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Sunday, November 16, 2008

Hockey Log: Sunday Edition

A Leaf of absence?
Burke seeks to take his foil-fisted touch elsewhere

Brian Burke is one of the handful of famed alumni –and one of only two puck-centric people, opposite Sara DeCosta- to have offered a detailed profile of himself for Providence College’s official website, pedaling the institution’s branch motto “Transforming Society.”

He’s done that, all right. There’s indubitably something of a transformative connotation that comes with reeling Lord Stanley into Southern California, as the brass knuckled Burke did as GM of the Anaheim Ducks but 17 short months ago.

Actually, judging by Burke’s current home landscape, those were a lengthy 17 months ago. The Ducks just succumbed to the 21st century trend of snuffing out in the middle of their road to a repeat. Like the previous four Cup winners before them, they didn’t so much as surmount Round 1 of the playoffs the following spring.

On the whole, Burke himself is not at fault for that. Nor is he to blame for his unmistakable transformations subsequently stripping themselves off the venue formerly known as The Pond (Honda Center these days).

It’s a Sun Belt hockey market. It happens. Just like it did to the Carolina Hurricanes after 2006, the Tampa Bay Lightning after 2004, and so on. Beachcombers with inherently little patience for wintry breeds of entertainment and leisure force their local hockey hype to evaporate quicker than any Hollywood movie star’s attempt at a backyard rink.

Might that explain Burke’s –albeit awkwardly timed- backing off from his post in the Ducks’ front office? Up until the middle of this week, everything beyond his ongoing duties with the Ducks was sheer speculation.

Everyone knows what we’re talking about. The management dream team of Burke and fellow 1977 graduate Ron Wilson linking up in Leaf Nation; the same tandem guiding the American Olympians in 2010 in none other than Burke’s former home of Vancouver.

Both parties have calmly deflected those notions when the media thinks it out loud. But now that Burke is weaning himself off of Orange County, even the last of the rigid skeptics have to let loose and join in on the fun pondering.

This past Thursday, Hall of Fame inkslinger Kevin Paul Dupont of the Boston Globe went so far as to pose the breathtaking notion of Burke leaving a third mark on New England –having already skated for the Friars in the infant years of Schneider Arena and briefly overseen the late Hartford Whalers in the early 1990s.

That’s right. Dupont was stoking an appetite for Burke amongst Bostonians. Three other potential suitors he cited were Chicago, Ottawa, and naturally, Toronto.

As far as the Spokespeople are concerned, it’s an inarguably stimulating concept. (And for homegrown Friar Fanatics, it would be especially quenching since Hal Gill and Jay Leach don’t work in this area anymore.) But considering the Bruins’ pleasurably steady progression under Peter Chiarelli, there might be the risk of fixing that which is not broken.

But for the rest –especially the constituents of the Battle for Ontario- it is all the more plausible and appetizing now that Burke is backing out of Anaheim. The Senators made the very mistake the Bruins are wisely avoiding when they shuffled their front office personnel so soon after falling three wins short of a Cup thanks to Burke’s Ducks. Coach-turned-GM Brian Murray implicitly admitted to putting his skate in his mouth when he canned replacement John Paddock in the middle of last season, but the bleeding is not yet fully compressed.

Now back to the Leafs, of course. When one really thinks of it, Burke’s most PC-esque transformative ambition is indeed a potentially fulfilling plug in the market of starving, rabid Buds Buffs, who haven’t so much as gotten fired up for a Stanley Cup Final since 1967.

When a perfect stranger born in the 1990s –i.e. Anaheim- does not look like a certified contender, their general relevance slips. When an Original Six franchise born decades ago in hockey’s native land –i.e. Toronto- is not delivering the Ws, the fans flock to the rink anyway, often in the form of boo birds.

They say negative publicity is still publicity. And Burke’s track record makes it plain that he feasts on it all. Through his Old Time Hockey instincts, he’ll feud with the fan base and media guild if he deems it necessary. And he won’t tire of it any more than they will.

Only simple science is needed to understand this progressively valid hypothesis. If Burke tries to flood a transformative pond in Toronto –regardless of what his assemblage produces in the standings- that pond is sure to freeze.

Veharanta, Bergland unmistakable impact frosh
In a nod to the current edition of The Hockey News (newsstand date: November 24) wherein “NHL Team Reports look at the rookies making an impact on each NHL club,” the Free Press offers the same report concerning PC:

Due merely to her on-ice fostering on the opposite coast and shortage of international seasoning, Laura Veharanta came to campus at a much lower profile than some her peers. She was accompanied by the likes of Abby Gauthier –a scoring beacon out of St. Mary’s of Lynn- and a pair of Team USA U18 veterans in Kate Bacon and Ashley Cottrell.

The surface of notoriety was Veharanta’s to break, and the former California Wave captain did just that upon the first face-off of the season, linking up with veteran top-liners Mari Pehkonen and Alyse Ruff in the preseason exhibition. Since then, owing in large part to her Ryan Smyth-like instincts in the dirty-nose area, she has been one of the few consistently productive Friars with one-third of the schedule consumed. She has charged up a 10-2-12 transcript, including four two-point ventures, and has been held scoreless but three times out of 11.

All this is to say nothing, though, of Genevieve Lacasse, who has pried into a stable containing three incumbent goaltenders and so far shared a pleasing robustness with Danielle Ciarletta. At this rate, Lacasse and Veharanta may justly seal joint accolades in the departments of Rookie of the Year and Surprise of the Year.

Matt Bergland has stood out in an eerily similar manner with the struggling PC men’s program. Going into the weekend action, he had stamped eight assists in as many games and, with 10 total points, led linemate John Cavanagh by a distant margin of four atop the Friars’ scoring charts. After Friday’s Part II of the Maine series, Bergland and classmate Bryce Aneloski –a regular starter on the blue line these days- were two of only seven Friars to have dressed for every game.

Mounting flattery
Scurvy-riddled Friartownies have little beyond words of encouragement and promises of perseverance to subsist on in the early going of this season. If that type of psychological crack cream really hits the spot for anybody, look nowhere beyond Vermont skipper Kevin Sneddon’s fraternally graceful words in Tuesday’s league-wide media teleconference. Four days after his Catamounts slipped from ahead to ultimately give PC its only Hockey East point to date, Sneddon said, “Give all the credit in the world to Providence, who in their own building just made it very difficult for us to play against. They really slowed us down in a good way, with their aggressive fore-checking style…It was kind of a disappointing tie, but looking back on the weekend any time you can get a point at Providence, it certainly is a good thing.”

Extra cap on professionalism
Defenseman John Carlson –who in a world with a tad more emphasis on education may have been a prosperous point-based puckslinger for the UMass Minutemen right about now- signed a three-year entry level contract with the Washington Capitals, who claimed him with the 27th overall draft choice last summer mere days after he had unplugged himself from Don Cahoon’s class in favor of a half-shield and a stipend from the OHL’s London Knights. Thus far, he has charged up 12 points in as many major junior games and may now be invited for a slurp of NHL java at any time. Maybe, from Cahoon’s perspective, it was for the better that he lost the two-way bruiser before he ever really had him versus a more anguishing Kyle Okposo/Minnesota Gophers/New York Islanders scenario.

Quick Feeds: Based on the online transcripts, Tim Army, being Tim Army, offered the longest single-question response amongst any of his peers in Tuesday’s media conference call. When asked to merely measure up his own club with that of Maine, he delivered an answer constituting a word count of exactly 533. Somebody believes in giving you more than you bargain for, no?...With the early NLI tempest brewing, at least three current or recent Boston College siblings appear intent on propping up the household legacy. Benn Ferriero’s brother Cody, Joe Whitney’s brother Steve, and dropout Brett Motherwell’s sister Ashley have all been cited on commitment lists for their appropriate sects of the program…This author’s picks for the out-of-market game of the week: the Big Blue M (i.e. Michigan) has a two-night stay in Miami to engage the Big Red M.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

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