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Usual Suspects

Life between the benches Add to ...

It may be the most dangerous place in hockey. No, not in front of the net. We’re talking the tiny space between the team benches. As the madness in Saturday’s Bruins-Canucks revenge match showed, the photo booth/announce position is a lot like Luxembourg wedged between warring France and Germany.

Saturday it was Boston’s Scott Thornton and Vancouver’s Alex Burrows trading spears, slashes and punches between the team benches in what, by current standards, amounts to a line brawl. What the audience didn’t get was the verbal war going on between the benches. Sportsnet and NESN left the space between the benches empty, so posterity has lost the bon mots and ad hominems in Saturday’s tong war between the Stanley Cup finalists of last June.

But the recent 24/7 had a typical, devastating exchange as Flyers’ rookie Tom Sestito, looking to impress, threatens to knock out every player on the Rangers’ bench. A bemused Brad Richards destroys him with a sneering, “One day in the NHL for you... fantasy camp for you.”

“Man the stuff you hear,” says Ray Ferraro, who usually mans the space for TSN. “You hear everything ‘I’ll kill you.’ Life threats. Stuff about wives and girlfriends. Anything but stuff about kids. That’s off-limits. I have to press my cough button because I can’t let it get on air.”

Ferraro’s one of the few (along with CBC’s Glenn Healy and NBC’s Pierre McGuire) regularly assigned to the hot spot. As a former player -- and a yappy one himself -- he’s in a perfect position to hear the sniping and humour that pass amongst rivals. “The area around the bench like a bus stop,” he says. “Guys have to stop and talk. As a former player I find a lot of humour in it. Some of the guys are very funny.”

McGuire revolutionized the position when TSN first talked the NHL into allowing a broadcaster in the area that was meant for a single cameraman. Now you can have as many as three people jammed like sardines into the cramped space. “The league, the players and the coaches have really reached out to try and help make the position work,” McGuire tells Usual Suspects. “The buildings that only have glass on one side of the box are great. Pittsburgh does that a lot.”

Ferraro, too, likes buildings (such as Toronto) without glass partitions where he can converse with the backup goalie and get the full measure of the venom or strategy. “Last year in the playoffs. (Detroit’s) Johann Franzen jumped on the ice and the Red Wings got a too-many-men penalty. He got back to the bench for his next shift and when he got up to go on again I could hear (Detroit coach) Mike Babcock yell, ‘Mule, sit down’. The funny thing is that’s the game in which Franzen scored four goals.”

Sometimes being that close is difficult when you’re criticizing a player. “Last year I was talking to Chris Cuthbert about (Flyer) Jody Shelley in a game against Vancouver. I was being critical of him, and (then-Flyer) Mike Richards was just inches away. He gave me the real burn with his eyes.”

So which teams are the most entertaining? “Rivalry games are the best,” says McGuire. “Vancouver and anyone. The Flyers-Rangers or Flyers-Penguins. Detroit-Chicago. Bruins-Montreal. Atmosphere in the building is huge too.” His favourite buildings? “Pittsburgh, Philly, Washington, Toronto, Vancouver, Madison Square Garden (NYC), Boston, Chicago, Tampa, and Buffalo.”

It can be a dangerous place, too. McGuire’s been clipped by a stick. Ferraro got a stick in the chest. “The scariest time is when you see the guy go to shoot and the puck is wobbling and you know it could go anywhere. That’s when I get out of the way.”

Listening to the byplay has given Ferraro a profitable idea. “NHL X-rated,” he says. “Uncensored audio. Once a week and charge for it. People would love it. Of course, the coaches would hate it.” But then, coaches hate everything.

Divine Comedy: To those who thought they might escape The Church Of Tim Tebow, Sunday’s unlikely win by the devout Denver QB over heavily favoured Pittsburgh was bad news. You’re stuck with Tebow for a while. America loves him. As NBC’s Darren Rovell says, “54.3M people were watching Broncos-Steelers [on CBS] when game ended. That's 2M more viewers than the “Friends” finale had.” That’s the most for any NFL wild-card game since 1987.

Scarier? Tebow’s favourite Bible versus is John 3:16. His passing yardage Sunday was 316 yards for a 31.6 yard average. The TV rating for the brief OT? 31.6. Discuss amongst yourselves.

Run On Sentence: As we’ve said here before, a good question elicits a good answer. Then there’s former New Orleans Saint (now radio personality) Bobby Hebert, who may have set a world’s record with a 48-second question in the postgame presser for losing LSC coach Les Miles.

“Q. Coach, did you ever consider bringing in Jarrett Lee, considering that you weren't taking any chances on the field? Now, I know Alabama's defence is dominant. But, come on, that's ridiculous, five first downs. I mean, so it's almost an approach, I'll tell from you the fans' standpoint, that how can you not maybe push the ball down the field and bring in Jarrett Lee? So what if you get a pick six. It seems like the game plan that ... not pushing the ball down the field, considering it's like a Rueben Randle or Odell Beckham, Jr. I know the pass rush of Alabama, but there's no reason why in five first downs ... you have a great defence, LSU is a great defence, but that's ridiculous.”

MODERATOR: Do you have a question?

Footnote: Hebert’s son T-Bob lost his job as a starting O linesman on LSU earlier this season.

Sir Charles: Saturday Night Live is not what it once was. But occasionally - such as last Saturday’s appearance by host Charles Barkley-- it gets off the floor and reminds us that it used to be f-u-n-n-y. Apparently Americans agreed, as the show garnered a 7.4 rating, just below the 7.8 rating from last January 8, 2011 with Jim Carrey and the Black Keys.

Perhaps the best skit had Barkley interpreting postgame comments. Sure enough, the first quote came from the ol’ rainmaker himself, LA Kings coach Darryl Sutter “I thought we played hard tonight.” Barkleyspeak: “We sucked tonight.” Also fun was Barkley destroying Shaquille O’Neal in a TNT show rip.

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