Thursday, February 27, 2014

Bruins Lose to Buffalo, Torey Krug Should Have Been on Team USA

The Bruins could have won this game. They should have. They didn't. Let's start with the reasons why they didn't, then move on to the reasons why they could have.

They lost because Chad Johnson is a backup goalie. They lost because of rusty players in their first game after a long break. Neither of those two reasons is cause for much concern. What is cause for concern is that the B's allowed yet another power play goal. Since losing Dennis Seidenberg, the penalty kill has gone from a strength to a slight liability.

There were two Buffalo goals in regulation that could have been prevented with stronger play from the defensemen. The Bruins need to acquire a defensive defenseman. They need a guy who can do the basics of the position and play the penalty kill.

On the bright side, there were plenty of reasons that the Bruins could/should/would have won this game. The power play was amazing. Chara scored a power play goal by camping out in front of the net. And his net-front presence helped Milan Lucic score another power play goal.

Torey Krug also played a big part on Lucic's goal. Krug used the space behind the net to set up a play. Chara and Jarome Iginla kept the Buffalo penalty killers occupied in front of the net. Lucic was wide open on the point and slammed it home.

Maybe Team USA could have used Krug. Not as part of the regular 6-man defensive pairs, but as a specialist on the power play. Krug's 2 power play assists in this game give him 18 PP points on the season. The Bruins have scored 37 power play goals as a team, Krug has been a factor in almost half of them. Among defensemen, he's 10th in power play points. Among American defensemen his 6 PP goals are the most, his 18 points are 5th most. Then again Team USA didn't select the top two US defensemen in power play points (Keith Yandle and Dustin Byfuglien), so what chance did Krug have?

Team USA had plenty of offense when they played Canada and Finland. Ugh.

It's going to be a long time before I get over the Olympics.

Anyway, the Bruins looked much more energized and in rhythm in the later stages of this game. They came back from a 2 goal deficit, took a lead, and Buffalo needed a lucky deflection off Johnny Boychuk's skate to set up their tying goal. This game is not an indicator of the beginning of a poor stretch of play.

The Bruins host the Capitals Saturday afternoon.

Photo Credit:
Gary Wiepart/Associated Press

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Taco Bell to Offer Breakfast Starting in March

Behold, the waffle breakfast taco. This is the spearhead of Taco Bell's impending foray into the fast-food breakfast battle field. A field dominated by McDonald's. The waffle taco is part of a complete breakfast menu. It's eggs and cheese, wrapped in a sausage or bacon, wrapped in a waffle, and covered in syrup. A Taco Bell spokesperson stated that they hope to be a "Strong Number 2" in the fast-food breakfast space. I think people who speak for Taco Bell should be more careful about inadvertent poop puns.

Taco Bell will also serve their breakfast later, until 11:00 a.m. McDonald's serves breakfast until 10:30 but is considering pushing that to 11:00 as well.

But I think if Taco Bell wants to make serious money with their waffle taco, they should serve it after 11:00 p.m.. Especially on Fridays and Saturdays. This item has drunken indulgence written all over it.

The same goes for breakfast at McDonald's. Serve these items to people driving home from bars on weekend nights. Hash browns, McMuffins, waffle tacos. I kind of want to get drunk right now just to eat a whole mess of breakfast crap. Covered in Buffalo sauce.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

NFL to Solve Racism By Banning N-Word... Homophobic Slurs Soon to Follow?

The NFL is considering banning the N-word on the field of play. Players who use the word could be assessed a 15 yard penalty. This proposal comes after the Richie Incognito bullying/hazing/abuse scandal. There's also a strong possibility that Michael Sam will become the NFL's first openly homosexual player. With eyes and ears open and looking for bigotry in the NFL, the League is motivated to crack down on slurs like the N-word. And perhaps homophobic slurs are next.

It's a nice sentiment from the NFL, but incorrectly focused. It's addressing the symptoms of an illness, but not the cause. Richie Incognito's behavior, for example, is a symptom of a much worse, much more deeply embedded disease. And he'd still be a complete jerk and his actions would still be egregiously wrong even if he never called Jonathan Martin a n-----.

And homophobia doesn't disappear just because people don't call someone a f-- to their face. Any discrimination and any obstacles Michael Sam might face will not be eliminated if the f-word is eliminated from the field of play.

Most of the times you hear n----- on the field, it's from one black player to another. Although sometimes it will be from a white wide receiver to a black security guard. Most of the time it will be between two or more black players, sometimes on the same team, sometimes on different teams, sometimes in a casual way, sometimes as part of aggressive trash talk.

A rule intended to reduce racism against black players will wind up penalizing more black players than white racists.

Enforcing this rule will add more workload to officials who already struggle to enforce basic black and white (forgive the pun) rules in a consistent manner. Officials will have to monitor the voices of 22 men on a field, surrounded by dozens of yelling players and coaches on the sideline, all while 70,000 fans are screaming. Good luck, refs.

This also means louder stadiums will see fewer penalties called. Crowd noise on offense/defense will also have an impact on this penalty.

And if two players from opposing teams both use it, then it offsets? What if one uses it twice and the other only once? What if the ref only hears one player? What if the ref hears it in a pile but can't identify who said it? And it's one thing for a ref to mistakenly call pass interference, it's another if a ref mistakenly penalizes a player for racism.

Officiating decisions determined too many games last year. This misguided attempt to remove racism from the game shouldn't allow officials to spoil any more games with their inconsistent application of rules.

Rules like this would be better enforced with fines after games, and possible suspensions for repeated violations or extreme incidents (example: a white player using the word toward a black player). There are many microphones surrounding a football field, and audio can be reviewed, enhanced, and analyzed. Use technology for this, not human ears, which are prone to human error.

The NFL is taking on a challenge that can't be solved by rules or by removing words from the field. Race relations/civil rights is one of the most complex and contentious issues in American history. I don't think the NFL is going to eliminate any racism in their League by eliminating racist language from the game.

This is an attempt to make a show of effort. It's just for display. After the Incognito story and the impending arrival of Michael Sam, the NFL is being scrutinized. And its skeletons are out in the open, not even hidden in closets. They even have a team called the Redskins!

The NFL is now trying to seem like these issues are an important priority. Either that or the League is misguided/dumb enough to think that penalizing players for words will do anything to eliminate bigotry.

The NFL is a League of contradiction between how it wants to be perceived and how it actually is. The NFL wants a clean image to go along with its product of violence and primal intensity. They want players faster and stronger and hitting each other with more brutality, but they don't want bonuses paid out for hard hits. They want players who push their bodies beyond normal human tolerances, but not if certain substances are used to surpass those tolerances.

Now they want men who play with raw emotions and use their instinct instead of thinking, but who also watch their language.

Tribute to Harold Ramis

Harold Ramis passed away on Monday at the age of 69. When I was a kid, his character Egon was my favorite in Ghostbusters, probably because he had glasses and was nerdy, just like me. When I grew up I discovered that Ramis had a hand in creating all the characters in Ghosbusters and Ghostbusters II as the screenwriter. He wasn't just funny on the screen in movies like Stripes, his writing and directing was making me and everyone else laugh in movies like Caddyshack, Analyze This, and Groundhog Day.

Think about how many laughs you've laughed in your life. And how many of them were generated by Harold Ramis. It's a considerable percentage. What keeps me from being completely and utterly depressed by that thought is that he'll continue to make all of us laugh for years. Because these movies are still hilarious and always will be.

He added lots of laughter to a lot of lives. He also added to our language.

"So I got that going for me."

As an actor he could make you laugh with just an expression. Like in this clip from Stripes...

And this one from Ghostbusters II...

He worked great as part of a duo or team of funny actors, like here with Bill Murray...

In his movies he took the normal and expected behavior of people and made it funny. What I mean by that is he used the language that people such as psychologists use on a normal basis, as a means of being humorous. To Ramis, a funny psychologist was a psychologist who acted like a psychologist, not one who acted zany or outside the expected norms of his role in society. And even when this shrink finds himself in an unfamiliar setting, even as he tries to blend in with that setting, he still acts like a shrink. As demonstrated by Billy Crystal's character in Analyze This...

There's rising tension as the scene reaches its climax and one character is about to kill another, yet you're laughing.

In Bedazzled he did something similar with the way athletes and sports commentators speak. Bedazzled is okay, it's not great, it has some great parts. And it has Elizabeth Hurley's parts...

In Bedazzled these are slightly exaggerated caricatures of what sports media and athletes are like, but there is a basis of truth to how the characters speak and act. Which is why it's funny. Ramis would create a normal character who was different and eccentric enough to be funny, but not too different to stretch believability and become cartoonish.

What I liked most about Ramis was his unique delivery. His jokes came naturally, they surprised you, they didn't make you burst out laughing but instead make you shake your head and laugh once you got the joke. At the very end of this clip from Ghostbusters II he does something that makes you laugh and you don't see it coming at all, because the dialogue is so natural, and so typical of a normal scene in a normal movie. That's when humor can have its most lasting and strongest effect...

In Stripes, his line "I'll be right behind you guys, every step of the way," is so exquisitely phrased, timed, delivered. It's just perfect.

He starred in, wrote, and directed some of the all time best comedies in a generation. He worked with greats like Bill Murray, Rodney Dangerfield, Billy Crystal, Dan Akroyd, John Candy, Chevy Chase. He also worked with modern comedic actors like Jack Black, Michael Cera, and David Cross in Year One. He had a small but hilarious role in Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story. He directed four episodes of The Office with Steve Carell. He got to direct Robert De Niro. Twice. That's quite a career.

He was a genius of comedy. R.I.P.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Canada Wins Hockey Gold in Convincing Fashion

There are only two Winter Olympic sports I genuinely care about: hockey and curling. Canada won gold in both sports, both genders. I guess it's nice that Canada has something to be proud of, but seeing groups of Canadians happy just irritates me for some reason.

At the same time I'm happy for Patrice Bergeron and Claude Julien. I'm also happy that Loui Eriksson won silver and Tuukka Rask won bronze. Five Boston Bruins players went to Sochi to play for five teams, and three of them will return with medals.

Canada beat Sweden 3-0 to win gold in men's ice hockey. Sweden was lacking Henrik Zetterberg and Nicklas Backstrom. Already an underdog, losing those two centers made the task of beating Canada almost impossible.

The Canadians brought their "eh" game (not my joke). They saved their best hockey for the elimination rounds. Their win over Sweden was almost flawless. Jonathan Toews put them up 1-0 with a deflection between Henrik Lundqvist's legs. The goal was a byproduct of puck possession and Toews' ability to get position in front of the net. All game long, Lundqvist had to deal with bodies on top of him.

Sidney Crosby scored Canada's second goal. Jonathan Ericsson tried to carry the puck through three Canadian players instead of dumping it into the corner. Crosby stole it from Ericsson then beat Lundqvist on a breakaway.

Chris Kunitz sealed the deal in the 3rd.

Canada's control of this game is demonstrated by shots on goal. The Swedes only got 9 shots on Carey Price in the 2nd period, and only 4 in the 3rd. That's an amazing stat, only 4 shots on goal in a period. Price stopped all shots he saw and extended his shutout streak to over 160 minutes. The Latvians were the last team to score on him.

Canada was the best team in this tournament. Their roster was built the best, their coaches were by far the best, they played the best. This team didn't just win based on their talent, of which they had quite a bit, they won with effort, teamwork, execution, and passion.

This might be the last Olympics with NHL players, which would be a shame. This tournament provided some compelling storylines, from Canada's success to Russian and American disappointment. Finland winning bronze is a good story, as were the quarterfinal appearances of Latvia and Slovenia.

I really hope Olympic hockey remains a showcase of the game at its finest, and not just another international tournament that only clinically diagnosed hockey addicts care about.

Photo Credit:
Martin Rose/Getty

Friday, February 21, 2014

Canada Outplays USA, Wins 1-0

When the Team USA roster was announced, there were criticisms that it didn't have enough offensive firepower. Those critics, sadly, were proven right as Canada shut out Team USA 1-0. Canada will now play for the gold against Sweden on Sunday, and the US will play Finland for bronze Saturday.

The argument defending USA's roster choices was that guys like Phil Kessel and Patrick Kane would do the scoring. The team lacked offensive depth, but had powerful offense at the top. Kessel had a good Olympics. Patrick Kane failed to score a goal. Team USA needed Kane in this game and he didn't deliver.

The US got 30 shots on goal, but only a handful truly challenged Carey Price. Most possessions were one and done. Most shots hit Price right in the maple leaf.

Give lots of credit to Canada's layered defense, a testament to assistant coach Claude Julien, whose layered defense has been a staple of the Boston Bruins' success for several years.

While Canada's layered defense remained strong, Team USA allowed a goal because of defensive mistakes. Ryan Callahan got careless and didn't cover his man (Jay Bouwmeester) on the point, and didn't cover his space in that part of the ice. An open Bouwmeester threatened to shoot, which Jonathan Quick had to respect, and an opportunistic Jamie Benn slipped into the space vacated by Callahan, and tipped Bouwmeester's shot-pass into an open net.

Phil Kessel's game was a microcosm of USA's game as a whole. He had a few chances on breakaways, using his speed. But after the initial shot there wasn't enough support to maintain pressure on Price. Kessel also had a number of giveaways and passes intercepted in the neutral zone. So did Ryan Suter. So did Kevin Shattenkirk. Too many USA possessions ended before they made it through the neutral zone.

Kessel's play in this game is exactly why I'm glad he's no longer a Bruin.

While Canada's defense reminded me of the Bruins, Team USA's power play also, unfortunately, reminded me of the Bruins. There wasn't any movement away from the puck, which put the onus of creating passing lanes on the puck carrier. So the puck carrier was forced to protect the puck AND move around enough to get his 4 teammates open. That's just not good.

The ice sheet is 100 feet wide, and Team USA only used the 10 feet along the boards when they had a power play. This was exactly what Canada wanted.

Canada won the battles behind the net, in front of the net, along the boards. It's not that the US didn't have enough talent to beat Canada. The US didn't have execution. Jonathan Quick played a great game, good enough to neutralize any talent edge Canada had. The US wasted 3 power play opportunities, didn't support the puck, didn't take care of the puck in the neutral zone.

Just a bad game. And I'm disappointed in this team. Had they played great and lost, I'd be content with a bronze. They didn't play great, most didn't play good.

Go Sweden.

USA vs. Canada Preview: Epic Fucking Hockey

One of the many things I love about Olympic hockey is that on the top teams, all these guys know each other. They've played against each other for years in the NHL, sometimes in the same division, sometimes with each other on the same teams. There's familiarity, and that breeds contempt. Then add the national rivalry and the high stakes with a chance for Olympic gold on the line, and the result is epic hockey. Not good hockey, not great hockey, epic fucking hockey.

For the US to win this game, they need goaltending. Jonathan Quick has been great during these Olympics, and they need that to continue. Quick can't let in any soft goals. And he's going to have to make at least one, but probably two or more brilliant, improvisational saves for the US to win. Goaltending is Team USA's biggest edge in this game. They need to press that advantage.

I also think Patrick Kane needs to score. In 4 games he has 4 assists and is +3, which would be good for a stretch of NHL games. However, when the US is playing Slovenia and Slovakia, and scoring 19 goals in 4 games, you'd expect more from production from a guy like Kane. We've seen how he can carry a team like he did the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup. He needs to carry some of the load for Team USA.

The US also can't take any stupid penalties. Canada will play physical, they'll try to get under Team USA's skin, they might even embellish a few hits trying to get a call. Guys like Brooks Orpik need to remember that there are rules, they will be enforced, and Canada's power play is not something you want to give bonus opportunities to.

There will be a lot of pressure on USA's defensemen. The US has a lot of young defensemen and they have to face guys like Sydney Crosby, who know how to take advantage of inexperienced defensemen. Mistakes will happen, but there's a limit. And Quick can/must cover for errors made by Team USA's blue-liners.

This game is going to be a 60 minute (or more) arm wrestling match for control. Control of the puck, control of which zone the puck is in, control of the boards, and control of the area near the nets. Team USA has easily dominated those dirty areas against their European competition but Canada will not let them do that. Team USA can win battles down there, but it won't be nearly as lopsided in USA's favor as it has been against the Europeans. Shea Weber is 6' 4" and 233 pounds and will not be dislodged with ease.

Speed will be essential on the big ice surface. But both of these teams are very good at tightening up the game so all the meaningful battles and plays are made in confined space. There will be the occasional end to end, fast-paced stretches of play, but I think most of the game-changing plays will be made in close-quartered battles. Speed helps you enter those battles with momentum and an advantage. And speed helps you take advantage of pucks won in those areas.

I can talk and talk about this game forever. I'm literally fantasizing about it right now. You've got so many great players involved. All-Stars, Stanley Cup winners, 24 guys from the 2010 gold medal game.

You have 3 MVPs (Crosby, Corey Perry, Martin St. Louis), 2 Norris Trophy winners (P.K. Subban, Duncan Keith), 3 of the last 4 Conn Smythe winners (Patrick Kane, Jonathan Quick, Jonathan Toews), and there are 4 Jack Adams coach of the year award winners behind the two benches.

This is going to be great. And the winner gets a chance to play for gold, the loser goes to the bronze medal game.

The game will be on NBC Sports, and WEEI in Boston will be broadcasting it over the radio.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Boston College Beats Syracuse, Wins One for Dick Kelley

Boston College was tied for last in the ACC coming into this game. The only ACC team they'd beaten was the other team in the basement, Virginia Tech. BC had losses against Providence, Toledo, VCU, Harvard. They barely beat Florida Atlantic and needed overtime to beat Sacred Heart. They'd lost 5 straight, were 1-8 in their last 9, and 2-12 in their last 14.

A few days ago I actually thought that BC might have a chance in this game. But I dismissed the idea very quickly because BC has struggled to finish games all season long. So even if they kept up with Syracuse, they wouldn't make the necessary plays at the end of the game. My initial reasoning behind the dismissed notion was based on BC playing Syracuse relatively close in January, losing 69-59. And Syracuse looking ahead to a big game against Duke this weekend. Also, Syracuse has barely won their last few games.

BC did what they had to do in order to win. They hit 3-pointers (11 of 22), and they didn't turn the ball over after halftime (12 turnovers in the first half, only 5 in the second and OT). Syracuse helped BC out. The Orange shot an abysmal 20 for 62 (32.3%) from the field, only hit 2 of 12 3-pointers, and were 17 of 24 with their free throws. Down the stretch missed free throws killed the Cuse.

Patrick Heckmann, a junior guard from Mainz, Germany, carried BC in overtime. If you look at the box score his overall contribution seems minimal. In 25 minutes off the bench he scored 9 points with 4 rebounds. He had a block, a steal, and committed 3 fouls.

In the overtime, Heckmann scored 5 of his 9 points, including a layup with 0:46 left that gave BC a 58-57 lead. Heckmann also had a block and a rebound.

This was a vital contribution because players like Ryan Anderson were falling all over themselves trying (and failing) to make big plays in the big moment.

The other OT hero was Lonnie Jackson. Syracuse fouled him twice with under a minute left because he's a 56% free throw shooter. It was still a 1-and-1 situation, so any missed free throws could have been game-deciding. Jackson hit all 4 free throws. Many players see their FT% go down in pressure situations, Jackson's went up. Way up.

BC scored 12 points in overtime. 5 were from Heckmann, 4 from Jackson. Jackson also had an assist on an Olivier Hanlan three pointer in OT.

I enjoyed this win for two reasons. I hate Syracuse. I'm friends with a number of their fans from my time living in Central New York, and when they put their orange goggles on, it's always annoying. SU fans struggle to see reality when it comes to their beloved Orange. They're impossible to converse rationally with.

The main reason I enjoyed this win, however, was because of the passing of Dick Kelley. You've probably heard broadcasters speaking of him during college games this past week. If not, I'll just tell you that Dick Kelley was the assistant athletic director for media relations at BC, which made him a focal point within BC's athletic program, a hub of communications for a wide variety of people and groups. He'd interact with athletes, coaches, other departments in athletics and in the school, just about everybody. Before games you'd see him patrolling media row, having countless conversations with anybody and everybody, and then he'd ask a BC player to pass him a ball during warm-ups and they'd talk for a bit. He died at the age of 48 last Thursday after a 3 year battle with ALS. And it was one hell of a battle.

Dick Kelley was a man who cared deeply about his work, and about what his work could do for other people, from the media to student athletes. He treated everyone with remarkable kindness and a warm smile, which makes sense since he had a remarkably kind family. He was, and forever will be, a big part of the BC family.

This win was for Dick Kelley.

Photo Credit:

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Tuukka Rask Finnishes Off Russia

Apart from Pavel Datsyuk, and Evgeni Malkin kind of, Russian hockey players typically fail to do the little things. Alex Ovechkin, for instance. He's a great scorer, he's strong on the puck, yet he doesn't do the small things that you see star players on other teams do. And that's a theme in Russian hockey. It's also the reason why they lost 3-1 to Finland.

Russia also struggles to build on plays as a team. This is an extension of the lack-of-little-things issue. The Russians don't string together small plays and turn them into big opportunities.

What Russia lacks as a team, Finland has in abundance. They attack as a team, they defend as a team, they line up in the neutral zone as a team. Everyone's on the same page.

This game was a series of Russian mistakes. Their first mistake was to continue with their strange goalie rotation and keep Vezina winner Sergei Bobrovsky on the bench. Semyon Varlamov got the start and allowed 2 soft goals. He was eventually pulled. Bobrovsky looked good in his two games before this. Why bench him in the most important game against a tough opponent?

Ilya Kovalchuk gave Russia a 1-0 lead with a power play goal. His celebration was so exuberant, it was almost too much. He jumped up as if he had scored an overtime game winner. I know emotions were riding high, but it was the first period. Russia played this entire tournament unable to control their emotions.

Finland scored their first goal after Russia needlessly iced the puck in an attempt to make a big play. Juhamatti Aaltonen weaved through Russians who stood around like cones. Then Varlamov failed to make a routine save.

A bad bounce on chipped ice resulted in a Teemu Selanne breakaway goal. So that means the Russians were betrayed by their own flimsy post against Team USA and now by their imperfect ice surface. Russia, you're supposed to have an advantage at home. Your own building shouldn't be sabotaging you.

Penalty killing requires players who do little things and who work as a team. Since those are two things Russia struggles with, it's not surprising that they allowed a power play goal. The penalty itself was unforced and unnecessary.

Tuukka Rask played a great game. He stopped 37 of 38 shots. The one goal he did allow was slightly soft, but he more than made up for it by making two or three incredible stops. That's usually the story with Rask. He will let in the occasional bad goal. His big saves usually outnumber those soft goals.

Russia is out of their own Olympics. That pleases me greatly.

Finland plays Sweden in the semifinals Friday morning at 6:30am (Eastern) on NBC Sports. So we have a European semifinal and a North American semifinal.

Photo Credit:
Alexander Nemenov /AFP/Getty Images

Olympic Hockey: Swedes Speed Past Slovenia

The Swedish play a methodical, confident style of hockey. They don't panic, they don't rush, they don't force plays that aren't there. They possess the puck, make their opponent skate around, then they use their high skill level and speed to make things happen. That's what they did to Slovenia, winning 5-0 to advance to the semifinals.

Even though the Swedes were an overwhelming favorite against Slovenia, this was a 0-0 game for almost the entire first period. It was a 1-0 game until early in the 3rd. The Swedes didn't score much for 40 minutes, but they were dictating the entire 60 minutes of this game. Slovenia had a handful of chances, but Henrik Lundqvist stopped them all. Lundqvist is another reason the Swedes can play with such patience and composure.

Alex Steen scored a power play goal in the 1st to put Sweden up 1-0. Then in the 3rd the Swedes broke the game open as the Slovenians looked exhausted. Loui Eriksson of the Boston Bruins set up Daniel Sedin to make it 2-0. Then Eriksson scored himself. Carl Hagelin scored the last two goals to make it 5-0. Erik Karlsson had an assist on Sweden's first goal and their last goal.

Henrik Lundqvist stopped 19 shots and recorded his second shutout of the Olympics. He's allowed 5 goals in 4 games and of the goalies on the four teams still standing, he's played the best at Sochi.

The Swedes will play Finland Friday morning at 6:30 (Eastern) on NBC Sports. This is a rematch of the 2006 gold medal game in Torino. Sweden won that game 3-2, and I think you'll see a similar result Friday.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo/Julio Cortez

Team USA Wrecks the Czechs, Advances to Olympic Semifinals

This was such an excellent, complete win. Just about everybody who took the ice for Team USA made a significant contribution. The coaching staff also came up with a good gameplan to neutralize the Czech Republic's strengths.

Five different USA players scored goals: James van Riemsdyk, Dustin Brown, David Backes, Zach Parise, and Phil Kessel. Ryan Suter had 3 assists, Ryan Kesler had 2. The US scored 4 of their goals in the dirty area of the ice close to the net. The 5th goal was on a breakaway that utilized the vast width of the European ice sheet.

The US won essentially all of the physical battles. This was spearheaded by guys like Ryan Callahan and David Backes. Brooks Orpik also did some hitting, and some of those hits were legal.

Defensively USA didn't allow the best Czech players the time and space to make plays. Jaromir Jagr only got one shot on goal, as did David Krejci. In the first two periods the Czechs only got 13 shots on Jonathan Quick. And one of those was actually a botched Ryan McDonagh clearance attempt that ricocheted off of Ryan Suter's skate and into the US net.

The only Czechs who were consistent threats were Ales Hemsky and Martin Hanzal (who's so hot right now).

Jonathan Quick didn't have a hard day of work in the office, but he did his job, and didn't make his teammates work harder than necessary. No soft goals.

It's impossible not to be excited by this team. They have a good mix of players who are adept at playing different kinds of hockey. They have a great goalie, strong defense, they block shots, they make hits, they're fast. There's no apparent weakness to exploit, no chinks in the armor.

That being said, their next game is their biggest test. They'll be playing Canada Friday at noon (Eastern) on NBC Sports in a rematch of the 2010 gold medal game. The winner advances to this year's gold medal game, the loser will play for bronze.

Both semifinal games are rematches of the last two gold medal games. Sweden plays Finland Friday morning at 6:30 in a rematch of 2006.

I can't wait. The US women's team will also be playing Canada for gold Thursday afternoon at noon on NBC.

Photo Credit:
Getty Images

USA 4, Czech Republic 1 After Two Periods

Team USA didn't take their foot off the gas in the 2nd period. They stepped up their physical game, which not only shut down the Czech's offense before it got started (only 6 shots on goal for them), it also gave the US momentum that eventually resulted in a goal.

For the first 9 minutes of the period, US players took advantage of every opportunity to hit the Czechs. Ryan Callahan was playing especially physically, as this tweet described very well...

The US got a power play shortly after Callahan's rampage, and you just got the feeling after all those physical wins, they'd find a way to score. And that's what happened. Zach Parise scored a goal that was both finesse and toughness. The finesse was the coordination and hands required to score, the toughness was that he scored from close range, in one of the so-called "dirty areas" of the ice.

All 4 US goals have been scored in those tight areas near the net, and the US has dominated that part of the ice in both periods so far.

So Team USA is 20 minutes away from qualifying for the semifinals and playing the winner of Latvia/Canada (which is tied 1-1 as I'm writing this).

However, you can't run out the clock in hockey. There's no such thing as a prevent defense in this game. The US needs to continue to do what they did in the first two periods: Make the Czechs work for everything. Make them pay a price for every pass. Be aggressive but be smart. Don't give them any power play chances (like Brooks Orpik did with his late hit on Jaromir Jagr. Good God I hate Orpik).

Be patient. The opportunities to hit and the opportunities to score will come.

USA Up 3-1 After 1st Period

The Czechs are not showing many signs of fatigue, despite playing back-to-back games. Perhaps they'll tire by the 3rd period, particularly older players like Jaromir Jagr.

Speaking of Jagr, he was the focus of Team USA's matchups. The Americans wanted Ryan Suter and Ryan McDonagh on the ice as the same time as him, along with the David Backes line. This matchup paid off 14:38 into the period when Backes checked Jagr and gained possession of the puck just past the Czech blue-line. A few passes later, drawing the attention of the Czech defenders to one side of the ice, and Backes found Dustin Brown on the opposite wing. Brown scored to give the US a 2-1 lead.

And with only 8 seconds left in the period, this line scored again. Ryan Suter's shot was deflected and went wide. David Backes collected the rebound off the lively boards and jammed the puck through goalie Ondrej Pavelec.

Most of the first period was played evenly between the two teams. James van Riemsdyk scored from the goal-line to put the US up 1-0. Then Alex Hemsky was credited with a goal after a puck deflected off Suter's skate and past a sprawling Jonathan Quick. The attacking play of Hemsky, David Krejci, and Milan Michalek forced the own goal.

Up 3-1, the US couldn't be in a better position. They're up 2 goals, they found a favorable matchup, the Czechs never beat Quick, and now the Czechs have to play from behind the day after playing a close game against Slovakia.

However, the US can't ease up off the gas and play a conservative game like the Finns do when they get a lead. That's not the US's style. The Americans need to continue to attack, keep the Czechs skating after them, and keep winning battles along the boards.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Olympic Hockey: Latvia Upsets Switzerland

Latvia and Slovenia among the final 8 teams at the Olympics. How great is that? In 2010 Latvia finished 12th in the Olympics. Slovenia didn't even qualify. Latvia advanced the the quarterfinals by beating Switzerland 3-1.

Who is Daniel Alfredsson? A great NHL player who is an icon in Ottawa and currently plays for the Red Wings. He's won an Olympic gold medal and will probably be enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Who is Lauris Darzins? Let me look him up because before today I had no idea...

(Doing legitimate research)

He's a 29 year old winger from Riga, Latvia. He currently plays in the KHL. He played as a kid in a Finnish league. He was drafted in the 9th round of the 2003 NHL Draft by Nashville. He played juniors in Canada's Western Hockey League. He was never signed by Nashville. He returned to Europe to briefly play in the Finnish SM-Liiga, then the Czech Extraliga. He played in Belarus, then Dinamo Riga (Latvian KHL team), and he's still in the KHL playing for a team in Russia.

So he's not Daniel Alfredsson, who has over 1,000 NHL points. Why the comparison then?

Before this game, Alfredsson was the only player in these Olympics to score against Switzerland. In this game, Latvia's Darzins scored twice.

I could go on a tangent about Darzins because Nashville expressed interest in signing him a few years ago, but like many other European players, he'd rather be an established player in the KHL near home than struggle to even get a shot at making the NHL thousands of miles away. This is a trend in European hockey the last few years, and it's hurting NHL roster depth. The star Europeans play in the NHL, the depth guys would rather make more money in the KHL then slog through the AHL ranks.

Back to the game...

Switzerland, similar to other Germanic teams like Austria and Germany, plays well when the games goes according to plan. Switzerland plays to a script. They play very well in 0-0, 1-0 games. However they struggle to improvise when the game deviates from that script. They don't know how to react when, for instance, they fall behind 2-0.

That's what happened against Latvia. Oskars Bartulis beat Jonas Hiller thanks to a screen to put Latvia up 1-0. Lauris Darzins made it 2-0 with some exquisite patience by both himself and Mikelis Redlihs, who set him up. Darzins added an empty-netter.

Martin Pluss scored for Switzerland in the 2nd period, only the third goal scored by the Swiss in the tournament.

Latvia's reward is to play Canada, who collectively sighed with relief once they realized they wouldn't have to face Jonas Hiller.

It will be tough for the Latvians to beat Canada, but they should be proud of how well they've played in this tournament, with only one NHL player on their roster.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo/Mark Humphrey

Olympic Hockey: Czech Republic vs. Slovakia Recap (Winner to Play USA)

The 3rd period of this game was on of the most exciting in the Olympic tournament as the Slovaks almost came back from a 4 goal deficit. However the hole was too deep for Slovakia to pull themselves out of. The Czechs won 5-3 and will play The United States Wednesday at noon (Eastern) on USA Network.

The CR was up 4-0 late in the 2nd when Marian Hossa gave the Slovaks some momentum. Hossa's line would factor in all three Slovak goals, with Zdeno Chara not getting an official assist, but affecting the game just by his sheer presence.

Hossa scored again 7:21 into the 3rd, then Tomas Surovy scored 91 seconds later. Andrej Sekera and Michal Handzus each had two assists.

The remaining 11 minutes of the 3rd period were a back and forth frenzy of opportunities for both teams. Goalie Jan Laco kept the Slovaks within one goal while on the other end Ondrej Pavelec protected the Czech lead.

With 53 seconds left Andrej Meszaros committed a blatant slashing penalty to put the Slovaks a man down. The Slovaks were able to move the puck into the offensive zone to pull their goalie, but almost immediately the Czechs won possession back, and Tomas Plekanec scored the empty net goal to seal the Czech victory.

The Slovaks never played up to their ability in this tournament until the last 21 minutes of this game. Their best players - Marian Hossa, Zdeno Chara, Michal Handzus - are all a little on the old side. Chara and Handzus both turn 37 in March, and Hossa is 35. There are only a few guys on the Slovak roster who are in the prime of their hockey careers and also have top-level ability.

The Czechs, on the other hand, have a well balanced blend of experienced guys (Jaromir Jagr, Patrick Elias), and guys in the groove of their career (David Krejci, Tomas Plekanec), along with some talented young NHLers (Martin Hanzal).

They're going to be a tough opponent for the US. Hopefully that exciting 3rd period wore them down a little bit.

Czech Republic vs. USA Wednesday at noon (Eastern) on USA Network.

Photo Credit:
Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP/Getty Images

Olympic Hockey: Norway vs. Russia Recap

One story surrounding this game has been that the Russian team isn't playing to its potential. Some have suggested that there is division on the roster due to the mixture of NHL and KHL players. Russian media outlets are questioning where the "Big Red Machine" is. But I think these stories about Russia not playing well are exaggerated, even imagined.

Russia has played very well. Under NHL rules, they would have beaten the US in that epic game Saturday morning. And they were still just one shot or one save away from winning. The US needed 8 shootout rounds to beat them, and the US is a damn good team.

Russia beat Norway 4-0 and potentially quieted those doubters, at least for one day.

The game was closer than the score suggests. It was 2-0 before Norway pulled their goalie. It was 0-0 after the first period until Alexander Radulov was credited with a goal that bounced off a Norwegian skate and into the net. Pavel Datsyuk got the assist. Datsyuk tallied three assists in the game. Radulov also scored an empty-netter in the 3rd and had an assist. Ilya Kovalchuk scored late in the 2nd. Alexei Tereshenchenko scored with 40 seconds left in the 3rd.

All 4 of Russia's goals were scored by KHLers. Datsyuk and Vladimir Tarasenko were the only NHLers with assists.

Norway played a conservative game, trying to make everything difficult for Russia. That strategy is always a double edged sword because it makes offense hard to generate. You purposely reduce the number of offensive chances you'll get, and a team that lacks talent (relative to Russia) like Norway should play for as many offensive opportunities as possible, and hope Russia makes defensive mistakes (which they tend to do), and pray that Russia doesn't finish its offensive chances.

In hindsight, it's easy for me to say that. Norway played a great game against a great team in front of a hostile crowd. Had Norway managed to score first, maybe the supposed tension and rifts on Team Russia would have expressed themselves on the ice. Maybe a sour crowd would have made those tensions worse. Russia does seem like a team that doesn't handle adversity well.

And Russia will likely face adversity when they play against Finland in the quarterfinals.

Photo Credit:
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Austria vs. Slovenia Recap

Before 2014, Slovenia had never won a game in Olympic competition. They hadn't even qualified for the Olympics. Now they've won two games and they're in the quarterfinals after beating Austria 4-0. Yet another reason to love Olympic hockey.

Austria played with no emotion, until near the end of the game when the only emotion they showed was frustration. They could have come into this game relaxed and loose. Or they could have played with an intense aggressiveness. Either would have been better than the clinical and sterile game they tried to play.

Austria featured three NHL players, including Thomas Vanek. Slovenia has only one NHL player (Anze Kopitar). There's only one pro hockey team in Slovenia, and it plays in Austria's league. There are only 7 hockey rinks in Slovenia. Norfolk County in Massachusetts has more rinks than that.

Most of the Austrian team plays in the Austrian league, while the Slovenian team is comprised of players who play in leagues across Europe. There are representatives from the French Ligue Magnus, the German DEL, the Swedish HockeyAllsvenskan (Sweden's second highest league), Austria's EBEL, the KHL, two Czech leagues, and the Slovak Extraliga.

Maybe that diversity is why the Slovenian national team is able to play above its talent level. They play with pride for their country. They're fighters. They're willing to play anywhere and everywhere just to play the game.

It might also help that 13 players come from the same town (Jesenice)

Anze Kopitar (NHL) scored Slovenia's first goal on the power play, then Jan Urbas (Germany's DEL) scored a shorthanded goal. Sabahudin Kovacevic (Russia's Supreme Hockey League, which is a step below the KHL), scored Slovenia's third goal. Jan Mursak (KHL) scored an empty-netter. Mursak also had an assist. Marcel Rodman (DEL) had two assists. Goalie Robert Kristan (Slovak Extraliga) stopped all 30 shots he faced.

Slovenia advance to play top-seeded Sweden. I don't think Slovenia will win, but they won't be eliminated without a fight.

I really do like this team. They just need to get better uniforms.

Photo Credit:
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

USA vs. Russia Demonstrates Why NHL Players Should Play in Olympics

I wanted to wake up for the 7:30am start of US vs. Russia Saturday morning. Just in case I didn't, I set my DVR to record the game. I'm glad I did because I slept through most of it. And when I woke up, Facebook and Twitter were ablaze with patriotism and the word "Oshie." There were 530,000+ tweets with the word "Oshie" in them on Saturday.

When was the last time that such a thing has ever happened for hockey? When was the last time that the entire country focused on a hockey game, the way a city focuses on a Stanley Cup game? The game was even featured on SportsCenter, on NBA All-Star weekend, and we know how rare it is for SportsCenter to feature hockey.

That's the power of Olympic hockey. You get the best players in the world, you put medals, prestige, and pride on the line, and then you play 60 minutes of great hockey. Or more.

And just a few words to Russian players like Alex Ovechkin complaining about their disallowed goal when the net got dislodged: It's your country, your Olympics, your rink, your net, your moorings. Either build stronger nets, or build stronger character and accept the result and move on with your life.

The NHL doesn't make any money off the Olympics. Not directly. The NHL teams stop playing, and NHL players risk injury only a few weeks before the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The NHL doesn't get a dime from ticket sales or TV advertising, even though everyone is watching the League's players play.

By the way, the injury risk argument is lame. The NHL plays 4,920 regular season games every 4 years, along with 60 playoff series. There are 30 Olympic hockey games every 4 years. You can't schedule 82 regular season games then argue that an athlete playing 6-7 more is an unacceptable risk.

The way the NHL should view Olympic hockey is like a really popular and convincing infomercial. It's free advertising. The NHL spends huge amounts of money trying to promote the game, particularly to kids. The Olympics do that for free. And do so with more success.

How many kids out there saw TJ Oshie on Saturday then wanted to develop shooting moves like him? How many young goalies out there saw Jonathan Quick in net and wanted to learn how to stop shots like him?

Before the Olympics only a handful of people knew who TJ Oshie was. The Olympics turned him into a star. And the NHL desperately lacks famous star player, particularly American star players.

The NHL needs to realize that hockey is a regional, niche sport. It has a cult following. Which is a polite way of saying that it doesn't have broad appeal but the relatively small number of fans it has are fanatics.

The Olympics don't convert millions of new fans, just like the World Cup doesn't create armies of new soccer fans when the US does well. However, the Olympics do recruit a number new followers to the cult. More kids will want to play, will ask their parents to take them to a game, will watch highlights online. They'll want a TJ Oshie shirt for their birthday. And guess what, NHL, you get money from that. And when more people play hockey, more people watch hockey. You make money from that too, NHL.

So instead of focusing on the short term buck, and the immediate revenue you don't make from the Olympics, think of them as free advertising/recruiting for your game/cult.

Look at it like this. If NBC Sports had said to the NHL "We're going to promote the game of hockey for hours and hours in the next few weeks. We'll use NBC, NBC Sports, CNBC, MSNBC, USA. We'll put the women's finals on NBC. We'll put USA on NBC Sports and Canada on USA. We'll show Sweden and Finland and the Czech Republic and Switzerland and Russia and Slovakia. We'll promote the game of hockey for free, we'll get countries riled up, we'll stir national pride, we'll make everyone wake up at 7:30am on a Saturday just to watch hockey, and all we want in return is 6-7 games from NHL players...

The NHL would be dumb not to take that deal.

The NHL will be dumb not to take that deal.

Photo Credit:
Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

Monday, February 17, 2014

Olympic Hockey Elimination Round Matchups

For the US to advance to the gold medal game, they'll have to get through some quality competition. They will face the winner of the Slovakia/Czech Republic game, then most likely play Canada in the semifinals. However they won't have to play Sweden, Russia, or Finland until the gold medal game.

Here's a quick preview of the opening round of the elimination stage, which will be played on Tuesday (starting at 3:00am), all times are Eastern:

Austria vs. Slovenia - winner faces Sweden
3:00am - NBC Sports
Each team won a game in the group stages. Austria beat Norway (so did everyone else). Slovenia beat Slovakia, and gave all their opponents a respectable fight. I think Slovenia wins this one before being crushed by the Swedes in the quarterfinals.

Russia vs. Norway - winner faces Finland
7:00am - NBC Sports
Norway lost all 3 of their games and only scored 3 goals. The Russians were a few bounces from winning their group. Russia wins this game, then I think they'll beat the Finns to advance to the semis against Sweden.

Switzerland vs. Latvia - winner faces Canada
12:00pm - MSNBC
The Swiss should scare everyone in this tournament. They won two games 1-0 in the group stage and lost to Sweden 1-0. They've allowed a single goal, thanks in no small part to goalie Jonas Hiller (who didn't play in the game against Sweden, so he has yet to allow a goal). They should beat Latvia (again), and give Canada a run for their money. I want to be bold/stupid and pick them to beat Canada, but I don't think they'll score more than a goal against the Canadians, which won't be enough

Slovakia vs. Czech Republic - winner faces USA
12:00pm - NBC Sports
Both teams should be disappointed with their group stage performances. Both were in tough groups. But Slovakia shouldn't be losing to Slovenia. The Czechs have 18 NHL players, the Slovaks have 12. Jaroslav Halak might be able to carry his Slovakian teammates, but I can't pick against the Czechs, who have been playing much better hockey in this tournament than their Slovakian rivals.

And of course, Team USA will defeat whoever they face in the quarterfinals.

So this sets up semifinal matchups of Sweden/Russia and Canada/USA, with a Europe vs. North America gold medal game. I think Sweden is playing great, has great scorers,  fantastic speed, and amazing goaltending. I think they beat Russia, the US narrowly beats Canada, and why not pick Team USA to win the gold.

America. Fuck yeah.

Friday, February 14, 2014

So Will There Be Another Lame Yankee Farewell Tour for the Overrated Derek Jeter?

Derek Jeter is a great player, a Hall of Famer. He's due a tremendous amount of credit for being part of an historically great Yankees team. He made big plays in big games, he surpassed 3,000 hits, he'll retire with a career average above .300, and right now his career OBP is an impressive .381.

That being said, I don't want to see another farewell tour of opposing teams sucking his knee caps, like what happened with Mariano Rivera last season.

There's a difference between Rivera and Jeter. Rivera was the best ever at his job. Jeter is not. If Rivera failed in big games, the Yankees lost. If Jeter failed, someone else could step up and hit. And I also don't want to see what happened with Rivera last year, which was somewhat spontaneous, become a required tradition whenever future Hall of Famers announce retirements.

As great as Derek Jeter is, he's still overrated. And more overrated than most great athletes. This is from the New York Daily News:

"In so many ways, there has not been a Yankee who mattered more to the Yankees than Derek Jeter, not since Babe Ruth."

So that means that Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle didn't mean as much as Derek Jeter? Really? Really!?!

The media spent years making Derek Jeter the posterboy of Yankees' success. They gave him the lion's share of the credit for 5 World Series wins. Now they're praising him for being the "face" of the organization, even though they, along with fans, were the ones who made him the face, by centering their attention solely on him

Like I said, Jeter is great. He's just not on that stratospheric level of all-time greatness. He hit 256 homeruns in the most offense friendly era in the game's history. Nomar Garciaparra hit 229 in 5 fewer seasons. He never won an MVP although he came close twice. He never won a batting title. He twice led the league in hits, but never led in any other category except plate appearances and at-bats. He won 5 Gold Gloves and some of them were deserved.

His .312 average is 84th all-time, he's 162nd in OBP, 190th in homeruns, 112th in stolen bases, 430th all-time in slugging (.0003 ahead of Mike Lieberthal), and 263rd in OPS (.0002 ahead of Mike Stanley, .0004 behind Trot Nixon).

I know his greatness wasn't in the numbers. He won the 2000 World Series MVP. He was the Captain of World Series winners (in a sport that the captain has essentially no duties). He once made a play against Oakland. He dove into the stands on Sunday Night Baseball. He hit 20 postseason homeruns, and knocked in 61 postseason RBI. Then again he played in 158 playoff games, and 61 RBI in 158 games isn't amazing. Is it?

Put Jeter in the Hall. He belongs there. Praise him. Even overpraise him. You've all been overpraising him for 19 years, let's do it one more time.

I just don't want any more lovefests. Especially not for Jeter. I don't want the Orioles and Mariners having special presentations for an opposing player. Not again. He's respected and appreciated all over baseball. Everyone knows it. HE knows it. We don't need the White Sox giving him a commemorative cuckoo clock and the Angels giving him a pinstriped breadmaker.

Let the Yankees honor Derek Jeter. Let the media praise him as they've done for two decades. Let the $265 million he'll have earned from baseball serve as his thanks and appreciation.

Photo Credit:
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Boston College Wins Beanpot... Again

Part of me was hoping #11 Northeastern would win their first Beanpot in 26 years. It would be refreshing for someone besides BU or BC to win. At the same time, another part of me wanted to see #1 ranked Boston College continue their streak of sheer dominance. BC hasn't lost since November 29th, a 15 game stretch with 14 wins and 1 tie.

BC came out on top, winning the game 4-1, but it was much closer than the final score suggests. It was 1-1 until 14 and a half minutes into the 3rd, when BC's Patrick Brown deflected a puck past Northeastern goalie Clay Witt. Johnny Gaudreau added an empty-netter, his 25th goal of the season. Gaudreau had an assist on BC's first goal, extending his point-streak to an unbelievable 24 games. Brown scored again with 50 seconds left.

However the goalies were the story of the game. In this tournament of Boston hockey, a goalie from California (BC's Thatcher Demko) outdueled one from Florida (NU's Witt). Although Witt might have had the more impressive performance, stopping 36 shots and giving his underdog Huskies (pun intended) a chance to topple the best team in the country. Demko stopped 29 of 30 shots, improving his record to 11-1-2. Demko, a freshman, is poised to be BC's next great goalie.

There's nobody on the BC roster that knows what it's like to lose a Beanpot game. This is their 5th straight title. Also this season they've won the Three Rivers Classic in Pittsburgh, beat Notre Dame at Fenway Park, and now have three more objectives in sight:

#1: Win Hockey East's regular season title
#2: Win the Hockey East tournament
#3: Win the National Championship

They're well on their way to the first remaining objective. They have a 7-point lead in the standings with 5 games remaining. If BC beats Vermont twice this weekend, they'll clinch the regular season title.

BC hockey is everything that BC basketball and football have tried and failed to be in the last 5 years.

Photo Credit:

Monday, February 10, 2014

Jabari Parker Makes You Say "Wow"

Duke was in town to play Boston College Saturday night, and the Blue Devils brought potential top-5 pick Jabari Parker with them. Parker drew a small army of scouts to Conte Forum, along with Boston Celtics GM Danny Ainge. They did not leave disappointed

He led Duke to an 89-68 shellacking of BC with 29 points and 16 rebounds. Five of his rebounds were on the offensive glass. He had as many total rebounds as BC had defensive rebounds.

What got my attention was how often he made me say "Wow." As if every time he made a play I was surprised. Even as he made similar plays over and over. Every time he did I was just as amazed. This was because he seemed to make these plays so effortlessly.

I'm not saying he wasn't trying. I'm saying he made the game look easy.

He played with smoothness and ease. He didn't have to push his body to make plays, it was as if he was following his body. He wasn't tense. He just flowed. His jumps looked easy, his shots, his drives, his rebounds, his dunks. I'd say he looked almost graceful, until he slammed the ball through the rim or brushed off an opponent.

He played like he was born to do nothing else. He dominated casually, like it was second nature for him to be great.

It's important to note that he was playing against a bad basketball team. A bad team that's also lacking in size. BC is 6-17 and 2-8 in the ACC.

It's also important to note that I have no experience or expertise evaluating college basketball talent then predicting how it will translate to the NBA.

However I do know special athletes when I see them. They make their game look easy. They don't look fast until they run, don't look strong until they use their muscles. And when you see what they're capable of, all you can do is say "Wow." Because even if you've seen it 100 times before, it still amazes you. Like Calvin Johnson or Rob Gronkowski. Like Martin Brodeur or Patrick Roy in their primes. Like Vladimir Guerrero years ago. You're stunned by something you've seen them do before.

That's what Jabari Parker did. He surprised me every time he did something he'd already done before.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo/Stephan Savoia

Friday, February 07, 2014

SportsCenter/DunkCenter Continues to Suck

On Wednesday I ranted about how I hate SportsCenter because it almost completely ignores hockey, and focuses on basketball dunks. Not basketball, and all the great plays made in a basketball game, just the dunks. Unfortunately SportsCenter was more of the same today.

Last night the Boston Bruins played the St. Louis Blues. It was the 2nd best team in the East against the 3rd best in the West. The NHL equivalent of the Heat playing the Trailblazers. There were no highlights on SportsCenter from the Bruins/Blues game. Even though it was a 3-2 overtime game, even though the B's came back from 2 goals down, even though Jarome Iginla almost scored a game-winner in OT but Alex Petrangelo made a great play to stop him from scoring on an open net. Nope, not worthy of a 30 second SportsCenter clip. Not even 15 seconds.

SportsCenter did show highlights from the Capitals/Jets game. Alexander Ovechkin scored his 40th goal of the season. But John Kerry, who dropped the puck before the game, was as equal a part of the brief highlight as Ovi was.

There were also highlights from the Canucks/Canadiens game. Because Max Pacioretty scored a hat-trick despite missing on two penalty shots. But the highlights were in low definition! How does that happen? How can that happen?

And then there were the Top Plays. Ten plays, 9 basketball highlights, 7 dunks, 1 golf shot. There were 2 really good basketball plays. Someone in a college game hit ten 3-pointers. And an LSU player made a very strong block against a Georgia player trying to dunk on him. I found the blocked dunk to be quite cathartic, and it temporarily soothing my anti-dunking rage.

If you're going to focus almost exclusively on basketball highlights, show more than just dunks. Show the big 3-pointers, the blocks, the strong drives, the good defense, the quick moves, the steals. There are a lot of great plays made in basketball games. It's more than just dunks. Showing just the dunks is like a highlight reel of jokes, with just the punchlines.

And don't forget to show the flops, the double flops, and dives. Especially if they lead to foul calls that determine the game. Isn't that an important highlight to show?

Bruins Leave St. Louis with a Point

The Bruins played a better game, but the Blues made better plays. And the B's could have and maybe should have won.

Leaving St. Louis with a point is an achievement. Especially after being down 2-0 in the 3rd period. St. Louis was 17-4-2 against Eastern Conference opponents coming into this game. And the Bruins were without captain Zdeno Chara, who's in Sochi to carry Slovakia's flag for the Olympic opening ceremonies. That's got to be a pretty special moment in the life of an athlete.

Alexander Steen scored the Blues' first goal, and it was legit, and a good demonstration of why he's scored 28 this season. However the Bruins should have been on the power play after Loui Eriksson's teeth were "pushed in" (as Claude Julien described after the game) by a high stick. There was a lot of blood, but no penalty. The Bruins should have been given a 5-on-3 power play for about half a minute (the non-call occurred when the Bruins were already on a power play). Instead play continued and the next stoppage was Steen's goal.

And those are all the blues I'm going to sing about that non-call.

The Bruins showed strong determination throughout the game. That's why they were able to score twice in the 3rd period. They stuck to the way they'd been playing in the 2 prior periods. David Krejci scored his 13th, Brad Marchand his 18th. In his last 25 games, Marchand has scored 14 goals. He scored 4 goals in the first 31 games of the season. I think he's moved on from the loss of Tyler Seguin, on and off the ice.

In overtime Jarome Iginla nearly won the game. He showed a Hall of Fame scorer's patience. He was in the crease with an open net in front of him, Jaroslav Halak on the far post. Iginla had to handle a pass with his skate to settle it, and showed great instincts by not kicking it in. He knew he had plenty of time to receive the pass, settle the puck, and tap it in with the blade of his stick, and that Halak didn't have enough time to move from post to post to stop him. However, defenseman Alex Pietrangelo had enough time to skate over and extend the blade of his stick between the puck and the net, and broke the play up. Give credit to Pietrangelo for the game-saving play.

That play didn't make SportsCenter. None of the plays did because this game wasn't good enough for SportsCenter.

One more game until the Olympic break. The Senators play the B's Saturday afternoon at the Garden. The B's will go into the break with a nice lead in the division, the second best record in the conference, and a near win against the third best team in the West. Not bad. Most of the roster will rest, Chara (Slovakia), Krejci (Czech Republic), Rask (Finland), Bergeron (Canada), Eriksson (Sweden), and Julien (Canada) will work. That means key players like Lucic, Iginla, Marchand, and Boychuk can recharge their batteries for the stretch run.

Photo Credit:
Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

I Hate SportsCenter a.k.a. DunkCenter This Time of Year

I get it. NBA and NCAA basketball is significantly more popular nationwide than the NHL. And ESPN broadcasts pro and college hoops. So I'm not expecting hockey to get top billing, or second billing or third billing on SportsCenter. It would be nice to see hockey get some billing. It is, after all, a sport. And ESPN calls their flagship show SportsCenter. Sadly I don't expect SportsCenter to cover the NHL. Nevertheless I'm still disappointed that they essentially don't. And angry.

Before I rant on, no I didn't get any sleep last night, so I'm extra irritable and paranoid. And no I don't have anything better to do today than wait for snow to fall so I can clear it out of my driveway. So I watched SportsCenter and took notes.

On Tuesday night there were 9 NHL games. SportsCenter Wednesday morning showed highlights from 2 of them. There were 4 NBA games, SportsCenter showed highlights from all 4. There were 7 NCAA basketball games involving Top 25 teams, SportsCenter showed clips from 6. That's 10 basketball highlights compared to 2 hockey. And 9 of those basketball highlights came before any NHL coverage.

And what pisses me off is how repetitive and uninteresting basketball highlights are. Why are they in such relatively high demand? It baffles me. It's 80% dunks. And most of those dunks are uncontested. Dunks on the break. SportsCenter even flashed back to a high school dunking contest before showing highlights of a college game. Just to show that a certain player could dunk in high school, and his dunking continued as a Florida Gator, and with only marginally more defensive obstacles in his way.

That's what you hoop heads want to see? Tall men with long arms dropping a ball into an unguarded hole? That not only passes for entertainment, you'd rather see 10 sets of dunk heavy basketball highlights with only 2 hockey highlights? I feel kind of bad for you if you're mesmerized so easily.

There were 18 minutes of basketball highlights compared to 3 minutes of hockey highlights.

There were highlights of Duke beating Wake Forest by 20. What a nail-biter.

There was a story about the ranking of college players for the NBA Draft. That's right around the corner, isn't it? Only a few days away on June 26th.

Hockey wasn't even mentioned until Jeremy Schaap's piece on potential terrorism at the Winter Olympics, 30 minutes into the broadcast. Because who else would turn to for analysis of geopolitical friction and global terrorism?

Then there were 2 NHL games highlighted. The Rangers playing the Avalanche, and the Senators playing the Blues.

No mention of Roberto Luongo playing his first game in Boston since the 2011 Cup Finals. That wasn't nearly as important as UConn's women's basketball team crushing SMU. That brief highlight also came before hockey.

Then we get to the Top Plays, a reel of dunk highlights featuring the best dunks you've already seen in the show. Because dunks are so amazing, unique, unexpected, difficult, fun, funny, exciting, exhilarating, and most of all special. Slam dunks are special.

Eight of the Top Plays were from basketball games. One was from hockey, one from soccer. Five of the basketball plays were dunks. Most of those were uncontested, players driving through an open lane or on a break.

So of all the plays in 9 NHL games Tuesday night, only one (a save by Capitals goalie Michael Neuvirth) was on the same level as uncontested dunkage. Really? All the goals, the saves, the hits, only one of them was on par with tall men who cannot be touched on their way to the net, jumping in the air with a ball, and putting it in a hole.

That's evidently what you want, America. You can have it. Just like you can have crappy musicians that sing off key, politicians who lie to your face as you vote for them, you can watch all the amazing dunks you want.

Monday, February 03, 2014

What the Patriots (and Their Fans) Can Learn from the Super Bowl

For two weeks, Patriots fans have been comparing the Pats with the Broncos, and trying to imagine ways that the Patriots could be more like the Broncos. These people saw the Denver Broncos as a team with a high-flying offense, a full arsenal of receiving weapons, and therefore the team most likely to win the Super Bowl and the team the Patriots should try to emulate. Except the Broncos didn't win a Super Bowl. The Seahawks crushed them 43-8.

The Broncos didn't lose because of their offensive talent. They lost because they didn't execute and Seattle did. And Seattle also had more playmakers on defense, particularly rushing the passer.

A record-breaking offense beaten by a pass rush. Remind you of any other recent Super Bowls?

The Seahawks were the best team in the NFL and always were. Denver had the most spectacular offensive talent, but Seattle was strong on both sides of the ball. They didn't have All-Pro receivers, but their WRs were all talented (unlike the Patriots). They had a good QB, solid lines, decent WRs, an excellent running game, an elite defensive secondary that read plays incredibly well, and edge pass rushers who could pressure the opposing quarterback.

Patriots fans have been pining for their team to acquire Pro Bowl caliber receivers. And while that would be fantastic, maybe the Pats should try to build a team more like the Seahawks as opposed to the Broncos. We've gone down the 'Offense First' road in New England, and it didn't work. Maybe it's time to try a new approach.

By that I mean balance. More specifically, I mean a pass rush on defense balanced with the offensive passing game. Peyton Manning's poor throws and interceptions Sunday night were all a result of pressure. Pressure did more than just sack Manning. Manning was only sacked once (and he fumbled). Seattle pressured him on 3rd downs and forced mistakes: Incompletions, short completions, interceptions. The biggest plays of the game were caused by Seattle pressuring Manning.

I think it's more feasible to pressure one quarterback than it is to cover 4 receivers.

The Patriots must improve their WR corps. As I mentioned in parenthesis above, the Seahawks didn't have All-Pro WRs, but they did possess talent. Tate, Baldwin, Kearse, they're all more talented than Thompkins, and probably Dobson. All of them would have had jobs with the 2013 Patriots. And those Seattle WRs can thrive in different areas of the field, unlike the one-dimensional receivers the Patriots feature. However the Pats don't need to break the bank acquiring WRs to do well. I'd prefer a receiver big in height/weight as opposed to a big name receiver.

And to beat the other good QBs out there, like Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck, and Russell Wilson; the Pats need smart DBs and a consistent pass rush. Limit the chances the opponent has to make plays and give your defense more opportunities to make them.

You could say that the Patriots, through injury and criminal activity, were limited in offensive playmaking. And look how important those limitations were in the playoffs. Acquire some DBs with awareness and outside pass rushers with strength and speed, and the Patriots can take away opposing playmakers just like injury and arrest took out the 2013 Patriots' playmakers.

So acquire WRs, but don't go nuts. Make sure to address the defensive backfield and pass rush. They'll help you find multiple ways to win. And pressure your opponent to find ways to lose.

Sunday, February 02, 2014

Super Bowl Drinking Game: Broncos-Seahawks Edition

Another football season comes to a close with an orgy of alcohol, complex carbohydrates, corn syrup, and Buffalo sauce. The hometown Patriots aren't involved, which means you can enjoy the commercials and the drinks without enduring the tension and anxiety. Here's a drinking game to play during the Super Bowl.

Anytime a commentator says...
"Super" = take 1 drink from a beer
"Peyton" = 1 drink
"Eli" = drink from a beer for 10 seconds
"Manning" = 1 drink
"Legacy" = 1 drink
"History" = 1 drink
"Career" = 1 drink
"Record book(s)" = 1 drink
"The game" = 1 drink
"Weapons" = 1 drink
"Thomas" = 1 drink
"Colts" = 1 drink
"12th man" = drink for 12 seconds
"Wilson" = 1 drink
Something about Wilson running the ball = 1 drink
"Media day" = 1 drink
"Sherman" = 1 drink
"Thug" = drink all the alcohol in the house/apartment/bar (unless the word is used mentioning that other people were saying it, because the commentators will avoid this word like a plague)
"Carroll" = 1 drink
"USC" = 1 drink
"LOB" = 1 drink
Anything about the weather = 1 drink the first time, 2 the second, 3 the third, and so on
-Compile a list of weather terms (such as wind, chance of, cloudy, balmy, brisk) and arrange them in randomly patterned boxes. Cross out each one as commentators use them and drink for 6 seconds. The person who first gets a line (up, down, or diagonal), wins free beer

Anytime this is on screen...
Roman numerals = drink beer for a number of seconds equal to the numerals (this includes logos painted on the field)
John Elway = drink for 7 seconds
Eli Manning = drink for 10 seconds
Seattle fan and the number 12 = drink for 12 seconds
Tim Tebow = take a shot, drink for 15 seconds, say a prayer
New York City = 1 drink
People waiting for a shuttle bus to take them to NYC = 1 drink
Unnecessary computer generated graphics or robot football players = 1 drink
Fox promotes a show coming on after the game = 1 drink
Pete Carroll chewing gum = 1 drink
Carroll urging his players on = 1 drink per urging
Carroll clapping = 1 drink per clap
Richard Sherman talking = 1 drink
Erin Andrews = drink for 5 seconds then yell at her about Michael Crabtree for 10 seconds
Marshawn Lynch disguising himself during Media Day = 1 drink
People in Seattle/Denver bars watching the game = 1 shot and 1 drink
Highlights from a previous Super Bowl = drink during the entire highlight
Highlights from previous playoff games = drink during the entire highlight
Peyton Manning makes a Manning face = drink a shot, and permission to vomit is granted
Any other Manning makes a Manning face = drink 2 shots, permission to vomit granted

Anytime this happens...
Someone doesn't know their Roman numerals = that person must drink a VI pack of beer
Peyton says the name of a city (including "Denver" in interviews) = 1 drink
Peyton yells "Omaha" = an additional drink
Peyton yells the name of a state = 2 drinks
Peyton yells the name of a province/region = 4 drinks
Peyton yells the name of a country = half a beer
-Compile a list of states and major cities (Omaha, Alabama, Tennessee, Detroit) and arrange them in randomly patterned boxes, cross out each one as Manning mentions them in cadences and take a shot. The person who first gets a line (up, down, or diagonal), wins an 18 pack of Bud Light
Peyton mentions beer = drink an entire Bud Light
Peyton seems to change the play = 1 drink
Commentators praise Manning's play-calling = 1 drink
You want to use the DVR to see a play again but someone else wants to see commercials = 1 drink
Someone mentions Super Bowl squares they've wagered on = 1 drink
Someone scrambles madly to the bathroom = 1 drink
You wait in line for the bathroom at halftime = drink the entire time standing in line
Someone mentions the Patriots should have kept Wes Welker = throw unopened beer (cans only) at him, then shotgun said beer

Anytime in a commercial...
You've already seen the commercial before = 1 drink (this will happen more often than usual)
The cuteness of animals is used = 1 drink
A car company doesn't even try to be funny = 1 drink
A celebrity endorser hawks a product = 1 drink
A celebrity endorser that would probably never use the product is shown using it = 1 drink
Beer or junk food is advertised = 1 drink and 12 Doritos
Beer is advertised and you're drinking the brand = finish the beer
A TV show or movie is advertised = 1 drink
You regret going to the bathroom and missing a commercial = finish your beer
You found a commercial completely uninteresting = 1 drink and get beers for everyone else
Someone asks a question about the rules of football = 1 drink
You feel hungry and don't eat = finish your beer

Enjoy the game folks. And enjoy the taxi/ambulance ride home.