July 1, 2013

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The Week In Sports

By: Anson Whaley

Blackhawks win Stanley Cup – Late in Game 6, it looked like the Stanley Cup Championship series was headed for a Game 7 just like the NBA Finals this year. With the Blackhawks holding a 3-2 series lead, the Bruins had a late 2-1 advantage in the game. But Chicago scored two goals over the final 1:16 left in regulation to stun the Bruins and win the cup. That second goal by Dave Bolland was the latest goal scored in regulation to ever clinch a Stanley Cup win. Simply an amazing end for what has been the best team in hockey this season.

Dave Bolland's last second goal clinched the Stanley Cup for the Blackhawks.

Aaron Hernandez charged with murder: Aaron Hernandez, a tight end with the New England Patriots, was charged with murder in the death of a former football player Odin Lloyd. The story’s been all over the news and we won’t rehash all of the details here, but it’s just a sad, sad debacle. Hernandez, understandably, was let go by the team as he awaits a trial.

Oregon lands on probation – The Oregon Ducks‘ football program was placed on probation by the NCAA for three years based on recent recruiting violations. While the move is a small blow to Oregon, the Ducks have to be happy that they won’t be banned from postseason play or stripped of any past achievements. A small loss in scholarships and recruiting visits are pretty minimal compared to what the Ducks could have ultimately faced. Postseason bans are among the worst things that can happen to a program that has to then sell recruits on playing with no chance of a bowl berth.

Roger Federer shoe ban – The All England Club has always been a stickler for rules about its all white attire. Still, it was mildly interesting that they banned the shoes of Roger Federer that he wore in his opening matchup at Wimbledon. Federer’s shoes were white, but the soles were orange. Note that Federer has won seven Wimbledon titles and is regarded by some as the sport’s greatest player. Seriously, could you see David Stern cracking down on Michael Jordan for a minor uniform violation? Not likely.

Bruins fan has lifelong tickets … for free - A great story found its way at the bottom of the headlines last week when after several years, a Boston Bruins fan mentioned that she had free tickets for life given to her by the club. The 77-year old woman, Marge Bishop, had to recently give up her front row tickets that she held since the 1960s because of the steep costs – $150.00 per ticket, per game. She had become friends with zamboni drivers and was known by many of the staff there. When told Bishop was no longer going to be purchasing the tickets, the club gave her an all access pass to come whenever she wanted free of charge. Teams can’t do this for everyone, but it’s nice to see years of loyalty rewarded.

Big East hires Val Ackerman as first Commissioner – Former WNBA president Val Ackerman was named the first commissioner of the new Big East last week. The new conference, which consists of basketball-heavy and non-FBS football schools will be a challenge for her. With Georgetown, Villanova, Marquette, Butler, and others, the league will be a very good one for college hoops. But it will still be a challenge to try to keep up with other conferences where football is the primary revenue generator. For the conference to ultimately succeed, a few of the schools will have to make deep NCAA Tournament runs in order to make the league attractive to land sizable TV contracts in the future.

Brian Shaw new coach of the Nuggets – Brian Shaw was hired as the new coach of the Denver Nuggets – a move sure to cause more confusion among fans. The team axed George Karl who had done a reasonably good job there and has been a successful coach in the league. That’s not to say that Shaw can’t eventually be an upgrade, but expecting the team to do much more under him right away probably isn’t realistic. Karl was the league’s Coach of the Year after he won a franchise record 57 games and Shaw has a tough act to follow. Yeah, I’m pretty sure this will end badly.

ARod angers Yankees - The Alex Rodriguez situation took on a new twist when he tweeted that he had been cleared by a doctor to play again since rehabbing from hip surgery in January. That contradicted what the Yankees had previously said and GM Brian Cashman was none too pleased, telling reporters that the star needed to ’shut the (fill in your own creative word here) up.’ Rodriguez has had a rough offseason after seeking a woman’s phone number during a playoff game last year, having the surgery, and then being named in the PED scandal. The problem is a big one for the Yankees as he’s still owed a boatload of money from his mega contract several years ago and has been in a steady decline the past few years. Typically a team would trade a player causing them so many headaches, but the contract is a reason he’s not likely to go anywhere.

Metta World Peace still hanging out in L.A. – The Los Angeles Lakers got some good/bad news (depending on how you look at it) when forward Metta World Peace, aka Ron Artest, announced he wasn’t opting out of his deal and would instead return to play for the team. He was a decent player last year, but the Lakers would prefer not to pay him the $7.7 million he’s owed. They can either eat the salary and hope that he produces again next year or they could try to amnesty him. Under that situation, they’d still have to pay him after he’s released, but he wouldn’t count against the salary cap.

June 17, 2013

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The Week In Sports

By: Anson Whaley

Justin Rose wins U.S. Open: Justin Rose capped off a spectacular Sunday of golf winning the U.S. Open (+1) for his first major championship. He became the first British golfer to win the title since 1970 when Tony Jacklin did it. Just as big of a story was Phil Mickelson finishing as the bridesmaid yet again, as he finished in a tie for second at +3 with Jason Day. Mickelson’s eighth 2nd place finish ties him with Sam Snead, Greg Norman, and Tom Watson for the third most runner-ups in majors history. Jack Nicklaus leads the way in that category with 19.

Alex Ovechkin was the winner of this year's Hart Trophy over the weekend.

San Antonio Spurs take 3-2 series lead over Miami Heat: The San Antonio Spurs took a 3-2 series lead over the Miami Heat by way of their Game 5 win on Sunday night. That puts the Spurs in position to win a fifth ring for future Hall of Famer Tim Duncan … but it won’t be easy. San Antonio still needs to win one out of two games in Miami and the Heat just don’t lose very much at home. And with an NBA title on the line, you can bet the fans won’t be easy on the road team.

Chicago Blackhawks and Boston Bruins tied 1-1 in Stanley Cup Finals: The NHL’s Stanley Cup Finals are tied at a game apiece with two exciting contests thus far. Andrew Shaw scored a goal in the third overtime of the Game 1 thriller to give the Blackhawks a 4-3 win. The Bruins won Game 2 in overtime behind Daniel Paille’s third goal. Even if you’re not a good hockey fan, two overtime games already should make you want to watch the rest of the series.

Chad Ochocinco Johnson heads to jail: Chad Johnson caught a break in his no-contest plea to battery charges against his then-wife when a court was ready to give him a community service/counseling deal to avoid jail time. But when Johnson smacked the butt of his attorney at excitement over the deal … well, let’s just say the judge wasn’t impressed. Judge Kathleen McHugh told Johnson it wasn’t a joke and promptly rejected his plea deal, sentencing him to 30 days in jail. Do not pass go, do not collect $200. Seriously, though – what was Johnson thinking? I can understand being happy at the prospect of not heading to the clink, but he clearly should have showed a bit more restraint until he got out of the court.

Alex Ovechkin wins Hart Trophy: The Washington CapitalsAlex Ovechkin took home his third Hart Trophy as the league’s MVP over the weekend. The winger is only the eighth player in league history to win that many. Other players such as John Tavares and Sidney Crosby were also deserving, but Ovechin led the league with 32 goals and did so in a season where he moved to wing.

Tim Tebow signed by Patriots: The New England Patriots made a bit of a splash last week when they announced the signing of quarterback Tim Tebow. I don’t question that coaching guru Bill Belichick can find a way to utilize him in some way. What is surprising is that New England would bring him in with what should be a minimal impact. Unlike in New York, Tebow isn’t being brought in to challenge starter Tom Brady. So unless Brady goes down with an injury, Tebow’s impact at the position would be small. The talk is already about making Tebow a receiver or part of offensive packages as a skill player, but will he really be such an offensive difference-maker that it will make it worth all of the added attention and scrutiny of the team? Not likely.

Jason Kidd hired as Nets’ head coach: Last week I mentioned the possibility of the recently retired Jason Kidd becoming the Brooklyn Nets new coach. The Nets, who hadn’t previously had Kidd in mind, were convinced after his agent reached out to them and Kidd was hired last week. My opinion hasn’t really changed on this – a team with expectations so high shouldn’t be hiring a rookie head coach. He was a great player, but other greats such as Elgin Baylor, Magic Johnson, and Wes Unseld didn’t exactly make a successful transition from player to coach.

Dwight Howard and Chris Paul teammates?: ESPN reported last week that free agents Dwight Howard and Chris Paul may be exploring options to end up on the same team together. This move, of course, isn’t unprecedented with several players doing this in the past, including the Miami Heat’s ‘Big Three’ of Lebron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh. Howard and Paul are rumored to desire to play for the Los Angeles Clippers, but that would require a few things to happen. The team doesn’t have the cap space to sign Howard, so they’d need to do a sign and trade for him. And chances are that Blake Griffin would need to be included in such a deal.

Hall of Famer Lem Barney says football will soon end: Speaking at a football academy, Pro Football Hall of Famer Lem Barney declared that the game of football will end in 10-20 years because it is too dangerous. Barney’s not the only one to voice such an opinion with all of the talk of concussions lately, but I’m not sure the game ends anytime soon. After all – a sport like boxing where athletes take repeated shots to the head still exists. And when you consider that football is the most popular sport in the country, the guess here is that football continues to implement more safety measures rather than shut down entirely.

May 29, 2013

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The Mystique of Game 7

By: Matt Bowen

Sports mimic life, the movies, and folklore—Game 7 in any playoff series is the cat’s meow.

Nothing is better than a winner-take-all, no-holds-barred bout between two teams that have grown to hate one another over the previous six rounds.

For some, the rivalry is just blossoming as teams and their fans quickly grow a disdain for all things opposition. For others, the enemy is familiar and not welcome.

The Red Wings and Blackhawks face-off in Game 7 of the Western Conference semifinals.

Nothing brings such a rivalry to a fever pitch as a Game 7. With the season, pride and bragging rights on the line, losing to a despicable foe stings the worst. Players don’t get to wash away the pain in their soul with a win the next time out. Fans have to stomach the body blow knock-out dealt by the gloating faithful of their rivals. Sometimes these memories torment players, fans, and franchises for an eternity.

Even though one may find themselves on the wrong end of a Game 7, the love of the game leaves them desiring more.

The NHL has received a gift from the hockey Gods—on May 29 the Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks will duel in a Game 7 that promises to be one for the ages. You see, this game will be something special. This is not a normal Game 7, this is THE Game 7. The next time these bitter rivals will meet in the playoffs it will be in the Stanley Cup Finals.

With NHL realignment set to take place, the Detroit Red Wings will venture into the Eastern Conference next season. This leaves the Chicago Blackhawks as the lone Original Six team in the Western Conference.

All of a sudden there’s much more on the line in this Game 7. The winner gets the satisfaction knowing that they got the last laugh with so much at stake. Sure, the loser may exact their revenge in a somewhat meaningless regular season game next season, but the playoffs are different. Game 7 is different. This rivalry is different.

Two blue collar cities such as Detroit and Chicago are too hard-nosed to lie down for their opponent. Expect both sides to come out swinging and fight til the end. Both sides know how much this means to their diehard fans.

Every year there’s a playoff game that just won’t end—it lasts way past your bedtime. Five overtimes later, you can’t fall asleep, can’t stop watching. Don’t worry, your boss will understand. The whole city understands. The outcome will shape the mood of the office for the rest of the week.

Hockey enthusiasts hope it’s this game. The game and its fans deserve it. History is what we want—expect nothing less.

The lore of Game 7 will undoubtedly leave us in awe.

March 11, 2013

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The Week In Sports

By: Anson Whaley

Tiger Woods wins 76th PGA Tour Event

Golfer Tiger Woods is off to a great start in 2013. Woods won his second event of the season this past weekend, dominating at the Cadillac Championship for his 76th PGA Tour victory. He kept all other players at least three strokes away on Sunday until the final hole when he picked up a bogey. Woods was victorious by two strokes over Steve Stricker on the final leaderboard. Thing is that while Woods is off the radar of many casual fans, his five wins in the past year are the most of any other golfer on the tour.  And while this isn’t a major, with the Masters on the minds of everyone, Woods should be considered a favorite by that time.

If the NBA regular season ended today the Lakers would be in the Playoffs.

Manny Ramirez to sign with Taiwan team

Manny Ramirez tried to get back into the majors in time for the 2013 season, but that doesn’t look like it will be happening. According to ESPN, Ramirez will sign with a team in Taiwan in the China Professional Baseball League. Ramirez last played a full season in 2010 with the Tampa Bay Rays, but has been out of the league since retiring in 2011 after violating Major League Baseball’s drug policy. Ramirez played winter ball this year and even put up solid numbers, but it wasn’t enough to convince an MLB team to take a chance on him. And at 40, Ramirez may have played his last game in the majors. If a team wasn’t willing to gamble on him with a spring training invite this year, he may not get another look.

Chicago Blackhawks finally lose

The Chicago Blackhawks were easily the most dominant team in hockey over the first half of the NHL season. The team went more than 20 straight games without a loss in regulation until the Colorado Avalanche defeated them 6-2 on Friday. The Blackhawks followed that up with a 6-5 loss to Edmonton on Sunday and have now lost two in a row. Chicago is one of the few teams in the league that excel on both sides of the ice. The Blackhawks rank 6th in scoring with just over three goals a game and are tied for the league lead in defense, giving up fewer than two goals per contest. Make no mistake about it – the Blackhawks will be a tough out in the playoffs. Even if the offense isn’t there on certain nights, their defense should be able to pick them up a bit.

Lakers among NBA’s hottest teams

Don’t look now, but the Los Angeles Lakers are moving up in the NBA’s Western Conference. Eight teams in the conference will make the playoffs and for much of the season, the Lakers have been on the outside looking in. But fast forward to this week, and L.A. would be in the eighth spot if the season ended today. At 8-2, Los Angeles is one of the league’s hottest teams. Unfortunately for them, so are many others in the west. The top five teams in the conference, the San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder, Los Angeles Clippers, Memphis Grizzlies, and Denver Nuggets, have all won at least seven games in their last ten contests. If the Lakers keep winning, they could conceivably move up a few more spots. But it will be difficult to overtake some of those top teams that are just playing so well right now.

15-20 Liberty makes NCAA Tournament

March Madness is officially here and what better way to kick things off than with a 15-20 team making the Big Dance? I give you Liberty. The Flames won the Big South title despite losing 20 games this season and promptly punched their ticket to the NCAA Tournament. Liberty is only the second team with 20 losses to make the tourney. Now, I’m all for the little guys getting their moment in the sun, but these are the types of teams that make me question if there should be a minimum record to play in the tournament. I’m not quite sure a team that struggled all season long should be rewarded for winning a few games in a conference tournament and getting hot for a single week. While it’s going to be a great experience for Liberty players to go, a worthy major-conference team that’s been more consistent throughout the year will be sent off to the NIT.

February 6, 2013

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Early Stanley Cup Contenders

By: Matt Bowen

The 2013 NHL season may be just a few weeks old, but in this abbreviated season every game, period and point are critical.

Which team will win the Stanley Cup in 2013?

Considering the season is nearly a quarter complete, the crystal ball is now beginning to clarify which teams are true Stanley Cup contenders. Some teams are in a familiar situation while others face a must-win season.

Here are the early season favorites to lift Lord Stanley at season’s end:

The Darkhorse Candidates: These teams are considered sleepers, who if they catch fire at the right moment could ride the lightning all the way to a championship. One of these such teams is the defending champion Los Angeles Kings, who had everything come together at the right time to steal the deal from the No. 8 seed last season. They were one of the favorites coming into the season, but they have been plagued by injuries early on. Not to be counted out quite yet, look for Kings to right the ship.

The Edmonton Oilers are another darkhorse contender. Given, they’ve been near the bottom of the standing for three consecutive years, but have hit the jackpot in recent draft history. Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov have all been the No. 1 overall selection over the past three NHL season and now all play for the Oilers. The team currently holds a playoff spot and will take their lumps as they learn the ropes of the NHL, but they’re building a winner in Edmonton.  There’s always a year when the perennial downtrodden turn the page and blossom into an unstoppable force—this is that year for the Oilers.

A team in the Eastern Conference that could go the distance is the Montreal Canadiens. The league’s most storied franchise are contenders once again. Behind all-world goaltender Carey Price, they have a real chance this season. There’s a perfect storm of youth and experience in Montreal right now, watch out for the Habs.

The Usual Suspects: To no surprise, these teams have thrown their hat into the ring—the Pittsburgh Penguins, Chicago Blackhawks and Boston Bruins look like they’ll all make deep runs in the playoffs.  Each team is well balanced and built for the long haul.

This Year’s Worst to First Contender: The Tampa Bay Lightning missed the playoffs last season, but they won’t this time around. With stars like Steven Stamkos, Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis, they have the skill needed to lead a franchise on the brink of greatness. They currently lead the league with a plus-18 goal differential and are scoring nearly five goals a game. Rookie Cory Conacher currently leads all first timers with 12 points and could end of the biggest surprise of the season.  He already has five games with multiple points.

Who doesn’t like a team who consistently lights the lamp?

The Lightning are simply electric this season.

The Team Facing the Most Pressure: Let’s cut to the chase—the San Jose Sharks are in a must-win situation this season. They may be somewhat forgotten about but they are stacked from top to bottom.

Thanks to the likes of Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Logan Couture, they can keep the opposition off balance and on edge for 60 minutes a night.

Together with Joe Pavelski, the fearsome foursome already has 10-plus points each.  Marleau is in the early running for MVP and the team’s defense is surrendering less than two goals a game.

The Sharks have been talked about early as contenders for many seasons now and without a Cup to show for it this season, the organization could decide to restructure. More than any team, they are in a do-or-die situation, but so far, they look up to the task.