Saturday, May 31, 2008

The Disappointing Pistons

I don't have much to write about in this post. In fact, the only reason I'm even writing is because it has been a while since I last checked in at WCWIEL (catchy acronym, I know) and I have created a new page at GooglePages that I will be updating when I go across the Atlantic to England for the summer, starting July 7th. If you'd like to see what exactly I will be doing over there, here's the link to the site and I hope you like it.

While I'm writing, I might as well catch up with what's been going on in my life since my Stanley Cup preview ten days ago.
  • I'm not going to talk about the current state of the Stanley Cup Finals because the Red Wings have won every playoff series so far without any updates mid-series and it would be a mistake to buck that trend now. I'm superstitious, what else can I say?
  • The Detroit Pistons lost in the NBA Conference Finals for the third consecutive year, making them possibly the most disappointing team I've ever rooted for. Yup, I said it. They are even worse than the Lions or the 2008 Tigers. How could this be, you ask? They've made six straight conference finals and even won an NBA championship, so how could they possibly be that disappointing? Well, I'll tell you how. Each of the past six seasons, this core group of veterans and talented players finish either first or second in the Eastern Conference and head into the playoffs as one of the favorites to win the NBA title. Yet, every season since 2004 when they won the championship, they seem to play like they don't want another ring. Sure, they have won 10+ playoff games for five straight years, but since that magical run in 2004, they lack fight, intensity, and concentration in the games that matter most. Last night, the Boston Celtics *shudder* won in Detroit and closed out the series in 6 games. This game was a complete joke. After three quarters, Boston had basically sat down and said, "Alright, you can have this game. KG is in foul-trouble and you're up by 10. Let's go back to Beantown for another game seven." Instead of seizing the moment though, the Pistons turned the ball over constantly and missed plenty of open shots against the Celtics' bench players. Since the Pistons' weren't closing out the last 10 minutes of the game on their home floor like Boston expected, the Celtics decided to put their starters back in and just like that, the game was over. Now, I'm not going to say Detroit is a much better basketball team than Boston, but they are better. They have a better starting lineup overall, a better bench, a better coach, and much more experience. But they lack heart. You could argue that over the past six years, there hasn't been a team as talent-laden as the Pistons in the entire NBA. But there are many teams, including this year's Celtics, who are much hungrier for a title. And that is why I am thoroughly disappointed in the Detroit Pistons. I don't wish the Celtics any luck in the NBA Finals because they've already received wayyy too much of it from referees and those Boston Garden rims in their trip to the final round. In fact, I will not watch a single second of the NBA Finals purely out of spite; hockey's better, anyway.
  • I have another movie review for all you readers, since last night my Dad and I watched a sci-fi classic, 12 Monkeys, starring Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt. Not only was this film incredibly interesting and fun to watch, but Brad Pitt gave possibly his best performance as an actor. I love pretty much any role Pitt plays in cinema, but this one was fantastic. Some argue that he overacted and that made the movie almost unwatchable, but I completely disagree. This movie is a must-see-movie and I wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone. The ending is mind-bending as well, so I hope you all go out and see it...or, since it was released 13 years ago, have already seen it. Final verdict: 4.5 out of 5 stars.
Alright, I'm finished with this random entry. I hope you all have a good weekend and I shall be back soon with another post once the Stanley Cup Finals come to an end! Go Wings!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Stanley Cup Finals Preview!

At last, the most recognizable trophy in sports will be up for grabs as the Stanley Cup Playoffs have reached its final round. The Pittsburgh Penguins will represent the Eastern Conference and the Detroit Red Wings will represent the Western Conference, giving the NHL exactly what it needs to create more interest in the league: an incredible match-up featuring the new face of the league, Sidney Crosby, and the best defenseman in the game's history, Nicklas Lidstrom. I'm so excited to watch these two teams face off. Henrik Zetterberg vs. Sidney Crosby. Pavel Datsyuk vs. Evgeni Malkin. You couldn't dream up a better playoff series to end the 2008 season.

As always, I'll take a look back at the previous round and my predictions for those series. In the Eastern Conference Finals, I picked the Pittsburgh Penguins to beat the Philadelphia Flyers in five games and they did just that. The Penguins jumped out to a 3-0 series lead before losing game four in Philly and then closing out the series with a blowout win at home. The Pittsburgh powerplay looked incredible, again, and the regular-season-caliber Martin Biron showed up, which left the Flyers dead in the water. Biron's goaltending was the only reason that Philadelphia even reached the conference finals and so when it disappeared, they had nothing left to match-up with the Penguins.

My psychic abilities were strong in this round, as I picked the Red Wings to beat the Dallas Stars in six games and they confirmed my prediction exactly. Of course, the 3-0 series lead for the Red Wings looked a lot worse when the Stars came back to win two straight games and take the series back to Dallas, but the Wings dispatched Dallas with three first period goals on the road in game six and calmed my nerves. Detroit looked very strong in the first three games and in the final game, using their balanced offensive and defensive attack to jump on the Stars early and force them into mistakes and turnovers. Unfortunately, the Wings looked vulnerable in the two games they lost and need to show improvement if they are to raise Lord Stanley's Cup in the coming weeks.

And now, my preview of the Stanley Cup Final Match-Up:

Offense-Defense Analysis: The Penguins vaunted offensive attack will face many talented, veteran Red Wings defensemen, and it will be very interesting to see who wins that battle. Pittsburgh's 1A line of Crosby, Marian Hossa, and Pascal DuPuis will likely face Detroit's best defensive pairing in Nicklas Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski, both of whom have won multiple Stanley Cups. The Penguins' 1B line of Malkin, Petr Sykora, and Ryan Malone will likely be up against Niklas Kronwall and Brad Stuart, both of whom play aggressive defense and take away the open ice with bone-crunching hits. The Red Wings will rely on Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg for most of their scoring but they thrive on secondary scoring from experienced guys like Kris Draper, Dan Cleary, and Valtteri Filppula. Another key will be which young duo (Crosby-Malkin or Datsyuk-Zetterberg) can help his team the most, since those four players are their team's best and they will need to play like it for their respective teams if they want to win the Cup.

Goaltending: The Red Wings have a talented veteran in Chris Osgood between the pipes while the Penguins will call on Marc Andre-Fleury to lead them to greatness. Both Osgood and Andre-Fleury have played very well to help their teams get this far, and I think they will both keep their teams in games and play fairly evenly. Andre-Fleury has never played in the Stanley Cup Finals while Ozzie single-handedly helped Detroit win the Cup in 1998 as a 25-year-old. That will help him deal with some of the tough scoring chances he'll face against the great Penguins offense and I see him coming out with a very slight edge over Fleury, who might buckle under the pressure of his first appearance in the Finals.

Most Important Factor: The most important aspect of this series is how well the Red Wings' penalty kill can prevent the Pittsburgh powerplay from scoring. Sergei Gonchar is only a point behind Kronwall for the playoff leading defenseman and he's the anchor on the first powerplay unit for the Pens which often includes Crosby, Malkin, Hossa, and Malone. All of those guys can move the puck, skate fast, shoot accurately and shoot quickly, so it is extremely important that Detroit limits Pittsburgh's powerplay opportunities.

Most Important Factor No One is Talking About: Johan Franzen. "Mule" had 12 goals in the first 11 games of the playoffs but he has been absent in the past five games with concussion-like symptoms. The Red Wings are being very quiet about his status and the severity of these headaches that he's had, but if he can somehow make it back for the Finals, it would make a huge difference. He was the best player in the playoffs for the first two rounds and would be a huge asset to the Wings if he can come back and play at the level he did against Nashville and Colorado.

Best Match-Up: Sidney Crosby vs. Nicklas Lidstrom. The "next Gretzky" has vision on the ice that I haven't seen since...well, the Great One himself. Lidstrom, meanwhile, has racked up five Norris trophies as the best defenseman in the NHL and will almost certainly win his sixth this spring. Crosby's first experience in the Stanley Cup Finals will definitely not be his last, but unless he can force Lidstrom into some mistakes and turn those into goals for the Penguins, his first time in the Finals won't be one to remember.

Prediction: Detroit in six games. As much as I'd like the Red Wings to win at home, I don't think they can close out the Penguins in as little as five games. They are just too good. On the other hand, I don't think the Penguins have enough experience to make the series go a full seven games. As the Prophet Melrose once said, the greats often lose before they win, as the dynastic Oilers did with Gretzky in the early 1980's. I think the Penguins will win multiple Stanley Cups with Sid the Kid and Malkin in the future, but this is the Red Wings' year.

I hope you enjoyed the latest installment of my NHL playoff previews and will watch the Stanley Cup Finals on Versus for games one and two and on NBC for games three through seven. The NHL made a huge mistake with their TV deal after the lockout but a series like this one could help attract the casual fan back to the game and hopefully, an agreement with ESPN in the future. Hope you are all enjoying the month of May and getting ready for those hot, Summer days. Until next time, Go Wings!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Rest In Peace, Papa

I don't even know how to begin to write this one. My grandfather, Ted Ostrem, passed away last Thursday morning after struggling to fight off an infection in his lungs that he caught after his second surgery last week. I've never lost someone so close to me. Losing Grant's Dad two weeks ago was hard, but I didn't know him very well on a personal level. Losing my babysitter and close family friend, Anna Bonde, when I was 13 was hard too but our relationship had barely developed. The loss of my father's mom, my grandmother, happened when I was too young to remember anything about her; I've only seen video of her holding me as a baby and pictures of her with my Dad. I was not prepared for this.

At 20 years old, I've had lots of time with Papa and we've shared so many memories. I would say that the majority of them revolved around our favorite sport and our strongest connection: golf. I remember when he came out to visit and rode around with Grandma in the golf cart at Hales Location for one of my high school golf team practices. I shot 39 that day, finishing the 9th hole off with a long birdie putt that rolled right in. I remember teeing off at Glendoveer so many times with Papa and his friend, Dick. I remember his jerky swing that would send the ball clear to the right or to the left, or on rare occasions, straight down the middle. I remember his knack for scrambling for par or bogey even when he found himself deep in the Oregon trees. I use many of the tricks he used in the forest to improve my own game in those woody situations. I remember arriving at Portland International Airport so many times and seeing his warm smile fill the room when he saw us coming. He would excitedly tell me about all the golf tips he'd read about in Golf Digest that could fix his game, and how I could help implement those tools into his deteriorating swing. I remember him regaling me with tales of his holes-in-one, as he had two in his lifetime. I remember his joy for the game, and his pure sadness when he had to give it up after being put on oxygen full-time.

I remember our trips to the many different driving ranges. There was the one out in Oregon City with the giant schooner wagon. There was Hound Hollow, which closed down when I was younger. There was one out in Eastmoreland. There was one in Tualatin with island greens surrounded by water. Papa always loved watching my swing. "Straight as an arrow!" he'd say, if my ball happened to flutter straight even though it didn't go nearly as far as I normally hit it. "Look at that one fly!" he'd say, if my shot was very long but veered far off course. He always found a positive way to look at a golf shot, regardless of the result. I remember putting on his burnt orange carpet in their house on Southeast Francis. I can still hear the sound of a golf ball rolling into those little plastic cups. Papa would sit on the couch and listen for the connection of polyurethane on plastic and shout out, "Three in a row! You won't forget your old grandpa when you get to the Masters now will ya?" My own Dad always loved golf too, but I don't think I would have ever developed the deep love for the game that I have now if not for my grandfather's influence.

Another one of his favorite things to do was go fishing. I never found it all that appealing as I grew older, but I remember that we used to fish together when I was a kid. He'd teach me how to cast and where to throw the line and how to tie the bait on the lure. I remember walking down those brown rickety stairs and meeting the musty garage smell as I walked through the door to get our rods. We had a cooler completely full of bottles of Clearly Canadian sparkling water, always in either strawberry or raspberry flavor. Papa always knew where the fish were hiding. I'd like to go fishing again this summer in his memory. It's been years since I've gone out on the water to fish and I know if I do, he'll be right there beside me, guiding my line towards the perfect fishing hole.

He used to show me some of his old card tricks. He'd play Rummikub with me and Grandma and my younger sister, Hannah. He loved Grandma's cooking: he ate salads with Kraft Brand Zesty Italian dressing -- his favorite; he loved fresh turkey sandwiches with the spicy brown mustard that had a beaver on the label; he raved about fresh fish and never seemed to have dinner without it. We used to watch Seattle Mariners' games on TV and he'd always cheer on our favorite player, Edgar Martinez, and yell at manager Lou Piniella when he'd send in perpetual disappointment Jose Paniagua, a middle reliever who blew just about every lead the M's ever had in the late 90's. We'd watch the British Open almost every July when my family would visit, and I remember watching the Jean Van de Velde collapse in 1999, right as it happened.

It's still very hard to think that I won't see him when I go out to Oregon to visit. I know he struggled with his health problems and hated being away from golf and fishing, so it is nice to know that he was relieved of those medical anxieties and that he's probably playing endless rounds of golf with his old friends up in the clouds. It's also nice that I'll always have the memories of him to cherish for the rest of my life. But as nice as those things are, I still won't hear his laugh again. That rough, full-body laugh that I would hear as we watched episodes of Scrubs together. I won't see him handing me the sports page of The Oregonian at the breakfast table when I get up at Grandma's house in the morning. It's hard to imagine not hearing his voice again, whether it be cheering me on at the golf course or telling me about the latest problem with the Portland Trailblazers as we watched games together. It's too bad he won't see the team as the franchise begins to make a positive turnaround, since he always used to complain about the "thugs" and "troublemakers" on the team that brought about the nickname of the "Jail-blazers." Now, the team is young and on the rise, led by players who excel on and off the court.

Papa was a very proud man. I'll always admire the way he carried himself and kept a smile on his face even when he felt nothing like smiling. He gave me a great passion in golf and I'm so grateful for his influence on me. He always taught me that it was okay to make mistakes but to realize that it was what I learned from them that really mattered. He's someone who I'll always look up to and remember fondly in my heart. I love him so much, and I will miss him every day. Rest in peace, Papa, and save us a tee time for when I meet you up there in the clouds, many years from now.

Monday, May 5, 2008

NHL Conference Finals Preview!

As the calendar turns to May, we are three weeks into the NHL playoffs and the original field of 16 contenders for the Stanley Cup has been whittled down to four. My predictions for the second round were close, but not entirely correct. If we look back, I chose Montreal and Pittsburgh in the East and Detroit and Dallas in the West, which proved me to be right in three of my four predictions. As usual, here's my recap of the series followed by my preview of the next round.

Montreal proved to be my only incorrect pick, as the Canadiens played poorly and lost to the Philadelphia Flyers in five games. I honestly thought that the Flyers were the better offensive team, but that their goaltending would hold them back and prevent them from reaching the conference finals. Boy, was I wrong. Martin Biron, the Flyers goalie, has been arguably the best goalie in the playoffs thus far, even though he has been a perennial backup in the past due to his inconsistency. Of course, if someone had told me that the Flyers would ride into the Eastern Conference Finals on Biron's shoulders three weeks ago, I would have checked their pockets for a crackpipe. Nonetheless, I admit that I was wrong and that Biron has played excellently; the Flyers would not be where they are without him.

In the other East match-up, I thought that Pittsburgh would end the Rangers' playoff hopes in seven games, and instead they accomplished the feat in a closely contested five-game series. Even though I'm enamored of the Penguins, I still think I've underestimated them. The Rangers have a spectacular team and even they couldn't win more than a game against this talented Pittsburgh squad. Marc-Andre Fleury has kept the Penguins in games during their momentary lapses and the powerplay line of Crosby, Malkin, Gonchar, Hossa, and Sykora/Roberts has been unstoppable. They even have some big guys in Pasqual DuPuis, Hal Gill and Georges Laraque that can hit and punish teams that try to beat the Penguins through physical play. I haven't seen an Eastern Conference team this good in a long time, not since the heyday of the New Jersey Devils in the late 1990s.

Meanwhile, in the Western Conference, the Detroit Red Wings embarrassed the Colorado Avalanche in a four-game sweep and the Dallas Stars pulled out a gutsy series against the San Jose Sharks in six games. I predicted a six game series for Detroit and Colorado, which seemed reasonable at the time but was clearly wrong after Detroit flexed its offensive muscle. Jose Theodore, the Colorado goalie who was fantastic in their first round series victory over Minnesota, was pulled before the third period in three of the four games, allowed 15 total goals, and was nothing short of absolutely dreadful. The Avs suffered from injuries to some of their best players but in regards to that excuse from Colorado fans, it was clear that the Avalanche didn't play well enough to win the series even if they were dressing a lineup of All-Stars. Detroit was just better. Period.

In Dallas, the Stars are still celebrating their quadruple overtime victory in game six that pushed them into the conference finals on Sunday night/Monday morning. The series was more lopsided than I thought, as the Sharks didn't play very well throughout the series and were left in a 0-3 hole before they won two games to make the series more interesting. The Stars were much better and Marty Turco outplayed Evgeni Nabokov to send the Sharks home for the summer. The Stars did show some weakness though, as they almost blew a 3-0 series lead with two chances to win the series at home, but they did get the job done and that's all that counts.

Finally, what you've all been waiting for: a look inside the two match-ups that will decide each conference finalist and who will move a step closer to raising the coveted Stanley Cup.
(2) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (6) Philadelphia Flyers

This will be another great series with plenty of young talent on both sides. The Flyers, who were actually the worst team in the entire NHL last year, have rebounded with an amazing season and qualified for the Eastern Conference Finals with wins over the fan-favorite Washington Capitals and the top-seeded Montreal Canadiens. So, they certainly deserve to be here. The Penguins, who had a good-but-not-great season last year, have proved themselves to be the most talented team in the East by winning eight of their nine playoff games and doing it against the defending East champs, the Ottawa Senators, and a New York Rangers team with plenty of future Hall-of-Famers. I'm amazed at how good the Penguins are as a team, but I've also been amazed with how well Martin Biron has played in these playoffs. It's hard for me to doubt Martin Biron for a third straight series, but I don't see how the Flyers can overcome the superior talent of the Penguins. Pittsburgh in five.

(1) Detroit Red Wings vs. (5) Dallas Stars

Two experienced teams with an even mixture of young guns and old veterans will make this series a very exciting one to watch. The Stars have had a great run in the playoffs and have beaten two of the best teams in the West on their way to these finals: the Ducks and Sharks. I thought that either the Ducks or the Sharks would be facing Detroit in the West Finals so for the Stars to come through and beat both teams is a testament to the way they have played in the playoffs so far. Marty Turco has been stellar in net and Stars captain Brendan Morrow has shown leadership and toughness in key games to lead his team to this point. The Red Wings, on the other hand, had another great regular season and have dominated their inferior opponents in the first two rounds of the playoffs. Johan Franzen has 26 goals in his past 25 games, which is absolutely ridiculous, including a whopping nine goals in Detroit's four-game sweep of Colorado. Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg have also performed well both at home and on the road, which is different than last year's playoff run when they didn't score on the road until the final game of the playoffs in Anaheim, when Detroit was eliminated. I think that the Stars are going to give the Red Wings one hell of a series, but Marty Turco has never, in his entire career, won a game in Detroit and is 2-10-5 lifetime against the Wings. Therefore, I see Detroit winning in hard-nosed fashion and moving on to face the Penguins in the Stanley Cup Finals. Detroit in six.

I'm very excited to see how these series will unfold, though it will be hard to wait another two days before the first game gets underway. On a side note before I go, the NBA playoffs just finished its first round and I was a perfect 8-0 in my predictions. The Celtics looked pretty weak on the road against the abysmal Atlanta Hawks though, and I fully expect them to have a lot of trouble with LeBron and company in the second round. If they can get past King James, then they will have just enough left in the tank to lose to the heroic Pistons, who have looked fantastic against Orlando after a short struggle against the 76ers. Anyway, everyone have a fantastic week of sunny Spring weather and most importantly, Go Red Wings!