Category Archives: NHL

GREAT TIME OF YEAR TO BE A SPORTS FAN

This past Thursday night my wife and I joined a bunch of friends at a local sports bar to watch the first round of the NFL draft.  Amid the anticipation of what the Cleveland Browns would do with the first overall pick, there were other sports to concentrate on.

As I sat down and looked at the many television screens I felt like I was at a sports buffet.  The bigger screens were tuned to ESPN and their pre-draft coverage,while other screens were tuned into so much more. There were the two Stanley Cup Eastern Conference Semi-Final match-ups (Game 1 between the Rangers and Senators, Game 1 between the Capitals and Penguins).  There was Game 6 of the NBA first round series between the Raptors and Bucks on another one. Finally the latest meeting between the Yankees and Red Sox aired around the bar.

I thought to myself, what a great time of year!  It’s one of two times a year when all four major professional sports come together.  As Roger Goodell approached the podium in Philadelphia to the usual draft night chorus of boos, there was a tight hockey game going on in Canada’s nation’s capital.  At Fenway Park in Boston, Masahiro Tanaka and Chris Sale were locked up in a pitcher’s duel.  The Milwaukee Bucks were playing for survival on their home court against the Toronto Raptors.

Image result for Roger Goodell announces Browns first pick

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announces Cleveland’s selection of DE Myles Garrett in Philadelphia on Thursday night.

 

My two favorite NFL teams, the Dolphins and Giants wouldn’t pick until 22 and 23 respectively.  The Fins would pick DE Charles Harris, and Big Blue would shake things up with the questionable selection of TE Evan Engram.

In between the beginning of the draft and where my teams picked, so much else was going on.  Tanaka would pitch a complete game in front of the dreaded Fenway faithful, as the Yankees defeated the Sox 3-0.    Erik Karlsson would score from a fluke goal from an odd angle with 4:11 left in regulation to give Ottawa a 1-0 lead over the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals.  The two teams followed that game up with a double overtime thriller yesterday afternoon in which the Senators took a 2-0 series lead.

Image result for Capitals buzz around the Penguins net in game 1

Penguins Marc-Andre Fleury closes the door on the Washington Capitals.

In our nation’s capital, there was a back and forth tilt between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Washington Capitals.  Sidney Crosby scored twice in 52 seconds for the Pens, and the game ended with the Capitals buzzing around the Pittsburgh net.  Penguins netminder Marc-Andre Fleury was amazing in preserving the victory.

The Toronto Raptors eliminated the Milwaukee Bucks from the NBA playoffs on Thursday.  The San Antonio Spurs also advanced by dispatching the Memphis Grizzlies.

What a night it was!  It happens in late October and late April.  In the fall, baseball has the World Series coming to a climax, the NFL and NHL are in full swing and the NBA opens its season.  In April the NHL and NBA are in playoff mode, baseball is in full swing, and the NFL has its annual choose-up fest.  So great when all four major sports are grabbing headlines at the same time!

Time for a program note.  Both my Sunday blog and Wednesday Night Baseball blog will be on hiatus until Wednesday May 17.  The Sunday blog will resume on May 21.  This will allow me some family time.  I can’t wait to see my daughter, son-in-law, and meet my brand new granddaughter!

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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.

 

THE BROADCAST BOOTH-THE MOUTHPIECE OF SPORTS

When we lost Joe Garagiola back in March I had planned on writing about the subject of sports broadcasters.  As life went on it kind of slipped away from me so I decided to revisit the subject when Vin Scully called his final out for the Dodgers.

So pull up a chair, members of my blog audience and grab a beverage.

Vin Scully joined Red Barber in the Ebbets Field broadcast booth in 1950.  He would eventually take over the “Cat Bird Seat” in Brooklyn and will be vacating the booth at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles on October 2. His 67 years as the voice of the Dodgers, which spanned two locations on opposite coasts, is the longest tenure of a broadcaster with one organization.  This record wont be touched for a very long time, if ever.

Mr. Scully, I have to thank you for influencing me.  My writing style is much like your broadcasting style.  Yes you have a legendary way of describing facts that happen on a baseball field (and in years past on a gridiron as well), but your story telling talent is unparalleled.  I can hear your voice as I tell stories here on WordPress just as if I was watching a Dodger broadcast.  Thank you again Vin!

On the night that we lost Joe Garagiola I began to think and reflect on all the sports voices I’ve heard over the years.  I can honestly say there have been many literary influences that have shaped me. Those of us who grew up in the 1960’s and 1970’s will remember when NBC had a stronghold on Major League Baseball.  I have such fond memories of the “Game of the Week” on Saturday afternoons.  I will say that as a young boy growing up in Queens my first broadcast idol, if you will, was Curt Gowdy.  Like Scully, Gowdy was a story-teller in addition to being almost flawless in describing the action on the diamond as well as the football field.  His longtime baseball partner, Tony Kubek still strikes me as one of the best analysts of my time.

My Queens upbringing formed a bond with the New York Mets who played in my home boro.  The trio of Bob Murphy, Ralph Kiner, and Lindsey Nelson remains full of fond childhood memories.  They were the voices of the Mets from their inaugural season of 1962 until Nelson left the Mets for San Francisco following the 1978 season.  I was pretty disappointed when he left.  Mets baseball would never be the same.  Met fans who followed the franchise will always remember Bob Murphy’s “Happy Recap” when the Mets won, and Ralph Kiner’s post-game show “Kiner’s Korner.”

In addition to his baseball career, Lindsey Nelson spent years behind the CBS College Football mic.  He was the annual voice of the Cotton Bowl.  It’s not the same without him.

The “hated” crosstown Yankees also had their share of broadcast legends.  From Mel Allen’s “How about that” to Phil Rizutto’s “Holy Cow!”  But for most of this blogger’s life nobody manned the public address microphone like Bob Sheppard.  Growing up as a Met fan I didn’t go to many Yankee games. I was at the Big Ballpark in the Bronx twice and saw a handful of Yankee games at Shea Stadium in 1974 and 1975. For those who may not know the Yankees played those two years in Flushing while the Stadium was undergoing a massive renovation.  Sheppard had a presence unlike any other public address announcer.  Players referred to him as “the voice of God.”

Growing up, baseball wasn’t the only sport that I took to.  To this day I am a hockey fanatic.  Just as a coming attraction I will be following the Florida Panthers this year here on my WordPress page.  That being said, I became a fan of the New York Islanders when the NHL awarded a franchise to Long Island.   Tim Ryan was an established NHL announcer when he joined the Islanders TV crew in their inaugural season.  I grew up listening to him as well as Marv Albert calling Rangers games on radio.  As much as I hated the rival Rangers, I have got to admit Marv’s call of the Rangers and Knicks games was a big influence.  I miss Marv as a hockey announcer and still enjoy his NBA broadcasts on TNT.

In 1980 the voice of the Islanders changed.  The legendary Ryan would leave Long Island for a national football job with CBS.  Jiggs McDonald would join Ed Westfall as voice of the Islanders.  The tandem would last seventeen wonderful years that included four Stanley Cup championships and a streak of nineteen consecutive playoff series wins.  Any Islander fan from that era can still here Jiggs referring to Westfall as “18” in reference to his uniform number in his playing days with the club.

Hearing Marv open Ranger broadcasts still rings through my head.  “This is Marv Albert with Sal “Red Light” Messina at Madison Square Garden” was how each home broadcast began.  Marv would then describe how the game would begin by identifying the 7th Avenue end and 8th Avenue end of Madison Square Garden as to which net the teams were to defend.

In today’s time there are so many voices to be heard, so many new pictures to be painted.  To me the story-teller that would be the heir apparent to Vin Scully has to come from the hockey world.  Mike “Doc” Emrick who broadcasts the NHL for NBC and its networks has a unique way of calling games while getting descriptive.  Locally Steve”Goldy” Goldstein’s  New York accent throws me back to my childhood roots as the voice of the Florida Panthers.

Local sports legend Jim Mandich was the voice of the Miami Dolphins.  It was such a sad South Florida day when we lost him to cancer in 2011.  We also have a Scully disciple on the Marlins radio network in Dave Van Horne.  Dave is another great combination of facts and story telling.

There are just so many more that are going through my head, probably enough to fill another blog.

In closing, thank you so much Vin Scully.  I hope someday you can pull up a chair and read my work.

AMERICA’S DARKEST DAY AND HOW THE SPORTS WORLD HELPED HEAL A NATION

It has been fifteen years and it doesn’t get any easier.

This morning, as I have every year following the attacks on our nation on September 11, 2001 I paused and prayed at 8:46 and once again at 9:03.  I also watched as MSNBC reran that morning’s Today Show that also turned into news coverage of the heart wrenching events that unfolded.  Seeing not only my country, but my hometown being attacked brought it all back as if it was yesterday.

Our lives changed so much on that cloudless morning in the northeast.  So many families that lost loved ones who simply went to work and boarded airplanes.  Ordinary things that met with anything but ordinary.  On a personal level that morning was as scary and stressful as it can ever get.  I am the middle of three brothers, and the only one who relocated when I left the New York area for South Florida.

Both of my brothers spend time in Manhattan as part of their daily routines.  I spent that morning frantically trying to find out about their whereabouts and safety.  I knew my parents were safe in their home in New Jersey.  I thank God that all I got that morning was a scare.  Many people weren’t so lucky.  I can never forget the anguished looks on the faces of those walking around the neighborhood that was beginning to be called Ground Zero.  The fear of the worst, the finality that came.  Sad beyond words.

I know that everyone who was old enough to understand what happened in New York, Washington, and Shanksville has a story to tell. But how does this all connect to a sports blog?

Let’s set the clock back to Sunday September 16, 2001.  Baseball was still on hold, the NFL had postponed week 2 till the end of the season.  Too soon for fun and games to continue, but one of American sports’ famous cathedrals was actually was used as one.  The city of New York picked Yankee Stadium as the venue to begin healing.  A massive memorial service was held at the House That Ruth Built.  Six weeks later President Bush would bring the nation to its feet when he threw out the first ball at game 3 of the 2001 World Series from the pitcher’s mound of the Bronx landmark.

Across the East River in Queens, Shea Stadium would be the center of healing.  On September 21, 2001 Major League Baseball was back in business in New York.  The Braves would face the Mets (clad in NYPD and FDNY baseball caps) as New York attempted to return to some semblance of normalcy and fun.  If Bobby Thompson’s epic walk off home run at the Polo Grounds in 1951 was the “shot heard round the world” then Mike Piazza’s walk off on that September night was the “shot heard round America”.  The crowd at Shea exploded to a fever pitch not seen since Jesse Orosco finished off the Red Sox in 1986.

On September 20th the Rangers, one night removed from opening their preseason at Madison Square Garden headed to Philadelphia to face one of their fiercest rivals.  What happened that night still gives me goosebumps.  You see, President Bush addressed Congress that night with a status report on the events of September 11th.  The Flyers decided to post the speech on the scoreboard at what is now known as the Wells Fargo Center.  The Rangers and Flyers stopped the game.  The NHL officiating crew stopped officiating.  No brawling, no rivalry, everyone stopped and listened to the president.  The game never resumed.

Anyone who knows the makeup of South Florida knows the distinct connection to the New York area.  Like most of the country, time stood still on that awful day as residents had one eye on their loved ones up north.  The typical South Floridian question among transplanted New Yorkers was “everyone OK?, Have you heard from everyone?”

On September 23rd the NFL resumed their schedule with what was supposed to be week 3. South Florida went into a collective cheer when Jay Fiedler crossed the goal line to finish a Miami Dolphins comeback victory over the Oakland Raiders.  The eruption at the stadium now known as Hard Rock Stadium was deafening.  Our community reacted with such a release with that win you would have thought the Dolphins just won the Super Bowl.

So as the NFL opens up in earnest this afternoon, the fifteenth anniversary of the worst attack on American soil still overshadows fun and games.  Amid the pregame and halftime ceremonies that will go on around the league today, hearts will still be heavy.  Despite it all games will go on in the NFL and Major League Baseball.  Sports will once again be there for America.  The sporting world will again be part of the healing process.

God Bless America!

IT’S THE MOST WONDERFUL TIME OF THE (SPORTS) YEAR

It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

 Pennant races are going

And pigskin a throwin’

Hockey season is near!

It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

Yes, it’s Labor Day weekend, and the start of college football season made me think of how much goes on in September and October in the world of sports.

Going into the final month of the baseball season story lines abound.  As of this writing the Blue Jays and Red Sox are tied atop the AL East with the Orioles looming 2 games behind.  Throughout the season the Dodgers and Giants have traded places atop the National League West with the second place team leading the way in the Wild Card race.

About those Wild Card races,  the Jays/Sox lead the Orioles by 2 with the Tigers and Astros in their shadow.  The Giants are 2 1/2 up on the Cardinals who have the Mets, Pirates, and Marlins looking over their shoulders.  Should be an exciting end to the 2016 regular season.

The aforementioned college football season held center stage yesterday.  Ohio State, Alabama, and Michigan all won handily.  Clemson won a close one over Auburn.  With the college ranks off and running the NFL opens for business on Thursday with the first ever Super Bowl rematch as a national opener.

This got me to thinking, what a crossroads of sports this time of year is.  Baseball is in their postseason stretch, football is off and running and hockey is poised to open training camp.  Oh, by the way there is a little hockey tournament on tap this September called the World Cup.  The dribble and squeak of basketball is waiting in the wings.

I started to reflect on my memorable moments in the month of September.

In the strike torn, two half baseball season of 1981 I was at Shea Stadium in New York when the hometown Mets lost to the Montreal Expos.  This would kick off a celebration in front of me on the field as well as north of the border.  You see, the Expos celebrated clinching the Second Half NL East championship. Their only championship in Montreal. They would go on to lose the National League Championship Series to the Los Angeles Dodgers.  The Dodgers would go on to win the World Series over the Yankees.

Fast forward five years and back at Shea.  This time it was the Mets turn.I’ll never forget the final out in the Mets division clinching win over the Chicago Cubs.  It was a routine grounder to Wally Backman at second.  What followed was anything but ordinary.  Fans stormed the field as Backman was throwing to Keith Hernandez at first to finish the groundout.  How the ball got there I still don’t know.  The fans swarmed in a flash and were all over the field.  The celebration was on!  The Mets would go on to win the 1986 World Series.

The last time I was ever in Big Shea was in September 22, 1988.  The Mets again were in position to claim the division title.  This time New York’s finest was ready for any field storming.  As my wife and I walked from the parking lot to the stadium the first thing we noticed was police on horseback lined up behind the bullpen and picnic areas.  When Ron Darling stuck out Phillies catcher Lance Parrish looking in the 9th inning the Mets were champions once more.  They would go on to lose the NLCS to the Dodgers.  The Dodgers again would win it all.

My wife and I moved to South Florida in the spring of 1989.  This meant embracing new teams in our new home.  On September 26, 2003  my son and I were in attendance at the ballpark now known as Hard Rock Stadium.  The Mets were the opponent this time and the  hometown Marlins would lock up the National League Wild Card.  I’ll never forget the celebration that took place in the concourses and ramps.  The chant of “Lets Go Marlins” reverberated so loud that the building was shaking!  The Marlins would go on to defeat the Yankees in the World Series.

With all the baseball stories in September I have a football one as well.  I recall a Dolphins season opener against the Detroit Lions in which Ricky Williams ran for over 200 yards.  The stadium would be rocking as Williams scampered for big chunks of yardage and a touchdown in a Dolphins win.

There is one memorable hockey moment too.  It was the opening of the New York Islanders 2001-02 training camp.  It wasn’t what happened on the ice that was memorable, it was the fact that camp was to begin in Wheeling, WV on Tuesday September 11. Like all sports on that day, the start of camp was put on hold.  More on that horrific day next  week.

As the sports world comes to its annual crossroads I look forward to the opening weekend of the NFL.  I will be rooting on my hometown Marlins to win an NL Wild Card, and will be at the Florida Panthers training camp in nearby Coral Springs, Florida cheering on a promising hockey team.

Enjoy the crossroads!

 

 

AN OPEN LETTER TO GARY BETTMAN

Dear Mr. Bettman,

I am a lifelong sports fan with the great game of hockey being my personal favorite.

As I watched the proceedings over the past two weeks in Rio I couldn’t help but think about our grand old game and the international stage.

This weekend in particular I saw professional athletes compete in basketball and soccer.  Yes, the USA men’s and women’s teams that were loaded with NBA and WNBA talent lead the way en route to gold medals.  Once again it was sport at its best, not college kids against “professionals” from nations lead by dictators.

Today’s bronze medal basketball game came down to the wire and was gripping.  It featured Australia and Spain, who also carried NBA talent.  The United States squad that dominated Serbia this afternoon almost lost to them earlier in the tournament.  The semi-final game against Spain was also close.

On the soccer pitch  both men’s and women’s play was even and spread among many teams.  Brazil’s men took gold in dramatic fashion as penalty kicks decided their match with Germany.  The American women were supposed to dominate, however they ran into a machine from Sweden, who almost beat Germany for gold.

All of this backdrop brings me to the point of this letter.

Imagine if the NBA, WNBA, and various soccer leagues were contemplating what you keep hinting at involving international play and the National Hockey League.

Once again there is talk of the NHL not sending players to Pyongyang in 2018.  What a colossal shame it would be!

Since professionals joined the Olympics in 1998 consider how the gold medal has been distributed.  Canada, who could never beat the Soviets with their amateurs, have won three times.  The Czech Republic and Sweden won the other two.  The last time the machine from Russia saw gold was when the Unified Team won in 1994.

I am genuinely excited for the upcoming World Cup Of Hockey.  I love to see the NHL’s best having the deck shuffled.  While it makes for great theater, this is a preseason tournament with most of the players coming back from the off-season. The players aren’t ready for the regular season let alone a world-class international tournament.

If the National Hockey League is considering ending its relationship with the Olympics, as a hockey fan I urge you to reconsider.

I live in South Florida and follow the Florida Panthers.  I would love to see the likes of Aaron Ekblad play for Canada and Aleksandr Barkov play against his teammate while wearing the crest of his native Finland.  Consider the story line of a 46-year-old Jaromir Jagr playing once again for the Czech Republic.  By the way Jagr would turn 46 during the 2018 Winter Games.

American hockey was the top story in the recent NHL draft.  Could a strong Olympic presence of the US be the reason?

So many other story lines could be made.  Can Alexander Ovechkin lead the Russians to its next gold medal?  Can a growing pool of American talent bring home gold for the first time since the Miracle in 1980?

If the NHL does pull out of Olympic play I can’t help but think that we would return to the same old Russian dominance at the Olympics.  The Russians would send a Kontinental Hockey League all-star team to the games.  The professionals would run away with the gold in the same fashion as the American women from the WNBA did once more in Rio.

Please take this into consideration.

 

Signed,

Brian Karpel

Hockey Fan Since 1970