Monday, November 29, 2010

Oh, You Didn't Know?

I stopped by the mailboxes on my way home today and I was thrilled to see the latest issue of the Hockey News waiting for me. I am going on a little vacation to Boston this coming weekend and have saved up three issues to take on the plane with me. I was happy enough to see a new issue of the magazine, but then I pulled it out and saw someone very familiar on the cover. Steven Stamkos. Being dubbed the the NHL's best new player.

It's very refreshing to have such a widespread, respected publication singing the praises of a player in such a non traditional hockey market as Tampa. Either he is just too good to ignore, or the hockey journalists are finally coming around to the idea that not all Sun Belt expansion was a bad thing. Have the Lightning had quite a few lean years? Sure. But so have a lot of franchises that are older. And those same older teams in more traditional markets are having attendance issues as well. It's not a disease relegated to the Southern United States, as much as the people who stand on their soap boxes proclaiming that the league should never have expanded from it's Original Six teams would want you to believe.

Haven't read the article yet, but really looking forward to it.

In other news, I just wanted to say Rest In Peace Leslie Nielsen. A great comedian with amazing comedic timing. He will be missed.

One of my favorite scenes from one of his movies, and it has to do with baseball:

Saturday, November 27, 2010

F-L-O-R-I-D-A! S-T-A-T-E!

Photo by: Mike Ehrmann / Getty Images. Used without permission.


Yeah, I know. This is supposed to be a hockey and baseball blog. I just can't help it. I am a proud alumni of Florida State University and today was their annual meeting against their arch rivals the University of Florida Gators.

To my Red Sox friends? The Gators are the Yankees of Southern football in my eyes. They haven't had a great year due to losing a lot of seniors or whatever. Really, I don't care why they have been having troubles, I have just been enjoying it.

And enjoy today's 31-7 victory? Did I ever! The Seminoles had not beaten the Gators since 2003. Usually those losses were by a margin of more than 20 points. Demoralizing defeats at the hands of your most hated enemies. But not today.

Today, they were victorious. And go on to meet Virginia Tech in the ACC championship game next week. And then hopefully on to a BCS bowl game. I'm so happy. Happy for the students who hadn't seen this before. Happy for the seniors on the team who had never beaten UF in their playing careers. Happy for the resurgence of the FSU football program. And, it might make me a poor winner, but man am I happy that the Gator fans will have this one stuck in their craw for the next year.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Genetically Programmed For The Wheel of Misfortune

Photo by: AP Photos. Used without permission.

Wow. Glad I didn't watch that game. After two days of turkey and stuffing (dressing, whatever), it would have only given me heartburn and indigestion. A 6-0 beating at the hands of the Division leading rivals the Bolts are trying to catch? Ugh.

I didn't see the game, so I can't really comment on the play. Judging by the score, I can tell that it was obviously bad. It is one thing I worry about. Every so often, they have these games where the system just doesn't work. And the way the 1-3-1 works, if it's not being used effectively it's a disaster.

The Capitals are a team the Lightning have to beat. In order to win the division, in order to compete in their conference. The Caps are a good test as well. They have been so good during the regular season the past few years, if the Bolts can compete with them then I will start to realize that these wins and the record are actually for real.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

When Friends Rejoice Both Far And Near, How Can I Keep From Singing?

According to the audience tab on the statistics page of my blog, I have visitors from all over the world. Which is pretty intriguing to me, especially all of the readers from Scandinavian countries or Eastern Europe. Anyways, for you guys today was just another Thursday. Here in the USA, it's Thanksgiving. I spent the afternoon with family and lifelong friends, enjoying a lot of great food and drink. Then falling asleep during a football game, waking up and eating some more. Thanksgiving is a lot less commercial than the coming Christmas season because it's about food and togetherness and remembering all of the good things we have in our lives. Since this is a sports blog, it's time to do a run down of things I am thankful for in relation to my teams.

1. Steven Stamkos. I could just stop there. The first half of his rookie season was a rough ride, but he has turned into one of the best players in the league in such a short amount of time. Watching him try to go for 50 goals in 50 games has been so insanely entertaining. I can't wait to see what happens next.

2. Martin St. Louis & Dustin Pedroia. Pedie was out for a while this season, but his presence and attitude was definitely still there. I could have just named this one "The Little Badasses". Marty is the heart and soul of the Lightning lockerroom and I honestly believe he is playing better than he ever has at the age of 35. It's just my opinion and I know there are some who would disagree, but I think he should be the captain of the team. Oh, and just so I don't have to throw in another bullet point, I am thankful for Marty and Stamkos playing on the same line. Stamkos' skill is putting the puck in the net, but Marty has incredible vision on the ice and his passes make a lot of them happen.

3. Jeff Vinik & Steve Yzerman. This one could also be labeled as "OK Hockey and Brian Lawton getting the boot!". Things are turning around on the ice and everywhere else in the Lightning organization. It's wonderful to see and makes me very proud as a fan.

4. The 2010 Boston Red Sox. Yes, the losses and string of improbable injuries were maddening. I was pretty sure they had given me an ulcer come August, but in spite of everything they were in it up until the last few days of the regular season. Even though they were held together with duct tape and dreams, they nearly made it. Hope doesn't always have to come from achieving the ultimate goal. My hope this year came from their resiliency.

5. My fellow members of Red Sox Nation. We are crazy, irrational, and we refuse to give up. I have had the great pleasure of becoming really close friends with a number of you and I love you all. Thank you for being my Red Sox family.

6. My hockey girls. You're with me during warm up skates and you're with me at the bar afterward. Thank you for being there for the Roenick Luau and Disco Christmas and all the Winter Classic parties to come.

7. My family family. For putting up with my obsessions and obsessing over my sports teams and love me anyways. I love you all more than words can say.

I have a lot to be thankful for, but one more thanks to everyone who has read this far!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Vaya Con Dios, Victor

Photo by Me

The news broke when I was at work. Victor Martinez signed with the Detroit Tigers today. A four year $50 million dollar contract. Apparently the Red Sox offered him a 3 or 4 year deal at al lower price. I've read some things saying that Victor was looking for more longevity in his deal, which I can understand. He's a guy with a family and kids, and the less you have to uproot them especially when they are school aged the better. As with any news of a major player leaving the Sox, some people are flipping out.

Yes, Victor was fantastic at the plate after he came back from injury this past season. His bat will definitely be missed in the line up and it's a void that will need to be filled. But defensively? A lot of noise was made when V-Mart came on board about what a big defensive improvement he was over Jason Varitek. I love Tek, so I am a bit biased. But I didn't see that big of a difference in defensive prowess between the two. Especially earlier in the season when Victor couldn't throw Johnny Pesky out at second base.

I'm interested to see what happens. Varitek wasn't offered arbitration. I hope it's Theo's way of trying to get a lower contract price for him, but you never know what is going to happen with a client of Scott Boras. Tek would be a great mentor for Saltalamacchia. All in all, I think the Sox made the right move. Now. On to Adrian Beltre.

That being sad? They need to keep Little Victor on the short list of players to draft in a few years. Check out that swing!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Sing With Me, If It's Just For Today

Photo by AP Photos. Used without permission.

Lightning win versus the Bruins tonight. Stamkos scored his 20th goal. Oh and.. Jim Craig, goalie for the 1980 USA Olympic hockey team was at the game.

They were showing a video package from the Olympics and I was like "Jim Craig. Oh, it's Jim Craig... HOLY SHIT, JIM CRAIG IS HERE! AHHH!"

More tomorrow.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

HBO's Road to the Winter Classic

I wrote about the Winter Classic a few months ago when Pittsburgh's Heinz Field was officially named as the site for this year's game. I know a number of my baseball friends tuned in this past New Year's day to see the Bruins and Flyers take the ice in our beloved Fenway Park. It's no secret that I was more than a little disappointed that the Pittsburgh Penguins were selected for their second Winter Classic, especially since a game with that much visibility should give exposure to more teams. Well, the game is about to get a whole lot more exposure.

HBO is known for their sports documentaries, most recently getting a lot of press for their Hard Knocks series on the New York Jets. They are pointing their cameras at this year's Winter Classic competitors, the Penguins and the Washington Capitals in what is being called 24/7: Road to the NHL Winter Classic. When the word of this project came out, I was less than thrilled again. Ever since Sidney Crosby of the Pens and Alexander Ovechkin of the Caps have come into the league, they have been incessantly billed as the marquee attractions. As a fan of a team other than the Penguins or Caps, it's a bit frustrating to see your talented players get overlooked in favor of more hype for this manufactured rivalry.

After seeing the preview? I am really close to changing my tune. The first few minutes are largely a primer for the non hockey watcher, but then? I started imagining the unparalleled access to the off ice meetings and the locker room. Seeing what the players will go through in the time up to the Winter Classic will be amazing. And since it is HBO, it's sure to be much less censored and sanitized than we get to see in two minute post game interviews.

Here is the preview:

I'm not exactly thrilled about Crosby vs. Ovechkin, but it is a fascinating take on the process. I heard from a number of people who caught Hard Knocks and got into it even though they aren't football fans. Something similar might happen with 24/7. The NHL is the forgotten member of the big four pro leagues here in the states and it's amazing that it will be getting this kind of coverage. I trust that HBO will do it justice and maybe more people will get to see why I love this sport and its players so much.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

I've Got My Love To Keep Me Warm

Photo by Me

It might be the fact that it's still almost 80 degrees out, but the annual off season longing for baseball hasn't hit me as hard as it has some of my other Red Sox friends. One of the blessings and curses of living in Florida. It's a curse in that I could probably wear shorts on Thanksgiving and that isn't very holiday season-y at all.

Baseball has been coming back into my mind more and more with all of the free agency talk and even some of the trades. Things have been pretty quiet for the Sox so far, mostly a lot of rumors of who they are interested in. There was talk of going after John Buck, but he signed with the Marlins. I'm secretly glad for it, as much as we probably could have used a seasoned catcher with Victor Martinez's return uncertain. His name is just too close to "Joe Buck" and that causes bad, bad reactions.

Really the only concrete dealing that has been announced is the signing of Taylor Buchholz to the pitching staff. Everything else is very nebulous at this point, so I'm adapting a laid back "wait and see" approach. For now at least. I'm sure something will happen to get me fired up soon enough. Theo always seems to keep things interesting.

I'll be at the Tampa Bay Lightning's watch party this evening at Curtis Hixon Park downtown to catch the Bolts/Sabres game, so there is sure to be news from there. Get to see if Stamkos can keep rolling with goals and the boys can pick up another W.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Mr. Stamkos' Wild Ride

The game has been over for a while now, and I'm still trying to figure out exactly what happened. I fully intended to actually get to the Red Sox hot stove talk, but then the Lightning/Flyers game happened.

9 goals in the first 20 minutes. Stamkos scores a hattrick. He and Marty St. Louis have a 5 point night. There was so much back and forth I felt like I was watching a tennis match.Two wins in two nights, hopefully that helps to exorcise some of the demons from the crappy West Coast road trip.

The Bolts play in Buffalo on Saturday. I'll be attending the game's watch party being held at Curtis Hixon Park in downtown Tampa. They have opened an ice rink there for the holiday season. I really want to take a spin around the rink, but I'm still recovering from a sprained ankle. Knowing the luck I had with re-injuring the ankle while dancing to "I Will Survive" at a friend's wedding, I will have to hold off until I've healed a bit more. Maybe after Christmas.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

No One But Me Can Save Myself

Photo by Linda Hamilton

The term "mental illness" has a very negative stigma, even in these modern times. Mental health issues get mentioned and most people don't know what to say and kind of look away. I know this first hand. I live with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Social Anxiety Disorder every day of my life.

Anxiety or depression are difficult to figure out. It's not like a broken bone that very plainly heals. There isn't really a point where it gets better, there gets to be a point where you learn to manage it and hopefully get to live a more normal life in spite of your problems. My anxiety got so bad while I was in college that I was on the verge of dropping out and becoming a hermit because the very thought of leaving my apartment and interacting with people, registering for classes, or going to campus was enough to bring on panic attacks. Because anxiety issues aren't something that are talked about very often, I didn't know what was wrong with me. I regularly thought I was going insane.

I can look to that time as the lowest, darkest point in my life. Without my family and their helping me to get help through counseling and later medication, I'm not really sure what would have happened to me.

Why do I bring this up today? The very sad news that came out about former Lightning player and current Ottawa Senator's coach Luke Richardson's teenage daughter's passing. A memorial service was held for her today at Scotiabank Place. We don't know the circumstances that lead to her death, but I have seen the words depression mentioned a lot.

I'm not saying there is a quick fix for mental health challenges, because there isn't. I underwent a year of counseling while in college and was later put on medication. I'm still on medication and still in a place where I think I need it. But I have come miles from where I was, even if progress was an inch at a time. If you're in a dark place, please go to those you love. They will help you, even if you think it's irrational and insane.

My thoughts go out to Luke and his family in this very sad time.

Monday, November 15, 2010

I Beg To Dream & Differ From the Hollow Lies

Photo by me of my world famous sign

Being a big sports fan, you're bound to read a lot of crazy things when it comes to sports journalism. Whether it's writers trying to garner attention for themselves, or if it's something wacky that someone does. It's almost common place. So, it takes a lot for me to really get going when it comes to an article or story. Jeter winning the Gold Glove was one. Another was a recent article I read about former Lightning General Manager and my arch nemesis, Brian Lawton.

The full article can be found here: Stevie Y's Inheritance

Everything starts out great. Talking about what a big turn around the team has experience since new ownership took over and Steve Yzerman's first season as a GM and giving credit for the work he has done in the first quarter of the year. And then, Damian Cox loses me really fast. He goes on to say that so much of what Yzerman was able to accomplish was because of work that Lawton had done in the previous two years.

REALLY? He is given credit with drafting both Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman. Two years ago the Lightning were the worst team in the league and Stamkos was the top prospect. Ditto with Hedman once the Islanders took John Tavares. I didn't know that a team official deserved credit for making no brainer moves when your team underachieved so much. Excuse me, I didn't know that's how it went. Lawton is also praised for the trade that sent Matt Carle to Philly and brought Steve Downie to Tampa Bay. What is conveniently left out is that Matt Carle came to Tampa in the lopsided trade that sent Dan Boyle packing to the west coast. Matt Carle played twelve games in a Lightning sweater. I am pretty sure a trade that involved a bag of pucks and some stick tape would have been seen as a good return.

The article argues that Tampa was on it's way back to success before Yzerman came in. I think that is the biggest load of crap I have heard in a long time. I am able to look at a lot of things objectively when it comes to sports because I understand at the heart of everything, sports are a business. Lawton was bad business when he was here and I sincerely hope that that stigma follows him for the rest of his non career in the NHL.

Lawton is quoted as saying he thought he did a good job while he was in Tampa. I say one of the happiest moments of the last few lowly seasons was the news that he had gotten the boot. You are not missed, sir.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Friday, November 12, 2010

Spend your lives in sin and misery..

Photo by Me. Voo Doo Doll by Linda Hamilton.

Now that I'm starting to blog more regularly, a question came to mind during tonight's Lightning. Penguins game:

Can I be taken seriously as a sports blogger if I say things like "Matt Cooke is still a bitch"?

Ponder that for a while. The game was disappointing. Mike Smith's confidence is his downfall. He lets in a goal or two and his game goes down the toilet. Other than the rash of injuries that seems to have followed me from baseball season into hockey season, the goal tending continues to be an issue. But, the team was kind of handcuffed by the cap when it came to goalie options this offseason. Smitty is quickly playing himself into a lifetime career as back up. There is only so much you can do, though. Last year of his contract, I am underwhelmed.

If everyone gets healthy, I'm sure I'll change my tune. And per Jon Jordan's Stamkos Math on Twitter, Steven Stamkos is now on pace to score 76.875 goals on the season. So, we have that going for us. Which is nice.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Out Into The Cool of The Evening Strolls The Pretender

Disclaimer: I am a Red Sox fan. Nothing I could ever say or write on the subject of the Yankees could ever be without bias and hatred. There's no point in even trying to hide it. I have to put this out there so people know that there is no love lost for them in my house. Now that that's been said, I am going to make another revelation. I hate them. But that hatred has no effect on how I feel about Derek Jeter's Gold Glove or the debate about George Steinbrenner possibly being on the next Hall of Fame ballot.

I'll deal with Jeter first. A lot of the articles I have read in the wake of his being awarded the Gold Glove fall into two categories. The first is "What the hell were the managers and coaches thinking???" and the second school of thought is that there are many things other than defensive statistics that make a player worthy of winning a Gold Glove award. Really? Things other than defensive statistics when it comes to winning a trophy that is FOR defensive prowess? Forget what uniform he's wearing. Imagine his name is Merek Schmeter and he played shortstop for the Kansas City Royals. With his numbers, the possibility of his winning a Gold Glove isn't a conversation anyone would be having. If anything else, his numbers got a boost due to his lack of range and not any special skills he has. If awards are handed out based on a player's name or star power or the uniform he wears instead of his play, are they even relevant at all?

Another article I read over at Yahoo! Sports' Big League Stew got me thinking about another Yankee figure. This time the figurehead, George Steinbrenner, and the possibility that his name will be on the Hall of Fame ballot at the end of this year. Yes, the Yankees were very successful while he was in charge. But they were very successful before he took over as well. The 1980s were the franchise's worst years. During his tenure, the most success the Yankees had was when he was suspended from baseball. And that brings me to the main reason why I think he shouldn't be up for candidacy: suspensions. He was suspended from the game for a year and a half due to illegal contributions to Richard Nixon's campaign. His lifetime suspension was later reduced, but he hired a gambler to find dirt on Dave Winfield. He hired a gambler. The suspensions themselves should be enough to keep him out of the hall, but it probably won't. I'll leave it at this: If Pete Rose is out forever due to his actions, Steinbrenner should be too.

In happier news, here is a video of some of the Lightning players discussing their involvement in Movember:

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Stop, Stammer Time!

One thing I have learned in my years of being a sports fan is that it's incredibly easy to become jaded. Especially with your own team. Especially after several lean years strung together made it seem like light at the end of the tunnel had been turned off in order to save money. We all do it, whether we notice it. No one is more critical of our teams than ourselves. It is very rare that we think our teams are as good as they are and can truly appreciate when something amazing is happening right before our eyes. A moment like that is happening for the Tampa Bay Lightning right now. It's hard to register that you are seeing records being made on a nightly basis, but there it is. Steven Stamkos scored his league leading 12th and 13th goals in the Bolts' 4-0 shutout of the Toronto Maple Leafs tonight.

Let me explain.. no. There is too much. Let me sum up. He has the most goals in the NHL right now and the most points of any other player. He is in the top five for assists. He has the most power play goals in the league. More goals than Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin. He is on pace to not only reclaim the Rocket Richard trophy, but not have to share it with a damn soul this time.

You can't put up numbers like that without the rest of the league and the press starting to take notice. I am seeing more mentions in the TSN twitter feeds, in articles in the Hockey News, stories on the NHL site itself. We are so very lucky to see him play on a regular basis. We are watching the birth of a genuine star. A far cry from the tough first half of his rookie season when people were ready to send him packing to the AHL.

I can't wait for the next game. I can't wait to see what this team will do next. Patrick Roy might have said that the system Guy Boucher employs isn't exciting, offense minded hockey. It might be different, but things have been plenty exciting at the arena this year. And it's only the beginning of November.

A little something to leave you with, more Stamkos:

Monday, November 8, 2010

Hockey 'N' Heels

Yup, that is me behind the mask. I am the goalie in Doc Marten boots. Being shot at by an NHL player, Dominic Moore. Yes, they were foam pucks. And yes, Dominic, they did actually hurt a bit. I am still trying to register how cool this evening really was.

For several years, the Lightning hosted an event geared towards women during the season called Hockey 'n' Heels. Tonight's event was the first one I was able to attend, and I definitely plan on going next year as long as I still have the means. The basic idea is they take groups around to different stations in the building and you spend time at each one.

Our first stop was with Nigel Kirwan, the Lightning video coach. He had a very large dry erase board with a rink on it and he went on to explain a few of the systems used in the NHL, like the neutral zone trap. He then went on to explain how it differs from the new system that Guy Boucher is using, then went on to show specific examples of the different scenarios with video clips. Hockey is so fast and it can seem very chaotic, but when you see it slowed down and broken down you see that there really is more of a structure. That being said, I know more about the 1-3-1 system and it terrifies me more than ever.

The next stop we made was out on the ice. Nate Thompson, Randy Jones, Teddy Purcell, Matt Smaby, & Dominic Moore joined us with some passing and shooting on the net. Matt Smaby was lovely and very encouraging to me and my friends, even telling me I had to have a victory celebration after making a goal. I went for the standard arms in the air pose. I thought about doing the Ovechkin "hot stick" routine, but we only had so much time. Next, Dom Moore recruited us for the goaltending station. Which basically involved us putting on a mask, glove, blocker, and holding a stick while he shot foam pucks at us. So.. so.. SO much fun. I don't mean to fangirl, but an NHL player told me I made some good stops. SO COOL.

After that, we were taken to the next station with featured a former referee and Dominic Moore's wife Katie. Katie has been with Dom through trades to eight different teams and moves. From Montreal to Minnesota to New York. All over the place and through a lot of time alone. I also gained a lot of respect for the refs and what they go through. You never think about it, but their families are affected by all the travel as well, and every single one of their games is an away game.

The next station was up in the press box with Rick Peckham and Bobby Taylor of the TV crew and Dave Miskin from the radio broadcasts. Everything ended up with a trip to the locker room and the trainers rooms. It is mind boggling to think about what goes in to the day to day operations of a sports team and the amount of stuff that has to go on the road with them.

It was a great night and I can't wait for next year. Tomorrow when the Bolts take the ice, one of the goalies will be where I stood. Hope I left some good luck on the goal posts.