Category Archives: #NHL

GONE TOO SOON

It’s with a heavy heart that I return to the blogging scene this morning.  For those of you who don’t follow me primarily on Facebook, let me fill you in on my recent hiatus.  My son Justin passed away Valentine’s Day morning at the age of 23.  Myself and my family are still reeling from the events of that horrific morning.  Justin, I dedicate this article to you and the wonderful, yet short time you spent walking this earth.

I have spent well over a week trying to figure out how to dive back in to the business of discussing sports and this is what I came up with.  Throughout my many years around the sports world, there were, and still are times of untimely tragedies. Today I look back on the news of athletes who left us in the prime of their careers.

Image result for thurman munsonFront page of the New York Daily News reporting the death of Yankees catcher Thurman Munson.

Perhaps my first recollection of a sudden death of a sports figure was on August 2, 1979.  I’ll never forget the bulletin that came over the radio as my family was eating dinner.  Yankees all-star Thurman Munson was killed in a plane crash.  At seventeen years old the news was hard to comprehend.  Thurman Munson?? dead??? how???

I’ll never forget the following night when the Yankees returned home to face the Baltimore Orioles.  The scene at the stadium was memorable.  I still can remember all of the flags flying at half-staff over the legendary Yankee Stadium facade.  The Yankees flew back to Munson’s home town of Canton, Ohio on August 6th for his funeral.  Bobby Murcer and Lou Piniella would deliver emotional eulogies that day.

Thurman Munson’s stall in the Yankees locker room remained untouched until the old stadium closed at the end of the 2008 season.  His uniform number 15 is immortalized in the current Yankee Stadium’s Monument Park.

Image result for Darryl Kile   Future Cardinals manager Mike Matheny pays homage to Darryl Kile who passed away suddenly on June 22, 2002.

Possibly my favorite time of the week as a baseball fan is Saturday afternoon.  It was always a time to kick back and watch a nationally televised regular season game.  Most times it was between two clubs that I don’t get to see on a day-to-day basis.

On Saturday afternoon June 22, 2002 FOX was going to air a tilt between two long time rivals.  The St. Louis Cardinals were in Chicago for a weekend series against the  Cubs.  I turned on the TV to watch the game and I knew immediately something was wrong.  The players weren’t playing catch, the broadcasters weren’t discussing the upcoming game.  What was being discussed was a player missing from the Cardinals.  Darryl Kile had not shown up at Wrigley Field.  He was supposed to start the following day, and  was supposed to be charting pitches. Darryl Kile was found dead in his hotel room, he died of a heart attack.  Kile was 33 years old.

The Cardinals kept Kile’s jersey hanging in their dugout the remainder of the 2002 season.  Although his number isn’t officially retired, the Cardinals, and Kile’s previous teams (Colorado Rockies and Houston Astros) have never reissued his number 57.

Image result for Marlins remember Jose FernandezMiami Marlins remember Jose Fernandez, September 26, 2016.

On Sunday morning September 25, 2016, while my wife Robin and I were getting ready to attend the Miami Dolphins home opener, we received the tragic news.  Marlins ace Jose Fernandez and two of his friends were found dead off of Government Cut in Miami Beach overnight.  Their boat had hit a jetty and overturned.  This brought back the horrible news of that late afternoon in 1979 all over again.  Jose Fernandez??? really??? can’t be!

I’ll never forget driving along the Florida Turnpike on the way to Hard Rock Stadium that day.  We should have been listening to Dolphins pregame, but that morning that home opener took a very distant back burner.  The Dolphins held a chilling moment of silence prior to their game with the Cleveland Browns.  The Miami Heat would don warmup jerseys bearing Fernandez’ number 16 prior to a preseason tilt with the Brooklyn Nets a few days later.  Robin and I were in the building at the BB&T Center for the Florida Panthers season opener a couple of weeks later, the Cats also warmed up wearing number 16.

The Marlins would return to action the following day to play the New York Mets at Marlins Park.  The team would wear number 16 in Jose’s honor.  I’ll never forget Dee Gordon’s leadoff home run in the bottom of the first inning.  Gordon was bawling as he ran the bases and had to be consoled by his teammates as he crossed home plate.  Following the game the team surrounded the pitcher’s mound where Fernandez brought the South Florida community so much joy.

I can go on about a few others, but we would need a volume of articles to do that.  I still remember Philadelphia Flyers’ goaltender Pelle Lindbergh passing away in a horrific car crash.  What hockey fan can ever forget the horrible news out of Russia when KHL team Lokomotiv Yaroslavl’s plane crashed killing the entire team (which included former NHL stars Brad McCrimmon and Pavel Demitra)?  There was also a stormy afternoon growing up in the shadow of New York’s Kennedy Airport when I heard what I thought was a clap of thunder.  The clap turned out to be a plane crash that took the life of New York Nets player Wendell Ladner.  Ladner’s ABA championship ring was found in the wreckage.

They say that death is part of the circle of life, but life is meant to be full and long. Twenty-three years is way too short.  Losing a child is just not natural. Rest in peace my son, I love you and miss you.

A gofundme account has been set up in Justin’s honor, the proceeds of which will be donated to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.  To contribute, please go to http://www.gofundme.com and search “Justin Tyler Karpel.”  If we can save even one life, it would prevent at least one other family from going though the same thing we are.  Thank you.

 

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THE ONCE MIGHTY WHO HAVE FALLEN

As this year’s National Football League playoff picture came into view, I couldn’t help but notice that a few old friends, if you will, were in the lineup.  I’m talking about teams that were once dominant and routinely in the post-season that disappeared from the radar for a long time.

As a football fan it felt so good to see the Oakland Raiders, Miami Dolphins, Kansas City Chiefs, and even the Dallas Cowboys back in the playoffs.  Along with the Minnesota Vikings, Pittsburgh Steelers, Los Angeles Rams, and Washington Redskins these  franchises were the constants in my childhood and teen years of the 1970’s.  The Steelers have been visible over the years, so the fact that they’re in the post-season is almost business as usual.

This got me to thinking.  Looking at the four major sports, what once dominant franchises of my youth have fallen into the abyss of irrelevancy?

Image result for Islanders win the Stanley Cup

The first one that comes to mind is the one that is closest to my heart.  Growing up on the southeastern reaches of Queens (on the Nassau County border) I was a fan of the New York Islanders from franchise’s inception up until recently.  The early stages of Islanders history was also the building blocks of a historic dynasty.  The Isles would make fourteen straight playoff appearances (from 1975-1988), win four straight Stanley Cups including 5 straight trips to the Finals from 1980-1984.  Their streak of 19 consecutive playoff series wins still remains a record in any sport.

After losing to the New Jersey Devils in the first round of the 1988 playoffs the downward spiral began.  With the exception of a surprise trip to the 1993 Eastern Conference Finals (after they knocked off the reigning champion Penguins) this franchise has become one of the least relevant teams in all of sports.  They have made somewhat of a comeback recently, making the post-season three of the past four years.  They won their first Stanley Cup series since 1993 last year by defeating my Florida Panthers in the first round.  They would lose to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the next round.   They currently are in last place in the NHL’s Metropolitan Division and fired their longtime coach, Jack Capuano this week.

Image result for the big red machine

In the late 1960’s and into the mid 1970’s baseball’s best included  the Oakland Athletics, Baltimore Orioles, Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds.  The Minnesota Twins and Atlanta Braves were also pretty relevant during that era as well.

Much has been documented about the Pirates’ twenty consecutive losing seasons from 1993-2012, however the Buccos have righted the ship since then.  They’ve been in the post-season three of the past four years.  The Athletics and Orioles have also managed to stay in the forefront over the years.

The  Cincinnati Reds were one of the most dominant teams in Major League Baseball in the first half of the seventies.  The “Big Red Machine”  included the likes of Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Dave Concepcion, Tony Perez and Pete Rose.  The Reds won four National League pennants in the span of seven years.  Cincinnati won the NL Western Division title in five of those seven years.  The Reds won two consecutive World Series’ in 1975 (over the Red Sox) and 1976 (over the Yankees).  The Reds  would once again be World Champions in 1990 by sweeping the heavily favored Oakland Athletics in four straight games.

Since 1990 the Reds have been a floundering franchise that has had more losing seasons than winning ones.  They have been in the post-season three times since 2010 but haven’t made it out of the Division Series.  Currently this franchise is once again in rebuilding mode with hopes of another winning season years away.  Who knows when the Big Red Machine will be operating again.

Image result for New York Nets ABA

Prior to the 1976-77 season, the National Basketball Association and American Basketball Association merged.  The surviving NBA absorbed four ABA franchises (Indiana Pacers, Denver Nuggets, San Antonio Spurs, and New York Nets).  While the Spurs have by far enjoyed the most NBA success, the other three franchises have never won an NBA title.  That being said, the Pacers have enjoyed moderate success in the NBA over the years.

The Nuggets were never really a dominant force in the old ABA and haven’t been a complete success story in the NBA either.  Denver however did play in the final ABA Championship Series (losing to the Nets in six games) and have had some winning seasons in the NBA.

The Nets made the ABA playoffs seven of the eight years the league was in existence.  They lost the 1972 Championship Series to the Pacers in six games.   New York won two of the three final American Basketball Association championships.

The NBA has not been kind to this franchise.  After spending only one year on Long Island, where they found so much success, owner Roy Bowe, citing poor attendance at the Nassau Coliseum, moved the team to New Jersey.  The state of New Jersey welcomed them with a brand new building built adjacent to Giants Stadium.  They had a very so-so existence in the years that followed.

They have spent most of their NBA existence in the shadow of the New York Knicks.  The Knicks have been one of the most popular franchises in the New York metropolitan area virtually since the beginning of the NBA. There really hasn’t been room for a second franchise.

The Nets won two consecutive Eastern Conference championships in 2002 and 2003.  They lost both NBA Finals (to the Spurs and Lakers).

After 35 years in New Jersey, the Nets moved back to New York in 2012, this time to Brooklyn .  With a new identity and a sparkling new arena the Nets franchise was poised to take on the Knicks and be relevent again.  That never really materialized, as of this writing the Nets hold the NBA’s worst record at 9-34.

In welcoming back the Raiders and Dolphins to the NFL playoff stage, I can’t help but think of any football team that compares to the plight of the  Islanders, Reds, and Nets.  The Minnesota Vikings were dominant in the 1970’s, making four Super Bowl appearances between 1969 and 1976, they lost all four.  However the Vikings haven’t disappeared from the post-season stage since then.  The Browns, Lions, Eagles, and Cardinals haven’t seen a championship in years, (the Cardinals now own the longest drought in American sports) but none of these franchises have really ever been dominant.

Currently the most dominant franchise in the four major sports has to be the New England Patriots.  When Tom Brady and Bill Belichick part ways with the Patriots will the franchise go the way of the Islanders?  Will this dominant franchise also fall off the table for years to come?  Only time will tell, sports really does run in cycles, nobody stays on top forever.

 

2016-THE YEAR IN REVIEW

As we continue to wind down the sports year of 2016 it is time to take a look back.  It was a year that saw Cleveland of all places take center stage twice.  We saw the city of Denver throw a retirement party for a football icon.  We witnessed a team owned by an iconic figure, led by a future Hall of Famer buzz-saw its way to hoisting the Stanley Cup.  We also witnessed baseball history that was over a century in the making.

Eleven days into the year Alabama defeated Clemson to win a national championship game for the ages.  It was a thrilling  45-40 offensive show in which the schools traded touchdowns in the final 1:07 of the game.  The University of Alabama has now won 16 National Championships.  2016 was the fourth under head coach Nick Saban.

The Carolina Panthers were the story throughout most of the 2015-16 NFL season.  Their 15-1 record made them the favorite to win Super Bowl 50.  The Denver Broncos endured six weeks without future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning who was sidelined with a foot injury.  The Broncos finished the regular season with a 12-4 mark, good for first place in the AFC Western Division by one game over the 11-5 Kansas City Chiefs.  Manning would return from his injury in time for the Divisional Round of the AFC Playoffs.

Peyton Manning’s return and the Broncos relentless defense would develop into the story of the 2016 NFL Postseason.  Following a bye during the Wild Card Round the Broncos would knock off the Steelers (23-16) and win a nail biter for the ages in the AFC Championship Game.  Denver defeated the New England Patriots 20-18 to advance to the 50th Anniversary Super Bowl.  The Broncos defense would sack Patriots quarterback Tom Brady 4 times, knock him down 20 times and intercept him twice.

The 15-1 Panthers would win the NFC Championship by defeating the Seattle Seahawks in the Divisional Round (31-24), and dominating the Arizona Cardinals 49-15 in the NFC Championship Game.

The Broncos defense lead by Super Bowl MVP Von Miller would be the story of the Super Bowl.  League MVP Panthers quarterback Cam Newton was sacked seven times.  The Denver defense would also force three turnovers.  Peyton Manning would finish his storied career on top.  Despite his injury ridden final season Manning would walk away wearing his second championship ring.

The Carolina Panthers weren’t the only Panthers team making headlines in January.  The NHL Florida Panthers began 2016 riding a winning streak that began on December 15, 2015 with a 5-1 victory over the New York Islanders at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.  They entered 2016 winning ten straight.  Victories in Ottawa on January 7, and in Edmonton on January 10th capped off the longest win streak in the NHL in 2015-16, and 2016-17 to date. Florida would finish the season with a team record 103 points on their way to an Atlantic Division Championship.  More importantly the long floundering franchise from South Florida has become relevant again.

Just days before the Florida Panthers became the talk of the NHL, an event happened in Pittsburgh that would have an impact on the rest of the season.

On December 12 the Penguins were out of the Metropolitan Division (and Eastern Conference Wild Card ) picture with a record of 15-10-3.  Owner Mario Lemieux felt their was a need for a leadership change.  Head coach Mike Johnston was let go and replaced by Mike Sullivan.  Sullivan was head coach of the Penguins AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre.  Under Sullivan’s leadership Pittsburgh would go 33-16-5 the rest of the way.  They finished 2nd in the Metropolitan Division behind the President’s Trophy winners, the Washington Capitals.  The Pens would enter the postseason with the second best record in the Eastern Conference.

Pittsburgh was dominant during the Stanley Cup Playoffs.  Victories over the New York Rangers (5 games), Washington (6 games) and Tampa Bay Lightning (7 games)  would send  them to the Stanley Cup Finals where they would defeat the San Jose Sharks in a 6 game series to win Lord Stanley’s Cup.  It was Sidney Crosby’s second championship, he also skated away with the Conn Smythe Trophy.

The San Francisco Bay area was buzzing with playoff excitement this past spring.  While the San Jose Sharks were battling the aforementioned Penguins, there was an even bigger story grabbing local and national headlines.  The Golden State Warriors dominated the NBA regular season with a record-breaking 73 wins.  Golden State would follow the regular season with dominant 5 game victories over the Houston Rockets and Portland Trailblazers.

The Western Conference Championship Series turned out to be one for the ages.  The Warriors would hold on to win in seven games over the Oklahoma City Thunder.  The Thunder was led by Kevin Durant, who would by the way, sign with Golden State as an unrestricted during the summer.

Like the Carolina Panthers and the Washington Capitals, the Golden State Warriors dominance would be challenged.  Lebron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers were leading a dominant charge of their own in the Eastern Conference.  Four game sweeps of the Detroit Pistons and Atlanta Hawks, followed by a six game victory over the Toronto Raptors sent the Cavs to the NBA Finals to take on Golden State.

A seven game epic would end with the Cavaliers winning their first ever NBA Championship.  While Sidney Crosby was hoisting the Conn Smythe Trophy and the Stanley Cup, Lebron James was hoisting the Finals MVP Trophy and the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

There is so much to cover in what has been an eventful year, too much for one blog.  This is the first of a two parter.  Next week we cover the Olympics, baseball and who was the best of the best.  Stay tuned and see you next week to wrap up a loaded sports year.

FOOD FAMILY AND LOTS OF FOOTBALL

As I write this the  American tradition that is Thanksgiving weekend is winding down.  I have to say I am very thankful for all I have been blessed with. I have a loving family, great friends and a love for sports.  The Good Lord blessed me with the ability to write about it too!  That being said, what a time to be a sports fan!

A tradition arose in Detroit on Thanksgiving Day in 1934 when the hometown Lions took the field against the Chicago Bears.  It was a gimmick introduced by new Lions owner G.A. Richards to draw fans for the newly relocated franchise.  The Bears were the NFL defending champions that year and they won the game 19-16 in front of the largest crowd of the season.  26,000 fans showed up at University of Detroit Stadium, thousands more were turned away.  The contest determined the NFL’s Western Division Champion for 1934.  The Lions and Bears would face each other every Thanksgiving up until 1938.  Due to World War II there were no games between the teams from 1939-1944.  The Lions would pick up the tradition in 1945, but without the Bears.  Their first post war opponent was the then Cleveland Rams.  Football has been played in Detroit on Turkey Day ever since.

With the advent of television in the 1950’s the NFL has been a living room staple alongside the turkey and trimmings on the dining room table. The first football game to be televised was on November 22, 1956 when the Packers defeated the Lions 24-20.

This year we had three games on Thanksgiving all with playoff implications.  The aforementioned Lions would win on a game ending field goal to take sole possession of first place in the the NFC North.  The Minnesota Vikings strange season continued with a loss in Detroit. After a 5-0 start the Vikings have now slipped into second place with a record of 6-5.

The middle contest was a renewal of one of the NFL’s storied rivalries.  The Dallas Cowboys, who have hosted the second game on the Thanksgiving schedule since 1966 (except 1975 and 1977 when the late afternoon game was hosted by the then St. Louis football Cardinals) played their arch-rivals from our Nations Capital.  The Cowboys 31-26 victory over the Redskins was their 10th straight.

In 2006 the NFL added a third contest on Thanksgiving in conjunction with scheduling games on Thursday night throughout the season.  The Pittsburgh Steelers victory over the Indianapolis Colts catapulted them into first place in the AFC North (at the time of this writing they were tied by the Baltimore Ravens with their win earlier today).

With the development of Black Friday, and the four-day holiday weekend the sports world would grow too.  Friday and Saturday has long been a staple of college football rivalries.  Over the years matchups such as Alabama vs. Auburn, Florida vs. Florida State, Georgia vs. Georgia Tech and Notre Dame vs. USC came about.

The oldest rivalry played annually on Saturday after Thanksgiving is Michigan vs. Ohio State.  This year’s game didn’t disappoint.  In an epic double overtime thriller Ohio State defeated Michigan 30-27.

Not to be outdone, the National Hockey League has made a tradition of holding afternoon games on Black Friday.  The tradition originated in Boston over the years with the Bruins hosting an afternoon game on the day after Thanksgiving.  This year the executives at NBC along with Gary Bettman’s wonderful scheduling committee broke with the New England tradition.  The New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers played on national television to kick off a full NHL schedule on Friday.  By the way the Bruins played a night game and lost to the Calgary Flames 5-1.  I’m thinking the hockey gods weren’t smiling on the break with New England’s afternoon hockey tradition.

As this great American break winds down and we resume business in workplaces other than retail tomorrow there will be plenty to discuss around the water cooler.  Sports will always have a place alongside the food, family and the insane amount of holiday shopping that takes place in the United States on November’s final weekend.