Saturday, April 28, 2012

Hockey Lives In Columbus, Part III: Bring On The All Star Game

I love logos.

A logo is something that is central to a brand identity. It is a statement that is meant to make an impression… Something that the followers of the brand can look at and say, "oh yeah, I want that."

In the case of sports teams, a team's logo is perhaps even more important than it is with other businesses. After all... that's the logo and the brand impression that you're putting on shirts, hats, and seemingly infinite other types of cool swag that we wear forevermore. And if you've read this space before... you know I'm a swag guy.

So, any time you're rolling out any kind of new logo or brand identity, it's a pretty big deal. Now, this may not have been the launch of a new third jersey, as the Columbus Blue Jackets have done twice before, but the unveiling of a logo for special event such as the 2013 NHL All-Star game is a big deal, and worthy of celebration.

A celebration kind of like the one we witnessed on an unseasonably chilly Friday afternoon in late April in Columbus Ohio.

A crowd of easily 300 (probably more) people gathered in the Arena District to check out the unveiling of the logo for the 2013 All Star Game. Sure, you had some suits there... after all, the Arena District is a place of business for many in Columbus, but they were far outnumbered by loyal hockey fans in union blue, who had a chance to mix and mingle, catch up with old friends, and hey... even grab a hot dog or two as well, just to get that genuine arena feel.

And as we heard opening remarks from CBJ play-by-play man Jeff Rimer, Greater Columbus Sports Commission Executive Director Linda Logan, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and CBJ owner John P. McConnell... the tension was building.

It's very important to discuss the economic impact that Columbus will enjoy from the tens of thousands of fans who will walk the Arena District during All Star Weekend and the estimated $12 million in visitor spending from attendees from all over the hockey world. But can you fault people for being a little antsy? We're hockey people. We want to see the logo that will represent us as we embark on the nine-month wait to get our all-star game in nationwide Arena. We were ready to see the darn thing.

And, of course, as one might expect… As with any grand entrance, the guest of honor entered with a bang:

And it was met with cheers, screaming and other generally joyful noise.

And there it was... our logo for our NHL All Star Weekend, January 26 and 27th.

Is it flashy? No. Overdone? No again.

But it is awesome. At least I think so... and from what I gathered talking to people afterwards, I think a lot of us agree. It is solid, it represents Columbus, and most importantly... it's ours.

Just like All-Star weekend in 2013. It's ours. Our game, in our arena, in our city.

And I can't wait to share our city with the rest of the hockey world in January. Because I'm a hockey person.

We are hockey people.

Yeah, I said it.

I don't care what you might hear from some fans who troll CBJ social media and tell the hockey world that Columbus is not a viable hockey market. More likely than not, they have never visited to see what a great hockey market we are.

They can come see for themselves now. If they won't take advantage of that opportunity... well, that's their loss.

The red carpet is out... we'll see you in January.

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Thursday, April 26, 2012

A Sad Statement On Race In The NHL

Full disclosure... going into Wednesday night's Game 7. I didn't know a whole lot about Joel Ward. He played with the Nashville Predators for a few years before joining the Washington Capitals, and that was pretty much my entire base of knowledge on the man.

I sure as hell know his name now. He put a fairly quick end to a classic Stanley Cup First Round series, in which each of the seven games was decided by a single goal. Four of the games went into overtime... one of them into double-OT. And Ward's goal off a rebound ended an overtime in Game 7.

Joel Ward (42) and the game-winner (screen cap of 
Now, as long as you're not a Bruins fan, there are a lot of right reasons to remember Joel Ward's name, right? Hell, even a Bruins fan has to step back and admire a guy who gets down in front of the goal, ready to knock it in... well, maybe give him/her a couple weeks to heal before bringing up that particular highlight.

Sadly, for a select few, Joel Ward's great play, and the reason they'll remember his name, is synonymous with -- in their words -- someone who doesn't belong.

Doesn't belong in the sport of hockey. Doesn't belong in America. However you want to interpret calling a black hockey player the N-word.

A sad irony is that this filth came from "fans" of the Boston Bruins. After all, Willie O'Ree broke the color barrier in the NHL, and he wore a Boston Bruins sweater.

Much more recently, so did Anson Carter, who has been doing television analysis of late... not to mention running his own entertainment company, even before he retired from the NHL. He wore a Bruins sweater for four years in the late 1990s.

Hell, a Canadiens fan remembers him (blurred for his privacy)...

And Carter certainly remembers Boston (not blurred because... well, he's Anson Carter)...

Carter also retweeted a Boston fan's link to a video imploring fellow fans to stop.

Common sense dictates that, indeed, these are the words and actions of a few. Yet it has such an impact. At least in the short-term, Ward's accomplishment has been overshadowed by the disgusting and hateful words of a few... and on the sport's biggest stage. I'm using the word "few" relatively, of course... judging from the content of this little collection of... well let's call it the latest members of the NHL Fan Racism All Star Team. [Note: This stuff will be hard to stomach for... well, pretty much anyone]

The people chronicled in the above link are actual Twitter users who went off the freakin' deep end, over the Ward goal.

Or at least they were actual Twitter users.

Hey, "im_THAT_dude28," where'd ya go?

"mastabates23"? Where are ya?

These two were among those who -- apparently in some moment of clarity -- realized that "Oh my God, what happens if someone I don't want to Google me, Googles me?" To be fair... maybe others on Twitter reported them as spammers (I doubt it, though).

I clicked on seven random users, and three of them "didn't exist" anymore. Well... except perhaps in the Library of Congress. The others... are still swaying in the social media breeze for all to see. Hope their parents don't read their streams.

Actually, I hope they do.

Because if they're willing -- even in the heat of the moment -- to say or do something so despicable, to stand up and be counted among the worst kind of people... well, they should be prepared to wear that.

Just like the fan who threw a banana at Wayne Simmonds during a preseason game this year. Or Kevin Weekes several years before during a Playoff game in Montreal, and other incidents over the years.

Does this represent a widespread problem with racism in the NHL? Well, if you're thinking in terms of per capita... then no.

But that's the problem with racism... it's the degree of all that hate and ignorance that makes such an impact. One incident is too many. There's already too much ignorance, stupidity and disrespect among the players on the ice, without having to see it come from a handful of fans.

And these relative few spewed racist rants... all because Joel Ward made one hell of a hockey play, and put in a rebound off his backhand.

Not because he's a Washington Capital.

Because he is black.

There's no room for this in sports. Or in life.

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Thursday, April 19, 2012

Piling On... And Let's Forget The Stats On That: The CBJ Season In Review

This is one of those posts that is pretty unpleasant to write. That is probably the top reason why it's coming nearly two weeks after the final horn.

However, in order for fans of the Columbus Blue Jackets to move on accordingly this summer, this post is somewhat of an necessity.

Or, maybe it's just therapeutic for me. But let us move forward.

In a nutshell... this season began with a draft, and ended with a draft.

And when it was all over a lot of us were in the mood for a couple extra drafts.

On the other hand, one could also turn a phrase that the season began with balls... and when it was all over it felt like a big kick in-- never mind.

General manager Scott Howson made arguably the first big, bold move of his career in Columbus, by getting the "right now" help that Columbus needed... by acquiring Jeff Carter for the CBJ's top draft pick and Jakub Voracek. He got arguably bolder by trading for the rights to James Wisniewski from Montreal on the eve of Free Agency, and even signed him before lunch on July 1.

In Wisniewski, Howson locked up a puck-moving defenseman who could take on responsibilities in a top defensive pairing, and on the power play.

In Carter, Howson got the top line center that he, Rick Nash, and just about any player or fan who ever put on a Blue Jacket sweater had been coveting for the team's entire tenure: A top line center for Rick Nash.

Or, at least that's what he was trying to get.

What he actually got was a bleach blond, frosted-tip, whiny-ass prima donna who went into hiding because *sniffle* Phiwwy twaded him! Then, once key Blue Jackets personnel made a trip to try and get him out of the fetal position, Carter finally showed up in Columbus, Howson was able to schedule a press conference with his new acquisitions, and we were ready to move on with our lives.

Howson also went out and got some goaltending help, by signing Mark Dekanich to a deal to back up and perhaps even push Steve Mason in goal. He also added Radek Martinek to get some veteran presence on the blueline.

So, all was hunky-dory. We were ready. We were stoked. A couple hundred of our closest CBJ family and friends gathered for Cannonfest to show just how ready we were. Columbus was ready to be on the map. Columbus was ready to return to the Playoffs. We were ready for our guys to take the ice, kick some ass and play some hockey already. And it certainly seemed like the rest of the team was ready to go as well.

Then... came September.

Dekanich got hurt in the preseason. New "Director of Player Safety" Brendan Shanahan made an early example of James Wisniewski, after an award-winning "you slapped me!" flop by Cal Clutterbuck, and Wiz missed the first eight games of the season.

While wiz was hurt, Carter got hurt and wound up sitting a month. Meanwhile, the Blue Jackets fumbled, fumbled and stumbled to the franchises were start in history. However, the general consensus among the powers that be seemed to indicate that they were willing to wait until the team was somewhat intact, before determining the future of head coach Scott Arniel.

Also during this process, the St. Louis Blues got off  to a 6-7-0 start, and promptly fired their coach. The Blues then received permission from Columbus to talk to Ken Hitchcock, whom the Blue Jackets had been keeping busy doing something or other, after firing him a couple years prior. Next thing we knew, a man whom some black Blue Jackets fans had hoped would take over after Scott Arniel's seemingly (or perhaps should have been) imminent departure... was now going to a Central Division rival.

Then, Steve Mason went down, after taking a puck off the mask, and Curtis Sanford was pressed into action for Columbus. And certainly turned in some admirable performances in the process, even helping the Jackets reverse course (a little bit) after falling 10 games below .500 early. However, the wheels pretty much fell off in mid-December, and the Jackets pretty much plummeted from there.

A lot of people blamed Mason, as they pretty much have since his performance fell off after his stellar rookie season. Others blamed the team in front of Mason. Still others blamed the coach. Still others blamed the front office.

For the record... some of these probably overlapped, too.

However, after 41 torturous games, the Scott Arniel era mercifully ended in Columbus. It was long overdue, really. I thought it would happen before Christmas, or at least after Arniel infamously attacked the media for "piling on," after yet another embarrassing loss.

(video courtesy Dark Blue Jacket)

But, it ended. That's what matters... even if it didn't really matter.

What mattered was that Blue Jackets fans were already beyond livid. And as the Jackets faceplanted into a four-game losing streak going into the All-Star Break, some fans took action, and they took it to the streets with a protest in the Arena District, to publicly call for the removal of CBJ President Mike Priest and GM Scott Howson. I didn't go, so that's really all I can tell you about it however, for some perspective from organizers, I certainly encourage you to go here.

Since that point, the presence of F.A.N.S. has been felt through the organization's blog, and through their representatives gathering at the Arena District for games, greeting fans and passing out collateral.

As the Jackets continued to struggle in February -- though at a steady .500 pace -- speculation surrounding the trade deadline had already reached a fever pitch. The Jackets ultimately dealt Jeff Carter -- who likely passed under his own mural as he rushed like a giddy, bleach-blond schoolgirl to his plane to fly to Los Angeles.

Then the Jackets moved Antoine Vermette, who joined a slew of other former Blue Jackets players in Phoenix.

For Carter, the Blue Jackets got Jack Johnson, who did a hell of a fine job blending in for the balance of the season, and seems to hold a lot of promise and energy in the next few years to come in Columbus. For Vermette, the Jackets got a couple of draft picks, and what amounted to a medical cadaver. Hell, they didn't even get that... more like the toe tag (no offense, Curtis).

This left the Jackets with a couple candidates that I figured would definitely move, and strangely, neither of them did. R.J. Umberger has since picked up his game and looks like he could still be a keeper. Then there's Rick Nash.

That's a whole other mess.

Who knows what to make of this impending divorce between Scott Howson and Rick Nash. All we know for sure is that Nash asked for a trade and gave Howson a list of teams to work with. Whether the price was too high, interest was too low, or if Howson made the price artificially high in order to stall for time in an attempt to mend fences... Rick Nash is still a Blue Jacket. Maybe that's a good thing, maybe it's not. I think it's safe to say that a lot of people are going forward with the assumption that he will not be here come October. Hell... maybe not even June. We'll see.

However, the stats don't lie: the dude seemed disengaged after the trade deadline. Sure, but he got a goal in the 5-2 drubbing the Jackets took from Detroit the day after the deadline, then two goals and an assist two games later... then no scoring and minus-2 in seven games. He would finish with six goals and 12 points in his last 10 games once he seemed to engage again.

Do with that what you will. Supposedly there's a meeting coming soon between Nash and Howson. This could be a shake-hands-and-make-up time... or we're heading for an ugly split. If Gloria Allred gets involved, I'm getting the hell out of town.

Game-wise... after they clinched 30th place, the Jackets' season ended with five wins in the final six games... something that provided some (albeit somewhat empty) comfort and solace to the Jackets fans who suffered through so much this year.

However, then the season ended with the collective "OHHHHHHH!" heard/tweeted/blogged about around the world. I need say no more. This team and its fan base have been piled on enough.

Oh, and somewhere in the middle of all this, the NHL released its plan for realignment, which -- although it didn't get the Jackets an easier, non-Central Division schedule -- set up the Jackets to at least travel in a less jet-lagged fashion by only having a home-and-home with teams outside its new "conference."

Then the NHLPA shot it down. Hello for another year, Central.

That being said... regardless of the results on the ice, I do truly enjoy celebrating and ranting alongside those to swing by here to read it.

So, although I have no plans to stop celebrating and ranting over this offseason... this does seem like a very appropriate time to thank those of you who read this blog. I do truly enjoy writing it, and I hope you get as much fun out of it as I do.

Happier days are ahead. Go Jackets!

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Thursday, April 12, 2012

Wrandom Wrister: Wow... Already...?

"One... new... message..."


"Shea. Hi, it's Brendan Shanahan. Wanted to see if we could make an appointment to have a talk tomorrow. Ummmmm... you are aware that because we televise these games on NBC's networks, that there are actually cameras at these things, right? That means there's, like, video and stuff...

"The video clearly shows... the fact that you grabbed the opponent's head and slammed it into the glass constitutes a hit to the head.

"The rules clearly state... 'a hit to the head... in which the primary point of contact is the hea'-- oh. You know what...? I'm already slipping into my 'suspension video voiceover' voice. My bad, man.

"Talk to you tomorrow."

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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Brackets Time!

Well, this is probably the last thing that will help snap any of us out of the current citywide day of mourning for the unfortunate events of Tuesday night... but I felt the need to take a look at the Playoff matchups, as the NHL's Second Season gets underway Wednesday and Thursday.

I won't kid you... I'm still in shock that my picks went that well last year -- 13 out of 15 (I messed up two first-round series). I can only hope it goes so well this year... or at least better than my preseason picks this year.

Still, this is an interesting field. Vancouver bounced back from a sketchy start, as the Northwest Division began the season looking like maybe it was no longer a one-team Division. However, they were able to work things out to where Vancouver was the only representative. The guys in the Pacific Division ensured that the seedings in the West -- hell, even the Pacific title -- would not be determined until early Sunday morning. The Central Division sent four teams to the Playoffs, as I predicted. Too bad I picked the wrong odd-team-out.

In the East, The defending Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins got the challenge I expected in the Northeast Division, after a godawful start. I certainly didn't expect that challenge to come from the Ottawa Senators... and I'm not sure anyone outside Ottawa did. The Leafs started out hot before the wheels fell off, and the Montreal Canadiens inexplicably plummeted to the bottom of the East. In the Atlantic Division, New York actually met expectations after signing that huge deal with Brad Richards. The Pens still managed to show impressively without Sidney Crosby, and hey, look who's back... the New Jersey Devils. And in the Southleast, the spend-like-hell-on-anyone-just-to-hit-the-salary-floor Florida Panthers actually made the Playoffs for the first time since before the NHL expanded to 30 teams. Somehow, the Capitals dropped off considerably, after their trademark non-clutch defense failed to keep any heat off their trademark questionable goaltending.

And for the first time, we can watch almost all the games on basic cable! I will say, however, that I was a little bummed to not see hockey on Bravo, if for no other reason than to have hockey trump Real Housewives.

And so we move on to the First Round Picks, in brief:

(8) Los Angeles vs. (1) Vancouver
Woohoo! Jackets get the option of another first round draft pi-- too soon? Okay, nevermind.

The Kings return to the Playoffs this year with Jonathan Quick coming off one hell of a year in goal. Overall defense has been a highlight for the Kings this season. Offense... well, changing the subject, the Canucks can score and Roberto Luongo can certainly stop some pucks... at least in the first three rounds, anyway. I think L.A. will steal a couple, but going the distance... yeah, that's not happening. Canucks in 6.

(7) San Jose vs. (2) St. Louis
The Blues were one of the great stories of this season, after firing their coach after a 6-7-0 start and getting-Ken Hi-- too soon? Okay, nevermind.

San Jose inexplicably struggled for most of the season, before surging into a crowded top three in the Pacific in the closing month or so of the season. St. Louis thrived under he-who-must-not-be-named and contended for tops in the West before a couple hiccups at the end. The Playoffs are where... you know... that guy tends to thrive, though, and he has the personnel to do it. San Jose will make a good series out of this... but Blues in 7.

(6) Chicago vs. (3) Phoenix
In the last 24 hours of the season, Phoenix clinched its first division title in franchise history. I still can't believe the Jets/Coyotes never had one in all this time. Crazy. Even with having to deal with ownership turmoil for the past three years or so, the Coyotes still manage to get great things done on the ice. The big question mark is whether Mike Smith can translate his regular season success in goal (and his especially hot hand of late) into Playoff wins. Chicago still has that solid core of Kane, Sharp and Toews, and that Corey Crawford guy is no slacker in net. Not sure anyone would call this an upset. Blackhawks in 6.

(5) Detroit vs. (4) Nashville
Hell may officially be freezing over. Not only might I watch a few of these with interest when the Bruins aren't playing, I may actually find myself pulling for Nashville.  Detroit will do that to a guy.

Seriously, though, what more can you say about these teams that hasn't already been said? The Predators seem loaded, and Pekka Rinne's the man in net. Jimmy Howard is on the opposite end, as these teams meet in the Playoffs for the third time. Detroit has some guys hurt (not enough guys for my taste, to be honest), but they have guys with a nasty habit of stepping up. Could Nashville's home ice in the Nomme du Jour Arena (sorry, I lost track of what it's called this week) be the difference? Could be. Preds in 7.

(8) Ottawa vs. (1) New York Rangers
Amazing to think that at for a while there, the Ottawa Senators were not only one of the league's most improved teams, they were actually threatening the Bruins for the Northeast title. Now, they are still one of the league's most improved teams. Unfortunately for them, the Rangers are better than last year, too. I don't believe Henrik Lundqvist has 16 wins in him, but he definitely has at least four. Rangers in 5.

(7) Washington vs. (2) Boston
Between the Blue Jackets and Bruins this year, I was shaking my head a LOT in October. Then the Bruins went unbeaten in regulation for the entire month of November. Plagued by inconsistent play in the latter part of the season, the B's lost out on the top seed as New York steamrolled to the top. I thought for sure we could count in an intra-division matchup with Ottawa but the Capitals made a late surge. The Bruins are going to be a physical presence on the ice, and should be able to overwhelm what defense Washington has in front of... well, whomever they're putting in goal. They're down to Braden Holtby, I think? Once Tuukka Rask is healthy again, Boston has two legitimate #1 goalies again. The Caps don't even have one. They'll steal a game, but that's about it. Bruins in 5.

(6) New Jersey vs. (3) Florida
Florida head coach Kevin Dineen is not saying who's starting Game 1... Scott Clemmensen or Jose Theodore. The Panthers' rise into the Playoff pack would be impressive if it weren't for the fact that they're in the Southeast Division, and without a couple good bounces could have missed the Playoffs entirely. Again. The front office cobbled together a decent team, but they just don't have the kind of weapons the Devils have. If this is Martin Brodeur's last hurrah, he sure as hell isn't going out in the first round at the hands of Florida. Clemmensen starts... Devils in 6. Theodore starts... Devils in 4.

(5) Philadelphia vs. (4) Pittsburgh
Ilya Bryzgalov brought his recent success in Phoenix with him to Philadelphia, and put together a pretty damn good season. Philly also did a good job in the offseason... trade acquisition Jakub Voracek certainly seemed to fit in well this year, and the addition of Jaromir Jagr certainly makes this matchup interesting. Look out, though, because Pittsburgh is intact for the first time in two years. This promises to be one hell of a series with two teams that really do not like each other. Pens in 7.

Who emerges from the pack? Well, this is the tough part. Wild stab in the dark says St. Louis emerges from the West to take on the winner of the very likely second-round matchup between Boston and Pittsburgh... sorry, that one's just too close to call.

Well... those are the picks. Wish me luck.

Or don't. Cheer and/or jeer as you will.

Either way, thanks for reading!


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A Question Of Balls

I tried to stop her. I did.

And yet, at least part of it was my fault.

You see, as I was messaging Mrs. Martini on Tuesday afternoon to figure out our battle plan for the CBJ Draft Lottery Tweetup at the BW3's in Grandview, the topic of how the Draft Lottery was determined inevitably came up. She was just looking for details on the event, apparently confusing it with a Fantasy Draft or something:

ME: This is to determine whether Columbus even picks first in June.

HER: So it's not even the picking of people? We have to pick, just to see who picks when? Totally need to streamline this process.

It's with ping pong balls, etc.

Why does it always have to be balls?

Well, considering the Jackets have never been in this position before [coming in last and having the best shot at the #1 pick], so it's an excuse for us to drink.

Oh, I'd say they've [CBJ] been ****ed before...
snicker snicker snicker....
what - no comment?

what time is the puck off? [her term for the opening faceoff]
or when do the balls drop? snicker snicker snicker

Yep. That's my girl.

So, then the Moment of Truth came... and we fans learned that all that lack of effort during October and November...

...all that cynical #Fail4Nail bull$#!+...

...and all that pain CBJ fans endured, was officially for nothing.

The Moment From Hell...
The Columbus Blue Jackets couldn't even win the Draft Lottery.

She wondered aloud at our table, why this Oscar-style envelope opening, instead of "letting the balls drop?"

So she decided to pose the question to the panel of Steph Greegor from Fox Sports Ohio, Matt Wagner from The Cannon and Greg May from Full Mental Jackets.

Whether or not I supported rephrasing it for a room full of people (it did seem to get a laugh, considering the news we had just had presented to us)... she was asking a question I'm sure a great many of us are thinking.

Why don't they do this live? Why don't they have the whole ball machine thing going on? The league's generating revenue out the wazoo, supposedly, so... why not print some more balls, put them in a machine and show fans a little transparency in league operations?

I mean, come on... how many years did it take before Fox Sports Ohio finally got access to the Toronto War Room, so we could at least be fed a line that a disallowed CBJ goal came to something other than a coin flip?

Believe me, I totally understand that this will more than likely come off to fans in the league's other 29 markets as "here we go, a Jackets fan bitching about the process because the team sucked again this year."

But c'mon... the Edmonton Oilers get the first overall pick for the third freakin' year in a row?!?!?

You have to ask, because beyond any logical explanation or conspiracy theory... can the hockey gods really hate the city of Columbus THAT damn much?

An eight-game suspension on James Wisniewski after Cal Clutterbuck's Oscar-nominated dive?

Losing the backup goaltender before the regular season even starts?

Clockgate in L.A.?

The Jeff Carter debacle?

THAT damn much? Really?

If the Draft Lottery doesn't punctuate the year this team and its fans had... I don't know what does.

But that was pretty damn harsh.

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Why Failure Is NOT An Option...

For hockey fans in the future who think -- when a season goes very, VERY south... very, VERY early -- that they can take some sort of ill-advised solace in the whole, "Well, we have the best shot at the #1 draft pick" argument... ... I offer this:

If you are a Columbus Blue Jackets fan, a casual CBJ fan, a hockey fan, or even a fan of any sport that has a draft lottery... who thinks, "Well, yeah, we might as well just tank, because that gives us the best shot at the #1 draft pick"...

...I encourage you to remember this moment. Oh, yeah. It sucks. It's painful as hell.

But remember this moment.

And be careful what you wish for.

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Saturday, April 7, 2012

NHL to Tortorella: Leave Our Diva Alone...

Every so often the NHL surprises me with how nonsensical some of its decisions are. However, I am amazed to see that the league would go this far to kiss Sidney Crosby's ass.

And make no mistake, that is what this is.

John Tortorella went on a verbal tirade after the Rangers-Penguins game, over an apparent knee-on-knee hit Brooks Orpik put on Derek Stepan. Among other things, Torotorella referred to Disney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin as the Pens' "whining stars," and that the Penguins organization is "one of the most arrogant organizations in the league."

And for this, the league find him $20,000. He didn't complain about the officiating. He complained about the hit -- which, as it turns out will not be subject to supplement discipline.

Does this seem to anyone else like a sad statement that a league that is so soft on dirty play... is suddenly so harsh on words?

I mean, sure, taking money out of Torts' pocket certainly sends a stronger message than league officials running up to Crosby, wrapping their arms around him to protect him from criticism and saying "Weave Cwosby Awone!"

However, this is soooo the wrong message. Again, he wasn't criticizing the officiating or the league. He was offering up an opinion about an organization that, quite frankly, is somewhat arrogant, and somewhat on a high horse about physical playing and discipline.

And, yes, I'm well aware of the throng of idiots clamoring for Matt Cooke to get the Lady Byng Trophy this year, after his apparently successful rehabilitation from the Todd Bertuzzi School of Cheap Shots. However, let's face it... when we think of dirty plays in hockey, Matt Cooke is one of the first guys who comes to mind lately. Just saying.

My best guess is that the league is focusing on the whole "I wonder what would happen if we did it to their two whining stars" part of the tirade, and interpreting that as a threat. I think a lot of us can say we've heard less innocuous stuff that never got disciplined. How about Brad May joking about a bounty on Steve Moore's head, after Moore caused a concussion to Canucks captain Markus Naslund, for example?

The league did nothing about that. Remember what happened next?

So... maybe they're atoning for previous mistakes?

I doubt it. We are talking about the Penguins. The fact that they're on the receiving end of Tortorella's tirade, and Torts is on the receiving end of a fine... not a coincidence.

So, Coach... I hope you learned something. You can't rip on the NHL's number one marketing pawn and get away with it.

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Friday, April 6, 2012

One Last Spoiler...

Columbus Blue Jackets rookie Cam Atkinson has certainly had what some might call an up-and-down year this season.

Start out with the big club... play a few games, get sent down... get called up... sent back down... then come back up to finish the year. It happens.

However, as the season begins to draw to a close, Atkinson gave Jackets fans something to remember -- and something to look forward to next year, for sure -- by notching his first NHL hat trick, in his 26th NHL game.

The team around him certainly kept its composure as well, even after letting Colorado Avalanche tie up the game twice. Steve Mason was solid in goal. The two goals that Rick Nash chipped in to complement Atkinson's hat trick pretty damn freakish. First, Nash was practically standing next to post, captured the puck as it caromed off Semyon Varlamov's pad and slipped it to his forehand for an easy tally. Hell, he scored the second one in the process of falling down. It was just one of those nights with Rick Nash went out there and really made things happen.

But then... so did Atkinson. After making his first goal look easy, and the second a little tougher, Atkinson sealed the game with an empty-netter, which took probably the most effort I've ever seen go into a shot into an open cage. Eluding, what... two? Three guys?

The Jackets will try to make it five out of six on Saturday, when they take on the New York Islanders in the friendly confines of Nationwide Arena.

I won't kid you... this game and this win are somewhat bittersweet. Obviously, there is the factor of Jackets fans being tortured by what might have been in this closing stage of the season. However, there are also the flashes of brilliance from those who may very well not be wearing a CBJ sweater again after Saturday. Hell, after missing the third period for an as-yet-unknown injury... is Rick Nash done wearing Union Blue before then?

The Jackets' victory officially eliminated the Avs from Playoff contention. The Playoff teams in both conferences are now set... it's just a matter of seeding.

81 games down... one last ride to go.

Go Jackets!

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Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Damn You, Mike Smith

It really sucks when there's no one to blame.

The Columbus Blue Jackets put a franchise-record 54 shots on Phoenix Coyotes goaltender Mike Smith.


Rick Nash had this sick move where he did a 180, passed to himself through his legs, did another 180 and fired it into Smith. It was one of his three shots on goal, riding on a five-game point streak (2G, 6A).


R.J. Umberger put six pucks on net, riding a run of eight goals in six games.


James Wisniewski returned from concussion-like symptoms and worked almost 26 minutes in his return, and put three shots on net. Jack Johnson put eight pucks on net and played nearly 31 minutes.

Zip and Zilch.

And while he gave up two goals, Allen York was riding a three-game win streak and played one hell of a game, making sure the quick goals the Coyotes put up in the second didn't open the floodgates.

The Blue Jackets did many, many things well in Game 80 on Tuesday night. They just hit a brick wall.

Translation: If anyone is to blame, it's Mike Smith.

However, the Jackets can only blame Smith for 60 of the 219:59 that has gone by since the netminder last let in a goal. It's up to other teams to blame him for the rest of that time. When you consider the start he was off to at the midpoint of the season... credit where it's due: Smith has been a damn beast, and of all the times for a guy to be playing his best hockey, it's now, when Phoenix is just about ready to clinch a Playoff spot.

What can I say. It was a good, hard-fought game. Just with really bad timing. These guys could be very dangerous when the Playoffs start next week... assuming they clinch.

As much as I hate to heap praise on opponents, I feel the need to give a genuine and respectful round of applause to Boyd Gordon.

No, not for the goal... I hate him for that.

That blocked shot he took in the third was painful. His apparent difficulty in getting up afterwards pretty much screamed volumes of pain. But the fact that the puck goes past him toward the blue line, and he lies down AGAIN to block ANOTHER shot....

That's a hockey player, kids.

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