teams, sometimes basically one person, can sometimes will a game into existence. Sometimes that comes down to making the types of games that don’t get made any longer.

People craved another “Harvest Moon” game, so largely solo developer Eric Barone accomplished his own take on the series with “Stardew Valley.” That game became a smash hit, and Lemcke’s enjoyed his own success while making “Super Blood Hockey” an evolution and devolution of NES “Ice Hockey.”

Now, sure, there are beefs.

Above all else, it would be wonderful to be able to play games online. What better way to keep in touch with friends than to take advantage of their teams being down 4-on-2 thanks to lost fights?

And, while I’d argue that the game plays well, there can be some maddening moments. Sometimes it’s just flat-out frustrating trying to score against Pong-inspired goalies.

SBH stats
Bretzel’s sacrifice? Yeah, kind of in vain. (via Super Blood Hockey)

But with a fantastic retro soundtrack and look, and some fun gameplay, “Super Blood Hockey” could be a nice fit for those wanting an old-school hockey game. It’s often pretty cheap and on many platforms, from the Nintendo Switch to PC, to XBox One and Playstation 4.

As far as what’s next for Lemcke, well, I might need to check out his other project. If you’re of a certain age, you also have fond memories of the “Rampage” arcade games. It looks like Lemcke shared such memories, because check out “Terror of Hemasaurus.”

That looks like it might be worthy of its own movie starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, to be honest.

PHT remembers other hockey video games:

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Roundtable: Best hub cities for NHL’s Return to Play

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Which two potential hub cities would be the best options for the NHL?

James O’Brien, NHL writer: I’m going to rule out Canadian cities because … frankly, Canada is (broadly speaking) taking a more cautious approach. That’s positive for the greater good, but not those who want to hand out a 2020 Stanley Cup. That said, if the NHL was willing to comply with 14-day quarantines and the like, that would be a different ballgame.

But I’ll go with two cities in the U.S. to try to be more realistic.

My choices:
• Las Vegas, NV
• Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN

Look, you’re not going to find “perfect” options. But, after looking at the CDC’s listings for states/jurisdictions with the least and most infections, Nevada and Minnesota seem like decent bets. Of course, a lot can change in a few weeks, which is the timeline Gary Bettman discussed while pondering potential “hub cities.”

Personally, I’d be weighing safety far and away more than other factors, which is why I leaned (tentatively or not) toward Las Vegas and Minneapolis/St. Paul. In all honesty, the low infection rates of places like North Dakota make me wonder if ND really does rank among the best options. But oh well?

I’ve said this before, and I’ll probably repeat it some more: the NHL’s going to really need to show some finesse in threading the needle of actually pulling this off.

[Decision on NHL Return to Play hub cities weeks away]

Sean Leahy, NHL writer: I agree with James on the Canadian options. Given the current government mandates, if the NHL wants these two hub cities decided on in the next few weeks, I can’t see Edmonton, Vancouver or Toronto having the time to appease the league’s desires.

The one clear front-runner is Vegas, for obvious reasons. Hotel capacity, transportation, rinks, low COVID-19 case rates. The Nevada summer heat is one worry I have, which will give Dan Craig and his team plenty of work to do to ensure the sheets are up-to-par.

Columbus or Pittsburgh would make sense if you want that East/West mix for TV. If the schedule is going to be something similar to the NCAA basketball tournament, the Columbus/Pittsburgh side would start their games at noon ET and we’d have hockey all day with the Vegas games ending the night.

Both have key factors in their corner: multiple ice sheets, hotel proximity, and have been flattening the curve when it comes to COVID-19 cases.

Jake Abrahams, Managing Editor, NHL content: From the outside, it would seem the top considerations for hub city destinations are the COVID-19 conditions, and whether the infrastructure is sufficient to execute a tournament of this scope. The former is a variable that involves expert opinion and decision making, so I won’t attempt to weigh the cities based on that. The latter is something the league had time to evaluate before it announced the 10 candidates, so one would assume that all the “finalists” meet whatever minimum standard is required to host.

My initial thought from the very beginning was that Las Vegas should be a lock, and the details of what that might look like were described in a recent report from The Athletic. Vegas seems uniquely equipped to create the most controlled environment for these purposes. That’s got my first vote.

With that in mind, my second hub city choice is Pittsburgh, for a few reasons:

First, geographical balance is important considering that, at least at the very beginning, there figure to be several games per day across the two sites. This Olympic-style format would work best on TV if there were staggered start times to accommodate audiences in every time zone. That rules out Los Angeles and Vancouver.

Second, it’s unclear to what extent the US-Canada border situation will influence the final decision, but given where things stand at this exact moment, it seems more practical to have both sites in the US. That rules out Edmonton and Toronto.

That leaves Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Minneapolis/St. Paul, and Pittsburgh. I’ve got no good reason for picking Pittsburgh except: why not give a carrot to the team that has to go up against Carey Price (who was the overwhelming choice for best goalie in this year’s NHLPA Player Poll) and the Montreal Canadiens (who effectively had a zero percent chance of making the playoffs when the season paused)?

There you have it. Las Vegas and Pittsburgh. The Marc-Andre Fleury bowl.

MORE:
NHL announces return-to-play plans
A look at the Eastern Conference matchups
Final standings for 2019-20 NHL season, NHL draft odds
A look at the Western Conference matchups

Russia hires Bragin as men’s national hockey team coach

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MOSCOW (AP) — Russia hired Valery Bragin as coach of the men’s national hockey team on Friday as it gears up to defend its Olympic title in 2022.

Bragin moves up from his longtime role in charge of the Russian under-20 team, which he led to the silver medal at this year’s world junior championships.

The Russian Hockey Federation didn’t say for how long Bragin’s contract runs. Bragin said his main aim was to prepare the team for next year’s world championships with a focus on players from outside the NHL.

Bragin replaces former Toronto Maple Leafs player Alexei Kudashov, who moves into a consultant role with the national team after 11 months as head coach.

Bragin also takes over from Kudashov as head coach of club team SKA St. Petersburg, whose operations are tightly intertwined with those of the national team. Roman Rotenberg is the general manager for both teams and holds vice president roles in both the club and the federation.

Rotenberg said in a statement that Kudashov “cannot currently put his full focus on coaching work.” He did not elaborate further.

Three-time Stanley Cup champion Igor Larionov replaces Bragin in charge of the junior team.

Russia’s players won the men’s hockey gold medal at the 2018 Olympics under the “Olympic Athletes from Russia” name after the country was officially barred from the games for doping offenses.

PHT Morning Skate: Willie O’Ree, others on racism in and outside of hockey

Willie O'Ree racism in hockey
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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

O’Ree and others on racism in and around hockey

• Hockey trailblazer Willie O’Ree described George Floyd’s death and the events surrounding it as “very discouraging.” O’Ree added that, on a larger level, racism isn’t going to go away overnight. That said, after witnessing statements from the likes of Blake Wheeler acknowledging their privilege, O’Ree wonders if the truth about racism is finally “sinking in.” Maybe players can show that they’ve learned such lessons once play resumes? [CBC]

• Michael Traikos caught up with Kevin Weekes for his perspective on racism in and around hockey. On one hand, Weekes celebrates players “without a horse in the race” such as Jonathan Toews and Blake Wheeler for speaking up. On the other hand, Weekes emphasizes that there’s still a lot of work to do. [Toronto Sun]

• Jeff Veillette spots the sometimes-rampant racism in the “NHL 20” community. Unfortunately, it seems like EA Sports has a lot of work to do to improve this area. Also unfortunately, it doesn’t appear that the company is putting a lot of resources into fixing this problem, either. [Faceoff Circle]

CBA talks intensify, and other hockey bits

• Both TSN’s Darren Dreger and Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman report that the NHL and NHLPA are intensifying talks to extend the CBA. Stabilizing escrow is a big factor for the players, as the pandemic pause is likely to hit them hard, and for quite some time. [More detail in 31 Thoughts, in particular]

• Read up on the Sens Foundation ending its relationship with the Ottawa Senators. [Sports Daily]

Nick Foligno and his family open up a new chapter with “The Heart’s Playbook.” [The Hockey Writers]

• The Oilers realize that, with the “championship pedigree” of the Blackhawks, an upset isn’t out of the question during the Qualifying Round. [Sportsnet; also read PHT’s previews for the West here]

• Which teams are oddsmakers favoring if action starts up again? [Featurd]

• Emily Kaplan looks at a coronavirus trend for Ducks fans: getting married at the Honda Center. Pretty fun. [ESPN]

• Could the Rangers repair their relationship with Lias Andersson? Such a push could help them as early as the Qualifying Round against the Hurricanes. It certainly beats things only getting bitter and Andersson’s development stalling. [Blue Seat Blogs]

• When you get drafted 34th overall, as Dalton Smith did in 2010, you expect to play in the NHL. You don’t necessarily expect to only do so for one minute and 26 seconds in one game in late 2019 with the Sabres. Smith’s journey is quite the story by Nick Faris. [The Score]

• Grant Fuhr talks about what drove him to become a coach for one of the team’s in the upcoming 3-on-3 hockey league 3ICE. Sounds like it could be pretty wild stuff. [Desert Sun]

• Bill Hoppe goes in-depth on Victor Olofsson‘s chances of having staying power as a scorer with the Sabres. [Buffalo Hockey Beat]

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.