Overcast 51° Good Afternoon
Overcast 51° Good Afternoon

Sunday's games, a south Florida spin and a Schaeffer or two


               Assume all you Blue Noters are taking care of Sunday business before settling in for an afternoon and evening of Olympic hockey. All three games, not just U.S.-Canada, should be pretty special. 

              Me, I'm not in my usual haunt; instead, down in Southwest Florida for a rare February break.

              Took a spin on the bike round the nabe this morning listening to "Axis: Bold As Love" on the IPod shuffle. After a few miles, I was refreshed. Guess that'll pass for today's exercise. Not exactly toasty outside but 70 degrees and breezy suits me fine. Beach day at the Gulf tomorrow for sure.

             Today, I'll probably jump in here and there ( during the games, so feel free to join in.....

              While you're waiting, here's my short story from today's editions on Kevin Schaeffer, whose dad played for St. John's and the Nets, and who played with Matt Gilroy at BU: 


             HARTFORD - A patrol car rolls silently past a deserted corner. Hooded workers sweep snowy steps. On a steel-gray morning on Asylum Street, the rink at the XL Center is a busy refuge.

Mired in a 2-8-2 slump that has left the Hartford Wolf Pack, the American Hockey League affiliate of the Rangers, just outside the playoff picture, recent practices haven't been totally cheerful.

For Kevin Schaeffer, however, being on the developmental ladder of a team that has been close to his heart is a step in the right direction.

After a rash of injuries to Wolf Pack defensemen, Schaeffer was called up from the Charlotte Checkers of the East Coast Hockey League on Jan. 25. It was a call that Schaeffer, who grew up a Rangers devotee in Huntington Station - hard-core Islanders country - was thrilled to receive.

"Started early," recalled his father, Bill, a former New York Nets player in the team's ABA days. "When I'd take him to Islanders games and even if they were beating, say, Boston, he'd start crying. It was a little embarrassing. We'd have to leave before I was accused of child abuse. Later, when he was 9 and played in the Suffolk PAL - their colors were blue and navy - he wore his red Rangers pants and stuck out like a sore thumb."

At 25, Kevin Schaeffer doesn't need to stand out like his boyhood idol, Brian Leetch. Or his brother-in-law, defenseman Rob Scuderi of the Los Angeles Kings. Or even Matt Gilroy, the current Rangers defenseman and former Hobey Baker winner from North Bellmore who carpooled to games with Schaeffer and later played with him for two years at Boston University.

That's a mighty task for any minor-leaguer, particularly one like Schaeffer, who isn't an offensive machine, even if he did score the first hat trick by a freshman defenseman in Terriers history in 2003.

"As far as creating a career for himself, he's got to be very sound defensively, 100 percent rock-solid," Wolf Pack coach Ken Gernander said. "Just move the puck up quickly, be an absolute shutdown guy, have a bite to your game and bring it consistently."

That's been the goal for Schaeffer, who graduated from St. Anthony's in 2002 and was selected by the Nashville Predators in the sixth round of the 2004 NHL draft. He spent two previous seasons in the AHL, mostly with the Providence Bruins.

"I have to play steady defensively, move the puck, take care of my own end, keep it simple," Schaeffer said. "That said, I'm pretty excited about the opportunity here. My dad had tickets from his office for Game 7 when the Rangers won the Cup in 1994, so yeah, this is quite a treat for me."

There are no guarantees, and the 6-1, 205-pound Schaeffer, who has two assists in 11 games with the Pack after signing a professional tryout contract for 25 games, gets it. "I know," he said after practice Wednesday, "that I have to prove I belong."

The 6-5 Bill Schaeffer - who averaged 24.7 points (still the school's single-season scoring record) in 1972-73 for St. John's, was drafted by the Nets and Lakers and played with the Nets from 1973-76 - appreciates the mind-set that his son has to cultivate.

"It's a struggle for the team right now," he said, "but it's important for Kevin to build a foundation at this level to put himself in a position where he can continue to improve, whether it's in Hartford or somewhere else in the AHL."



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