This week's Behind the Blog features Dominik, the blogger behind Lighthouse Hockey. LH is the SBN go-to blog for all things New York Islanders. He took some time to answer our questions about him, the Islanders, and his blog.
Q.1 - Lighthouse Hockey just came to SBN in October. Why did you start blogging and how did you find your way to SBN?
I started an Islanders blog for the 2007-08 season, partly to see if I could stick with it and partly because, frankly, the Islanders needed more coverage. Turned out the Islanders had decided the same and started their "BlogBox" program around the same time. I didn't apply because I knew, being out of town (in St. Louis), I wouldn't be at the games to ask questions. But it was great to see them pursue that channel; there are a lot of great, distinct voices in the Isles blogosphere as a result. It's a fun group.
After last season, I determined I didn't like the template I'd been working under. So I quit the network I was blogging on and created a Blogspot home for "Islander Frontier," just to keep scratching that itch. But I've always loved SBN's user interface and the way it can build passionate, thoughtful communities. So I knew if I could "get the keys" to an SBN site, I'd be eager to give it a go.
Q.2 - When and why did you become a New York Islanders fan?
In a word, my dad. The Islanders and Blues were my first exposure to hockey and the first game I saw in person. When I was a tot, my dad religiously watched any hockey on TV he could find. The Isles were in the middle of five consecutive trips to the Stanley Cup finals. Hard to imagine now, but at the time, local televised games in St. Louis were rare. That meant almost as many Islanders games (playoffs were easier to find on TV) as Blues. I'd come into the living room and see what my dad was watching and imitate playing the sport with his cane. Sensing a potential convert, he'd tell me stories about old Blues and (ex-Blue) Al Arbour's Islanders.
Q.3 - It has obviously not been the best season for the Isles. I know you didn't expect the Islanders to win the Cup this year, but how is the team stacking up to your season expectations?
Who says they won't win it this year?! No, from the beginning, I've tried to look at this season as both Year 1 of rebuilding and as a lab experiment. They've been "getting by," squeaking into the 8th seed for too many years now. The mistakes of Milbury had never been adequately cleansed. They simply had to start over, take their lumps (both in losses and in 1st-year coach mistakes), groom young assets like Kyle Okposo and Josh Bailey, test unknowns like Frans Nielsen and Jeff Tambellini -- figure out what they have going into Year 2 of this overdue process.
They also had to see if Scott Gordon's aggressive forechecking system can be implemented now and for the future. See if internal or external pressure pushes him to adjust it for his sub-par roster, or see if he could just focus on drilling it into the heads of the players who will be here a while. That experiment's been a mixed bag, partly because of our ridiculous injuries. But this is the best time -- a season of low expectations, starting over -- to experiment and fiddle with things to set up the future.
Q.4 - What one change would you like to see the Islanders make whether it's on or off the ice?
I'm mostly happy with the GM and coach: I think they have the right idea about how to build a successful, entertaining team in today's NHL. Some off-ice issues are beyond their control, like their arena redevelopment and the NY media's game of "pretend hockey isn't here." I do wish Garth Snow weren't so secretive with things like injury info, and I wish they would just change back to their original uniform design and stick with it for all eternity.
Q.5 - When you're not obsessing over the Islanders, what do you like to do in your free time?
I write in a lot of different styles for different audiences. I play a lot of hockey still, and I play drums quite inadequately. My wife and I try to travel, eat, drink and be merry whenever possible.
Q.6 - According to your SBN profile, you grew up closely following the Blues and the Islanders. How did that come about and why did you end up blogging about the Isles instead of the Blues?
Like I mentioned above, my dad had a lot to do with it. He was a Czech immigrant to St. Louis who adopted the Blues when the NHL expanded in 1967. He was always "loyal" to every good Blue who was traded away. So he told me to pay attention to Arbour's Islanders, too (Arbour was a former Blues player and coach). Still, when we played Stiga table hockey, and we labeled and traded our guys with the numbers and names of real players -- and even kept stats on their Stiga performance -- he'd only let us use Blues players. He was a confusing man.
Blogging-wise, I'm able to think about the Islanders more rationally than I am the Blues. Both clubs have been through a lot in the last decade or so, but I find I'm able to look at the current Isles club more objectively because I'm not surrounded every day by pundits and fans who have shared all the same pains. The Blues ... I was a season-ticket holder as Bill Laurie bought them, inflated their payroll, then chopped their knees out from under them when he realized he couldn't get an NBA team. I'm surrounded by fans who never recovered, and by others who expect those mistakes to be corrected overnight. There's a lot of raw wounds there.
Basically, I don't want the emotional history of every mistake of past regimes to cloud my current observations on a team, and I find that's much easier to do with the Islanders since I live outside the market.
Q.7 - Do you attend many Islanders games or do you primarily watch games on TV?
Hardly at all, thanks to the distance. I of course catch them in person every time they're in or near St. Louis. So it's almost all Center Ice feed for me. The first live NHL game I attended was a December 1988 8-0 Islanders loss in St. Louis. Talk about mixed emotions.
Q.8 - What was your initial reaction to the Rick DiPietro signing in November 2006 and what do you think of it now?
I found out about it on the bottom line ticker on TV., and I fell out of my chair. Couldn't believe it. I thought we were done with absurdly long deals after the Yashin fiasco. It had Charles Wang's handwriting all over it. In both cases, I see what Wang was after: a franchise identity, some long-term stability, an outward sign that people are here to stay. In the DiPietro case, there was also the likelihood of his salary ($4.5M) eventually becoming a bargain rate for a #1 goalie, which is a defensible idea in theory.
But bargain rate or not, you know a very active, butterfly goalie is not likely to play to 40 without some injuries and without serious decline. You know whenever that decline happens, it's going to be an awkward transition to who ever becomes the new #1. If I ran a business, I wouldn't tie myself to 10- or 15-year deals to guys whose productivity depends on their body's limited peak time window, and whose professional happiness depends on success and whim. But I don't run a business.
Today, I don't feel too much better about it thanks to DiPietro's hip and knee surgeries -- those started earlier than I expected. Modern medicine is great; maybe he's fixed and "good as new" for the time being. But today's butterfly goalies succumb to hip issues all the time. I'd never make a 15-year bet on any one of them -- whether he's Patrick Roy or Patrick Lalime -- making it to 40 as healthy, NHL-caliber goalies.
Q.9 - Who is your favorite hockey player (current or retired)? Why?
That is so hard. I loved that Mike Bossy took repeated abuse and just kept on scoring. It's one thing to be a physical force who can fight. It's quite another to say, "I can take anything you dish out, and I'll still put up 60 goals." That said, I loved Bryan Trottier, I loved Brian Sutter in St. Louis, I loved Doug Gilmour before a, ahem, "controversial personal matter" got him booted out of St. Louis. The nostalgic picture of a hockey player to me is Bobby Nystrom, flying down the wing with locks flowing like streamers and mustache steering the way, doing anything his team needed him to do. Currently, it's hard not to love how Trent Hunter plays this game.
Q.10 - Is there any hockey blog or website that you look to for inspiration?
I love the spirit and the community that the guys at Pension Plan Puppets have built. And what first introduced me to SBN was when the MLB Cardinals blog, Viva el Birdos, moved to SBN. It was started by a Cardinals fan who lives in Colorado, and from Day 1 it was a great example of how someone could run a passionate, smart, analytical blog about a team from outside that team's locale.
Obviously, Lighthouse Hockey is nowhere near either of those. But my hope is that with SBN tools and by setting a tone and a consistent presence, it can become a fun, reliable place where Islanders fans can run with the interactive tools and take over the conversation.