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Just Off-Camera

"They respect you if you write. The dumber the world gets, the more the words matter." -Dan Jenkins


Friday, February 06, 2004

...But I'm Sure Jeremy Shockey's Turf Toe Was Quite Painful

One of the first columns I wrote promised a future edition about Rick Nash, and it's time for me to deliver on that promise, because Rick Nash today helped confirm what I've believed for a long time: Hockey players are the best athletes of any major sport, and I mean that in both the physical sense and in a sense of sportsmanship.

Nash, who is 19 and leading the NHL in goals scored this season with 31, has missed the Blue Jackets' last two games with a bruised left foot that he suffered while blocking a shot. Let me tell you something about taking a shot in the foot. It hurts like hell if it gets you in the wrong place, and I'm just talking about 60-mph beer league shots. Nash caught rubber from some big NHL defenseman who can rip a shot up to 100 mph.

Now, in every other league, if you have even a minor injury, you skip the All-Star Game. Think about all the pitchers who bail on the Midsummer Classic because they have a hangnail, or the NBA players who play in their team's games immediately before the break and after the break, but not in the All-Star Game itself.

Not Nash. He's going to make his return to the ice for the All-Star Game instead of waiting until after the break. You know why? Because he's a hockey player.

As of now, there is only one player who was selected to the NHL All-Star Game (which is this Sunday) who is not playing, and that's Scott Stevens. He's got a good reason - post-concussion syndrome - and he hasn't been on the ice for his team in a while, anyway. So he's excused.

Nash deserves credit for recognizing his selection to the game as an honor not to be taken lightly. The game is an exhibition for the fans to see the world's greatest players on the ice together, and it would be incomplete without a rising superstar like Nash.

Nash, by the way, will be the first teenager to play in the All-Star Game in over a decade. Jaromir Jagr and Owen Nolan were still shy of their 20th birthdays when they played in the 1992 game.

Take a moment on Sunday afternoon to appreciate Rick Nash, not only for his immense talent and potential, but also because he's playing in this game in spite of its lack of impact on the standings. The All-Star Game is bigger than that for Nash and for all of the players on the ice, and they continue to demonstrate that hockey players still care more about the sport and the team than they do about the individual.

As Herb Brooks said (or at least, Kurt Russell did), "The name on the front of the jersey is more important than the one on the back."

***

My new favorite name in sports is Antero Niittymaki, the Flyers' rookie goalie who has been pressed into action due to Jeff Hackett's bout with vertigo, Robert Esche's sprained knee, and Neil Little's mediocrity.

Niittymaki - my boss calls him Teriyaki - has been doing a hell of a job in his first two starts. He's 2-0-0, he's got a 95.1 save percentage, and a 1.00 GAA. And he's from Finland. If I ever meet him, I can talk to him about The Rasmus.

***

Matt Rogers, the former Washington offensive lineman who sports his Rose Bowl championship ring on American Idol, made it through to the final 32. Now it's out of the judges' hands and up to the public to keep advancing him. Stay tuned...

***

This has been pointed out to me once before, but seeing it in print is really hysterical. I was flipping through the St. Louis Cardinals media guide today, and the last thing written in Albert Pujols's bio is this nugget:

"...name is pronounced POO-holes."

Heh, heh. I said poo-holes.

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