24 January 2014

Take the pinheads bowling. Take them bowling.

Updated March 6th

As is the case with most good ideas, it started with an afternoon of drinking.

Several of us had gathered at The Globe for a Saturday of SPORTS!, taking in an Arsenal match and watching the Hawks & Jets in a matinee. On our way home, @Schwarziest and I stopped across the street at Timber Lanes, feeling a bit of curiosity and bowling nostalgia. (Also booze.) What we found was an amazing place that was part bowling alley circa 1984, part Blackhawks bar, and really, just perfect all around. We inquired about renting lanes for a group outing; we found out we could rent the whole alley.

A couple of weeks later, some of us were tweeting back and forth about the upcoming Winter Olympics in Sochi. A couple of LGBT folks mentioned in the conversation that they were either ambivalent about watching the games, or planned to avoid them entirely, given Russia's current, aggressive anti-gay policies. (Quick summary of that: It's now a crime in Russia to act, look, or talk gay in public. You can be arrested and jailed for it, or whatever else the authorities deem to be pro-gay propaganda. You can also be beaten in the street for it by a homophobic mob while police stand and watch. This happens a lot.) For whatever reason, my brain had one of its rare moments of successfully connecting two ideas together: What if we organized a bowling night, and donated the proceeds to a pro-LGBT charity?

And so, here we are. Let's do it. Let's go bowling.
Date & Time: Saturday, March 8th; 9:00pm-12:30am

Location: Timber Lanes, 1851 W. Irving Park Rd, Chicago (1 block west of the Brown Line)

21 and over only. Sorry, kids.

Cost: $50 per person

Package Includes: Open bowling, shoe rental, and open bar. Bar includes beers & ciders, wine, and mixed drinks. Shots are not included in the package, but will be available for purchase. And yes, they'll have Jeppson's Malort available, you sickos.

All Proceeds Benefit: The You Can Play Project, an organization dedicated to ending discrimination in sports. As you'd expect, they've been giving special attention to Vladimir Putin and his band of homophobes in the run-up to Sochi.

Sounds like an incredible evening for a worthy cause, right? How could it possibly get any better, you ask, playing directly into the next section of this blog post? Well, what if I told you there's also going to be...

The Big-Ass Rainbowl Raffle! (Prize listing updated Thu 3/6)

That's right, you can spend the night bowling and drinking for charity, and you could win stuff for it. If you feel the sudden need to burst out in song to "What A Wonderful World", it's entirely understandable.

Raffle Ticket Prices: 1 for $10, 5 for $40, or 8 for $60. Tickets may be purchased in advance and during the event.

Grand Prize: Cash Freaking Money. You'll win half of the pot from all raffle ticket purchases, with the other half going to You Can Play. All you have to do is have your ticket drawn, walk up to the lane, and bowl a strike on your first try. With everyone watching. No pressure.

If the person drawn misses, we'll keep drawing tickets until someone gets a strike. Somebody's going home with that money.

1st Prize: The First-Ever "Hockey Ruining Ponies" Jersey. Thanks to the multi-talented Ali Lawrence of My Little Blackhawk, we'll be giving away this beauty to the second person who bowls a strike:

Yes, that is real, and it is fantastic. It's little Uni-Kane on the classic barberpole jersey, with sewn-on numbers, name, and crest. It would look great on you. Many thanks to the fine folks in Rockford at Exclusive Pro Sports and Jersey Monster for bringing this idea into reality.

We'll also have plenty more prizes for you to win with no skill required, thanks to the generosity of some great people. (Yeah, I'm talking about you.) You could win:

An Indy Eleven fan experience! Indy Eleven is an expansion club in the North American Soccer League (one tier below MLS). They'll be playing this season at Carroll Stadium in downtown Indianapolis, and are generously offering the following package to one raffle winner:
- 4 tickets for any of these Spring Season home matches:
  • Saturday 4/19 vs. Tampa Bay Rowdies
  • Saturday 5/10 vs. FC Edmonton
  • Saturday 5/17 vs. Ottawa Fury FC
  • Saturday 5/31 vs. San Antonio Scorpions
- 4 supporter scarves in your choice of style
- A pregame walkthrough with the team
- If you bring any kids (ages 6-16), they can either be ballboys/ballgirls during the match, or escort players onto the field for the opening ceremony and anthems

A 4-Pack of Rockford IceHogs tickets! Grab your I-Pass, round up your friends, and head toward I-90 - the FreezerPigs have kindly donated a voucher good for four seats at any remaining home game in 2013-14 to see the Baby Blackhawks in action.

Tickets to see the Chicago Steel in action! The awesome folks at the Steel, who are proud partners with You Can Play, have donated 10 ticket vouchers, good for any remaining home game in the 2013-14 season. The Steel play in the highest tier of junior hockey in the country in the USHL at The Edge Ice Arena in Bensenville.

Tickets to see the Chicago Red Stars! The Red Stars are in their 6th season, and continue to grow as Chicago's professional women's soccer team. The Red Stars and their fellow member clubs in the National Women's Soccer League have some of the most talented players in the world, including players from several national teams. The club's donated two vouchers, each good for a pair of seats at any Red Stars game at their home grounds, located on the campus of Benedictine University in Lisle.

Your very own Gay Bowling Ball**, thanks to Kevin Joseph, who also designed the Rainbowl logo.
**Bowling ball does not possess gender or sexual preference, and will work regardless of bowler's orientation, provided said orientation is "facing the pins".

A one-of-a-kind painting from Lauren Maiero of Hockey Pinup Girls.
The new Hockey Equality T-Shirt, thanks to Alex Heinrich of Pucks and Pixels.

A T-shirt in your choice of any of the brilliant designs from Blackhawks fan and Irish rabble-rouser Michael Devine.

BEER! Really great beer, like Keystone or Keystone Light this custom-made Blackhawks Hockey Meme Homebrew 6-Pack Sampler, crafted by the South Side's premier beer baron, The Beverly Brewmaster.

I understand he was also working on a #StalbergPorn Pilsner, but never finished. FOLKS!
Even if you don't win the jersey, you can still bring home a pony, as Holly Householder has donated one of her adorable Hockey Pony Plushies for the raffle. (Some would argue it's the Best Pony.)

A copy of Blackhawks Magazine autographed by Jonathan Toews, donated by @AngryFeels.

A very handsome "Hockey Fights Cancer" Blackhawks puck autographed by Patrick Sharp, donated by @GeekMisconduct.

A copy of the "Eddie Olczyk Heritage Night" edition of Blackhawks Magazine, autographed by Edzo himself, donated by Adam Brown.

Soft-serve ice cream not included.
An autographed photo of Blackhawks prospect/Jokerit superstar/World Junior Championship MVP/Prime Minister of Finland Teuvo Teräväinen.

An assortment of Chicago-themed framed vintage prints and buttons, handmade and donated by @KaeferinChicago.

Finally, the most important part: How do I attend this magnificent spectacle?

If you want to go, e-mail me at hockeybrunch at gmail dot com, with "Rainbowl Tickets" in the subject. I'll send you an order form, along with instructions on how to pay. You can pay either by mailing a check or via PayPal.

Now, some important details:

We're limiting this event to 64 people. Timber Lanes is only an eight-lane alley, and we want to make sure everyone has as much of a chance to bowl as they want, and that we're not stacking the bar six-deep like the bunch of boozehounds we are.

Your ticket order can be for you and up to three friends. Bring your crowd along, but give others the chance to bring their crowd/partner/compensated escort, too.

Teams? We can do teams. If your group wants to be a team, or you'd like to get set up with some random folks and play together, and enough other people want to do it, we'll organize some sort of tournament, no doubt with fabulous prizes for the winners. (Or, bare minimum, "loser buys shots".) If you'd rather just bowl without any sort of organized structure, hey, let your freak flag fly.

You'll want to sign up pronto. Like I said, space is limited, and this is going to be first-come, first served, so you'll want to get your order form and check in the mail to us as soon as possible. Once we deposit your check, we'll send you e-tickets to bring to the event. Any raffle tickets you purchase in advance will be waiting for you at the alley the night of the event.

Check payment must be received by Monday, March 3rd. PayPal payments must be received by Friday, March 7th.

If you have any questions, feel free to e-mail me or tweet me. I'll keep updating this post as the night draws closer. This promises to be an amazing night for an excellent cause. Your hangover on Sunday will be well worth it.

13 January 2014

For all you young broadcasters out there.

Maybe it was the flow of the game. Maybe it was a breaking point brought about through repetition. Maybe it was the social media hivemind, with so many pointing out the same aggravations. Whatever it was, this much I know:

I am past the point of tolerance when it comes to Pat Foley and Eddie Olczyk.

Sunday night's game was a fairly exciting, albeit occasionally-frustrating one, as the Hawks took down the owner of the league's worst headshot and the rest of the Oilers, 5-3. But watching at home, the game was a far more aggravating experience than it had a right to be, because I had to spend it listening to two yahoos yapping their way through the entire evening. I can understand a television production's attempts to "bring the experience of being at the game into the home"; however, that experience should not be one of sitting directly in front of the two loudest, drunkest, most oblivious boors in the 300 level. I'm surprised a beer didn't fall on my head at some point during the evening.

Anyway, you've watched enough local Blackhawks telecasts. You know what to expect. You can probably go right down the checklist with me, every single game, and tack on a few of your own as you go:

- "For all you young hockey players out there"
- "Keep your stick on the ice" (Note: may fulfill obscure CanCon requirement)
- Eddie's big into horseracing, did you know that?
- "Stop it right here!"
- "Nye-un!" (as in, the number between ay-yutt and teh-unn)
- "One of those great (whatever time the game is starting) starts!"
- Pat and/or Eddie make special mention of the friends and/or family they got into the game tonight, usually with an accompanying camera shot; this overlapped with number 3 on the list recently, as Eddie took note of his handicapper from the track bringing his family out to a game. Yes, this actually happened.
- "I wanna give a shout-out..." (heard at least twice per period)
- If a home game, Eddie gets inexplicably over-the-moon at the sight of someone eating soft-serve ice cream
- "Eeeeeee-mediately..."
- "Tree-turty-tree left in the turd." (This is why Foley's endorsement deal for a high-fiber cereal fell through.)

I imagine that Pat & Eddie fancy these as catchphrases - hallmarks of their broadcasts that people specifically listen for when watching games. (Never mind that these same people probably really wish Rob Schneider would come back on Saturday Night Live for his "Makin' copies" bit.) But Pat, as a professionally-trained broadcaster, should recognize them for what they are: crutches. They're lazy fallbacks used to fill the dead air in a faux-clever fashion while not doing anything that requires original thought or effort. Every broadcaster has them, to some extent. Most have the sense to not accentuate them, though.

Lately, though, the trite sayings have been accompanied at an increasing rate by something far worse: a steady stream of bad hockey analysis. This counter-intellectual crap threatens to become the standard mode of banter on Blackhawks broadcast at the rate things are going. This season, Foley's developed a borderline-unhealthy fixation on hits, to the point where he's seemingly mentioning them more than any other statistic in the game. Now, as countless people smarter than I have pointed out, hit totals are, at best, irrelevant as an indicator of a team's performance, other than how good a home team is at eliciting bursts of cheers. In fact, if a team is piling up the hit numbers, that probably means said team isn't spending much time possessing the puck. And yet, last night, there went Foley again, crediting the Hawks' first goal almost entirely to a borderline hit by Brandon Bollig. Later on, in an almost inconceivable stretch, Foley attributed Andrew Shaw's goal early in the 2nd to a hit he dished out in the first shift of the 1st period. Apparently, Pat regards body-to-body contact in a hockey game as some sort of time-release power pellet, gradually increasing a player's skill level over the course of the game until finding the net is a near-inevitability.

Thanks to @ChiStonecutter for the fine turn of phrase.
I was out Saturday night, so I can only imaging Pat's musings on the Kris Versteeg "fight" in Montreal, in which Steeger dropped his gloves, grabbed onto Brendan Gallagher's sweater, and spent the better part of a minute spiraling around the ice, asking "Oh jeez, what the hell do I do now?" That one probably laid a strong foundation of physicality that directly contributed to Marian Hossa's game-tying goal two periods later.

The steady increase in annoyances reminds me of another broadcast in town. I am, in theory at least, still a White Sox fan. But I can't tell you the last time I watched a local telecast of a Sox game, because Hawk Harrelson is just that atrocious. Of course, the Sox' recent play makes it easier to avoid their TV appearences, but I don't know that I could put up with that smug prick even if the Sox were on a 115-win pace. Granted, Foley's backward assessments are nowhere near the Hawkeroo's "Only I know what is important in the game" approach; but the valuing of scrap over skill does have a whiff of Harrelson's "The Will To Win" nonsense to it. With either, though, it's a similar problem: a game's announcers are supposed to, at bare minimum, not detract from the viewing of the sporting event. And in both of these cases, a presentation with only ambient crowd noise and on-screen graphics might be preferable to what we're getting. (If you'd like a sample of a broadcaster-free game, by the way, tune into a Sox game when they're down by 5 or more. You'll get at least a full inning.)

I want to note that the objections I'm raising here are specifically toward the combination of Pat & Eddie. When Eddie's off on national duty or following a hot tip in the 6th at Santa Anita, and Pat gets paired up with the anthropomorphic bag of Sominex that is Steve Konroyd, Foley returns to becoming a competent, listenable play-by-play man, if not the absolutely captivating one of days of old. Furthermore, when Olczyk clocks in for national duty, he is almost an entirely different broadcaster. He may not be the most insightful or thorough color man in the business, but he is competent, and almost entirely devoid of the insipid crutches listed above. You'll get the "Stop it right here!" during replays, but without the clownish lilt he affects during local broadcasts.

Plus, if you listen carefully, you'll catch on to the barely-concealed subtext of Eddie and Pierre McGuire being unable to stand the sound of each other. There have been times where it borders on uncomfortable, and it has made my evening.

But together, Pat and Eddie are an unlistenable mess far too often. Most of the grievances I've listed above will be met with tittering chuckles from the other member of the booth every single time they're uttered. Foley and Edzo are like a pair of third-grade boys who leave the teacher no choice but to seat them on opposite sides of the class, otherwise they'll never pay attention during lessons. They're good boys, Mrs. Olczyk, they just need to learn which types of behavior are appropriate for the classroom. And as much as we all joke about it, I don't think there's alcohol being consumed in the booth. It's a fun joke to play with, but I strongly doubt either Pat or Eddie is tipping back the Glenlivet during ad breaks. They're not drunk; they just have the tendency to get lazy and oblivious, and too interested in each other instead of the audience at large.

I wish I could provide a solution here, even a theoretical one that would never get implemented. However, this post is little more than a prolonged vent. We are living in the Golden Age of Blackhawks Hockey, a time of unprecedented on-ice success and popularity for the franchise. TV ratings are higher than ever; this is not a scenario in which a club decides to switch out its long-time broadcasters. No doubt, too, that everyone in the Hawks' front office, whether they were there for it or not, is aware of the blowback that happened when Foley got fired in 2006, and spent two seasons calling Wolves games (quite well) with Billy Gardner, at a time when Pat was one of the few positive recognizable aspects of the franchise. Short of Pat going full-Karpovtsev again, he's making the call for as long as he feels like doing it. Maybe, in a few years, Olczyk decides to go Mike Emrick's route, ditching the local gig to be on NBC's national coverage full-time. A change of partner (to Daryl Reaugh Daryl Reaugh Daryl Reaugh pleeeeeeease bring in Daryl Reaugh) could put Foley back on his A-game more often. That's a lot of "if"s, though, and realistically, nothing's going to change in the foreseeable future.

I know some of you have already decided to mute your TVs, grab your radios, and catch the audio from WGN instead. And it's worth noting that Blackhawks fans have that edge over White Sox fans; if we're willing to put up with the delay between radio and TV, we get the privilege of hearing John Wiedeman and Troy Murray call an extremely good game. It's just frustrating that, unless I go out of my way, I get to see some of the best hockey I've ever watched in my life presented in such a substandard fashion, by two broadcasters who demonstrate the ability to do better jobs otherwise.

Hey, what's Dan Kelly doing nowadays?

13 December 2013

Gettin' fisty.

Now, back to that other point I was going to make.

There was a time when I would have stood and cheered and shouted as Brandon Bollig and Krys Barch came to a mutual agreement to punch each other for show on Sunday night. I did none of those things during that third period bout, though. I sat, sighed, and waited for it to be over, like some sort of no-fun killjoy.

It's just that I'd been watching too much hockey, and had paid too much attention.

Here's the fight, which hockeyfights uploaded to YouTube off the Panthers' feed. Stick around for the post-punching analysis from former NHLer Bill Lindsay and play-by-play man Steve Goldstein. It's a wonder neither of them pulled anything as they stretched to defend the absolute necessity of what they just saw.

Lindsay: "That's how you solve issues in the NHL, though. Where's the outlet without fighting, if those two wanted to go and you get after it... you break a stick over his leg, or something?"
Goldstein: "Yeah, you do something like what Byfuglien did to Jimmy Hayes, luckily he didn't catch him the other night, but could've broken his arm on a slash..."
Lindsay: "That's what I love about hockey, though. You have a problem, you have an issue with someone? At least you don't gotta go spear 'em, or stick 'em, or slash 'em over the head, or punch 'em... A good, clean hockey fight, it's solved and it's over with..."

The argument is so silly on the whole, that Lindsay's assertion that fighting ensures players don't start punching each other is a relatively minor note.

First off, nothing got "solved" here. There wasn't some deep wrong in the storied history of Blackhawks vs. Panthers that called for swift retribution. This was an arrangement between two players whose main justification for staying on an NHL roster is that they know how to throw a punch. In the first period, in fact, the pair had sat for coincidental roughing minors, a.k.a. Failure to Properly Start a Fight.

Now, to Bollig's credit, while he came up as a dedicated puncher, he has at least made an effort, especially this season, to develop skills more in-line with those of an actual hockey player. The success rate has been sporadic at best, and results in more ice time for a player trying to get his bearings than just about anyone (except Joel Quenneville, apparently) would care to see, but at least he's making the attempt. Bollig's also shown the sense to skate away from a fight invite at times, turning down an attempt by occasional Phoenix Coyotes fourth-liner and doucheswag entrepreneur Paul Bissonnette a few weeks ago.

Krys Barch, on the other hand, deserves no credit. Barch is an avowed, unrepentant facepuncher and, quite literally, a meathead. The space in his skull where his brain should be is instead filled with assorted cuts of meat deemed "below our standards of quality" by Golden Corral. Getting punched in the head shakes loose some of the meat from Barch's cranial cavity, dropping it into his digestive tract for needed sustenance. If you're at a Panthers game in which Barch fights, look to the penalty box, where you may see him working a boneless pork chop up his nostril in an effort to pack things tight again.

Now, onto that "Where's that outlet without fighting?" bit. This supposes that, were the NHL to "eliminate" fighting, it would do so by somehow making players physically incapable of fighting, a "Clockwork Orange"-style treatment that would result in agonized retching, were a player to even consider cocking back his fist toward another, leaving him no choice but to satisfy his violent urges in some more gruesome manner. Fighting is already against the rules; that's why it's, you know, a penalty. The move is not toward some magical elimination of fighting, but of minimizing it - pushing it toward the furthest fringes of the sport. Despite other major sports having rules against fighting, in those high-level competitions of physical activity, fights do still happen. But they don't happen often, they don't happen without significant punishment, and they don't happen because the players involved have no other skills with which to justify their playing time.

Which reminds me: Without fighting as an accepted element of the game, Brandon Bollig and Krys Barch wouldn't be occupying NHL roster spots, so the alleged boiling tensions that just had to be resolved via punching would never have happened, anyway.

Consider last week's fight between the Hawks' Andrew Shaw and the Stars' Antoine "Why do Foley & Edzo keep calling me Dominic?" Roussel. That was a fight that probably would have happened regardless of the discipline on the books. Roussel is a noted rat, and had been pestering the Hawks' top players with little cheap shots throughout the two teams' previous meeting. He kept going at it, and Shaw decided it was time to cut the crap. (Shaw also appeared to go off to some other planet mid-brawl and lose complete self-control, which is why he had to get taken down by a linesman to break the thing up.) If fighting is "banned", does Andrew Shaw instead check Roussel from behind, head-first into the boards? Does he crack Roussel across the teeth with his stick blade? Does he stow a knife in his breezers and administer a prison shanking at an opportune moment? Probably none of those things, right? Either they jaw and push and shove a bit, or they do fight, get 5, 10, and a game misconduct apiece, and maybe a call from the league to sit out the next game. Does that ruin the sport? Does that transform your "man's game" into afternoon tea at the sewing circle?

Anyway, the poll on hockeyfights says that Shaw won the scrap. The boxscore on nhl.com tells me the Stars won the game on an unrelated Roussel penalty shot. I know which I value more.

Not explicitly mentioned by the Panthers' broadcast team, but certainly implied, is the classic pro-fighting argument. You've no doubt heard it, or a variation on it: "The players need to be able to police themselves on the ice." Apparently, there needs to be some supplemental in-game enforcement of the rulebook and general decency, because the four game officials skating alongside the players are just that terrible at their jobs. (Not necessarily arguing that part!)

The players' diligence in keeping things clean and proper was certainly in full display the day before this Hawks-Panthers contest. In one Saturday game, Flyers paste-eater Zac Rinaldo popped over the boards for his first shift of the game, and immediately began popping - you guessed it - Antoine Roussel in the back of the head, racking up an astonishing PIM-to-TOI ratio of 405:1 for his efforts. The players' patrol also did a bang-up job in the Pittsburgh-Boston game, with James Neal speeding toward Brad Marchand's skull with his knee accidentally on purpose, and Shawn Thornton skating over to Brooks Orpik during the resulting stop in play, taking Orpik's feet out from behind, and punching him unconscious as he lay on the ice. Sanctioned fighting helps keep the really ugly stuff out of the game, you see.

And just for fun, let's toss in this old chestnut from the turn of the century. Players were really going above and beyond in policing themselves in this game! Let's see how that worked out.

A good, clean hockey fight. It's solved and it's over with. You don't gotta go slash 'em over the head. I think anyone's done this poor a job of policing since Jon Burge was running the show in Area 2.

You need to see your fights to make your hockey viewing experience worthwhile? Fine. Take in a game in a fringe circuit like the Central League, or explore the wonders of Quebec's notorious "goon league", the Ligue Nord-Americaine de Hockey, where you're guaranteed multiple fights per night, just like the good old days, plus a healthy dose of provincial xenophobia! (Pro tip: Don't let them know you speak English.) Or maybe you could get a Kickstarter going and crowdfund some sort of ice-fighting league, where the Brian McGrattans and Colton Orrs of the world can showcase their talents in the purest form possible, going pound-for-pound in the frozen octagon, upholding The Code and capturing momentum.

Me? I'd rather watch hockey.

12 December 2013

Jive talkin'.

For those unfamiliar with the minutiae of Chicago sports radio, there's been a long-running weekly segment on the Boers & Bernstein show on The Score called "Who Ya Crappin'?" The title refers to a long-ago quote by Mike Ditka (of course), who called out show co-host Terry Boers on a bit of hypocrisy in his own work during an interview. In the segment, listeners are encouraged to submit acts of "verbal hypocrisy" made publicly, in the venue of sports or otherwise. I tweeted about Mike Emrick's "respect" remark when it happened Monday night, and it rankled me, as comments that are the sports equivalent of "in my day, the kids knew how to wear their pants properly" tend to do. So I expanded on it, sent it in, and figured, hey, if it doesn't get aired, I can always make it into a quick-and-dirty blog post.

Well, it must have been a slow day for submissions, because mine made it on-air. Listen here around the 6-minute mark for it. They edited it a bit, because it's only an hour-long segment, and I do tend to ramble. Here's my original version, if you'd prefer:

This crap goes out to NBC's lead NHL play-by-play man, Mike Emrick.

On Monday night, in the lead-up to the game between the Columbus Blue Jackets and Pittsburgh Penguins, Emrick spent some time reviewing the consequences of the assortment of stupid hits and malicious attacks during the previous Saturday's Boston-Pittsburgh game. He then paused, adopted a bit of a wistful, reflective tone, and commented, "In an earlier time, before... less protection, less money, there was more respect."

Doc didn't elaborate on when, specifically, this time was. Was it way back in 1973, when his first broadcasting gig in the International League, nicknamed the "Black I" at the time for its style of play, saw the Port Huron team that employed him rack up 1,588 penalty minutes over 76 games? Well, no NHL team in the most recent 82-game NHL season amassed more than 1,300 minutes of penalites, so it can't have been then.

Perhaps it was Emrick's next career stop where he witnessed the more respectful era of hockey. That would be three seasons with the AHL's Maine Mariners, who were the farm club for the Philadelphia Flyers in the heart of their "Broad Street Bullies" era. In the Mariners' championship season of 1978-79, they led the league with 2,332 penalty minutes, and 7 of the AHL's 9 teams spent more than 1,500 minutes in the sin bin. A cursory look at American Hockey League history shows there was no rule on the books at the time requiring a penalty for "over-respecting the game", so one must assume there were so many penalties because teams were brutalizing each other on a nightly basis. The search continues.

Maybe Emrick wasn't speaking of hockey in general. Perhaps he was referring to the NHL, which he began calling games in with the Devils in 1982. During his decades with the Devils, Emrick was there for such respectful moments as Devils coach Jim Schoenfeld chasing down and allegedly pushing referee Don Koharski to the ground after a 1988 playoff game, screaming at him, "You fat pig! Have another doughnut!" Emrick was also there for the 2003 Stanley Cup Finals, when the Devils' Scott Stevens paid the ultimate respect to the Ducks' Paul Kariya by blindsiding him at full speed in the middle of the ice, leaving him flat on his back before he had to be helped off. Kariya would see his production decline after the hit, and was eventually forced to retire due to post-concussion syndrome.

Rather than there being an indeterminate stretch of extra-respectful hockey he's borne witness to, it's much more likely that Emrick, like many before him, is longing for a past that never actually existed. And if you continue to embrace revisionist history, Doc, perhaps you should consider a career better suited to such a tendency. Start calling baseball.

Dr. Michael Emrick: Who ya crappin'?

09 December 2013

Dispatches from Section 305.

Last night's Hawks game against Florida was the first I've had the privilege of attending in person in a couple of years. Outside of The Corey Crawford Groin Explosion (which I hope I'm making more of than it actually is, and, hope no one decides to use as a band name), it was a fine evening of people playing sports for the amusement of people who like sports. And speaking of people who like sports, allow me to take a moment to address the gentleman who decided to join us in Section 305, Row 4, Seat 10 for a portion of the 3rd period:

- I really hope you were not driving home. I kind of hope you don't have a driver's license at all, in fact.

- You really impressed us with your ability to yell "RRRRRRRRAANTA!" at any point there was significant activity in front of the net. It didn't matter if there was an actual save, or, in one instance, a puck trickling through his legs that was deftly cleared from harm's way by Niklas Hjalmarsson, you let us all know that "RRRRRRRRAANTA!" was keeping things on lockdown. And even as you lost your limited capacity for speech, and the ability to roll your "R"s along with it, you made a snap adjustment on the fly to "BBBBBBBRAANTA!" unabated. Your commitment and adaptability in the face of adversity are to be commended.

- Your other exclamation of the evening, "HIT 'EM!", certainly alerted all around you to when the Panthers had even the faintest sniff of potentially entering the offensive zone, thereby activating the time for hitting. And as the period wore on, and the E-85 you had shotgunned straight from the nozzle at a Speedway station really started working its magic, yes, your syllables and a few select consonants started becoming somewhat indistinct. But still, without fail, when white sweater crept near blue line, you were on full alert, like a verbal invisible fence: "HIIINNERRRRM!"

- I know others in our section were not privy to your ongoing analysis of on-ice play, as you were muttering it, for the most part. However, I feel I might be of a bit of assistance here, in order to improve your future hockey-viewing experiences. Not every bit of action that doesn't involve impressive person-to-person physical contact, such as passing, intercepting passes, working for position in front of the net, dumping for a line change, or trying to maintain possession along the boards, is necesssarily "baby stuff", a "baby play", or "the stuff that babies do out th--HIIINNERRRRM!" nor are the players participating in said action, in fact, babies. These other plays that do not involve hits are actually essential to the sport of hockey, and the main objective of said sport, which is scoring goals. The team that scores more goals than the other wins the game, except if both teams have the same amount of goals at the end of overtime, in which case-- you know what, let's just save that one for another time.

- Your repeated assertions to the 8-year-old sitting next to you that "you got your soft serve, you got five goals... I mean, that's great, what more do you need?" may have come of as somewhat creepy and off-putting to some upon fourth or fifth repetition. For me, however, they really underlined the simple joys in life, and how we long for those through sport. With all the complications and demands of adult life, who wouldn't gladly take a time when a big waffle cone and a few pucks in the net were all that mattered? Really makes you think. Also, thank you for providing a window into how Eddie Olczyk stays employed as a hockey analyst. If you're reading this, would you be so kind as to let me know when the focus group meetings are for Comcast Sportsnet Chicago, and if I could possibly participate? Thanks in advance.

- "Who's this guy playin' all like a baby? See? Is that Skille? Jack Skille, that little... geek." I regret to inform you that was not Jack Skille. Mr. Skille is no longer on the Florida Panthers; he has been under contract to the Columbus Blue Jackets since the start of this season. Please adjust your player analysis file and/or Christmas card mailing list accordingly.

- Thank you for departing our section about a minute before Brandon Bollig and Krys Barch finally got around to that punching engagement they'd been attempting to arrange all evening. My evening would have taken a significant downgrade by you ripping your pants off in excitement.

More on that last point tomorrow. Yeah, tomorrow! I know, I can't believe it, either!

02 September 2013

C'est la vie, say the old folks.

You make a major signing on a national holiday in the dead of the offseason, and you can pretty much guarantee the collective losing of crap by the internet will approach unthinkable levels.

Today, with the Blackhawks re-signing Corey Crawford, the series of tubes did not disappoint.

I had the delightful task of working early this morning, so I had the chance to see events unfold in between bouts of alleged productivity. The buzz started, weirdly enough, with a now-deleted tweet from Engblomesque Stanley Cup Escort Phil Pritchard, who was in Montreal with Crawford for the goalie's day with the Cup. At 6:00am on a Damn Monday, Pritchard tweets out a photo of Crawford, pen in hand, contract on the table, ready to sign. A 6-year deal, he helpfully added. That was enough to get everyone going. Several writers began sharpening their knives, both waiting for the dollar value of the contract, while feeling free to lambast it without knowing how much it was worth, because, good Lord, what kind of idiot gives a goalie a six-year contract? A bizarro version of "The Price Is Right" ensued, in which any and all bids would be considered "going over". $18 million? But he's clearly gonna blow for $15 million of that, you fools, because only a sucker signs a goalie to such a long term! I joined in, personally setting my "uh-oh" number at $35 million. After a couple of hours of this slapdickery, RDS' Renaud Lavoie came through with the number: $36 million for Crawford, a $6 million cap hit.

And so, the Category 5 shitstorm that had been developing off the coast made landfall. This morning, Corey Crawford was the Stanley Cup-winning goalie; by this afternoon, he was Steve Mason in a nicer-looking jersey.

Look at all those snarky links I dropped into paragraph three. There's your current market value for a franchise goaltender. Only Howard, Quick, and Fleury have their names on the Cup. Crawford's new contract comes with a cap hit that's one-third of a million dollars higher than this guy:

I promised to use this more, didn't I? You're welcome.
Oh, and Smith will be 38 when his contract ends. Crawford will be 35.

So the Hawks paid roughly market value for a goalie who just had the best stretch of his career, a run that ended in Chicago officially being named the "Biggest Buncha Beauties in the League", and were apparently quite the group of suckers for doing so. Because unlike you and me, rubes that we are, hockey writers know. By virtue of journalistic alchemy, writers were able to take prognostication and assumption, combine with repetition, and generate fact. After all, if enough people say that Crawford's 2013 season and playoff run were outliers, and the real Corey Crawford was the below-average keeper of 2010-12 who barely kept a .900 save percentage and was a one-man derpfest in the Phoenix series, it has to be true, doesn't it? It's just a mere matter of time before Crow gets his membership in the Marc-Andre Fleury Beach Ball Society, en route to the inevitable full Luongofication.

Of course, there's the possibility that those critical of the deal are right. But there's also the very important detail that we don't know yet! It's a multi-year deal. By its nature, it will probably take multiple years to make a true assessment of the contract's goodness or badness. In the interim, here are just a few ways the Crawford deal can shake out:

1. Crawford did have a fluke run in 2013, and regresses in net, leaving a hole at a crucial position and creating a major cap hurdle for the Hawks for years to come. (That's bad).

2. Crawford builds on his solid year to establish himself as a quality goaltender during the prime years of his career, securing the net while top prospect Antti Raanta develops. (That's good.)

3. Crawford goes full DiPietro, falling to injury time and again, becoming a money pit and a one-word NHL punchline while the Hawks attempt to get by in the interim with Hockey Yeltsin. (That's bad.)

4. Crawford stays respectable in net until Raanta is ready to take over, and gets traded in a fairly favorable deal, because with the cap climbing each season, his $6 million hit becomes a value buy a few years down the road, and there will always be teams who do dumb things with goalies. (That's business, and that's good.)

5. Projections of year-upon-year revenue increases never come to pass, the salary cap stagnates, and what was once slightly over market value for Crawford becomes an egregious overpayment. (That's bad and farfetched, but if there's one league it could happen in, it's OITGDNHL.)

6. Crawford becomes a dominant force and elite keeper, playing a large part in getting his and his Blackhawks' teammates names hammered into the Stanley Cup one or two more times. (It just moved.)

Feels like this one could go either way, honestly.
But this is the internet, and the internet waits for no one. Instant gratification is an expected necessity. So everyone takes a quick glance, grabs a couple of numbers, and gives their thumbs-up or thumbs-down while it's still in that several-hour window when one's sports take can still be deemed hot. (I realize that this whole piece has probably been rendered irrelevant by virtue of me deciding to take a nap this afternoon and gather my thoughts. And procrastinate by playing pinball on my phone.) And while I stick to my indecisive guns, others will append that "good" or "bad" label to a contract Crawford won't make a single save on until October, 2014. This will include plenty of people who have a solid background of hockey expertise, a knack for statistical analysis, and a fairly solid reputation.

But sometimes, even people who know a lot can still be wrong.

15 August 2013

The plentiful supply of scarcity.

Mmm, hockey news in August! That's always just the best.
"Waiter, do you have any krazy straws?"
Yes, it's the time of year when fans can work up a solid outrage over potentially not being able to buy tickets before the tickets have even been put on sale. Nashville Predators blog Section 303 had the lowdown: When single-game Preds tickets go on sale, fans will not be able to buy seats for any of the three games at Bridgestone Arena against the Blackhawks on their own. Instead, they'll be require to pair their purchase with tickets for another, perhaps less-desirable, game. (The Predators host the Florida Panthers on Tuesday, October 15th.) Additionally, anyone interested in purchasing a Blackhawks-and-Some-Other-Guys two-game ticket plan will have to do so with a credit card registered to a Nashville-area zip code.

Why all the hurdles? Well, to keep all the unwashed hordes of Blackhawks fans away, naturally.

My first visit to Nashville was this past January. It was originally planned as a group outing for the Hawks/Preds game on Saturday the 19th, but then things happened, and there were a few minor tweaks to the 2012-2013 season schedule. (Mostly that "2012" part.) With rooms and flights already booked, and the knowledge that, Hawks game or not, it's a legitimate challenge to not have a good time visiting Nashville, we gladly made the trip. Apparently, many other Chicagoans had the same idea. The bar we settled into on Lower Broad that afternoon was soon awash in red sweaters. By the time the puck dropped against the Kings, it was a Blackhawks bar. The place erupted with each Hawks goal. The house band was thoroughly puzzled by requests for "Chelsea Dagger". Later on, the streets filled not only with locals for the Preds' season opener, but with plenty of folks clad in Blue Jackets jerseys as well. Sunday night, after a robust day that included an afternoon bar crawl aboard the Pedal Tavern, we staggered past the same bar, with every TV in the joint tuned to Blackhawks/Coyotes, just in time to see the place go nuts as Mike Smith blamed his stick for everything.

Honestly, I don't know why I don't include this in every post I make.

Hockey Weekend in Nashville continued on Monday, with the Blues in town. And once again, the sidewalks of Lower Broad were full of visiting fans, this time closely followed by diligent municipal sanitation workers, who efficiently hosed down the area behind the traveling Missourians, cleaning up the trail of filth and used syringes they leave behind without missing a beat.

Nashville has the problem of trying to reconcile two different identities. On one hand, it's a city that's still less than one generation into being a major-league sports market, and is still working to establish solid local fanbases for its home teams. That's the sort of thing that takes time to develop, regardless of a team's success. On the other hand, Nashville has a well-established reputation as Music City, U.S.A., a fantastic tourist destination. Combine that with hockey and football seasons falling mainly during off-peak tourist periods, with travel and lodging being cheaper as a result, and the next thing you know, your stadium is full of sweaty Northerners, their team is puttin' the switch to your hometown club, and then they done gone and drank all your beer. Meanwhile, the out-of-towners are crammed into Tootsie's to hear a cover band do "Wagon Wheel" for the 17th time that day and are strangely okay with it, as they make their plans for their next visit while wondering where, exactly, this hat came from.

So, it's understandable that, in an atmosphere that could be seen as welcoming the opposition to a fault, Predators ownership would want to make an effort to make all of their home games actually feel like home games. The downside is, though, that trying to "ban" road fans from their arena does make the Preds organization look like a bunch of insecure, temperamental, obese fourth-graders.

 Nashville Predators majority owner Thomas Cigarran (file photo)
In case your "South Park" references don't run that deep, there's an episode of the show where Cartman inherits a million dollars and uses it to buy an amusement park. Cartman being Cartman, he's bought the park for the purpose of banning all visitors (especially Stan and Kyle) and making it his private playland.

Because humanity in the "South Park" universe is a bunch of base simpletons, the mere idea of not being able to go to Cartmanland (which had been failing before the sale) suddenly makes it the most desirable place around. Folks line up in an attempt to beg their way in, while Cartman is hailed as a business wunderkind, and other businesses adopt "you can't come here" as an ingenious marketing strategy.

Of course, humanity in real life is a bunch of base simpletons, too. Both on the internet and in my office, I've heard Hawks fans fired up about the Preds' ticketing ploy, some making plans to go with a "Oh, we'll show them!" attitude. Yes, by purchasing tickets to a sporting event, likely on the secondary market, perhaps from the reseller linked on the team's website that kicks back a chunk of bonus revenue to the league and its teams, you'll really be giving those exclusionary team owners what for!

In the "South Park" episode, Cartman has to start admitting visitors to his park once he realizes he needs money to keep the place running. Because he's just a jackass kid and not a businessman, the park becoming the most popular attraction around makes him absolutely miserable, and he can't wait to sell the place.

In real life, the red sweaters will flood Lower Broad again, and likely form large groups in Bridgestone Arena for three nights this season. The tickets may not be as easy to come by, but they'll still probably be cheaper than trying to get on the 100 Level at the United Center (even with airfare and hotel included), and arena security won't be checking drivers' licenses for residency status at the gates. And though they will not say so publicly, the Predators' front office will be perfectly okay with all that out-of-state money filling their coffers.