A look at NHL happenings.
By EDUARDO A. ENCINA
Published December 31, 2006
Hockey player at heart
If Justin Morneau had been a better goaltender, he probably wouldn't be celebrating an American League MVP season.
The British Columbia native was a backup goalie for the Portland Winter Hawks of the Western Hockey League (juniors) during the 1997-98 season, playing with eventual NHL standouts such as Marian Hossa and Brendan Morrow. Portland won the Memorial Cup, but Morneau played just one game, didn't make the playoff roster and didn't receive a ring.
"He likes to think he was a good enough goalie to make it," said Canucks defenseman Willie Mitchell, who befriended the 6-foot-4, 225-pound Morneau when he played for the Wild. "He's just a proud Canadian hockey fan. He comes to more games than my wife."
Hockey was Morneau's first love. He wears No. 33 because he grew up idolizing Patrick Roy. During an off day in June, Morneau received permission from Twins manager Ron Gardenhire to fly to Raleigh, N.C., for Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final after Oilers goalie Dwayne Roloson gave him tickets. Morneau wears a Todd Bertuzzi T-shirt under his baseball uniform. When the Twins clinched the division in September, he celebrated in the clubhouse in a champagne-soaked Bertuzzi sweater. And if you call his cell, the greeting is, "Hi, you've reached Wayne Gretzky."
The Oilers were frequent guests of ex-president Gerald Ford, who was on the board of directors of former Edmonton owner Peter Pocklington's food company during the 1980s and 1990s. The team often played golf with Ford, who died last week, at Pebble Beach or Palm Springs, and players were regularly invited to Ford's house in Palm Springs, Calif.
But during one visit, wing Dave Hunter found himself in quite a messy predicament. He excused himself to go to the bathroom and was mortified when the toilet overflowed.
"I looked around and said, 'Geez, they must have a plunger somewhere, but they didn't,' " Hunter told the Edmonton Journal. "There was water everywhere. I don't think I've ever been so embarrassed."
A donkey's kick
Predators pest Jordin Tootoo delivered his share of big hits during the third period of a 3-2 shootout win over St. Louis on Tuesday. But he was twice called for charging, once drilling defenseman Christian Backman as he was touching the puck for icing.
"We've got each other's back," Blues goalie Manny Legace told the Tennessean. "No one is just going to run around (against us). I don't care who it is. We have a donkey (Tootoo) out there running around just trying to kill our guys, not even playing hockey."
Said Tootoo: "They can yap all they want, but I'm here to help our team win, and whatever that takes. They just seemed to get rattled. But it's all about the results. That's why we're in first place in our division."
Odds and ends
The Flames and Canucks are in the middle of a stretch of four games against each other in 19 days and five in 24. Said Calgary's Darren McCarty: "It's to build up the rivalries, so you understand why that's done. (But) it doesn't seem right that there's five teams you don't get to play at all." ... Change has been good in Columbus, where the Blue Jackets are 9-7-2 since Ken Hitchcock took over as coach on Thanksgiving. ... The Predators are 11-5-1 since losing goaltender Tomas Vokoun to a thumb injury. The credit goes to replacement Chris Mason, who has led Nashville to a 7-2 record in its past nine. ... Welcome in 2007, which is the 40th anniversary of the Leafs' last Stanley Cup.
They said it
"This team is set for the next 15 years if you do things properly. People have to realize that this city needs a new entertainment facility regardless of the team. If you sell out a building 300 nights a year, it generates a ton of revenue." - Penguins veteran Mark Recchi on the team possibly moving without a new arena
"Maybe we're like Tampa Bay. They went, like, eight or nine years without winning, and then all of a sudden, they win the Cup. I always believed we would get to this point, I guess." - Columbus forward David Vyborny on the team's turnaround
"I used to block shots. But some shots are harder and faster than others, and his shot is that hard. You want to block it. But at the last second, you flinch a bit, and it gets through." - Montreal coach and ex-NHL center Guy Carbonneau on Sheldon Souray's shot