Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Brookwell Finally Has A Puck For "The Plaque"

(above) DU's Cody Brookwell (#12) takes down UND's Matt Watkins earlier this season

Mike Chamber's Blog

When a son scores his first career goal, sometimes it creates enough emotion for a proud father to weep.

Just reading this story might create tears in your eyes.

DU sophomore Cody Brookwell scored his first goal March 14 in a 6-3 playoff-series-opening victory over Minnesota-Duluth. Brookwell, the Pioneers’ biggest player at 6-foot-4 and 200-pounds, is a proud defensive-defenseman whose complete focus is protecting his own net.

And he does it well. But with every hockey player, scoring a goal is the fun part, and it had taken Brookwell far too long to get his first.

Fittingly, his big opportunity came when being released from the penalty box and accepting a breakaway pass, with a clear route to the opponent’s net.

So what did he do? He looked like a true sniper, firing a hard backhander that landed top-shelf to rattle the goalie’s water bottle.

So what did Kevin Brookwell, Cody’s father, do after hearing about the goal in his Calgary home?

“I was jumping around the house like an idiot and didn’t know what to do,” Kevin said. “I, like Cody, have been waiting two years for this and I enjoyed every moment with my boy.”

Kevin and Cody enjoy each other’s company before every DU game. It’s a ritual that every father would cherish and every son would appreciate. It’s true love, father-son style.

It’s the bagel talk.

“Prior to every game Cody gives me a call. It’s part of his pre-game routine. We call it the “bagel call” and he goes up into the stands, home or away, and has a pre-game coffee and either a bagel or banana,” Kevin said. “Sometimes we chat about nothing, sometimes we chat about the game, but he hasn’t missed a call since starting with Denver. I’ve excused myself from some pretty important meetings to take that call and I’ll never miss it.”

So what do they talk about?

“We joke about the nice plaque I have for his first NCAA goal. Every call I tell him I’m taking the plaque out of his room and putting in on the coffee table for the game. Every game I ask him if he’s getting me that goal so I can mount the puck on the plaque.

“Of course, every game he says he will and after every game, when he calls home, I sadly, but jokingly, tell him I’m putting the plaque back in his room. He knew how big this was for me and he was so proud to make the call (after the goal).”

Cody’s teammates know about his bond with his father. They know about the pregame phone call, and that Kevin is Cody’s No. 1 fan.

“He must have passed the story on to his teammates at some point, because they were telling him how happy Mr. B was going to be and that Cody should call home to make sure I wasn’t lying on the floor with a stroke,” Kevin said.

“No stroke . . . just a really proud mom and dad.”

Saturday, March 22, 2008

DU Wins Final Five Over Minnesota

(above) Senior Tom May scored the game winner Saturday night

From: Denver Post
by Mike Chambers

ST. PAUL, Minn. — When hockey's NCAA Tournament pairings are revealed this morning, the University of Denver Pioneers will be flying high, loaded with confidence no matter where they play or who they face.

The Pioneers, who will take a four-game winning streak into the national tournament, are playoff champions of America's toughest amateur conference. DU captured its record 15th WCHA Final Five championship Saturday night, defeating Minnesota 2-1 in the Broadmoor Trophy game before 17,907 partisan fans at the Xcel Energy Center.

An NCAA-record six teams from the Western Collegiate Hockey Association are pegged to make today's 16- team field.

DU coach George Gwozdecky said the victory proved his team can be a factor in the NCAA Tournament. The win proves "our ability to play big games on the big stage," he said. "It doesn't get any bigger than this."

Nothing seems to rattle senior goalie Peter Mannino, who as a freshman was named 2005 Frozen Four MVP. He has allowed just five goals in DU's four conference playoff games, all victories.

Mannino was brilliant Saturday, making 34 saves. Senior Tom May, from nearby Eagan, Minn., scored the winner on a semi-breakaway late in the second period.

In January, DU began a 5-9-1 slide. Now, the Pioneers appear as good as any team in the NCAA.

"We've faced a heck of a lot of adversity since the middle of the season, with injuries and departures and stuff like that, but hopefully we're hitting our stride," DU captain Andrew Thomas said.

The Pioneers (26-13-1) always play well in the Final Five since it moved to the Xcel Energy Center in 2001. And they have won the Broadmoor Trophy in four of the past nine years.

"We've had different type of teams that have won it different ways," said Gwozdecky, who previously guided DU to the 1999, 2002 and 2005 playoff crowns. "It's one of the events in every student-athlete's career that he remembers for a lifetime."

"Different guys, same hardware," Mannino said. "It's just as nice."

Minnesota, which was playing in its sixth playoff game in nine nights, was trying to become the first team to win the Final Five from the Thursday play-in game.

"Almost all weekend, we were running on adrenaline," Gophers forward Ben Gordon said.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

DU's Newest Recruit Is A Classic Late Bloomer

(above) Wichita forward Luke Salazar (10) skates into the offensive zone
Photo Credit: Jason Palmer/Times Record

From: Wichita Falls Time-Record
by Zach Duncan

DU's newest recruit Luke Salazar wasn't considered by many to be a legitimate Division I prospect. Before the season began, even Salazar would have considered you crazy for even suggesting it.

The Wichita Falls Wildcats (NAHL) forward willingly admits no one could have forecasted the kind of season he’s enjoying right now.

“If someone told me I would score 30 goals all year, I would have thought I was dreaming,” the NAHL’s second-leading goal scorer said. “And 50 points all year? I wouldn’t have believed you.”

Salazar has turned heads across the junior hockey landscape, blossoming into one of the league’s most dangerous sharpshooters in his second season with the Wildcats. His 32 goals trail only St. Louis’ Kyle O’Kane (34) for the league lead, and Salazar is also third in points.

“I knew he had it in him,” said Wildcats captain Adam Cardwell, who centers a line with Grant Everett and Salazar. “He just needed the confidence and another year under his belt, and he’d take off.”

Cardwell and Wichita Falls coach John Bowkus both agreed the biggest difference in Salazar’s game this season isn’t any drastic improvement in skill, but more self-assurance in his ability.

A year ago, he played in all but one game with the Wildcats, scoring 10 goals and amassing 23 points while showing flashes of brilliance.

But that’s nothing compared to the 2007-08 season, as the 19-year-old has already tripled his production with 14 games to spare.

“He’s got a lot more confidence,” Cardwell said. “He makes good decisions, and he’s looking to shoot and score more goals.”

Bowkus adds that Salazar uses his quickness and speed well, and that his vision and puck-handling abilities are superb.

While his growth on the ice is one reason for his breakout campaign, the Thornton, Colo., native also acknowledges that his success stems from his linemates, who form the most potent trio in the NAHL.

Initially, Cardwell and Everett were paired together with another forward, but Bowkus added Salazar to the top line in the preseason after watching the three develop on the power-play unit.

Salazar had played with Everett on a line together last year before Everett was injured, which hastened the transition.

“That definitely helped because you know what type of player Everett is,” said Salazar, who also calls Cardwell one of, if not the best player in the league. “Grant’s so good in the corners with the puck. I knew that beforehand, so I could take risks.”

Salazar is the smallest guy on the Wildcats, weighing in at 155 pounds and standing 5-7. But that hasn’t stopped him from getting to the right places to score goals.

“His stature hasn’t hindered him whatsoever,” Bowkus said. “I’m sure he’d like to be taller, but he’s a legitimate Division I talent.”

From fourth line winger to top league prospect — not so unbelievable after all.

Friday, March 7, 2008

The Escalating College Hockey Arms Race

From: USCHO.com
by Gerald Skoning

The rosters of Division I college hockey teams consist almost entirely of players who have spent a year or two playing for “junior” hockey clubs. Only a very few players on these Division I clubs have entered college directly out of high school. As a result, the quality of college hockey has been enhanced, but this improvement has had a negative impact on the “student” part of the vaunted student-athlete experience.

The mother of a freshman hockey star for an ECAC team candidly expressed her dismay after watching her son’s team lose to another perennial ECAC powerhouse by a score of 3-2. Her concern wasn’t over the team’s loss on the ice, but rather over her son’s academic difficulties.

I had asked her how he was doing in the classroom his first term in college. She sighed, “Unfortunately, he’s really struggling. He was an ‘A’ student in high school, graduating near the top his class. We were so proud of his academic success. But, then he was away from the classroom for a whole year while he played 75 games in Juniors for the Flin Flon Bombers of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League. He’s a better hockey player for it, but he is really rusty with the books.”

It’s a familiar story for many families of kids who aspire to Division I hockey. The rosters of most every Division I hockey program are filled with kids who played in Alberta (AJHL), Ontario (CJHL), Sioux City, Iowa (USHL), or British Columbia (BCHL). They range from 20- or 21-year-old freshmen to 24-year-old seniors who are stronger, faster, smarter and much older hockey players than those who just graduated from high school.

They play a year or two in juniors in the hopes of improving their recruitment opportunities and perhaps landing full-ride scholarships at one of the traditional college hockey powerhouses like North Dakota, Wisconsin, or Michigan. Most likely, their dreams also include a high NHL draft position, based in part on their experience in juniors.

Junior programs are a Canadian tradition as iconic as the Mounties or the Maple Leaf. Long before college hockey teams in the U.S. began recruiting heavily out of juniors, those programs attracted Canadian players with NHL aspirations. Juniors rivalries provided a live hockey entertainment alternative to the infamous “Hockey Night in Canada” broadcasts on CBC on long winter nights in small towns dotting the frozen tundra of Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Ontario.

Today, college hockey coaches love the junior programs. They recruit players who are battle-tested, and whose skills have been polished beyond the rough-edged talent seen in high school hockey. To college coaches, it’s like having a farm team system from which to draw a talented roster. College coaches regularly tell talented high school recruits to defer admission for a year or two for some seasoning and development in the juniors. A ready-made farm system.

Also, the pervasive junior program makes recruiting college hockey players much easier for coaches. Instead of screening hockey recruits from hundreds of high schools scattered across the United States and Canada, college hockey coaches have a ready-made, pre-screened pool of candidates. This cuts down on recruiting travel and expense … one-stop shopping in the USHL, AJHL, BCHL, and so on.

On so many levels this system is hard to argue with. Of course, parents love the juniors as well. To them, it may save the family a staggering tuition bill of up to $45 thousand per year. For them, delaying college for a year or even two is well worth the personal sacrifice their kids make in playing a 70- to 80-game season (or two) in remote regions of the Canadian wilderness.

The number of players on a college hockey roster who have come directly from high school has dwindled to a precious few. The two or three who do play varsity Division I hockey have become mere tokens, for all intents and purposes. But they are players for whom the academic challenges of higher education will be less daunting since they were enrolled in school the entire year before entering college.

How did we get to this point? When did this new, higher level of professionalism creep into the wonderful game of college hockey? Other major college sports like football, basketball and baseball have no such junior programs to groom their athletes. There are no “junior” football or basketball programs to develop and burnish young talent (although some may claim junior colleges occasionally serve that purpose). Yet the quality of play on college gridirons and basketball courts in the United States is remarkably strong. Why is ice hockey different?

Maybe it relates to the NHL aspirations of the hockey player or the hockey parents, or both. Or, perhaps it’s the lure of full-ride athletic scholarships that motivates the kids to make this enormous personal sacrifice.

One wonders if it is possible to “unring the bell” and return to recruitment of student-athletes for college hockey directly out of high school. Of course, no college hockey coach is likely to be the first unilaterally to spurn recruiting those hot junior hockey prospects. Such a move would be wildly unpopular with alumni, fans, current players looking for talented freshmen to bolster championship prospects, and students who long for a national championship.

A coach refusing to recruit junior hockey prospects would be as unpopular as a U.S. president deciding unilaterally to eliminate our country’s nuclear arsenal. The coach who unilaterally decides it’s important to the student-athlete to return to recruiting directly out of high school would be summarily fired and ridden out of town on a rail.

The issue is worthy of attention by the entire college hockey community. Colleges and universities that recruit predominantly from various junior hockey programs should recognize the academic sacrifices their recruiting practices perpetuate.

The NCAA should study the issue of the increasing dominance of junior hockey recruiting to determine whether it would be feasible to impose a uniform nationwide stand-down in this increasingly competitive juniors arms race, and return to recruiting athletes directly out of high school. This might go a long way toward putting the “student” back in the student-athlete equation.

Mr. Skoning is a Chicago attorney who specializes in labor and employment law. He was captain of the 1964 Princeton University hockey team (which did not win the Ivy League championship, as this year’s team did for the first time in 55 years). While attending the University of Michigan Law School, he was assistant captain of a team sponsored by Jiffy Mix Company, consisting of several Michigan players from their 1963 NCAA championship team. The Jiffy team, which played in the International Metro League based in Southern Ontario, won the Michigan State Amateur Championship in 1966 and the U.S. Amateur Championship in 1967. After service as an officer in the U.S. Navy, he played for 10 years with the Chicago Cardinals of the Continental Hockey League.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

The Good Olde Daze

(left) You'd think that one DU student would be able to figure out how to throw a rubber chicken on the ice without getting caught this weekend for old times sake

From: Colorado Springs Gazette
by David Ramsey

Once, not so long ago, players who battled in the Colorado College-University of Denver hockey series dodged animals, dead and alive.

These were good times, at least in the view of Cal Sandbeck.

He was blessed with a great view of the insane era of the CC-DU hockey series. He served as a tough defenseman for DU from 1974 to 1978.

On one visit to The Broadmoor Arena, Sandbeck swears he saw a black swan, greased pigs and rats tossed on the ice. All were alive. Three fights broke out, and a referee was knocked groggy trying to restore peace.

All in one night. And, yes, CC and DU somehow managed to play a hockey game amid the anarchy.

The Tigers and Pioneers tangle Friday night at DU and travel to World Arena for Saturday’s regular-season finale. Friday marks the 266th meeting in a wild, wonderful series that stretches back to 1950.

The ridiculous, borderline criminal flavor of the series is gone. Fans still shout mean, at times obscene, words, but decline to toss beasts on the ice.

“I don’t think the rivalry is quite the same,” Sandbeck said, regret in his voice.

He now enjoys a peaceful life as owner of the Dog Bar and Grill in Cuchara, nestled two hours south of Colorado Springs in the Spanish Peaks.

Yet he enjoys returning to the nights when students didn’t travel to the arena to watch a game. They came to party.

“It wasn’t so much about the hockey, but the atmosphere,” Sandbeck said. “But, oh, I loved it. The more fans were involved, the more fun it was as a player. It was just part of having fun.”

CC coach Scott Owens isn’t quite as nostalgic as Sandbeck, which makes sense. Getting hit in the shoulder by a frozen chicken can leave a mental tattoo on any man.

During the 1978-79 season, CC goaltender Owens stood in front of the net at the old DU Arena, which closely resembled a barn.

He was minding his own business, when some bright light in the DU student section tossed a chicken that crashed into Owens’ shoulder.

Owens looked around, saw a chicken with its head, another without its head and a fish with a beady eye that kept staring at him. He wasn’t even surprised by the carnage.

Just another mad night in the CC-DU series.

“It wasn’t a deal that you would throw your stick in the air and start howling,” Owens said. “There was a lot of that stuff going on.”

Owens wants to make one thing clear. He doesn’t want to see animals, dead or alive, on the ice this weekend. Still, he’s not sure he would change the past.

“Sure, it was borderline idiotic,” he said from his office at World Arena, “but, ah, I don’t know. It’s a fine line between borderline idiotic and humorous.”

Owens insists he no longer seethes with hatred for all things DU. He takes care to mention his “respect” for the Pioneers.

This word inspires laughter from Dave Delich, CC’s all-time leading scorer. Delich roomed with Owens at CC and remains a close friend. They eat lunch several times a month.

“Respect?” Delich said, chuckling. “Oh, sure. I’m sure Scott has a distant respect for them.” He placed heavy emphasis on the word “distant.”

He clearly remembers a moment from the 1975-76 season. CC goaltender Eddie Mio was briefly knocked silly at DU by — what else? — a frozen chicken tossed from the student bleachers.

Delich helped carry a mumbling Mio to the CC bench. He skated along, dodging dead animals, listening to jeers from the crowd that supported his enemy.

He hasn’t forgotten. He never will.

“It’s that one special place,” Delich said. “I will never feel comfortable on that campus.”

Delich looks forward to watching Saturday’s game at World Arena.

Friday night at DU?

For some reason, he can’t quite bring himself to make the trip.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Stastny Featured In ESPN Magazine Article

From: ESPN The Magazine
by Jeff Bradley

The old man is tough, but he could have been a lot tougher.

You think you have it bad? You grew up in big houses in St. Louis and the New Jersey suburbs; I shared a one-bedroom apartment with four brothers and a sister. You gripe about cell phone reception; I worried about my phone calls being wiretapped! You complain, period. I wasn't allowed to complain until I escaped Czechoslovakia 27 years ago!

Paul Stastny, budding NHL star, hasn't heard these exact words from his dad, but that doesn't mean that Peter Stastny, legendary NHL star, isn't paying attention. Peter, after all, is a Hall of Fame forward renowned as much for focus and attention to detail over 15 NHL seasons as for his 450 goals, 789 assists and daring 1980 defection. In many ways, Peter's decision to leave home and country cleared the ice for an era of Eastern European stars in the NHL. But his escape also allowed his talented son to grow up playing the game as it should be played—for fun. Turns out, that may be the way to set up Gen Next for a shot at greatness.

Twenty-two sons of NHL Hall of Famers have gone on to skate in the bigs, but only a handful developed into stars. In fact, most sons of greatness are more Pete Rose Jr. than Sr.

Maybe it's those famous names on their backs (and, in Paul's case, the same number). Maybe it's a lack of talent or drive. Maybe it's the unrealistic expectations. Or maybe it's just the heckling from fans jealous of the multiply blessed. "You've got to try to block it out," says Paul, a laid-back 22-year-old. "But it's not always easy."

Paul learned early how to filter out taunts and other harsh comments, which served him nicely while he learned the game under the pointed guidance of his father—who still calls when he sees the kid lose the puck or spectate on the penalty kill—and later when he first skated into an NHL arena. And just as Paul can block out the tone of Peter's voice so he can concentrate on the wisdom, so too can he laugh off a coach's tirade and trust his own talent.

Yes, that talent. Paul does not possess jaw-dropping moves or blazing speed, but he's preternaturally economical when he traverses the ice. Somehow he gets there, before fans or foes think he will. That efficiency earned him serious time on the Avs penalty kill and man advantage. The game's movements, the split-second decisions about where to be and when to get there, are second nature to him. (Avs coach Joel Quenneville marvels at how "the puck just finds him.") And those who saw Peter watch Paul and say, "We know where that came from."

Joe Sakic, who called himself "officially old" when he became the first to play with both Peter (on the 1988-89 Nordiques) and Paul, is amazed at the similarities. "They're built the same," the Avs captain says. "Both are powerful skaters. And they look the same. Paul wears the same type of skates his dad wore, all beat-up and old-school, and uses the same old wood stick."

Peter says the resemblance goes deeper, that the game is in his son's blood. He sees instinct in Paul's effortless ability to ghost himself into the play, in the angles of his passes and the paths he takes when he plays without the puck. Says Dad: "I don't like to boast, but when I watch Paul, it's like watching myself." Peter also believes his son was born to be a center. "You have to have those instincts and qualities to anticipate and to know how to react," he says. "You cannot teach what he has." Will Paul ever be as good as his father? "I think he will be better," says Peter.

He's definitely different, at least in one key way: Paul says he'll never match Peter's intensity, and that may be another reason he's succeeded where other sons have failed. "My dad is the kind of guy who can't live with mistakes," says Paul. "He'll beat himself up over the smallest error. I can't play well unless I'm having fun. My dad loved to play hockey, but it became a job for him at a young age. For me, there's more to life than hockey."

These days, that goes for the father as well as the son. Peter is out of hockey now. Since 2004 he has represented Slovakia in the European Parliament and lives in his hometown of Bratislava. Some 18 years after communism's fall, Peter is trying to help the country he left—and never stopped loving—find its democratic footing. He's got a lot going on in his life, and a lot of stories to tell. About how he, his wife and his brother sneaked out a side door of the Innsbruck Holiday Inn in the middle of the night, hopped into a Mercedes driven by a representative of the Nordiques and sped toward Vienna and the Canadian embassy. About how he taught himself to speak French (the language of Quebec City) and English (the language of the locker room) within a couple of years of arriving in the NHL. About how he responded to any player who dared call him a "commie" without a ref's seeing the payback. The man who scored more points in the 1980s than any other player not named Gretzky can tell how he was asked to carry Slovakia's flag at the 1994 Lillehammer Olympics and could not contain his tears, then scored five goals in eight games for his country.

Still, the best story is what's happening on the ice in Denver (and St. Louis, where 25-year-old Yan Stastny just got a call-up to the Blues). The Avs are fighting for a playoff spot, and Paul leads the team in scoring with 50 points in 47 games. The kid has been benched recently by an emergency surgery (appendix) and a groin pull, but Peter likes the direction the boy's career is heading. "Leaving Czechoslovakia was the best decision in my life," he says. "The hardest, but also the best. And the biggest beneficiaries are my children. Watching them is my greatest thrill."

Paul smiles when told that, exposing a gaping hole where a tooth once lived. "Believe me," the son says. "He's not too thrilled when I play like garbage. He can be tough."

But he could have been a lot tougher.