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.

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?

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.

Philadelphia Flyers defy Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 4 of Eastern Conference Finals 2008

Philadelphia Flyers battling it out with the Pittsburgh PenguinsFeeling penned in, Philadelphia Flies the Coop to live another day…winning Conference Final Game 4 by 4-2

The Philadelphia Flyers have had a great 2008 season when all is said and done and, regardless of the outcome of game 5 in Pittsburgh (the chances of a comeback are truly nought in this series), any Flyers fan should be well satisfied with the Eastern Conference Finals appearance. This is for two main reasons:

1/ The Flyers went from a last place finish in the NHL last season to top FOUR (there is no third place playoff with Dallas)…along the way knocking off two higher seeds (including the top seed, Montreal). And getting into the playoffs was a performance by itself — considering the disastrous 10-game losing streak in the latter part of the season.

2/ There is hope yet that next season CAN be better as they got to this point without their best player (Simon Gagne who had played all of 7 games and then was out with a “mild” concussion) and they [will have] bowed out against the mighty Pens without their best defensive player, Kimmo Timonen (which hurts against the best NHL offensive player Evgneni Malkin). Moreover, there are several rookie or young Flyers who, with a solid playoff run and a good season under the belt, may come out to bloom…

Meanwhile, it is quite fun to observe the two Conference finals. The Penguins are dominating the Flyers in much the same way the Detroit Red Wings are dominating the Dallas Stars in the Western Conference Final. And, the two dominating teams both have led their Conference Finals series 3-0 and both lost the fourth game away against the “we have nothing to lose” mentality of the reeling opposition.

Now the Flyers must go to Pittsburgh and Dallas must go to Detroit to face the executioner. The home teams in both cases are ruthless: the Pens are 11-2 in the Playoffs, 7-0 at home. Detroit is 11-3 overall and also 7-0 at home. And, if a playoff game hinges on any one player, Marty Turco has managed to beat Detroit only once lifetime and is 0-9-2 at Detroit.

There is talk in Philadelphia that Braydon Coburn and Kimmo may return for Game 5 in their relative bruised conditions. Even the the consideration is inspiring. The “nothing to lose” mentality will go to Pittsburgh and we’ll see what happens; but come what may, it has been a great season for the Flyers and a great demonstration for any corporation that has been “down and out”: performance follows the quality of the team as a whole when the team knows how to stick together in the tough periods.

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.

Will Live Earth encourage the sports world to go green?

The greening of sports

In the aftermath of Live Earth 7.7.07, it struck me that the sporting world could also take up the green cause in a more formal fashion. Live Earth apparently attracted an audience of 2 billion people. [As an aside, I would like to see some of the performers be greater role models in their personal lives.] The World Cup of Rugby 2007 in France, the Super Bowl (every year in the US) and the Football (aka Soccer) World Cup 2010 in South Africa would be great platforms to showcase that they care more than just the turf on which they play. Considering all the money involved in sports and the status symbols and opinion leaders that sports heroes represent, they certainly would have their fans’ ears. And they have the merit of a worldwide scope. I shudder to think of the impact on golf courses and the amount of water needed to sprinkle the greens. What about Formula One getting a dose of diesel?

Green Olympics

In an effort to find a down-to-earth incentive — beyond common sense — for the sports world to take up the mantle, it seems that, if the trends continue, the number of rained out games, parched grounds, melted ice rinks and so on will on increase, causing havoc to the schedulers not to mention ticket sales. In the anticipated climate changes, sports equipment will have to be adapted. Conditioning will be dramatically impacted as players will need to contend with enormous swings in temperatures. Stadiums will need to be adjusted to include air conditioning in the summer. This will all mean less dollars and cents for the owners. Not good business. So, should we not be seeing an Earth Fit 8.8.08 or a Green Dream Team as part of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing? It would be a great message if China, which along with the US are the two countries most responsible for carbon dioxide emissions, were to take up the cause more publicly. Politics and sports have a natural cause in this regard. I would like to showcase this site that seems to have taken the (China, speaking of the Olympics) bull by the horns: www.ecologysports.com.

The Green Dream Team

A potential Green Dream Team of sports figureheads could ally themselves across a number of sports. On the one hand, the sponsors of individuals could find the marriage of performance and the eco-cause of value. If Roger Federer chose to take on the campaign, Nike, Wilson (racket) and Rolex might all benefit. Among tennis’ former stars, John McEnroe and Martina Navratilova have already joined in the cause for clean water by being ambassadors for the (one of its originators is Johan Kriek). Maybe a quorum of past & present already in the making?

Another sport that needs to look the effects of the climate change directly in the face is skiing where, in the past season alone, there were seven World Cup events were entirely canceled for a lack of snow. In an icy cool show of support, there is news (from the BBC) of the 1km swim by the courageous Lewis Pugh in the Arctic, a sad statement that such a swim is even possible. And then there is my US hometown, Philadelphia, whose sports teams I all support (especially the bottom of the barrel in ’07 Flyers). The Philadelphia Eagles have made a happy marriage with the firey slogan “Go Green.” They are certainly setting a very good example as they have also officially joined the Stop Global Warming March.

In short, there are many people beginning to get on the bandwagon, but let’s push it up another notch and reach for the visibility that Live Earth achieved, but with another audience.

The Stanley Cup Finals & American Sports Leagues

Sometimes, when I watch North American sports, I cannot help but wonder what it is all for. You battle all season, then come the playoffs. For sports like baseball (162 regular season games) and basketball (82 games), the regular season seems endless. Then, according to the sport (notably not baseball), many teams qualify for the reward of playing in the playoffs. When it’s all over, the worst teams get the pick of the crop of young talent and the winning team gets the lesser picks. And, ultimately, everyone is supposed to get a crack at winning. Quite democratic and certainly makes every franchise a believer over time. One can understand the principle. Under those circumstances (and now even more so with the salary caps), it makes it all the more improbable to have longstanding winning streaks (New York Yankees, Montreal Canadiens…).

This evening, the Anaheim Ducks may wrap up the Stanley Cup (one of the hardest fought championships you can ever want to win in ANY sport) and filibuster the Senators. Despite the Canadian talent ever present on the ice, the teams from the blistery north would, yet again, lose to a team from the US sunbelt (third in a row after Tamba Bay and Carolina). Hard to conceive. Based in Paris and following the ice hockey (and more miserably the Philadelphia Flyers), there is about as many people around me to share “passionate” discussion about hockey as there is in talking about the Grateful Dead. The only redeeming quality of this season, where the Flyers managed to finish DEAD last, is that the new draft is upcoming and that might bring new hope. The Flyers, brandishing a new website (sign of the spring cleaning?), are readying themselves for the new era — one cannot imagine that a franchise team such as the Flyers will allow a consecutive dismal performance. My hope is reignited.