Saturday, February 18, 2006

Olympic Thoughts

Just watched us lose to Slovakia 2-1, despite outshooting them by ten, and a couple of things popped into my mind. First, Slovakia is now loaded with NHL talent. And I don't just mean NHL players, but NHL all-stars. Go up and down their roster, and right now on paper they're every bit as good if not better than the United States. Hossa, Demitra, Gaborik, Svatos, Bondra, Satan, Chara, and Visnovsky are all all-star caliber players. And that doesn't include Ziggy Palffy and Josef Stumpel, who would have been playing if not for injuries.

Second, we simply can't finish. We have a lot of great playmakers, but not too many finishers. The ones we do have aren't finishing. Gomez, Modano, Drury, and Weight are all terrific set-up guys, but Guerin and Tkachuk aren't getting it done. The rest of our lineup on offense is essentially a lot of good but not great players. The goaltending has been good, but even that's not as reliable as it's been in the past. This team is in trouble. At this point, the only way we get in is by besting Latvia in goal differential. We have a comfortable margin right now, and I can't see them passing us in that department, but if they get a fluke win over Russia, we're probably done.

In other Olympic news, Anonymous in a comment that has been deleted and resurrected at least three times now asks:
And on a side note, can any of our non-X-game athletes do something worth a damn this year? Bode? Out. Johnny Weir? Out. Women's hockey? Out. Michelle Kwan? Out (though Cohen should win a medal).
I'm glad you brought this up, Anonymous. Couple of things about this comment. First, you really gotta hand it to the U.S. When we realized that we couldn't compete in traditional winter Olympic sports like the biathlon and luge, well, we just made them add new ones that we could win. Problem solved! Old fashioned American ingenuity.

But the other problem is this: Most of those aren't sports. Sure, the boarder-cross is a sport, but half-pipe? Half-pipe takes a place alongside other Olympic non-sports like figure skating. No sport whose winner is determined by the subjective opinions of a panel of judges is a real sport. Are they athletes? Oh, God yes, they're tremendous athletes. But so are the perfomers in Cirque de Soleil. That's not a sport either. It's an exhibition. High school marching bands get judged and win medals too, but that doesn't make it a sport. For something to be considered a sport (by me, anyway), I need to be able to tell who wins by looking at some objective measure of performance like a clock or a scoreboard, and what it shows should roughly align with what I've seen. I shouldn't have to be an expert in the nuances of the sport to be able to tell who's won. Sure, it's easy to tell when someone falls, but at that level, laymen can't generally tell the difference between two pefectly executed routines. Indeed, often it seems that person who performed best doesn't win.

And I'm not just picking on figure skating and half-pipe here. The same goes for ski jumping. As long as there's a style component to the landing, it's not a sport. Just give it to the dude who goes the farthest. I don't care if he flails his limbs throughout the flight and lands on his head. If he went farther, he should win. When you're skiing down a 120 meter hill, there's already a pretty good incentive to land cleanly. Personally, I wouldn't need the carrot of style points, because there's already a damn big stick waiting for me if I don't land properly. I'm willing to extend this to boxing, too, a judged sport that probably leads to the most controversy. If they want to change the rules to say that you must knock your opponent out to win, I'm on board. I don't care if it takes 3 rounds, 30 rounds, or 300 rounds. If the winner is determined by a bunch of guys who think they might possibly have maybe seen a jab land, or not, that's not good enough.

Anyway, I'm still a little pissed about the hockey game, so I'm going to start drinking.

Blogger sucks

I had two posts up today, and both have now disappeared. In addition, it's eating comments. If you post a comment, it shows up. But then if I go to post a response, it eats the original comment. So I've done my best to put a couple back up that were eaten.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Random Thoughts

Missed the Illinois game last night. I really have no explanation for this, other than it was Northwestern at home, and I forgot all about it. I was watching my recorded copy of our (the U.S.'s) crappy tie with Latvia. But we won, so yay!

Speaking of the U.S. hockey team, good lord, what an awful second period that was. Not that I've played after flying from one continent to another, but I got a little worried when Emrick and Davidson praised the U.S. for their great first period. Even when you're tired, it's not unusual to start fast. It ALWAYS catches up to you in the second period, though. But they salvaged the point, and they looked great in the first period tonight against Kazakhstan. Still, we've lacked real good finishing so far. The playmaking has been fine, and the defense has been solid outside of the middle 20 minutes last night. Slovakia is going to be tough, though. I don't know how they beat Russia. Just going down Russia's lineup, man, they're stacked.

Speaking of Latvia, I still fucking hate Arturs Irbe.

And one last bit on hockey, but with only one or two NHLers on their roster, how the hell did Konstantine Pushkarev not make their roster? They can't have that many guys better than he is.

I haven't commented on the Jeff Weaver signing because I'm not really sure there's any more that can be said. Others have more or less covered it, but he adds depth to the rotation. Barring multiple injuries, I think they'll be just as strong as they were last year. The numbers will come down a bit just due to regression to the mean, but that's not unexpected. I see Colon being worse by a bit, Lackey and Santana being better, Escobar being better than Washburn was last year, and I'll call Weaver and Byrd a draw. Plus, Carrasco strengthens the pen, albeit for a lot of money.

Started playing floor hockey again recently. A lot easier at 25 than it is at 32. People who know me relatively well will be surprised to learn that I've only been in one almost-fight so far. That's way below my average. But the season is only half over, so I expect that number to climb. And I've lost some of my cheap-shotting touch. I used to be able to rake a guy's foot without bringing him down and drawing a penalty, but no such luck this week. The good news is that I've only knocked down one girl. I've been the very model of restraint.

I don't weigh in on politics very often, mostly because there are a lot of people already doing it, and they all do it a lot better than I possibly could, or at least half of them do. The other half all suck. Regardless, one glance at the sidebar will give you a quick glimpse of my political persuasion. Just wanted to comment quickly on this whole "Cheney shot an elderly man in the face" thing. Ultimately, outside of the comedic value, along with the unintentional comedy being provided by the completely whacked administration response, something's bothering me. Well, actually, lots of things are bothering me, like the whole canned hunting thing, which sounds pretty pathetic when you think about it. And frankly, I don't know if he was drunk, but he was probably drinking a lot more than they let on. Hell, I know I would be if I were out there, but that's probably why I'm not a hunter. Anyway, what's bothering me is this idea that Whittington was "peppered" with birdshot. My Montana cousins hunt, so I'm not anti-hunter or anything. But I can't imagine how the term "peppered" could possibly refer to being pierced by up to 200 lead balls, many of which remain inside the pepperee. Like I said, I don't have a lot of experience with shotguns, but I do have a lot of experience with pepper. Pepper doesn't really bore its way into your food. It sort of rests on top. I'm guessing "getting peppered" probably refers more to something like birdshot that falls out of the air and hits you on the way down after just about all of its energy is spent.

One thing about this incident that I *do* know is that I'm putting my money on Whittington to win the 2008 Tour de France.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

My Bruin Blogging Days May Be Over


I apologize for not knowing this before I dared to comment on UCLA basketball from a fan's perspective, but apparently a prerequisite for being a Bruin fan is a complete and unconditional hatred of Steve Lavin. There I was, week after week, sitting on my couch and rooting for UCLA to win, often followed up with a few paragraphs on this blog with analysis of what I'd witnessed, all the while thinking that rooting for the Bruins to win would be enough to call myself a fan. But I fall short, and finally someone let me in on the secret:
Sure it is possible "to believe the guy was a horrible coach, and to be glad he's no longer the coach at UCLA, and not hate his guts." That wouldn't make you as much of UCLA basketball fan as any casual observer of ND football fan who harbors no ill feelings towards Davies or Willingham. UCLA basketball ... heck everything about UCLA is a religion to us. And Steve Lavin - if anyone who has followed UCLA baskebtall closely online last few years would know - HATES UCLA basketball and its fans. He hates us. And it is simple black and white - you are either with him or you are either with us. Right now from your posts it sounds like you are making excuses for his subtle digs at Howland. Kind of odd for someone who comes on here to claim himself as a UCLA hoops fan. Perhaps you should stick to blogging about the Big-10 and enjoy Lavin's commentary on those tough, grinding out, moving chains in the snow games.

Thank you, bluestreet. For the last 3-10 years, I've been living a lie. I've been telling myself that I really wanted UCLA to win, and when people asked to know of which basketball teams I considered myself a fan, I almost always told them "UCLA!". But now I know. I'm a fraud.

See, I used to think that someone could root for a team without hating their previous coach. I used to think that if Steve Lavin wore a red tie on television, it meant that he was wearing a suit with which a red tie looked appropriate. But now I know that the bastard was wearing in support of U$C the University of Southern California (gotta be nicer to them now that I'm in the market for a new team), and it was a total dig at UCLA, whom he hates, along with their fans. I used to think it was possible to think he was a bad coach, but wasn't a complete asshole worthy of the enduring hatred of anyone who dares root for UCLA.

Let me tell you, I'm glad I found out about this when I did. I may have sat down to watch Saturday's Sunday's game and pulled for UCLA. But I can't waste time with that. I've got work to do. I've gotta get crackin' on my Lavin hate. I'm having someone create a program that will show various images of Lavin for two minutes per day while playing a hideous, grinding noise, as of some monstrous machine running without oil. If that doesn't do it, I'm afraid I'll have to give up the Bruins forever.

Oh well, Go Illini.


Looks like I've got a long way to go. Lavin expects the same things from UCLA basketball as pretty much everyone else who has written about them in the last year, namely the potential to go the elite 8 this year, and to compete for a national championship next year. See, I read that and kind of that it jibed with my own expectations. But I was wrong. All he was doing was setting expectations for the Bruins that were too high so that they would inevitably fail. That guy is one clever bastard.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Stars 5; Kings 6

Alright, so I'm writing about the Kings again, but I did say I'd probably do it when they started winning again, and well, this is two in a row.

I'm gonna come clean. I gave up on the Kings after two periods. After allowing 3 goals in 5 minutes, I quit. I had to do some grocery shopping that I was leaving until after the game, but I figured I'd leave early and get back in time to watch the Olympics. Fortunately, today's television technology allows us to record programs with a touch of a button (and more importantly, delete them with a press of a button, making the whole thing vastly superior to VHS tapes). Anyway, I started recording and left to do my shopping. Decided I'd watch the third period at about 8x speed without checking to see what happened.

Sure enough, the Kings got an early goal on a beautiful three man play on which Frolov passed the puck to Demitra, who made a no-look behind the back pass to a charging Lubo Visnovsky, who slid the puck home to cut the lead to two. Minutes later, Nathan Dempsey jammed home a loose puck from a Demitra pass to bring the Kings within one. Less than a minute after that, Michael Cammalleri made a nifty move on the right wing boards to enter the zone untouched, moved to his left, and hit Luc Robitaille with a perfect pass. Luc, who skated in unseen from the left wing boards, ripped a wrister through an apparently drugged Marty Turco. You couldn't see his face, but I don't think that was necessary to know what Turco's expression was.

Back in the game at 5-5, I watched the rest in regular speed as the Kings finished off one of their best period's of the season. Not content with just being a crappy goaltender in the third period, cheap shotter Turco yanked down Jeremy Roenick as he skated in front of the Dallas net, leading to a power play. The Kings converted, with Derek Armstrong deflecting a Visnovsky shot between his legs. It went under Turco's right arm and trickled over the line for the eventual game winner.

Make no mistake, this is a tremendous confidence boost, and it's a nice way to head into the break. I don't want to make too much of that, because if you go the break on a winning streak, everyone says "what a great way to go into the break", while if you lose on in, people say "the break is coming at the right time." Silver linings, I guess, but it is a nice way to think about the next couple weeks without Kings hockey, and beating a good team, albeit a team they've owned this season, does leave a good taste in the mouth. Still, we should be concerned about the second period, and the fact that they gave up five goals again. Something has to happen on the defensive end to improve, or this team is going to go right back into a slide.

Still, for one afternoon, it was a lot of fun. And I'll probably watch that period a bunch of times over the break. Now let's hope the Americans can acquit themselves well in Turin.

Illinois 53; OSU 69

Alright, I really don't want to write very much about this game. Suffice to say, the Illini got their asses kicked. They didn't defend the perimeter well, preferring to focus on Terrence Dials. The problem is that Ohio State was pretty much making every outside shot they put up. Je'kell Foster and Jamar Butler combined to go 11-14 from three point range, and, well, you're not going to beat too many teams that do that. This, naturally, caused the Illini to intensify the focus on the perimeter, at which point Terrence Dials killed them, going for 19 and 13.

Look, it's a Big Ten road game, and most of the time, you're going to lose those, especially to good teams. This was clearly no exception. The disturbing part is that the Illini have looked downright bad in their last sixty minutes of action. As the Big Ten Wonk points out, they're giving up an extra .35 points on EVERY POSESSION over that period. That's just brutal, and with their offense, they're gonna get killed playing like that.

The next few games are winnable, and if the Illini are going to respond to Coach Weber's challenge to be a special team, now's the time to prove it. If they continue to falter, they're looking a 7-9 seed and possibly a quick exit from the tournament.