Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Old Time Hockey in the Stanley Cup Finals

Old Time Hockey in the Stanley Cup Finals
By Rob McIntosh
The Stanley Cup finals between the Boston Bruins and the Chicago Blackhawks will mark the first meeting between Original Six teams since the Montreal Canadiens squared off, and were victorious, against the New York Rangers in the 1979 Finals.  Both teams’ roads to the Stanley Cup this year are fairly similar.  Both teams went through two rounds of the playoffs pretty easy, while one round tested the mettle of both teams.

The “Big Bad” Bruins are led by goaltender Tuuka Rask.  He is coming off perhaps his best series of the playoff season where he allowed only two goals against the Pittsburgh Penguins, a viable cup contender all season long.   While this is impressive, goaltending is not the only aspect of the Bruins game that has helped them to a spot in the finals.  Their ability to roll four lines consistently throughout the playoffs has allowed them to remain fresher than their opponents.  The depth of their team is incomparable, but perhaps the team that they are facing in the finals may be an equal match.

The Chicago Blackhawks were the best team in the NHL during the regular season, winning the Presidents’ Trophy.  Led by All-Star players Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp and Duncan Keith, the Blackhawks are hoping to continue the scoring momentum that they found in their series against the Los Angeles Kings.  The outburst coincided with putting Toews and Kane together on the same line, getting both players on a scoring surge, in particular Kane who is coming off of scoring a hat trick in game 7.  Obviously, he has turned his game up at the right time.

Being an Original Six matchup, there is a lot of anticipation for this series.  Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville sees tradition playing a large part in this series. 

“The Tradition of the Bruins and the Hawks is special.  I’m sure the rivalry could return instantly come Game 1.”

The players know what’s at stake.  I’m sure the rivalry will develop quickly and the viewers will get a look at some old time hockey!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year?

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year?
by Robert McIntosh

It feels great that spring has finally shown itself to the world. Days are longer and brighter, and it seems as though everyone’s mood is lifted.  Spring is also an action packed time of year in the sports world.  As the calendar turns into April, I couldn’t help but think, is April the busiest sports month there is?

All of the major North American sports are represented in April, in some way shape or form.  Let’s go through the list.

The NBA and NHL seasons are both in the midst of their most exciting points of the schedule as they wind toward the playoffs in the middle of the month.  In both leagues, teams are either trying to stake their claim as a legitimate contender for the ultimate prize or are battling for those final precious playoff spots.  As we’ve seen in previous NBA seasons, with teams like the Miami Heat and the San Antonio Spurs, they are already preparing themselves for that championship run. Just getting in the playoffs is more pertinent in hockey, as we saw last year during the Los Angeles Kings’ run, a team on a hot streak with a solid goaltender can have a legitimate shot at raising Lord Stanley’s Cup.

As for America’s Pastime, April signifies the close of Spring Training games and the start of games that actually count in the standings.  Major League Baseball began their season on April 1st this year, and you’d be a “fool” not to believe that the start of the regular season didn’t have a number of people awaiting its arrival.

All the while, the NCAA is wrapping up their “Road to the Final Four” and NCAA Championship Tournament.  Congratulations to the University of Louisville on a great season and for winning the National Championship.  

Shortly after the NCAA Tournament, the PGA Tour heads to Augusta, Georgia to showcase one of their Major, and most popular, tournaments, The Masters.   In this writer’s opinion, The Masters is the most intriguing tournament in the PGA season because of the history behind this Major.  It’s nothing short of majestic.

Not to be outdone, the NFL Draft is taking place to give the avid football fan a taste of the gridiron in the spring.  Who will go first this year?  What big names will be dealt?  All eyes will be on what the Jets will do with their All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis, so stay tuned.

No matter your preference, there are tons of options available for your viewing pleasure.  With so many sports represented, how can this not be the most wonderful time of the year?

The Spirit of The Masters

The Spirit of The Masters
by Robert McIntosh

This weekend, one of golf’s legendary tournaments takes place in Augusta, Georgia.  While the PGA Tour season has been underway for some time now, for many fans The Masters represents the unofficial start of the season.  As the first Major Championship of the year, it holds a special place in many golfers’ hearts.  No golfer is more excited than Phil Mickelson.  Mickelson expressed this sentiment just before the start of this year’s tournament.

“To be in the thick of it, to feel that excitement.  To grace Amen Corner knowing you need birdies and trying to win a green jacket, that is the greatest thrill a golfer can possibly experience.”

Mickelson, along with many other golfers playing this weekend, hope to earn the privilege of wearing the green jacket.  In order to do so, the winner will have to “master” Augusta National’s fairways and greens. 

Heading into the tournament, the player most poised to make such a run seems to be Tiger Woods.  After three early season wins, he’s regained the number one ranking on the PGA Tour for the first time since October 2010.  While his game has been coming together at the right time, it has been five years since he last won a major.  Will he be able to pull it off this year and put a cap on his comeback?

While Woods is the clear favorite, there is no reason to discount the likes of Mickelson, Rory McIlroy, and last year’s recipient of the green jacket, Bubba Watson.  All four have an excellent chance of being declared the tournament’s winner on Sunday.  But, keep an eye on the lefties; left-handed hitters have won five of the last ten tournaments. 

There are many story lines to follow in this year’s Masters Tournament, but none greater than the Masters itself.  Clifford Roberts couldn’t have said it better about the course he and Bobby Jones founded together.

“While we may not have expected it originally, we have created a tournament of such importance that we are bound to see that it continues.”

Monday, March 25, 2013

Say Goodnight to The Sandman

Say Goodnight to The Sandman
by Robert McIntosh

Perhaps the greatest closer in the history of Major League Baseball, Mariano Rivera, has decided to call it quits at the conclusion of the 2013 season.

The future Hall of Famer will leave the game as the career leader in saves while also tallying 5 World Series Championships.  He did all of this while playing for the New York Yankees, the only team he has played with his entire career, which nowadays is an accomplishment unto itself.  With all the legacies, records and accomplishments he’s leaving behind, it’s only a matter of time before he becomes immortalized in Yankee Stadium with a monument of his own, taking his place among the other Pinstripe legends.

Throughout his career, Mariano proved that he could raise his game to another level whenever it was asked of him.  Just look at his playoff statistics, nearly flawless.  This is where he launched himself into the stratosphere with other Yankee greats.  Over the course of his playoff career, one that spans 141 innings pitched, his ERA is an outstanding 0.70, with a WHIP of 0.759.  This means that if someone ever got on base against him, they rarely, if ever, scored.  To do this while playing on the biggest stage in baseball and under the bright lights of New York, his career is nothing short of spectacular.

One of the interesting legacies that Mariano will leave the game with is that he will forever be regarded as the last player in Major League Baseball to wear number 42.  The number was retired throughout baseball to honor the late Jackie Robinson.

Rachel Robinson, the widow of the man who broke through the color barrier, thought it fitting that Rivera be the last to wear it.  “He carried himself with dignity and grace, and that made carrying the number a tribute to Jack.”

The Bronx Bombers had a taste of what was to come last year with the Panamanian right-hander going down with a season-ending injury.  But, they will have to face life without Mo for years to come.   While they do have some options that could step in, it is almost certain that we will not see another closer along the lines of The Sandman for a long time.

We may never get another chance to see someone dominate his position on the field like Mariano did for the better part of two decades.  And he did this with just one weapon in his arsenal, his infamous cutter.  But we still have one more summer with him.  So, head over to the Bronx, and enjoy his magnificence while you can.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Heat Continues to Rise

The Heat Continues to Rise
By Daniel Holzhauer

When the Miami Heat beat the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday night, they became just the 4th team in league history to put together a 20-game win streak. Now the defending NBA Champions are playing their best basketball and rounding into the well-balanced team that they had the potential to become.

"Twenty is special," Dwyane Wade said after the game. "Win 20 games in a row, it's awesome. You can't get around it. We're going to try to go for the next one."

And although nobody doubts that King James is the leader in Miami, it has been Flash’s ability to play sidekick that has brought them together. When the Heat’s all-time leading scorer and former Finals MVP is willing to put the team first, there’s little chance that the rest of roster won’t follow suit. 

And if you need further proof of the team’s cohesion, look no further than their contribution to the internet’s ‘Harlem Shake’ meme. The exuberance pours through the screen, with LeBron James front-and-center, donning his cape and crown.

With LeBron James finally enjoying the spotlight and becoming the league’s most dominant player, teams have no choice but to focus on him. And with time running down and the game close, it was Wade that slipped in and out like his superhero namesake and put home James’ rebound.

"I miss two gimmes and D-Wade was able to tip 'em home," James said. "It was just great of him not giving up on the play and putting us up."

Monday, February 25, 2013

A.L. West Preview: Movers and Shakers Out West

A.L. West Preview: Movers and Shakers Out West
By Robert McIntosh

Baseball’s most exciting games were played in the A.L. West by the end of the regular season.  After a season that literally came down to the final day to determine a division winner, the Oakland A’s stole the crown away from the Texas Rangers in the season’s last game.  There could be more excitement in store for this year.  Both the Rangers and Angels have retooled to make a strong push to overtake the A’s. 

There are some changes after an active offseason.  This division is all about movement.  First, the most obvious, is the addition of the Houston Astros that requires Major League Baseball to play interleague games every day of the regular season.  The other big story of this division is the cash that was thrown at players to play within the division.  The Angels offered Josh Hamilton big money to change his allegiance and make them the early favorite for a World Series appearance.  Then you have Felix Hernandez being paid $175 million to spend the remainder of his career with the Mariners, the team he started his career with.  These stories headlined the off-season, but now going into Spring Training, the play on the field will speak for itself.

Upstart A’s (Oakland Athletics)
2012 Record:  94-68

Raise your hand if you expected the Oakland Athletics to finish with 94 wins and go on to become winners of this division last year?  No one?  I thought so.  Led by a talented group of young pitchers and outfielders, this team exceeded all expectations and made their way into the playoffs after what would seem to be a rebuilding season given their off-season.  The previous winter saw the trades of one of the best pitchers in baseball in Gio Gonzalez to the Nationals (which nabbed 13 game winner Tommy Milone) and Andrew Bailey to the Red Sox (receiving Josh Reddick and his 32 homeruns in return).  That same winter, the A’s signed Cuban defector Yoenis Cespedes to a four year deal.  The return looks good so far as the 27 year old belted 23 home runs and added 16 stolen bases, showing a blend of power and speed.  The team now has a target on its back, so the question is, can their young players do it again?

Missing Gunslingers (Texas Rangers)
2012 Record:  93-69

After losing mainstays Josh Hamilton, Michael Young and power hitting catcher/first baseman Mike Napoli during the winter, the Rangers enter Spring Training with a completely different look to their lineup.  To help make up for the loss of these players, the Rangers signed Lance Berkman, who looked revitalized coming off of the 2011 season but followed that up with an injury plagued 2012.  If he reverts back to 2011 form, when he hit 31 homeruns, the Rangers will hardly feel the sting of Hamilton’s loss.   The visions of the Rangers back-to-back World Series appearances are still fresh in fans’ minds.  After last year’s let down, can the Rangers bounce back from a disappointing finish?

Angel in the Outfield (Anaheim Angels)
2012 Record:  89-73

In what is perhaps the biggest move in the division, the Angel’s netted the biggest fish in the free agent pond.  Josh Hamilton was signed to play alongside the outstanding Mike Trout in the outfield and hit somewhere in the middle of the lineup next to Albert Pujols (last year’s big off-season acquisition) and Mike Trumbo.  To say the least, the middle of this lineup is scary.  But, as is always the case with established players of their ilk, can Pujols and Hamilton stay healthy and live up to their contracts?  After a slow start, Pujols finally came on last year.  Will Hamilton succumb to the pressures of his big contract, just as King Albert did?  A slow start by either of these players cannot be covered up if the Angels hope to win the division.

King Felix’s Reign (Seattle Mariners)
2012 Record:  75-87

The Mariners are looking forward to big things in the 2013 season despite finishing in last place in the division in 2012.  Their headlining move this offseason was locking up their young Ace for at least the next seven years.  This contract ensures that King Felix will anchor the Mariners pitching staff for the better part of the next decade, but this was not the only move they made.  On paper, it looks as though the Mariners have made great strides to improve their lineup, particularly the additions of Michael Morse and Kendrys Morales.  Along with these two players, the acquisitions of Jason Bay and Raul Ibañez provide experience and leadership, but if either of these players could revert back to the halcyon days of their career, then the Mariners could possibly be a force in the West. 

Moving Westward (Houston Astros)
2012 Record: 55-107 (National League Central)

Moving to the A.L. West could be the fresh start that the Houston Astros need.  With a young developing team, a lot has to break right for the Astros to make an impact in the division this year.  But they do have a great starting point in José Altuve.  The All-Star second baseman broke out in his first full season to the tune of .290/.340/.399 with 33 stolen bases.  In addition to Altuve, the Astros signed free agent slugger Carlos Peña to fill their newfound designated hitter role.  This man can hit home runs with the best in baseball, but can he raise his batting average enough to justify his power?

Monday, February 18, 2013

Many MLB Teams Hoping to Cash in on a Championship

Many MLB Teams Hoping to Cash in on a Championship
By Daniel Holzhauer
With the Toronto Blue Jays acquiring Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey and the Washington Nationals stealing Rafael Soriano away from the New York Yankees, it has become clear that the race for the 2013 World Series is wide open and several teams are going all-in.
The Los Angeles Dodgers have pushed the most chips into the middle of the table with over $200 million in payroll, but it's the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim that have three-of-a-kind in Albert Pujols, Mike Trout and Josh Hamilton. The Atlanta Braves made moves to secure a pair of Uptons, yet none of the aforementioned teams were even at last year's final table.
Reigning NL MVP Buster Posey led the San Francisco Giants to a second World Series title when he overcame Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera and the Detroit Tigers. Both teams are full of superstars and it will be hard not to predict them to repeat as division champions.
"We all start with a clean slate," Posey told the San Jose Mercury News, "Each year, you come in with the same hunger and know you've got a long road ahead. That's what we're here to do."
The Tigers reshuffled the deck last year when they acquired Prince Fielder to compliment Cabrera and their ace-in-the-hole Justin Verlander.  But they struggled early last season and were forced to chase down the Chicago White Sox in the final week of the season.
The surprise Washington Nationals, who have MLB's biggest bankroll in owner Ted Lerner, tore through the National League a year earlier than most expected, but issues at closer and the gamble they took on shutting down Stephen Strasburg made their season go bust. In 2013, they expect neither to be an issue.
“I think we'll have a better, more consistent team. I think it will be one year older, one year more experienced, one year more mature,” Nationals GM Mike Rizzo told “I think there is an opportunity to be better than we were last year.”
And let’s not forget the wildcard, or four, that will be tossed into the deck. Nobody expected the Baltimore Orioles to make the playoffs in 2012 and even fewer people expected the Oakland Athletics to win the AL West.
The St. Louis Cardinals were left for dead without Pujols and they almost shocked the world once again. If baseball has taught us anything, don’t be in a rush to fold your hand because you never know what the next turn may bring.