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Elaine’s Mailbag : Vol. 2 - Favorites and return to play

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2013 IIHF Women’s World Championship - Gold Medal Game - Canada v USA Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images

Welcome to volume two of my monthly mailbag. Every month I solicit hockey related questions on twitter, @imaraindancer. If you don’t have twitter, feel free to leave questions in the comments of this article or email them to me at elaineshircliff@gmail.com .

Remember, they don’t have to be just Columbus Blue Jackets and Cleveland Monsters related. They can be any hockey related question your heart desires. If one question has a particularly long answer or needs to be researched, I will end up making an article for the question or it may become a topic on our weekly podcast.

Thanks everyone and enjoy!

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“Who is your all time favorite hockey player and why?” - @kellyLouWho_58

This is always a tough question for me to answer. It’s like asking me to pick my favorite child. So, I’ll give you a few favorites.

Mario Lemieux - My dad was battling cancer around the same time Lemieux was battling cancer. Watching Lemieux step on the ice and have a multi-point game the same day he finished his final radiation treatment filled me with hope.

I am always impressed by the way Lemieux takes care of his community. In 2015, I sat down with the Executive Director of his foundation, Nancy Angus, to discuss the different initiatives which have been put forth by the Mario Lemieux Foundation. So many of the initiatives are based off of the things Lemieux and his family have experienced over the years. Lemieux wanted others to have a better experience going through times of tragedy and struggle than he did. So, he put his money and influence where his mouth is and helped create programs to make life just a bit easier for those struggling with illness.

From a playing standpoint, Lemieux is a joy to watch. The way he skates always gave me chills. It’s so smooth. He glides along the ice with the ease and grace of an Olympic figure skater. When I watch video of past games, I’m always impressed with Lemieux’s ability to be able to play with anyone on the team. It doesn’t matter who or what position that person plays, Lemieux knows what makes that teammate tick and helps elevate them to the next level.

If you have the time, I suggest watching old games and just really watch the way he plays with others.

Kelley Steadman - .I had the pleasure of covering Kelley Steadman and the Buffalo Beauts in the NWHL’s inaugural season. After watching her play in person, in my opinion,Steadman is one of the most underrated women’s hockey players in the United States. I was always amazed at her grit, determination, and skill. Her away from the puck game was phenomenal. Steadman didn’t need to put points on the stat sheet to be an asset to the team. Steadman always had impeccable timing. She often knew the right time to clear the puck so that a line change could happen or knew when a goalie was going to immediately jump at a fake shot.

My favorite thing about Steadman was the way she celebrated everyone’s successes. Often you could find her given credit to the opponent when they did something magical. She had no qualms telling them what a great job they did during the game or after the game.

John Madden - John Madden made me fall in love with the game of hockey when he was at University of Michigan. The way he played on the penalty kill fascinated me. Most people would close their eyes when their team is down a man but when Madden was on the PK I couldn’t stop watching. He was so sneaky on the kill. Just when the opponent thought they were safe Madden would appear out of thin air and make a move for the net.

His take no shit attitude and love of the game always inspired me as an athlete and a person. Madden was constantly told “no” or that he wasn’t going to be a NHL player. He took all those “no”s and said “bet?”. Then went on to win multiple Stanley Cups. Not one, not two, BUT THREE Stanley Cups.

Other Favorites : Ilari Melart, Dustin Byfuglien, Blake Bolden, Marie-Philip Poulin, Shannon Szabados, Manon Rheaume, Marty Turco

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“Best tradition you witnessed in hockey?” - @JPizz45

I’ve been around hockey many years and have seen many different traditions. Each one unique to either the sport of hockey, a specific league, a team, or a player. However, there are two traditions I adore more than anything.

The Teddy Bear Toss, or Chuck-a-Bear night, is my absolute favorite tradition in hockey. Every Christmas season, minor league hockey teams around the world collect teddy bears (or stuffed animals) for the local children’s hospitals. BUT THERE IS A TWIST! The stuffed animals fans bring to the arena to donate are thrown on the ice after the home team scores their first goal.

There is nothing like watching thousands of stuffed animals rain down from all corners of the arena while Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You” plays in the background. Players get so excited about this game too. The moment the puck hits the back of the net their eyes pan across the arena and light up as animals fall to the ice. Some of the toughest players in the league can be spotted lying in a pile of teddy bears making stuffed animal angels.

The Teddy Bear Toss always puts me in the mood for the holidays.

The tradition which comes in at a close second for me is one that is unique to the Cleveland Monsters.

At the last home game of the season, after all the fans have piled out of the arena, the humungotron at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse lights up one last time as the “Tiny Dancer” scene from “Almost Famous” plays. As the song plays on, the names of everyone part of the production crew for the Monsters scrolls down the screen. At the end, the screen goes dark and the words “Thank You” appear. It’s truly the best way to end the season at home.

And yes, I cry everytime I hear Kate Hudson’s character Penny Lane say “You are home”. After four years of covering the Monsters, Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse has become my home and the people who work there and the other beat reporters have become my family.

The offseason can be a wild ride for sports teams. You never know who is coming back at the start of the next season. That end of season video allows me to just be in the moment and reflect on the season before I walk outside the doors for the last time that season.

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“How do you think less fans will affect the players” - @basballfann1712

As we’ve seen time and time again, the Monsters excel on the road. Former Head Coach John Madden brought up how different they played on the road during a post game presser during the 2018-19 season. When I started traveling to cover games, I noticed the difference between how they played at home and on the road. Sometimes that gets lost in the translation of television or radio.

At home, the Monsters want to put on a show for their fans and make it an enjoyable experience. Yes, they want to win but they want to do it in a fancy way.

On the road, the Monsters play a more blue collar, fundamentally sound game because they want to shut the opposing fans up, win outright, and go home.

However, when Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse has 12,000 or more in attendance, the Monsters go wild. The energy ignites something within the Monsters and gives them that extra push to finish strong.

Basically, I think the Monsters will play just fine without fans or with only 300 fans. Fans will see a game focused more on the fundamentals in 2021.

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“Your thoughts about the RTP and the 56 planned schedule starting mid January?” - @michaelnef44

For starters, since the NHL plans on starting late in the season, I wish they would entertain the idea of Conference or Division bubbles. The bubble-less NFL has definitely had a tough time with COVID-19 this season. They’ve pushed games back or moved them around to fit them into the schedule. With the amount of games the NHL plays in a short amount of time, possible cancellations or delays will not work.

Since, as far as I know, they aren’t going to do a bubble, I’m glad they have something in place to get the season started. To be honest, I’m glad the NHL isn’t trying to shove a full season of games in a shortened time frame. The shortened amount of games allows teams to have more rest days, both physically and mentally.

When it was rumored the NHL would try to fit a full season worth of games in before the summer Olympics, my eyes almost popped out of my head. I can’t imagine how many back to backs they would have to throw into the schedule to make all the games fit in the season. Now, in the AHL teams have been known to play back-to-back-to-backs multiple times a year. So, for some of these players multiple back-to-backs is nothing. However, in the AHL, there are often times when they have a week off between series which allows them to rest and recover.

I do have a lot of questions about returning to play though. For instance, if the Canadian-USA border doesn’t open by the time playoffs roll around, how will they handle post season? Will there be a bubble like there was for the 2020 playoffs?

Also, if the AHL does start back up in 2021, what protocols do the Canadian teams have in place for calling up players from their USA farm team? Will those players have to quarantine for two weeks after entering the province? Will they be flown on the team’s private jet or will they be using a public airplane? Surely,a player cannot just hop off a plane and hit the ice with their teammates during a pandemic.

I also wonder about how all of this will affect player’s families. What happens if the team comes down with COVID? Do you send them home to their families or do you isolate all of the players? Children are still attending in person classes and wives/girlfriends have jobs outside of the house. Sending players home when you know there is an outbreak on a team could lead to an outbreak in the city where they live.

There are so many questions that bounce around my brain on a daily basis involving returning to play without a bubble. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and I’m like “will they have a curfew? Will they be allowed to patron restaurants and bars in hot spots when traveling?”. I hope the NHL and the NHLPA address all of these things before they start the season back up.

At the end of the day, I’m just glad the NHL will be back and I’ll have something to write about.

Fingers crossed the AHL will be coming back soon or else I’ll feel slightly empty inside.