I'm a little late to the party on this one but I'd be remiss if I didn't say something about the Caps first round draft pick this year, Swedish centre Marcus Johansson. Here's some video (in Swedish no less!)
I wasn't so sure about this pick when the Caps made it. Personally, I liked Carter Ashton better, since he was a big guy who could play the wing. I hadn't heard of him being on anybody's radar in the first round, but by all accounts he's your typical Swedish centreman: around six feet tall, good playmaker with solid defensive skills, nothing flashy. The good news is that Johansson played in the Swedish Elite League (maybe the top pro hockey league outside the US) as an 18 year old, which is good, and Caps management liked his performance at the World Junior Championships this year. We'll probably see Johansson in Hershey in 2010-11 I would think, since Swedish players tend to take an extra year in the Elite League before coming over. Hopefully GM George McPhee knows what he's doing with this one.
...Mr. Mike Knuble. Deal is for 2 years, $5.8 milly for the ex-Flyer. Love this signing for the Caps. This was the sort of guy the team needed last year. Some beef and some scoring muscle on the front line. Knuble is a garbage goal scorer extradinaire and if he's skating on a line with Alex Ovechkin, he'll get lots of chances for garbage goals. Knuble is a big man (6'3, 230) and was supposedly very popular with the Philly fans and his teammates. As long as he's healthy, Knuble should score 25 goals easily on this team. Plus, as a break from the influx of Swedes and Russians the Caps have added over the last few years, he's a good, all-round American boy (born in Toronto but raised just outside of Grand Rapids, Michigan). Oh, and he also was a Caps killer in Philadelphia. Anyone want to remember this double OT goal in the 2008 playoffs?
So which is the more demonic looking Ovechkin picture: this? Or this? Hmm, the lighting on this year's photo makes Ovie look downright sinister but the red tux from last year gave more of a Mephostopholes aura. Regardless, congrats to the Great 8 on MVP #2. Now, let's get the big hardware next year, eh?
I've been meaning to post this since Monday but, the Hangar being the Hangar, I'm just now getting to it as Wednesday turns to Thursday.
Anyway, this past Saturday I had the pleasure of skating at the Capitals practice facility, Kettler Capitals Iceplex in Arlington, Va. I decided to be a true weekend warrior and skate both the morning pick-up session at 10:45 am and the night session at 9:10 pm. Oh, and all on maybe 4 hours of sleep (don't ask).
Before I get to the hockey stuff, allow me to vent for a sec. First things first. Traffic in the District sucks. Entering the District on Route 50/New York Avenue is like driving the Sunset Strip without the glam metal history, bars, gaudy advertising and bizarre looking hipsters. Only it goes on for miles. Alas, going through the District was the easiest way to do this, barring taking the Beltway halfway into Virginia only to u-turn back into DC. On a bad day it might take half a decade to navigate the Beltway, so going through the District I would have to do.
Once you get past the Pentagon (at least on this particular route) things are rather smooth. Your road eventually leads you into a neighborhood called Ballston, which like many a place in suburban Virginia, is full of fast food joints, strip malls and roads with no signs. The Iceplex, oddly enough, is located on the 8th floor of a parking garage (seriously). In fact, you wouldn't even know where it was if not for the huge banners with pics of Alex Ovechkin, Mike Green and Rod Langway.
Once you wind your way through the parking garage, the rink beckons at the top. Its an impressive place with the huge Capitals logo on the front. I headed inside, paid for my session and headed to the locker room, which had huge pictures of different NHl legends on it. This room had Stan Mikita, Wayne Gretzky and some others on it (just remember that the locker rooms had this feature for later.)
I got suited up and headed through the doors to the Caps practice rink. Everything you see on TV is there, including the staging area for TV interviews and the large pictures of Dale Hunter, Mike Gartner, Yvon Labre and Rod Langway (all of whom have their numbers retired at Verizon Center.) Upstairs from the ice are what look like offices for members of the Caps front office. Now for my favorite part of this place: the ice. It's unbelievably smooth. I've played at the Caps two previous practice rinks (Mt. Vernon and Piney Orchard) as well as the old Capital Centre and none of them felt like the had ice like this. The rink was well air-conditioned so the ice froze easily and when the ice is smooth, you feel very fast out there. It might not be as great to others as it was to me, but then again, I'd just played at a rink in Harrington, De. that was absolute shit. In Harrington, the ice was absurdly heavy because it was a) too warm in the rink b) meaning the ice didn't dry c) meaning by the third period of a hockey game it was like skating in quicksand.
The morning session was a good skate. Skill level was a little lacking but we did have two (and eventually three) goalies and each side had two subs to keep guys fresh. Like I said, the crowd seemed to be geared more towards beginner to intermediate skill level, with a couple of advanced level guys mixed in. Still, it was a tough skate and it certainly gave me a workout.
So after the first session, I had about, oh I don't know, 8 hours to kill in Arlington because I didn't want to drive across the Bay Bridge again. So I did what comes naturally to me, I found the nearest Borders bookstore and wasted a couple hours in there before leaving without buying anything. I'm glad those Borders stores are so big that they don't notice me doing this. Oh, and I also discovered that Virginia might have the worst drivers in the US. Slow like Delaware, crazy like Maryland. People there just dart all the fuck over the place and then drive really slow once they get in front of you.
So flashing forward another few hours (and another DC traffic jam) I prepared for session 2. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Kettler's pro shop, which has every piece of Caps merchandise known to man, as well as the fact that Kettler is not the name of a man or a town but of a property development company. Much hunch is that Ted Leonsis owns it. Now, for session 2 we had a different locker room. Same theme, NHL stars on the wall, except in this locker room we had a blown up portrait of this... You won't find a bigger Alex Ovechkin fan than yours truly but this might have been a little too much. I really don't need a demonic looking Ovie watching me suit up.
Session 2 was the opposite of session 1. This time, the skill level was really high but we had no extra bodies. There was one kid on my team who would not shut the fuck up the whole time. To make it worse, his buddies on the other team were skating circles around him while he was talking. In the kid's defense, he did eventually shut up and play and exhibited some skill. As for me, I was exhausted, not just from the hard morning skate but the four hours sleep was catching up to me. It took me some time to get used to the speed the other guys were playing at but once I adjusted to that, I thought I held my own with them.
All told, it was a fun day of hockey that I will surely do again sometime. I just need to remind myself to actually get some sleep next time.
Still haven't heard from the Bleacher Report people about the NFL correspondents contest but that didn't stop me from offering my 2 pennies about the Brandon Marshall-to-the-Ravens rumors that started flying the minute word got out that Marshall asked for a trade out of Denver. Here's the link. Enjoy suckas.
To me, Jeff Pearlman is one of the best sports writers in the biz. He's got a very understated but highly readable style and isn't afraid to show the good, the bad and the ugly of sports personalities. He even tried to show that there were some good aspects to a detestable character like Barry Bonds. So in the course of reading Pearlman's blog I came across this interesting story about writers befriending the athletes they cover.
Now, having had a little bit of experience in covering pro athletes (although Jeff covers baseball and I've done football) I can tell you I wholeheartedly agree with Pearlman on this one. I don't see how a writer can be buddy-buddy with his subjects and yet cover them objectively.
To me, a beat writer, on any beat whether you're covering pro athletes or the President, needs to be James Bond. You need to cover your subjects coldly and objectively. Your subjects need to know you but not really know you. By that I mean the subject has to know you enough that he/she feels like he/she trusts you with information. But at the same time, they can't necessarily know you on a friendly level. One of the best guys I've seen at this is Jamison Hensley, the beat writer for the Ravens the past 9 years. When I've seen Jamison around the media and locker rooms, I get the sense the players and coaches know him (obviously since he spends so much time around them) but that they don't really know him beyond what he does for a living. I respect that he can do the gig that long and maintain a certain distance. At least that's the way it seems to me.
Now I've certainly been around and covered athletes that I've thought, "He seems like a good dude." Derrick Mason, Haloti Ngata, Troy Smith, Marshal Yanda, Adrian Peterson and Mike Adams were all football players I've questioned and came away thinking were genuinely nice guys. But at the same time, I'm not sure I would want to hang out with pro athletes. After all, what do I have in common with a guy like Ray Lewis or even Todd Heap? The answer, probably not much. Certainly, as a reporter, you become comfortable with some guys more than others. I mean, why should I interview a moody guy like Bart Scott when I could talk to a guy like Ngata who is typically calm and accomodating even after the worst of losses.
I know from watching them that some of the columnists do buddy up to the players a little bit. At least some of the local ones. Having watched them interact, I always suspected that Jason Brown was one of the guys feeding Mike Preston info about the state of the locker room in 2007. Of course, I could be wrong. In Mike's defense, as columnist, he's supposed to be providing a fan's point of view but with insider access. And in Jason's defense, nobody wants to have their name associated with quotes or rumors about a locker room in disarray (which the 2007 Ravens certainly were). One thing I like about Preston is that he's not afraid to go into the room and face guys he's ripped in the paper. Jay Mariotti was notorious for ripping members of the Chicago White Sox and not going into the room to face the music. In Mike's case, he's helped by the fact that he's about 6'2 250+ pounds, whereas Mariotti is a twerp. Still, I respect that Mike is willing to go in there and take the barbs from guys like Terrell Suggs and laugh it off. He tells it the way he sees it and, like it or lump it (as Sidney Crosby might say) it's hard to knock a columnist for that.
I guess what I'm getting at here is that sports reporting is at the same time a difficult job and a rewarding job. It's difficult because you are dealing with the whims and moods of pro athletes, all of whom have more money than you'll ever see in a lifetime and most of whom have been trained since high school to regard reporters as the enemy. But at the same time, I can't think of a cooler job. You get to watch football games and be catered for free. People actually pay for the priviledge of reading what you write. And the best part is, publishers pay you to watch and write about games. So if you ever see a sports writer bitching about how hard his job his, let your boy at the Hangar know. I'll volunteer to ease his burden.
I'm a little late on this one (what else is new) but the Washington Capitals made it 2 out of 3 in organ-EYE-zation championships this past Friday as the team's AHL affiliate, the Hershey Bears, won their record 10th Calder Cup title with a 4-1 Game 6 victory over the Manitoba Moose. Goalie Michal Neuvirth was named the playoff MVP. Between Neuvirth and Caps playoff hero Simeon Varlamov, the Caps future in goal looks bright indeed.
So while the Pittsburgh Penguins may have gotten the guns, the Caps have the numbers with both the AHL and ECHL (South Carolina Stingrays) affiliates win their leagues. Here now is a cool YouTube clip, taken by a Moose fan, of the celebration and the Calder Cup presentation.
Best parts of these two vids? The classy applause from the Moose fans in Winnipeg and the videographer's "eh's?" Spoken like a true Canadian. Way to go Stingrays and way to go Bears! Your move Caps.
Now, for a man, there are two places on your anatomy that can be injured that can make another man quiver in his boots. The first is any injury to the throat. Getting punched, slashed or anything in the throat can, at times, be vomit inducing. The other, of course, is the nuts. Getting in the nuts doesn't just hurt. If hit hard enough, it takes the wind out of you. Your balls feel like they've just been mashed with a sledgehammer. You can't stand straight. And the worst part is, it's not a noticable hurt. Only you know the agony you're in. How do I know? I got hit in the balls with a puck last year playing a hockey tournament in Laurel and my nuts didn't stop aching for 3 days.
With that said, magnify that by 100 in Lidstrom's case. Allegdly, Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp gave Lidstrom the business with his stick right between the legs. I just can't believe Lidstrom only missed two games. There's a lot of things you can say about men and their balls, but the words "nearly catastrophic" shouldn't be anywhere near them.
Still, as bad as Lidstrom's injury sounds, it doesn't hold a candle to Flyers forward Patrick Thoresen getting hit in the nuts with a Mike Green shot in last year's playoffs.
You can actually sort of hear Thoresen scream in agony (over 18,000 screaming people no less) when he gets hit. That's how bad getting hit in the balls hurts. You get hit in the sack like that, no wonder Thoresen went back to Europe.
I've mentioned how cool this band is before (or at least how I find them cool) and they're working on a new album which hopefully will rock. A couple years ago BTBAM put out a covers album called "The Anatomy Of..."(which I need to get) and it begs the question...how many metal bands could pull off a ridiculous song like Queen's "Bicycle Race" this well?
...or absolutely nail Pink Floyd's "Us And Them" with the guitar player playing the sax solo?
The answer: nobody. Hopefully for their next Queen cover, they'll do "Flash" "Flash/AWWWWWWAAA/Savior of the Universe!"