Strangis makes most of Kingly opportunity
Monday, 06.21.2010 / 3:03 PM CT / News
By Bob Matuszak
Ralph Strangis just wanted to be a good soldier when he accepted the NHL's invitation last month to be on a select panel that votes on one of the league's year-end awards.
But it was the Stars' energetic play-by-play man who wound up as the winner and beneficiary of an experience that forever will be etched in his hockey memory.
One of 10 respected media members that included four broadcasters and six newspaper reporters, Strangis was asked to whittle 30 player nominees -- one from each team voted on by the player's teammates -- down to a Top 3. From there, the league tabulates the votes, with the winner to be announced at the NHL awards ceremony Wednesday night in Las Vegas on Versus.
"The way I looked at it, the guys had to be strong in all three areas…leadership on the ice, leadership off the ice, and solid in their community," Strangis said. "The neat thing about this was that all 30 of these guys had solid credentials, and you couldn't make a bad pick. But I was looking for guys that were personally invested in their community and in their franchises, and were established leaders that other teammates went to."
The enormity of the process didn't hit Strangis until he was delivered a 150-page package that looked like a screenplay for a prospective director to peruse over. Each team sent five pages of press clippings, letters of endorsements from charities, letters of endorsements from the teams themselves, and/or media page copies that tried to best capture their nominee's best qualities.
Though the pile of papers looked intimidating, Strangis jumped into the literature before calling and speaking to over two dozen of his peers throughout the league to get a feel for the players beyond the propaganda. During a week of intense reading, talking, gnashing of teeth and agonizing, he decided the best way to pick his three nominees was by a process of elimination.
"It was a lot of work, but it was a rewarding thing," he said. "I know some of the guys, but until you find out what kind of people they are, you don't have an appreciation for them. It was an interesting and unique experience because I got to see a side of these guys other than that they had, say, three assists in the last four games, which is how I prep for a game."
But Strangis soon discovered that crossing off names wasn't as easy as a simple stroke of the pen.
"All these guys are good guys," he added. "How do you take Ryan Miller out? How do you take Marty Turco (Dallas' nominee) out? How do you take Dustin Brown in Los Angeles or Mike Fisher in Ottawa out? You just go round and round and round on this."
Strangis wasn't as impressed as he was amazed at some of the things that were uncovered. Not only did all of the candidates pour their heart and soul into their play on the ice, they also did the exact same thing off.
Brown, the Kings' captain, is heavily involved in KaBOOM!, a non-profit organization with a goal of putting a playground within walking distance of every child in America. Every hit that Brown delivers, he and his sponsors make a contribution to the fund.
Miller's Steadfast Foundation provides patients and their families support to help develop and maintain positive attitudes while battling cancer and childhood leukemia. His annual "Catwalk For Charity" fashion show raises money in an event that features members of the Buffalo Sabres modeling clothes down a runway.
Fisher is affiliated with the Make-A-Wish Foundation, and his 2008 summer hockey camp raised over $50,000.
Phoenix's Shane Doan, meanwhile, became the go-to guy for a Coyotes team that was in limbo all season. With unsure ownership issues looming, the franchise seemed destined to bolt the desert. But instead of readying his bags, Doan invested in the team's future by organizing a gathering of season-ticket holders at his house, complete with food, drink and port-a-potties.
Strangis talked with Phoenix coach Dave Tippett about Doan and the Coyotes' captain's impressive ability to become the clearinghouse for questions regarding the uncertain status of the team.
"Tip told me that he never underappreciated (Doan) as a player, but he had no idea the depth of Doan's leadership with that group, and all the things he did during that unstable time," Strangis said. "During the playoffs, even though he was hurt, Doan would dress in his underwear and sit in the locker room before the game in order to be with the guys."
Edmonton's Jason Strudwick's story was also enlightening, as the defenseman's tireless work never seemed to come to an end.
"He really rolls his sleeves up and gets dirty with a golf tournament he runs," Strangis said. "He doesn't just put his name on it and show up, he does a lot of the legwork. This is a guy that picks up t-shirts in cardboard boxes and throws them into the back of his truck to deliver them. The Oilers had a lot of injuries this year, and whenever a young defenseman came in, they'd pair him with Strudwick."
Philadelphia's Ian Laperriere also impressed Strangis with his on-ice dedication. Laperriere blocked shots with his face twice this year for a Flyers team that needed a shootout win on the final day of the regular season in order to get into the playoffs before advancing all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals.
Meanwhile, Henrik and Daniel Sedin combined to donate $1.5 million to a hospital for a new cancer wing. The twins wanted the transaction to be anonymous, but the hospital talked them out of it.
"These are Swedes living in Vancouver…they don't have to do this," Strangis said. "They just got together and said that it's really important. This is what I mean…you go through this and you say, 'Holy cow, do we have some good guys!’"
Strangis will be at the awards ceremony in Las Vegas, and will likely be as nervous as the nominees themselves as he sits and waits to see who captures the trophy that now holds a special place in his heart.
"I'll be able to see who wins it, and I'll take a lot of pride in it," he said.
After wrapping up a project that originally seemed like it would be a long and endless journey, the voice of the Stars ultimately found himself as the one that came out miles ahead.
"Some guys might have just looked at the list and said, bang, 1-2-3, and e-mailed it back," Strangis said. "I'm glad I did what I did. I'm excited about going in next season and seeing some of these guys. Now when I see a guy like Mike Fisher or Jason Strudwick or Dustin Brown, I'm going to sit down and talk to them a little bit more. Now I can speak to them more than just saying, 'Gee, you guys had a tough game last night.' Now I know so much more about them."
Tune in Wednesday night from 6-8 pm CT on VERSUS for the 2010 NHL Awards, including Brad Richards up for the Lady Byng Trophy