SUN Hockey Pool

You will be missed, Jim Kelley

MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:13 AM ET

BUFFALO — Sitting in the shadows of this city’s ancient grain elevators, just a two-minute drive from the HSBC Arena, is the Swannie House, a beer-and-wings establishment surrounded by a number of vacant lots.

It is a no-nonsense down-to-earth type of place, the same qualities the late Jim Kelley exhibited during his respected 61 years on this planet.

Back in the late 1990s, yours truly joined Kelley and respected Buffalo News columnist Jerry Sullivan at the Swannie for a post-game brew. All was going well ... until Kelley was recognized by some of the patrons at the bar who definitely were far too lubricated.

These intoxicated yahoos were ticked at Kelley for a column he had written suggesting Buffalo Sabres goalie Dominik Hasek had used a day-to-day injury to bail out on the team.

It didn’t seem to matter to these guys that some of Hasek’s teammates suspected the same thing. Or that Kelley was one of the most respected journalists around, the furthest thing from a rumour monger you could ever find.

En masse, they surrounded our table and started pointing at Kelly, yelling “a--hole, a--hole!”

Kelley didn’t deserve this treatment nor was he going to stick around for it. With Sully and yours truly acting as blockers, we provided a human buffer. And when we saw someone following Kelley to his car, we quickly went out and escorted him to his vehicle.

In subsequent years, we would joke about that incident. Kelley would often chuckle: “Zeis, remember the time you and Sully saved me?”

Then we would laugh about it.

Unfortunately, none of us could save Kelley from the despicable pancreatic cancer that took our friend from us on Tuesday.

On Saturday, Sully, yours truly and hundreds of other mourners gathered at a majestic church in snowy south Buffalo for a service in Kelley’s honour. From former Buffalo Sabre Michael Peca to Toronto Raptors analyst Jack Armstrong to NHL director of central scouting E.J. McGuire to Hockey Night In Canada’s Scott Morrison, we all had the opportunity to remember a Hockey Hall of Fame journalist, a good friend, and, in the case of yours truly, a mentor who always made time for you when you needed it.

Rest in peace, Jim.

Dion Phanew: Underware model?

From safer stockings to protective longjohns, Dion Phaneuf is taking no chances when it comes to avoiding being sliced open again.

Having been out more than a month after being seriously gashed behind the knee by the skate of Ottawa’s Peter Regin during a Nov. 2 game at the Air Canada Centre, the Maple Leafs captain is testing a variety of preventative equipment options he hopes will keep history from repeating itself.

“I’ve suffered cuts twice in three years that have kept me out of action for extended periods of time so I’m open to anything that will help,” Phaneuf said in the ACC press box during the second intermission of the Leafs-Boston Bruins game Saturday night.

“I think it’s important, especially at the grass-roots level. I remember when they made neck guards a requirement in minor hockey. Maybe some day some of this equipment will help too.”

Various companies including Nike and Tuff-N-Lite Hockey are working on projects to do just that.

Phaneuf has been working out with socks he says “are not cut proof but are more cut resistant.” He also is having long underwear made that should have the same protective effect.

“It’s personal preference for every player,” he said. “But at least these things will give me a fighting chance.”

Given what Phaneuf has been through, that’s all he can ask for.

Is it Bono? Nope, it's the Bruins

Forgive rock ’n’ roll fans for swooning Friday when the Boston Bruins team plane landed at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport.

Upon seeing the words “U2 360 Tour” painted in large letters on the side of the charter, observers probably were expecting The Edge to emerge at the gate.

No such luck.

Instead of Bono, they got Boychuk.

That’s because the Bruins official team charter is the one that once belonged to U2.

“The first time I saw it, I thought we were just using it for one trip,” defenceman Johnny Boychuk said. “I didn’t think it would be our regular plane.

“It’s really neat. It’s all first-class seating ... we really enjoy it.”

No word on if the team starts singing It’s A Beautiful Day every time the players board.

A scout's take on eight prospects

The 2011 entry may still be at least half a year away, but all eyes seem to be on the top prospects these days.

In Boston, Bruins fans and management are keeping their fingers crossed that the Maple Leafs continue to struggle. Since the Bruins hold Toronto’s first-round pick in 2011 as part of the Phil Kessel deal, they are hoping to land a top five lottery pick for a second consecutive season, having taken Tyler Seguin second overall this past June.

Meanwhile the upcoming World Junior Championship in Buffalo at the end of this month will feature some of the top young talent on the globe, drawing scouts from every NHL team.

With the help of a well-known NHL scout, here’s a look at how some of the top 2011 draft prospects are faring. The players listed are the No. 1-ranked kids from their respective leagues/countries according to NHL Central Scouting.

LW Gabriel Landeskog

OHL Kitchener Rangers

25 GP, 20 goals, 16 assists, 36 points.

SCOUT SAYS: “He doesn’t play like the stereotype of a Swede ... Plays a strong north-south game and is very good defensively ... Not afraid to muck it up in the corners ... A two-way player with offensive flair.

C Sean Couturier

QMJHL Drummondville Voltigeurs

30 GP. 15-28-43

SCOUT SAYS: “At 6-foot-4, he’s a unique blend of speed and size ... He won the scoring title last year while finishing with an amazing plus/minus of plus-62, so that tells you just how good he is at both ends of the ice ... Outstanding stickhandler.”

C Ryan Nugent-Hopkins

Western Hockey League

Red Deer Rebels

29 GP, 8-30-38

SCOUT SAYS: “He’s 6 feet tall but just 164 lbs, so, like a lot of kids his age, he needs to bulk up ... He’s still growing so there should be some natural beefing up ... Is capable of some dazzling moves, which is why he has been brought to Team Canada’s junior tryout camp.”

C Tyler Biggs

United States Hockey League U.S. National Development Team

7 GP, 2-2-4

SCOUT SAYS: “At 6-foot-2, 200 lbs., he is a powerful force up the middle ... Teams are going to see this kid as the consummate power forward ... With 26 penalty minutes in seven games, you can see he’s not afraid to muck it up when need be.”

RW Maxim Shalunov

Russia Belie Medvedi Chelyabinsk, MHL

9 GP. 7-5-12

SCOUT SAYS: “At 6-foot-3 he has good size ... Played three games in the KHL earlier this season and did not register a point ... At the same time, he will benefit from the experience of playing against men ... Great skill, but there are questions about his consistency.”

D Adam Larsson

Sweden Skelleftea HC, Swedish Elite League

24 GP, 0-5-5

SCOUT SAYS: “He might be the most NHL-ready of all the 2011 prospects ... He’s the third youngest player to lace up the skates in the Swedish elite league after Calle Johansson and Victor Hedman ... He’s got a solid build at 6-foot-3 and is not afraid to get his nose dirty ... He’s got 37 penalty minutes already ... He’ll be the top-ranked guy on a number of team’s draft boards right now.”

RW Joel Armia

Finland Assat Pori, SM-liiga

26 GP, 10-6-16

SCOUT SAYS: “This draft might be called The Year of The Big Forward and he’s one of them ... Stands 6-foot-3 but plays smaller at times ... On the positive side, he can make some sick moves ... Can be a wizard with the puck when he wants to be.”

D Dmitri Jaskin

Czech Republic Slavia Praha

23 GP, 3-5-8

SCOUT SAYS: “Outstanding natural skater who can create scoring opportunities with his speed ... Not afraid to draw defencemen towards him, then dish off to teammates ... A lot of raw skill but can he handle the rough grind of an NHL season?”

mike.zeisberger@sunmedia.ca


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