Friday, October 29, 2010

30 days and nights of literary abandon

If I'm not around much for the month of November... that is why. National Novel Writing Month.

30 days, 50,000 words. I have wanted to do this for a long time, but I am really excited.

More info here:

I'll definitely keep you updated on my progress and hopefully have a finished product at the end of the month.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

And I know I'm Indestructible Tonight.

Photo by: AP Photos. Used without permission.

The Lightning are tied for the best record in the Eastern Conference. No, I’m not hallucinating. This isn’t what I planned on talking about in my next entry at all. I had even started writing an update about how Sidney Crosby is bad for the NHL. My venom for him might have to be reserved for closer to this year’s Winter Classic. Don’t worry, Crosby lovers. Ovechkin doesn’t get off scot-free either.

The build up to last night’s game was pretty epic for such an early season match up. The media lens was focused in on the Bolts with the Pittsburgh Penguins coming to town. Pittsburgh ’s Sidney Crosby and Tampa ’s Steven Stamkos tied for the league’s goal scoring title and shared the Maurice “Rocket” Richard trophy for that feat at this year’s NHL awards. Everyone was buzzing about the match up, asking if this would be the year that Stamkos became one of the league’s elite players. I think he is already, but my bias is showing since I get to see him play 7 months a year. The game was also being billed as the first real test for the Lightning and their coach. Guy Boucher has pioneered a brand new style this season and is definitely being viewed with curiosity. He is the youngest head coach in the league, has not coached at this level before, and is doing something no one else is doing. The Penguins have been to the Stanley Cup finals twice in the last three years. Playing them is definitely a good benchmark of where your team is between the penthouse and the basement so to speak. This win is huge.

The West Coast road trip over the next week will be a big test. The Western teams always play a very hard hitting, physical style. One of my biggest worries going into this season is the lack of a physical presence on the bench. Other than Steve Downie, who is willing to drop the gloves? It might not be part of the new system, but it is definitely something other teams will take advantage of. I am interested to see who steps up.

Also? Marty St. Louis is still a bad ass. At the end of the game, he carried the team to victory on his small but muscular shoulders. I know this might upset some people but... he should be the one with the C on his sweater.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Protection is what you're here for. Protection--it's the stars who score.

We all have those players that come along and have big personalities or so so much for the team that you can overlook some short comings in their game because you can tell they love it so damn much. I have had a number of these guys in both hockey and baseball. Kevin Millar. Andre Roy. Zenon Konopka. They aren't the highest paid guys on the roster. They aren't the most talented. But they give everything that they have and the fans love them for it.

That's one reason I was very disappointed in my fellow Lightning fans this past Thursday in the game against the New York Islanders. Former Bolt and fan favorite Zenon Konopka was back in Tampa for the first time since his trade in the off season. Now, the soft spot in my heart for the guys who are willing to drop the gloves and fight is well documented. Konopka was definitely our primary fighter for a while. He had a big personality, the nicest guy you could meet off the ice, and hey. He's part Polish just like me. Pirogi connection was definitely present. I loved the guy. He was one of the players I knew I would follow for the rest of his career because he made that big of an impression on me in the time he was in Tampa.

For the baseball fans that follow me, signs are a big deal in hockey. Especially during warm up skate. About half an hour before the game starts, the players come out for about 15 minutes to skate, take shots at the net, stretch, and get the goalies warmed up. People make signs and put them on the glass, the players read them. In a sport where there are giant panes of glass between you and the playing field it is some small means of communication with them. Or with the hockey world at large: see my "Place Brian Lawton on Waivers" sign made for the ex GM. When former Lightning players come to town, I will sometimes make a sign and go over to the opposition's side of the ice for warm up.

This Thursday I was the only Lightning fan who came out for Z. It was simple. A small piece of poster board that read "We miss you Z". A small means of communicating that I remember what he did for the team. I remember the nights when his hands were so swollen from fighting, but he would still do what he had to do to spark his teammates. I remember his winning 60% of the face offs he took. I remember the big hits and the role he played in the lockerroom for his teammates in a time when things were bad for the franchise. I remember and will remember for the rest of the time he is in the NHL.

I got several smiles and a wink from Konopka for my sign. I don't expect a puck or any more of a reaction. I am glad I was there to let him know he was and is appreciated for what he did. Wearing a different sweater won't change that.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

All In Tonight

Photo by Me

I am going to take a break from planning the “thank you Bengie Molina” parade through downtown Tampa to get back to hockey for a moment. I missed the Lightning’s home opener due to being out of town for a friend’s wedding, so my first regular season look at the new system took place during Monday night’s game against the Dallas Stars. Brad Richards was back in town with the Stars as well. It got me thinking about the trade that sent him to Dallas and the glory days of 2004. Is it coincidence that I start getting extra philosophical about these types of things the more Labatts I drink?

The new playing system being used by the Bolts has some huge upsides. It’s fast, creative, and it forces the opposition to be the ones to react. It can lead to a ton of scoring chances as evidenced by the fact that the Lightning are one of the top teams in the shots on goal count in this young season. They were one of the worst in the league last season in scoring chances, so that is definitely an improvement. You get more chances, you get more goals. It’s just a law of the universe. The biggest downsides I am seeing with the system so far is that the Lightning seem to be more tentative with the puck when they are leading a game. When they are leading, they should be extra aggressive so no one backs off and allows the other team a chance to creep back in, like Dallas almost did. There is a big upside when it's played well. When it's not? Well, we get what happened in the loss to the Panthers.

It's exciting though. And fun to watch. Really fun. It's been a long time since Lightning hockey has been this enjoyable. I don't know if it's the novelty of a new season, but I am enjoying it all so much.

The Islanders are in town tomorrow night to play the Bolts and I'll be there. It will be interesting to see if anyone squares off against former Bolt Zenon Konopka. Man I'm glad hockey is back.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Prairie Sky is Wide and High

To paraphrase Bill Janovitz, we're all Texans tonight.


More later on the hockey side of things.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Whoops. My Bad.

Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images. Used without permission.

I KNEW IT! I knew as soon as I mentioned the winning streak, it would come to a screeching halt. And boy, did it. The Bolts lost to the Panthers 6-0. Dan Ellis was pulled before the first period was even over.

I kept having this scene from the immortal hockey classic Slapshot run through my head:

Oh well. You can't win them all and there is another game on Monday. And I am pretty sure Coach Boucher made them do Herbies till they puked for not following the system.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Everybody smash up your seats and rock to this brand new beat

(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

I am going to take a break from laughing at the Yankees being down 5-0 in the bottom of the fifth inning against the Rangers and head over to the Lightning. It took a lot of time for me to start writing about my hockey team because... well. They have kind of shocked me into silence.

The Tampa Bay Lightning are 3-0 on the season so far. I had to write it out to remind myself that it is actually happening. My brain keeps telling me not to get too excited. That it's extremely early in the season and in a league where any team can win on any night, there are way too many variables to tell where a team is going to end up just by viewing the first few games. I mean, in 2007-2008 the Lightning won their first three games. Then spiraled to the worst record in the league from there. Not to focus on the rough times in the last few years, but this hot start has me thinking of another team in recent memory. Namely the 2004 team that won six straight to start the season and went on to win the Stanley Cup.

I need to calm down. I'm getting way too ahead of myself. It's only been three games. But two of those were victories against Montreal and Philadelphia who both went deep into the postseason a few months ago. I think maybe I am getting so excited because there has been very little TO be excited about when it comes to Lightning hockey in the last few years. I am still bitter that the lockout robbed them of retaining almost the entire championship team the following season, only to have most of the players jettisoned to reconfigure under the new salary cap system. I am pissed at what OK hockey did to the franchise, the building, and the fans. Now? With good ownership, a hockey legend as GM, a phenom coach with a brilliant new system, and talent stacked on every line? I'm like a starving woman being handed a giant steak.

Of course, the ol' sports paranoia kicks in. I didn't want to go into great length about the winning streak because as soon as I acknowledged it, it would stop. If the Bolts do lose tomorrow, well. We'll call it a mulligan. But for now? It's unbelievable. I am going to love watching this team this year. And Steven Stamkos is going to be the sole winner of the Rocket Richard trophy by the end of it. Mark my words.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Here we are, Born to be kings

Photo by: Boston Globe

I am definitely late in giving my final thoughts on the 2010 Red Sox. The more I think about what I want to talk about, the more I realize that there isn't much more for me to say. Especially since the post season has already begun. As amazingly as the kids from Pawtucket did, we're not in the post season. No matter how you paint it, it sucks. So. 129 days until pitchers and catchers report.

The end of baseball was prolonged a little bit with ESPN’s 30 for 30 “Four Days in October” airing this Tuesday. It might sound silly, but watching the 2004 Sox come back from the dead in the ALCS helped me to put this season in perspective. It also really, really made me miss the 25 guys on that team. Even Johnny Damon. You know, before he died. It also helped refresh my memory with things that I had forgotten or just miss.

1) I love and miss Billy Mueller. He always seemed like he would be the guy packing bag lunches for his teammates before they went on a long road trip.

2) After the incident with A-Rod slapping the ball out of Bronson Arroyo's glove, I forgot how ugly things got in Yankee stadium. I forgot about the riot police and the fans throwing everything that wasn’t bolted down onto the field. As history has proven, the umps made the right call.

3) Nelson!

4) David Ortiz was. Well. There is no other way to describe it. It was MAGIC at the plate. Game after game, he came through with miracles exactly when they needed them. He had more magic than Harry Potter. Pretty sure he could have defeated Voldemort in way less than 7 books.

5) Didn't forget this, but it was one of my favorite moments of the ALCS. Bellhorn's point to the dugout when rounding the bases after his home run rang off the foul pole.

Between Ken Burns' Tenth Inning and Four Days in October, my mind has been swimming with the 2004 post season. It makes the fact that there is no fall baseball this year a little bittersweet. But it also makes me insanely happy. 2004 showed that a team can come back from the dead and make the impossible happen. And if they can do that? Well, next year should certainly be interesting.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

And In The End...

Photo from Reuters Pictures

"It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone. You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops. Today, October 2, a Sunday of rain and broken branches and leaf-clogged drains and slick streets, it stopped, and summer was gone." - Bart Giamatti

The above quote is entirely true. Just change the date to October 3rd. It was a very emotional weekend when it came to baseball. I cried for Mike Lowell's last game. His curtain call. The Thank you Mike ceremony. Johnny Pesky's 91st birthday. Tek's last at bat. Tek being taken out of the game and the crowd giving him an ovation.

I have plans to eulogize the season at greater length, but not tonight. Tonight? I just want to say thank you to the Red Sox. I am so proud of you.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Thanks, Mike.

Because so many have already said what I want to say better and with more articulation. All I really wanted to to is say thank you.