Nothing new today, as I'll be driving the 12 or so hours down to Florida here in a little while. I haven't totally decided if I'm going to write anything next week or not. All I really know is I'm going to have to go to sleep about as soon as we get there so I can be something resembling rested for the Blackhawks tomorrow night.
Whatever happened to going to a stadium to watch the game? Seriously. I can totally get behind high-brow (or at least much improved) stadium food. But all this other crap? I just don’t know, man.
I bring this up because I read about the Atlanta Falcons’ new stadium that was just approved. The extra amenities include a bar as long as the field and seats with a built in rumble paks.* It also has, to quote the Sports Illustrated blurb, a “‘Fantasy Football Lounge’ and . . . a futuristic electronics store.” Why on earth do you need an electronics store at a game? Why do you need seats that make sure you know when a big hit has happened? Why on Earth would you go to a bar in a stadium?
*Remember when that was so revolutionary with video games? Now it’s just taken as a given.
I mean, please. I know that attendance has been dropping with the advent of the age of Sunday Ticket and HDTV. I get it. But this is how you win fans back? If you wanted to watch a game at a bar, believe me, you’re so much better off just to go to bar. There is no call to pay that much for a ticket* and to pay what stadiums charge for a beer** when you can saunter down to your neighborhood bar or a B-Dubs and pay half of that, drinking and eating to your heart’s content. And that’s looking what what they’re charging in the old stadium. God knows what they’d try to charge you at a new stadium with all these bells and whistles.
*This site tells me the average cost for a ticket to a Falcons game was $72.45 in 2009. That’s one hell of a cover charge.
**$7.50 for 16 oz. for Atlanta. Or, you know, the cost of a six pack at the grocery store.
This isn’t a particularly new phenomenon. It started small. First came the mascots. I don’t think that many people have too big a problem with that, even at the time. Then little things like Bernie Brewer going down his slide or the Big Apple at Shea. That’s all fine and good. Those are things that generally add to the game and the atmosphere. Or, at the very least, don’t interfere with it. Nowadays, though, that apparently won’t cut it.
You still get things like that. The train in Houston. Whatever that thing is in Miami.* But then there are the ridiculous things that you just plain can’t enjoy while watching the game. Like the aforementioned bar. The Cowboys walking through a club to get to and from the field. A pool in the stadium. Are the games really that awful you would rather spend that kind of money not to pay attention to it?
*I know, I totally agree it’s hideously gaudy. But, I love it. I think I’m in the minority here. I wouldn’t love it anywhere else. But that is so totally Miami. Or, at least, the perception of Miami. It works.
Which leads me to another point of contention. Is is possible for the Ricketts family just to leave Wrigley alone? Seriously. There are improvements to be made, to be sure. But those improvements honestly don’t have to happen where the fans can see them. They just don’t. Up the food and drink options, and you’ve got it. You don’t need an electric sign big enough they can read it in Comisky. You don’t need that stupid little sign in the right field well. You certainly don’t need to do anything to block the view from the famous rooftops of Wrigleyville. Expand the clubhouses, up the player amenities. Fine. But the fans already have a cathedral of the game to marvel at. If they’re really Cub fans or baseball fans, they’ll get it. And they’ve been getting it for the past century or so.
You say the problem is you don’t bring in enough money. This new sign (that seems designed to totally overshadow maybe the most famous scoreboard in sports) will provide all this money you’re currently missing out on in advertising. Well, Mr. Ricketts, if you can’t figure out how to make money owning the Cubs, you need to find another business. The Cubs routinely sell out no matter how good the team is thanks to that park. Cubs merchandise flies off shelves. You have one of the most well known teams globally (behind probably only the Yankees and Red Sox), and certainly what would be considered a national team.* You don’t have to worry about paying anything for the stadium other than normal operations. I’m sure the building is paid off by now. You have all these advantages, but you can’t figure out how to make money other than finding ways to spoil everything that made Wrigley Field special and different than every other stadium in the league. Really?
*As opposed to the White Sox, who are definitely regional.
The Cubs are a mess on the field with only one real stud in Anthony Rizzo (who’s been slumping lately). The ownership clearly doesn’t understand what this stadium means to the city or its fans. The things they are looking to improve aren’t doing anything to help the concern of players that complain about the outdatedness of that end of things, which the fans don’t see. You probably won’t be watching the Cubs on WGN in the near future. It really is enough to make you puke.
The Blackhawks really didn’t give me a whole lot to write about last night. They were thoroughly outplayed, and the problems on the power play have only deepened. It’s not too late to turn it around, but they simply have no shot in this series playing like that.
No, today, it’s all about me. I’ve mentioned other places (and I think here) that I finally got around to editing the book I wrote for last year’s NaNoWriMo. Well, now it’s done and available for your entertainment. You can buy it on Amazon or CreateSpace. I would prefer CreateSpace purchases, as I get more royalties, but I’m happy either way.
You might notice that the Amazon link is the Kindle version of the book. The print version will be making it’s way to Amazon in the next day or two, and I’m sure I’ll be posting when that happens, too. My feelings on even having a Kindle version, though, are a bit complicated.
Those that know me know I’m not the biggest fan of ebooks. Kristine is even more against them than I am. I just don’t feel you get nearly the same experience reading on a tablet as you do with a physical book, no matter how much Kindle and Nook try to convince me otherwise on TV. I’ve held ereaders in my hand before. I’ve read a bit on them. It is not the same. It is not half as satisfying.
It also feels orders of magnitude less permanent. Things on the web are largely ephemeral. Yes, many things can be found years and years down the road once they’re posted on the internet. But you will only find them if you’re looking and you remember what you were looking for. With most things, I’m sure you stumble on them once, and you might get a kick out of it, but then you move on. If you can’t remember exactly where it was or who wrote/created whatever it may be, it can really be a bear searching for a lot of things. I know that doesn’t exactly apply to ebooks, but it feels similar enough that I can’t get behind them. A physical book, on the other hand, lends an air of permanence and legitimacy. You can feel the weight in your hands. You can feel the grain of the pages (and maybe smell them, too, if it’s an old enough book). You can easily imagine the readers before you or after you taking in the same story, the same pages you are pouring through. Electrons don’t give you quite the same feeling.
I debated back when I wrote Earthbound if I should even make an ebook available. It seemed more than a little hypocritical to offer one, given my public stance. In the end, though, I decided even if the form wasn’t something I was necessarily interested in, there are clearly those out there who love their ereaders.* And, in the end, if somebody is reading what I wrote, I should be grateful no matter how they choose to do it.
*Those people are called “wrong,” but whatever.
I suppose you might call it greed, but seeing how I’ve yet to see a penny from book sales, that doesn’t quite seem appropriate. No, I think it is far more an access thing. It might not be my thing, but in the end, I guess it’s not a bad thing however you get to it. Just know you’ll have to pry my precious (real) books from my cold dead hands.
This is going to be short, and that is by design. It’s also not about sports so, so feel free to breeze on by if that’s what you come here for. I had been reading and finally heard for myself a particular bad answer given by Miss Utah in the Miss America pageant. I don’t know when it was held, my guess would be this past weekend. Yes, we’ve heard dumb beauty pageant answers before, and this admittedly is nowhere near as bad as Miss Teen South Carolina a few years ago. But it’s still bad.
As a quick aside, can we stop asking weighty questions during beauty pageants? How many honestly good ideas have grown out of a pageant answer? I’m pretty sure that answer is zero, but I’ll be the first to admit I put no research into it. Which, coincidentally, is the same amount of time most girls in these things seem to have spent pondering them. No, the only time you get anything remotely interesting out of these is when girls either seize up or are honestly flustered by the question, making them look dumb. There are no winners here. Please stop.
Anyway, we press on. The question posed to Miss Utah: “A recent report shows that in forty percent of American families with children, women are the primary earners, yet they continue to earn less than men. What does this say about society?”
Another aside. What a piss-poor question. I feel a bit odd about asking about American families versus American households, which feels more proper and precise, but we’re going to leave that aside for the moment. I can glean by context and general knowledge that the intent was to ask about women earning less than men in similar positions. The way the question is worded, however, is an oxymoron. In these families, there is no way the women could earn less and be the primary earners. But that is what the question seems to be asking us, based off the wording. I don’t blame Nene Leakes here. She was just the one reading off the cue card. If you’re going to try to ask serious questions, pageant people, at least ask them correctly.
Now, Miss Utah’s answer: “I think we can relate this back to education, and how we are . . . continuing to try to strive to . . . [breaks out into flustered smile] . . . figure out how to create jobs right now. [Shit-eating grin does not go away.] That is the biggest problem. And, I think, especially the men are . . . um . . . seen as the leaders of this, and so we need to try to figure out how to . . . create education better so that we can solve this problem. Thank you.”
Clearly that was a train wreck and a half. I’m sure Miss Utah (Marissa Powell) is not as dumb as she sounds there, clearly she became flustered and hurriedly rambled through some sentences to get out of the spotlight as soon as possible. Still, she clearly isn’t too well versed in this.
Here would be my answer. This was as on the spot as you can get in a forum like this, with no serious research and taking the report at face value, which I likely would not do if I were not giving a “beauty pageant” answer. Or, at least, collaborate it with other sources.
“I think we can, in many ways, relate this back to education.* For some time now, male college graduation and attendance rates have been falling, and falling rather steeply, for some time now. It is a good thing that more and more women are becoming educated, but it should not be at the expense of male learning. Without higher education, men will continue to be shut out of higher earning jobs, while women continue to have wider access. However, sadly, it seems society has not broken out of the mindset that men are breadwinners and women are supplemental earners. This is a dangerous mindset for this country. Equal wages for equal performance ought to be common sense, not something we have to legislate, and we will be lesser as a society for it as long as things continue on this way.”
*She was doing fine to that point, and I don’t disagree with that part at all. It’s just, things from there, ugh.
I did not go back and edit any of that. It is how it fell out of my fingers so as to best replicate how it would be spoken. Sure, there are points about job creation to make and probably bigger points about how many single mother households there are. I would be very curious to see how many of those forty percent of households have women not only as the primary earner, but the sole earner. You could probably break it down further from there and get into issues of class and race. There are reasons people endlessly debate this stuff in spite of the volumes and volumes that have already been written about the subject.
Nobody wins here. It’s a total farce to ask these sorts of questions in that forum to begin with. Miss America is a beauty pageant. We all understand that. There’s no need to try to give it any more gravitas beyond what it already has with that particular crowd. Believe me, the sort of people who would care about those questions are, most likely, not going to pay attention to your little dress up game anyway. But, to Miss Utah and others, seriously. Learn to bullshit a little bit. You’re giving, what, a thirty second answer, max? It’s not that hard to spout off some words that sound nice but ultimately say nothing. Talk to damn near any politician. They do it for a living. I’m sure they can give you some pointers.
Long story short, this is why any daughters I happen to have are not coming within five miles of a beauty pageant.
I didn’t post yesterday because I was just plain exhausted after Game 1. That was intense, let alone it went until one in the morning. And, on top of that, I got caught up in cleaning up a mess that was none of my doing. I didn’t get much of anything done yesterday that I wanted to. I didn’t get a response to Collin on Facebook,* didn’t get a blog post written, and didn’t finish editing the book. I guess I was pretty good about getting work stuff done, though, so it wasn’t a total loss.
*I did get that done before I wrote this, though.
Oh, that book thing? I think I mentioned it here before, but I did finally get 50,000 words written actually during the month of November after years of trying. I’d written a few books before, of course. And I did use NaNoWriMo rules for myself. Granted those rules aren’t very restrictive. It’s pretty much write 50,000 words of fiction in a month. But National Novel Writing Month is November, and that I hadn’t done. Until last November, of course. I got five free copies of my book for winning, which was nice.* But I hadn’t gotten around to editing it until a few days ago. I thought I was going to finish doing it yesterday, but no dice. The good news is I haven’t found anything too major. A couple grammatical issues, a few points of expansion or clarification. Small formatting change. Nothing major. I did find a few nice foreshadowing moments that I certainly didn’t realize were foreshadowing at the time of writing. It’s pretty cool when things work out like that.
*And also why this one was on Amazon instead of Lulu.
Anyway, about the only thing I really got done on my list yesterday was mowing. Oh well.
Now that I had a day and a good night’s sleep, I can talk about the game a little bit. What a game, eh? If that’s any indication, this series is going to be everything we thought it could be. I mean, really, these teams seem so evenly matched it’s not even funny. While the final goal may well have been a combination of luck and fatigue, there are some good points I took away from game one.
First, the Blackhawks got off to a pretty sluggish and subpar start. I don’t know if I would necessarily call it bad. They weren’t awful. But neither of the first two goals were works of art. One was a pretty bad decision to go after the hit instead of the puck, leaving Crawford out to dry. The other was a relatively soft goal by Crawford, though I find it hard to ding him too bad for that given how he played the rest of the game. After that second goal, coming awfully quickly in the second period, Chicago seemed to wake up. From that point on (in regulation), it seemed the Blackhawks forced all the action and looked to be the quicker and better team. And although there were some good hits, the Blackhawks are not (and haven’t been) a particularly physical team. They beat you with speed and slick stickwork. When they look to have a clear edge in those areas, that usually means the other team isn’t physically working them over, which usually spells wins. And to that end, if you look at the game after those two Boston goals, the Blackhawks would have won with a fairly convincing 3-1 win over five periods.
Secondly, well, I kind of touched on it. Corey Crawford has turned into a Jedi in the net. When did this happen? I mean, goaltending has never really been Chicago’s strong suit. They’ve had a strong history of their backups taking over the starting jobs the past several years, including a couple years ago when Antti Niemi took the starting job and did good enough* to let the Chicago offense take them to a championship. Corey Crawford looked to be another in that mold. Nothing great, he would just do enough. But then he and Ray Emery (before the latter got hurt) turned into something else this year. And Crawford seems to have found another gear during these playoffs. I don’t know how to explain it or where it came from. But it showed again in game one. If he can keep that level of play, I really don’t think Boston has enough scoring to win in this series.
*And no better.
I do expect Chicago to win again at home tomorrow night, though I can’t imagine the game will be quite as intense at the last one. Yes, there’s been a little bit more rest than usual between games, which will help. But that had to take an awful lot of both of these teams. I still expect it to be an even, hard fought game, just not quite to game one levels. Look for things to rachet up again when they get back to Boston, though. That is going to reinvigorate the Bruins, as it should, to be playing for the Stanely Cup in front of their fans, who you might remember had a bit of a rough patch. I have a hard time seeing Chicago winning that game. They might be able to steal game four, but I don’t know about that one, either. I really expect this thing to come back to Chicago all knotted up.
Given what happened at the marathon, I do expect the anthem to be pretty rousing in Boston. But I’m sorry, nobody does the anthem better than the Blackhawks. Not any city, not any sport.
Guest post today! Andrew's team is the Penguins, so he's got his ear much closer to the Eastern Conference than I do. Here's his take on the finals.
The battle for Lord Stanley’s coveted cup has now been set, pairing the President Trophy winning Chicago Blackhawks against a hard-nosed Boston Bruins club. This series has the making for one of the better Stanley Cup finals we have had in a few years. One of the more compelling features of this series is its completeness. What I mean about “completeness” is, if you were to choose your favorite part about the game of hockey, you are bound to see it in this series. If you are in to goaltending, Tuukka Rask and Corey Crawford are both playing at a high level. In fact, they are the top two in goals against average for the playoffs, with Crawford registering a 1.74 GAA, and Rask with a 1.75. If you are more into offense, both teams have plenty of superstar firepower. You will see the likes of Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, and Patrick Sharp for the Blackhawks going up against David Krejci, Nathan Horton, Milan Luccic, and Patrice Bergeron. David Krejci is the leading scorer for the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs, putting up 21 points (9 G-12 A). Second in scoring is linemate Nathan Horton with 17 points (7 G-10 A). For those of you looking for more of a physical game, both teams blue liners play with plenty of intensity. The Bruins will pair Zdeno Chara with Johnny Boychuk, which has worked out quite well throughout the playoffs. This pairing has been almost impenetrable. With the exception of Boychuk, every single Bruin on the first line has over a +10 rating. On the other side, Niklas Hjalmarsson is the only Blackhawk with a +10. But all stats aside, the most compelling part of the series is that both teams are Original Six. Anything could happen.
For today’s post I will be breaking down the Boston Bruins and give a little insight on how they were able to overcome the heavily favored Pittsburgh Penguins. As with most good hockey teams, it all starts with solid goaltending. If you will recall, Boston was still trying to replace Tim Thomas, who had been suspended for not reporting to training camp. They knew they had a capable net minder in Tuukka Rask, but they were not sure he was ready to be the number one goalie. Tuukka Rask not only answered the bell throughout the regular season, posting 5 shutouts in 36 starts, but he also proved he could play in the big games. If you look at his line during the playoffs, he has gone 12-4-1 with 1.75 GAA and 2 shutouts, one of the two coming against the Pittsburgh Penguins. In fact, Tuukka was solid throughout the series with the Penguins. Rask shutout the Penguins in Game 1, making 29 saves. In Game 2, he only allowed a single goal, saving 26 out of 27 shots. He really shined in the double overtime Game 3, where he stopped 53 of 54 shots. The Penguins made a great offensive push, but Rask was nothing short of impeccable. It seemed that no matter what the Penguins tried to do offensively, Rask had an answer. In Game 4, he was once again perfect, shutting out the Penguins making 26 saves. Doing the math, Rask gave up only two goals and made 134 saves out of 136. That’s stopping 98.5% of pucks. With that kind of goaltending, you will win about 98.5% of the time, as well, regardless of the team’s offensive prowess.
Offense was not a problem for the Bruins during the Penguins series either. As a mentioned earlier the top scorers for the playoffs both are on the Boston Bruins. The Bruins first line has been incredible. They have had offensive production form every player on the line and have been stingy on defense, which is why they lead the playoffs in +/-. After making a tweak to the second line, swapping out Tyler Seguin in favor of Jaromir Jagr, they too have been producing. In fact, all four lines have been producing, which makes Boston a scary opponent for any team. Regardless if the Penguins did not show up for Game 2 of the series, the Bruins still put up 6 goals on a reeling Penguins club that was still seeking stability after Game 1, hence the move to try Fleury again in net after Vokoun gave up three first period goals in Game 2. As you see from the results, Fleury fared no better than Tomas Vokoun against the Bruins, and they are not alone in this regard.
The Bruins defense can shut down any opponent. When you have the physically imposing force known as Zdeno Chara anchoring the blue line, you tend not to shy away from physical confrontation. Although the Penguins did their best to play physical in Game 1, they soon came to realize that this was not their style of play, and they paid for their decisions. If you are the Penguins, you do not want to see your captain getting in the face of Chara. You also don’t want to see Malkin dropping the gloves. Both instances only intensified Boston and caused Pittsburgh to attempt to play their physical game. However, it was not only the physical defensive play that helped Boston get to the Stanley Cup finals, the defensive positioning has been spot on, mystifying opponents. Head coach Claude Julien likes to call their defensive style “layered defense.” This seems to be a fitting term for their style of play. As the Penguins found out, they may have been able to penetrate the first line of defense, but then they would have to contend with the second wave. And at times, they would penetrate the second wave, and they would still have a Bruin looking them square in the eye on the other side. And, of course, if all lines of defense happened to get beat, then the Penguins had to try to get a puck past Tuukka Rask, but he was a brick wall in and of himself. With all these layers of defense, it would seem that the Blackhawks will have a tough journey to put pucks in the net, but it’s a new series.
The bottom line is if the Bruins keep playing with their layers of defense, and if the top line can continue putting up points at the same pace, and if Tuukka Rask can continue his dominance in the net, the Blackhawks will have their hands full. The flip side of all this is that the Blackhawks really have no matchup problems against Boston, their goaltender is playing nearly equally as well, and they have the skill to create their own offensive chances. Both teams have been in Stanley Cup finals in recent years, so experience, or lack thereof, will not be a factor for either side. As a fan of hockey, I am excited to get this series underway and see hockey played at its highest level.
The Stanley Cup Finals start tomorrow. I was going to say they kick off tomorrow, but that didn’t feel appropriate for hockey. Neither did tip off. Face off seems awkward there. What should I say for hockey? Drop off? That doesn’t feel right either. Oh well. I guess they just start.
Anyway, the beloved Chicago Blackhawks face off against the evil Boston Bruins. Do I believe that? Not particularly. To be honest, I didn’t watch hockey nearly as closely as usual because I was paying so close attention to the Pacers. What I did watch was entirely Blackhawks. I bet I haven’t watched more than a real-time hour of Eastern conference hockey this year, given how the lockout schedule was set up this year. Am I complaining? No, actually. I thought it was great. It was like how baseball should be set up.
Seriously, because of the schedule, there is so much mystery and intrigue here. All the things you would typically fall back on aren’t here. There were no head-to-head meetings,* no common opponents. No, these teams existed in totally separate bubbles this year. We can (and will) compare seasons, but do take it all with a grain of salt thanks to that.
*In a twist that sure surprised me, despite being both original six teams, the Blackhawks and Bruins have never met for a Cup final before. Sure, there are reasons for this, like how for some time the original six were all in a division together and all the expansion teams were in another. There was a pretty long cup drought for both cities not long after that. But you would still think they would have faced off at least once in all those years before expansion.
First, we’ll look at the Blackhawks, since they are my favored team. Long story short, this was pretty well the dream season for Chicago. They dominated from the get, setting a new points streak record to start the season. I don’t believe there was any point of the season where they were not in first place of the conference, though they did hit a bit of a soft spot in the last third of the year. Still, if there was a juggernaught this season, Chicago was it.
The playoffs were a little more spotty. They did take care of the Wild in five games, which was good. They were a bit tougher games than they should have been, though, especially considering their starting goalie went down with an injury literally five or ten minutes before the series was supposed to start. I’m not sure there’s ever a good time to see your backup goalie in the playoffs, but that really is the worst possible time for that to happen. Still, the series went more or less according to script.
Enter, then, the age-old rivalry of Detroit and Chicago. This would be the last time* these two would see each other before the finals, thanks to some common-sense realignment. I know hockey is more than a little tilted to the east coast, but there was never any good geographic reason for Detroit or Columbus to be in the West to start. I digress. This did not go to script, and quickly became the most (only?) adversity the Blackhawks saw all year. After winning the first game at home easily enough (4-1), Chicago dropped the next three, none of them particularly competitive. It really looked like the dream run was over. I know I had pretty well given up on them. But, this team showed it did have some grit to it.
*For the foreseeable future, anyway.
Back in the United Center, Chicago reasserted as much control as a team down 3-1 can with another 4-1 victory. Still, you were down 3-1, there’s only so much one game can do. Things were tough back in Detroit, but after a furious third period comeback, Chicago managed to knot the series at three with a 4-3 win. Back to the United Center, then, for an intense game seven. And, boy, was it ever. After being tied 1-1 most of the way, it looked like Chicago had the game won with a late third period goal. The only problem was the officially way back in the Chicago zone had blown his whistle thanks to a hit putting a player in the benches, nullifying the score. Was it a play that should have been whistled? I didn’t think so, personally. Especially not in game seven of a rivalry playoff series. But, replay did clearly show the officially whistling and motioning just seconds before the shot went off. It was hard to swallow, but there was nothing to be done about it. To overtime we went.
It was a back-and-forth overtime period, and I was just sure Detroit would win it after having the goal waved off. I sat and watched in dread. Thankfully, the overtime only lasted a bit under four minutes before Brent Seabrook finally notched his first playoff score to put the series away. It was an awfully close call, but the season was saved. On to the Kings!
There isn’t a whole lot to say about the Chicago-L.A. series. I really thought it would be quite a bit tougher than it was. The Kings were the defending champions, and Jonathan Quick was (and likely still is) the consensus “best goalie in the world” right now. The Blackhawks, for the most part, tore through them like paper. The toughest game was the last one, which went to double overtime. It was a game that shouldn’t have gotten that far. The Blackhawks dominated the first period as much as any team has all year, but only had two goals to show for it. That was a little worrying, but it was hard to imagine losing that game. Then came the short-handed Kings goal in the second period. You had to cringe a bit at that, but I just chalked it up to a bit of a fluke. No reason to panic yet. Then they scored on a power play in the third to tie it. Worry definitely set in after that, especially with the penalty being a pretty dumb one. I tried to keep calm, reminding myself that the Blackhawks were up 3-1, but after what just happened the Red Wings, I really didn’t want this series to go any further. Finally, Patrick Kane lit the lamp with just a couple minutes to go in the third. A big sigh of relief. Finals, here we come.
You probably know the story from here, but I’ll recount it. The Kings were trying desperately to score, but absolutely could not keep control of the puck long enough to pull Quick and get the extra attacker out there. Playoff hero Bryan Bickell iced the puck with nine seconds to go, finally letting the sixth attacker on. I didn’t think much of it. Six skaters or no, you ought to be able to hold the lead for nine seconds. There isn’t enough time for the extra skater to make a difference at that point. Cue a Kings faceoff win and quick shot later, and the score is tied, 3-3. It was probably the second most stunned crowd I’d ever seen.* The overtime periods were awfully tense, and full of close calls on both sides. Maybe it was the pessimist in me, but I felt like the Kings generally controlled play throughout both overtimes. But the Blackhawks had shown enough I didn’t give up hope. I just felt like I could puke. Finally, Toews and Kane connected on the exact same one-timer they had barely missed in the first overtime. Now, finally, stick the Chelsea Dagger into the Kings, it was time for the finals.
*First would be the Wabash crowd for the Bell game my senior year. Wabash had an early lead, but it kept dwindling throughout the second half as the Little Giant offense couldn’t get anything going. You could feel Wabash defense starting to tire and the DePauw drives going on for longer and longer. Still, it looked like the game was won when DePauw had to kick about a forty-five yard field goal. No gimme on any level, especially not Division III. And not when you saw their kicker blow an extra point earlier in the game. Little did we know this was now the backup kicker. Not that it would’ve changed our minds at that point. We thought we’d held on. But, no, it sailed perfectly through the uprights, leaving literally half of the stadium completely dumbfounded and unable to make a sound. I don’t think I said another word until we were back in Crawfordsville and I finally felt like I could eat again.
Hmm. Well, this has gone on longer than I thought it would. As I said before, I didn’t watch the Bruins at all this year. All I really know about them is Toronto had them as beat as any team could have a team beat without the final buzzer sounded, but Boston somehow came away with that game seven. From there, they pretty well blitzed both the Rangers and the Penguins. Pretty shocking, considering how the Rangers had dominated their first round series. It was bad enough now the team is going into overhaul mode. And the Penguins, well, I really don’t have any idea what happened there. They were pretty much the East’s version of the Blackhawks until they apparently forgot how to play hockey against Boston. I’ll see if I can get a better explanation from somebody closer to the situation.
As far as a prediction, well, I mean, it’s no surprise I would pick the Blackhawks here. And I am. I think it will be a tough series, but I do think Chicago is the better team here. Too much firepower for Boston to compete with. Also, it seems like the Cup has been decided on the road more often than not the past several years, so I’m going to say Chicago in six, with at least two games being decided in overtime.
Nothing new today, as I'm celebrating my 27th birthday. Also, I'm posting from my phone, where I am a notoriously bad typist. I'll pick it back up tomorrow, probably with some hockey.
I was always a pretty good student, but my effort has always been lacking. I found early on I could put school on cruise control and get what I wanted/needed, which set me up for a lifetime of bad study habits. I’m sure any teachers, professors, and classmates reading this are nodding in agreement. Even with that, I still took pride in my work. I had a reputation to uphold, I didn’t want other people to know how little real effort I put into school while still maintaining my grades.
In second grade, it almost came unraveled, and it actually was not a time when I was in cruise control. Rather, my imagination got me called out. You know, that thing you usually encourage in children? That thing you lose as you get older and wish you could recapture? Yeah, that. It was because of my imagination I turned in what appeared to be the sloppiest, most unimaginative thing I’ve probably ever done in an academic setting. I’ve never told the story before. I was so mortified at the time, and it didn’t really lend itself to telling once the moment had passed. Or so I thought. I think I’m ready to tell it now. I just wish there was some way for Mrs. Shonkweiler to read this.*
*I also hope I spelled that right. That is not an easy name to keep in your memory for, what, twenty years?
Let’s back up a little bit, back to kindergarten for just a moment. Coloring was (and I’m assuming still is) a big part of the kindergarten experience. I always got dinged for leaving white spots, and to this day I’m a bit bitter about it. I can’t help that melted wax didn’t always smear just right into the paper. It wasn’t as if I blatantly left spots uncolored. Crayons just don’t color as evenly as pencils. I also got dinged for not being the best cutter, which is absurd, because I was a damned wizard with scissors later in elementary school. Probably still am, but I’d be the first to admit I’m rusty. Anyway, ever since I wasn’t allowed to switch kindergarten classes because of those two things, I’ve been a little sensitive about my skills in those vital areas. The coloring pages, though greatly slowed, did not stop in kindergarten.
No, even in the second grade you occasionally got to do some coloring. I couldn’t tell you a single thing I colored the whole year outside of this one, infamous picture. There was more to it than just coloring the picture. You probably had to pick out certain things, write a little description of things in the picture, and so forth. That was not enough for my imagination, though. No, I had bigger ideas than a little assignment that was most likely just something to occupy our time for a little while. We had been presented what looked like a pleasant enough day at the park with people and animals strolling through and doing park things. I saw a pair of magical cardinals.
I don’t remember everything about this picture, but I can swear to you on the pain of a gory death there were two cardinals sitting on a fountain, or maybe one at a fountain and one on a lamppost. I took a moment to survey the scene and decided that those two cardinals turned everything below it red, like little searchlights. I quickly started in coloring the birds and the area underneath them. No! I quickly decided. These cardinals were better than a pair of oddly colored flashlights. They turned all they flew over red. FOREVER. Yeah, now that’s what I’m talking about. Nobody would mess with those cardinals.
This led to a pretty sound, logical next step. These cardinals live in this park, and have for a long time. I mean, obviously cardinals are not migratory birds, that’s why they were always at the birdfeeder when we ate breakfast. That means these birds must have flown over every section of this park. Clearly, the decision was out of my hands. The entire picture must be colored red.
And it was. My hand was almost as worn down as the nub of red wax between my fingers. But there it was. A completely red rendering of this park. I didn’t know if my red crayon was going to hold out, but by God, it made it. I finished whatever else I needed to do with the assignment and handed it in, proud and sure of my work.
I did whatever it was second graders do when they’ve finished stuff early. Or, at least, whatever wouldn’t get me in trouble. Probably reading a book or something. A short while later, Mrs. Shonkweiler rather angrily yelled out, “Who did one?” We all turned to see what had happened. My eyes bulged. “Who just colored this all red? Come up here and do it right!”
Leaving aside I had clearly forgotten to put my name on it, I was mortified. It suddenly snapped in what it must have looked like from the outside. Some lazy slob just colored in the whole thing one color just to get it done. I wasn’t one of those kids! I wanted to go up and explain the whole story to her. I wanted to tell her it wasn’t what it looked like. See? I hadn’t gone over the lines! At least, not much! There was a reason for it, I didn’t just do it out of spite!
I couldn’t get the story out, though. I was more than embarrassed enough, I wasn’t going to compound it with some wild story that had seemed so real just a handful of minutes before. It wasn’t worth it. As quickly as I could, I went up, grabbed it and a blank one, and went back to my seat to color it more conventionally. I don’t remember anything about the second version, other than I did it quickly and with burning cheeks. I don’t think I said another word the rest of the day. I also don’t think the teacher said anything to me. I think she was surprised who grabbed the picture and wasn’t really prepared for one of the honor roll kids to be coming up. Now, in third grade, I was little demon who, while I still made good grades, was probably enough of a troublemaker to do something like that. Not second grade. I was sincerely still an angel at that point.* It turned in the second version, and the issue died.
*At school, anyway. I make no promises about how I was at home.
Except with me. That picture still to this day pops into my head every now and then. I still wanted to explain that there were reasons, good reasons, for why I did that. There was a narrative and a logic to the red madness. Moral of the story: if it’s not well explained, it’s not going to be seen as particularly creative, no matter what was going through your head at the time.
I guess this is my Pacers season wrap-up piece. There were a few things that have been bouncing around in my head for a while, but now it seems like they’ve come together to form one nice little bow, and nicely timed to the (unfortunate) end of the season. It’s funny how that works out. I suppose it’s kind of like writing history. None of it happens in a vacuum. It’s impossible to isolate one event from another, influences come from everywhere. It’s not history, but here’s my best shot to put it to the Pacers.
First and foremost, can we call stop talking about point guard problems? The Pacers are not a point guard away from a championship. To say that ignores practically everything that has happened this year and it just comes off as ignorant. This is the same argument that football teams are a quarterback away or a baseball team is a pitcher away or something like that. It’s never one player. And, furthermore, the Pacers actually have something in George Hill. It is true that he’s a natural two, but you might also remember that he took over the point guard role for this team because it was discovered through trial and error he was the best fit for this squad. We had a “true” point guard last year in Darren Collison, who had the best year of his career last year. Hill fit better once he took over because of injury. He’s a competent ball-handler who can create his own shot. He’s not a wizard with his passes or handles, he just does enough. And that’s all this team needs. What he does provide over smaller guards is his defense and scoring. You don’t have to hide him on the defensive end or get the ball out of his hands quickly to create offense.
That defensive note is important. The story has been widely told about Frank Vogel putting the entire Pacers team in the locker room and having the starters stand fingertip to fingertip to show their combined wingspan. This is a huge team. George Hill is pretty darned big for a point guard. The entire Pacers philosophy, the entire defensive system,* is predicated on being bigger at every position. With George Hill, they are. With DJ Augustin or practically any “true” point guard, they are not. Related to that, and I’m sure to Hill’s scoring ability, the Pacers starting lineup this year was one of the best scoring units in the league. It might have been the top scoring unit, in fact. I know that going into game seven, the Pacers starting unit was outscoring the Heat’s starting five by like a hundred and fifty points or something like that. Long story short, there is a change the starting until should probably make, but George Hill is certainly not it.
*Which, you might have noticed, is where this team makes its bread and butter.
Which brings us to the next point. The Pacers bench is awful. Tyler Hansbrough and Ian Mahinmi might not be anybody’s ideal combo, but they’re the only parts of the bench the team really ought to bring back. Augustin had a few points where he hit some big shots, but he was constantly lost on defense. And when he was in position, he wasn’t big or strong enough to do crap about it. And, you might also remember, there was a stretch he was so bad that Ben Hansbrough had to be the number two guy for a good stretch. I’m sure Hansbrough the Younger is a fine person and a blast to be around. But he is not a number two point guard in the NBA. And that is still the third best position on the bench. The backup wings were nothing but an unmitigated disaster. Gerald Green and Sam Young were affronts to professional basketball. I mean, Green might as well been kidnapped by Mexican drug lords for all the difference he made in the playoffs. It might have been better that way for Pacer fans.* Young at least provided some okay defenses for stretches. I think I would have been a better option with the ball, though. He would have had to make significant headway before he could have even been considered a drain.
*Not, presumably, for Gerald. I hear those drug lords don’t know the first thing about hospitality.
So, yeah, with a bench like that, you’re asking players like Lance Stephenson and Paul George to play some very extended minutes. That's going to be a drain on anybody eventually. Still, you generally have no problem with George doing that against most teams. But he is still awfully young and rather thin. When you’re asking him to guard LeBron James for the entire game over a seven games stretch, he’s going to be beaten down. And that’s off guarding Carmelo Anthony full time. He’ll get better as he gets stronger and more experienced. Lance Stephenson, though? Yeah, he’s an X-factor and he was a huge pleasant surprise this year. But I still found myself cringing whenever he touched the ball. There's no way around it, he's just plain ureliable at this point. He can provide a spark, but I would much rather see that spark come off the bench at this point in his career. Which clears the way for the return of Danny Granger.
For years Pacer fans wondered how good the team could be if they could get a healthy Mike Dunleavy and Danny Granger on the court at the same time. Now, since Paul George set foot on an NBA floor, wouldn’t you take him over Dunleavy? I think Danny Granger understands this team belongs to PG and Roy Hibbert now. But it can be offensively challenged. You know the number one thing Danny Granger brings to the table? Consistent shooting. You know the number two thing Danny Granger brings to the table? The size, strength, and attitude to guard a LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony. You know the two things the Pacers desperately lacked in this series against the Heat? A consistent scoring option after Hibbert (since George’s scoring was come and go with guarding LeBron) and the size and savvy to really guard LeBron James.
Long story short, this team had enough as it was to beat Miami this year. You add a healthy Danny Granger to the mix? This is probably a Pacer victory in five games. Six tops.
Now, that does depend on Granger coming back healthy, and as Purdue fans are well aware, knees are squirrelly things in basketball. It’s no guarantee. It also guarantees that Lance Stephenson can handle going back to the bench. That’s also no lock. There may be some emergency counselling from Larry Bird there. But make no mistake. It is no stretch of the imagination to picture a Pacer team coming back more or less with the roster it has now and being able to win the whole damn thing. And win it convincingly. Pacer fans, it’s time to get giddy.