Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Cooper's Corner, Vol.I

Welcome to Cooper's Corner, a new and hopefully soon-to-be regular feature here at Sports As Life. First off is Cooper's look in to the suddenly interesting and apparently incredibly seedy world of professional cricket (I mean look at this, the Enigma Code is easier to decipher). So without further ado...

As some of you most likely know the World Cup of Cricket is currently being held in the West Indies. Cricket, which has been recently introduced to North America for it’s seedy underbelly and murderous wicket-men, is truly one of the last true gentle-mans games. Golf of course lost consideration of a gentle-mans sport after Jack Nicklaus’s un-godly maiming of a caddy in 1984. The pure game of cricket deserves to be seen in a better light in North America, and I am here to provide that shining beacon. And as follows is a summary of the best moments to come out of this years World Cup of Cricket, which in only it’s 12th day of 47 days is already being proclaimed as the greatest sporting event man has ever seen.

Great Moment #5: India beating Bermuda by 257 runs.
- Think of it people…. 257 run margin of victory. That’s an average of 28.5 runs per inning in a 9-inning game. I wonder if India’s batsmen are "juiced". Bermuda needs to shore up its bullpen if it hopes to have any success in future competitions. The acquisition of a Goose Gossage like reliever would be an asset.

Great Moment #4: Bangladesh’s 5-wicket victory over India.
- What an upset…..a close 5-wicket victory over a team that just came off an exciting 257 run performance. The performance given by 18 y/o Mushfiqur Rahim was one for the ages. His international average is no fluke…a superstar in the making.

Great Moment #3: Singh’in in the Rain
- The bowling performance of India’s Harbajan Singh in the pouring West Indy rain was a masterpiece. This right-armed flamethrower deserves his newly acquired moniker "The Harbajan Express". Sorry Nolan Ryan, there is a new sherpa in town. Props to Harbajan for his blatant use of Vaseline and a nail file to doctor up the ball. The Niekros would be proud.

Great Moment #2: Tea Time
- Cricketers have adopted the 7th inning stretch and given it a twist…tea and scones and Ravi Shankar’s Grammy winning rendition of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame".

Great Moment #1: "Cubs Win, Cubs Win"
- The dramatic upset win by the Ireland Cubs over Pakistan has gotten the game of cricket on the North American map which is why this is the greatest moment so far at the World Cup of Cricket. Sure some illegal betting and the possible throwing of the game by the Pakistani players may have led to the eventual murder of their coach, however that is the kind of blood shed that North American’s crave for in their sporting events. Which why golf became so popular in 1985, after the maiming of Jack Nicklaus’s caddy by Jack himself the previous year.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Odds and Ends

...Did you ever think that the only thing you needed for you life to be complete was Manny Ramirez's barbecue? Well let me tell you, it's your lucky day.

...I should mention (brag) while I have the opportunity that I correctly picked 30 of the 32 first round March Madness games, and one of those losses was in overtime (don't you always get a point for an overtime loss???). What happened in the second round...I'd rather not talk about.

...Check out this interview with the Calgary Flames' Craig Conroy on ESPN.com. He is easily the happiest man in hockey and is one of the few actual personalities in the game.

...In other Calgary Flames news (I've tried not to write about them too much because I don't want to be too much of a homer), the struggles of their rookie head coach Jim Playfair have finally garnered some national media attention. It's amazing how long it takes the national media to grasp on to a story coming out of Western Canada.
Due to his total lack of emotion and savvy behind the bench, me and my fellow Regina-based Flames pundit Cooper now both believe Playfair to be some sort of cyborg, but not the super-intelligent kind. He's the kind that runs on punch-cards, with the cards being manually fed, mostly incorrectly, by his assistant coaches.
Either that or he's a giant cold-blooded lizard with a fantastic camouflage ability. No living human being could be that emotionless.

...It was announced that this morning Toronto Raptors forward Andrea Bargnani underwent an emergency appendectomy surgery and is out indefinitely. This is a real shame as Bargnani is fast becoming more and more popular across the NBA and is a big part of any success the Raptors have. And let's be honest, I have a little bit of a man-crush on him at this point.

...My prediction for the Stanley Cup Finals? Pittsburgh vs. Vancouver. If recent history has shown us anything, it's that the NHL will mandate that one struggling U.S franchise and one Canadian franchise will make the finals. Think about it - Pittsburgh just got a deal for a new arena, they have a great crop of young talent, including the 'Saviour of the NHL' - wouldn't the NHL want to showcase that on their biggest stage? Just don't say I didn't warn you.

...You know what I can't wait for...the CFL season to begin. I know, I know, that's an absurd statement. It's not really the football I'm looking forward to as much as the local sports reporting on the subject here in Regina. There is growing dissatisfaction with the quality of sports coverage, mainly Saskatchewan Roughrider coverage, among intelligent sports fans that I talk to. As there is only one option for print media here in Regina, we only get one point of view on our sports scene. And that option is already so far up the Roughrider administration's (expletive deleted) that's it's not even funny...actually after thinking about it, it is pretty funny. You can read for yourself here. I am eager to give everyone a forum with which to discuss this subject in the upcoming months.

...It would have taken quite alot for me to not only realize there was a Cricket World Cup taking place right now...but for me to actually write about it...the odds on that a week ago would have been off the charts. But in order to satisfy the overseas readers (of which, you might be surprised to know, there are actually some) I will post something about cricket. Not that I have to make anything up here, the Cricket World Cup has been nothing short of interesting. First a huge upset by the Irish over Pakistan, followed the next day by the death of Pakistan's coach, which Jamaican officials are now calling 'suspicious'. Now just a few days later, the Irish have suffered a blow as their former Cricket Union president has died while at the world cup. And apparently Canada had a team in this tournament, which was soundly eliminated. Who knew there could be so much going on with a sport where they stop to eat lunch in the middle of playing it?

...Just because everybody should read him. Check out ESPN.com's Bill Simmons here. For my money he's the best sportswriter around at the moment. I would put Steven Brunt as a close second.

Just When I Thought That I Was Out, They Pull Me Back In

Michael Corleone said that. He was talking about the mob, I'm talking hockey.

People have been asking me this week what I thought about the Jordin Tootoo punch and I hate continually complaining about the state of the NHL, but here we go again. I think it's a typical Jordin Tootoo play. First he takes a 5 to 7 stride run at Mike Modano with his elbow up (I don't think there's enough being made of the intial hit on Modano, where there was at least an elbow and probably a charge in there as well), then turns around and cold-cocks Stephane Robidas, knocking him unconscious.

I've said it before, so I won't go into detail again, but this perfectly illustrates the complete lack of respect that some players have for other players and for the game. It's definately not all players and in all honesty it's probably a very small minority, but they are continually dragging the NHL through the mud. Incidents like this and players like Tootoo (who has contributed a whopping 7 points in 61 games to his team) are indicative of a very real problem that is affecting the NHL.

Because I can't stand writers who point out problems and flaws and provide no solutions. Well I'll be honest, I have no solution. I do think it's something that begins and ends with the players themselves. The onus is on them to change their attitudes about the way they play the game.

That all being said...

I feel I need to set something straight while I'm on this subject. I fear as though I'm coming across as someone who wants fighting and physicality taken out of the game. And if I am coming across that way, I'd like to say for the record that I don't think those things should be taken from the game. Those things are part of what makes hockey hockey and part of why I've followed this game for so many years. What I have a problem with are hits to the head and players who lack respect.

Take a look at this fight from last night in the game between Toronto and New Jersey. This was Wade Belak sending a message to Cam Janssen for the hit he put on Tomas Kaberle (see previous entry for more details). I'd say this has to be the fight of the year and maybe the fight of the last five years. This sends a person back to the days of old-time hockey and it's an example of why there should still be physicality in the game - the fans and the players both loved it. Two willings guys going toe to toe for over a minute, complete with Janssen waving the linesman away - I know I ripped Janssen for his hit on Kaberle, but I have to admit that was great to see him waving them off. And how perfect was it that the fight took place at center ice?

Moments like the Belak/Janssen fight still give a person hope for the game. And they're part of the reason that, somewhere, deep in my heart, I still love the game.

Friday, March 16, 2007

il Mago

Hello out there. Things have been busy lately so there's no new full post yet. Just a couple quick things.

First I need to brag in public that I picked all 16 winners correctly in the first day of March Madness yesterday. That's right, 16 for 16. Although today I'm braced for a huge embarrassing failure. But who knows, maybe doing some research does lead to better results.

And if you need something to read to tide you over, check out this excellent article on Andrea Bargnani from ESPN.com, sent in by loyal reader Cru:


He is definately one of my favorite players to watch at the moment. If I thought I could ever pull off the wearing a basketball jersey look, his would be the jersey I would wear. Of course, I can't and could never pull off, but it's a nice thought anyway.

Monday, March 12, 2007

The End of the Affair

There isn't a ladder tall enough to get me down from the horse I'm on right now.

It took a lot to get to this point. I swear it did. I put up with quite a bit of garbage but now I'm through. For the next three weeks or so (until the start of the playoffs) this will be the last thing I write about the league formerly known as the NHL. I'm sick of watching it, I'm sick of hearing about it and more than anything I'm sick of complaining about it. But unfortunately I don't see any way to write about the NHL without complaint, so until further notice, we are officially on a break.

I used to think that the problem of the the game of hockey not catching on in the States was cultural, that people in America simply didn't get it. But after watching and following the game this year, with all that's happened, I no longer think that's the problem. The problem lies solely with the game itself and the league that that governs it, the NHL.

You have to ask yourself this question, if you knew nothing about hockey and felt no patriotic urge to watch the game, would you follow hockey? Seriously think about it, if you were not or are not a hockey fan right now, why would you start following this sport?

Don't get me wrong, there are some attractive points about the game right now. There is a wealth of young talent and the games are sometimes fast and exciting (these type of games actually happen nowhere near as often as everybody wants you to believe they do). But there is just so much wrong the product that the NHL puts out, both and off the ice that I have just had enough.

Between the implosion of the NHL Player's Association and the Ted Saskin situation, Chris Neil, Chris Simon, Cam Janssen and officiating that is just so clueless and so inept it makes George W. Bush look like General Patton, it has just become too much for me to process right now and I can't take anything else going wrong with this league. So I'm going to step away and not only stop writing about hockey until the playoffs, I'm going to stop watching it as well. I need a break so that I can come back fresh and strong and bring out the A-game for the playoffs. Because if there's one time you need your A-game, it's the playoffs.

But fear not, there will loads of material over the next few weeks. March Madness starts this weekend and I'm very excited to see how early I can be eliminated from every pool that I'm a part of, that's always a good time. The NBA is winding down and right now Dallas is just crushing everything in their path like an Al Gore-global-warming-storm. There are things NFL-related things going on, as well as maybe even something from the CFL (although I think it's about 6 months to early to be talking about the CFL).

So be strong and don't worry, we can and will survive without the NHL.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Five Thoughts for a Tuesday Afternoon

I was looking to post something today and as luck would have it, I have five things to talk about and a little to say about each one...

1. As tired as I now am of hearing about Ryan Smyth, I have one last thing to say. It's been said recently that Kevin Lowe is the perfect example of what a GM needs to be today - totally focused on the business end of the game, with no attention paid to the intangibles a player may bring or what he means to a team and its fans - and that may be true, and in reality, probably is. So if the NHL becomes only a business, then why would I still watch or follow it? The truth of the matter is that the salary-cap era means an end to loyalty within the NHL and the sports world - both a player's loyalty to his team and a team's loyalty to their players. I think the sad reality of the "new" NHL is beginning to set in for me.

2. The NHL's overtime 3-point allocation system (2 points for a win, 1 point for an overtime/shootout loss) is simply absurd. "Welcome to the New NHL - Points for Everybody!" How can teams possibly catch up in playoff races or pull away, when the majority of games it seems are 3 point games. Last week on Thursday night (March 1st) there were 9 games in the NHL. In those 9 games, 15 of the 18 teams involved got a point. Now, I'm no mathematician but it seems if there are only 9 games there would only be 9 winning teams. So by my calculations, 6 of the teams that played on Thursday lost and all got a single point still. The statistical analysis firm of Cooper, Cooper and Cooper recently did some research on this subject and found that over 200 points have been given out for overtime and shootout losses this year. I know a tie is like kissing your sister but this is getting out of hand.

3. Is there a team in any major sports league that is more fun to watch right now than the Toronto Raptors? Admittedly, I am not the biggest NBA fan in the world, but if there is a Raptor game on, I'm watching it. This is one of those rare occasions where a professional sports team actually likes one another. And this fact is evident in the way they play and interact with one another on the court. Chris Bosh is just a pleasure to watch. He seems to be the ultimate team guy and is out there killing himself for the team every night. The development and progress of Andrea Bargnani has been great to watch as well. Is this team capable of making any noise in the playoffs? Maybe. But let's face it, whoever ends up representing the Eastern Conference in the NBA finals is just going to get shamed by the Western Conference representative. The difference between the two conferences is just staggering.

4. As per my earlier entry here (scroll down) about the NHL and cheap shots and player disrespect, see New Jersey Devil Cam Janssen's ludicrous hit (you can click on that link, that's how high-tech we are here) on Tomas Kaberle of the Toronto Maple Leafs. This was an absolute embarrassment to the NHL and the game of hockey. Two other things about that hit: A) There was no penalty assessed on the play (there are two referees and two linesmen on the ice and no one saw that - what function do these people serve out there if this doesn't get called), B) The 3 game suspension give to Janssen as "punishment" is a joke. See David Shoalts' great column from the Globe and Mail (and globesports.com) about what should have been done about this hit. The NHL needs to do something soon or whatever little credibility they have left as a professional sports league is going to rapidly disappear. What a disgrace this whole situation was.

5. And finally, the last word today goes to Regina-based, Edmonton Oiler pundit Doug O'Brien, who believes that Oiler GM Kevin Lowe's next big move is going to be writing a sure-thing bestseller called, "How to Dismantle a Stanley Cup Contender in Eight Months."