Saturday, March 14, 2015

Columbus Sports Coverage: Crew Fans, Dom Tiberi and Killing The Messenger

[NOTE: While not entirely focused on hockey... I felt the need to write this, as it's something that affects us all as the dysfunctional family we share as Columbus sports fans.]

Today marks the home opener for the Columbus Crew Soccer Club, and the excitement has been building among Crew SC fans for months... pretty much ever since the season ended with that disappointing series against New England in the MLS playoffs.

The Crew begin their home season this evening with a new attitude, a new crest, and a new dedication to solidifying its footprint in the local consciousness of Columbus. More focus on the community. More focus on growing the sport. More local vendors. Hell, more local BEER!

I, for one, and pretty damn stoked. After having a chance to catch a few matches a couple years back, and then getting to see all but a few matches last year, I took the leap I got season tickets for this year. The Black and Gold will fly freely (albeit, damply) this weekend as throngs of soccer fans fill Crew Stadium to enjoy soccer and it's internationally-beloved glory.

Wait... oops... the stadium name is now actually MAPFRE Stadium (pronounced "farve," I think*...)

Now this is actually where our story begins: The story of a few members of a rabid fan base, a local sportscaster and the state of professional sports in Columbus.

First of all, Crew fans... as a hockey fan, I feel your pain. When the Buckeyes are in-season for football or basketball (although the basketball team's showing up seems debatable this season), our sports are the red-headed step siblings of the Scarlet and Gray, and always will be. When the Buckeyes are out of season... well, are they ever really out of season...? Some fringe elements of Buckeye Nation seem to think they aren't. Just ask Dave Maetzold, who occasionally gets taken to task on Twitter by rabid Buckeye fans, because he has airtime on the weekends set aside to -- God forbid -- discuss hockey!

It doesn't help that Urban Meyer kind of set off CBJ and Crew SC fans with that interview he did last year with the Atlanta Journal Consitution, during which -- when asked what he would tell prospects from Georgia about coming to OSU, said "You get a premium education with the opportunity to go compete for a national championship in a large city that really has no professional sports team."

Was Urban just pandering to Buckeye Nation? Or is he just reflecting the arrogance that some people have in thinking Ohio State in the only thing Columbus needs for sports?

My answers: "Yes," and "Yeah, kind of..."

So local sports anchor Dom Tiberi caught some hell on Twitter from a Crew SC fan or two (maybe more, I lost track) about where Crew coverage falls in sportscasts. It was the day the whole MAPFRE Stadium naming rights thing was announced, so I recall some discussion on coverage in the news blocks as well.

A lot of comparisons were thrown around... Tiberi defended himself with attendance figures, defended himself to Crew fans, pleaded his case to Buckeye fans (gotta preach to the choir), and even seemed to indicate the Crew fan had said there should be no Buckeyes coverage... and I'm not sure I ever found where the guy actually said that, but suffice to say Tiberi got called a few names, the conversation got tough to follow at times and it all just kind of devolved into a pissing match that stretched over a couple days.

Can't we all just get along...?

Again, I feel Crew diehards' pain... Columbus Blue Jackets hockey has struggled against the likes of Buckeye football. It's sad but true. The CBJ have not helped themselves with the sketchy and sometimes flat-out inept leadership of the front office that preceded John Davidson and Jarmo Kekalainen.

And when the Buckeyes' National Championship "celebration" was scheduled while the CBJ were hosting NHL All-Star Weekend -- almost two freakin' weeks after the football game took place -- some among us feared the worst. Another Buckeye-centric event overshadowing something really great that Columbus was doing.

Turned out it wasn't so bad... and I only witnessed one incident in which someone tried to get an "O-H! I-O!" thing started at the WinterPark, and get chided by a CBJ fan that "it's a hockey weekend, not football."

While I did have to explain to the New Yorkers I was talking to at the time that we Columbus sports fans have coexistence issues among some of us, it was another opportunity to hear other hockey fans tell us what a great hockey town we are, so I'll take that as a win.

In Tiberi's defense... he doesn't have complete control over what goes on the air during sports. I can tell you that from having worked in TV news for eight years -- six of them in Columbus.

Yes, he determines the lineup and the order. If there is something even slightly relevant about the Buckeyes, it will more than likely go first, and that will probably never change. Buckeyes in the sports block is like Daryl on The Walking Dead. Tiberi himself even asked on Twitter if you can imagine what would happen if news stations didn't cover the Buckeyes?

Yes, I can. 10TV's lobby is not that big. A couch fire would spread very quickly...

...and that's just the drunken alums. If students lived anywhere near 10TV...? They're hosed, for sure.

So, while sports anchors go into the sports segment knowing what they plan to cover, stories can get dropped or cut with little notice. That is the nature of a newscast... it stops at a set time. If the 11:00 doesn't end on time, a commercial or Letterman interrupts them mid-sentence (and their news director possibly even calls in the newsroom to yell at them). So Tiberi might get 2:30 or maybe three minutes (tops) in a sportscast, and it's at the end.

So if there's breaking news at 10:45 PM, there's a mad scramble to move a reporter to wherever the murder du jour is... when the 11PM news starts, they might drop something in the first block to accommodate the additional time to get those first few details in and move stuff around, but there's a chance that it's going to be "Hey, Dom... might need to cut that NFL free agency story."

Now say it's 11:15... the reporter they moved off one story is at the homicide scene, and so they scramble to get a live shot on the air.

Weather very rarely takes a time cut, so maybe drop a short news story or two in the third block... but chances are, "Hey Dom... maybe cut out the sound bite from the Jackets story," or there won't be time to show CBJ or Crew highlights.

So for those who think any of those cuts are on purpose, I assure you, they are not. Sports guys really do try to get all that stuff in, even if it's just a fullscreen graphic with the score. If that's all you're seeing, you can likely assume there's an unused script and a tape that didn't run because something else happened that was beyond the sports anchor's control.

Now as far as the Buckeyes' taking priority, well, that's a cultural institution that pro sports fans can't do much about, really. The football team is a huge draw, and even in a disastrous football season... if you're paying what people pay for Buckeyes tickets, you make sure they get used.

And no matter what ridiculous prices Gene Smith makes Buckeye fans pay for football tickets, those fans will file into Ohio Stadium like lemmings to the sea... patchouli-marinated hippies to ComFest... rednecks to NASCAR, and so forth. As long as they have someone use their Crew and Blue Jackets tickets, let them do what they like.

To be fair, I'm not sure Tiberi's comparison of a full Ohio Stadium to a half-empty Crew Stadium for that MLS Playoff game is entirely fair... there are fans of both teams who can't be in two places at once, and OSU's game against Illinois was happening the same day. However, on days where they don't overlap, I can see where he could have a point.

So, seeing as how the basketball Buckeyes look NIT-bound, the Jackets are off today, and your Saturdays are free, I say Crew SC fans should sieze this opportunity.

Get your ass to MAPFRE Stadium, fill the seats, and let Dom hear you all the way from Olentangy River Road.

Merry Crewsmas.

*-Yes, I'm kidding about the MAPFRE pronunciation

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Barely Avoiding The (sp)Oilers

The Columbus Blue Jackets make it so, so easy to be angry.

Then they make you just love them all over again.. then angry again... love-fest... then angry again.

Image: Google; Modifications: Me
(Apologies to Charles M. Schultz)
And that is just overnight... sometimes in the same game... sometimes in the same period.

That is how inconsistent the Blue Jackets have been this season: not even fan emotions have the convenience of consistency. Throw in the sense of despair that comes with the Jackets' being on pace for 500 man-games lost to injury for the season, and you'd think a psychiatrist could make a killing setting up in a concourse at Nationwide Arena.

(No, that is not a suggestion)

So take a look, for example, at the Jackets' game last night, not 24 hours after beating Detroit to win the season series, for three consecutive seasons.

First, they buck the trend of giving up the early goal at a ridiculously early point of the game when Marko Dano scored on the team's first shot against Edmonton. Then the Jackets built a 2-0 lead that they took into the first intermission.

Then the Oilers tied it up at two.

Columbus managed to regain the lead late in the second when Artem Anisimov scored, and then came the dreaded but hardly-surprising-anymore response goal from Andrew Ference with less than a minute in the second period. Next thing you know, it's 3-3.

Then the Oilers would actually take a lead after Nail Yakupov scored on the power play against what I'm surprised to say is still not the worst penalty kill in the league, despite recent performances. Then, enter the heroics of Scott Hartnell, who not only seems to be gunning for status as the best trade yarmulke alignment and has ever made, but has been a near constant positive in this horrifying, injury-riddled season.

Alexander Wennberg iced it in the fifth round the shootout, and the CBJ faithful could breathe again.

So it can be easy to be a little mad about giving up a point and needing a shoot out to what has been one of the most Godawful franchises of the last five to six years... especially after turning in a game like the one against Detroit the night before.

However, it's important to point out that the Oilers had just staged a four-goal comeback the night before to tie it up against the Pittsburgh Penguins, before blowing it and losing 6-4.

Then again, it is probably the only role the Oilers are going to play for the foreseeable future: trying to screw up teams' playoff chances or standings in the waning months of the NHL season. Hell, even I used to say they're just a couple years away, but right now that team is run worse than Doug MacLean ever ran this one. Well, maybe not by much.

It's a hot mess, and I don't even feel badly for Oilers fans. The team tanked to get where it is, and their fans seem more than willing to embrace that, in order to get some sort of "generational" talent. A few weeks ago, the last time I shared the infamous 2012 Draft Lottery video, I read through some of those early comments in which Oilers fans gloated about getting Yakupov, despite being only the second-most-godawful team in the NHL.

Three years later... well, I'll just leave this here.

The person I feel sorry for is Jack Eichel or Connor McDavid. One of those guys will waste away in Edmonton starting next year.

See you Sunday. Go Jackets!

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Wednesday, March 11, 2015

No Translation Necessary

It was a moment that could just as easily have defined the Columbus Blue Jackets' season... let alone the first period against the Carolina Hurricanes.

The sight of Sergei Bobrovsky temporarily losing his cool and slamming his stick down on the ice absolutely spoke volumes... and led at least one person to wonder what the Russian equivalent is for "SON OF A...."

But whatever it was, the rest of the game needed no translation.

Even though the Hurricanes maintained control the pace a bit into the second period, the Jackets once again showed that flashes of resilience that remind fans that there are good things still to come here in Columbus. The first flash was Rene Bourque's debut on the score sheet in a Blue Jackets sweater, as he deflected Cam Atkinson's shot past Cam Ward, on the power play, with just inside of two minutes remaining.

And yet, that nasty trend of allowing an opposing goal soon after scoring one, reared its ugly head yet again, as the Cane knocked in their second power play goal of the night, with ten seconds and change remaining.

Cue the "BOB SMASH!"

Despite missing the team's heart and soul (read: just make him captain already) Nick Foligno, the Jackets rallied behind two power play goals by Scott Hartnell to send a game into overtime, then eventually a shootout, during which Ryan Johansen lulled Canes goaltender Cam Ward into paralysis, before deking to his backhand and popping in and easy shootout winner.

The first period was just the latest example of the frustration that sets in when a team riddled with injuries can't find consistency or chemistry among its players.

I know this sounds unusual coming from a guy who has lived by the Ken Hitchcock School of No Excuses. However when the man games lost clock has passed 400 and it doesn't seem like anyone else in NHL's even close... it may be time to stop being denial that there is a definite impact there.

But the comeback from this one? Gotta love it. I don't know if Bobrovsky swore, threatened to cut people, or maybe the guys just figured it out themselves during the first break.

I will say that Rene Bourque's conversation with Dave Maetzold at the first intermission looked like a guy who would rather be in the dressing room with his team figuring out what comes next, than taking a TV timeout to talk about his first goal as a Blue Jacket. He seemed to have a sense of urgency to put it behind him, and get to the rest of the team. Maybe that's just me reading too deeply into that, but I liked it.

Hopefully the good guys take some of that attitude into Detroit on Thursday.

Go Jackets!

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Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Trade Deadline Takeaway: Next Year

With the Columbus Blue Jackets' playoff push approximately one loss away from being essentially over... Monday's trade deadline saw a team and front office focused squarely on the future of the franchise.

General Manager Jarmo Kekalainen made a set of transactions today that laid the metaphorical "bricks" to build the CBJ for years to come.

Jordan Leopold gets to go home to Minnesota to be with his family. I could go on, but let's be honest... an 11-year-old girl can write that story better than I can.

It also meant the much-speculated departure of James Wisniewski, who will aid Anaheim in its playoff push in the West now.

In return, the Jackets get... well... next year.

Next year actually begins with Cam Atkinson locked up for three years and $10.5 million, in the waning moments before the Trade Deadline.

That's the highlight of the day, though. The return on the trades... let's be honest, it's not much. Justin Falk from the Leopold trade (not to be confused with All-Star Justin Faulk from Carolina) is a depth acquisition at this point to support a hurting defensive corps. Bourque, per the Dispatch, will be the final year of his contract next year and unless he has soem career Renaissance, we'll probably see his name moving at the Trade Deadline next year, for the jackets get some help for that playoff push. Plus, the Dispatch says he's headed to Springfield at this point, anyway.

This is his third team this year, by the way. $3.3 million cap hit. So, I doubt anyone will need to get attached. But who knows... I was reminded a couple nights ago that I had grossly underestimated Curtis McElhinney, too, when he was traded here. So, stay tuned, I guess. I will say I'm kind of intrigued by what I've read so far on William Karlsson, though.

As for the rest of the return, we'll just have to see what the Draft brings.

Now that that's over, we can now concentrate on the 20-game winning streak that has to begin tonight, in order for the Jackets to have a prayer at making the Playoffs.

If that doesn't work out... well... then I guess we go back to the theme of the day: Next Year.

In Jarmo We Trust.

Go Jackets!

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