Tag Archives: NHL

WHEN WINTER INVADES SUMMER

“Cause it’s summer, Summer time is here, Yes, it’s summer, My time of year” (From the song Summer which was released in 1976 by the classic rock band War).

Yes, it is Memorial Day weekend, the unofficial beginning of summer.  Pools and beaches open for the season, folks gather for barbecues and outdoor activities.  Major League Baseball’s season is in full swing and the pennant races are starting to take shape.  The fashion community is also telling us it is perfectly fine to wear white.

Today is the biggest day on the sports calendar in Indianapolis, Indiana.  The 101st running of the Indianapolis 500 will get underway at noon eastern time.

As summer unofficially begins this weekend, old man winter still has a score to settle, two of them, in fact.

As a guy who grew up as a fan of the New York Islanders I was fully aware of what this past Wednesday meant to this franchise.  May 24, 1980 marked the beginning of a dynasty on Long Island.  Bob Nystrom’s overtime goal in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals brought the first of four titles to Nassau County on that amazing Saturday afternoon..

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Montreal Canadiens win their second of four consecutive Stanley Cups, May 14, 1977, 40 years ago.

 

You may be asking what the winning of the Islanders first Stanley Cup championship has to do with Memorial Day weekend?  It’ the fact that back in the day winter sports stretched into spring and was over and done with by the time summer came into view.  The same goes for Major League Baseball.  I can remember a time when the World Series ended in late October, before the real cold settled in.

As time has progressed the Stanley Cup Finals and the NBA Finals have stretched way beyond Memorial Day.

This past Thursday after the Pittsburgh Penguins defeated the Ottawa Senators in a double overtime Game 7 for the ages.  The victory set up a Stanley Cup Finals match-up with the Nashville Predators, who finished off the Anaheim Ducks on Monday night.

Also on Thursday the Cleveland Cavaliers knocked off the Boston Celtics to set up an NBA Finals match-up with the Golden State Warriors.  Golden State had finished off the San Antonio Spurs on Monday night.  The Cavs and Warriors will meet in the Finals for the third straight year.

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The Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors will compete in their third consecutive NBA Finals.

 

This brings me to the point of this article.  When I woke up on Friday morning, I checked the schedules of both the Stanley Cup and NBA finals, and was taken aback.  Here we are at a major holiday weekend, with two major championships about to be contested.  In my opinion both should have been over-with by now since winter is over and summer has begun.

I look at the schedules to find out that we will go through the Memorial Day weekend with no hockey or basketball?  Actually, that’s not true, the Stanley Cup Finals begins on Monday night, as the Memorial Day holiday winds down.

The NBA Finals doesn’t start until….um.. Thursday??  While I understand that the Warriors won the Western Conference Finals in four and the Cavs knocked off the Celtics in five, it gave rise to some down time.  I understand that the execs at ESPN/ABC had this date planned for the grand opening of the NBA’s signature event.   But this is a league that is known to begin a round as soon as the teams match-up.  It isn’t uncommon for one round to wind down and a new round starting up on the same day, surely the NBA and ESPN/ABC could’ve arranged something.

Mr. Bettman, how, in the span of 30 odd years does the NHL go from hoisting the Stanley Cup in mid to late May to starting the Finals on Memorial Day night? The amount of teams qualifying for the playoffs hasn’t changed.   Mr. Silver, how is it that there is no NBA playoffs on Memorial Day weekend?  I also would like to add Major League Baseball to this question.  Baseball shouldn’t stretch into November.

I also would like to take this opportunity to thank all of our service men and women who continually fight for our freedom.  I also want to take this time to honor and thank those who paid the ultimate price.

 

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THE TALE OF TWO POSTSEASONS

The late, great Jim McKay used to proclaim in the opening of ABC’s Wide World of Sports “the drama of athletic competition.”  This is truly what we are witnessing in both the Stanley Cup and NBA playoffs this year.  Both tournaments are offering the dramatics this year, but that’s where the similarities end.

To be honest, I haven’t watched any of the NBA playoff games this year.  I have been keeping myself informed through my ESPN app and news reports.  That being said, I am fully aware that both the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers have yet to lose a single game. Therein lies the drama.  Who will flinch first?  To me, as well as most basketball fans, it’s a far gone conclusion that last year’s finalists are on a crash course to this year’s NBA Finals.

The Stanley Cup Playoffs have been much more intriguing.  The only four game sweep came early on, when the Anaheim Ducks dispatched the Calgary Flames in Round 1.  The Pittsburgh Penguins win over the Columbus Blue Jackets and the St. Louis Blues victory over the Minnesota Wild are the only two match-ups to end in five games.  Both five game series were in the first round.  A Stanley Cup record 18 first round games went into sudden death overtime, including four in one night.

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Lebron James, Stephan Curry, and Kevin Durant (pictured in an Oklahoma City Thunder jersey, he is now with the Golden State Warriors) have led the Cavaliers and Warriors to undefeated playoff seasons.

 

Back to the NBA story.  I mentioned earlier in this article that I have yet to watch a single NBA playoff game this year.  In contrast, I watched nearly the entire NCAA Tournament back in March, so it’s not that I’m not interested in basketball.  The NBA has become so predictable that it has, in my opinion, become unwatchable.  No game this year made that more evident than the Cleveland’s 130-86 drubbing of the Boston Celtics on Friday night in Boston.  This game was over in the first quarter!  Given the fact that Boston’s top star Isaiah Thomas is sidelined for the remainder of the playoffs takes all the drama out of this series.

The Western Conference match-up between Golden State and the San Antonio Spurs looked at least palatable on paper .  Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has a history of having his team ready for big games.  However, given the injury bug that has hit San Antonio (Kawhi Leonard is out with an ankle injury), it appears that the Warriors might close things out on Monday night.

The NBA has been dramatic, yet unwatchable.  Hopefully we will see a series for the ages in the far gone concluded NBA Finals between the Cavs and Warriors.

The NHL has a much different situation going on.  Yes, the games have been dramatic, yes the series’ have gone deep, but there is one more dimension to add to the Stanley Cup drama of 2017.  Unlike the NBA’s two marquee franchises being on a crash course to a championship clash, two of the NHL’s smallest markets are in a Stanley Cup frenzy.

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The Nashville Predators have been the surprise of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

While the President’s Trophy winning Washington Capitals (and superstar Alexander Ovechkin), and marquee franchises from Montreal, Chicago, and the New York Rangers watch from the sidelines, the Nashville Predators and Ottawa Senators are making headlines.

With last night’s come from behind victory in Anaheim, the Predators find themselves within one win of the Stanley Cup Finals.  That can happen in the Music City on Monday night.

The one marquee franchise remaining in the Stanley Cup picture is the Pittsburgh Penguins.  They host the Senators this afternoon in Steeltown, the Eastern Conference Finals is tied at 2-2.

So much drama, so much intrigue.  It’s been a spring for the ages for two very different reasons.  Stay tuned!

 

WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO PROFESSIONAL SPORTS?

On Friday night, during Game 5 of the opening round Stanley Cup Playoff series between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Washington Capitals there was a scary moment.  Late in the first period a hard submarine check by Toronto’s Nazem Kadri left Capitals star Alexander Ovechkin motionless on the ice for a brief moment.  Ovechkin would be helped off the ice and would return to the game at the start of the second period.

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Washington Capitals star Alexander Ovechkin being helped off the ice following a hit by Toronto’s Nazem Kadri.

 

Kadri was given a two-minute minor penalty for what was deemed “tripping” as a result of the play.  As the call was made, I thought to myself, what was illegal about it? Ovechkin had recent possession  of the puck, and Kadri hit him low and hard.  It was textbook, hard nosed hockey in my old school mind.  It was unfortunate, and scary, that one of hockey’s brightest stars laid motionless on the Verizon Center ice as a result, but it is part of a very physical sport.  The panel of experts on NBCSN tended to agree with me during their intermission show following the first period.  Everyone in the hockey world was relieved and happy to see Ovechkin return to the ice and continue to play.  He’s fine and ready to go in tonight’s Game 6.

This incident made me think of where sports has gone in general.  I grew up in an era where hockey and football were hard-hitting, bone jarring sports.  I grew up in an era where starting pitchers in baseball finished what they started, the bullpen only got involved if the starter was having trouble, or was lifted for a pinch-hitter.  The one on one play at home plate between runner and catcher was also part of the game.  I also come from an era where professional basketball players weren’t rested because of the “grueling” 82 game schedule.

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The new baseball in between innings clock.

 

Baseball was always the game that surpassed time.  When did a day at the ballpark where you can have a hot dog, sip on a beverage, and pass the time with your friends and family turn into a race against time?  Last year MLB in its infinite wisdom, rolled out the “in between innings timer.”  I cringe every time I see this ridiculous clock pop out of the scoreboard.

To continue to speed up the pace of a ballgame they added a new rule this year, the automatic walk!  Automatic walk??? For over a hundred years, four balls equaled a walk, intentional or not.  Anything from a wild pitch or the batter actually making contact with the purposely thrown ball can still happen.  Many of us who were around in the early 1970’s can even remember the Oakland A’s faking an intentional walk during the 1972 World Series.  The fakeout resulted in a strikeout of Reds star Johnny Bench.

If you want to speed things up in baseball, tone down the pitching changes!  Starting pitchers are on such strict pitch counts these days that they are being pulled regardless of how they are performing.  Meanwhile Tommy John surgeries have skyrocketed.  For generations baseball was played without counting pitches.  For generations from Walter Johnson to Nolan Ryan starting pitchers were on the mound until either they were in trouble or were removed because the team was behind and pinch hit for him in order to generate some offense.

Most of us hard-core football fans have seen the sport decline too.  Over the years the quarterback has been a little over protected.  Last I checked, wasn’t it the offensive line’s job to protect the quarterback?  The modification of the intentional grounding rule has also softened things in this writer’s opinion.  Why does it matter if a quarterback is in the pocket or not if he throws the ball to nobody to avoid a sack?

Finally let’s look at basketball.  Multiple times this year the Cleveland Cavaliers rested Lebron James and fellow stars Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love.  Excuse my ignorance, but when did an 82 game NBA season become so grueling that players needed to be rested?  In baseball I can understand resting players, whether or not they are stars.  You are playing day in and day out, sometimes twice a day.  Your team plays at 1:00 after ending a game at 11:00 the night before.  In basketball you play an occasional back to back in successive nights.  I have never seen this before.  I seriously don’t get it.

Maybe I’m too old school.

 

THE EPIC THAT IS STANLEY CUP OVERTIME

On this holiest of Sundays I would like to extend my wishes for a happy and healthy Easter and Passover (which is still in progress) to all who are celebrating.  This time of year conjures up thoughts of colored eggs and bunnies.  The smell of matzoh ball soup and brisket fills Jewish kitchens, matzoh and kosher wine are on display at the local supermarket along side the spiral ham.

To the hockey fan, holiday week in April coincides with the battle for hockey’s holy grail! The fight for the Stanley Cup began this week.

What is unique about the sport of hockey is the slight change in the rules once the post-season begins.  During the regular season tie games are decided by a five-minute overtime period in which each team is only allowed to field three skaters and a goaltender.  The first team to score wins the game.  If the game is still tied after the five minute session the game is settled via a tie breaking shootout.  Each team takes turns having a skater go one on one with the opposing goaltender for a minimum of 3 rounds with the winner scroring one more time than the other team.

So here is the slight but powerful change in the rules.  In the Stanley Cup Playoffs there is no 3 on 3 for five minutes, and shootouts go out the window too.  What the system is replaced with is one simple rule, next goal wins.  Teams continue the game the way it was meant to be played, the overtime rules are the same as regulation.  Five skaters an a goaltender for each team just like the first three periods.

Unique to the rules in the Stanley Cup Playoffs is the fact that the game can end in ten seconds or half the night!

During game 2 of the 1986 Stanley Cup Finals, Brian Skrudland scored nine seconds into overtime as the Montreal Canadiens defeated the Calgary Flames 3-2.  To date this is the shortest playoff overtime in NHL history.

There have been many long overtime games in NHL history.  Two Cup winners that come to mind took place in 1996 and 1999.

Game 4 of the 1996 Finals, in my opinion, was the greatest display of goaltending I have ever seen.   Patrick Roy of the Colorado Avalanche and John Vanbiesbrouck of the Florida Panthers went toe to toe.  At the end of regulation the game was in a scoreless tie.  At 4:31 of the third overtime, Vanbiesbrouck would flinch.  Uwe Krupp beat the Florida goaltender to clinch a four game sweep and win the Stanley Cup.

Game 6 of the 1999 Finals was tied at one at the end of regulation.  The Dallas Stars had a 3-2 series lead over the Buffalo Sabres.  Dominik Hasek (Buffalo) and Ed Belfour (Dallas) put on a similar clinic as Roy and Vanbiesbrouck did in 1996.  The Sabres tied the game with 1:31 remaining in the second period.  The game winning (and Cup winning) goal remains one of the most controversial goals in Stanley Cup Finals history.

Stars’ Brett Hull scored the winning goal at 14:51 of the third overtime period.  What was questionable about the goal was the fact that Hull had a skate in the goal crease when he shot the puck past a sprawling Hasek.  It was ruled that Hull had control of the puck, but not posession of the puck, when he entered the crease.  Following the 1999 Finals the league sent out a memo clarifying the rule.

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Brett Hull scores the game winning goal in Game 6 of the 1999 Stanley Cup Finals.

With today being Easter Sunday, I have to talk about the game known as the Easter Epic.   This coming Tuesday and Wednesday marks its 30th anniversary.

The New York Islanders and Washington Capitals were paired in the first round of the 1987 Stanley Cup Playoffs.  The series went to a seventh game, and what a seventh game it was!

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Pat LaFontaine is mobbed by his Islander teammates after ending the longest Game 7 in playoff history.

 

Game 7 was played at the old Capital Centre in Landover Md.  The game began on Saturday April 18, 1987 and concluded just before 2:00 am on Easter Sunday.

After two periods of play the Capitals held a 2-1 lead.  As an Islanders fan I wasn’t feeling too good about things at that point.  The score remained the same well into the third period and it appeared Washington was headed to the next round.  That all changed with just over five minutes left in regulation!  Bryan Trottier’s backhand shot beat Capitals goaltender Bob Mason to tie the score.  What happened after that was legendary!

Islanders goaltender Kelly Hrudy made 73 saves, Mason made 54.  Pat LaFontaine’s slapshot at 8:47 of the fourth overtime beat the Capital’s goaltender to win the game and the series for New York.  Mason was screened and never saw the shot.  The puck hit the post and caromed into the Washington net.

There have been so many dramatic moments over the years during these extra sessions.  The mystique of not knowing when the game will end is clearly one of the biggest drama in all of sports.

 

 

 

IN THE AIR THERE’S A FEELING OF PLAYOFFS

Ahh! The fresh air of spring!  The days are getting longer, the weather is getting warmer, baseball has gone into day in and day out mode!  This can only mean one (or actually two) things…..Arena sports playoff season is almost upon us!  With the regular season in both the NHL and NBA coming to a close this week there is so much to be settled.

The National Hockey League will close its regular season today.  The National Basketball Association closes for regular business on Wednesday.  The Stanley Cup Playoff schedule will be announced late tonight, same for the NBA when all is done on Wednesday.

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Toronto Maple Leafs clinch the final playoff spot in the NHL Eastern Conference last night.

 

Last night, as my wife Robin and I cheered on our Florida Panthers in their home finale, there was so much scoreboard (or should I say smart-phone watching) going on.  Coming in to last night there was one final spot to be decided in the Eastern Conference.  The Toronto Maple Leafs needed a win to secure the final spot, the New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning were right behind them.  Oh and by the way there was a basketball game going on down the road in Miami with playoff implications that we were keeping an eye on.  More on that later.

As we were leaving the BB&T Center I got a text from a friend of mine saying simply “Leafs in.”  When we left the building following the Panthers 3-0 victory over Buffalo the game between the Leafs and Penguins was in a 2-2 tie.  The Islanders had already beaten the New Jersey Devils and the Lightning were off.

Although the field is set in the NHL’s Western Conference the first round pairings are still up in the air.  The top seed already belongs to the Chicago Blackhawks.   The Hawks will be taking on the number 2 Wild Card winning Nashville Predators in the first round. Nashville finished their season last night with a 2-1 loss in Winnipeg, while the Calgary Flames (#1 Wild Card) lost their season finale in San Jose by the score of 4-1.  Calgary and Nashville finish the season tied at 94 points, Calgary won the Wild Card battle by a tiebreaker.

The last piece of business in the NHL is the top spot in the Pacific Division.  Coming into play today, the Anaheim Ducks have a two point lead over the second place Edmonton Oilers.  Edmonton holds the tiebreaker between the teams.  Both teams finish at home tonight.  Anaheim will host its Southern California rivals, the Los Angeles Kings in their season, and home finale.  The Oilers will finish against the Vancouver Canucks (also on home ice).  The Kings will be gunning for the Ducks and would love to play spoilers in a very heated crosstown rivalry.

Not to be outdone by the NHL, there is so much going on in the NBA as their season heads for a close.

The defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers currently hold a half game lead over the Boston Celtics for top seed in the Eastern Conference.  The Cavs have three games remaining, the Celtics have two left.  The last two playoff spots in the East are still up for grabs.  As of this morning the Indiana Pacers have a one game lead over the Chicago Bulls and Miami Heat.  Chicago and Miami have identical records, the Bulls hold the tiebreaker.

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The Celtics are giving Lebron and Company a run for their money.

 

The last playoff spot in the Western Conference is still up for grabs.  The Portland Trail Blazers are currently in the driver’s seat, with a game and a half lead over the Denver Nuggets.  Portland has two games left, Denver has three remaining.

This week should be interesting in both sports.  The Stanley Cup playoffs will open, the NBA regular season comes to a close, and then the real fun starts!

PROFESSIONAL ATHLETES AND INTERNATIONAL COMPETITION-IS IT TOO RISKY?

Kansas City Royals fans and management are cringing this morning.  In a Pool D contest at the World Baseball Classic in Jalisco, Mexico yesterday, Royals catcher Salvador Perez left with an apparent knee injury. He was playing for his native Venezuela. To add insult to injury it was as a result of a home plate collision with his backup in Kansas City, Drew Butera who was trying to score the tying run for Team Italy.  Perez was guarding home plate while Butera was trying to score.  Venezuela won the game 11-10 in ten innings.  The Detroit Tigers are also licking their wounds from this game and that play.  Tigers closer Francisco Rodriguez strained his groin while acting as the cutoff man on the play.

Perez will sit out the remainder of the World Baseball Classic and return to the Royals training camp in Arizona.  Initial examination has shown that the knee injury isn’t that serious.

Royals catcher Salvador Perez playing for Team Venezuela at the World Baseball Classic.

This incident made me think back to other situations where professional athletes have been injured while playing in international competitions.

The National Hockey League is leaning towards not participating in the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea for this exact reason.  The owners feel that to close down in the middle of the season to let high-priced players play full tilt for their country has become too much of a risk.

At the Sochi Olympics in 2014 both of New York’s hockey teams took a hit.  The Islanders got a huge scare when all-star center John Tavares, while playing for Team Canada was checked hard into the boards in a game against Latvia.  Tavares had suffered a torn MCL and a torn meniscus.  He was out for the remainder of the Isles 2013-14 season.

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Islanders all-star center John Tavares is helped off the ice while playing for team Canada at the 2014 Winter Olympics.

 

Rangers forward Mats Zuccarello also returned home injured.  He suffered a broken hand while playing for Team Norway.  Other injuries in Sochi included Florida Panthers forwards Aleksandr Barkov (playing for Finland) and Tomas Kopecky (playing for Slovakia).  Detroit Red Wings star Henrik Zetterberg aggravated a back injury while playing for Team Sweden.

Prior to this year’s season, the NHL and the International Hockey Federation teamed up to stage the World Cup of Hockey.  This tournament is similar to the World Baseball Classic and claimed two of the NHL’s young stars.

Florida Panthers star defenseman Aaron Ekblad left the tournament following what turned out to be a concussion.  He was playing for Team North America.  Panthers ownership pulled him from the competition.  Ekblad was able to open the NHL season for Florida.

The defending Stanley Cup Champion Penguins also had to hold their breath.  Goaltender Matt Murray suffered a thumb injury while also playing for team North America.

So the question remains, are owners and management going to continue to support sending their stars to these tournaments?  Like I’ve said before, I’m all for shuffling the deck and watching professional athletes play for their country.  However, this latest chapter that claimed three players on one play makes me wonder what the answer is.

I am not a fan of preseason tournaments like the WBC and the World Cup of Hockey since the players shouldn’t be playing full tilt yet.  I am a fan of international competition when players are in top shape.  The Olympics have featured NHL and KHL players since 1998 in mid-season form but the rash of injuries in 2014 speaks for itself.  The NBA has sent players to the Olympics since 1992 right after the end of its playoffs.  There haven’t been any major injuries in Olympic basketball competition, however the NBA stars have shied away from the Olympic at times to not risk injury.  Lebron James and Stephan Curry are prime examples, both sat out this past summer’s games in Rio.

So the question remains and the debate will continue without an answer.  International competition is great, but at what cost?

 

 

 

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.

 

THE MOST BORING GAMES OF THE YEAR

Today used to be called “in between Sunday.”  This is the Sunday in between Championship Sunday and Super Bowl Sunday.  It was the middle of two weeks of hype leading up to the NFL’s marquis day.

In 2010, the National Football League moved the Pro Bowl from the week after the Super Bowl to the week before it.  The biggest problem, among others, with this scheduling change is the fact that the players on the two championship teams wouldn’t participate in the game.  Let’s digest that for a minute.  The best players on the top two teams in the league would skip a game set aside for stars to showcase their talents.

One of the reasons for the change of schedule was the idea that the Pro Bowl would be played in the same venue as the Super Bowl.  This would limit traveling to Hawaii where the game was traditionally held.  That theory never did catch on.  This year’s game and festivities will be held in Orlando.

Image result for camping world stadium Camping World Stadium in Orlando, FL

In recent times the National Hockey League also claimed the weekend prior to the Super Bowl as their All-Star Weekend.  The main reason for the move from a mid-week night game was the fact that the NFL was off.  Of course that ended in 2010 when Roger Goodell in his infinite wisdom invaded Gary Bettman’s space.

This year the NHL goes Hollywood with the Los Angeles Kings hosting the festivities.

Image result for staples center Staples Center, home of the Los Angeles Kings

Let’s face it, football and hockey do not lend themselves to great all-star games.  The Pro Bowl limits many defenses and blitzing is a penalty.  The result is always a high scoring affair.  The NHL’s game is basically “flag hockey,” checking is not allowed.  The NHL All-Star Game is reminiscent of an adult league at a local ice skating rink in which the best goaltenders in the business are hung out to dry.  Both games are an excersise in keeping from getting hit.

I will give the NHL some credit for making an attempt to make their showcase palatable.  The skills competition on Saturday night has become more of a highlight of the event than the actual game.  You have an evening of the best players in the league showcasing what they do best.  This year the league will continue with a three period mini tournament among the four divisions.  Although it was exciting last year it still resulted in a hidden score-fest.  Total goals in last year’s game was 23, including a 9-6 mini game between the Western Conference divisions.  Keep in mind this was in one period.

After a choose-up format over the past few years the NFL finally and mercifully return to an AFC-NFC format this year.  This is how it was for generations, why Mr. Goodell turned a nationally televised all-star event into a glorified choose-up game is still beyond me.

So what are your plans for today?  Non contact football? Three on three mini non contact hockey?  How about skipping them both altogether and take a nap?

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.

 

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.