Archive for March, 2006

h1

Which came first???

March 29, 2006

I’ve got a lengthy post coming on my experience this past weekend in Detroit, but I have to interject with something a bit shorter in the meantime.

I’ve had the fortune to attend the last two Blue Jacket games. Saturday night in Hockeytown and last night here in Columbus. It gave me the opportunity to freshly examine the differences between the crowds and atmosphere in different arenas.

A few years back, ESPN The Magazine ranked all professional sports franchises in varying categories to determine which was the most successful franchise overall. Fan experience was one of the criteria, and one in which the Columbus Blue Jackets placed first overall. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that this means that the Nationwide Arena staff does a great job of providing a fantastic experience for the fans. It also doesn’t take a lot of marketing genius to twist this to say that the Columbus fans are the best in sports, which is what a lot of Blue Jackets followers believe. After a visit to Detroit this past weekend, I can assure you that we have a long way to go to scale that summit.

It should go without saying that fans are louder when the team is doing well and quieter when the team is struggling. It is very difficult to cheer loudly for a team that is not performing. The Jackets don’t exactly have a history of burning through the league, so we’re already one step behind due to human nature. The Nationwide Arena game operations staff is very knowledgeable and does a nice job of using the PA system and the video screens to encourage the otherwise loyal fans to get loud at all the right times. More often than not, there is a smattering of applause and a few “Let’s go Jackets” yells in response. For some reason, the Nationwide crowd doesn’t respond well to the decibel meter. That is probably because it seems to be broken and always shows the crowd getting louder when it’s obvious this isn’t true. The fans do show their appreciation in spurts when the team is playing well. Last night, with the game pretty much in hand (Jackets up 3-1 with 2:00 remaining) the cheers began and it seemed that the arena was waking up. I would challenge the attendees to realize that great hockey teams need great fans. If we want the boys to play all out, we have to give them our all as well for the entire game. I have never seen a home crowd even come close to doing this at any sporting event, save the Ohio State – Michigan football game two years ago. That is, until I stepped into Joe Louis Arena last Saturday night.

The arena staff in Detroit use the same kind of cheer inducing systems that are used in Columbus. But most of the time it seemed that they really didn’t have to use them. Every time a Red Wing had the puck in the slot (for you casual hockey fans, this is the area that is in front of the goal extending back to the blue line, from where many the goals in the NHL are scored) the crowd would audibly “ooh” and “ahh”. If a Red Wing received a breakaway pass and skated in on the opposing goalie, the crowd would stand in anticipation. When the decibel meter showed up on the center ice video board, the crowd would get loud. Every time. When the team was up 3-0, the fans were loud. When the team was down 4-3 and the Red Wings had scoring chances, the fans were louder. It has to be hard not to get excited by this if you are a player.

I’m aware that this team has been in the playoffs for something like 15 years in a row, and this has nurtured a champions atmosphere in Detroit. Three Stanley Cups in less than ten years will do that. My question paraphrases the timeless conundrum: “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” If a good hockey team is the chicken and good fans are the egg, I have a sneaking suspicion that the chicken comes first. But can it be too much to ask for the egg to try a little harder to hatch a healthy chicken? I, for one, am willing to try.

See you in the chicken coop.

Advertisements
h1

Week End Update

March 10, 2006

For all you loyal reader(s), it’s been a few days. Hopefully you’ve watched some of the exciting going’s on around the sports universe and had a chance to cheer on some of your teams. As for EOB, the entire staff has been mystified by the Bluejackets, concerned for the Buckeye’s men’s basketball team, intrigued by the World Baseball Classic, and ignorant of the NFL labor talks. For more on these topics, read on.

Post Olympic Hangover

The Bluejackets returned to action last Thursday, facing Colorado. They were one of the final teams to retake the ice after the two-week Olympic break. Hopes were high in C-bus that the squad would be recharged and would continue to push for respectability. A week and five games later, not much has changed. Fans are still waiting for the Jackets of January to return. Despite only sending four players to Turin, it has taken remarkably long for the offense to return to its pre-Games form. It seems all we hear on the television broadcasts is how Rick Nash is bulling his way around the ice. Funny, every time EOB catches a glimpse of Rick he seems to be trying (unsuccessfully) to pull the Nikolai Zherdev moves. While the defense has been adequate to good, and the goaltending often flashy (especially Leclaire), it has been the offense that is still grounded. Last night against the Coyotes, the team finally unloaded for five goals (almost as much as their previous four games combined) and seemed to remember what it’s like to score. The Bluejackets do not have a chance at a playoff spot this year, but many fans are tired of seeing the team tank in the last month and get a high draft pick. Some of those top picks are beginning to produce, but it is time for the Jackets to relish playing the role of the spoiler and put some respectable teams on their tails.

In addition to the Hulse for Severson trade mentioned in a previous post, the Jackets sent former captain Luke Richardson to the Maple Leafs for a contingent draft pick. I had thought Richardson would end up in Vancouver, but it wasn’t hard to see him in a different uniform before the trade deadline passed yesterday. The entire EOB family wishes Luke well in Toronto, where he began his career over eighteen years ago. One last Cup run would be a great way to wind a career down.

Big T(elev)en Champ Buckeyes cooling down?

Without a doubt, the style of the 2005-06 OSU men’s basketball team has been to shoot the three. With eagle-eye shooters and tough defense, the Buckeyes made an unexpected run to the Big T(elev)en regular season championship. As the season closed down, the Buckeyes were still finding a way to squeak out games, but the hot hand had chilled. The last three games of the regular season found the Buckeyes shooting 25% and worse from beyond the arc. Against Michigan (4-17), Northwestern (6-24), and Purdue (4-24) the Buckeyes had to rely increasingly on Big T(elev)en Player of the Year Terrence Dials in the paint to keep them in games. Against Purdue on Sunday, early season sharp-shooter Je’kel Foster managed to airball three long-distance shots. Earlier today in their first game of the conference tournament, the Buckeyes managed to get a handle on things with approximately ten minutes to play as Ron Lewis and Matt Sylvester each knocked down two three’s apiece to help the Buckeyes shoot 33% (10-30) from behind the line.

They are still in line for a number two seed in the NCAA tournament, but if the Buckeyes are to have any hope of advancing past the first weekend they will have to work very hard to play great defense and look to make 30%+ of their three-point field goals. The OSU offense is not set up for massive offensive rebounding opportunities thanks to the four players often set up around the perimeter. So the shots will have to fall for the Bucks to advance. The EOB prediction still says #2 seed that advances to at least the Sweet Sixteen. Once the tournament draw is known, I’ll make my final predictions.

USA, USA, USA!

EOB has raced home from work twice this week to catch the tail end of the World Baseball Classic games featuring his countrymen. On Tuesday, I only caught the ninth inning as the Americans beat the Mexicans 2-0. On Wednesday, I figured things would be much better for viewing because of the slightly later start against Canada, and also… because it’s Canada. Apparently, the American players felt the same way. I flipped on the game to find our boys down 8-0. Seriously, eight to flipping zero! Sure, Canada has a bunch of major league players on their roster and all that bull… but we hadn’t scored a single run. A short while later, Jason Veritek gave hope to all 37 people watching on ESPN2 and the entire crowd of 16,000+ at the stadium when he hit a 2-1 pitch into the left-center concourse with the bases jammed to make it 8-6 Canada. “This was more like it,” the imperialist in me thought. “We should be up 22-8 by the bottom of the eighth.” I turned out to be about sixteen runs off, as Canada held on to win the game.

All jokes aside, I know that Canada has a packed roster and a chance at doing some damage. On the flip side, this is felt by many to be America’s game and we shouldn’t lose to Canada. Canada shouldn’t lose to us in hockey (World Cup ’96), and we shouldn’t lose to them in baseball. Of course there is an even darker side to EOB. The side that was openly elated when the USA men’s basketball team struggled mightily in Athens two years ago. “That will show the American’s who think they can do everything better than any other country (hockey, basketball, downhill, port security, etc.) that anything is possible.” But the reality set in quickly that the loss wouldn’t show us pesky Americans anything. After all, it’s just the World Baseball Classic. It’s not like it really matters… right?

NFL reaches a labor agreement

EOB didn’t really follow this story too closely, and thus the commentary will be brief, uninformed, and likely way off base. In other words, just like your local news, only I admit it.

The only thought I can offer on the whole situation is to wonder why the NFL and NFLPA allowed the situation to reach a crisis point, when the fourth major sport (I can hear you laughing) in America just suffered through a devastating year-long lockout. It’s not like a dentist appointment. The expiration of labor agreements doesn’t just sneak up on you. I can see it now, a split screen of NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue and NFLPA leader Gene Upshaw sitting at their respective desks on February 28th. They flip over the Far Side daily calendar and circled in red ink in the bottom right corner were the words “Labor Agreement Expires One Year From Now, Don’t Forget” right next to a short grocery list from their wives. Aw crap, we have to work on that.

What, you didn’t know that the agreement didn’t expire until next year??? Neither did I until two minutes ago. But that’s not the point. The NFL is the biggest of all the sports. It combines All-American qualities (speed, power, gruesome injuries, morbid obesity) together into a billion dollar industry. The NHL could disappear for a year and it seems that nobody cared (I can still hear you laughing). If the NFL, at this point in it’s history, were to attempt a similar stunt it’s not likely the results would be quite the same. While the NHL is mostly still just a game, the NFL has morphed from just a game to become a game with big business ramifications. Congratulations to all sides for getting a deal done, I say as a fan. From what I’ve heard (not much), it sounds like the owners got a bit fleeced in the deal. That is remarkably different from the hockey situation in which the NHLPA caved to ownership demands. This says a lot about the difference in the balance of power in the two leagues. Hockey team owners do not make tons of money from their franchises (on average), so it did not hurt them as much relatively to sit a year or more out. Football franchises are like cash printing presses for any smart owner and therefore they could not afford to create a situation where they might not be the richest cat in the room. All in all, EOB believes that it’s better to keep the game going. If the deal was truly that unfair to the owners, they will get their revenge in future negotiations. As for now, bring on the football. Well, in four months anyway.

That’s the news on the EOB desk this week. Thanks for reading. Post your comments on the site if you wish, or you can always reach EOB at aharris9@columbus.rr.com

Come back soon.

h1

CBJ roster shifts as team gets back on ice

March 2, 2006

Bluejackets to hit the ice with a new face tonight

With the Olympics fading in the rearview mirror, the Bluejackets are on the road again in Denver looking slightly different. There will be Rick Nash and Adam Foote walking slightly heavy despite the lack of a medal around their necks, David Vyborny returning as the bronze-clad captain of the Czech team, and Mike Rupp returning from injured reserve. But the real personnel story of the day in Columbus deals with Rupp’s new fourth-line mate, Cam Severson. Severson, a 28 year old left winger with 33 NHL games under his belt was acquired March 1 from Calgary in a trade that saw defenseman Cale Hulse leave for the defending Western Conference champions.

This trade should tell CBJ fans a few things. First, it has been obvious since Rusty Klesla returned from injury that there was often an odd man out in the blueline rotation. Even with Bryan Berard out for two weeks with his bad back, there are still six quality defenseman currently up with the club. Tonight’s lines will likely be comprised of Foote/Klesla, Hainsey/Richardson, and Westcott/Suchy. When Berard returns in roughly two weeks, that would leave the Bluejackets with eight one-way defenseman contracts. The expendable piece would be Hulse. To fill his spot, Columbus recalled Aaron Johnson from Syracuse this morning. The second thing this says is that management is not ready to move Dan Fritsche, Mark Hartigan, or Stevie Goertzen up to the NHL for good. Fritsche could elevate to a second-line center someday, but in his injury-limited tenure with Columbus he has not played consistently enough to earn the ice-time a young center needs. Hartigan is currently tearing up the AHL (32G, 32A in 42 games) but has lacked that same scoring touch in his stints with the big club. Stevie Goertzen has tried to fill Tyler Wright’s shoes as a pest with an occasional goal, but has succeeded in being only a pest as he still looks for his first NHL goal. While Severson may be moved to Syracuse shortly for one of these players or another (Lindstrom, Motzko, etc.), I would look for this lineup to stick together if the CBJ can continue to play at their pre-Olympic level.

The last thing to look for regarding roster moves in the upcoming weeks is what will happen when Berard returns from the IR? EOB’s trusted sources (himself) say that Luke Richardson will be dangled as trade bait to a playoff bound team. Richardson is still a decent stay-at-home defenseman and could help a spotty defensive team (Vancouver?), but he is a big contract that the Bluejackets would probably like to get rid of while they can still get something for him. This would give playing time for Aaron Johnson and possibly OK Tollefson as well. Youth should be the main route traveled for Columbus. The organization has good young talent, and needs to take the right steps to properly develop these players.