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Saturday, May 17, 2008

Hockey Log: Sunday Edition

Wilson launched into the open, again

Less than a week after he had wrested his record ninth Stanley Cup and decided that this would make for a proper final dab on his nearly inimitable coaching career, the famed Scotty Bowman spoke at the 2002 NHL Awards of the many benefits of being a champion.

One item he was quick to offer up: it means "You won't be getting fired any time soon."

If by "any time soon," he meant one year max, Bowman's proclamation is quite true for the generation of skippers flowing in after him. But a wise man who started off when there were a dozen teams and kept at it for four nearly uninterrupted decades just wouldn't understand the current dynamics. (Or, if he does, he ought to find it head-shaking in contrast to his day).

The fact of the matter is, whether you're conducting a symphony of perpetual Yankee-like reverence or tutoring a yet-to-surface expansion joint (e.g. Columbus Blue Jackets), this is the ground rule for coaching job security in the 21st century: take the team farther than you did last year or log on to Monster.com.

For those who are not so inclined to shy away from that reality, it's extraordinary that Ron Wilson's freshly unplugged reign with the San Jose Sharks persisted as long as it did. Only in the midst of the Sharks' cringing first round struggles against Calgary -where they ultimately pulled through- was there hardcore speculation of a canning at HP Pavilion. By the time the ex-Friar's pupils were in a harrowing 3-0 hole against Dallas, Wilson's only hope was for the supposed "Every 33 years" magic to choose his bench.

It didn't happen. Granted, the Stars needed to gulp two losses and gnash through four overtimes in Game 6 to finally delete the feisty Sharks, but that kind of cramming doesn't tend to cut it in the eyes of an NHL general manager.

And so, after a cumulative four-and-a-half seasons, franchise-best 206-134-45 record, and most importantly a string of spring shortcomings, Wilson is finished in the Bay Area, making him the second PC product ousted from office this year after John Ferguson Jr. lost his post as Maple Leafs GM in January.

The latest falter made for the Sharks third consecutive conference semi-final loss in as many post-lockout years. Before that, Wilson had done his part to yank them out of a playoff no-go 2002-03 endeavor and steer them into the 2004 conference final -an eventual six-game loss to a Cinderella Flames team.

Now, how familiar does this sound? San Jose GM Doug Wilson offered the following explanation in an altogether carefully phrased statement on the team's website Tuesday: "Ron helped foster a new era in San Jose Sharks hockey with some record-setting regular season performances. However, ultimately we have decided that it is time for a different voice and a different approach to lead this team..."

Yep, that's the trend now. The Friartown folk should know it best having read a duplicate statement from Bob Driscoll concerning Tim Welsh, who was discharged here on March 15 after a decade of directing the PC men's basketball team.

But Wilson's diary is just one hunk of evidence that coaches are as easy to market off as players. That's a reality that lugs around its own vinegary stings and brightening consolations all at once.

Just take a tape recorder or a cup of coffee -whichever suits your vocation better- and sit down with current Friar Puck coach Tim Army. Keep the puck chat going long enough and he's reasonably likely to evoke some story he shared with his fellow Providence alumnus when he served as Wilson's sidekick in either Anaheim or Washington. Army was part of Wilson's firm throughout its four years with the Mighty Ducks and when it found its lost blades with the Caps for another five seasons.

After the Ducks curtained their first-ever playoff appearance in 1997, Wilson was still unleashed, after which then-GM Jack Ferreira mumbly cited "philosophical differences" and added from a slight gambler's standpoint, "No one knew who Ron Wilson was four years ago, so I'll be judged by the future."

Well, not to get smart here, but no one seems to know who Jack Ferreira is eleven years later (his name and quotes were only unearthed for this column from the canoe.ca and Yahoo archives. And if any alumni-embracing Friar Fanatics do wish to get smug, the current Orange County GM -aka Wilson's 1977 classmate Brian Burke- has done quite a bit to make a name for himself lately).

Wilson's tenure in Washington ended for the more conventional reason. After he led a startling hustle to the Stanley Cup Final his first year in 1998, he failed to get past the first round and was exiled by 2002.

But more to the point, coaches of all notorieties change warm-up jackets like players of all notorieties change jerseys now. If the water runs dry before its serves its replenishing function, it is ideally recycled. It might then serve as rain in Georgia, a much-welcome dollop of ice in the Arctic, or just someone else's beverage.

Relevant translation: recent history all but guarantees that Wilson will find a resurfaced sheet somewhere, somewhen, somehow.

Manifique Company
While the PC men's program's all-time points leader is in Stage 1 of personal speedbump recovery, Skating Sorority legend Cammi Granato was officially stamped as a member of the IIHF Hall of Fame this week. The formal ceremony -held in Quebec City amidst the men's World Championship tournament- marked the now century-old organizations first bestowment of female stars.

Along with Granato, Canadians Geraldine Heany and Angela James were included in this year's seven-member class. Their fellows: French-raised NHL alumnus Phillipe Bozon, USA Hockey executive Art Berglund, and legends Igor Larionov and Mario Lemieux.

Granato, only six months removed from being the first woman to have a share of the Lester Patrick Trophy, subsequently laced up Thursday evening at Quebec's Colisee Pepsi as a member of the World Stars team -opposite none other than husband Ray Ferraro and brother Tony Granato on her line.

The World Stars challenged, and fell short in a shootout, 8-7, to Russia-based Team Gazprom. Granato was one of those foiled in the deciding one-on-one round, but not before she etched a helper on her husband's goal at 18:23 of the first period, which at the time planted a 3-2 World lead.

Other standout World teammates in Thursday's bonanza: a pair of goals each courtesy NHL legends Glenn Anderson and Doug Brown, the latter of whom was coverted an assist by goaltender Patrick Roy on the third period equalizer.

By the way, Gazprom -the official sponsor for the opposing team- is a Moscow-based natural gas extractor, supposedly the most influential corporation in Russia.

Oh, the hu-Maine-ity
By convention, last weekend's Maine Black Bear men's hockey awards banquet was of course intended to churn that old mix of past gratitude, future well wishes, and at best mildly emotional we'll-miss-yous. But look at the star cast of the evening, and it's amazing coach Tim Whitehead retained proper serenity.

Of those seven players handed a piece of hardware, only three (Rob Bellamy, Chris Hahn, Jeff Marshall) are still potential returnees to Orono this autumn. The likes of Wes Clark and Billy Ryan claimed the program's unsung hero and perseverance accolades and then joined six skating classmates in celebrating their graduation.

Meanwhile, invaluable goaltender Ben Bishop and rookie scorer Andrew Sweetland -the only non-senior amongst Maine's top seven point-getters last season- were only bestowed after they had gone ahead and signed pro tryout contracts in March.

One other thing: the Bears bowed their heads in naming UNH senior Mike Radja the "Most Honored Opponent." While Radja himself is done with Dick Umile's capstone project, there's still no indication of James vanRiemsdyk, who was literally Sweetland times two (34 points as opposed to the Maine youngster's 17), defecting from Durham.

Recall, of course, that the 2007-08 Black Bears already went from two-time Frozen Four entries to Hockey East playoff no-shows due to a profuse loss in scoring depth. Don't expect a return to normalcy around northern New England rinks that easily.

Spare Bodies?
On Friday, a friars.com press release confirmed the arrival of five new members of the PC men's team, some of them previously speculated in an array of media outlets, some of them kept under the radar up to this point. The names mentioned are: defensemen Bryce Aneloski and David Brown and forwards Andy Balysky, Matt Bergland, and Shawn Tingley.

With those five added on to the four December NLI signees in Justin Gates, Chad Johnson, Rob Maloney, and Danny New, the Friars will have up to 32 players available for practice next season, four more than what they rostered in 2007-08. That, of course, is barring any more Cody Wild-like defections.

Quick Feeds: The aforementioned New, who calls Cranston home, and Tingley, a resident of North Kingstown, will amount PC's 2008-09 roster to a total of seven Rhode Islanders...On the other hand, the East Providence-raised Army is also letting loose on local restriction, admitting his first two Minnesotans (Bergland and Maloney) and a Coloradan in Brown...The Alaska-Fairbanks program put the stamp on Dallas Ferguson's new title as head coach Thursday. After four years as an assistant, he will fill the shoes of Doc DelCastillo, who has resigned April 10...North Dakota beacon TJ Oshie, who slugged 59 goals and 142 points in three seasons, declared his intent to take off for the St. Louis Blues organization Tuesday. Guess three Frozen Four strikes against Boston College was enough for him...The almighty UNH women's team will have three of its rising sophomores -forwards Courtney Birchard and Jenn Wakefield and goaltender Kayley Herman- sharpening their blades with the Canadian U-22 team at the end of the month.

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