Friday, August 22, 2008

Recap: Islanders Illustrated, Episode 3

The third episode of Islanders Illustrated made its debut on MSG+ last night. For those of you who missed it, here's a recap, the length of which would make the folks at Television Without Pity proud. Now I just have to work on the snark.

The lead story was the hiring of Scott Gordon as head coach of the Islanders. The segment included a rundown of his coaching history with video and photos from his previous coaching stops, clips from the introductory press conference, and a sitdown with Chris King.

One video showed footage of Gordon during a practice. The coach was down on his knees in the goal crease, seemingly explaining something to the goalie about playing angles or, perhaps, directing rebounds away from the front of the net. Regardless, it was interesting to note the former goalie putting his playing experience into action in that manner as a coach.

To King, Gordon described himself as a bit of a player's coach, but one who also knows there are times when it's necessary to send a message. Gordon said that his coaching style is not influenced by any one person in particular. He also mentioned that he's willing to consider doing things to help his team that he's seen coaches in other sports do.

Gordon had an anecdote about his one experience as a player at Nassau Coliseum. He was on the bench when a puck was shot over the boards in his direction. In trying to avoid the puck, he banged heads with the trainer, and still got hit with the puck. So if Gordon is never seen around the Coliseum without a catching glove, you'll know why.

Islanders Illustrated put up a graphic showing that the 2007-08 Providence Bruins ranked first in the AHL in average shots against per game. That's the kind of statistic that both the team and its fans hope will translate into a lighter workload for Rick DiPietro this season.

Stan Fischler appeared briefly and mentioned that the coaches who interviewed with Stanley Cups on their resumes may have egos that are too large for this position. Let's hope Gordon deservedly develops one of those egos. I am looking forward to seeing him become more comfortable speaking on camera. With Islanders TV around, I imagine that will happen rather quickly.

Next up was a mic'd-up segment with Josh Bailey from the Prospects Camp, including several interactions between fellow No. 1 picks and linemates Bailey and Kyle Okposo. Bailey obviously latched onto one of Okposo's nicknames quickly, as shouts of "Okie" could be heard on the ice. The two seemed to be enjoying playing together. But things could get confusing if Adrian Aucoin ever ends up back here.

Bailey will be the cover boy of the premiere issue of Islanders Illustrated magazine. The more you see of him, the more you doubt that he'll be quietly going back to Windsor.

The crew from The 2 Man Advantage made another appearance on this episode. This time, Scotty and Nemmy hooked up for a sitdown with Chris Campoli at Newbridge Park. The boys fully threw themselves into the roles of kids, conducting the interview on the playground's sand shovels and swings. I used to love those sand shovels. Campoli accidentally gave himself a shortsload of sand in an attempt to fling the stuff across the sandbox and bury Scotty.

When asked to predict his output for the upcoming season, Campoli offered 12 goals and 28 assists. He also agreed that Bruno Gervais's new contract funds should be put to good use.

C.J. Papa interviewed Andy Hilbert about his experience playing for Gordon at Providence. The forward anticipates the team having strong systems that they should stick to and noted that Gordon prepares for opponents very well. Hilbert is excited to get things underway this season.

Professor Okposo had a shooting lesson for the kids in which he provided the definition of a shot on goal and demonstrated the backhander, wrist shot, and slap shot. The bit was filmed (filtered) in the style of old educational films, which is probably lost on the kids at which it was aimed. Schools probably don't even have film projectors anymore. I'm trying to picture a tech-savvy 24-year-old teacher having to thread a film.

In the Islander Mania Moment, BP provided results from a poll on the hiring of Gordon. 85% of those who responded supported Garth Snow's choice of Gordon. That's some approval rating.

The show concluded with a look back at the Islanders' run to the 1993 Eastern Conference Final. A montage of the greatest moments from the series victories over the Capitals and Penguins was a great reminder of what a fun team that was to watch. It's hard to imagine a star of Mario Lemieux's magnitude being picked on so in this era of the NHL.

The next episode of Islanders Illustrated airs on September 18th. It will feature an interview with Doug Weight, as well as coverage of the paintball adventure during Prospects Camp. If you missed this episode and would still like to see it, check the schedule of reruns for dates and times.

Notes: I added an Islanders trivia widget to the sidebar. So far it doesn't seem to be functioning properly in Firefox. I'm waiting for some feedback from the creator and hopefully we can get it figured out.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Five-Minute Major and a Double-Minor for 8/19/08

All-Time Athletes Named Michael Update

It seems this was not the only New York sports blog to catch yesterday's SportsCenter list of All-Time Athletes Named Michael. While searching for the complete list, I came across a post on the subject in the forums over at Big Blue Interactive. The writer of the post was dismayed that ESPN did not include Michael Strahan on the list. Fair enough.

The funny thing, though, is that I still don't have the complete rundown. A respondent to the post on Big Blue Interactive tried to reproduce the top ten to the best of his recollection, and it went like this:

Some fisher
An Islander
Coach K
A [sic] forgot the other one

At least the fact that there was an Islander was memorable.

A second respondent noted that F-1 driver Michael Schumacher has to be included. The thing is, now that I think about it, Schumacher may in fact have been on the list, ranked one rung higher than Mike Bossy. So maybe this particular Giants fan equated racing with fishing and replaced Schumacher with "Some fisher?"

So I think we are left with just one name in our noble pursuit of those who join Michael Dean Bossy at the Round Table of Mikeness.

Other nominees from the Giants faithful included Piazza, Spinks, Modano, Richter, Singletary, and Webster.

Have You Been Looking for Dominik?

I've been meaning to give a quick plug to a great Islanders blogger who recently changed hosts. If you're wondering what happened to Islander Frontier, both the preceding link and the link in the sidebar are updated. Dominik tells us that this new home for his blog may only be a temporary bridge to his eventual destination, but I thought it worth a mention in case any of his readers haven't found the current location. If you haven't read Islander Frontier previously, Dominik has a very engaging writing style and consistently interesting perspectives on all things Islanders.

Third Jersey in November?

Over at Icethetics, a reader has provided a schedule for the rollout of third jerseys, including dates for their on-ice debuts and availability to retailers. If the information is correct (and there's no way to corroborate it at this point), the Islanders will wear their new third jerseys for the first time on Saturday, November 1, against Montreal.

Surprisingly, retailers would not get the new sweaters until Thursday, November 6. This is not consistent with what I was told at the NHL Store. We'll have to see, but those of you who were looking forward to a late August/early September purchase may have to wait a couple of months. I'll be sure to pass along any new information as soon as I can.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Bossy an All-Time Mike

I just flipped on SportsCenter to find them showing highlight clips of Mike Bossy. So stunned was I to see this that I immediately and melodramatically assumed that something terrible had happened. Why else would ESPN be talking about Mike Bossy? In the middle of August?

To my great relief, SportsCenter was simply featuring Boss as part of its Top Ten All-Time Athletes Named Michael. No. 22 ranked No. 9 on the list. I missed No. 10 and haven't yet found the list online, but I will try to add it later for your viewing pleasure.

Among the other great Michaels were Schmidt (another favorite of mine), Ditka, Krzyzewski, Tyson, Phelps, Johnson (I believe) and, at the top of the list, Jordan.

As much as I admire Krzyzewski's coaching career, I quibble with his inclusion on a list of great athletes. Coach K's playing career didn't advance beyond being captain of the basketball team at Army. Is there that much of a dearth of athletes named Michael that they had to include a coach? We'll have to think about that.

If I can procure the rest of the list we can debate the inclusions, exclusions, and order. But for now, a hearty "good job" to ESPN (did I just say that?) for not overlooking Mr. Bossy.

I know, not the most exciting news. But we have a full roster and a full coaching staff, and it's the middle of August.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Garth Snow Sets a New Course with Scott Gordon Behind the Bench

Last Year's AHL Coach of the Year Named Head Coach of the Islanders

Anointing Scott Gordon "The People's Choice" in the previous post was not the result of a scientific survey but a logical conclusion based on digesting hundreds of message board and blog posts. Ladies and gentlemen, we have harmony.

At least, it seems, that by choosing Gordon to lead the Islanders, the front office has acted in concert with the wishes of the majority of fans. (I know, not everyone is thrilled.)

And, if the early returns are to be believed, many of those in the fan base who preferred Bob Hartley or Paul Maurice admit that Gordon is a reasonable choice and deserves the opportunity to prove himself.

Personally, I am very pleased with the decision. I buy into the idea of bringing in someone with a fresh perspective on the NHL. Gordon has paid his dues as a hockey coach. He is not, at the age of 45 and with 12 seasons of coaching experience in the professional ranks, wet behind the ears. All NHL coaches have to break into the league sometime.

As I said previously, at this point Gordon has all the potential in the world. He is in a position to create something rather than live up to something. And based on his reputation and Garth Snow's comments, he is poised to harness the team's current strengths and give the Islanders their best chance to win with what they have now and in the future.

My only advice to those who would have preferred someone else is this: We may all have to start thinking like goalies for a while.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Who Will Coach the Islanders?

Will it be...

Bob Hartley: The Dangerous Choice

Paul Maurice: The Safe Choice

Scott Gordon: The People's Choice

Fairly or unfairly, Hartley is saddled with the notion that he lost a team in Atlanta. Having won a Stanley Cup with veterans and superstars in Colorado, he seems like a questionable fit for a team with few players in their prime. Fairly or unfairly, Garth Snow would be criticized for hiring the familiar choice. All of these points make for good discussion when there is little hard news. None of them were likely keys to Snow's decision.

Maurice has the benefit of a reputation for effectively developing young talent. He also has 10 seasons of NHL heading coaching experience under his belt. And he's still only 41. It's difficult to form a convincing argument against his candidacy, but Snow wants to hit a home run with this hire. Is that how he sees Maurice?

Gordon's candidacy benefits from the fact that he has never lost an NHL game. That is, as an NHL coach, he has all the potential in the world and virtually none of the baggage that tinges perceptions of everyone already in the league. If you want to grab the brass ring of expectations, he would implement a system that would protect Rick DiPietro while giving the goalie and the team their best chance to be successful.

By the time you read this, the choice may have already been made public. Then we can rehash all these perceptions for another two months until the real picture starts to form.

I think we will find that the Islanders are in good hands.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

How Long Should the List Be?

One aspect of the Islanders' search for a new Head Coach has fascinated me since the day that Garth Snow and Ted Nolan parted. How does the team come up with its list of interviewees? It would have been so interesting to be in that room on the day, or days, when Snow settled on a pool of candidates.

The thing is, starting the list is easy. What team in the Islanders' situation wouldn't immediately write down the names Bob Hartley, Joel Quenneville, John Tortorella, Paul Maurice, and Marc Crawford?

But you know that in order to do due diligence, you have to stretch the search a little more. You don't want to overlook the next quality coaching talent simply because there are big names available.

That's how you get to names like Mike Sullivan (barely stretching) and Scott Gordon (sensibly stretching).

The hard part is knowing where to finish the list. How do you know when to stop? At what point does Snow decide that he's comfortable with the reach of his search?

Let me give you a name: Brian McCutcheon.

I choose him only because he's someone with whom I happen to be familiar and he's a good example of why I think this is an important question.

McCutcheon is building himself a textbook coaching resume. Over the last 20 years he has progressed from being Head Coach at Cornell University, to an Assistant gig in the IHL, and then to Head Coach positions in the ECHL and AHL.

After serving as head coach of the Rochester Americans for three seasons from 1997-2000, McCutcheon was promoted to Assistant Coach under Lindy Ruff with the parent Buffalo Sabres for the 2001-02 season. In 2006, McCutcheon's title was elevated to Associate Coach.

I don't know what Ruff's intentions are, but it's not crazy to wonder if McCutcheon is being groomed to replace Ruff whenever he decides to step aside (the Sabres recently allowed Randy Cunneyworth, the well regarded most recent coach of the Amerks, to take an Assistant's job with the Thrashers).

If there is no such progression in place, then you'd have to think a guy like McCutcheon would begin throwing his hat into the ring for other NHL head coaching vacancies soon. He has put himself through the appropriate paces to get a shot.

I want to emphasize that McCutcheon has not interviewed with the Islanders, is not rumored to be interviewing with the Islanders, nor has he to my knowledge expressed any interest in interviewing. This is neither an evaluation of his coaching skills nor how well he would fit as the leader of this Islanders team.

But it just makes me wonder how many Brian McCutcheons are out there?

Once you're willing to interview last season's AHL Coach of the Year in addition to the big names, you owe it to yourself to see where else you should stretch.

Certainly there are time restrictions. Furthermore, part of due diligence is using your connections to create a clear picture of who the most well regarded candidates are.
Perhaps that's why some of the lesser-knowns stay lesser known. Whether that picture comes from a depth of opinions or from the thoughts of a few trusted individuals is up to the General Manager.

Either way, we are left to assume that Snow has a comfort level with the scope of his search. If given the chance, I'd like to ask him how he got there.

In the meantime, if this goes on too much longer I'll have to start coming up with lists of Wildest Wildcard Candidates. Anybody check in with Mark Messier lately?

And all of New York cringes.