Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Playing Ketchup

In the wake of celebrating an unforgettable championship won by the Detroit Red Wings, I've been a bit lazy about keeping the blog updated. June has been a very busy month and I have some major issues to talk about. Let's dive right in with...

The Red Album

The beloved musical group called Weezer released their sixth studio album on the 3rd of this month and it deserves special recognition in my blog. I had been waiting for The Red Album for nearly a year and a half before its release and I must say, it did not disappoint. Weezer is one of only two bands that I have listened to religiously throughout my life (the other being Blink 182); I have every album they've ever made and I can remember listening to them constantly in my early teenage years. Most Weezer fans have been whining about the band's lack of creativity and always talk about how Weezer will never be able to match the musical genius of their first two albums (The Blue Album and Pinkerton). Well Weezer fans, you can stop your whining. You can stop hoping for another brilliant masterpiece. It's here.
  • Track One: "Troublemaker"
    • A classic Weezer song. Catchy, great lyrics, and fun to listen to. This song is perfect to start off the album because it gets you interested and gives you something familiar before the album transitions to anything but "classic Weezer."
  • Track Two: "The Greatest Man That Ever Lived"
    • Oh. My. God. This track is phenomenal. It's so different from what Weezer normally does but it has everything. The changes in beat. The variation of piano, hymn, drums, and guitar leave me completely satisfied every single time I hear this song. Similar to "Bohemian Rhapsody" by Queen, this song will stand out as one of Weezer's finest masterpieces. Listen to it a few times in a row. Realize the amazing amount of work that went into a song of such magnitude. I can't emphasize enough how much I love this song.
  • Track Three: "Pork and Beans"
    • The single. The "poppy" song. The awkward looks you receive when you ask your friends, "Hey, have you heard Pork and Beans?" Yeah, it's a weird title. Get over it. It's awesome. The simplicity of the chords is a classic Weezer move but the catchy riff that plays throughout the song has you liking the song more and more after each listen.
  • Track Four: "Heart Songs"
    • This song is the story of what Rivers Cuomo (lead singer and guitarist) listened to when he was growing up. It's set to a slow acoustic rhythm and the pace of the lyrics is probably my favorite part of the song. It barely lets you catch a breath as you're singing along and in the meantime, tells you all of the influences that Rivers has used over the years. The hint at Nirvana's album at the end is very cool and the Stevie Nicks sounding "These are the songs I keep singing" lyric is excellent.
  • Track Five: "Everybody Get Dangerous"
    • Doesn't this song just sound like it kicks ass? Yeah, and it does. I love it. The verses are quick and hard to make out without looking directly at the lyrics but the song is a story of the dangerous things the band members did as kids. Cool idea, cool song.
  • Track Six: "Dreamin'"
    • This song gets me bouncin' in the car. I can't help but sing along. The transition in the middle is very cool and shows the band's musical range. Have a listen. See if you aren't tapping your foot or your fingers or keeping a beat somehow. Having trouble? Yeah, thought so.
  • Track Seven: "Thought I Knew"
    • This is the point in the album where I became really intrigued. Brian Bell, the other Weezer guitarist, wrote this song himself and belts it out. In all previous Weezer albums, there are hardly any deviations from Rivers Cuomo's writing and singing. Here, there's a taste of something new. I like it.
  • Track Eight: "Cold Dark World"
    • A darker song for Weezer but they still pulled it off. It's a nice change-up to an album that is full of unexpected twists and turns.
  • Track Nine: "Automatic"
    • Another song where Rivers' voice is nowhere to be found. This time, drummer Pat Wilson sings and plays lead guitar while Rivers takes the drums. The fun, interesting beat and great solo makes this song one of my favorites on the album.
  • Track Ten: "The Angel and the One"
    • This closing song (discounting the bonus tracks on the deluxe version) is the best one since "Only In Dreams" from Blue. Weezer went back to basics with this one and created a solid end to an album that I will have no problem listening to all summer long.
Well, have at it ladies and gents. The link I provided is a playlist at where you can listen to all the songs in full. This album is everything I hoped it would be and I'm incredibly satisfied with Weezer's great work. Awesome job guys!

In the twelve days I've been absent from the blog, I've watched my fair share of television. I watched Tiger battle Rocco in the best major championship ever and I watched the entire Band of Brothers series on DVD with my Dad. It was surreal. Incredible directing and visual effects. I also watched two movies, which I have reviewed for you here.

The Last of the Mohicans - My Dad called this one a "must-see" and I can't say I disagree. Great acting from Daniel Day Lewis. Intriguing storyline. Tense battles. A guy named Magua. All the elements are there for a good movie. Oh, and Daniel Day Lewis' character is named "Hawkeye." But, as much as it seems, the movie is actually more than just cool names. I liked it a lot and even though most of you have probably seen it, I recommend it to anyone who hasn't. Final verdict: 4.5 out of 5 stars.

The Usual Suspects - Wow. Kevin Spacey is always awesome but I haven't seen him in a role this good since I saw American Beauty. Very intense storyline. Keeps you thinking throughout the entire movie. The ending is phenomenal. This movie was rated #20 out of all movies on IMDB so, it's not just me. This movie is that good. Go see it if you haven't already. Final verdict: 5 out of 5 stars.

Beantown Crowns

Finally, I must touch on the brilliance of Boston professional sports. Yes, it's a surprise to see it in my blog, I know. I'm a Detroit fan, what I am doing writing about Boston's teams? Well, I'll tell you. They are dominating on all fronts. The Red Sox just won the World Series last Fall and have a great chance at repeating this October. The Celtics won their 17th NBA Championship last night in absolutely dominating fashion over the Lakers. The Patriots put together one of the best football seasons in history and if not for a stupid New York team, would have cemented their place in history. The Bruins made the NHL playoffs and almost knocked off the #1 seed in their conference. That's two champions, one worthy of a championship, and one up-and-comer. There really must be something in that dirty water of the Charles River. I know I was bitter about the Pistons' loss to the Celtics a few weeks ago, but that was more frustration on the failure of my team than actual hatred of Boston. I don't like my team to lose. For the next few years though, I'd better get used to it (except in hockey, of course) because Boston is very good and they're here to stay. The Red Sox are as organizationally sound as the Red Wings. The Patriots have Tom Brady. The Celtics have three of the best players in the league and an incredible home-court advantage at the Garden. I don't exactly know why I decided to include Beantown in this post, but I'd say if anything, it's because I feel like I should start giving credit where credit is due. Except for Ohio State, of course. They deserve nothing and will receive exactly that. But, back to my original point, enjoy it Boston fans!

On a final note, I leave for Cambridge in 19 days. Sweet deal. Remember to check out Tea and Crumpets for updates on my happenings overseas. I hope you enjoyed the latest edition of the blog and until next time, take care and enjoy the gorgeous days of summer!

Friday, June 6, 2008

Paint It Red: Stanley Comes Back to Hockeytown

It's been six long years since the Detroit Red Wings hoisted Lord Stanley's Cup in celebration of a hockey championship, but oh how sweet it was. This season was an amazing step forward for a franchise that was predicted to "fade out" of the new salary cap era. Pundits questioned whether or not the Wings could win without franchise faces like Steve Yzerman, Scotty Bowman, Brendan Shanahan, and Sergei Fedorov. Would they have enough grit? Would the goaltending hold up? Could they win with their puck possession style in the new, goal-oriented NHL? Clearly, after Wednesday night's cup-clinching victory in Pittsburgh, all of those questions were answered with an emphatic yes. This franchise has never ceased to impress me with how well they draft their players, work them through the system, and allow their core group of veterans to shape these up-and-coming stars. Ken Holland is the best general manager in all of sports and his incredible staff of scouts find the talent that you see on the ice for the Winged Wheels. The chemistry between the players is such a huge part of their success as well. No one on the team is condescending. There are no feuds between players or coaches. Everyone is a professional. Every player knows their role and doesn't jeopardize team success for their personal success. That is exactly why this team means so much to me. They are the perfect example of a sports franchise, from top to bottom. It makes me proud just to witness their accomplishments. The consistency of excellence and the professionalism of every aspect of the team is what makes me so happy to crown these men champions of the National Hockey League in 2008. Now, here are my highlights of their amazing, breakthrough season.

The Blazing Start

The beginning of the 2008 season was a great sign of things to come for Detroit. They won 13 of their first 16 games with help from both of their goalies, Dominik Hasek and Chris Osgood, who each played eight of those first 16 games. It seemed that the only team that could beat Detroit at the start of the regular season was Chicago, who were responsible for four of the Wings' first six losses. Many hockey analysts predicted that the Red Wings powerplay would struggle without Mathieu Schneider, a top defenseman who left to play for the Anaheim Ducks in the offseason. The loss of Schneider was offset completely by Brian Rafalski, who came in from the New Jersey Devils and became part of the best defensive pairing in the NHL, with linemate Nick Lidstrom. Detroit's first forward line of Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, and Tomas Holmstrom proved to be the one of the most dominant lines in the league and helped score 37% of the team's goals over the entire season, even with Holmstrom missing 23 games due to injury. Detroit looked unstoppable as they went into the all-star break, having won 37 of their first 51 games. They even had four players in the starting six for the All-Star Game in Atlanta (Zetterberg, Datsyuk, Lidstrom, and Osgood). Everything was on right on track...until February and Ian Laperriere.

The Hiccup

Nicklas Lidstrom, the Iron Man of hockey, has played in 1,252 Red Wings games since his rookie season in 1991. There have only been 1,284 games scheduled since the 1991 season for the Red Wings. That's 97.5% of the team's games over 17 years. So, when Liddy went down with a knee injury after a cheap late hit from Avalanche forward Ian Laperriere, you could have predicted trouble ahead. Captain Lidstrom was out for more than a month and the Red Wings suffered, losing 10 of their 14 games in February. When the month finally ended, and the playoffs loomed ahead, people were beginning to talk about the deteriorating Red Wings and the hard charging San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference. The shining brilliance of the 2008 regular season had been severely dented by the Wings' struggle in February. They were beat up. The list of injured players included their starting goalie (Hasek, at the time), their top four defensemen (Lidstrom, Rafalski, Niklas Kronwall, and Chris Chelios), and the hard working role player Dan Cleary. The good thing about broken bones and bruised bodies is that they heal. So, that's what Detroit did. They used their great start to help keep their conference lead during the losing streak and let their best players come back for the most important months of the year.

The Improbable Switch and the Ozzie Factor

With the regular season title locked up, the Red Wings were faced with a divisional rival in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs: the Nashville Predators. Detroit was heavily favored and experts expected a short, merciless series for the Red Wings. It started out that way, as Dominik Hasek showed his game face and helped the Wings to a 2-0 series lead. Then, things took a turn for the worse and Hasek's bumbling idiot face came into view. He was in bad position on every goal he surrendered; he shook his head; he was awful. He let in goals that wouldn't even be scored in pee-wee's. Exit Dominik Hasek, enter Chris Osgood. Coach Babcock's decision startled me. I had seen the worst of goalie changes in playoff hockey: most notably the Philadelphia Flyers' terrible choice to sit Ron Hextall for Garth Snow in the Stanley Cup Finals against the Wings in 1997. The Flyers were swept in that series and although I knew of Ozzie's greatness, I was still worried. I had seen politicians like John Kerry smolder in the heat of flip-flopping. Goaltending was supposed to be the anchor of the team, especially in the playoffs. This was a new experience. Fortunately, Hasek accepted his poor play, stepped aside, and let Ozzie lead the team to 9 straight playoff wins without complaint. All of sudden, the Wings were up 3-0 in the Conference Finals and one win away from the final round. They blew off a couple games against Dallas but came together for a tough series win in game six when the puck bounced off of Kris Draper's chin and he swatted it in. I won't forget the blood that trickled down the grizzly face of Draper as his great, red beard became greater and redder. It was playoff hockey at its finest.

The Return of Darren McCarty

During the Red Wings' amazing Cup winning seasons in 1997, 1998, and 2002, Darren McCarty was a huge factor. Playing with Kris Draper and Kirk Maltby, he helped the "Grind Line" come to fame and threw the famous punches at Claude Lemieux in the famous 1996 game against Colorado. He was a fan favorite despite his stickhandling struggles and I loved watching him energize a crowd. When he left the team for Calgary in 2004, I was pretty sad. Though I'm usually sad when anyone on the Wings decides to leave, this was worse. McCarty had played on the Wings for so long. He had been through some of the tough times and some of the best times. When he left Detroit, he put his band ahead of his hockey priorities, gained weight, grew a mohawk, was cut by the Flames, and hit the bottle hard. His best friend in year's past was Draper, but the two lost touch when McCarty began living the rock star life. Last summer however, the two reunited. McCarty had been sober for a while then, and he had devoted his life to concentrate more on sobriety and his family. But, something was still missing. He wanted to come back and play hockey in Detroit. So, with Draper's help and workout regimen, McCarty got back in shape and talked to Ken Holland about a tryout. He got his chance and proved his worth in Grand Rapids as he excelled for the Wings minor league team. When he came to the Wings as a role player, he was all about effort and having fun. It was pure joy to see him score his only playoff goal against Nashville in game two of the series. The crowd went insane and the image of his face still remains in my memory. His return to the game was not only an incredible achievement but a fantastic thrill ride for me as a fan. Congrats Darren, and welcome back to Hockeytown where you belong.

Dominance from A to Z

Henrik Zetterberg. Scared yet? If you're not, you should be. The name alone is frightening to opposing teams. And, after leading the team in goals in the regular season, Z exceeded all expectations in the 2008 playoffs. He scored goals. He kept the puck away from four or five players at once. He killed penalties. He stopped Sidney Crosby on the 5-on-3 in game four of the finals. He brought back memories of Sergei Fedorov in his prime, only he's better. He spun around and scored that incredible backhanded goal on the Avalanche in the game four blowout. He led the league in playoff scoring. He won the Conn Smythe Trophy. He showed Sid the Kid that if he wants to win the Stanley Cup, he'll have to go through Z and the Wings. Zetterberg was simply the best and produced perhaps the best overall performance I have seen in my years of watching the Stanley Cup playoffs. I cannot wait for his many dazzling years ahead with the Red Wings. Way to go, Z.

Captain Nick Hoists the Cup

If there's ever been a better defenseman in the NHL than Nicklas Lidstrom, I certainly haven't seen him play. He'll win his sixth Norris trophy this year for the NHL's best defenseman and that will put him only two away from Bobby Orr's record of eight. That means Liddy will only need to play two more seasons to tie him...considering no one in today's NHL is close to his caliber of play defensively and Gary Bettman might as well just hand him the trophy every year without a single vote being cast. He's that good. Oh, and did I mention he was named as Steve Yzerman's successor as the Captain of the Detroit Red Wings? And I already mentioned his incredible fortitude in games played over his career. So, when Captain Nick was finally asked by commissioner Gary Bettman to "come get the Cup," I just about lost it. The first European Captain to win the Stanley Cup. After all of his hard work, he finally got to hoist the Cup as the absolute leader of the team. That was the most special moment of the playoffs for me. I was already ecstatic that the Red Wings had pulled it off and won the Stanley Cup for the fourth time in my lifetime but when Nick hoisted that just put him in a class of his own.

Congratulations to the Detroit Red Wings and thank you for a great season. I will savor this championship for a long time to come.

The Detroit Red Wings are the 2008 Stanley Cup Champions!!!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

2008 Stanley Cup Champions!!!

The Detroit Red Wings are the 2008 Stanley Cup Champions!!!

Full season analysis will come later. For now, I'm going to celebrate!!! GO WINGS!!!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The Best, and Worst, Day of My Life

As some of you may already know, I spent more than $800 to fly out to Detroit on Monday morning in order to see the Detroit Red Wings play in game five of the Stanley Cup Finals at Joe Louis Arena. The Red Wings are my favorite team of all teams, spanning all sports and all franchises. My love for them started specifically when I went with my Dad, and some of his friends, to watch the Red Wings beat the Chicago Blackhawks in the 1995 conference finals; I was seven years old. That was, in fact, the last Red Wings game I had seen at Joe Louis Arena, even though I was in the stands for a few open practices that the team held while we lived in the area. So, this was a big deal. Not to mention that the Wings were up three games to one in their series against the Pittsburgh Penguins and could potentially clinch the Stanley Cup Championship in game five. There was no way I could miss this game. So, I woke up early on Monday, drove down to Manchester, and flew out to the Motor City. I checked into my hotel, threw on my Sergei Fedorov (#91) jersey, and got in the taxi that would escort me to the game.


I showed up three hours before gametime and took everything in. I took pictures. I saw some of my favorite players arrive in their cars (most notably Henrik Zetterberg, Chris Osgood, Kirk Maltby, and Darren McCarty). Best of all, I was surrounded by fans dressed in red and white Detroit Red Wings uniforms, hats, and shirts. There were no Boston Red Sox hats or Celtics' jerseys. With all due respect to those teams, I just don't care about them. At all. Not even a little bit. But here I was, looking around downtown Detroit at men and women in Red Wings attire and Michigan hats and other things I often wear myself. It was nothing short of fantastic. I was finally part of the majority again. Also, as a side note, does a hot girl ever look hotter than when she's wearing a Red Wings shirt/jersey? I certainly don't think so, but I digress. An hour after arriving, while talking with random fans and getting excited for the game to come, the doors opened sharply at 6pm.

I walked in to see the large statue of Gordie Howe. Mr. Hockey. The famous and familiar face of the Red Wings and of hockey itself. Later, I even saw him at the game, signing autographs of his newest book, Nine. After taking a long look at the amazing statue of Gordie, I saw that to my left were lines of people waiting to buy Datsyuk jerseys and Stanley Cup t-shirts and Lidstrom bobbleheads. To my right sat a large Stanley-Cup-shaped-puzzle with only one piece missing, labeled "16." The famous "Cheli's Chili" restaurant, named for veteran Wing Chris Chelios, was just around the corner. Everything around me was not only cool, it was John-Travolta-in-Grease cool. I had clearly died on my way here, because this was heaven.

So, I spent the remaining two hours before the game in awe of everything. I wandered the concourse, sat in my seat, and overlooked the pristine ice of Joe Louis Arena. Every red seat was littered with a free, white towel for fans to wave in excitement. The rafters hung banners of all of Detroit's accomplishments. Stanley Cup Championships. Clarence Campbell Bowls. Central Division Titles. President's Trophies. Retired numbers of legendary players. The banner with the #19 and a "C" printed clearly in the right corner brought back waves of images of my favorite player, Steve Yzerman, and his time with the Wings that ended only two years ago. There will never be another athlete I will idolize as much as I do Yzerman. His effect on the franchise can still be seen, as about half of the jerseys I saw Detroit fans wearing were in his name.

The players came out for warm-ups. My eyes never left the red swarm of jerseys circling below me. Each player looked ready to play and determined to win the Stanley Cup. As they filed off the ice for the final zamboni cleaning before the start of the game, I tried not to envy the fans who caught pucks that Darren McCarty threw over the boards and into the first few rows of the crowd behind the glass. The suspense was potent. Three octopi were thrown on the ice during the national anthem and giant roars from the crowd drowned out the sound from the gorgeous singer in a red dress. Everyone stood and cheered madly for the team they loved as the starting lineups were announced and the players circled around center ice, ready for the first drop of the puck. It was time.


The first period was awful. The Wings came out flat and played without any real idea of what was going on. The Penguins scored twice and took a 2-0 lead into the second period, even though they only managed seven shots on goal in the first. I'll be honest; I was scared. I wasn't panicked because I had seen the Wings come back from two goal deficits before but I was still worried. This wasn't how the experience of my lifetime was supposed to begin.

The second period was better, but still left me with an empty and chilled feeling heading into the third period. Yes, the Red Wings were outplaying the Penguins. Yes, the team I had seen in the previous four games of the series was starting to come back. But they were still down 2-1. And, without any knowledge of what was to come, I had chills. What if they couldn't score the tying goal? What if this colossally expensive trip for a college-student went down in flames? I tried to stay positive and looked ahead to the third and, what I imagined to be, the final period.

19 minutes and 25.3 seconds of the third period were absolutely awesome. Detroit kept up the pressure and completely dominated the Penguins in every way. They scored to tie the game and then, they scored to lead it. Pittsburgh was doing everything they could just to keep the Red Wings from turning the game into a rout. Marc-Andre Fleury, the Penguins goalie, was standing on his head and making plenty of unbelievable saves to keep the different at one. Every time the Wings almost scored to take a two-goal lead, I brushed it off; they could hold a one-goal lead like they did last game. Momentum started to build. The Wings began playing a prevent defense and even then, they stopped the Penguins from creating any sort of offensive attack. The crowd began to chant "We want the Cup!" over and over for minutes on end. Time ticked down. Five. Four. Three. Two. One minute remaining. Pittsburgh still couldn't generate anything. This was it. At that moment, I remember feeling so happy, so giddy, so unbelievably thankful for my life that looking back, I honestly don't think I have ever felt anything quite like that in my entire life. And then, 34.7 happened.

Maxime "Girl's Name" Talbot hammered away at Chris Osgood's left pad and put the rubber disc across the goal line before any Red Wings player could stop him. The puck crossed with 34.7 seconds left in the game. The clock stopped with 34.3. No one in the stands was angry. No one was anything. The chanting stopped. The frantically waving towels lay flat. Every emotion was drained out of the building. Tie game. No Cup. Overtime.

The overtime periods flew by in what seemed like a matter of minutes while the 15 minute intermissions seemed to last forever. I was absolutely drained. My heart had been racing since I came to the arena at 5pm. It was now past midnight. I can't imagine that even a doctor could give me a tougher stress test. Every fiber of my being was exhausted. But, I wanted to see a Stanley Cup winning goal. I could see Brett Hull's winner in triple overtime for Dallas when they beat Buffalo in 1999. I could see Jason Arnott's winner in double overtime for New Jersey when they beat Dallas in 2000. I could visualize any one of the Red Wings doing the same hurried celebration: jumping around, throwing off gloves, letting loose an incredible cry of joy. With that in mind, I geared up for a third overtime session as another 20:00 was put up on the clock and the period number changed from 5 to 6.

Suddenly, everything was in fast forward. Jiri Hudler's stick flew up. Rob Scuderi's mouth bled. Petr Sykora's shot flew in. Mass exodus. Unlike the previous two penalties against Detroit in the other overtime periods, this call was inarguable. A high stick is a high stick. The blood is the evidence and the rule is a four minute penalty. The Penguins scored. They won game five. It was over.

As odd as it might seem, the winning goal was not nearly as heart-breaking as the tying goal. Before 34.7 happened, I was absolutely full of excitement. The Cup was coming. Captain Lidstrom was going to hoist it. I was practically licking my lips in anticipation. Then, when "Girl's Name" scored, all of those positive thoughts and happy emotions left my body with unmatchable quickness. I was completely empty. When the winning goal was scored, I was so tired and strung out from five and a half periods of wild screaming and cheering that I had barely enough energy left to stand up and leave when the Penguins scored. All of the remaining energy drained slowly out of me as I walked out of the Joe with the rest of the zombie-like fans. Everyone was shocked and depressed. I sat in silence on the cab ride back to the hotel. I rubbed my fingers through my hair and massaged my temples, trying to comprehend what I had just witnessed.


As the definition describes, purgatory is a temporary place of suffering or torment. That was today and that is tomorrow until 8pm. Until the Red Wings take the ice again to try and redeem themselves for losing a chance to celebrate in front of their home fans, I remain in a torturous state of the unknown. How will the Red Wings respond? Will the Penguins find new life and force a game seven? Can the Red Wings come back from such a mentally draining loss? And if they can, will they still win? The Penguins proved in game five that you don't have to be the best team to win the game, so what will happen in game six? I can't stand the suspense. All I can hope for is that the Red Wings get their act together, win the next game, and put the series to bed. So what if they have to celebrate at Mellon Arena? Detroit has already proven that they are a better hockey team than Pittsburgh. The only thing that matters now is whether or not they become champions. If so, the pain from the tragic game five will melt away in a sea of happiness and gratitude for a great season. If not, they will be remembered for a historic collapse and the horror that I saw in game five will haunt me forever.