Devastation From The Blind Side A Familiar Story For The Bruins
Boston Bruins enforcer Shawn Thornton made a serious error in judgement during Saturday’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins at the TD Garden. The Bruins forward grabbed Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik from behind, threw him down on the ice and punched him in the face/head area a few times, which knocked Orpik unconscious. Orpik was removed from the ice on a stretcher and sent to a local hospital to be examined. The incident occurred after the whistle during the first period of an eventual 3-2 Bruins win.
The first period was quite nasty leading up to the Thornton incident as as Bruins forward Loui Eriksson was sidelined after suffering a concussion thanks to a hit from Orpik, and Penguins forward James Neal kneed Bruins forward Brad Marchand in the head while he was already down on the ice.
The question is not whether previous actions by the Penguins warranted a response by the Bruins. Retribution for throwing shade on one’s teammate is a strong tenant of the hockey code, so Thornton certainly wasn’t wrong in that respect. The criticism comes from the fact that Thornton basically waged a sneak attack on Orpik as the two had not agreed to fight and from his vantage point, Orpik never saw Thornton coming. Orpik was defenseless.
Thornton, who was ejected and has an upcoming in-person hearing with NHL Senior Vice President of Player Safety Brendan Shanahan, appeared to be genuinely remorseful after the game (watch the video above, care of WEEI’s Mike Petraglia).
After the game, Thornton told reporters that he felt sick about the incident and that he never intended to do such damage to Orpik, a player he knows well.
“I know Brooksie,” Thornton said. “I’ve gotten to know him over the last several years here. I skated with him in the summer, over the lockout.”
Thornton said he sent Orpik a few text messages after the game and continued to apologize for the incident which turned out to be your typical hockey retribution fight, gone wrong.
“That’s always my job, I guess, to defend my teammates but I’ve prided myself for a long time to stay within in the lines,” Thornton told reporters. "It’s hard for me to talk about it right now."
There have been several overtly violent incidents in the NHL over the years, but the one that sticks out for me and anyone who has watched the Bruins in the last few years is the hit from then-Penguins forward Matt Cooke on then-Bruins center Marc Savard in 2010. The incident effectively ended Savard’s NHL career.
Thornton was Savard’s teammate at the time, and the Bruins took a lot of flack for their lack of retribution against Cooke in that game. The next time the teams met a few weeks later, Thornton went after Cooke within seconds of Cooke stepping on the ice.
In no way can I defend Thornton’s behavior on Saturday. For several reasons, including what happened Saturday, I would argue that fighting be removed from the NHL all together. Sure, the counterargument can easily be made that if Thornton had at least confronted Orpik face-to-face, that Orpik would have been able to defend himself, possibly lessening the impact of Thornton’s punches, and that the circumstance was the more dangerous than the punch itself.
Thornton once told me that when he was a kid playing hockey, his coach encouraged him to learn how to fight, telling Thornton that he’d better play that part if he wanted to continue to rise through the hockey ranks. Many enforcers of the past and present took on the role solely for self preservation as fighting and physically defending teammates became the only way they could remain in the game.
Between my conversations with Shawn and some of his public comments, I have the feeling he (and others in his position) has mixed emotions about his role as an enforcer. The bloody knuckles and broken noses have earned him a long NHL career, but success at the behest of violence has come at a price.
A price that is about to skyrocket.
Have you ever wondered what it must be like to cover a professional team as a sports reporter? This blog post, written by former NHL.com writer Dave Lozo perfectly articulates the experience, specifically the challenges of dealing with a “difficult” coach. Reading his account jogged so many memories of “first time” interviews and press conferences. For better, and for worse. Lozo covered the New York Rangers and head coach John Tortorella for four seasons. Enjoy, and be thankful it was him not you :)
The old press room in Madison Square Garden was a fitting setting for my introduction into covering John Tortorella. The tiny quarters had a suffocating, claustrophobic feel. The room was encased by cement bricks and filled with 20 or so metal folding chairs that faced a stage that held a table and chair where Tortorella would sit and answer – or usually, not answer – questions from the assembled media.
If a prison had a press conference room, this would have been it.
It was September 2009, and my extensive professional hockey writing experience totaled one Western Conference Final game and four Stanley Cup Final games, all of which were contested at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit the previous summer. I found myself covering these very important games after writing stories off conference calls in the earlier rounds that the usual writers couldn’t do because of travel situations.
It turned out my reward for that three weeks of work was four years covering the scariest coach in the NHL.
There’s no way to ever relay the terror that comes with that first press conference involving Tortorella. I had seen the videos, heard the stories and knew what to expect. Seeing as how it was my first day, I planned to simply sit back and watch the beat writers ask their pre-game questions and see how it went.
As became his routine during the season, Tortorella hobbled into the room with Rangers PR star John Rosasco at his side. Tortorella had a hip issue during the season that he would get corrected afterward, but it did nothing to soften his gruff personality. Tortorella walked up the three stairs, examined the chair and table as if it didn’t belong there, sat down, and looked out onto the gathered reporters with a long, deep sigh as if he were an 11-year-old and the human beings in the room were green beans he had to finish if he was going to be allowed to play video games later.
Times, they are a-changin’ when it comes to sexuality in the United States. With every new generation comes increased acceptance of gays and lesbians as evidenced by nine states (and Washington DC) legalizing gay marriage.
Roy Hibbert became the latest high profile athlete to learn a hard lesson from this culture shift after the Indiana Pacers beat the Miami Heat in Game 6 of the NBA Eastern Conference Finals on Saturday. During the the televised post game press conference Hibbert used the homophobic slur “no homo.”
Hibbert also dropped a “motherf****r” in that press conference, which was aired (and bleeped) on TNT. The “MF” hardly raised an eyebrow (although the NBA will surely fine Hibbert for using the more traditional curse word…UPDATE: The NBA fined Hibbert $75,000 for his post-game remarks), but the gay slur had the social media world buzzing with comments and criticism of Hibbert’s word choice.
Shortly after the press conference, the Pacers big man tweeted Jason Collins, requesting a conversation with the recently-out NBA player. The tweet has since been deleted and Sunday, Hibbert released a statement through the clean-up crew… errr…Pacers, apologizing for his comment.
While speaking with Collins is a fine idea, Hibbert should strongly consider giving Kobe Bryant a call.
Remember when Bryant landed in hot water after yelling a gay slur (the other “F” word) at a referee back in 2011? Well, Bryant’s bank account remembers as he was fined $100,000 by the league. Bryant issued the obligatory apology and professed that his words didn’t reflect his personal views (just as Hibbert has done), but the L.A. Lakers superstar put his money where his mouth is in continuing to advocate for acceptance by making public service announcements, publicly supporting Jason Collins and even calling out a fan’s anti-gay language on twitter.
Heck, maybe Hibbert, Bryant and Tim Hardaway should hold an NBA “acceptance summit.”
In Hibbert’s statement, he apologized for using the “slang” term. Yes, certain words and phrases are ingrained in our heads from a young age (or even during adulthood) and removing them from our vocabulary can take time and practice. I don’t know about you guys, but after making a conscious decision at the age of 14 (and with my Mom’s insistence), I kicked “gay” and “retarded” out of my lexicon for good. Were there occasional slip-ups early on? Absolutely, but unlearning hurtful words ain’t that tough a task.
Not long ago, a tweet popped up on my timeline written by an athlete from one of the many teams I covered for work. In his tweet, said athlete used the word “gay” in the context of “bad” or “stupid.” I immediately texted him a mini-lecture, detailing why he should remove the tweet (for his own sake) and that he should strongly consider attempting to remove the word, in such context, from his vocabulary both publicly and privately.
He quickly texted me back saying “you know I didn’t mean it like that,” so I text-lectured a bit further. Within five minutes of posting, the tweet had disappeared. A few hours later, the athlete told me he had received instant blowback from several of his twitter followers, prompting him to delete the tweet. He told me that he agreed with my stance and that he would make an effort to stop using “gay” in a negative connotation. I haven’t seen or heard him use the word since.
This player is a guy with a wonderful personality and a big heart. He was quite young at the time and it was apparent that all he needed was someone to point out something that he hadn’t considered previously. I cut him some slack and tried to help him out a bit because I didn’t think he was anti-gay, and I believed he fell into the “even good people make mistakes” category.
The aforementioned athlete, Bryant, and Hibbert all claimed that their hurtful words did not align with their personal beliefs and that their intent didn’t come from a discriminatory place.
Unfortunately, that is of little consequence to the closeted gay teenager who reads a tweet from his favorite pro-athlete and feels his heart sink. As much as some public figures stray from the “role model” position, it doesn’t make their words any less far-reaching or diminish the power of their actions.
Intentions are practically meaningless in situations like these because emotional and physical responses are attached to certain words (like the “N” word) that historically, have been used in the vein of hate, violence and persecution.
Kobe Bryant turned a huge negative into an even greater positive with the steps he has taken since his on-court outburst in 2011. I’m guessing the driving force behind such a drastic turnaround is sincerity. Do I know for a fact that Bryant isn’t anti-gay? No I don’t, but I’d be shocked if he was faking it. If Hibbert truly has no issue with homosexuality, he should follow in Bryant’s footsteps.
At what point will influential public figures like Hibbert (and plenty of others) step out of their personal bubbles and learn from the mistakes made by their peers and predecessors? At what point do we stop making excuses for ourselves and learn to do the right thing without having to first, do something wrong?
The movement for LGBT equality has been on the forefront of American politics and society over the last several years with professional athletics finally joining the party as sports stars spanning the globe have trickled out of the closet.
John Amaechi, Gareth Thomas, Robbie Rogers and Brittney Griner have all publicly disclosed their sexuality in recent years, proving that yes, some of the best athletes on earth are indeed gay.
Last week NBA player Jason Collins disclosed he is gay, becoming the first active male athlete in one of the four major North American team sports to come out.
Supporting Collins and the right for players to be open and honest about their sexuality were fellow athletes Baron Davis, Kobe Bryant, Chris Kluwe, Brendon Ayanbadejo, Scott Fujita, Steve Nash, CC Sabathia and Jerry Stackhouse.
All of these men have one thing in common. They are all over 30 years old. Why is this important?
Traditionally, the Gay Rights movement leadership may be comprised of an over 30 crowd, but surveys indicate that the greatest support for equal marriage rights lies among younger Americans. With every new generation entering adulthood, the country becomes more accepting of gay rights.
I, for one, would think that today’s college players and younger professional athletes would be the folks leading the way for openly gay players in sports. It seems that I’m only half right, especially in men’s sports.
Academia frequently serves as a catalyst for social change and we’re seeing an increased number of college athletic programs publicly encourage players to come out. However there’s a significant drop off in that sentiment among the pro ranks.
It’s no coincidence that many veteran players, such as those previously mentioned, are freely expressing opinions on a controversial issue. Many of these guys are at the end of their professional careers or are so dominant in their sport that they won’t face any career-threatening or financial consequences.
But what about young players who aren’t yet established in their sport? Just a few months ago, an NFL prospect was asked about his sexuality at the Combine. What kind of message does that send to young players?
There is one player who has managed to break the mold. He’s not a veteran but he has faced years of taunting as a result of sticking up for his beliefs.
Kenneth Faried of the Denver Nuggets is just the kind of young, talented, high-profile athlete needed to encourage other heterosexual athletes of his generation to help open the doors even wider for lesbian and gay teammates.
Raised by two moms, Waudda and Manasin, the 23-year-old Faried has been active in supporting the LGBT community for several years. An impressive rookie season earned Faried respect and a solid reputation heading into this season, his second in the NBA.
Veteran, heterosexual players (and obviously, the gay athletes who have come out over the years, such as Martina Navratilova) have paved the way for Robbie Rogers, Brittney Griner, and now, Jason Collins. But those guys are on the way out, leaving a huge void in the movement. Kenneth Faried is the man to fill that void for his generation. Hopefully by the time his career ends, Faried won’t need a successor because the movement itself will no longer be necessary.
The Kings went from trying to make happy history by winning the Stanley Cup for the first time in the franchise’s 45-year existence to possibly ending up on the wrong side of history with a hockey collapse of epic proportion.
In a seven-game series, a 3-0 lead looks insurmountable regardless of the sport. A deficit of that magnitude has never been overcome in an NBA playoff series. The Boston Red Sox were the first to break the barrier in their legendary ALCS win against the New York Yankees en route to the World Series title in 2004.
Compared to baseball and hoops, Hockey teams are entitled to have hope when down 0-3, albeit just a tiny sliver. Three times in NHL playoff history has a team climbed out of the huge 3-0 hole to win the series.
As a No. 8 seed ripping through the Stanley Cup playoffs, the Kings have not only taken the hockey community by surprise, but it’s own home city of Los Angeles has been transformed from a collection of beach-going basketball and baseball fans to a population of people warmly embracing the cold ice of hockey along with the excitement and edge the fight for the Cup creates.
Winning 10 consecutive road games in this year’s playoffs (12 dating back to last season) en route to series victories over the 1, 2 and 3 seeds out West had the media and most fans crowning the Kings invincible heading into the Cup Finals against the also surprising New Jersey Devils.
Beating the Devils twice in Jersey only continued the clamor for the Kings, despite both games being decided in overtime and the Devils actually outplaying L.A. in Game 2. But Game 3 in L.A. was all Kings as the home team crushed the visiting Devils 4-0 making the sweep look pretty realistic.
The Kings had twice led three games to none in these playoffs and lost the fourth game at home, so it shouldn’t have shocked anybody that a desperate Devils team staved elimination with a Game 4 victory, sweeping the brooms aside. But the Kings are better on the road than on home ice making a Game 5 win all the more difficult for the Devils.
The Kings have vastly improved over the last few months (after a trade and coaching change) as the players have become so in synch with each other that L.A.’s lines seem to move in flawless formations with each man knowing exactly what each of his teammates is doing and where on the ice he’s doing it.
L.A. has won games while being outplayed because the Kings players have consistently been in the right place at the right time for rebounds, redirects and deflections near the net, on faceoffs, etc. Despite playing extremely well in Game 5, the Kings lacked their usual “right place, right time” magic. Missed shots that lingered deliciously close to Martin Brodeur and were ripe for the taking went untouched by the Kings who were often times nowhere near position when it came to rebounds and second chances. The Kings were off-kilter while the Devils were carried on the back of Brodeur.
With Bryce Salvador’s shot deflecting off of L.A.’s Slava Voynov and into the net, along with captain Zach Parise’s goal, the Devils found themselves with the “right place, right time” style typically fit for the Kings.
With the 2-1 victory, the Devils became the first team to force a Game 6 after losing the the first three in the Stanley Cup Final since 1945 and only the third team ever (out of 26) to do so since adopting a seven-game series format in 1939.
Only the 1942 Maple Leafs have overcome a 0-3 deficit in the finals to win Lord Stanley’s cup. 33 years later, the New York Islanders turned the 0-3 upside down on the Penguins, beating Pittsburgh in seven games in the 1975 quarterfinals.
But what has me worried is what I watched with my own two eyes while I lived in Boston in 2010 as the Philadelphia Flyers became only the third team (in 167 tries) in NHL history to overcome a 3-0 deficit to win a series. The momentum shift was palpable in that series, like a ship swaying back and forth on choppy waters. The ship finally settled in Philly’s favor after the Flyers took Game 5. That was the turning point, the halfway mark.
It’s easy to say, “boy, it sure is hard to beat a team four straight times.” Heck, I thought there was NO WAY that after winning 20 straight games, the Spurs could lose four in a row to the Thunder. It just didn’t make sense.
But it does make sense, especially in a sport like hockey where one mistake can cost an entire game. The first two games in this series could’ve gone either way. The series easily could have returned to L.A. with the Devils leading 2-0. That’s why it is so hard to predict “if the Kings lose Game 6, they’re done. The momentum will be clearly on the Devils’ side and it’s over.” All of the momentum in the world can’t stop one guy from making one mistake, turning the tide.
If the Kings do lose Game 6 at home, Game 7 will prove to be one fierce battle for the crown as it will truly be anyone’s game. I say Kings in six, or Devils in seven.
From their colors to their coasts, the Devils and Kings couldn’t be more different, yet in other areas, these teams have quite a bit in common, especially their underdog status.
Nobody expected the No. 6 seed Devils, or worse, the No. 8 seed Kings to be around in June playing for the Stanley Cup, but alas, here we are, with Jersey and L.A. as the last teams standing.
Historically speaking, the edge goes to the Devils who are gunning for a fourth championship (they won it all in 1995, 2000 and 2003) as they have now made the Final five times since 1995. Not too shabby. In fact, the 1995 Devils, as a No. 5 seed, are etched in the history books as being the lowest seed to ever win the Cup. One way or the other, a new group of men will take that title within the next two weeks.
The Kings record books are barren in comparison as the Gretzky-led Kings’ loss to the Montreal Canadiens in 1993 marks the only Final appearance for L.A.
Both teams have players with Cup Final experience on their resumes, but the Kings young nucleus of Jonathan Quick, Anze Kopitar and team captain Dustin Brown is completely lacking in that department while the Devils’ on-ice and locker room leader Martin Brodeur, is one of the most experienced players in the history of professional hockey.
The Kings’ inexperience has been nearly invisible since their unexpected playoff run began as L.A. ripped through the Western Conference with a 12-2 record after beating Vancouver Canucks in five games, sweeping the St. Louis Blues and disposing of the Phoenix Coyotes in five games as well. All three of L.A.’s series-winning games came on the road as the Kings are 8-0 away from home.
The Devils’ road to the Cup Final has been tougher, needing a full seven games to take care of the Florida Panthers in the first round, followed by the Philadelphia Flyers in five games and the top-seed New York Rangers in six games. Of course, Brodeur - who turned 40-years-old during the Conference Semifinals - has been outstanding in net for the Devil while rookie Adam Henrique has impressed, scoring two series-winning goals, both coming in overtime periods.
The Devils won the regular season series beating the Kings in both games, the first, by a score of 3-0 (both teams played with backup goaltenders) and the second by a final score of 2-1 in a shootout. Both teams use size and aggression when battling for the puck and on the forecheck. It should be interesting to watch these two go against each other considering their similar style in that respect.
Perhaps the most interesting match up isn’t even a true match up at all, as Brodeur and Jonathan Quick are the brightest-shining stars of the bunch. Old Man Marty has a 2.04 GAA in the playoffs while Quick’s stat line looks outstanding with a 1.54 GAA. While neither guy has the flash or looks of a Henrik Lundqvist, both men have had their fair share of exquisite, body-bending saves throughout the playoffs. In fact, the Kings players themselves will admit that they wouldn’t have made the playoffs if it weren’t for the consistency of Quick throughout the regular season, especially in that last month.
Both goalies have had plenty of help in the playoffs as the Devils are averaging 11.27 blocked shots per game while the Kings are keeping the crease clear for Quick at a rate of 14.07 blocked shots per contest. Drew Doughty and Willie Mitchell are playing with brutal physicality on the blue line for L.A. and Anton Volchenkov and Marek Zidlicky are doing the same for New Jersey.
As for the offense, the Devils are lucky, boasting four solid lines and guys like Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise who have played big-time in these playoffs. As for the Kings, most agree that the team’s top six forwards are the ones to worry about, but L.A. has had 15 different players score at least one goal and another 15 log at least one assist in the playoffs. That’s ridonkulous.
Special teams has been interesting for both teams in the post season. The Devils are scoring on the man advantage 18.2% of the time while the Kings are at a measly 8.1% on the PP. Perhaps the more important number comes on the flip side of the coin. The Devils are 74.2% on the penalty kill while L.A. is a whopping 91.2% on the PK. Jersey has logged two shorthanded goals while the Kings have scored five while killing penalties. The Devils can really do some damage if they can poke holes in the Kings special teams play.
At the end of the day, my heart says Kings. Then again, I’ve picked against the Devils in every series, and they’ve made a liar out of me each time. I think the extra rest for the Kings, as well as their special teams unit and the play of Dustin Penner might just put L.A. over the top and crown the Kings Stanley Cup Champions for the first time in franchise history.
They say history often repeats itself and the New York Rangers are living proof of it. The Rangers’ third-round playoff series against the New Jersey Devils has mimicked the first two seesaw-like rounds in which the East’s No. 1 seed won the first game, lost the second, and rebounded for a Game 3 victory.
The home team Devils actually dominated the first two periods showing plenty of toughness and out-shooting the Rangers 26-14 en route to a goose-egg tie heading into the third period of play. Henrick Lundqvist was phenomenal throughout and when push came to shove - both literally and figuratively - New York’s offense pulled its head out from you know where to smoke New Jersey late for the 3-0 win.
It took some nudging on behalf of Rangers coach John Tortorella to wake his boys up. By way of verbal lashings and line shake-ups, Tort reminded the guys, “Hey! You fools are the freakin #1 Rangers, so get out there and act like it.”
Apparently Rangers right winger Brandon Prust heard that message loud and clear as he elbowed the back of Anton Volchenkov’s head, dislodging his helmet right after a Tortorella pep talk. While wanting to prove to your coach that you get the point, that was a less-than-ideal way to do it as Prust is almost certain to be suspended at least one game for the play in which no penalty was called.
Much like in Game 1 of this series, the tables turned completely in the third period. Dan Girardi, a proud member of the Rangers’ fourth line, was the first to inflict pain on the Devils, scoring a only a few minutes in. The Devils didn’t even have time to suffer the pain of an 1-0 deficit as Chris Krieder -a rookie who was playing for BOSTON COLLEGE in April, and now has a goal in each of the last three games - scored 1:57 later, changing the landscape of the game in a hurry.
Lundqvist and the 40-year-old Marty Brodeur were both fantastic in the first two periods, but the Rangers goaltender could not be matched over the long haul. Lundqvist finished the game with 36 saves while Brodeur’s 19 saves -many of them spectacularly physical and heroic- were not enough to to combat the two he let in early in the third period, the first, coming right off a face-off during a power play.
New York’s third goal came on the cheap, an empty-netter from Ryan Callahan providing icing on the cake with only a few minutes remaining in the game.
Lundqvist, who logged his second shutout of the series, said after the game that it was just a matter of time before things started to go the Rangers’ way, and he was right, as the more physical and skilled team eventually prevailed. The Devils, who with the loss broke a four-game win streak on home ice, were unable to capitalize on the power play going 0-5.
The bazillion-dollar-man himself was no match for the super-human Lundqvist as the Rangers netminder stopped Ilya Kovalchuk on a breakaway 49 seconds into the second period before logging a set of back-to-back saves shortly after. The sequence set the tone for the rest of the game, letting Los Diablos know that that whether or not his teammates were going to block shots, Lundqvist wasn’t letting a penny squeak past him today.
Between old man Brodeur, Hollywood Henrik and the rookie Krieder (whose story is sure to be made into a Disney movie if he keeps playing at this level), there is no shortage of great story lines and physical play forcing our fingers crossed in hopes of this series going 7 games.
And if the Rangers’ recent history repeats itself, seven games it is.
If the semifinals at all resemble the record-breaking first round of the NHL playoffs, Hockey fans are in for a treat. Yes, the first round of postseason play featured a whopping 16 overtime games (of 48 games total) - three of which featured multiple extra periods - and three 7-game series involving a No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 seeded team. The first round offered up plenty of surprises as the No. 1 Canucks, the defending Cup champ No. 2 Bruins, No. 3 Panthers and No. 4 Penguins all got bounced early. Not to worry, there are plenty of big guns and Cinderellas to watch in the semifinals.
No. 8 L.A. Kings vs. No. 2 St. Louis Blues
What a great series this should be. Both the Blues and the Kings had very high hopes heading into the 2011-2012 season with only one of the two teams truly delivering. The Blues met their lofty expectations while the Kings faltered greatly, just squeaking into the postseason. L.A. ranked 29th overall in offense and still made the playoffs, so people weren’t exactly picking this No. 8 seed for a first-round upset. Both the Blues and Kings surrendered only eight goals a piece in the first round.
But as you know, when it comes to the NHL playoffs, it’s not how you get there but what you do once you’re in, an idea the Kings clung to in the first round in which they knocked out the President’s Trophy-winning No. 1 Vancouver Canucks in five games.
The Blues defeated a disappointing San Jose Sharks team in five games as well, solidifying the fact that their regular season success was no fluke.
Against each other, the Kings got the best of the Blues in the regular season winning three of four games against St. Louis in fairly dominating fashion, scoring 9 goals to the Blues’ three. History probably won’t repeat itself because of the fact that the Blues were without Andy McDonald for all four games and David Perron and Alex Steen missed two games a piece of the four against the Kings.
The player to watch in this series is L.A. netminder and Vezina Trophy finalist Jonathan Quick who led the league with 10 shutouts. Quick ranked second in goals against average (1.95) and fifth in save percentage (.929). Quick is the first goalie in Kings history to log three consecutive 30-win seasons, with 35 victories in 2011-2012 and he nearly single-handedly got the Kings into the playoffs.
Then again, the Kings aren’t exactly going up against a slouch in Blues goalie Brian Elliott who has a 1.56 GGA in 38 games with St. Louis this season. Oh ya, he logged nine shutouts as well.
Talk about the potential to go seven games with a total of seven goals!
Look for a show defensively as 2008 draft classmates Drew Doughty of the Kings and the Blues’ Alex Pietrangelo should add some extra excitement.
My heart beats for the Kings, but my head picks the Blues in seven games.
No. 4 Nashville Predators vs. No. 3 Phoenix Coyotes
The overtime fun continued with the first game of the semifinals as the Coyotes needed about 14 extra minutes to beat the Predators 4-3. The home team Coyotes broke the mold a bit as away teams were the victors in most of the first round’s overtime games. Visitors were 11-5 in games going beyond regulation.
At this point the Coyotes are overtime experts with six of their seven postseason games thus far going the extra mile . Phoenix has won four of those six games. Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, three of those four wins came after losing a third-period lead.
The Coyotes faced a familiar problem in Game 1 as they lost a lead yet again which opened the door for the Preds to sneak back in. Luckily for Phoenix, they snuck away with the OT win, but is playing this much hockey sustainable over two entire playoff series? Many hockey pundits expected a low-scoring series between Phoenix and Nashville, but Friday’s game put that idea to rest in a hurry.
Both the Coyotes and Predators knocked two recent Stanley Cup winners out of the postseason (the Blackhawks and Red Wings, respectively) in the first round and will look to their goaltenders for big saves here in the semis.
In goal for the Coyotes is Michael Smith who demanded attention with his fantastic play against Chicago and for the Predators, Pekka Rinne impressed against the Red Wings, living up to the high standard he set for himself during the regular season.
Smith and Rinne are both Vezina Trophy-worthy but Rinne got the nod with Smith left on the outside looking in. Smith had a 38-win season with a 2.21 GAA and eight shutouts.
Rinne, on the other hand, nearly won the Vezina last season but finished second to Bruins netminder Tim Thomas. This season, Rinne continued to dominate in net. He ranked second in starts (72 games) and minutes, posting a 2.39 GAA and lead the league in shots faced and saves. The dude is a beast.
Your top point-scorers in the first round were Keith Yandle and Antoine Vermette with five points each for the Coyotes and for the Preds, Alexander Radulov, who also put up five. Keep an eye out on those three in this series as well.
I’m taking the Comeback Coyotes in 6 games.
No. 1 New York Rangers vs. No. 7 Washington Capitals
This series has all kinds of fun story lines, starting with the fact that both teams are likely exhausted after each needed seven games to get into the semifinals. I never actually believed the Rangers would lose to Ottawa, but I also didn’t expect the Bruins to go down at the hands of an underachieving Capitals team either.
New York was the team to beat throughout the regular season and definitely got a scare from the Senators, yet the Rangers remain the team with the best odds (according to Las Vegas) to win the Stanley Cup.
This series features two legitimate superstars in the Rangers’ goaltender Henrik Lundqvist and Caps forward Alex Ovechkin.
Lundqvist, a Vezina Trophy finalist boasts a season featuring a 1.97 GAA, .930 save percentage and eight shutouts in 62 games. In the first-round series against the Sens, Lundqvist’s GAA dropped down to a stealth 1.70.
The Swede doesn’t deserve all of the credit as the Rangers defense is spectacular, ranking fourth in the league in blocked shots and 17th in takeaways.
On the other end of the ice we have the Caps rookie goaltender Braden Holtby who resembled Tim Thomas more than Tim Thomas did in the first round, stopping 233 of 248 shots hurled at him by the Bruins. It’s doubtful, but maybe Holtby will somehow out-Lundqvist Lundqvist in the same manner in which he did Thomas.
As usual, all eyes will be on Ovechkin who led the Caps with 65 points in the regular season and five in the first round against the Bruins (2-3). Leading the Rangers in the regular season was Marian Gaborik with 76 points but in the first round, Brad Richards did the heavy lifting scoring-wise with five points (2-3) against the Bruins. The teams are well-matched offensively with the advantage going to the Rangers on defense.
These teams split their regular season series 2-2, so take that for what it’s worth.
I’m picking the Rangers over the Caps in seven.
No. 6 New Jersey Devils vs. No. 5 Philadelphia Flyers
This series is chalk full of scoring threats, solid goaltending and a few interesting personalities making the Devils/Flyers match up must-see TV.
First of all, each of these teams beat the other twice as the visitor during the regular season. The Devils went 2-0 in Philly, the Flyers were 2-0 in New Jersey so throw home ice out the window, which is basically true of the entire postseason thus far.
Second of all, who the heck knows what you’ll get with Ilya Bryzgalov in net for the Flyers as he’s been inconsistent all season long. I just wish the TV networks would put a microphone on Brysgalov during the game and stream his audio feed live on another channel as it would probably be the most entertaining and perhaps nonsensical television next to Jerry Springer.
Thirdly, the one-and-only Martin Brodeur - HE’S A MAN! HE’s 40!!!! - is less than a week away from turning the big 4-0 and boy did he look gassed starting the third period of the Devils’ seventh game against the Florida Panthers.
One minute, the future Hall-of-Famer looked exhausted just standing around in net, the next, the’s laid out, spread eagle stopping pucks and keeping his team in the game. Watching a near 40-year-old man get in and out of a full splits that quickly is mind-boggling.
The question lies in whether or not the rest of the Devils can ease the load for the aging Brodeur. That won’t be an easy task as Claude Giroux ALONE notched 14 points in the first round of the playoffs, leading a potent offense against Pittsburgh. The Flyers destroyed the Penguins’ strong penalty kill with 12 power-play goals on 23 opportunities.
The Devils were fantastic on the penalty kill during the regular season but faltered in the first round against the Panthers as Florida scored 8 power-play goals on 26 opportunities. If New Jersey allows Philly to repeat that first-round power play success, you can stick a fork in the Devils.
The Flyers were running on all cylinders against Sidney Crosby and the Pens as young bucks Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier impressed while the oldie-but-goodie Jaromir Jagr, like Brodeur, makes 40 look good. Pesky little Danny Briere was also on point for Philly.
But the Devils boast a talented roster of their own. Ilya Kovalchuck led New Jersey with 37 regular season goals and in assists, Patrik Elias padded the stat page with 54.
Yet in the first round against the Panthers, Jersey’s young Travis Zajac had a breakout series with three goals and three assists in those seven games, placing him at 10th in first-round scoring. Not too shabby. Zajac is also really strong in faceoffs.
If the Flyers are playing at 75 percent of what they were in the first round, I think they win this series with relative ease. I think the Flyers just have too much firepower for the Devils so I’ll take Philly in six games, tops.
A lot of people “don’t like” hockey. Most of said people have never watched a game or a playoff series and likely have little-to-no understanding of the game they choose to blindly bash, otherwise, they would certainly sing a different tune.
Only a few games into the postseason this year and we’re already witnessing upsets-galore as the NHL is taking us on one heck of a wild ride that nobody wants to get off of just yet.
The Stanley Cup Playoffs is perhaps the most exciting postseason in all of North American professional team sports not only because of the increased intensity of an already fast and furious game, but also because of the predictably unpredictable results.
Unlike football, baseball or basketball, the “underdogs” frequently get the best of the favorites when Lord Stanley is involved as the NHL playoffs provide all kinds of crazy drama in “truth is stranger than fiction” fashion. Just like in the early rounds of the NCAA basketball tournament, it’s easy to gravitate to teams with players you’ve never heard of solely because they have the potential to be that Cinderella story. The NHL playoffs give us a solid underdog storyline or two nearly every year as lower seeds routinely give higher seeds a run for their money.
In the Western Conference, the 8-seed Los Angeles Kings lead the 1-seed Vancouver Canucks (last year’s Cup runner up) two games to none in the first round as L.A. stole back-to-back road games in British Columbia. Meanwhile the 8-seed Washington Capitals logged a double-overtime win over the top dog Bruins in Boston to tie the first-round series 1-1.
What are the chances that either of these 8-seeds actually pull off the upset and beat the 1-seed in the series? Believe it or not, that feat has been accomplished nine times in 34 tries since the NHL adopted its current playoff format 17 years ago. When you crunch those numbers, the 8-seed beats the 1-seed in the conference quarterfinals 28.1 percent of the time. That might not seem like a lot, but in comparison to the NBA where we’ve only seen the 8-seed down the 1-seed four times, EVER, the odds aren’t terrible for the little guys!
Recent history is even more favorable to hockey’s lower seeds. According to Grantland, the higher-seeded team has won 62.5 percent of first-round matchups since NHL play resumed in 2005 after the season-long lockout. 62.5 percent is not an impressive figure if you are the higher-seeded team. Plus, that number gives the underdog a lot of confidence heading into the playoffs. In that same time frame, the higher seed in the NBA has won 79.2 percent of first-round series.
Once the postseason starts, anything is possible in the NHL where parody finds its way into the field of 16. But the 8-seed isn’t the only playoff cellar-dweller having success this year as the 4-seed Pittsburgh Penguins are in a predicament, down 2-0 to the 5-seed Philadelphia Flyers. The Penguins placement in the fourth slot is misleading as Pittsburgh had the second-best point total out East but was relegated to the 4-seed because they finished a point behind the New York Rangers who won their division.
The Pens are extremely talented especially now that Sidney Crosby is back on the ice, but the Flyers are tough as nails and extra motivated after being swept by the Bruins in the second round last season. I suppose it’s all cyclical as the Bruins sweep of the Flyers in 2011 was retribution for the Philly’s historic comeback from a 3-0 series deficit to beat the Bruins in Boston in 7 games back in 2010. Despite the roster differences, the Flyers are rough and confident, much like they were in 2010 and will take no pity on Crosby or any of his teammates. Then again, it wouldn’t shock me if the Pens came back from this 2-0 deficit to win the series, despite the odds now in the Flyers favor. According to NHL.com, teams trailing 2-0 in a best-of-seven series have come back to win the series only 12.7 percent of the time (37-291).
That leads us to the Kings and Canucks. A series victory looks promising for the Kings who are not only bringing a 2-0 series lead back home to L.A., but the Canucks will play a near must-win Game Three without star left winger Daniel Sedin who has been sidelined with a concussion since late March and did not make the trip to Southern California.
Then again, this marks just the third time in team history the Kings have held a 2-0 series lead (first time on the road) and the franchise has NEVER won a Stanley Cup. Despite the Kings’ historical lack of success, at least the roster has some experienced players who will do their best to shake off the stink of the record books and instead, smell the sweetness of victory as L.A. looks to turn the page.
Another team who struggled, fired its head coach and managed to salvage the season to the point of making the playoffs is Washington. Sure, the Caps have Alex Ovechkin and a hot young goalie in Braden Holtby but I can’t see Washington getting past the defending Cup champion Bruins. As superb as Holtby has been, Saturday’s game was his second career playoff game and only his 21st career NHL game, period! Tim Thomas eats those numbers for lunch.
Then again, the NHL Playoffs is the perfect place to expect the unexpected. I’m sayin’ there’s a chance…
Maybe you love Kobe Bryant, or perhaps you can’t stand the guy. Maybe you are all aboard on the “Black Mamba” train, or perhaps you resent the nickname because Bryant gave it to himself.
Could I at least interest you in a “Masked Mamba?”
Regardless of your personal feelings, Bryant has one of the best nicknames of any active athlete because it is ….gasp… original!
In 2010, a kid at one of Bryant’s basketball camps ( http://tinyurl.com/86cqs5t ) asked the L.A. Lakers star where the nickname came from, and here’s what the Mamba himself had to say:
"Its one of my favorite snakes…I won’t encourage you to be like me. I’m a thrill-seeker. So I love sharks. I love Black Mambas. I love King Cobras. I love stuff that can really kind of do you bodily harm… I’ve actually learned a great deal from animals, how they behave and how they hunt, and Black Mamba was one that really jumped out at me and caught my attention."
The nickname really does fit Bryant’s personality, so I’m all for it. It makes perfect sense.
A little more than a year ago, I read a lengthy yet interesting column about hockey player nicknames. The gist of the article was that ice hockey players once had some of the most inventive and unique nicknames, an aspect of sports rarely seen today. The writer provided a history of handles and compared them with today’s modern monikers. It was no contest; the old guys won that battle, hands down.
If you think about it, most of today’s athletes have uninspiring nicknames that lack any creativity or personal significance.
DWill, KG, KD, ARod, AI , DWade, LBJ, JKidd, JRich, CP3, and TO are just some of the many initials-based/birth certificate-related nicknames that comprise headlines, blog posts and twitter feeds while appealing to no one, unable to evoke a smile, a scowl or any emotional response.
But what’s the fun in a nickname if there is nothing fun about it?
For the longest time, I have blamed Chris Webber for this custom of conventionality because he was the first guy I can remember who became a mega-star with the “first name, first letter” + “last name, first syllable” nickname equation. But just today, after all of these years, I turned my own world upside down when I realized Flo-Jo was probably the real OG of this flawed fad. I am no longer upset with Mr. Webber, nor could I ever be mad at the great Florence Joyner who rocked “Flo-Jo” in the freshest way.
Anyway, I thought we could take a moment to recognize the various “classes” of athlete nicknames. FYI, I’m not including diminutives or nicknames that were given at birth or childhood, a la Tiger Woods, Mookie Blaylock, Bonzie Wells, etc.
That said, let’s roll!
In-Betweeners (it’s not original, but at least it’s better than J-Will):
- Superman (Shaquille O’Neal, Dwight Howard)
- The King (LeBron James)
- Flash (Dwayne Wade)
- Glenn “Doc” Rivers (google where “Doc” came from)
- Big Baby (Glen Davis)
- Pacman (Adam Jones)
- Playmaker (Michael Irvin)
- Linsanity (Jeremy Lin… see: Vince Carter)
- Wilt “The Stilt” Chamberlain
- Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwon
- Clyde “The Glide” Drexler
- Earl “The Pearl” Monroe
- “Big Game” James Worthy
- “Mean” Joe Green
- Nick “The Quick” Van Exel
- The Wizard of Westwood (John Wooden)
- Bear Bryant (Paul Bryant… okay, he was a teenager when he got the nickname, but the guy agreed to wrestle a bear, so he makes the list based on chutzpah alone)
- Pistol Pete (Pete Maravich)
- The Mailman (Karl Malone)
- The Admiral (David Robinson)
- The Captain (Kareem Abdul Jabbar)
- The Greatest (Muhammad Ali)
- The Great One (Wayne Gretzky)
Best Nicknames You’ve Never Heard:
- The Stratford Streak/The Mitchell Meteor (Howie Morenz… http://tinyurl.com/75ypsxg )
- Walter “Sneeze” Achiu (Walter Tin Kit Achiu http://tinyurl.com/7odmbra )
- Dr. J (Julius Irving)
- The Rocket (Roger Clemens)
- Megatron (Calvin Johnson)
- The Shark (Greg Norman)
- Big Papi (David Ortiz)
- Neon (Deion Sanders)
- The Worm (Dennis Rodman)
- Duke of Flatbush (Edwin Snyder)
- Zeke (Isiah Thomas)
- Air Jordan (Michael Jordan)
- The Bus (Jerome Bettis)
- Broadway Joe (Joe Namath)
- Golden Boy (Oscar De La Hoya)
- Vinsanity (Vince Carter)
- The Big Ticket (Kevin Garnett)
- World B. Free (Lloyd Bernard Free)
- The Big Fundamental (Tim Duncan)
- Babe/Bambino/Sultan of Swat (George Herman Ruth)
- Sweetness (Walter Payton)
- The Glove (Gary Payton)
- Iceman (George Gervin)
- The Flying Dutchman (Honus Wagner)
- Thorpedo (Ian Thorpe)
- Golden Bear (Jack Nicklaus)
- The Freak (Jevon Kearse)
- Shoeless Joe Jackson (Joe Jackson…Duh.)
- The Flying Tomato (Shaun White)
- Iron Mike (Mike Tyson)
- Mr. October (Reggie Jackson)
Runner Up for Best Nickname:
The one and only, “The Say Hey Kid,” Willie Mays.
And…. the best nickname EV-ER…OF ALL TIME…. is….
Irvin “Magic” Johnson. You can’t beat Magic.
Surely, I have left plenty of folks off this list, so feel free to tweet me with your favorites at @Jackie_Pepper
Hockey Day In America. Sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it? NBC is trying to change that as the network hosts its second annual “Hockey Day In America,” a nine-hour block of hockey-related programming across various NBC platforms.
While hockey can’t seem to find a solid, widespread fan base in the United States, it’s as popular as ever in Canada and Europe and NBC, which owns the broadcast rights to NHL games, would love to see that popularity shift to the U.S.
Lets dissect what Hockey Day In America will consist of before getting into why hockey isn’t, but should be more successful in the U.S.
Starting at Noon ET, three different NHL games will be aired on NBC. Depending on what region of the country you are in on Sunday morning, you’ll see either the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Buffalo Sabres, the San Jose Sharks at the Detroit Red Wings or the St. Louis Blues at the Chicago Blackhawks.
Once the first round of games wraps up, the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins will take on the Minnesota Wild in front of a national audience on NBC. The fun continues on NBC Sports Network (formerly Versus) with the New Jersey Devils at the Montreal Canadiens, also nationally televised, at around 6pm ET after the conclusion of Bruins at Wild.
NBC chose some great match-ups as each game features star players and intriguing story lines. From Team USA goaltender Ryan Miller in net for the Sabres to the Red Wings attempting to stretch their home winning streak to a whopping 23 games, there’s something for everyone to gravitate to, including the casual NHL fan and even someone who doesn’t know a thing about hockey.
But nobody is counting on back-to-back-to-back games to do the trick and convert your typical “any sport other than hockey” fan into an NHL sweater-wearing believer. NBC is weaving the details of the game and its culture throughout the nine-hour telecast in the form of features and human interest stories designed to keep the television audience engaged and actually teach people a thing or two about hockey.
While many of us think of hockey as a Canadian sport, the U.S. makes plenty of contributions to the game which will be showcased Sunday. For example, a disproportionate number of NHL players come from two tiny high school hockey programs in Minnesota. Located in towns with populations under 3,000, Roseau High School and Warroad High School will be featured on NBC as the rival schools pump out professional hockey players at an abnormally high rate.
Other tales to be told during Sunday’s telecast are those of a groundbreaking program created by the Tampa Bay Lightning Foundation which provides sled hockey for the physically challenged and “The Program,” which gives American kids interested in hockey a legitimate path to the NHL without having to leave the country for the Canadian junior leagues. American-born players will be featured and interviewed throughout the telecast.
The NHL had a small window of opportunity to increase its fan base during the NBA lockout, but in the end, there just wasn’t enough time to forge a grassroots movement to attract new viewers.
I once had a conversation with a front office employee of a non-Original Six (Bruins, Blackhawks, Red Wings, Canadiens, Rangers and Maple Leafs) NHL team about how hard it is for his team to grow its fan base. He said the organization had seemingly tried everything to increase ticket sales and TV ratings but nothing would stick. Putting butts in seats inside the arena wasn’t as much of an issue as the TV ratings, which he said were extremely hard to grow.
It’s no coincidence that four of the NHL’s Original Six teams will be featured in “Hockey Day In America” as Boston, Chicago, Detroit and Montreal will bring their strong fan bases with them and perhaps NBC’s presentation of the traditions and folklore of those teams can get others outside of those markets interested in the sport and its history.
Sure, baseball is “American’s Pastime” and its roots run deep through U.S. soil, but football surpassed baseball as the country’s most popular sport years ago and basketball is beloved by Americans from every walk of life. If only sports fans realized that hockey has the violence of football, the speed of basketball and the agility and skill superior to both, they would certainly fall in love with the NHL.
They say “hockey doesn’t translate on TV,” and while there is some truth to that, once you learn the rules and understand the game, hockey is just as exciting to watch on television as any other sport. Seeing a game in person is also a fantastic experience.
Being able to watch hockey on TV was in jeopardy after the NHL lockout as the league was dropped by the networks that carried the games before the 2004-05 season which was lost completely due to the labor dispute. Luckily, NBC came along and partnered with the NHL (which I think saved the league from collapsing). NBC got one heck of a deal as they did not have to pay rights fees for the games, instead, agreeing to simply split ad revenue with the league.
The higher the TV ratings, the more money NBC and the NHL take home. Unfortunately, this year’s Winter Classic game between the Rangers and Flyers had the lowest ratings in the short history of the event, in it’s fifth year. It’s not all bad news though because the game was moved from prime time on New Years Day to mid-day on Jan 2 (competing against college football) due to weather conditions which is probably a likely explanation for the ratings drop. The 2011 Winter Classic between the Capitals and Penguins drew the event’s highest ratings with help from HBO’s reality series “24/7” leading up to the game (the cable network also featured this season’s Winter Classic teams) and because the match-up featured the NHL’s top players in Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin.
Given the massive programming block of Hockey Day In America, the NHL and NBC should be able to capitalize off a Sunday devoid football or baseball. Plus, NBC has a full hour of hockey all to itself before any NBA or NCAA basketball games start. That should be enough time to plant the seed and convert the non-believers into hockey fans, slowly but surely, beginning with nine hours of Hockey Day In America.
UPDATE: 7:00pm EST
Below is a statement released by Tim Thomas on his facebook page in regards to why he chose not to attend the White House:
I believe the Federal government has grown out of control, threatening the Rights, Liberties, and Property of the People. This is being done at the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial level. This is in direct opposition to the Constitution and the Founding Fathers vision for the Federal government. Because I believe this, today I exercised my right as a Free Citizen, and did not visit the White House. This was not about politics or party, as in my opinion both parties are responsible for the situation we are in as a country. This was about a choice I had to make as an INDIVIDUAL. This is the only public statement I will be making on this topic. TT
Original Post: Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas seems to be getting more press for declining an official invitation to visit the White House than he did for winning the freakin’ Stanley Cup! Go figure.
Yes, it’s true, Boston’s netminder was absent from Monday’s ceremony at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue as Thomas decided not to participate with his teammates in a ceremony hosted by President Obama in honor of the Bruins winning the Stanley Cup Championship in an incredible playoff run that took them to the brink against the Vancouver Canucks in seven games last season.
Thomas, a Michigan-native and one of only two Americans from last year’s team, refused the invitation in protest of the Obama Administration’s policies. Thomas, only the second American-born player to win the league’s playoff MVP award is a noted Republican. Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli told reporters the trip to the White House was not mandatory and that Thomas had told him months ago that he would not attend because of his political views.
I respect every person’s right to refuse an invitation to the White House. Plenty of other athletes and celebrities have made the same choice throughout the years, but here’s where that decision confuses me.
During random streams of consciousness over the years when a previous administration was in office, I always thought to myself, “what would I do if I ever had the chance to meet the President? Would I even shake his hand?” The conclusion I came to on a personal level was that instead of using silence as a form of protest, why not use the opportunity to air my grievances?
If you have the chance to stand in front of the President of the United States of America, and he is locked into shaking your hand and looking you in the eye as a part of his ceremony-hosting duties, I am WITHOUT A DOUBT taking that time to run down my top three issues and solutions to those problems. Does it mean the President will be inspired to pass a bill in my name and change policies according to my ideals? Probably not, but it sure is better than the alternative, which is having no platform to personally reach a sitting President.
While I may not agree with his political views, I adore Tim Thomas. Covering the Bruins for Comcast Sportsnet New England, I spent plenty of time around him, interviewed him countless times and saw him interact with others. He is a hard worker, family man, nice person and all-around class act.
In my time with Thomas, I never knew his political affiliation as I never heard him, or anyone else for that matter, discuss it. Based on reports that Thomas cited The Glenn Beck Show as one of his favorite television shows, I think it’s safe to assume my political views are vastly different from his.
That said, while I respect Thomas’ decision to skip the White House, I wish he would have used his passion for politics to take advantage of the opportunity to face President Obama in person. Sure, it’s much easier to huff and puff about political policy while sitting at home watching Fox News Channel, but I would’ve rather seen Thomas muster up the chutzpah to respectfully share his thoughts and suggestions with President Obama in a sincere effort to make a difference by bringing awareness to his causes. That is an opportunity millions of Americans would take a Chara slap shot to the chest for.
Russian Rhymes: NHL Star Ovechkin Raps In Music Video
As a sports-loving society, we’ve been subjected to numerous cases of horrendous musical endeavors from our favorite athletes over the years. Sure, some have been so bad that they’re good (i.e. 1985 Bears “Super Bowl Shuffle”), but most are just awful without any redeeming qualities.
While I love Alexander Ovechkin’s “Russian Spy” SportsCenter commercial, I’m not as enthusiastic about the Washington Capital winger’s latest detour into the world of fine arts.
This time, one of the NHL’s biggest stars took up rapping. Yes, rapping, as in hip hop. I tend to forget that folks from every country in the world rap so every time I hear the style performed in a different language, it makes me chuckle. Russian rapper Sasha Belyi’s song “Champion” features Ovechkin lending his vocal stylings to the track as well as his attempt at dancing and bobbing to the beat in the “special” music video above. Watching the video, I can’t decide if I’m repulsed, amused or both. Ovi is featured throughout the video, but doesn’t start rapping until the 2:50 mark.
The website RussianMachineNeverBreaks.com translated Ovechkin’s rap:
Alumni of Dynamo 8 on the back. In the All-Star game all attention is on me.
On the NatTeam since 17 . Scored 100 points in a season Gold medal in Canada in ‘08
Among the ten best players of the decade, Stick in my hands, Rap in my headphones
Saying hello from Washington,
Together with Sanya Belyi,
For every champion
[And then a bizarre sound that sounds like the English words “Look out!”]
Fantastic! Equally amusing is the behind-the-scenes feature about Ovi’s involvement with the song MTV Russia aired. In the video, the 26-year-old Moscow native is shown wearing a t-shirt reading in english “sex and love are the future.” Prophetic indeed. Here’s the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=u0E2JVEicEo
With the Capitals in the midst of a rough season (at least by their lofty standards) and Ovechkin struggling to match his sky high production of previous years, it’s nice to see him smiling and enjoying himself. While I’m pretty sure Rebecca Black is slightly more talented on the mic than Ovi, I’d rather hear this Russian rap any day of the week. Fridays included.
Sports trades can get awkward, especially when they fall through. In that situation, a player already knows his team tried to get rid of him and subsequently, he feels unwanted, etc.
But how about this gem, care of the Montreal Canadiens, as one of the NHL’s Original Six teams traded its forward Mike Cammalleri to the Calgary Flames during their game against the rival Bruins in Boston on Thursday night.
We’ll get to the details of the trade itself in a moment, but first, we must discuss the horrendous timing of the trade, why it looks like Cammalleri was sent packing and why he was actually shipped to Calgary (20-19-5, 12th in the West).
The trade was finalized during a conference call between both teams and the league while the Habs (16-20-7, 12th in the East) and Bruins (28-11-1, 2nd in the East) were playing. After the second period ended, the Habs informed Cammalleri he had been traded, put him in a taxi cab and sent him back to the team hotel to await further instructions. Very 007, right? Anyway, once play resumed in the third period (the Habs went on to lose the game 2-1), the forward was noticeably missing from the Habs bench which started a firestorm of trade rumors on twitter.
Many assumed Cammalleri in essence packed his own bags after controversial comments he made about his own team. The nine-year NHL veteran managed to piss off all of Montreal when he pulled a Reggie Bush after a practice session on Wednesday, expressing some harsh opinions about his squad.
“I can’t accept that we will display a losing attitude as we’re doing this year,” Cammalleri told NHL.com reporter Arpon Basu and François Gagnon of La Presse. “We prepare for our games like losers. We play like losers. So it’s no wonder why we lose.”
Some have claimed that Cammalleri’s words got lost in translation when they were converted from English to French for print. Regardless of whether Cammalleri was quoted accurately or not, Canadiens general manager Pierre Gauthier said the incident had nothing to do with the trade. Surprisingly, I actually believe the guy!
When asked if the left winger’s insult of the team was a factor in the trade, Gauthier said, “Not not at all and I didn’t make a big deal about that. There’s emotion around the team somebody says something, I’d rather see emotion than people that don’t care. I just spoke with Mr. Cammalleri, I mean, he understands what was happening and I explained what we were trying to do with the team… He’s part of the team and he cares a lot, that’s why he made those comments.”
I watched those words come out of Gauthier’s mouth and he seemed genuine, so I’ll buy it. In that case, why did he trade Cammalleri, goaltender Karri Ramo and a 5th-round pick of the 2012 draft to Calgary in exchange for left winger Rene Bourque, center prospect Patrick Holland and a 2nd-round draft pick in 2013?
"We’ve been trying all those weeks [since December 1] to get bigger up front, we felt as the season started, that was one of the things, one of the reasons it would improve the club is we need to score harder goals," Gauthier told the media. "We need to score the goals that are not the fancy ones and not the outside shots [the kind that Bourque is capable of scoring]."
As far as timing is concerned, Gauthier made some valid points. He said Cammalleri had to be pulled from the ice immediately upon finalization of the trade to reduce the likelihood of the other team involved changing its mind, or risking the possibility of Cammalleri getting injured, which would void the deal. Gauthier further explained the timing of the trade in terms of Bourque’s availability. The forward is now down to the last game of a five-game suspension he is serving for an elbow shot to the head of the Capital’s Nicklas Backstrom. Better to have your new player miss one game instead of five.
After learning of the trade, Bourque said with humorous honesty, “I might be in trouble… I don’t speak French, even if I have the most French name on that team.” Good luck buddy! A few of my close friends from Toronto went to college in Montreal and were unable to work because they weren’t fluent in French. Apparently, it is nearly impossible to find employment in the city if you don’t speak French. I guess Bourque should consider himself lucky.
As for Cammalleri, we’ll hear from him soon enough, but for now all we have to go on is that he understood why he was being traded, which is what Gauthier surmised after their conversation about the move.
With nine goals and 13 assists this season, Cammalleri will re-join his former team (he wore the Flames sweater for the 2008-2009 season) and reunite with old line mate Jarome Iginla. The two had great chemistry back in the 08-09 season, which was also the last time the Flames reached the playoffs.
Looking for a sports reporter? I think I know of one…