NHL Stanley Cup Conference Semi-Finals 2009

NHL LogoThis year, three of the four NHL Conference semi-final matchups are going to the seventh and deciding game, with the other (Chicago Blackhawks over Vancouver Canucks 4-2) going six. All the teams are matched up as evenly as even can be. Other than San Jose’s first round gaffe (top seed), 6 of 8 Conference semi-finalists ended in the top 4 of their Conference and therefore are seeded 1-4.

There is little I enjoy more than watching playoff hockey (especially if it is my team), but, between tonight (Pens versus Caps) and tomorrow night’s double-header, hockey lovers should revel in the 3 seventh games. My hopes are on the Canes, Ducks and Pens. Personally, I would enjoy seeing the Canes take Lord Stanley 2009.

Great Values in Hockey…even when it is professional

Don’t you find that too many professional sports smack of too much money & poor values?  Below is an email that has been circulating since the end of last year. It is a great story, with a “mostly true” rating from Snopes. The event occurred November 23, 2008. It was first posted on this NHL Home Ice blog back on Dec 8, 2008.

Ice Hockey Stick Colour Fan Collection

“In the middle of a grueling six game road trip where a very young hockey team is away from home, the third game of the trip ends late on a cold Canadian Saturday night. This is the only break on the trip and the three days between games allow them the only break to get back home in their own beds for a couple of days before going back on the road. A scheduled commercial flight waits for them at Toronto’s International Airport for the short flight home; they could be home by midnight. This plane departs on schedule, but without a single member of the hockey team.

Back in the locker room a vote is taken after the game was complete, and a unanimous decision is made by this young team to skip this flight and stay one more day. They make arrangements to check back in the hotel and on a frozen Sunday morning charter two buses that have no heat and begin a journey two hours straight north into a sparsely inhabited Canada, but where hockey is its passion. They arrive at their destination to the surprise of the teams general manager who is there attending his fathers wake.

After a few emotional hours, this team boards the buses and head back for a two-hour trip back to Toronto. On the way they ask the drivers to stop in a tiny Canadian town because they are hungry.

To the shock of the patrons and workers at this small hockey town McDonald’s, a professional team walks out of two rickety buses and into the restaurant, which just happens to have pictures of two members of this team on its wall. The patrons know every single one of these players by sight being fanatic fans of hockey in these parts. One can only imagine their amazement of the locals seeing and entire professional hockey team sit down and have a meal in their tiny little town in the middle of a hockey season. After a while they board the buses and catch their same flight 24 hours later, giving one day to their general manager.

Chicago Blackhawks NHL Ice HockeyHave I made this up, is this an excerpt from some fictional book? No, this a true story of the Blackhawks last Saturday night and they decided to attend Dale Tallon’s fathers funeral. Its amazing that such a good story can be found nowhere on the internet, and not even mentioned in the Chicago papers. Had one of the Blackhawks got into a fight and punched some drunken loser in a Toronto bar it would be plastered all over papers and the television. This being said, its hard to imagine any professional football, basketball or baseball team doing this, but the members of the Blackhawks claim any “hockey” team would have done this. This is one reason I continue to be a big hockey fan, and another reason I am excited about this Chicago team.

I thought I would share as this story appears to have gone unnoticed.”

Here is the Yahoo News version, printed on Christmas Eve.

The story is a testament indeed to the solid values in hockey. And, as far as the Blackhawks go, their brand value — as in lovemark, although they have yet to be nominated there — just went through the roof. Moreover, the team is the youngest in the league (average age of 25.5 years) and is positioned 4th in the Western conference. I wish them all the luck.  And, I would certainly like to know of any other sports teams that have that kind of heart.

Philadelphia Eagles fly by the Vikings in Wildcard Playoff 2009

Philadelphia Eagles LogoIn the National Football League (that’s American Football), the Philadelphia Eagles [my preferred NFL team] made it into the 2009 playoffs with a wild card berth, thanks to a thrashing of the pre-season champion favourites Dallas Cowboys 44-6 in the dramatic regular season finale as well as invaluable help from two other teams (Oakland upset Tampa Bay and Houston beat Chicago). A veritable little miracle.

In the matchup against the Minnesota Vikings (10-6) on this Sunday (yesterday), the Eagles (9-6-1) put the home team to rest in frigid Minneapolis and advanced to the next round with an impressive 26-14 victory. Next up, the biggest Philadelphia rival, the New York Giants; as I have many friends (Brad, Sam, Burg, my father to mention a few…) who support the NYG, so I look forward to this NFC Semi-Final game.

With the MBL Phillies having already won the World Series,
the NHL Philadelphia - Brotherly LOVEPhiladelphia Flyers currently on top of their division (if a little precariously) and my beloved Reds of Liverpool FC on top of the England premiership, I am beginning to think 2009 will be an auspicious year for my professional sports teams. In any event, it is starting off well (and my happiness will not depend on the outcome of the various matches I assure you).

With this early success and good karma, it is as enjoyable a reason as there can be to wish you all a Happy, Healthy and Hearty New Year 2009.

The Ultimate Way – Doing it in Slow Motion

A Search for the Ultimate “Way” in Sports, Business and Life

Wayne Gretsky, The Great OneWhen people refer to the Great One, MariO or COsby, or then again Michael JOrdan, BjOrn BOrg or Tiger WOOds, one would not be surprised to think that they all share a hidden talent. The hidden or invisible talent? Seeing things in slow motion when, for everyone else, the puck or ball is travelling at the regular speed.

If this is true in sports, I have to believe it can also be true in business. When great business leaders are in the vortex of a crisis, I believe they see things in slow motion, which helps to digest the torrents of complex information, synthesize with precision and decide with crystal vision.

Going a step further, I am inclined to believe that there are also those who actually llive their life in slow motion. While life hurtles by for most of us mortals, some have a special talent that allows them to manage their lives at a different level. Just as the Great One didn’t manage to make the perfect pass on every single occasion, nor did Jack Welch have strokes of strategic genius behind every decision, one cannot expect (nor want) to live a life of perfection. However, for the big decisions and manifest other major dynamic moments, such as what to say in moments of turmoil, some people have the gift, what I would like to call “the gift of O”, the great O, Ω or Omega because of the sense of harmony and equilibrium inherent in that letter. Whether it is knowing what to say to someone in grief, making the impromptu wedding speech or galvanizing support from a bunch of strangers, some people’s energy and mastery of language is just a step above. They manage to size up the situation faster and find the right words quicker. In another sphere, it is the person who grabs the knocked over vase, catches a falling leaf or anticipates the rain. For these people, they seem to be a step ahead as they see life in slow motion. I would characterize the gift as a superior sense of balance, equilibrium & direction, a sense of self, anticipation and a 360˚ vision. Somehow, the gift of O as expressed in Life, as opposed to sports or business, is a much more complete concept.

I started to think about this post when I considered the transferability of the “eyes behind your head” talent that certain great team players have. If you have the genius in one field (sports), how likely is it that you will exhibit the same talent in business or in life? Somehow, I get the feeling that having the gift in one area is as good as it may get. What do you think?

ADDED 22 NOVEMBER:  I was turned on to this NY Times article, “Generation O get its hopes up” (Nov 7) after publishing this post.  It would seem that we are indeed in search for the Gift of O!

Philadelphia Phillies Fly into the World Series 2008

Not since 1993 have the Philadelphia Phillies made it the World Series (we’re talking US baseball here, folks). And not since 1980 have they won the overall championship. And, this week, the Phillies trounced the Los Angeles Dodgers to make it to the final playoff. Their opponent is as yet undecided (Tampa Bay lead the Bouncing Back Boston Red Sox 3-2 in their best of seven match, having rallied from a 0-7 deficit going into the bottom of the 7th inning to come back and win 8-7 last night…wow).  I send all my positive energy over to the Philadelphia team… and hope that I can rewrite my article in Sportingo (link here to my article, wherein I kabboshed Philadelphia and its sporting franchise’s propensity to lose), if not history…

May the city of Brotherly Love not Lose this one!  Naturally, I would like the Flyers to start winning games, too.  But I guess you can’t win ’em all.

Politics & Sports : Philadelphia Flyers to have hockey mom Palin throw down first puck


I am a disgruntled Philadelphia Flyers fan this morning when I discovered that Ed Snider, the Flyers’ owner, has chosen to have GOP Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin drop the opening puck at the season opener. Granted she is a hockey mom. However…

Can politics and sports be mixed? Absolutely, but it depends on how.
For example, having your own city mayor throw out the first ball is quite normal — an opportunity to be with your electors. Even having the serving president do so is quite an honour — serving the people who (in normal elections) voted for you in majority.

However, to have a political candidate come out before the election is more than casting an opening puck. It is like trying to sway voters — and all the more important as it is in one of the swing states. Here’s the story from the Flyers’ site.

Does the owner of the club have the right to impose his political views on the paying hockey fan?

What do you think of this?

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Added after the match (Saturday October 11 2008):
It seems like the Palin puck drop helped the gloves drop too within two minutes of the start of the match. See here the match report. And along the way, the Flyers allowed the first four goals and dropped their home opener 4-3 against the red hot New York Rangers. It seems like the Rangers’ BLUE Line (read: Democratic) held up to the Flyers comeback attempt…. Oddly enough, in the losing effort, backup Nittymaki and Mike Richards picked up the second and third star awards for the game.

Flyers bully Montreal out of Conference Playoffs 2008

Philadelphia Flyers 2008 CalendarWell, it’s time I fessed up. Our Philadelphia Flyers bullied the Montreal Canadiens 6-4 (read here Game Trax — in Montreal) in Game 5, enough to win a convincing Conference Semi-Final playoff by 4 games to 1. My prediction had been for a Habs victory in 6 or less games. Got that wrong (at least for the Flyers, I got it wrong…I was right that Liverpool would be knocked out in the Champions’ League semi-final, if with the very wrong score).

Bravo to the Daniel Briere (who was ironically held scoreless in game 5), Marty BironPhiladelphia Flyers Logo (another 31 saves) and, most notably, RJ Umberger, a truly talented all-rounder. Worth noting again the the Flyers field a very Canadian team…with 15 players from up north (and arguably the three best — Briere, Biron and Gagne — from Quebec, although Gagné is still out with concussion).

I suspect the next stop will be Pittsburgh (they play game 5 this afternoon). Considering the season’s awful record against the Penguins, the outlook again doesn’t look good (same problem with the Canadiens for the Flyers this past season).

No prediction this time, but I have to assume it is going to take another herculean team effort and some masterful coaching. The sum of the parts was clearly bigger than individual parts against Montreal.

Liverpool v Chelsea & Flyers vs Capitals, now the Habs

As is frequently the case, in the big games, it is all about creating your ‘luck’. But in sports fan-dom (sitting in your canape or reading BBC.co.uk, etc), you win some and you lose fun (oops, I meant ‘some’).

The Reds of Liverpool (my team in the English Premiership) locked horns withLiverpool FC Champions League Semi-Finals Chelsea in the European Cup semi-finals for the third time in four years. It is impressive to think that the opponents of the semi-finals of such an international tournament can virtually become a franchise rivalry. Nonetheless, unlike the first two encounters where Liverpool, playing away the first leg, finished up on top, Tuesday’s home goal concession — an own goal in injury time — and a 1-1 score will likely prove fatal. John Arne’s Riise’s header into his own goal FIVE minutes into injury time will surely haunt him and the team leading up to next Wednesday’s showdown at Stamford Bridge. Both goals in the game were from errors rather than good plays. Sometimes, it is just about capitalising on your luck…

Philadelphia Flyers 2008 PlayoffsVirtually at the same time, the only other professional team I follow, the NHL Flyers of Philadelphia, playing against the Washington Capitals, managed to overcome the tide of momentum–having given up a 3-1 series lead and several leads in games–to eek out a 3-2 win in OT in Game 7. Heroics, great goaltending and grit. Good ole hockey saw the Flyers capitalise over Caps. The Flyers had to overcome some odds as well: Previously, Biron was 0-5 playing in the second night of consecutive games. Lupul, who scored the game winner, hadn’t scored a point in the entire series. And the Flyers, who had a franchise worst ever, NHL basement record last year are into the second round.

Now, the next round brings up the redoubtable Montréal Canadiens — my ex-home team. Bonne chance, mes amis!

I welcome some banter (taunts and progmostics) from my old friends and colleagues in Montréal–or any Habs fans for that matter! For myself, I believe if the Habs dont win in 6 or better, it will be a surprise.

And, as for Liverpool, they are facing a titanic uphill battle considering their record at Stamford Bridge. My prediction: 0-0 on Wednesday, therefore Blues over Reds. Anyone care to forecast differently?

Slyevisha stantia, Mosckva!

Philadephia Flyers’ Losing Streak Continues

Philadelphia Flyers 2008Well, Philly fans, here we are in the midst of another stinging Philadelphia Flyers’ losing streak. The Philadelphia Flyers are now winless in a franchise-tying 10 games in a row, have lost the services of LW Simon Gagne (“A”) for the season and now have lost their star center and leading scorer Mike Richards (2nd “A”) for 3 weeks. These injuries come on top of Lupul and Downie (RWs) and 3 defensemen, including tall lumbering Rathje and ex-Captain Hatcher. In all, 8 players are injured at the time of writing.

After getting 2 points in each of 14 out of 19 games (with 2 Overtime loses and 3 regulation losses) in the span Dec 22 until Feb 5 and rocketing into first position, the Flyers switched gears and have since plummeted into the dark depths of a streak where nothing goes right, including this last loss against the Panthers where they conceded the tying goal in the last 4 seconds of regulation time. They now lie in 9th position, below the last available playoff spot and tied with the New York Islanders.

If it is any consolation, the league leading DETROIT RED WINGS are presently accompanying the Flyers in their horror trip, as the Red Wings have lost 8 of their last 9 games. Yet, they still lie in first place overall in the NHL, with 89 points, six points ahead of the 2nd place Dallas Stars, and 11 points ahead of the Eastern Conference leading Senators. Doesn’t actually make me feel any better; but, the feeling in the locker room must start to feel like the feeling in the Flyers’ locker room with one big difference: no matter what happens, the Red Wings will still make it into the playoffs, even if they are also suffering from a large contingent of injured players, including the supremely talented Lidstrom.

When a team hits this type of losing streak, even as professionals, they must figure out how to get out of the funk, without the team starting to snap at each other…and the blame game getting in the way of lucidity. A team in the midst of such a streak needs to stay cohesive, look for and build on the small wins, even in the losses. The team needs leadership. The challenge they will have, at least over the next couple of days, is knowing that the composition of the locker room is probably about to shift radically.

With the trading deadline about to fall (Feb 26 at 3pm EST), you can only imagine that the Flyers will be active in the market in an effort to stay in the playoff hunt. What of the future of Daniel Briere who has managed to take his career -5 +/- rating coming into the season to a frightening -28 (-23 this season thus far)? Even if Coach Stevens says Briere cares, it is tough to look beyond the statistics and the $52MM package. Darren Pang talks here on Fox NHL of how he expects the Flyers to be shopping, including trading the now-injured Richards. It would be a shame to throw away talent needlessly for this season which started out so promisingly. Not that the Flyers are ready to build a Stanley Cup team, but with Gagne’s career hanging in the balance, I believe that the salary cap restrictions and regulations make the options limited for any quick fix.

Living in Paris, I miss the ability to watch the games live and to share the stories with my old colleagues with passionate hockey players and fans in Montreal. A trip through Montreal at the end of month will be very welcome, once I get over the ribbing of the drubbings the Habs have dished out to the Flyers this season.

The Philadelphia Flyers’ pre-season…mundane

After being probably the most busy team in the off-season, making a major overhaul of players complemented with some good new up and comers, the Philadelphia Flyers are supposed to have a new look and feel. Unfortunately, the preseason warmup games (so far 2W and 2L; 4 to go) do not reveal much other than the need to find team chemistry. And the captaincy [likely to be Simon Gagne] will have all its importance in that context. On the winning and losing ends of a shut-out puts the focus on the goaltending…again. Perhaps you can never interpret the preseason games as harbingers of the real season. Nonetheless, it would seem anything but exciting at this point. Unlikely that they will repeat last season’s “bottom of the barrel” performance. With Daniel Briere, Kimmo Timonen, Jason Smith, Scott Hartnell, Joffrey Lupul and Martin Biron, one can hope for a playoff berth. But, with Rathje and Hatcher still on the books, words such as heavy, slow and expensive come to mind and that doesn’t spell effective. Other than that, a bit of ho-hum.

First game of the regular season is October 4th, with a swing through Oh Canada. With 16/23 players on the Flyers roster from up north, they should at least feel a little at home. And, in a quirky stat, I point out that the Flyers have more Finns (4) than Americans (3). Hum!