Tag Archives: Hockey

No NHL games, but still plenty of interest

The fake locker room display at the NHL Store in Midwtown Manhattan, empty -- just like real NHL locker rooms as the labor dispute continues.

The fake locker room display at the NHL Store in Midwtown Manhattan, empty — just like real NHL locker rooms as the labor dispute continues.

I was in Midtown Manhattan yesterday and briefly sought refuge from the cold on 6th Avenue in the NHL store and its adjoining Starbucks coffee shop. There were plenty of hockey fans checking out the NHL merchandise, from replica sweaters and goalie masks to pucks and stocking caps. People were posing with a replica of the Stanley Cup.

Even as the labor impasse drones on, I took it as a good sign for hockey that so many fans were streaming into the store to check out the merchandise. It may be the only direct connection to NHL hockey they have this season that’s looking more like a non-season. A couple of sports network satellite trucks were parked in front of the NHL store, evidently waiting to go live with another “no developments” story on the negotiations, which are expected to resume today.

This was my first trip to Midtown in several years and my first visit to the NHL store. I was thinking that instead of having a Starbucks connected with the hockey shop there should be a Tim Horton’s, the Canadian chain with strong ties to north-of-the-border hockey teams.

To my surprise and delight, there now are Tim Horton’s in New York City. I spotted one in Penn Station and another somewhere in Midtown, each having a counter in multi-brand convenience marts. It’s not live hockey, but it’s a step in the right direction.

 

Missing hockey, and not making any memories

nhl-logo-1At dinner in Philadelphia last night, I kept glancing up at one of the big screen TVs showing a rebroadcast of the festivities that surrounded the 2012 NHL Winter Classic. The station was showing a long run of introductions of former players from the teams that would play the “real” game that day in Philly, the Flyers and the New York Rangers.

In short order, I saw Bobby Clarke and Mark Messier come out for interviews, dressed for play in Flyers and Rangers sweaters, respectively. The cameras showed fans of each franchise standing and applauding their heroes of yore, and that’s when the impact of this year’s labor dispute hit me like a skate blade to the shin.

By seeing those former players, each fan was reminded of all the games they’d watched or heard over the years, fathers and mothers telling sons and daughters how they were there at the Spectrum or the Garden when such and such happened. And those sons and daughters will be able to tell their children and grandchildren about how they sat outside on a cold January day back in ’12 to watch the Winter Classic.

But there will be no Winter Classic this season for anyone to remember, and as we near the new year it’s looking like there won’t be any games, period.

I’ll survive a winter without hockey, just as I survived earlier times without baseball or football during labor squabbles. And I will come back to hockey whenever the millionaire players settle their issues with the millionaire owners. I love the game too much not to return.

But as each canceled game comes off the calendar, there are that many fewer fathers and daughters taking in a game together and that many fewer mothers and sons at breakfast the next morning checking the scores.

Hockey won’t lose me — it’s too deeply imprinted in my psyche. But it will lose many fans for the future, and it does so at its own peril.

A tip of the cap to the New Jersey Devils’ Scott Niedermayer

Just in from Newark: The New Jersey Devils have retired the No. 27 uniform number long worn by defenceman Scott Niedermayer.  The honor is well-deserved.

I’m primarily a baseball fan and the overwhelming majority of my posts reflect that. But I’ve long been a hockey fan, and I was never more so than in the years I lived in New Jersey. I moved to Summit in 1999, just as the Devils were about to start their drive to the 2000 Stanley Cup. They won again in 2003, and I was rabidly attentive to the team for the duration.

Niedermayer is the third Devil to have his uniform retired, following fellow blue-liners Scott Stevens and Ken Daneyko.  As I think back on those great seasons a decade ago, I’m amazed at the talent the Devils had skating in front of goalie Martin Brodeur.

Although I think it’s just plain wrong for the NHL season to stretch nearly to the summer solstice, hockey was never more compelling than when I followed all those long playoff stretches as Niedermayer & Co. drove toward the cup.

Congratulations, Scott Niedermayer. Well played.

A new year, and it’s about time I got started

We’re already two days into 2011, and it’s high time I got cracking here at the Ball Caps Blog. I can’t quite explain my absence the last several weeks other than to speculate that it may be fallout from surgery in November. I just haven’t had the drive to post.

Nonetheless, I’ll offer a few quick observations on things I probably would have commented on earlier had I taken the time to do so:

– Baseball lost one of its greats with the death of Bob Feller late in 2010. He was the greatest Cleveland Indian of my lifetime, which began only a few weeks before Feller retired at the end of the 1956 season. Feller was not only a great pitcher, but he was a loyal representative of the Indians franchise, which went into a decades-long tailspin once Feller and others of his era fell off the roster.

-It was a shame that Mike Singletary flamed out as coach of the San Francisco 49ers, getting sacked a week ago today. My take on Singletary was that he was (and is) a good, driven man, but it’s tough for Hall of Fame players to succeed as coaches (cp. Starr, Bart).

-Although I didn’t catch the rain-drenched game, I think it’s marvelous that the NHL continues the Winter Classic outdoor game. For all the kids and their moms and dads who hosed down the back yard to create an ice rink, for all the kidswho skated into the dusk on the frozen ponds of the provinces, this game is for you.

-The 2010 World Cup is fading into memory, but what a grand (if noisy) spectacle it was. I’m eagerly anticipating the next one.

-The Big 10 has taken its lumps this bowl season, in excruciating fashion. Here’s hoping the Ohio State Buckeyes properly represent the best of the Midwest in the Sugar Bowl on Tuesday night.

– Did I happen to mention the San Francisco Giants won the World Series?

Happy New Year, everyone. Good sporting to you.

The Habs have it

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Why are these men smiling? They’re fans of the Montreal Canadiens, who defeated the Pitsburgh Penguins 5-2 tonight to advance to the Eastern Conference finals in the NHL playoffs. The Habs will play either Philadelphia or Boston, who play tomorrow night.

I haven’t paid much attention to hockey this season, even with the San Jose Sharks nearby. But I have kept an eye from afar on the Canadiens-Penguin series, and I’m equally shocked and fascinated by it. The Canadiens were the No. 8 seed in the east, and the Pens were the defending Stanley Cup champions.

Such upsets aren’t supposed to happen, at least not this deep in the playoffs. But the Canadiens pulled it off, and it’s a fantastic story. The Habs are to hockey what the Yankees are to baseball, and it would be great to see Montreal bring the cup home.

I was fortunate to attend a Canadiens game a few years back in Montreal, a low-scoring affair against the Colorado Avalanche. The game itself wasn’t terribly memorable, but my ill-advised attempt to order French fries in French was. I had about $5 in my pocket and unwittingly managed to ask for two orders of fries instead of one. I had to hustle to find an ATM to get a few more bucks to pay for the food.

I should have ordered poutine, that marvelous combination of French fries, gravy and cheese curds. Given the chance, I’d order some tonight to celebrate with the Habs.

USA hockey team shocks Canada

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Yes, the costume  mountie hat above is a lot classier than the silly red, white and blue topper the American is wearing.

But what matters is the final score: USA 5, Canada 3.

Magnificent.

As I’ve noted before, I’m a big fan of Martin Brodeur. But he had an off night tonight against the Americans, letting in a first-minute goal and three more. To add to Canada’s frustrating loss, Team USA slipped in an open-net goal after Brodeur had skated off as the Canadians desperately tried to take the game into overtime.

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Of this night, Ryan Miller will always be able to note proudly that he outplayed one of hockey’s legendary goalies. And he added his own chapter to the legends of American Olympic hockey.

Can a fantasy sports team wreck your love of baseball?

Late in tonight’s ballgame between the Oakland Athletics and the Tampa Bay Rays, slugging Carlos Pena came up with two men on and a chance to break a scoreless tie and give the Rays the victory. I was listening to the game on the car radio on  my way home from work, and I faced a deep philosophical choice.

Carlos Pena

Carlos Pena

Do I pull for Pena, one of the stalwarts on one of my fantasy baseball teams? Or do I root for the A’s, a team I’ve followed as my “home team” for most of the past two decades?

I stuck with the A’s, who – amazingly – retired Pena, pushed the game into extra innings and won it in the 11th with a rare outburst of four runs.

I’m a casual fantasy player, and oddly I seem to fare worst in baseball, the sport I played the most and know the best. Maybe that somehow underscores the tussle in my psyche between pulling for a real team versus a fake one. Or maybe I just suck at fantasy baseball.

I do wonder how the ballplayers react when a fan at a road game comes up and says: “Dude, I’ve got you on my fantasy team. You gotta start hitting.”

What cheek.

When I was a kid – and I’m just old enough to remember the Los Angeles Angels and Washington Senators as expansion teams – I could recite the starting lineups of the American League teams. I had a fair knowledge of the National League lineups, too. With 30 teams in the leagues today, and with players changing uniforms multiple times over a career, it’s awfully tough to keep track. (Fernando Tatis is still playing, and he’s a Met???)

But trolling the fantasy baseball stats helps me know who’s where in real time, better than the stacks of Topps baseball cards I used to sort meticulously team by team. Managing fantasy hockey teams has certainly deepened my knowledge of the stars and muckers of that great sport, and for that I’m grateful. In fact, it was the EA Sports NHL video games that really helped me get a handle on the players and teams when my interest in hockey surged back full-tilt.

Is fantasy baseball pure and true? No, not even close. But how can anything that brings you a deeper understanding and appreciation for a sport be bad?