Jun 132009

Vindication for Sidney Crosby. Don’t question his heart, his tenacity, his drive, his unselfishness and his will to WIN.

Vindication for Marc-Andre Fleury. Championship goalie. ’nuff said.

Vindication for Evgeni Malkin. The Conn Smythe Trophy after running into a wall last year in the Finals.

Vindication for Jordan Staal. If anyone doubts that this guy is a top-2 centerman, you can’t doubt it now.

Vindication for Max Talbot, Tyler Kennedy, Matt Cooke, Rob Scuderi and all the muckers and grinders. What you do ain’t pretty, it’s just necessary.

Vindication for Dan Bylsma.What an inspired coaching effort. Flawless.

Vindication for Ray Shero and the front-office. Bold moves to remake the franchise, knowing exactly how to re-shape this team.

Vindication for Pittsburgh and Penguins fans. City of Champions.

Vindication for Mario Lemieux. Our hockey savior.

Stanley Cup - No 3

Jun 072009

… or why I hate being kicked when I’m down

I’m not much for trash talk. I don’t usually like to rise to the bait. Superstition plays a huge part here because I fear what the sports Gods will do when faced with such presumptuousness. Call me paranoid but when your first full season following a sport ends because of a Francisco Cabrera single, you don’t tend towards overconfidence.

I do recognize the role of trash-talk for both fans and the players. But by and large, players make nice after a game. They shake hands in hockey, basketball, football and soccer even at the end of a hard-fought, bitterly contested game. They may not like each other but they at least attempt to act civil. Fans, however, often keep on talking after the games. (And before anyone tries to say that we have the right to speak as we choose, please SHUT UP. Your right to act like a boor is not in question here).

I think it’s all good and well (and perhaps a little fun) to trash-talk before or even during a game. But afterwards, act like you’ve been there. I’m one of those fans who, for better or worse, takes my sports affiliations way too seriously. I take it personally when my team loses. I can’t even watch Sportscenter for a few days after a big loss to say nothing of having to hear some blathering idiot drone on about the superiority of the foe who vanquished my team. I’ll give them their dues but just let me move on.

Teaching sportsmanship

Some people place value on kicking others while they are down. I, however, prefer NOT to be kicked when I’m down for the count. In the former stance, the individual(s) in question is, hopefully, thick-skinned enough to take it when the team loses because this behavior defines turnabout as fair play. InĀ  the latter stance, you have to act like you’ve been there before regardless of the outcome; be gracious in victory or defeat.

While we all get some morbid satisfaction from the misery of others in defeat, I don’t think there’s any reason to rub it directly in their faces. For me, the greater pleasure is celebrate my team’s achievements with my fellow fanbase.

Jun 022009

Or why I’m entitled to my irrationality

Just as the Penguins have washed off the stench of Bill Cowher’s Carolina-clad betrayal, along comes another character destined for villainy in the eyes of the Pittsburgh sports fan.

Marian Hoser

Last summer, Marian Hossa, the supremely gifted winger who played for the Penguins during the spring’s playoffs, turned down a 7-year, $49 million offer from the Penguins to sign a 1-year, $7.4 million deal with Detroit. Hossa’s stated reason is that he believes he had a better shot at winning a title with the Red Wings than the Penguins.

In the leadup to the Stanley Cup Finals, it has been posited that Penguins fans are being irrational for booing Hossa for leaving. An objective observer would say that Hossa’s decision made perfect sense. He wants a title; he goes out and strengthens the reigning champions while simultaneously weakening one of their main contenders. Some have even gone so far as to say that Hossa should be lauded for taking less to play for a champion rather than making the big money grab. All fine points.

But who says that a fan has to be objective on this particular point? Why am I not entitled to my outrage, to my sense of betrayal? I’m a partisan fan! No other NHL team matters to me but the Pittsburgh Penguins. If you ain’t with Pitt(sburgh), you ain’t it. When someone effectively takes a swipe at my team, as Hossa did in taking less money to cross the aisle to Detroit, I sure as hell am entitled to feel as though that person has earned my enmity.

As with Cowher, I don’t wish Hossa any general ill will. Hell, if somehow he re-signed with the Penguins this offseason, I’d welcome him back to the fold. A true fan needs no ulterior motives to root for his/her team but you can be sure that I would still take a great amount of pleasure if the Penguins came back from two games down to win the cup, thereby forcing Hossa to watch our players skated around with the Cup held aloft their heads.

May 292009

Detroit, Michigan is NOT Hockeytown!! I’m so tired of this self-appointed title. Although its sports fans support the Red Wings well and the franchise is currently the gold standard for NHL teams, it isn’t Hockeytown.

That title is and likely always will belong in Montreal. Plan and simple – 23 Stanley Cup titles for the Canadiens to go along with an outrageously passionate fan base. Detroit has 11 Stanley Cup titles. I worked in Detroit for close to a year and let me tell you that the fanbase there is not nearly as rabid as anything I’ve read about Montreal’s.

Detroit is possibly the most well-rounded sports city in the North America. It has strong pro franchises in basketball, baseball and of course, hockey. It pulls weight in college sports with nearby Michigan State basketball and UMich football. So I think it’s understandable that its denizens get pulled in multiple directions at once. This blessing is simple not conducive to building the same over-the-top passion as Montreal or even Toronto.

Detroit Red Wings

The Red Wings (and a couple other teams) have passed the Canadiens in terms of performance but that doesn’t mean that those cities can match Montreal’s fervor or passion for this one sport. Montreal is Hockeytown.

May 282009

The question of loyalty to a hometown and to its sports teams is one that often comes up in sporting discussions. Some folks shed their loyalties to their hometown and its teams and adopt new teams as they move around the country. Others steadfastly cling to their sporting roots, while possibly picking up a “second” team. In some cases, this choice comes down to a fundamental question of identity.

In choosing to root for the Carolina Hurricanes over his hometown Pittsburgh Penguins, Bill Cowher created a maelstrom. Pittsburghers are, to put it lightly, livid. (As an aside, let’s dispense with any idiotic talk about his right to support whom he wants or that he owes Pittsburgh nothing. DUH!)

So does Cowher see himself, in any part, as a Pittsburgher or a solely a Carolinian? If the former, then he shouldn’t be surprised by the consternation created by his decision. If the latter, then so be it. He’s not one of “ours”.

It is generally believed that many ex-pat Pittsburghers take their sporting loyalties with them when they leave western Pennsylvania. The reason that Steelers fans show up in great numbers at road games is not because we travel well (though we do), it’s because ex-Pittsburghers already live there. And we’ve also converted anyone we can. So when Cowher chose to support the Hurricanes instead of the Penguins, he, in essence, chose Carolina over Pittsburgh as his identity. That one of our own would readily do so is reponsible for the hurt and disappointment that many of us feel.

I don’t particularly care to explain away Cowher’s decision based on his Raleigh business contacts or the possibility of coaching the Carolina Panthers one day. If he still saw himself as a Pittsburgher, he could have begged off taking part in such a public display as he gave during Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals.


The bottomline is that Cowher isn’t a Pittsburgher anymore, if he ever was. And yes I feel justified in making that statement based on his turncoat sporting allegiance. Perhaps his experiences at NC State and the pressure cooker of coaching the Steelers rendered him less able to embrace this part of his (former) heritage. Sure he had the accent and the roots but in some ways, he always seemed more of a hired hand than someone who embraces his city, like Mario Lemieux or Franco Harris have done.

Of course, I don’t wish Cowher any ill will. Many Steelers fans aren’t from Pittsburgh and so they are under no obligation to root for our other teams. They’re still part of the Steelers Nation. He was a fantastic coach for many, many years and I think Mike Tomlin winning a Superbowl in his second year has blinded some Steelers fans to the difficulty of winning it all. Cowher is welcome to turncoat again and root for the Penguins. But he won’t be doing so as a Pittsburgher.

May 082009

Jim Balsillie, the co-CEO of RIM, has reportedly made a US$212 million offer to buy the financially struggling Phoenix Coyotes, provided he can move the team to southern Ontario. This isn’t the first time Balsile has surfaced. He was previously thwarted in his attempts to buy the Pittsburgh Penguins and then the Nashville Predators, either of whom he would have moved.

The NHL is going to fight this move, at least officially, on procedural grounds. The league contends that it is running the team and has the right to determine the location of its teams. At least on that ground, I tend to agree with the NHL. It should have the right to locate its teams, so as to take advantage of geography and keep its operations strong.

However, I take grave issue with Gary Bettman’s misplaced attempts to grow the game in non-traditional areas, specifically in the US south and southwest. It’s one thing to have a team in Dallas, where the Stars have been successful and have slowly built a fanbase. But teams in Nashville, Phoenix and Florida have had very mixed success and have done almost nothing to ingratiate themselves into the local sporting cultures.

Joe Choker

Let’s face it – hockey is mostly a northern, cold-weather sport. Unlike football, it can’t be played in warm weather so growth potential in southern cities will always be limited. It’s pretty well-suited to its northern cities – Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa, Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver, Boston, Buffalo, NYR, NYI, NJ, Pittsburgh, Philly, Washington, Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis, Columbus, Minnesota. In addition, I think Colorado is well-served having a team.

Consolidate LA and Anaheim into one team because a region that tends to be as blase about sports as southern California shouldn’t have two teams. Keep San Jose for representation in northern California. Carolina has shown they can get rabid about hockey and Dallas is a successful franchise with room for continued growth.

I say abandon the southeast to college sports and Nascar for the time being. Eliminate or move the teams in Atlanta, Phoenix, Nashville, Florida/Miami and Tampa Bay. Winnipeg and southern Ontario should get two of the cast-offs. Winnipeg isn’t a huge city but with a proper arena, hockey will flourish there. If Green Bay can support an NFL team, so can Winnipeg.

Focus on continuing to strengthen the game in non-traditional areas such as Carolina, Dallas, LA/Anaheim and San Jose. (I’m not particularly enamored of having teams in sunny California but these are still good population centers for supporting the game and have experienced success in the past).

This plan leaves the NHL with 26 teams overall. Probably still two too many but with room for growth. Build a strong footprint not just a large one.

Apr 282009

So the Anaheim Ducks knocked the top-seeded San Jose Sharks out of the Stanley Cup playoffs last night. And the walls came tumbling down! As if. This can’t be a surprise to anyone who knows anything about the NHL.

It doesn’t really matter that the Sharks won the President’s Trophy. It doesn’t matter that they were playing a #8 seed. What matters is that these are Joe Thornton’s San Jose Sharks, the biggest chokers in recent memory. This is a franchise that hasn’t advanced past the second round since 2004, despite being one of the NHL’s best in the regular season in recent years.

Leave it to Joe Thornton to make a Flyers’ sized mistake by fighting Ryan Getzlaf at the start of Game 7. Just perfect, Joseph. Give the underrated Ducks a psychological boost.

Joe Choker

I’m not trying to take anything away from the Ducks who persevered and ultimately triumphed. They deserved everything for which they fought. Perhaps the Sharks’ fate would have been different had they not drawn a team only two years removed from winning the Stanley Cup. But I doubt it.

Photo Credit: hockeydraft.ca