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Vancouver Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo sits on the bench during the second period in game six of the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals against the Boston Bruins at TD Garden. (Greg M. Cooper-US PRESSWIRE/US PRESSWIRE)
Vancouver Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo sits on the bench during the second period in game six of the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals against the Boston Bruins at TD Garden. (Greg M. Cooper-US PRESSWIRE/US PRESSWIRE)

THE USUAL SUSPECTS

Adding Twitter to a story is like seeding clouds Add to ...

Old Gump Worsley couldn't take the pressure of the 1960s when he only had 14,000 fans booing him. How would "Gumper" have handled the Twitter chatter directed at the chatty Roberto Luongo after his no-show in Game 6?

"Stanley Cup apparently not in TD Garden for Game 6 . Giving it something in common with Luongo."

"Considerate gesture by Luongo in Game 6 to walk out in sympathy with the Air Canada workers. Nice touch."

"Next season on Mantracker: The scout tries to find Roberto Luongo in Boston. His toughest task yet."

The chatter about the Canucks fragile goalie not backing up his quotes about Tim Thomas's vulnerability was unrelenting Monday night from the moment he coughed up three cream puffs faster than you could say "not going to win the Conn Smythe". TSN's Cabbie was soliciting the 10 softest athletes in sports.

Down Goes Brown offered, "If you look up 'absolute worst-case scenario' in the dictionary, the book will fly out of your hand and beat Roberto Luongo top shelf."

Adam Proteau of The Hockey News ventured, "In fairness, Roberto Luongo might have done better on those goals if he'd heard Tim Thomas cheering him on at the other end."

Adding Twitter to a story is like seeding clouds. You wonder how anyone not walking a sea wall can cope with the noise. Which brings us back to the media shopping Luongo's quotes on Tim Thomas for an off-day story Saturday and Sunday.

We in the press love to encourage such badinage -- witness LeBron James's ill-fated "taking my talents to South Beach"-- then make the athlete own the headline. James's humiliating no-show in the NBA Finals was low-hanging fruit for headline writers. Luongo did the same.

But in the Twitterverse the gotcha quotes are becoming more and more a zero-sum game for media. Players and teams see less value in handing out off-day stories with honest quotes. Witness Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault's terse non-answer answers after Game 6. As opposed to his chatty goalie, Vigneault was not going to feed the beast after Canucks Least Excellent Boston Vacation Part 3.

For anyone working on a deadline, Vigneault's omerta is what death looks like. But it's hard to blame athletes and coaches in the circumstances. The co-operation of athletes and coaches may soon be determined by how the media measures its malice.

* * *

In The Air: Perhaps the people most disappointed with Luongo's playing "catch it if you can" were the media mob who had prayed to be spared another six-hour charter flight to Vancouver. For those scribes living in the East, the Bruins' decisive win meant not just another endless trip to the Left Coast but a return journey to their homes after Game 7.

We know. Boo-hoo. Still. Most amazing thing about this Air Miles extravaganza is that so few media -- exhausted by 4:30 AM wake-ups and hotel food -- aren't stumping for the 2-3-2 system used by the NBA for its Final series. What's the point of having your elite showcase when players are in a melatonin meltdown? When even Lord Stanley is popping No-Doz, you have an issue.

* * *

Boffo Box Office: You won't hear any bleating from CBC, however, where Hockey Night In Canada sets record ratings almost every night of the Final. Tonight's Game 7 might not reach the levels of the 2002 and 2010 Olympic men's hockey finals, but it's going to break the bank all the same. Could we see a 10 million audience for Game 7 on Wednesday? Certainly another one-goal game in Vancouver or a Canucks laugher will produce a record. But if the Canucks have another dreadful start, viewers could desert. Monday's win by the Canucks was another most-watched HNIC game ever at 6.8 million, following the 6.1 million registered on Friday's Game 5. These totals topped the twin 5.6 million audiences of Games 1 & 2.

U.S. numbers on NBC and Versus (Games 3 & 4) have dropped back after an encouraging start. Game 6 earned a 3.9 overnight rating with adults 18-49 on NBC, down 33 per cent from last year and down five per cent from 2009. No surprise given just one American city and some blowout games in Boston that sent fans scrambling for the remote. (Although it's the best for any Final game involving a Canadian team since 2006 and the third-highest since 2000 totalling 25 telecasts).

That comes after Game 5 on NBC which averaged a 1.6 share and 4.32 million viewers (down 26% vs. last year's 5.85 million). Game 3 on cable network Versus drew a 1.1 share with adults 18-49 and 2.757 million viewers. The viewership for 2010's Philadelphia/ Boston classic averaged 3.6 million. The NHL took that number all the way to the bank with NBC Universal.

* * *

I'm Howard Berger: For 23 years it wasn't a press scrum at the Maple Leafs without Howard Berger's mike flashing in the front row, Hartford Whalers hat perched on his head. Berger was the ubiquitous voice of the Buds for Fan 1430 and then Fan 590, dispensing injury news, lineup changes and lots of postgame alibis in a dry, contrapuntal tone. Last week he and the radio station parted ways, Berger caught up in the management and style changes of the current station. "I'm not bitter," Berger told Usual Suspects on Monday. "I had over two decades doing what I love, covering the Leafs and then the Stanley Cup playoffs across North America. I consider myself very fortunate." Perhaps our favourite Berger moment was travelling with him by car to San Jose for a playoff game only to have him stop at Toys 'R Us to buy gifts for his kids whom he hadn't seen in 10 days. Berger says he'll take some time off then gear up for a new challenge when the NHL resumes this fall.

* * *

Well Noted: The world needs more Darren Dutchyshen on radio. Listing to Dutchie's stream of consciousness Tuesday morning on TSN Radio 1050 was like a Saskatchewan version of Swingers. "You are sooo money chuckin' the knuckles."...

Amazing how much more self assured Kevin Weekes looks on the NHL Channel postgame panel compared to Hockey Night In Canada. In fact, the entire panel on NHL Network-- Weekes, Mike Johnson, Marty Turco et al.-- is well worth a watch when your Gary Valk quotient is full. Turco is brutally honest calling Luongo's ouster "quickest deserved hook that I've seen in a while".



dowbboy@shaw.ca

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