Thursday, September 30, 2010

So I Will Pave This Road Till Glory Sets Our Broken Spirit Free

Photo by the awesome Linda Hamilton

My hockey social season continued this Tuesday with Ice Fest being hosted at the St. Pete Times Forum. It was my first time in the building in months, the last time was for an arena football game so the setting was definitely different. Ice down instead of astro turf. The building has undergone almost as much of an overhaul as the team itself. The arena has been painted, the floors on the concourses are in the process of being redone, the locker room has been renovated and decorated to go along with Guy Boucher's cerebral coaching approach. It's almost like the building itself had to be purged of the previous regime. A fresh start in pretty much every way.

The first thing I noticed was the new glass and boards system. The panes of glass are much wider with fewer dividers between them leaving a much less obstructed view of the ice. It's kind of almost like being in a hockey aquarium. The boards seem much more substantial. One thing I don't like is that the glass doesn't have the same give as it used to. When you used to pound on the glass after a goal or someone was checked face first right in front of you, the glass moved. I'm sure it will all be for the best. They probably learned their lesson after Kurtis Foster's slapshot broke so many panes last season.

Another thing that was really cool was how many past players were brought in to participate in a charity game to benefit the families of two Tampa PD officers who were killed recently. Guys like Dave Andreychuk, Brian Bradley, and Chris Dingman who are very involved with the franchise. But they also brought in guys like Stan Neckar, Darren Puppa, Enrico Ciccone, and John Tucker. The Lightning are still a relatively young franchise, especially compared to the Original Six teams which have been around for over 100 years. The Lightning aren't even 20 yet. An acknowledgment of the past is one of the things that create... and I hate to use the word since it is used so often in connection with the Yankees... but it helps create mystique. Remembering and honoring the past can be a great way to set goals for the future. In the case of the Lightning, it can also serve as a reminder of how far they have come. And how far they need to climb out of the hole OK hockey left them in.

The only home preseason game is set for this Saturday. I'll get a first hand view of the new players in a real game scenario. I am ridiculously excited. Not just because hockey season means I get out of the house more. The building is electric with possibility. This year has the potential to be huge. To prove to the league that a once proud and successful team can be again. With Steve Yzerman as my witness, we'll never be called a circus again.

Monday, September 27, 2010

If You Want To Destroy My Sweater

This entry is going to be about commitment. It's about loyalty and big decisions. This all came about when I realized it was finally time for me to invest in a new hockey jersey. The one I have worn for the last six years is pre- new Lightning logo. It's pre- Reebok dry fit aerodynamics. It's got Andre Roy's name and number on it. And he hasn't played for the Lightning since 2008. It was my first personalized jersey and I had a three year adventure getting it signed. I have a lot invested in that piece of fabric. It isn't signed by a superstar, but it is priceless to me. But the time has come for a new one.

This train of thought led me to a certain process of elimination as to whose name and number will go on the new one. Everyone who knows me knows I love the hockey players who drop the gloves and fight. Hence the Roy jersey. It's also a fact of the game that enforcers tend to be journeymen throughout their careers. Andre Roy did two stints with the Lightning with a fair amount of time in between, so career longevity is definitely something to consider when selecting a player for your new sweater. As much as I love enforcers, jerseys have gottn so expensive the only way I'll get a goon on my back is if I win one for free. Longevity is a big factor in my decision.

Another factor is the numbers themselves. Towards the end of last season, I toyed with getting a Ryan Malone #12 jersey. This summer, the Bolts brought in Simon Gagne from Philly. Gagne has worn #12 throughout his career as well. It turns out that Malone gave Gagne the number and will now be playing while wearing #6. A friend of mine won a Malone jersey at the silent auction table late last season and now she's pissed. Understandable so.

Choosing a new personalize jersey is a big deal. You want to get as much use out of it as possible. Even after you get it signed and reverently wash it in the bathtub with Woolite to protect the autograph. I have been thinking long and hard about my new jersey. And why not? It's almost like entering a new relationship. My Andre Roy jersey may be headed to the back of the closet, but it will always have a place in my heart. My future Victor Hedman jersey? Can't wait for our first date.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Future's Uncertain & The End is Always Near

The Sox are not going gentle into that good night. And really, what more can I ask for?

I have resigned myself to the fact that they aren't making the post season about a million times over the last few weeks only to have something happen that proves they still have a chance. A tiny, marginal chance. But a chance. I've made my peace with this season, anything that happens now is gravy.

Dice-K is on the mound tonight, hopefully he can stay steady and the bats continue to come alive. The pitching match ups have definitely favored the Sox. All we can hope for is for the Yankees decision to stay healthy instead of actively going after the division crown will come back to bite them in the ass.

And now for added mojo, the preview to ESPN's 30 for 30 movie "Four Days in October". Chills.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

'Cause every hand's a winner & every hand's a loser

Photo by Getty Images

Being the obstinate and slightly insane Red Sox fan that I am, it actually took me until tonight's victory against the Orioles to make my peace with the 2010 baseball season. This entry's inspiration came as I was watching the opening innings of the game and some lyrics drifted through my mind. "You've got to know when to hold them, know when to fold them." Yup. The Gambler. Unlikely inspiration for a fan of punk rock, but I went with it.

The season is over for all intensive purposes. No October baseball beyond the final home series against the Yankees. And I'm.. well not ok with it per say. I have just reached the acceptance phase of my grieving. I still plan on watching the remaining games. Not for masochistic reasons. I still love baseball. I still love the Sox and there are always reasons to keep on watching and rooting.

1) David Ortiz. Big Papis resurgence just keeps on going. 30+ homeruns this season and the man still creates magic when he steps into the batter's box.

2) Mike Lowell. I want to see Senor Doubles go out in a blaze of glory. He hasn't been healthy enough to be an everyday p[layer but he was dealt a difficult hand this season. He has come through with unbelievable class. I am so very glad he will retire in a Red Sox uniform.

3) Jon Lester & Clay Buchholz. The two most consistent of the starting rotation. These guys have been dealing and I only see them getting better.

4) Ryan Kalish, Daniel Nava, Darnell Mcdonald, Josh Reddick. The boys from Pawtucket have gone above and beyond for us this year.

5. J.D. Drew. He has more than his share of haters, but I never get tired of his gorgeous swing or the seemingly effortless skill with which he plays right field. Not loud. Not flashy. But never tiring.

You've got to know when to walk away & know when to run, but I'll stick out these last 9 games. There is still plenty to see. And there are still six opportunities to make life miserable for the Yankees.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Best Game You Can Name

Photo by the fantastic Linda Hamilton

Fall is coming. The candy corn and Halloween decorations are coming out in the stores which is kind of like Florida's version of a chill to the night air or the leaves changing color. It's difficult to get too excited about a change in seasons when it's still in the 90s outside. The one thing about fall that is really exciting is the return of hockey. 90 degree weather be damned, I spent the weekend bundled up in a sweatshirt and scarf at a rink to get my first glimpses of the 2010-2011 Tampa Bay Lightning.

Training camp is one of the few things that will make me voluntarily get up at 7 am on the weekend. I was so excited to get to the rink, I actually woke up before my alarm went off. The Lightning have a lot of questions swirling around them going into the new season, especially since there are so many new factors. New owner, new GM, new coach, new system. It's been a summer filled with a string of news stories, so it was great to see some of the off season work come to life. I was interested in seeing a few things going into camp. 1) How would Dan Ellis look in goal? He has a solid history in his time with Nashville. Would his friendship with Mike Smith act as healthy competition that would motivate both of them? 2)What will Guy Boucher's "system" look like? and 3) Will I fangirl over Steve Yzerman again?

I got some of my answers, and I am still intrigued. First things first, the goalies. Their performance during Sunday's scrimmage stood out to me above the speed of the skaters and the hard hits along the boards. Wow. Ellis and Smith just seemed to be trading one great save after another. It was incredible to watch. The goaltending position has been an enigma for Tampa for years. Hopefully Ellis is the key to solidifying the tandem we have and motivating Smith. Smitty has had flashes of brilliance in the past, but injuries and his tendency to lose his confidence after a goal or two has been really detrimental. I am very interested to see how this plays out.

As for Boucher's system well.. it was... I'm trying to find the words to describe it. It's just difficult because the system he is teaching is almost completely unlike anything currently being used in the league. The only coach who currently even uses a similar system sometimes is Marc Crawford in Dallas. If he can pull it off, it could be something great that really sets the team apart from just about everyone else in the league. If if doesn't work? Well. It could have epic fail written all over it. I am very excited to see what happens because the system seems to heavily favor an aggressive forecheck combined with defensemen going up in a more offense minded capacity. Boucher's approach seems very cerebral. Very intense. I mean, the guy has a Masters in Sports Psychology. This could be a whole new approach when it comes to coaching and I am intrigued. And confused. All at the same time.

I wanted to end this update on a happy story, but the news broke that goalie Mike Smith suffered a slightly fractured finger during training camp today. He's only expected to miss a week, but we really don't need any more questions in net right now. So.. I'll leave it at that and end with another video.

Check out this nice build up to Simon Gagne's first goal in a Lightning sweater:

I think you can hear me cheering on the video, actually.

Friday, September 17, 2010

"Some say life is a struggle. It's a game, just gotta know the rules."

Derek Jeter scandal! There is no way I can have a totally unbiased view on the HBP incident in the Yankees/Rays game a few nights ago. However, I always watch the Academy Awards and expect for him to be nominated for best supporting actor for such a convincing performance.

The uproar seems to be due to the fact that Jeter is one of the faces of the league and My God, what will this teach the children? From what I can tell, kids will get two lessons from this. Yankee kids will see it as Captain Intangibles doing anything to get on base and do something to spark the team. All the other kids have better parents who are raising them to hate the Yankees and would have hated them no matter what. You never actual hear from the impressionable kids are so affected by incidents like this. It's the adults who are outraged and I think I've figured out why.

As adults, we know that the world isn't fair. We know that people cheat. Whether it's performance enhancing drugs, a phantom tag, or embellishing a hit to draw a penalty. We see this all the time. Adults take athletes breaking the rules so hard because when it comes to our sports, we are often very childlike in our devotion. We maintain the naive wonder we had when we were 7 and went to our first game. Our inner children want to believe that athletes are somehow better than us. In fact, they are just as painfully human as we are. Except maybe for A-Rod.

Questionable calls will be made. Sports are played and officiated by humans so a certain level of imperfection is to be expected. Besides, if everyone did exactly what they were supposed to and no one ever made a mistake or toed the line of villainy what on earth would we talk about? Deter Jeter not being ht by that pitch. Brett Hull's foot in the crease. Two different sports on two different surfaces but the lesson is the same. Shit happens. We don't always get what we want. Keep watching, keep cheering. There will always be more games.

But screw the Yankees. I hate those guys.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Sympathy for the Devil(s)

I hate the New Jersey Devils. Hate is an ugly word, I get that. But I hate the Devils. I hated them for pioneering the use of the defensive “trap” system and using it so successfully that it led do numerous Stanley Cup titles in the 90s and in the first decade of the 21st century. I have had a burning hatred for them in the pit of my stomach ever since they eliminated the Lightning from the playoffs in 2003. I hate that Martin Brodeur is the best goalie in the game today and he's not on my team. I HATE them.

Why do I go into such detail about why I hate them? I want my opinion on that franchise to be perfectly clear when I say what I am about to say. I think the league went a bit overboard in punishing them for the Ilya Kovalchuk contract debacle. The Devils finally worked out a 15 year, $100 million dollar deal that the league found more acceptable. The NHLPA agreed on an amendment to the Colletive Bargaining Agreement to prevent contracts like this from cropping up again. You think that would put the issue to rest right?

Wrong. The maximum fines that could be levied against the Devils were applied, aka $3 million. The Devils also lose their third round draft pick in the 2011 draft as well as a first round choice any time in the next four years. Personally, I think it's hypocritical.

The league took exception to Kovalchuk's contract. But what about Roberto Luongo in Vancouver or Marian Hossa in Chicago? All these other long term deals that are extremely front loaded when it comes to how much of that salary will be paid out. Marian Hossa will make $55.3 million in the first seven years of his contract and 8 million in the remaining five. Luongo will be under contract until he is 43 years old making over $56 million in the first eight years of his contract, $7 million in the last four. The Blackhawks and Canucks aren't being fined. They aren't losing draft picks.

The Devils are being punished for pushing the limits of these insanely priced, long term contracts to the point where the league can't turn the other way. They couldn't look the other way because it was just THAT ridiculous. The League let it get to that point. They made their bed after the lockout, they should have to deal with it. They should have just let the arbitrator make the decision and leave it at that. Instead, Kovy-gate was rehashed and the league got more negative press. But you know Bettman thinks they came out on top in this one.

In happier news, here is Alex Ovechkin in a commercial with Donovan McNabb:

Saturday, September 11, 2010

In Memory Of

As long as I live, I will never forget everything that happened to me on September 11th, 2001. New York City is like a second home to me. My parents both grew up there and most of my extended family is there. Even to this day, nine years after the fact, the landscape and memories of it's people are still scarred. I'm not going to make a political rant about the prior administration's actions because that's not what today should be for. It should be for remembering, and mourning, and it should be for those who survived and those who did not. It should be for the family members left behind and the children who won't know their parents. It should be for the parents who had to bury their children, either in whole, part, or in empty coffins. It should be sacred. And I will leave it as such.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Stay Sane Inside Insanity

For people who don't follow baseball, it's difficult to explain exactly what it is to be a Red Sox fan. Some people have a hard time understanding why I follow them so passionately, especially when my family is from New York City and I have spent most of my life in Florida. That is a story that would take up a lot of time and energy at the end of a long work day, so I'll leave it at this. For me, true Red Sox fandom can be summed up with two words: hope & irrationality.

Case in point: the series that just wrapped up with the Rays. Game one the Sox came out like vikings razing a village and leaving it in ash. Game two, the Sox got absolutely smacked down. After that game, I pretty much wanted to be over the season. Just write them off and move on to hockey and college football. But then...

That's how their story has gone so far in the 20th century in a microcosm. Gut wrenching disappointment and unbelievable triumph above all expectations. It might sound cheesy, but I'm grateful for the irrationality that comes with my Red Sox fandom. We might be insanely obsessed with a pretty simple game, but it has helped me to learn a valuable lesson. In life and in sports, there is always tomorrow. There is always next year.

The Sox still have a shot. At least from my biased standpoint they do. A long show what with all the injuries, pitching inconsistency, & minor leaguers paroling the outfield. They might make it to the post season and they might not. But, I'm hopeful. Hopeful that the next could be the one that turns things around. Hopeful for the future of my team with the depth and talent that has been brought up from the farm system. I mean, if Tim Wakefield can make a start he probably wasn't supposed to make and become the oldest winning pitcher in franchise history... anything is possible, right?

Side note, the aforementioned Tim Wakefield is the Red Sox player nominated for this year's Roberto Clemente award. The award recognizes players who give back to the community and demonstrate the importance of helping others. In other words, he's a good guy. Go here to vote for him: