Our producer, Sherali Najak calls it the “bucket of chicken.”
That is, the list of stories him and I work on in preparation for each broadcast to use during the game. We never know ahead of time which stories or how many will get in on a given night, but one thing is always certain: not all of them do.
So, I’m going to try this writing thing a little more often this season. I plan to use this space to share stories that didn’t make it to air, maybe expand on stories that did with some more context, and any other observations I hope may be interesting to you, the reader.
Because of my postal code, most of my notes will be Ottawa-based. But I’ll also include content from wherever Hockey Night in Canada takes me each week.
All right, let’s see what happens…
1. It was quite the scene standing outside the Canadiens dressing room after that wild 6-5 win in Toronto Saturday night as the players came off the ice.
Loud, boisterous, at another level than the usual post-game cheering in early October. Given how narrowly the Habs missed the playoffs last year and the way they came back from a three-goal deficit against the Leafs, it was clearly a significant moment already in a season that’s just two games old.
As Carey Price came into the hallway for our post-game interview I asked how he was doing. With a smile, Price said “tired!”
Mikheyev first caught the eye of Mike Babcock at the World Championships in 2018 and met with the Maple Leafs for the first time in August that year. The Leafs laid out their plan for the Russian if he chose to sign with Toronto and though Mikheyev didn’t officially put pen to paper until this past May, shortly after that meeting over a year ago he told his camp, “I want to be a Maple Leaf.”
3. Getting to work on Hockey Night in Canada is always special, but this past Saturday was extra unique. It was such a pleasure getting to meet 12-year-old Anderson Whitehead and having him in the opening of our show.
You may remember the heartwarming story of Anderson meeting his idol, Carey Price, last season and the friendship that formed between the two.
Anderson quickly became a star of the show Saturday as our cameras caught his reactions during the Canadiens’ comeback victory.
And after Price turned aside Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and Tavares in the shootout, the Habs netminder spent some time with his pal Anderson before boarding the team bus.
4. One of the ways Senators head coach DJ Smith spices things up at the end of practice from time to time is trivia.
He’ll call the team over, ask the group a skill-testing question, and if they get it right? Practice is done, enjoy the rest of your day fellas. Wrong? Some extra conditioning follows.
Apparently the hardest question yet was: where did assistant coach Bob Jones play his junior hockey? Most players looked around without a clue before Tyler Ennis piped up, “Sault Ste Marie!” Talk about clutch.
However, after losing in their home opener Saturday with an effort Smith called “unacceptable”, extra skating may not be a choice on Monday.
5. Being around the Maple Leafs the past few years, when they played on the road I always noticed after their morning skate assistant coaches DJ Smith and Jim Hiller throwing weight around in the hallway. Their workouts did not look fun.
Smith actually took up cross-fit a few years ago thanks to his wife, Christie. It didn’t take long for the Sens’ bench boss to find a gym close to the rink after moving to Ottawa this past summer.
For you cross-fit folks out there, here’s a workout he did in the team gym recently:
5 rounds for time:
20 squats (135 lbs.)
20 bench press (135 lbs.)
20 cal row
6. If you think Craig Anderson looks a bit different this season, you’re right.
This summer his deal with long-time equipment provider, Brians, expired. So, Anderson decided to try something new and make the switch to Bauer.
Anderson explained that for a goalie, pads are all about feel, and when he put his new gear on for the first time “it just felt right,” he said.
Throughout pre-season he met with Bauer reps to talk about adjustments he wanted to make to his pads. Adding a strap here, moving a buckle there, etc. He’s on his second set of pads since training camp started and the tweaking continues.
Meanwhile in Toronto, Michael Hutchinson hopped on the Bauer bandwagon as well this off-season and long-time Bauer client Frederik Andersen joked some commission should start coming his way pretty soon.
7. It was hard not to be happy for a guy like Scott Sabourin last Wednesday. He played in his first NHL game at age 27 and scored his first NHL goal.
Over the past six seasons in the minors, he was never even a call-up who sat in the press box for a game or two. Sabourin said the closest he came was being one of the last cuts at camp one year.
He spent last season with the Stockton Heat but never had a guaranteed contract. Instead, he played on three different 25-game PTOs. Sabourin still loves the game, loves the lifestyle, and wants to keep playing “until the paycheques run dry.”
Now his biggest paycheque yet awaits.
8. Standing in the Leafs dressing room after practice on Thursday having a chat with a member of the team’s PR staff when he noticed new captain, John Tavares, holding court with the media at the back wall.
“I told John he didn’t have to do media today!” he said.
As Tavares said during pre-season, “I play hockey every day. What’s another five minutes (with the media)?”