The Highlights of MK’s 2008-2009 Season

My first full season with the NHL and the Devils started off a little differently than the rest of the press.

PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC

My season started off in Prague, Czech Republic where the New York Rangers and the Tampa Bay Lightning were opening up the season for the NHL. On Morning 1 (it was morning in NYC) in Prague, very jet lagged and tired, I met Gary Bettman. He had just finished his press conference and we were standing out in the hallway watching Vinny Prospal’s interview with the Czech reporters.

I couldn’t get in on that interview because…well, it was not in English. So I stood with Mr. Bettman out in the hall, as we awkwardly smiled at each other. I am pointing this out for a reason…you’ll understand later. But the most important thing to note…I was the only American from the press corps there during that time.

Actually, I was one of four Americans that made the trip over. The NHL was not speaking too kindly about those Americans that did not make it over from the NYC and Tampa Bay areas. Story has it…the four of us Americans that did make it over had carte blanche in the league after that. Smart move for us four Americans…if it were true.

I made some new friends in the NHL while I was in Prague. Beyond sitting in on the practices and Mike Pellino (NYR) being really nice about me being the only press person there, one of the players tossed a puck up to me (which landed three rows behind me). No worries, right? I didn’t have anyone to beat down for it.

What was cool about the puck is that it had Czech markings on it. Probably my favorite puck of the year. This little puck toss also started a new hobby…collecting pucks from my NHL moments as a hockey writer. I can’t even remember which Ranger started this for me…but thanks! (It was one of the young’uns looking for a permanent spot on the team.)

But the most important thing during those practices was that the people that were somebody in the Rangers organization were taking note that I was there. I was exactly where I needed to be in order to be seen. You learn a lot of things that way.

Friends made in Prague also meant learning of the fate of some players that were waiting to hear that the Rangers were going to sign them. Hey, he wasn’t there, so who’s going to tell, right? Who’s he going to believe? Them or some newbie that just hit the scene?

My seat during the games was on broadcasters row alongside the NYR and TBL broadcasters. I had a blast with those guys. I sat next to Rick Peckham and Bobby Taylor (TBL) and those guys had me laughing all throughout the first game. We had all had dinner together earlier that night when one of the camera guys introduced me to everyone.

When Prague security gave me my seat location, I showed up and Rick was like, “Wow! You’re sitting with us? You’ve got the best seats in the house!” :)

Something else that Rick had said to me really surprised me. He said to me, “It is an honor to be part of your history in the making.”

I found out later that the word was that I was the face that was changing the NHL. Perhaps it was from a new media standpoint (the first person from a website based news media with creds), I don’t know. But it was stressed upon me that I was making history in the NHL.

I should probably add that I was the only female member of the press there. This was groundbreaking news to the European press because a woman covering sports was unheard of.

After one of the games, I did get to witness a very important moment. I came out of the Rangers locker room at the same time as Tom Renney. Martin Straka (who had signed to play in the Czech Republic) was coming around the bend on the way to the locker room to say hello to his old teammates. Marty and Tom stopped to shake hands. Tom thanked him for all of the great service he gave to the Rangers…and then off we went to a room filled with press.

Yes, I know Renney doesn’t like me. But he tried to give me the benefit of the doubt in Prague. We played nice considering he still hates me for that whole Darius Kasparaitis bit. Don’t ask me…ask Kaspar what he did.

TBL’s coach was livid during the press conference. I was in shock on the verge of laughter out of the awkwardness of the situation. He was reaming his team to us. Boy, I don’t think I’d ever want to be a TBL player during that time. I guess that’s why the coach didn’t last that long there and Rick Tocchet became the new guy.

Tocchet was a great pick. I watched him working with the players during the practices and just sat in awe. You learn a lot when you keep quiet and watch a coach and his team. That’s why I’m a big fan of sitting behind the bench. I like to listen to the coaches.

All in all, Prague was an amazing city. I loved the people there, the culture, the life. I loved it so much, I started looking into purchasing an apartment there. I’m still looking and will probably be settling down on a place in Djevicka (a residential area of Prague). What I love about Czechs is that they’re really great about teaching the language and culture to me. While I sat there reading and sounding out the words, they would laugh and correct me. The people there were so pleasant, nice and helpful. I really loved it there. It was a great time, great experience and a great way to bring the NHL to Europe.

WORST MOMENT TO WITNESS

In the press box at Prudential Center, I watched as Marty Brodeur went down and tore his biceps muscle from the bone. There is nothing more horrible than watching someone get injured.

It was just like watching Kevin Weekes get injured. Just not a pretty sight.

But you have to give Marty credit…he tried to act like he was ok until he realized he wasn’t.

Why I had been so excited about being a part of the Devils this 2008-2009 season was because I was going to be a part of Marty’s History In the Making. That torn biceps muscle delayed those moments, but everything happens for a reason.

BEST INTERVIEW

Sorry, Zach…it wasn’t you. LOL.

I will confess something about my Parise interviews. I do them because that’s what my readers want. They LOVE Zach. I mean…L-O-V-E ZACH! I even explained that to him when I did my second or third exclusive with him last season.

Zach’s best interview came during the NHL Awards where he was free to express himself completely and honestly without getting in trouble by the Devils (hey, it was the off-season). All the rest of the interviews from Zach during the season, well…let’s just say that one interview took 2-3 weeks to gather enough material for one solid piece.

But my favorite interview was John Madden. I loved writing his tale. I loved it so much, I handed John a copy of it since I assumed he didn’t read Inside Hockey. I just told him, “So don’t kill me because I called it a Cinderella story.”

I think the reason why John’s interview was my favorite was because it was like he had been waiting all season for someone to sit down and really interview him. I mean, those timeouts were legendary last season. We all talked about it, but no one had the guts to sit down and talk to him.

We were all petrified that if we said the wrong thing to him, he’d rip our heads off like the mad dog that he is. It took a smile the game before the interview to make him lighten up. The next game, I was asking him for 10-minutes of his time and he said it was okay.

Madden offered up the best interview I have ever gotten from any player to this day.

David Clarkson’s Fighting in the NHL interview comes a close second.

BEST FIGHT

One of the best fights I witnessed this season came from David Clarkson (of course). Every time I hear Pink’s “So What” I think of Clarky battling it out on the ice. Na-na-na-na-na-na-na I’m gonna start a fight…

But during one of his fights, he came out the alpha male and he made sure we all knew it. He stood over the other guy victorious and we were all secretly screaming, “YEAH!” in the Devils press box. That was Clarky at his best.

WORST FIGHT

Also starring Clarky, but throw in Sean Avery (Dallas Stars/New York Rangers). Before Avery was suspended and still a Dallas Star, Clarky attempted to bring down Avery for saying something he really should never say to him without there being repercussions. Avery DENIED him and drew a penalty on Clarky.

To this day, Clarky refuses to tell the press what Avery said that night.

Next Clarky v. Avery matchup stars Avery as a Blueshirt. I happened to be sitting behind Clarky in Madison Square Garden saying, “I’m waiting for my Clarky v. Avery fight.” So Clarky goes out there on his next shift and attempts to bring Avery down again.

DENIED once again. So this time, Clarky goes out in style by throwing Avery around on the ice like a rag doll. Really…the motions were so similar to a dog going ballistic on their favorite chew toy. It was humorous, but Clarky was thrown out of the game and Avery headed to the penalty box.

This is why I like Clarky…we both had problems with MSG and we were both evicted on the same night. But when you spend the kind of money I spend on the Rangers, you get to stay and the security guy that gives you problems gets in REALLY BIG TROUBLE.

WINTER CLASSIC

The Winter Classic in Chicago was by far the best NHL event I went to all season. Not only was the free stuff really cool, but I really had a great time.

One minute I’m standing with the NHL and Wrigley Field security. Next minute, I’m hanging out with movie stars from gangster movies (think Sopranos) and the owner of the Chicago Blackhawks and Chicago Cubs (that was so much fun).

I really had a great time in Chicago. That place was hockey town fever. No matter where I went…it was all about hockey. It was GREAT!

And yes, 2 pucks to boot from the Winter Classic.

New Year’s Eve was a blast as we partied at the House of Blues. I didn’t stay until midnight because I needed to race back to watch the ball drop in NYC (on TV of course). That is a tradition I won’t break.

It was a cold few days at Wrigley Field, but I got to meet some really cool NHL staff members and watch two teams I’ve never seen play in person before.

As always, yours truly was sitting with the big boys in the media. One guy from a local Chicago news station said, “You’re the only one in here that’s a writer. You must be one lucky person to be here with us, because you would hate where they put all of the other writers! You would be freezing your ass off!” We, of course, were sitting in the restaurant underneath the scoreboard all nice, toasty and warm. We couldn’t see the game, but at least we could watch it on TV. :)

And yes, when I saw the seating list, I kind of sat there going…IS THIS RIGHT???

Oh, and there were a little bit of non-niceties when the press found out I got to go to the Red Wings locker room before they did. They kind of let me in a little early. Then I decided I wanted to go out and watch the rest of the game. Ran out there, came back…realized the Chicago press was mad that they let me in early, so I stood around with them. When we went in, I had to follow Niklas Lidstrom up 2 flights of stairs (while he’s in his gear and skates) up to the locker room. It was so weird…he had to go up 2 flights of stairs in his skates! I was afraid he’d lose his balance and fall backwards. I knew there was no way I could support his weight if he came crashing down.

Thankfully, we made it to the locker room with no incidents.

TO BE CONTINUED…

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