Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Extra! Extra! Bonus Column from TNH

I'm back with an actual piece of intelligent writing, since the last post sickens me as I read it days later. I know I get angry when my teams lose but the bitterness sometimes surprises even me. I would delete the post but hey, it's part of my life; it's gonna stay.

The main reason I return so soon is because I spent a lot of time this weekend writing my first edition of the "From the Bullpen" column that is often featured in the college newspaper I work for, The New Hampshire. So, as a bit of a bonus, here's what I feel is one of my better pieces of the year (it can also be found online at the paper's website, www.tnhonline.com).

From the Bullpen: the NHL is back, and you should all take notice

Noise wrapped itself around me with the force of a freight train. My voice screamed to be heard but was lost in the ceaseless clamor. I sat deep in the crowd at game five of the Stanley Cup Finals last June when my ears stopped working and my heart pounded with excitement.

It was early last summer when I booked a flight to Detroit and paid $500 for a ticket to watch the Detroit Red Wings play the Pittsburgh Penguins for hockey's greatest prize. The experience was unforgettable, but I bet some of you are already skeptical at the ridiculous cost I paid to see a hockey game.

It wasn't a rational price; I can't argue that it was. But when you combine my obsession for the Detroit Red Wings, which has had a firm hold on me since I was a seven-year-old kid living in Canton, Mich., and the chance to see the pinnacle of professional playoff hockey, the decision to drain my bank account and take a day trip halfway across the country was an easy one. Why? Because hockey is finally up off the mat from its lockout knockout and there are plenty of reasons why the students at UNH should all be paying attention.

During the cancellation of a full season in 2004-2005, the NHL was kicked to the curb by ESPN, replaced in the four major sports by NASCAR, and virtually forgotten by all but their most loyal fans. Despite the gag reflex brought on by that realization, I find solace in the fact that changes have since been made to make the game more entertaining for even the most casual hockey fan.

To create more scoring and more excitement, two-line passes are now allowed, the blue lines have been moved back to create a larger offensive zone, and goalie equipment size limits have been decreased. Electrifying shootouts are used to break ties after a single five-minute overtime period and can produce plenty of highlight-reel goals from some of the league's best players.

The league has also introduced the annual Winter Classic game, held on New Year's Day and played outdoors in the bitter cold. Last season, the inaugural game featured the Penguins and the Buffalo Sabres, who played an overtime thriller in snowy conditions at Ralph Wilson Stadium, home to the Buffalo Bills of the NFL. This year's classic will renew the rivalry between the Red Wings and the Chicago Blackhawks, who play at Wrigley Field on the first of 2009. A couple years down the road, who knows, maybe it'll be the Boston Bruins doing the same against the Montreal Canadiens at Fenway Park. Can you imagine?

Speaking of the Bruins, they have a great young team. The Celtics aren't the only cure for a Red Sox hang over and they won't be the only Boston team winning this winter. Their captain, Zdeno Chara, is a 6'9" giant with a cannon for a shot, winning last year's fastest shot competition with a 103.1 mph blast. Their playoff appearance last April is only the beginning of a bright future for the B's, who have great young players in Milan Lucic and Phil Kessel to complement veterans like Chara and Marc Savard.

Even if I can't convince you to flip to NESN and catch a regular season game, there's nothing that should stop you from watching the playoffs. The NHL postseason is the toughest exhibition of athletic competition in all of sports. Players grow playoff bears for months; heck, even Penguins' 21-year-old golden boy Sidney Crosby managed some peach fuzz by the Finals last June. Every game redefines intensity and fights can break out at any moment. And even though the fights aren't up to pre-lockout standards quite yet (the 1997 brawl between the Red Wings and Colorado Avalanche made 300 look like The Notebook), those battles are coming back. Since the lockout, the average number of fights per game has almost doubled, rising from 0.38 to 0.74 per game.

You can also throw out the excuse of not being able to watch games on TV, since the new lineup of television channels for on-campus UNH students, installed this September, now provides both Versus and the NHL Network to go along with NESN's coverage of the resurgent Bruins. Hockey games usually last a half an hour less than NFL or MLB games as well, not including their two 20-minute intermissions, which saves you time in front of the tube.

The list goes on and on. Fresh faces like 19-year-old Patrick Kane and 18-year-old Steven Stamkos vitalize the league with youth. Flashy stick handlers like Pavel Datsyuk and Ilya Kovalchuk bring a new level of skill that hasn't been seen in decades. Concussion-causing hits are dished out by bruisers like Dion Phaneuf and Niklas Kronwall on a nightly basis.

The Red Wings lost that game back in June. They were only a win away from clinching the Stanley Cup on home ice and held a 3-2 lead in the third until Maxime Talbot broke my heart and scored the game-tying goal with 34.3 seconds left. Petr Sykora furthered my misery with a game-ending blast in triple overtime. But even the loss of $800 and a frequent flyer ticket couldn't keep me from thinking: "This is the best game in the world."

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Spartans are not green.

Frustration is at an all-time high with Michigan football, but here are some statistics for all of you to remember before you go judging the University of Michigan after their recent loss to Michigan State this weekend.
  • The University of Michigan was ranked as the 18th best institution of learning in the entire world this year and that places them 1st among all public universities in the United States.
  • Only 54% of graduates from Michigan State University are employed within six months of graduation. Translation: Would you like fries with that?
  • Only 30% of graduates from Michigan State University pursue further study. Translation: lazy slackers.
  • Not a single person who attends or has attended Michigan State University has a full-sized brain, and that's a fact.
That is all. I don't often rant so blatantly in this blog because I know that it is not a clever or accomplished form of writing, but when my team loses to a bitter rival like the Spartans, it becomes necessary. Something similar will likely happen in a few weeks when the Wolverines travel to the Horseshoe for the finale of a massacred season. To reach a bowl now, Michigan must win their final four games, three of which are on the road against ranked teams. Translation: Naaaaht gonna happen...bye-bye bowl eligibility.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Twinkle, twinkle, little Starr, how I wonder what a jerk you are!

Quick! Stop addressing that envelope. Don't waste the 42 cents, just throw it in the trash. You can't buy this love with letters and praise.

Richard Starkey, famously known as Ringo Starr, was once the famed drummer for the biggest musical sensation in history, the Beatles. Since the band's break up in 1970, Ringo has put out 14 different solo albums and has been widely considered one of the most underrated drummers of all-time. Evidently, all the success has finally gone to his head.

Just this week, Starr uploaded a video onto his website where he spoke to his fans and told them he will no longer be signing any autographs or reading any of the fan mail he receives after October 20th.

"It's going to be tossed," he said sternly. "I'm warning you with peace and love, I have too much to do. So no more fan mail. Thank you, thank you. And no objects to be signed. Nothing. Anyway, peace and love, peace and love."

Too much to do!? You're a 68-year-old musician! What in the hell do you actually have to do? You have dozens of successful albums. You are admired by almost every young drummer in England. You have houses in England, Los Angeles, Monte Carlo, and Switzerland. You have enough money to pay someone to wipe yourself with $100 bills! And, in all likelihood, you haven't been answering your fan mail personally for decades! So my question is, why are you acting like such a prima donna and turning back on the easiest way to connect with your fans?

I remember buying two different books when I was a kid that listed some of the contact addresses and information for famous athletes. Andre Agassi, Wayne Gretzky, Michael Jordan, Ken Griffey Junior, among others. I wrote letters to all the players I admired. I remember the day I received a letter back from Dan Marino with an autographed picture included. It was one of the happiest moments of my young life; I still have the signed photo. The letter wasn't actually written by Dan Marino, I know that now. But as a young kid with a dream of someday becoming a professional athlete, it meant the world to me.

Fan mail is one of the perks of being a star. You hear from thousands, if not millions, of people around the world who take their personal time to write you a letter telling you how great you are. It's the kind of thing that would boost even Donald Trump's ego! And most of the time, they're not written by some con-artist adult hoping to score an autographed picture to sell on eBay, they're written by kids. Pre-teens, teenagers, or even young adults. They want to hear inspiring words about how you became famous, about how you can help them achieve their dreams.

So, please, please me Ringo. If you actually wished "peace and love" to all your fans, you'd keep that tea-and-crumpets-fetching assistant on staff so he can continue to print off generic responses with your signature at the bottom and send them out in the mail. So, even if you need a little help from your friends, get back online, and post an apology video. Don't let me down. Oh, and have a shave while you're at it...you're beginning to look like a walrus.

P.S. Happy Birthday Mom!! :)

Monday, October 13, 2008

2-4, The Miserable Michigan Season Continues..

Sorry for the lack of posting everybody...it was Homecoming weekend here at UNH and I never got around to writing a preview nor a recap of the Michigan game but I'll try to make up for it.

So, as you might have read or seen elsewhere, Michigan lost to a team from Ohio this weekend and it wasn't the Columbus Oxygen Wasters. It was Toledo. Yeah, Toledo. I didn't even realize there was anything in Toledo except that awesome zoo and since I didn't even bother to watch any of the game highlights, I can only assume Michigan got beat by a bunch of trained monkeys that were enrolled in some sort of Throw Footballs, Not Feces program. But in all seriousness, Michigan lost their first game to a MAC opponent in 25 tries by losing to 13-10 at home on Saturday. I can't really comment sufficiently on the game because it wasn't on network TV and I haven't wanted to look up any of the highlights (can you blame me?). This one stings. I mean seriously, it's Toledo. They were 1-4 in the Mid American Conference. They were playing in a hostile environment. This was Michigan's cupcake game to give them a breather in between tough Big Ten contests. And they LOST?! I honestly couldn't believe it. Michigan lost to Toledo to drop to 2-4 on the season and virtually end any hopes of bowl eligibility. Dear God, what is the world coming to?

So, just so everyone knows, I'm officially washing my hands of the Wolverines for this season. That means I will no longer be living on pins and needles for every game or previewing each of their weekend match-ups. I will still watch the games, or however much of them I can stomach. I've never done this before so it will be an interesting experience but I've come to the horrifying but realistic conclusion that Michigan will not win more than 5 games this year at the very best and could very well finish the season 2-10. Their schedule is just too difficult and they are simply an awful team. As disappointed as I am to be writing this, I'm still excited for the Rich Rodriguez era and the championships that are sure to come in the future. But, it is a process. It takes time to completely renovate and rebuild a program. And it is in these dark times that all Michigan players and fans need to remember Bo Schembechler and his incredible words that will live on in the Wolverine clubhouse forever.
So, that is all I have to say about the rest of the Michigan Wolverines 2008 football season. I will still give short recaps of the games in my weekend updates but unless a giant upset happens (say, for example, this weekend at #3 Penn State), you won't hear too much in depth about the Maize and Blue. I like writing about things that make me happy or keep me upbeat; that's why I started this blog, so I could write about the things I want to write about. And frankly, it is too depressing for me to continue to rehash the disappointments of Michigan's season. Instead, I will focus on the rising NHL and any other stories that interest me. Starting...now.

The Red Wings are back to normal after a come-from-behind victory at Ottawa on Saturday where the Senators got kicked by Johan "Mule" Franzen twice in the third period. The Wings play again tonight against Carolina and I'll be watching on the new NHL.com, which is incredibly well done as they made some huge improvements and completely redesigned the site for the beginning of the season. Check it out for a few seconds if you got the time.

Another edition of the Camolumn is in the works...so stay tuned for that this week. It could be posted as soon as tonight and as late as Thursday. Wish you all well, hope you had a good weekend!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Red Wings Leave their Skates at Home for Season Opener

What an incredible disappointment. I've been waiting to watch my favorite team, the Detroit Red Wings, take the ice for the first time since lifting hockey's holy grail in June for months now and I cannot say enough about how awful they made me feel as a fan. Even though I know anyone who didn't watch the game will say "Oh but it's only the first game of an 82 game season. Who cares?" Well, I CARE. This team was supposed to be unstoppable, clicking on all cylinders, ready to take on any challenge. They were opening up at home, raising the Stanley Cup Championship banner from last year's amazing season and giving their fans a chance to appreciate it since all four playoff clinching victories came on the road last year. And for chrissakes they were playing the Maple Leafs! Toronto was awful last year. AWFUL. And the Wings came out flat and lost a 3-2 game where they showed absolutely no heart and were outworked for all sixty minutes. Unbelievable. I know I'll get over this pretty soon because the Red Wings are going to have another great season but I was hyped up for this game. I almost couldn't sleep last night because I was so excited about watching them play again. Simply put, it was heart-wrenching to watch the players I love skate around like they didn't care. The talent of this team is almost unfathomable but if they keep playing without any fight, without any determination, they have no chance of repeating as Cup Champs.

So, I'm going to go cool down and try to forget what I watched tonight but in sum, I did not like what I saw. I'm about ready to draft up a petition to get Datsyuk and Zetterberg back on a line together. Why break up the best chemistry in all of hockey?

My brain hurts. Did we seriously just lose to the freakin' Leafs? Ugh.

Sunday, October 5, 2008


This will ultimately be a very half-assed blog post because I've been sick all weekend with the worst day being today. So, in summary, Michigan lost yesterday 45-20 against Illinois. They played very well in the first quarter and went to sleep for the rest of the game. Everyone wants to talk about how this was a blowout and how Michigan gave up the most points at home since 1991 but in reality, this was a pretty tightly contested game until two Michigan fumbles in the second half blew it wide open. If Michael Shaw had held onto the ball near the end of the third quarter when Michigan was still only down 10 points, the Wolverines might have sustained that drive for a score and cut the lead to 3. But, Shaw dropped the handoff and the game with it. I don't want to be too hard on the rookie though, since ESPN got a good shot of Coach Rodriguez giving him an earful of what I can only assume was bad language as he walked toward the sideline. I think Michigan could have won this game because they are just about as talented as Illinois overall, but the Fighting Illini have three great skill players at the QB, RB, and WR positions that helped them to victory on Saturday. Gaining bowl eligibility will be tough for Michigan after losing for the third time in five games, but I still have confidence that with the tradition of the program, if they can get six wins they will be in a bowl. And six wins is still a promising possibility with games against Toledo, Purdue, Northwestern, and Minnesota left.

Anyway, I've got a busy week ahead of me so I doubt I'll have anything posted before Saturday but I will try and get something done after the Red Wings opening game on Thursday night. Hope you all had good and healthy weekends!

Saturday, October 4, 2008

2008-09 NHL Season Preview!

Before I get started on an in-depth look at the upcoming NHL season, which starts in mere hours with the two games overseas in Prague and Stockholm, I just thought I'd give you a little reminder of how last season ended with that lovely picture up above. Pretty nice wasn't it? Four cups in eleven years. It has a nice ring to it. So does five in twelve.

The Red Wings fly into this season with a heavy weight on their shoulders: everyone expects them to win. And I mean everyone. Experts, fans, opposing fans even though they probably won't admit it. I mean really, after such a dominating performance from start to finish last year, how could anyone expect anything less after adding the best free agent on the market, Marian Hossa, and boosting their only supposed weakness (goaltending) with the addition of Ty Conklin. So, don't think I'm alone in thinking that the Wings will win it all again. They're the safe pick. Kinda like the '07 Patriots over the Giants in the Super Bowl. Makes complete logical sense to pick the absolute best team on paper and possibly the best team assembled in decades (yup, read it and weep 80's Oilers fans). But we all know that what makes sense and looks to be an easy decision doesn't always turn out that way. So, let's not get ahead of ourselves. And on that note, here's a look at what I think will unfold in the 2008-09 NHL season.
  • I see the Red Wings having their way with the regular season and winning another President's Trophy without anyone really in reach to make it a close contest. I know that winning the Stanley Cup is extremely hard, regardless of how many great players you have, but in the regular season, the best team on paper usually ends up at the top.
  • With that in mind, my Western Conference playoff teams are as follows (division winners automatically get one of the top three spots, so I don't actually think that the Wild are better than some of the other teams but they will win the Northwest division):
  1. Detroit Red Wings
  2. Dallas Stars
  3. Minnesota Wild
  4. San Jose Sharks
  5. Chicago Blackhawks
  6. Anaheim Ducks
  7. Calgary Flames
  8. Edmonton Oilers
  • Annnd then of course I have to give you my Eastern Conference pecking order:
  1. Pittsburgh Penguins
  2. Washington Capitals
  3. Montreal Canadiens
  4. Philadelphia Flyers
  5. Boston Bruins
  6. New York Rangers
  7. New Jersey Devils
  8. Tampa Bay Lightning
  • There's a lot to digest in those lists, so let's start with my explanations of the West. I think the Stars showed how good they are in the playoffs last year and with a full year of Brad Richards (a free agent they brought in at the deadline last spring), they should barely win their division over San Jose and Anaheim. I think the Blackhawks are going to be very good with all of their new additions and so I have them finishing fifth. I picked Calgary and Edmonton to finish off the playoff spots but they will surely be fighting with Nashville, Vancouver, and maybe even Phoenix for a chance to play either Dallas or Detroit. Personally, I'd like to see the Avalanche make it into the playoffs so I can watch and enjoy another slaughter, courtesy of the Wings, just like last year's playoffs but I would just be kidding myself. Colorado simply isn't any good this year. They won't even sniff the playoffs and will finish last in their division.
  • As for the Eastern Conference, there's plenty to look at there too. You might notice I left Ottawa, Buffalo, and Carolina out of the playoff mix when there are plenty of people who would disagree. I definitely think those three teams will be fighting with Tampa Bay to get that last spot but with the ridiculous amount of positive changes in the offseason, I think that the Lightning will snag the eighth spot and be granted the opportunity to lose to Pittsburgh in the playoffs. What fun. Because despite losing plenty of good players, the Penguins picked up a couple good forwards (Ruslan Fedotenko and Miroslav Satan) that will help Crosby and Malkin out immensely. Expect Pittsburgh to reign at the top of the East for years to come. Crosby's just so freakin' good and in case you didn't know, he just turned 21 in August. Can you imagine how good he'll be when he's in his late twenties? Unbelievable. Following the Pens, I have the Capitals edging out Montreal for the 2nd seed, and the Flyers, Bruins, Rangers, and Devils in a dogfight for the remaining spots.
Since I've never tried to do it before and I'm still trying to kill some time before the Rangers-Lightning game in Prague kicks off to start the season, I might as well tell you how I see the playoffs working out as I picked them as well as the winners of the NHL awards.

Hart Trophy (best player): Sidney Crosby. After an injury-plagued season last year, I think Crosby will restore his dominance on the league and win his 2nd Hart Trophy.
Vezina Trophy (best goaltender): Marty Turco. Marty is such a great goalie (and Michigan boy) and never gets enough credit for it. This is a bit of a dark horse pick with the usual cast and safe choices being Martin Brodeur, Roberto Luongo, or Miika Kiprusoff but I think Turco is set up to have a stellar season.
Norris Trophy (best defenseman): Nicklas Lidstrom. Do they give it to anyone else? Liddy might as well just change his name to Norris Nicklas. I do think Dion Phaneuf, who finished 2nd in the Norris voting last year, will make it a close one this year but the league almost owes Lidstrom the award after they jobbed him on his first three nominations.
Calder Trophy (best rookie): Steve Stamkos. The top pick in last year's draft will impress everyone in Tampa Bay and is a star in the making.
Lady Byng Trophy (most gentlemanly player): Pavel Datsyuk. What sounds like a pansy award in a tough, gritty sport like hockey, the Lady Byng is given to the player who has the most sportsmanship combined with a high standard of playing ability. Datsyuk has won three consecutive Lady Byngs. Look for him to make it four in a row.
Selke Trophy (best defensive forward): Henrik Zetterberg. Z lost out on last year's Selke to Datsyuk but I think he'll win it this year just because the league will want to keep it even. But it will come down to Zetterberg and Datsyuk, almost undoubtedly.
Jack Adams Award (best coach): Barry Melrose. If the Mullet can actually bring the Lightning out of last place in the league and turn them into a playoff team, how could he not be deserving of this award?

As for my playoff predictions, I have Detroit over San Jose in the West Finals and Pittsburgh over Philadelphia in the East Finals. Then Detroit breaks Crosby's heart again in six games. The Red Wings' forward lines are simply ridiculous (Datsyuk/Holmstrom/Hossa and Zetterberg/Franzen/Hudler for example) not to mention they have Lidstrom, Rafalski, Kronwall, and Stuart as their top four defensemen. I can't see the season ending without them winning it all.

So knock out some teeth, grab a cold one, and throw on the ol' sweater of your favorite team because it's hockey season-eh, and its not just the Canadians who should be excited!

Friday, October 3, 2008

Week 5: Illinois at Michigan

Stop. Hammertime. That seems to be exactly what Brandon Minor is saying to Illinois defenders during Michigan's road win at Champagne last year. Not that MC Hammer's song has any relevance whatsoever to the game this week, it popped up in my mind when I saw the picture. Anyway, back to business. Minor and Carlos Brown gave Michigan a lift in their victory last year and I hope they can provide another boost in this weekend's game. Although coming off of a disappointing loss to Penn State last week, the Fighting Illini are a potent team with many of their starters returning from their run to the Rose Bowl last season. They won't be underestimated by RichRod and the Wolverines but after an emotional comeback win last week, Michigan will have to calm down and keep their minds focused on another important Big Ten home game.

I don't know what to think about this game after the win against Wisconsin. I'd love to stay completely on the upside and think about how brilliant the comeback was and how they knocked off a ranked team in only their fourth game of the season but with the shockingly awful performance in the first half of that game, I'm just left wondering which Michigan team will show up this weekend. Will QB Steven Threet be the guy overthrowing receivers and tossing interceptions left and right or will he be the guy scampering for 60 yard runs and hurling touchdown passes? Who knows. Will special teams continue to fumble the ball away on a regular basis or can they manage a respectable return? The only confidence I have is in the defense, who I think should be able to contain Illinois QB Juice Williams and keep the Illinois offense from producing too many points. But will Michigan's offense return to its dormant state? I can certainly hope that they build off of a great second half against Wisconsin but at this point, only time will tell.

I do think Michigan will win this game, despite my questions about the offense. I just think to do so, they need to keep their momentum from the Wisconsin game in control and get the home crowd into the game early on. Illinois will be hungry to come into the Big House and win their first conference game but Michigan can't let that happen. The Wolverines have a chance to string together a few wins in a row (last week, this week, and next week at home against Toledo) before the schedule gets tough with games at Penn State, vs. Michigan State, and three more road games against Purdue, Minnesota, and Ohio State. If they can manage to get past Illinois this week, I think their bowl chances are secured. So...get it done Rodriguez! Prediction: Michigan 23, Illinois 21.