Monthly Archives: January 2012

Revenge Of The Fallen

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I’m not Nostradamus, but something tells me that Tom Brady was watching the NFC Championship game very closely after the Patriots defeated the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC title game.

The reason being there was one team that Brady wanted to win for a myriad of reasons…

That team was the New York Giants.

In any other year Brady or Bill Belichick for that matter wouldn’t care who they played if they were to reach the Super Bowl, however this is different.

This isn’t just another Super Bowl rematch. This isn’t like the Bills Seeking revenge against the Cowboys in the 90’s, the Bengals getting a second shot against the 49ers in the 80’s or the Cowboys getting a redux against the Steelers in the 70’s. This rematch is extremely personal.

In Super Bowl 42 the New England Patriots were 60 minutes from history. At 18-0 the Patriots were heavily favored to beat the Giants and join the Miami Dolphins as the only undefeated team’s in NFL history.

The Patriots overcame the heavy criticism of Spygate and steamrolled every team in their path on their way to what looked like another Super Bowl title.

However, history was derailed thanks to a prolific pass rush, David Tyree’s helmet and Eli Manning’s poise.

18-0 turned to 18-1 and the Patriots and their fans have had to deal with that blemish and the possibility of what could’ve been since then.

Everyone involved with the New England Patriots from owners, to players that are still around from that 18-1 team to the fans have been foaming at the mouth at the possibility of retribution in the Super Bowl. As they watched the NFC playoffs unfold and saw the Giants catch fire late in the season it seemed like they would get their chance at retribution if things all panne out.

Once Lawrence Tynes hit a game-winning field goal in overtime of to lift the Giants into the Super Bowl that possibility became reality.

Brady and Belichick get what they want, a chance at payback for the only blemish on their impeccable record. They can never go back and correct that error but winning a fourth Super Bowl would mean just as much as a perfect mark.

Brady could join Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw as the only QB’s with 4 Super Bowls, Belichick could match only Chuck Noll at 4. Once again they have a chance at history and once again that familiar foe stands in their way.

No David Tyree, no undefeated season on the line, no distractions and no excuses.

Patriot fans called Super Bowl 42 a fluke. Well here is the do over. Brady, Belichick and the New England Patriots get the Giants a second time. They wanted a shot at redemption and they got it.

Now the question is can they exact revenge on the New York Giants or will history repeat itself?


What’s Happened To The Montreal Canadiens?

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In 1993 the Montreal Canadians sat atop the hockey world as NHL champions for the 24th time after the beat Wayne Gretzky and his Los Angeles Kings in five games.

At the time they were the most storied franchise in sports holding more titles than any other franchise and a history that is only comparable with The New York Yankees in terms of legendary.

19 years later the Habs have gone from powerful to a punch line.

They’ve watched the Yankees win five titles reaching 27 total, and when I mean watch they have literally been in the backseat or on the side of the road watching them pass by.

It started with the infamous Patrick Roy trade to the Colorado Avalanche, which birthed a mini dynasty in Denver, and has since morphed into a smorgasbord of futility that has been rarely viewed in French-Canadia.

They’ve missed the playoffs 6 times in the last 19 years, in the previous 80 years they had missed the playoffs 7 times…7!!

They’ve had one trip to the conference finals, one division title, eight different coaches and not a lick of consistency behind the bench or on the ice.

The city that was home to some of the games greatest goal scorers and game breakers like Maurice Richard and Guy Lafluer hasn’t had any punch in their lineup since the late 70’s or so it would seem. Their last scoring champ was Lafluer in 1978, the last winner of the Norris trophy was Chris Chelios in 1989, last MVP was Jose Theodore in 2001. More on goalies later.

They’ve gone from great names who came through in great situations to relying on Scott Gomez to do their heavy lifting (ask the Rangers about how that goes).

What happened? When did the Yankees of hockey become the New York Mets? The Habs have gone from kings to jesters. The team that was feared by feared by many in the league are very close to becoming a doormat.

They used to own the Boston Bruins, their primary rival, they’ve lost two straight playoff series to them including a 2-0 lead last year. The Maple Leafs, who were in the same position last year are battling for a playoff spot and could appear in next years Winter Classic. The Red Wings have overtaken them as the standard for excellence in the NHL. It doesn’t make any sense.

Lets go back to the Roy departure for a bit. Roy was the face of the Habs after his remarkable burst onto the scene as a 20 year-old wunderkind who lead the Habs to a win in the 1986 Stanley cup over the Calgary Flames. His Conn Smythe performance earned him a place in Canadiens lore and he carried it with him into the 90’s which included another masterful performance in the team’s last Stanley Cup win in 1993 over The Los Angeles Kings.

Then 2 years later during an 11-1 beatdown in Montreal at the hands of the Red Wings, Roy was pulled after giving up nine goals on 26 shots. Stormed off of the bench and as he walked by Habs president Pat Jablonski he said “It’s my last game in Montreal.”

Four days later he was in Denver to begin a great run with the Colorado Avalanche and the Habs haven’t recovered since.

Ever since Roy’s departure not only have the Habs struggles on the ice but in net as well.

The franchise that brought us legends like Jacques Plante, Ken Dryden and Roy hasn’t come close to producing another great in net since Roy’s departure.

The fans in Montreal have been treated to the likes of Mathieu Garon, Cristobal Huet, Stephane Fiset and Jocelyn Thibault.

And yes I know Jose Theodore did win a Hart Trophy and a Vezina but Theodore was more fizzle than sizzle, hence why he lost his job to Huet.

Recently Montreal has been trying to sell itself on Carey Price who has had more ups and downs than any young goalie should ever have. His career has mirrored the luck of the Canadiens as of late, some games he looks like a Vezina candidate, others he looks like a career backup.

You can’t solely place the blame on Price, especially this season. Without him in net Montreal has only won 2 of it’s 17 games. His offense boasts only 3 ten goal scorers and is ranked in the bottom half of the NHL.

It’s been an abysmal wreck and it’s led to Montreal’s last place standing in the Northeast division even after two straight playoff appearances where it looked like Montreal was on it’s way back to the top of the Eastern Conference.

Who’s to blame? The organization? The players? The high expectations of the fans?

Recently Mike Cammelleri lashed out at his Habs teammates for developing “a losing mentality”… he was rewarded by being traded to the Calgary Flames and was browbeaten in a French newspaper who’s headline read “One Less Loser.”

Yikes!

In Cammy’s defense what should he have said? He’s a leader, if you’re not playing well you deserve to be called out for it. What does it say about an organization when it trades a guy for giving an honest and truthful opinion about how his team is playing?

The Habs can’t be coddled like little boys, they are grown men that are wilting under the expectations the come with putting on that red, white and blue sweater. The organization can’t try to hide it or punish people for saying it, it’s right there for everyone to see.

Is this what it’s come to in Montreal? Greatness to mediocrity? The Canadiens are drowning in it and are in desperate need of a raft.

This team needs an identity, a face, a proper direction to be lead in because they’ve been going in circles for nearly 20 years.

The organization that at one time could say that they were on par with the New York Yankees is now lagging behind.

Can they recover? Can they ever find a coach that can withstand the pressure associated with the organization? What’s next for the Montreal Canadiens?

They better have some answers and soon. You can only wallow in mediocrity so long before everyone stops caring and then you become a team of losers.


Another Classic

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You all know that out of all five of the NHL Winter Classic’s this one sparked my attention most of all.

I was so excited to watch my New York Rangers under the lights at Citizens Bank Park against the hated Philadelphia Flyers that I said to hell with any football being played on Monday.

I didn’t get out of bed until an hour before face-off. At this point Ohio State was down at the half to Florida, Penn State was getting creamed by Houston and the Big Ten was having another horrible New Years bowl day… So?

New Years Day used to be about sitting in front of your TV and veging out to a smorgasbord of football games. It was awesome getting to watch about ten bowls in one day culminating with the Rose Bowl at five and the Fiesta, Orange and Sugar Bowls all at eight on three networks.

Well once the BCS came to fruition and spread out every bowl up until ten days after the New Year it rendered January 1st useless. Also with the SEC on top of all things football I’m not interested in watching the Big Ten get creamed in three games at one time.

Bowl season and January 1st used to mean something, instead the day turned into meaningless now that you can watch any one of 69 bowl games in a span of three weeks.

Then five years ago out of nowhere the NHL began a new tradition almost out of the blue. The inaugural Winter Classic was done without fanfare or much knowledge due to the NHL’s dwindling popularity after the NHL lockout.

I remember turning on my TV in the middle of the afternoon before work to see Pittsburgh take on Buffalo in a snow storm in front of a packed Ralph Wilson Stadium. I was shocked at first because I didn’t know that this game was supposed to be scheduled. If I would’ve known that Sidney Crosby was going to play in front of 73,000 people on New Years Day you best believe I would’ve cleared my schedule.

My eyes were fixated on the entire scene, the crowd was raucous throughout the entire game, the snow added an awesome prop to the game even though the snow caused a ton of ice problems, the classic jerseys were so cool I actually thought about buying a light blue Crosby jersey (then I came back to earth and realized I’m a Rangers fan). The game was a spectacle, and after Crosby scored the winning shootout goal I walked to work and couldn’t stop talking about the game.

The inaugural Winter Classic was something I had never seen before and as a huge hockey fan it had me wanting more. The NHL had discovered something, it had an event now that it could call it’s own and something that it could be known for. The question then became “what next?” Where could Gary Bettman take this game and make it bigger and bigger each time it was played? I think he figured it out and very well.

The next four classics have all been better than the previous one because Bettman has focused on keeping the games in hockey crazed cities and has featured his marquee players and teams.

The second classic featured the Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings from Wrigley Field in a shootout that got to show the Blackhawks continue their resurgence to relevance oh and Patrick Kane’s silky game.

The third featured The Boston Bruins against the Flyers in a ultra physical matchup that ended with Milan Lucic scoring the overtime winner under the lights and led the NHL into an awesome Olympic tournament.

Last years Classic was a matchup of modern rivals and the leagues biggest star players Alex Ovechkin’s Washington Capitals and Crosby’s Penguins from Heinz Field. It was another physical matchup that featured the Classic’s first fight and unfortunately the beginning of Crosby’s concussion problems. It was also the highest rated Classic because honestly were people going to watch Ovie versus Crosby or Oklahoma against UCONN in the Fiesta Bowl?

Then came this year’s Winter Classic. Once it was announced that my Rangers were battling the Flyers I immediately looked for every leak I could find from jerseys to legends game possibilities. When you have a team involved in such an event it pushes your interest into psycho mode.

My original plan was to go to the actual game with my buddy Scully who’s a huge Flyers fan. That changed once I saw how much tickets were in stubhub. $500 bucks a pop sounds about right for this type of game but not out if my pockets.

Instead waking up at 2 p.m. and throwing on my Rangers jersey and Starter jacket (yeah I have one if those still) would have to do.

The scene was more electric than all other Winter Classics except Buffalo. Say what you want about Philadelphia fans but they bring energy to their team’s games. It also helped that the Rangers and Flyers hate each others guts so there was a little bit more behind those Let’s Go Flyers chants than at a normal game.

The jerseys were the most simplistic of all of the Winter Classic events with the Flyers going with a darker orange color with really cool captains tags. The Rangers took it back to the early 20th century with a skinnier version of their shield logo and cream colored sweaters. Once I find a wholesale site that sells those I’m all over a Callahan #24.

The game itself was the most competitive of the five Classic’s. Both team’s were playing at the highest level possible and no one was slowing up at all. Brandon Dubinsky hit everything that moved in the first period with Scott Hartnell and Claude Giroux countering for the Flyers.

The Flyers kept the puck in the Rangers zone for most of the first two periods but couldn’t break through on Henrik Lundqvist until rookie Braydon Schenn scored the first goal of the game off of the game. Minutes later Giroux found the back of the net on an odd-man rush to put the Flyers up by 2.

One minute later Mike Rupp cut the lead in half using a Flyers defenseman to shield Sergei Bobrovsky from seeing the puck as he ripped a wrist shot past him. He was booed lustily by Flyers fans not just for the goal but for imitating Jaromir Jagr’s goal salute after.

( Side note: I thought we were headed for a brawl at this point. There was so much aggression from both sides and the crowd was so into it that I thought someone was going to throw a punch a spark an on ice riot. The Rupp celebration almost did it. Rupp and Hartnell started barking at each other at the beginning of the third over the salute and it seemed like they were going to go. Unfortunately nothing came to fruition but that anticipation hungover for the remainder of the game.)

Once the third period began the Rangers began to make their move. They seemed to have fresher legs and got to every loose puck as the Flyers looked a little flat. The hard work paid off as Rupp scored again and tied the game at 2.

Flyers fans started getting nervous as the once raucous crowd grew silent and Rangers fans let their voices be heard amid the silence.

The Flyers play became erratic and they began to panic. Defenders overplayed the puck and it’s carrier and minutes after Rupp tied the game Brad Richards stood alone in the corner and was the only person near a rebound off of Callahan’s missed shot. Richards fired it into the net to give the Rangers a 3-2 lead and send the Rangers bench and yours truly into a frenzy.

As the Flyers tried to mount a comeback they were once again stalled by Lundqvist who was his normal brilliant self in this day. Lundqvist looked every bit like the gold medal winning goalie that he was at the 2006 Olympics as turned away the Flyers time and time again.

In the final minute with the Flyers clinging to their last life two calls drove me absolutely bonkers and looked like Gary Bettman made a personal call to the refs to make sure there was overtime.

The dive call on Callahan was dreadful as the replay showed he was clearly hooked from behind by Kimmo Timonen. It gave the Flyers another opportunity to have an extra attacker with it being 4 on 4 and Bobrovsky on the bench.

With the extra attacker the Flyers threw everything that they could at Lundqvist and with 20 seconds a shot almost squeaked through until Ryan McDonagh stopped the puck from crossing the line by sitting on it. By rule you can’t do that as a defender and the refs awarded Philadelphia a penalty shot. Imagine my face when this happened. I almost through my beer glass at the TV but harpoon is pretty pricey so I calmed down.

Of all of the Flyers to take the shot it had to be Daniel Briere. Briere has a knack for coming through when the Flyers need it most (case in point last years first round versus Buffalo) and with the game on the line who else could’ve taken it for them.

Briere skated in as the entire stadium, 47,000 people to be exact, rose to their feet. Briere tried to go five-hole but Lundqvist did what he did for most of the night, he turned the shot away and ended the Flyers last chance to extend the best game of 2012 in it’s early stages.

The Rangers 3-2 victory was easily the best of all 5 of the Winter Classic matchups. The game play was faster, more physical and had you on the edge of your seat up until the end.

So once again the question is, now what?

Who’s next to play in the NHL’s new spectacle? If it were up to me these five matches would make the most entertaining Winter Classic’s:

1. Detroit VS. Toronto from the Big House in Ann Arbor.

A great original six matchup in hockey hungry Michigan

2. Minnesota VS. Vancouver from Target Field.

Minnesota is a very competitive team and Minnesota has a great hockey history.

3. St. Louis VS. Chicago from Busch Stadium.

The city matchup says it all.

4. Washington VS. Tampa Bay from Nationals Stadium.

D.C. has grown into a good hockey town, plus Ovechkin and Steven Stamkos would light up the scoreboard.

5. Anaheim VS. San Jose from AT&T park.

A California Winter Classic? Hear me out on this. Start it at 8 pm when the temps hit 45 degrees. Northern Cali loves it Sharks and a matchup with Anaheim in a budding west coast rivalry would be a hit for the west coast market.

Whoever gets the opportunity next they have a lot to live up to. This year’s edition of the Classic pushed the game to a new height and left another great memory for those that got a chance to see it.

The Winter Classic has become the new way for sports fans to ring in the New Year and it looks like it’ll stay that way for awhile.

You can watch bowl games whenever you want. The Winter Classic is a treat that you look forward to once a year and continues to deliver.

Let’s hope Bettman doesn’t mess this up the way that college football did and add more outdoor games. Too much of a good thing isn’t always a good thing.


The Powerless ACC

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So this is why Pittsburgh and Syracuse are throwing away their basketball allegiances?

This is the reason that the Big East is going through a hideous makeover?

After watching Virginia Tech and Clemson the last two nights in BCS bowl games I can’t help but wonder what the hell Syracuse and Pitt were thinking?

The move by both schools was supposed to bolster it’s football programs, but after watching Virginia Tech lose another big game and Clemson just get drilled you have to wonder if it was really a smart move on their parts.

The Hokies had every opportunity to beat a weaker Michigan team but couldn’t convert inside the red zone all night and settled for field goals. In the end their offensive ineptitude caught up with them and Michigan continued it’s recent resurgence with a 23-20 win on overtime. The loss dropped Virginia Tech to 1-5 in BCS games all time (more on that later), this is supposedly the class of the ACC in football but every time they reach the big stage they just can’t get over the hump.

However, at least they put up a fight… What the hell Clemson?

In their first BCS game and biggest bowl game since their 1980 national title Clemson just got murdered. How does a supposed top 15 team and conference champion allow 49 first half points and 70 total? Clemson look far less skilled than their opponents from the Big East as Tavon Austin and Geno Smith looked like they were playing on All-Madden while Clemson was stuck on rookie. The funny thing about it is before the game every analyst picked West Virginia to get killed. They must’ve forgot that the Mountaineers take BCS games very seriously as seen by their previous convincing wins over Oklahoma and Georgia.

West Virginia has now won 3 BCS bowls… The ACC has 2 total. The ACC is 2-13 lifetime in BCS bowl games… 2-13!!! Boise State has the same amount of wins in two games (yet had to watch Va. Tech go to the Sugar Bowl over them). The Big East is 7-7 in BCS bowls with one less BCS bowl win than the Big 12, and people want to revoke the Big East’s automatic bid?

The ACC has been one of the weaker power conferences for years now and this just proves it.

The ACC has no business being considered a power football conference. Their mediocrity has been exposed by everyone from Florida, to Iowa and even Kansas (yup, the Jayhawks beat the Hokies in the Orange bowl a few years ago). The fact that teams would jettison their conference to join this circus for football reasons is laughable. After the last two nights the hilarity should be at it’s highest level ever.

After watching the Sugar and Orange Bowls I hope Syracuse and Pitt are happy with their decisions.

You thought that aligning yourselves with the ACC would mean stiffer competition and a better brand to recruit with. Instead you just joined the laughing stock of the BCS and forced West virginia’s hand in leaving behind a crumbling conference that they made respectable.

Nice job guys. Good luck wallowing in even more mediocrity than what you began with.