The 2014 Sporties Awards

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the 2014 Sporties our annual celebration of the best of Sport and the Sports world.  Let’s dive right in shall we:

Game of the Year – Last year of course featured the absolutely bonkers Auburn / Alabama game in addition to the Brady vs. Manning Bowl in which Brady staged an incredible comeback.  This year the contenders are much fewer and farther in between.  There were a couple of crazy baseball games and a couple of crazy football games.  However, the most exciting game I watched?  No question it was the bonkers World Cup match between the US vs. Portugal game which came down to the absolute wire and featured some of the top players in the world playing out of their minds.

Shocking World Cup Moment of the Year – Brazil gets tuned up by eventual champs Germany.  It was relentless, wave after wave of unstoppable strikers and you began to feel worse and worse for Brazil fans.  Simply awful.

Championship Dominations – One theme of the year was definitely beat downs in the finals: the LA Kings, San Antonio Spurs and Seattle Seahawks all cruised to victory over, in some cases, more ballyhooed opponents.  I will also not neglect to mention the Canadian hockey team and their punishing win over the US in the Olympic Finale.

Series of the Year – The best series of the year took place in hockey, and featured the LA Kings vs. Chicago Blackhawks in a war that served as the real Stanley Cup final.

Breakout of the Year – The biggest winners of the World Cup was the Men in Blazers who are single handedly bringing soccer to the masses of America through their insanely brilliant show.  During the biggest sports event in the world, the two men locked themselves in a small room nicknamed “Bob Ley’s panic room” where they proceeded to break down football and culture simultaneously.  When they got home it was a quick shift to NBC Sports where they continued to have the highest rated podcast and a shockingly well rated TV series.  They are stone brilliant and they are now both a must watch, and must listen.

Pod of the Year – After the praise I just gave the Men in Blazers, you would rightfully assume they have won the Pod Award…but this is actually a battle that stretched beyond the sports world!  Three of my must listen pods: the aforementioned Blazers, Hollywood Prospectus and SerialHollywood Prospectus is highly entertaining and funny, and includes the occasional deep dive into the movies of David Fincher or the music of Taylor Swift.  It is fun and light and takes pop culture analysis to a whole new level.  Serial tells the story of a 15 year old murder allegedly committed by a young man named Adnan Syed.  The podcast is hypnotic and brilliantly conceived as we wander through the murky depths of a story where we may not want to hear the outcome.  A truly powerful experience; and a very addictive one as I powered through four pods believing I was only on the first one.  Wait?  Isn’t that only three pods when I actually mentioned four?  Yes, because it is high time someone gave praise to the true return of the Starters.   Last year I was almost out on them, as their 44 minute shows were simply not enough time to properly appreciate them.  Given that their time as “The Basketball Jones” was astounding and creative, it felt a little bit as if they were being contained in a small box that stripped away all their talent.  This year I was on the edge of being out completely when I heard they were cutting down to 22 minute shows.  I was done: I tried, but all their zany antics had been stripped away simply because there was not time.  In some ways it was good because it focused their great and insightful basketball minds.  However…it was putting them in a box.  I was done.

And then I heard the news.  On Fridays, the Starters would be unleashing “the Drop” a return to their old, off the walls ways.  Welcome back boys.  Before the first pod I waited with trepidation and had not looked forward to a pod like that for some time.  When I listened, all my fears vanished.  The boys were back.  In the following weeks, they have truly returned to their off the walls roots where their crazy energy and unstoppable hilarity continues.  What a glorious return.  Another year and you might be the pod of the year: right now it is the Blazers for their consistency.

Sports Books of the Year – I read some great sports books this year, many about football (American and otherwise).  The best: League of Denial by Mark Fairinua and Steve Farinua  / Showtime by Jeff Pearlman / Michael Jordan by Roland Lazenby / The Football Business by David Conn and Against Football by Steve Almond.  Another must read is the William Hill Sports Book winner: Night Games by Anna Krien which takes the microcosm of the misdeeds of the Australian Rules Football league and expands it through the sporting world.  An interesting take on the lengths teams will go to in order to protect their players and the depths players will sink to in order to fit in.  An important achievement and must read book.

Team of the Year – The Kansas City Royals because no other team did what they did, with the expectations that team had coming into the season.  Even in defeat they are worthy.  Runners up: San Antonio Spurs, Team Canada and Seattle Seahawks.

Off Field Moment of the Year – LeBron James returns to Cleveland…as read by Frank Caliendo playing Morgan Freeman.  Runner Up: Wait, is that Vladimir Putin and Sepp Blatter?  What could they possibly be discussing?  Is it possible for all the evil in the modern world ensconced in one luxury box?  Another runner up: remember when Bob Costas got pink eye in Russia?

Sportie Man of the Year – No one and I mean no one, gives Sidney Crosby enough credit.  He deserves to be the Sportie Man of the Year because he guided one of the most dominating hockey teams through a grueling slate to the finals.  It did not look good and certain points but the best players truly shine when it matters most and the way Crosby dominated at both ends of the ice in the final was astounding to watch.  He deserves more recognition for the way he dominates his sport in an especially competitive time: remember when Ovechkin or Crosby was a serious question?  Now it is likely Crosby or Toews.  Crosby though is our Sportie Man of the Year.

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The 2011 Sporties!

Welcome to the first annual Sportie Awards!

The Sporties cover the entire world of sports in a variety of catagories.  Get ready to be amazed…

Ready?  Okay, here we go, without further ado, your 2011 Sportie Winners:

Game of the Year – World Series Game 6

Given that some are calling this the best baseball game of the past 50 years, it definitely gets this year’s Sportie.  The twists and turns in this game had your stomach in knots and it was impossible to move for the duration.  Probably the most entertaining baseball game I have ever seen. 

Best Sports Moment – Aaron Rodgers putting on the belt after winning the Superbowl.

Not only did Rodgers completely erase all doubt and blow away the last Favre lovers (given that he is better) he did it with a team of vets and youngsters who played harder than anyone else.  Every now and again the right guy takes one. 

Sports Books of the Year

Net Worth by David Cruise and Allison Griffiths – Imagine a world where the entire system of Government is corrupt and run by a brutal dictator.  This is not about the USSR but rather the illustrious history of the NHL detailed brilliantly in Net Worth.  The best thing the authors do is provide indelible portraits of former (and future) greats / horrible people such as Ted Lindsay, Gordie Howe, Eddie Shore and Eric Lindros.  Their takes are unique, insightful and at times, utterly devestating.  Easily one of the most infuriating sports books ever written. 

Loose Balls by Terry Pluto – The 2nd funniest basketball book ever written (behind Bill Simmons epic tome) is an oral history of the wild ABA years featuring so many hilarious anecdotes that it becomes impossible to put down.  The characters are  outrageously larger than life and rendered brilliantly human.  My favorite story: Marvin “Bad News” Barnes on a morning plane that took off at 8AM and landed at 7:59AM – “I ain’t flying on no time machine.  I ain’t taking no plane that goes back in time.”

Diving into Darkness by Phillip Finch / Blind Descent by James Tabor – What sort of person can reach the pinnacle of sport diving?  What sort of person could push themselves to not only dive as deep as possible but into a cave?  Finch takes on the likes of two men who make an epic cave dive…and the one who must fight to survive.  So vivid are his descriptions that the reader is transported along into the abyss.  Tabor tackles an even more harrowing quest to discover the deepest place on Earth.  He follows the Bird / Magic of the caving world through their harsh journeys fraught with danger.  Both books are claustrophobic reading experiences that challenge as well as entertain. 

Most Devestating Moment – Game 7 Stanley Cup Finals

Not only did we have to suffer defeat, but we also had to deal with all of Surrey rioting and looting Vancouver stores.  Thanks once again for improving our Post-Olympic Image Surrey. 

Pod of the Year – Men in Blazers

I had essentially planned on giving this to Bill Simmons BS Report forever, but the Men in Blazers stole my heart.  Easy to do with an informative and hilarious look into the world of futbal.  How can one not burst out laughing when each week they are treating us “Great Friends of the Pod” to exchanges like the following:

Michael Davies: “If you could have dinner with Gregori Rasputin or John Terry who would it be?”

Roger Bennett: “You’re asking me to choose between a man who is a serial rapist, cult leader, who once raped a nun…and Gregori Rasputin?” 

Michael Davies: “Just so we are clear, Rasputin was actually the nun raper.”

Roger Bennett: “I would take Rasputin since he is dead – the conversation would be better.”

Sportie Man of the Year – Lebron James

Everyone just stopped reading, but hear me out: who else garnered more ink or attention this year than LBJ?  Be it for his epic collapse or his epic play, he was the man.  Period.  We could not get enough of him when he was dominating and we could not get enough when he was disappearing.  Ultimately the choice is clear. 

The Bobby Baun Hall of Fame

A few years ago (okay, 47 years exactly),a man  a legend named Bobby Baun broke his leg in the Stanley Cup Finals against the Detroit Red Wings.  He was hit in the ankle with a shot, went off to the training room and was told the following: His leg was broken.   

Most athletes would have quietly accepted their diagnosis and returned to the bench in their street clothes – some NBA players…(cough, cough Andrew Bynum) would have enjoyed it – Baun took another route.  He asked for his leg to be frozen and then inexplicably returned to the game

Had the tale ended then and there, Mr. Baun would not be the namesake of the following Hall of Fame, however, the story was far from over.  Baun not only returned to the lineup, he went on to score the winning goal in overtime.   Yes, the man continued to play with a broken leg even when the game went to overtime.  Then he scored the game winner, with the series on the line for the Leafs. 

Baun was far from finished – he went on to play in Game 7 and help lead the Toronto Maple Leafs to the Stanley Cup.  The fellow in the picture on the right who shows no indication of the broken leg while he jubilantly celebrates with Lord Stanley is the Patron (Padrone and Godfather) of only the most dedicated and resiliant in sports history.  The Bobby Baun Hall of Fame honors those who fought through normally horrendus injuries or illness to play in the toughest of times.   

How does an athlete become eligable for The Bobby Baun Hall of Fame?  

1) The injury / illness must be significant Playing with a slight head cold does not count for anything here.  The injury must be serious enough that the player would normally sit out but instead choses to tough it out. 

2)  Only playoff time counts – An injury sustained during the regular season and played through is important, but in the playoffs there must truly be no such thing as an injury.  The stage on which the athlete played through the injury definitely plays a factor: if your team is being massacred in the first round and you play through a torn knee does not mean as much as triumphantly returning to a Stanley Cup Finals game with your team on the brink of elimination and scoring the winning goal in ot despite your broken freaking leg! 

3) The return to the Game / Series must have a positive impact on your team – If you should not have played and made the team worse, you will not get as high a place in the Bobby Baun HOF; conversely, if the team won and you were the reason, your rank will be much higher.  Ideally, the team should win the Championship led by the injured player.

4) Lifetime durability will be given a special section. 

5) Andrew Bynum / Wilt Chamberlain / Greg Oden / Alex Mogiliny need not apply.  Additionally, playing hungover does not equal playing with an injury.  Sorry 1990’s Cowboys.   

6) Superstars stepping up means more – Let’s face facts: if Michael Jordan plays with an injury and dominates, he will have a larger overall impact on his teammates then if Bill Wennington triumphantly returns from a torn clapping hand. 

7) A new class is eligable each year at the end of August.

Without further ado, some of the initial inductees to the Bobby Baun HOF:

Baun, Bobby – See above.

Jordan, Michael – Scoring 38 points in an NBA Finals Game was a frequent occurance for His Airness.  Scoring 38 points with a brutal flu and single-handedly leading his team to victory in Game 5 the 1997 NBA Finals was a once in a lifetime event.  Jordan was weak, feverish and collapsed in Scottie Pippen’s arms at the conclusion of his Epic Game.

Elway, John – We are slightly cheating here because we have no proof Elway was actually injured at any point in the Super Bowl…but he most certainly was.  When he stretched out and took a brutal hit to gain a crucial third down in the fourth quarter against Green Bay it showed just how much Elway wanted his first ring.  He definitely earned every inch of it and personified winning at all costs to an entire generation. 

Ripken Jr, Cal / Favre, Brett – Special mention goes to these two men who fought through all kinds of injuries (including, in Ripken’s case a freak broken nose at an All-Star photo shoot) and emotional trauma (the death of Favre’s father) to become the “Iron Men” of their respective sports. 

Howe, Gordie – Not Hockey’s Iron Man…but he should be.  “Mr. Hockey” excelled for nearly four decades in Pro Hockey (you read that right…4 decades) and played well into his 50’s (even making an All-Star Game in the WHL).  Tough as nails and one of the greatest hockey players ever, Gordie simply did not believe in either aging or injures.

Pierce, Paul – In Game One of the 2008 NBA Finals, Paul Pierce was carried off the court after a nasty collision.  The Lakers proceeded to have their way with the Celtics.  Pierce had never made it past round 2 in the playoffs until this point and he made the most of it.  His dramatic return led to a Celtics victory in the Game and completely shifted the entire series.  Rumors swirl about the actual degree of his injury but his impact on the game and series upon his return negates all speculation.

Yzerman, Steve – Stevie Wonder injured his knee early in the 2001/2002 Campaign and while this would have stopped most NHL’s cold, he had other priorities.  Chief among them was winning the Stanley Cup.  Playing on one leg for the entire season and playoffs, Yzerman was able to achieve his goal.  In the process he won the Conn Smyth trophy and essentially willed the Red Wings to victory. 

Koufax, Sandy – The 1965 World Series is one that has gone down in history due to the remarkable performance of Sandy Koufax.  His arm had been bothering him all season and by the World Series appeared to be in serious danger of falling off.  Despite the pain, Koufax dominated all season…then refused to pitch Game 1 of the Series because it fell on Yom Kippur.  (At this point you are wondering how he could possibly be eligable for the Bobby Baun HOF…but just you wait…)  Koufax pitched a complete game shutout in Game 5, leading the Dodgers to a 3-2 Series Lead…then returned to pitch Game 7 on two days rest – with his still injured arm.  All Sandy did in Game 7 was throw a three hit shutout to clinch the series.  Shockingly, he was voted MVP. 

Kesler, Ryan – Against the San Jose Sharks, Kesler “blew a tire” and was carted off while panicked Canucks fans went into near cardiac arrest.  Fortunately, not playing was definitely not in the cards and Kesler immediately returned to score the goal that sent Game 5 to OT.  He would play the entire 2011 Stanley Cup Finals on one leg. 

Rondo, Rajon – After a bad collision with Dwyane Wade, Rondo got up and his arm was pointing the wrong direction.  He left, then came back and proceeded to win Game 3 singlehandedly.  Unfortunately, the Miami Heat realized he could not play defense and torched him the rest of the series.  He makes the HOF for his immortal post-game comments; when asked how his arm was, Rondo responded “Still broke, hurts pretty bad, but I’ma keep playing”.

Bossy, Mike and the 1983 Islanders – The 80’s Islanders played through everything.  After defeating Wayne Gretzky’s Oilers in the 1983 Stanley Cup Finals, Gretzky and Kevin Lowe noted that no celebration came from the Isles locker room.  Instead, everyone was hurting and getting treatment.  Lowe commented “that is what it takes to win”. 

Exactly

Ladies and Gentlemen, your Inagural Class of Inductees for the Bobby Baun Hall of Fame. 

 

NHL Playoffs – Mike Gillis caffeine watch

What’s up Vancouver?

We just made the Western Conference Finals for the first time in 17 years and yet we are acting like we got told we have togo in for multiple root canals.  After the end of  Game 7 in Vancouver the town was on fire.  Horns honked, people screamed, the next day was like one giant city-wide hangover. 

The end of Round 2 – which we have been unable to advance past since 1994?  Not a peep.  Not even a whisper.  In fact – I went to a bar to watch Game 2 of this series: they were showing UFC.  Was I still in Canada?  We had to fight for a TV to be tuned to the game.  In VancouverIn round 2 of the playoffs.  Is someone pulling a huge prank?  This is huge for the team.  We have slayed dragons, we have gotten past Chicago.  We have the best player in the entire playoffs who has single-handedly carried our team through – Ryan Kesler.  (To the point that I may have to revise my Wine Cellar Hockey Team to include him). 

With Chicago, there was enough history that people lived and died for the series.  Jerseys were everywhere (at least until Game 5 +6) and there was genuine excitement.  Against Nashville?  We definitely could have shown more enthusiasm.  Maybe it was the lack of history, or the fact that the only real reason Nashville was even playing into May was because Pekka Rinne was doing his best Martin Brodeur impression.  It was a boring series.  There were not alot of goals (Ryan Kesler was in on 11 of 14 for Vancouver) and it was assured to go to OT at least twice. 

Against Chicago we had to win.  After that, everything else seemed like gravy.  A friend of mine Jockster, stated he only wanted to see us advance to the Western Conference Finals.  He would be happy with that.  Beating Chicago was huge for the city; beating Nashville?  Maybe we all thought it was a forgone conclusion, which could explain the lethargy around the team.

If you think about it, the Chicago series had everything: comebacks, near sweeps, OT battles, Chicago fans heckling our intrepid GM Mike Gillis, heroic goals (Toews / Burrows) and a thrilling finish. 

Nashville lacked all those things.  At the outset I predicted a slow series in which the Canucks won, but the best player in the series would be Pekka Rinne.  I was right, and with the Sedin twins still missing (can we send out a milk carton yet?) it was an easy prediction to make.  Now, we look on to the battles ahead:

Will Vancouver heat up again against the Wings / Sharks?  I think our energy level for the team has partly to do with our outright refusal to jinx the team.  The higher we go, the harder the fall.  This team has the potential to break our hearts: epically and that terrifies us.  Stress levels in Vancouver have never been higher, particularly among Canucks management.  I do not believe Mike Gillis can survive another long series.  His current daily caffeine intake: 3-4 litres.  The longer the Wings / Sharks series goes, the better it is for us. 

In any event, either potential series matchup will be entertaining and will go six or seven games.  We nervously excitedly await the outcome and our next opponent.

Madness!

I should start this post with a confession: I am Canadian. 

And not, small-town-I-cheer-for-my-junior-B-team Canadian – rather, hockeytown Canadian.  I love my Vancouver Canucks and last night they played one of the biggest hockey games in the history of the franchise.  If you missed it, we nearly gave up a 3-0 series lead after Chicago forced Game 7.  Usually when a team comes back from being down 3-0 (Chicago), Game 7 rarely turns out well for their previously on-top opponent (Vancouver).  For one thing, their spirit is completely broken.  For another, all they had to do was win one game and they simply could not despite 3 chances!

Last night I witnessed one of the most intense hockey games in my life.  The tension in the city was a crazy mix of outrageously excited and completely terrified.  It was almost inevitable that Chicago Captain / Part-time Superman Jonathon Toews would score one of the most ridiculous goals of the season to send the game to overtime.  Could it end any other way? (Editors Note: No.  We had to have overtime.  Number of cardiac arrests last night in Vancouver – 567,896

 The stakes could not have been higher asVancouver had already squandered one overtime game; and Alex Burrows missed a penalty shot in the third period.  Additionally – the refs simply decided to let the teams play regardless of what happened and could not have called fewer penalties if they had been wearing eyeshades.  (Plus!!!! I believe the greatest villain of our time: NHL commish Gary Bettman, phoned in for the refs to do whatever it took to help the Hawks win). 

Then, this happened:

Rogers Arena has never been louder; not when the Grizzlies won their first ever game there in thrilling fashion – maybe when Canada took gold…in OT.  This was crazy, this was what we needed desperately after being knocked out of the playoffs by the Blackhawks three years in a row.  This mattered.  With one goal Alex Burrows joined the pantheon of Vancouver hockey heroes and officially became Jeff Courtnall 2.0.  

The above history lesson illustrates a suddenly great thing about our current Vancouver Canucks: going into Game 7 even the most devout fans were questioning the grit we totally lacked.  The 1994 Team (our last to make the Cup) had it.  Last night, for the first time I believe this team found it too.  Ryan Kesler dug into every corner and fought for every puck while containing Toews (other than his superhuman goal which nothing short of a mack truck could have stopped). 

Why am I so excited?

1) Every great Canucks run begins with an epic 7 game first round series.

2) The Sedins are liked a coiled snake waiting to break out of a basket.

3) Roberto Luongo…

completely redeemed himself last night by being more amped up for that game than I have ever seen him before in his career.  Afterwards he admitted it was bigger to him than the Olympic Gold Medal game. 

Some viewers complain Hockey is not as exciting as other sports.  I disagree: 4 of the first round series are going to game 7!   Playoff fever is sweeping the province (still Canadian) and at three in the morning cars were still honking and people were still cheering in the streets.   

Welcome to Round Two Vancouver, GO CANUCKS GO!

Playoff Atmosphere

Last week an amazing thing happened to me: I experienced playoff atmosphere first hand

I have been to a lot of stadiums, and seen a lot of crowds all over Canada and the US (Lakers, Yankees, Team USA, Angels, Jets-Giants, USC football, UCLA basketball, World Juniors, Olympic Hockey…)

However, nothing I have ever seen prepared me I have never been to a playoff game before…until now.  This was so unique and unexpected that I was blown away.  Easily one of the best experiences I have ever had watching a game live.  

Walking in and seeing the towel on the back of my chair at Roger’s Arena after getting to see the new statue of Roger Nielson outside was invigorating (it says something about your team when your most famous contribution to hockey historyis a man waving the white flag of surrender)

  The crowd was amped, or something beyond amped.  When the Canucks came out, they fed off the energy pumped into the stadium and went through the hated Blackhawks like a kid through a bag of Cheerios.  Why are the Blackhawks hated?  My theory: Any 7 game series breeds hatred between the two teams regardless of history simply because one bad hit etc. can turn the whole thing into a slugfest.  Canucks – Blackhawks obviously have recent history and given the 7-2 result last night, it may just have gotten ugly.  (FYI – The Raffi Torres hit really helped calm things down

Playoff hockey is different: every bone jarring hit matters,  every angry elbow means something and I witnessed one of the most ridiculous “I AM THE MVP” goals by Daniel Sedin.  I have heard loud stadiums before – 94,000 at the Coliseum in LA – but what I heard after Sedin’s goal blew it all away.  Perhaps I should explain a little for non-Vancouverites: we view this team (our 40th) as different.  As I already wrote, they are probably the best team we have ever sent out.  Our depth is ridiculous, our scoring there and we boast three of the top fifteen players in the league.  And:

We have never won a Stanley Cup before.

Many in the city feel without a doubt that this is that team! (Again, we have a statue outside our stadium of a man who surrendered)

We in Vancouver, cannot discuss the cup too much because we are all terrified.  The crowd on Friday night was a mixture of “please let us pull this out…” and “we are the champions!”.  A strange and exhilerating experience had by all.  Yet, when Daniel scored what was to be the winning goal we cheered louder than ever.  The place nearly came down, the roof cracked and multiple people were injured in towel related accidents.  This is where we are letting out all our fears and dreams and hopes.  Within the stadium there is no fear: these are our Canucks and they are going all the way.   It is becoming increasingly clear that this season is a go for broke year.  We come home with the Cup or we do not come home at all. 

Downtown the city was jacked up.  At the conclusion of the game the earlier nervous edge had vanished and the joyus crowd filtered into the bars for a long night of spending their hard earned money.  It was a beautiful thing, and something I will never forget.

The Hockey Wine Cellar Team

In the premise of the Oscar-winningclassic of modern cinema Space Jam, Michael Jordan teams up with the Looney Toons in order to play an intergalactic team of basketball superstars for the fate of the planet. 

In the greatest sports book of all-time, Bill Simmon’s Book of Basketball, the theory continues in the form of a seven game series.  However, he adds time machine abilities so he can select the greatest team at their peak to play for Earth  

In both scenarios the game of choice for Earth’s future has been Basketball, but given the fact that most alien worlds are harsh, unforgiving and frozen – isn’t it  more likely that the game of choice with everything on the line would be hockey?  In that case, we had better begin building our Hockey Wine Cellar Team

The principles will be the same as Bill Simmons – only players I have seen in my lifetime are eligable / the team cannot have duplicates of one player due to the paradoxical problems (so no Gretzky ’83 – ’89 teamed with ’87-’93 Lemieux on every line)/  it will be built around the secret ie. the team will be built on ability to play together, not simply stats / the year players were picked was not always their best statistical year but a combo of great stats + title run / the team has to be built to play a 7 game series. 

Without further ado The Hockey Wine Cellar Team.

Intro –

What will the Aliens look like?  What kind of team will they have?  In my opinion, they will be a perfectly balanced team with depth and speed on offense, a powerful defense and a virtually unbeatable goalie in the mold of Vladislav Tretiak (another precedent for this series: the 1972 Summit Series, arguably the greatest hockey tournament ever).  The Aliens will have size, and a couple of players who are stunningly good.  Obviously, we will be facing their Gretzky / Lemieux combo and they will be formidable.  

The only way to counter?  Our formula for victory =  Gretzky / Lemieux Combo + 4 lines with different purposes that can break down the alien defense while playing at a high energy pace + a solid defense anchored with size and tons of scoring skill to keep the aliens roughed up and off-balance and unable to collapse on our forwards+ a goalie trio that has proven it can win in any scenario.  

 The next issue is the same as the one that Bill Simmons faced with Michael Jordan: Which Wayne Gretzky?  92 goal Gretzky (50 in 39 games!) or ’93 Kings Gretzky who carried a subpar team to the Cup Finals?  Simmons went back and forth on full skill Jordan and full secret Jordan.  With Gretzky it is a little bit different: here is a player who was shockingly traded in his prime.  The Bulls never would have traded Jordan in his prime no matter what – the major difference though, the rest of their team could never have won the title without him (and in fact failed twice).  Without Gretzky the Oilers still won the 1990 Stanley Cup thanks to the leadership of Mark Messier. 

The Gretzky of this team does not have to score a lot of goals due to the caliber of his teammates.  Rather, I want Gretzky at his passing peak – I want ’85/86 Gretzky when he had, objectively, the greatest statistical season of all time.  In 80 games Gretz tallied 52 goals, a record 163 assists, for a record 215 points.   With the quality teammates Gretzky will have on this team, the Aliens do not stand a chance.  Look at how well Gretzky could do with great teammates (like Paul Coffey and Jari Curri)…now imagine him with even better scorers.  The alien team may have a “Gretzky-like” player but, at the end of the day they do not have the “Greatest Hockey Player the Universe has ever seen”.

To combat the Aliens potential size and strength, our forward lines need to be a unique combination of size / speed / skill /checking and boost to keep them off balance.  Imagine facing a pure power line one moment, then having a quick shift to speed, skill and the deadly wrist shot of Joe Sakic?  Unstoppable right?  Additionally, hockey players generally have a good grasp of “the secret” because of the nature of the game – there will be no ego problems here.  This is bigger than the Olympics or anything else.  The four lines will crafted thusly:

Line 1) The SuperDuper Line – When we need a goal, we can go to these guys at any time and they will get it done.

Line 2) The Skills Line – Grittiness and finesse combine in the perfect way, a true scoring line.

Line 3) The Power Line – Need the other team’s defense to be totally worn down?  Throw this line out there.  Virtually impossible to move off the puck and no problems going into the corners to play control games.

Line 4) The Checking / Boost Line – The main job: shut down the opponents top line as well as providing a spark when necessary.  All these players can score but that will not be their primary job. 

The Lines:

SuperDuper Line = ’86 Gretzky – ’93 Lemieux – ’94 Bure

’86 Gretzky makes this line for the reasons discussed above, and he showed in 1987 that despite the fact both players are centres that he can play on the same line as Mario Lemieux!   Therefore, on this team they will play together, on the same line. 

’93 Lemieux makes the cut because he won the Stanley Cup that year; scored 160 points (69 goals) and would fit perfectly with an at-passing-peak Gretzky.  ’94 Bure carried the Canucks to the Cup Finals and had 60 goals during the season.  He also proved he could play big when it mattered most – in triple overtime against Calgary he came through with the game winner.  Bure was also a bit of a power forward at times too, he could bullishly pick and roll his way to the net.  His speed, combined with Gretzky’s laser-like passes and vision, alongside Lemieux’s power and shot makes this line virtually impossible to stop.  They have size, speed, skill and Gretzky: without a doubt the top line Earth could send out. 

The Skills Line = 00/01 Sakic – 09 Crosby – 06/07 Selanne

The Skills Line  features a young playmaker, electric finisher and the best wrist shot in the history of the NHL.  Each player on the line won the Stanley Cup and has proven themselves to be a clutch performer. 

06/07 Selanne (94 points, 48 goals, 46 assists) makes it over 76 goal Selanne because of the performance he put on helping the Ducks capture the Stanley Cup.  While this was not Selanne’s best statistical year he just always seemed to be in the right place at the right time to make a huge play for the team.  He fully understood the secret (and his longevity is astounding, seemingly impervious to any injury); young Selanne just wanted to score goals.  With two elite linemates he would put up huge numbers in the 7 game series. 

08/09 Crosby (33 goals, 70 assists, 103 points) was at his playmaking peak here.  This was before he started scoring 50 goals a year and with his linemates on this team he does not need to.  He will be the primary assist guy on this line – the scrappy, into the corners guy who will do whatever it takes to get it done.  He led the Penguins to the Cup this year and will have no problem shifting over to Left Wing (Editors Note: A lot of players will be playing out of position, but with the Earth on the line can we really afford not to play all these prime time performers?  They can play wing, trust me) and feeding brilliant passes to Sakic in the middle, as well as cross ice to Selanne.  Crosby will not defer to his older teammates, but will instead make them better with his young legs and gritty intensity. 

oo/01 Joe Sakic (54 goals, 64 assists, 118 points) had his best goal scoring year during this Cup Winning season.  Sakic will move around the middle and create chaos amongst defenders.  With his wrist shot (arguably the best in league history) Sakic will be especially deadly when combined with the passing abilities of Crosby.  Backed by a strong defense, this line will be a change of pace to the Super Duper Line – but…not much of one.  They will carry a heavy scoring load and a lot of that will fall to Burnaby Joe, one of the best clutch performers ever.

The Power Line = ’94/95 Lindros – ’90 Messier – ’95/96  Jagr

The thought with this line is pretty simple: beat the crap out of the opponents defense.  Can anyone contend with the size and physicality of this line?  They will be nearly impossible to push off the puck and can play the control game all shift long.  The other team will have no way to match up with them, and after the previous two lines will be completely thrown by the sudden shift to such a physical approach.  In fact – I strong advocate sending this line out right from the outset to intimidate the opponents and hopefully psychologically break them from the start.   

’94/95 Lindros (46 games played due to lockout / 29 goals, 41 assists, 70 points) led the Flyers to the Cup and was at the height of his pre-concussion powers.  His better than a point a game led to him being annointed “the next one” and his size and skill was unmatched in NHL history.  He had no problem delievering a bone rattling hit, scoring or dropping the gloves.   Remember?  When he played like a runaway freight train?  How can we not have that player on our team?  He could change the game in a multitude of ways and lead by example.  Given the short season, he will also be well rested in order to employ his physical style.  His presence will throw off the opponents and with his linemates he should be virtually unstoppable in the middle.  Enjoy this missile coming towards you, Hockey-playing Alien Invaders!

’89/’90 Messier (45 goals, 84 assists, 129 points) – Wayne Gretzky was traded to the Kings in one of the biggest moments in NHL history.  The Oilers, we assumed, were done.  Except, Messier went on to have the best season of his career and lead the team to the Cup while capturing every major award in the process.  That was how good the Oilers were; they lost their best player and still won the cup!   Messier was the main reason for that, and for that reason he makes this team and plays a huge role.  (We could also have gone with New York Rangers Messier but I am still bitter about losing the Cup…)

’95/’96 Jagr (62 goals, 87 assists, 149 points) – In this case, I took one of the best statistical years of Jagr’s career and not a cup winning year.  The reason?  He knew what it took to win and could reach inside and pull it out again.  On this line, we need some scoring punch and the 6’3 240 pound Jagr will be the perfect compliment for 6’4 Lindros and 6’2 Messier.  His scoring touch was ridiculous and he was very difficult to move off the puck.  One of my best hockey memories is the Penguins down 5-4 in the Stanley Cup finals with two minutes left.  I had no doubt they would triumph.  Then I watched them score two goals in rapid succession: when Jagr was on, no one could match up.

The Checking + Boost Line = ’96 Steve Yzerman – ’10 Jonathon Toews – ’89 Esa Tikkanen

The purpose of this line is to shut down the opposing team’s best player.  Yzerman (’96 – 95 points, Cup Winner) on the fourth line?  Yes, but only because two years later he won the Selke Award as the League Top defensive forward and fully realized his potential as an all-around player.  Toews (’10 Playoffs MVP) showed just how versatile he was during the Hawk’s cup run and we may need his youthful energy to change the flow of the game at some point.  Tikkanen (’89 – 78 points, 31 goals)?  He was at his best harassing opponents and forcing them into mistakes.  No player ever got into other people’s heads quite like Esa and his defensive prowess may be needed.  ’89 represents his best stats and a cup win.  This line can score, do not get me wrong, and they will also be able to shut down whoever they need to.

The Defense

2000 Scott Stevens – Remember the hit?  The one that essentially ended Eric Lindros’s career?  That’s why he sets the tone in game one for my Wine Cellar team.

’85/’86 Paul Coffey – The best offensive defensemen ever, Coffey scored 48 goals this season.  When the team needs a boost on both offense and defense, he will be there.  Plus, he plays a great point on the power play. 

2001/2002 Niklas Lidstrom – Never a big scorer, Lidstrom is the best defensemen of the modern era, winning Norris Trophies into his 40’s.  Shuts down anyone’s best player and will be responsible for locking down many great Alien players.  He won a cup, Conn Smyth (playoff MVP) and Norris trophy this year.

’90 Ray Bourque – No defensemen played as hard as Raymond Bourque and 1990 was the year he powered to 94 points and a 2nd place MVP finish.  He also took the Bruins in the Cup where they lost to the Oilers.  He has to be a serious anchor for any defense, even if he is the 2nd best Bruin defensemen ever.

’91 Al MacInnis –   The huge powerful slap shot wielded by Big Al will be invaluable on the power play and could shift the outcome in one of the seven games.  A Cup winner in 1989, in ’91 MacInnis powered to 103 points, most of them thanks to the thunder stick he carried. 

’92 Phil Housley – 97 points for the US born defensemen in 1992.  Pair him with MacInnis or Coffey and you have an incredibly potent offensive tandem that could change the game.  Who would the opponents cover?  The defense can score from anywhere and with the level of play the forwards bring to the table, it will be impossible to cover everyone at all times.  Housley adds to that dimension. 

1999/2000 Chris Pronger – Pick any Chris Pronger season and you will get what you pay for – a big, physical defensemen that can change the fortunes of a team for the better.  He is a difference maker and sometimes that is all you need.  Being a 6’6 human wrecking ball also helps (Pair him with Stevens and the Power Line and this thing will be over quickly, the Aliens leaving barely intact).

2001 Rob Blake – Blake scored 19 points in 23 games during the 2001 playoffs and remained as good as anybody at shutting down opponents.  His season was a wash but he helped the Avalanche to the title and presents another physical presence on the back line. 

1992 Chris Chelios – Led the Blackhawks to the Cup and won the Norris Trophy.  A steady performer who is reliable in the clutch. 

In Goal

1) 1999 Martin Brodeur – Literally carried the Devils to 3 Cups.  At times displayed uncanny ability to step up in the clutch.  Remarkably durable, he rarely missed starts and logged huge minutes.  ’99 was a cup winning season and a Vezina performance from the master.  Opponents never got easy goals on Marty and his steadiness allows for some gambles with his backups…

2) 1993 Patrick Roy – Why young Roy over experienced, shutout king Roy?  Quite simply, with Brodeur taking most of the prime goaltening duties, we can gamble with young, pure-talent Roy.  He led the Canadiens to their last cup in ’93 and was so athletic that he changed goaltending forever.  His style was a breath of fresh air and a change of pace.  If we need to, we can count on him to rob our opponents in spectacular style.

3) 87/88 Grant Fuhr – However…just in case Brodeur gets injured and young Roy proves to be too much of a gamble: we have Grant Fuhr.  The greatest goalie of the ridiculous scoring era, Fuhr was a proven winner and if you need someone to close out a 9-8 game, Fuhr is your man.  He had nerves of steel and won Cup after Cup.  This was the year he swept the Vezina and finished 2nd in MVP voting. 

So, there you have it for the most part – here are the luxary picks and intangible players who round out the team:

2006/ 2007 Rod Brind’amour– Won the Selke Trophy twice…but more importantly is one of the best faceoff men in NHL history (62% career) and when you need someone who can win a faceoff at the end of the game deep in the shadows on your own goalpost: Brind’amour is the best that ever was. 

2002 / 2003 Todd Bertuzzi – Sometimes you need someone to stand in front of the net and screen the goalie (Bert+MacInnis = 50 screened goals combined at least).  Bertuzzi was impossible to move this year and redirected many shots amongst his 46 goals (97 points).  Sometimes you also need someone no questions asked to protect the superstars, Bertuzzi is more than willing to punch someone in the back of the head and lay down the law.

Some Lineup possibilites:

Captain: Wayne Gretzky – really no other choice here.  While Gretzky may not be the best leader of the bunch, he is the alpha dog and as he goes, so does the team.  On a deep, talented team he still stands apart and needs to be the leader.  Think ’98 Nagano – everyone deferred to him.

Alternates: Mark Messier / Mario Lemieux – Either player could wear the C for the team and my friend ADub thought Mario should be the captain.  However, on this team, like the 1987 Canada Cup team: Gretz wears the C. 

Penalty Kill: Toews – Brind’amour – Tikkannen – Pronger – Stevens

Power Play: Gretzky – Lemieux – Jagr – MacInnis – Coffey

Power Play 2: Messier – Lindros – Crosby – Housley – Bure (played the point at times)

Ridiculous Size Lineup: Bertuzzi – Lindros – Lemieux – Pronger – Blake

Ridiculous Scoring Lineup: Bure – Gretzky – Lemieux – Housley – Coffey

Speed Lineup: Bure – Selanne – Sakic – Housley – Blake

There you have it: this team would be our best bet at avoiding this kind of outcome:

Am I crazy?  Who did I miss?  What combos would you like to see?

 

 

 

       

The Best That Ever Was

Is the 2010 / 2011 version of the Vancouver Canucks (currently the best team in the NHL heading into the playoffs) the best team this city has ever seen?

This was the question posed to me the other day and my first reaction was to say “no, no way”.  My thoughts immediately went to the 1994 team that took the New York Rangers to seven games in the Stanley Cup finals.  The ’94 team was my team and I remember what they did for the city and how incredible they were.  Their run through the playoffs to the Cup was one of the most exciting sports moments of my entire life.  Watching them lose the final game – and seeing our hero, Trevor Linden, hit the post twice in the third period has stuck with me during the 17 years since.  Surely the Canucks of today will never touch my team…or will they.  (I am still not fully sure, I have flip flopped on this thing for a week now)

The only way to truly understand which team is better is to break it down, point by point. 

Superduper stars

2011 – Daniel and Henrik Sedin – The Sedins are so good it is ridiculous.  They currently sit #1 and 2 in the NHL in points (easy when they assist on each others goals) and their psychic connection on the ice is sometimes frightening.  Take Daniel’s recent no look between the legs pass to Henrik.   Insane.  No players in the history of the team have ever been this good together and they both understand what it means to step up; Henrik won MVP last year when Daniel was injured and he was forced to put the team on his back.  This year?  Daniel’s turn.  (The one negative: the Sedins can disappear in the playoffs when we need them most) Keeping track of them on the ice is a full-time job…

1994 – Pavel Bure – Everything about the Sedin’s aside, no player has ever electrified in Vancouver like Pavel Bure.  He was so fast (when healthy) and had such good stickhandling skills that he could not be contained.  There was no twin to keep track of with Pavel, he simply dominated on whatever line he was on.  He could create goals, draw in the defense and then power past them.  Unlike the offense we run now, the 1990’s Canucks relied on a speedy, power attack and there was no one better than Pavel Bure.  Bure took every ounce of defensive focus and was a one-man Sedin twins.  Need more?  He never folded in the playoffs, and helped carry the team to the ’94 cup (still waiting for the Sedins to do the same)  It would be impossible to forget his overtime goal against Calgary that will live in Vancouver lore forever.  He is still the Canucks all-time single season goal scorer (60). 

Superstars

2011 – Ryan Kesler, Roberto Luongo – Kesler does so much he is an MVP candidate himself.  During the 2010 Olympics I finally fully realized his impact: and I hated him for being American.  Kesler is like a void on the ice, nothing happens when he is out there for the other team.  He can shut down the opponents best player or he can score; he just might be the best penalty killer in the entire league.  Luongo…Luongo…so talented and so frustrating.  His penchant for collapse has been troubling.  I never feel completely comfortable with him back there and when the game is on the line that is not a good thing.

1994 – Trevor Linden, Kirk Maclean, Cliff Ronning – An in-prime Trevor Linden is worth a lot.  He was the Kesler of his day and he was never better than in 1994.  When the team needed him, he stepped up time and again: take his performance in Game 7 of the Cup Finals: he scored a short-handed goal to tie the game at 1, then twice hit the post in the third period.  A couple of inches and he would have a statue in front of Rogers Arena; even still, he stepped up when we needed him most and carried the franchise for the rest of his career.  He is and always will be Captain Canuck.  Kirk Maclean gave a completely different feeling from Luongo: he was a steady netminder but never a huge star.  He was our goalie and that was never in doubt as long as he played the game.  During his indelible game one performance, he stopped 52 shots in an overtime victory – he was the leader back there.  Ronning?  No one worked harder than the diminutive winger and local boy.

Key Intangible

2011 – Mason Raymond’s complete inability to stop…he never learned.

1994 – Dave Babych’s maginificent mustache – I asked my Dad once why Babych never grew a playoff beard.  His response: it would have been down to his chest by the end of the third period.  This was a man many suspected of shaving on the bench between shifts.  Why has his number not been retired?

Coach

2011 – Allain Vigneault – A more than adequate coach, he has done a good job this season.  One of the continuous complaints about his Canuck teams?  Balancing the offense, but with the stellar Kesler, his job has never been easier. 

1994 – Pat Quinn – Still the greatest Canucks coach of all-time, Quinn did a masterful job guiding the team to the cup. 

Key to Success

2011 – Winning at both ends – The Canucks currently play the best defense to go along with their offense.  Their defensive core of Alex Edler, Dan Hamhuis, Keith Ballard, Kevin Bieksa and Christian Erhoff has been among the best in the league. 

1994 – Heart – The 94 team was gritty, and had heart (something Canuck teams have since lacked) which was due mainly to the example set for them by their Captain.  During the ’94 season people came through when needed; there was no way we were anywhere near the most talented team in the league but we took the best Rangers team ever to 7 games with little more than Pavel Bure.  A lack of heart may be one of the reasons the Canucks have yet to return to a Cup since.  In ’94 we got all the bounces, and truly played the best hockey the city has ever seen.  No one in the city will ever forget Linden or Maclean’s valiant efforts; or Bure’s amazing skills; or Greg Adams tireless work in front of the net. 

I asked several people in Vancouver which team they would take: 2011 or 1994.  Everyone said 2011 due to the depth that was not present in ’94 and the fact that no one in 1994 could have stopped the Sedins. 

Could anyone today stop Bure?  We will never know.  I believe the 2011 team to be more talented than 1994 but it remains to be seen if they can summon the same effort in the playoffs.  Sure we caught some lucky breaks in 1994 but they felt like a team of destiny.  While my heart will always be with the 1994 Canucks, my head says I should go with 2011. 

The 2011 Canucks have a lot to prove in the playoffs which cannot begin soon enough for the city or the team.

The “Real” Sportsman of the Year 2010

Sports Illustrated has named Drew Brees their Sportsman of the Year 2010 and for the most part it makes sense. 

Except for the part where it does not.  Not at all.

Is Brees deserving of the nod?  Absolutely – only in any other year but 2010.  Sure, I know that he won the Superbowl this season and redeemed the city of New Orleans after the horrors of Katrina.  I also know that his foundation has raised over six million dollars.  He gave New Orleans hope when there was none and does deserve all the accolades and applause he has recieved.

There is just, one, tiny problem.

It should not have been him.  Not this year. 

I picked my 2010 Sportsman of the Year – Lebron James – but I did not expect the most hated athlete of 2010 to actually take the coveted title.  There is quite simply too much “heat” on him right now. 

No, the person who actually deserves to be Sportsman of the Year is Sidney Crosby

Why does Crosby deserve to be Sportsman of the Year over 2010’s football hero who lifted the spirits of an entire city?  Crosby lifted an entire country, placed its hopes and dreams on his shoulders and then delievered in spectacular fashion. 

Did Drew Brees feel the weight of expectations before the Superbowl?  Undoubtedly he did, but Crosby had the fate of an entire nation on his stick at an Olympic Games in his home country.    If Canada had lost that game Vancouver would have been transformed into riot city – don’t believe me?  Look up 1994 when the Canucks lost game 7 to the Rangers in the Stanley Cup finals. 

More to the point: Drew Brees could have potentially been Sportsman of the Year next year.  This is a Winter Olympic year and Sports Illustrated usually makes an Olympian their choice since the games only happen once every 4 years.  Take Michael Phelps in 2008 for example, but this year they made a bit of a bonehead move in selecting Brees.  Don’t get me wrong, his credentials are fine but…

Crosby led Canada to gold.

Had the Penguins won the Stanley Cup this year as well (would have been their second in a row but they lost to the Blackhawks) he would have been beyond reproach and a much easier choice. 

Wait a minute…his credentials this year are beyond reproach: he is 24; has a Stanley Cup and Olympic Gold Medal; he is one the best hockey players in the league despite entering with outrageous hype;  is the most gentlemanly player since Gretzky and, finally, is one of the first hockey stars in a long time to be able to break into the mainstream public consciousness.  In Pittsburgh he has faced enormous scrutiny and led a bankrupt team to their first Stanley Cup victory in more than 15 years.  Need more?

He scored the game winning goal in the Olympics when his team and his nation needed him the most. 

Who else in the history of sports has delieved with so much pressure on them? 

Drew Brees may have lifted a city but Sidney Crosby lifted an entire country. 

Welcome to The Cover Corner – Why I Love Sports

Welcome Sports Fans (or Fans in general) to The Cover Corner where we cover all sports while examing them through multiple facets in order to entertain and enlighten readers on the elements that make sports great.  

Why do I think sports are great?  Let me count the ways:

1) Sports have the unique ability to unite unlike any other medium in the world – What else has this ability?  The G20 Summit?  Not quite, thanks again Anarchists.  Nothing.  The collective love of a team can literally stop war.  Exhibit A: the World Cup

2) You never know what you are going to get year to year – Your team can start 0-5 and make the playoffs.  They can go 5-0 and miss the show.  They can run the table at the end of the year or lose out and blow the box.  Nothing else is as consistently solid and entertaining as sports.  Yes, we have to watch young, (at times) spoiled multi-millionaires act out our fantasies of playing a game for a living but…it is entertaining. 

3) Any given night, any given team can win – And they can celebrate…  Take Boise State vs. Oklahoma from the 2007 Fiesta Bowl. 

No one gave the Boise Broncos a chance against the all mighty Oklahoma Sooners  – and they ended up with one of the greatest and most shocking performances in the history of sport.  Unbeliveable, their were more trick plays than a pee-wee game.  We want these “I cannot believe that” moment and sports is the only thing that gives it to us constantly.  If you are craving a mind-blowing experience, sports is the perfect place to get your fix. 

4) The Options – Pick a league, any league and you will find something to watch.  (Except the WNBA – seriously how has this league possibly survived?)  Trust me on this one…there is always a game on somewhere.  Additionally, there are always people ready to sit down at the bar and share a pitcher (and their opinions) while the game is on. 

5) The Playoffs – What else causes more unshaved men at any one time? 

Sports is a unique experience and we are all the better for it.