NHL Quick Hits: Game Three – Washington Capitals vs. Tampa Bay Lightning

May 4, 2011 Leave a comment

The Tampa Bay Lightning are just one win away from closing the book on the Washington Capitals season as they were able to come away with a 4-3 victory Tuesday night, taking a 3-0 lead in the Eastern Conference semifinals. In front of a sold out crowd at home, the Lightning were able to score two goals within 24 seconds of each other, one of them being the game winner by Ryan Malone.

Give Credit or Lightning Shall Strike You: Could anyone have predicted what has occurred in this series so far? The Lightning took the first two games on the road and all but sealed the deal against the Capitals on Tuesday night. The same team that was written off after they gave away their Southeast Division title in the final week of the season have looked like different group of players, playing with more heart than any team still competing for Lord Stanley’s Cup.

When they were called underdogs in the quarterfinals against the Pittsburgh Penguins and were down 3-1 in the series, the “unthinkable” happened. They came back to force a game seven and eliminated the Penguins on the road. The same team that hasn’t been given enough recognition throughout the entire season has won six straight playoff games and is one game away from sweeping the Eastern Conference’s “elite team”. So the question is still there; when will this team be given its dues? Maybe when they hoist the Stanley Cup above their heads, perhaps then they will be recognized as a team that everyone overlooked.

Capitals Powerplay Woes Continue: One major reason why the Capitals have struggled all throughout this series against the Lightning is due to the failure of their powerplay. After the first three games, the Capitals are a horrendous 1-for-16 with the man advantage, their only goal coming in Tuesday night’s game on a TWO-man advantage. The powerplay has looked dreadful, but the performance in game three was a train wreck. Even with the goal on the score sheet, nothing looked right on the ice. Players were missing shots taken at the net by at least six feet, there were several instances of wrong positioning on the point and when they did have chances, a team with born-bred scorers, did everything but score. They had to rely on a 5-on-3 to score and only did so after Lightning goaltender Dwayne Roloson left a juicy rebound for Alexander Ovechkin to put in. If this team has any chance of making a comeback, they better score a goal on every man advantage that is given to them.

Steven “The Real Deal” Stamkos: With the league surrounding superstars like Ovechkin and the Penguins Sidney Crosby a lot of attention is not given to others players who are on the same, if not, a higher level of talent. I can say that the Steven Stamkos of the Lightning, will be the best player in the league within a year or two. He excels at every aspect of the game and tonight was just another example. Several times throughout the game, Stamkos has turned a play that looked dead from the start into a scoring opportunity. He crashes the net, shows his physicality and illustrates an extreme level of talent that few can.

Tonight, with one flick of the wrist he sent a blistering shot from in between the circles past Capitals goaltender Michal Neuvirth before anyone could even blink. Not only did he tie the game, but he provided a spark for his team and the lead would be theirs just seconds later. Stamkos is a diamond in the rough when it comes to talent in the NHL and with 45 goals and 46 assists in the regular season, he is no surprise. This Lightning team is led by many veterans including Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis and Malone, but Stamkos demonstrates just how important youth can be on a team that is on the verge of a championship.

Capital Collapse: At one point in the third period, the Capitals looked set to make their mark in the series, up two goals with less than a period remaining and the momentum was fully fledged in their favor. Twenty-four seconds later, the Lightning struck twice to take a one goal lead. First, on a goal by Stamkos and then after a frenzy in front of the net, Malone was able to put the puck past Neuvirth. It just goes to show you how every second of the game makes a difference and in less than half a minute, the Capitals went from being comeback contenders to scheduling their tee-times at the local country club.

Game Three Top Performers: Tampa Bay Lightning / Stamkos – 1 goal, 4 shots on net, 17:40 time on ice

Washington Capitals / Ovechkin – 1 goal, 1 assist, 5 shots on net, 24:27 time on ice

What’s Next: Game four, the second back-to-back game will take place on Wednesday night in Tampa Bay. With a win, the Lightning look to return to the Eastern Conference finals for the first time since their Stanley Cup run in 2004. Like last season, the Capitals are in a must win situation and will have to come back from three games down no matter what. I wouldn’t say that it is impossible, the Philadelphia Flyers were able to accomplish the improbable feat last season against the Boston Bruins. But this Capitals team is not functioning on any cylinders and they are going to have to do some real soul searching if they want to even pull out one game in this series instead of getting completely embarrassed.

Categories: NHL

Kobe’s image, wallet take a hit with one word

With a poor choice of words at the most unlucky of times, Kobe Bryant will have to enter the 2011 playoffs with a newly acquired blemish on his resume.

The Los Angeles star was caught red-handed by the national lip-readers of America, hurling a homophobic slur at referee Bennie Adams, after Bryant was given a technical foul and sent to the bench.

Clearly frustrated and angered by the referee’s decision, Bryant threw a punch at his seat and launched his towel out of bounds.  Realizing that an opportunity had opened to expose Kobe’s vulnerability, the camera swiftly zoomed into his flustered face, as he fiercely muttered the two consecutive F-bombs towards Adams.

Kobe was fined $100,000 for the incident, and took heat from the press and minority groups who demanded an apology.

There’s no question that Bryant was wrong for using the word.  He dropped one of the two “no-nos”  (F-word and the N-word) when it comes to addressing players and referees, or humans for that matter.   It’s a word that covers a touchy subject, and inevitably stirs controversy while adding insult.

However in a competitive environment where emotions run high, like during a nationally televised Lakers-Spurs game,  profanity-laced rants are not uncommon.  I can’t even imagine what is said at the line of scrimmage on football Sunday, but I believe it’s more explicit than “Hey number 93, you don’t play real well” .  It’s pretty clear that Bryant meant nothing personal, and that the cringe-worthy word he used was delivered out of frustration.  He might as well called Adams a “stupid jerk”, because that was most likely the true intent of his message.

So how do we decide which words deserve $100,000 fines, and which don’t?  Had the camera crew used some better judgement, and focused their lens on the court itself rather than the boiling star-figure on the bench, would this even be a story?  Would anyone even know this happened except for Joe Smith and Theo Ratliff, who remained expressionless while sitting next to Kobe during the exchange?

The fact is that Stern had to fine Bryant. The public knew Bryant had said what he said, not because they heard it, but because the broadcast team brought it to our attention during the broadcast, and that media outlets presented it as a breaking story.  At that point, Stern had the option to fine him, or be labeled as tolerant of anti-gay remarks.

Earlier this season, Detroit Pistons forward Charlie Villanueva accused notorious bully Kevin Garnett of calling him a “cancer patient”, referring to his Alopecia that prohibits his body from growing hair.  But unlike Kobe, Garnett’s alleged remarks were not documented on camera, and therefore didn’t earn him a fine.  That’s the case for just about all of the trash that’s talked in a 48 minute contest, where abusive words are dished out with every possession.

There’s no arguing that Bryant screwed up.  He should have known that when your famous enough to go by just your first name, the camera has a tendency to follow you.  With bad timing, a controversial subject and a high-profile celebrity all rolled up into one, it made for good debate, and an attention-grabbing headline.

Categories: Uncategorized

The Power of Words

May 3, 2011 1 comment

By Phil Hecken

On April 12, 2011, Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers received a technical foul from referee Bennie Adams, in a game against the San Antonio Spurs. A visibly upset Bryant strode to the bench, punched a chair, and snapped a towel. Then, almost inexplicably, he stared out toward Adams, and in full view of TNT cameras (and boom mics), screamed, “Bennie!” His next two words were almost inaudible, but even those who have difficulty reading lips were able to see what followed: “F*CKING FA*GOT”

The retribution by the NBA was swift and severe. On April 13, NBA Commissioner David Stern handed Bryant a $100,000 fine, for “offensive and inexcusable” comments he made the previous evening.

“Kobe Bryant’s comment during last night’s game was offensive and inexcusable,” said Stern. “While I’m fully aware that basketball is an emotional game, such a distasteful term should never be tolerated. Accordingly, I have fined Kobe $100,000. Kobe and everyone associated with the NBA know that insensitive or derogatory comments are not acceptable and have no place in our game or society.” Message sent.

Bryant, for his part, was contrite. “My actions were out of frustration during the heat of the game, period,” he said. “The words expressed do not reflect my feelings towards the gay and lesbian communities and were not meant to offend anyone.” Message received?

Both the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) and the Human Rights Commission (HRC) were quick to issue statements backing up Stern’s fine.

Applauding Stern, HRC President Joe Solomonese said, “We hope such swift and decisive action will send a strong and universal message that this kind of hateful outburst is simply inexcusable no matter what the context.”

GLAAD President Jarrett Barrios joined in the praise for Stern, saying, “The NBA has sent a clear message to sports fans everywhere that anti-gay slurs have no place in the game.”

~~~

Kobe Shh But was Bryant acting any different than many athletes act in the locker room, where no cameras or recorders are present? And was Bryant being singled out when other stars seemingly get a pass? Three years ago, Kevin Garnett apparently spoke the same words in a playoff game against the Cleveland Cavaliers. The only difference was that Garnett directed his comments to the crowd and not a referee.

I believe Bryant when he says his words aren’t reflective of any anti-gay sentiment he may harbor. I think, in the heat of the moment, he did express his emotions without any ill will or malice. But at the same time, I completely support the message the NBA sent with the hefty fine.

Growing up, on playgrounds across the United States, boys and men playing school yard and competitive games will frequently taunt an opponent by uttering similar slurs. It’s almost part of the “game.” But when the game is played on the national stage, no matter what the reason, professional athletes must rise above their macho posturing to achieve some sense of decorum. Allowing this degrading remark to go unpunished, however innocently it may have been uttered, would have been tacitly approving its utterance. The NBA not only needed to sanction Bryant, it had to.

NBA ballers, and all professional athletes, entertainers and those in the public eye must be held to a higher standard, realizing that their words have power. They need to be cognizant of the fact that many of them are role models (whether or not they wish to be), and their actions and words do carry a greater weight. Perhaps the NBA was *making an example* of Bryant, and this was a good thing if that was the intent. Message received? I hope so.

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but Kobe Bryant found out that a word (or two) is worth $100,000. That’s powerful stuff.

A Few Words Singled Out Among Many – Kobe Bryant

May 3, 2011 Leave a comment

New York – We have seen plenty of suspensions and fines around sports that are handed down to athletes and coaches who act of line verbally. Whether the words are directed to the opposing players, referees, coaches, fans or even the national audience that is watching; a professional sports athlete is never safe when it comes to opening their mouth.

Earlier this month, Los Angeles Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant, was fined $100,000 by the NBA for using a gay slur during a game against the San Antonio Spurs. The 13-time all-star was caught on camera yelling at a referee after a technical foul had been called on him and while there is no audio to back it up, anyone with eyes can read the words that come out of Bryant’s mouth.

It was evident that Bryant was disgusted with the call and that his emotions got the best of him. After the fine had been dropped on him, he was forced to confront the matter and apologized to anyone that was offended, making several calls to Human Rights officials and even contributing to a PSA about homophobic slurs.

This is Kobe after realizing $100,000 was taken from him...not a care in the world.

But what really makes me wonder is why people were so upset about the act and why was Kobe singled out as if he has been the only athlete to ever has his words caught on camera? Yes, Bryant stepped out of line in using the slur and it was something that he should not have done, but that is the nature of the beast. With the camera being focused star athletes for a majority of the game, at some point, you are going to catch them doing something against “protocol”.

And don’t even get me started on the $100,000 fine that doesn’t even make a dent in Bryant’s wallet. It was an obligated move that the NBA had to pursue to put at ease those who were offended.

Brad Vipperman, who covers the Lakers on the Bleacher Report summed it up well and states, “Why can funny movies, which are not just seen by millions more people than an NBA game but are seen over and over again on TV and DVD, get away with degrading gay culture on purpose?  And yet, Kobe gets fined the average yearly income of over three American households for using it without thinking in the heat of battle?”

 For a person that has watched countless sporting events on television, I have heard and seen much worse when it comes to professional sports. With the technology that is incorporated today, there are practically microphones on the playing surface so every little word can be interpreted to the audience.

So why was Bryant singled out? We didn’t actually hear him say the slur; we could only read his lips. It was the TNT commentators that said they should turn the camera away from Bryant “for the kids watching at home” making it obvious that something was said that shouldn’t have been.

 Was it because the derogatory term has been associated with the anti-gay culture of today’s generation? There is no question about it.

But how come NONE of the professional sports organizations have addressed other insulting slurs that players use? You can hear word-for-word what football and hockey players say during a game, but no action is taken against them when they use an insulting or offensive word. It goes unannounced like it never happened. So either every sport should take a tip from the NBA and start conducting an investigation into what their players say out on the field or leave it at that, not for nothing, they are just words.

Finally, how is right that Roger McDowell, the Atlanta Braves pitching coach is suspended ONLY two weeks for making homophobic slurs at FANS in San Francisco before a game just days later? He wasn’t on the diamond expressing his emotions to the opposing team or an umpire. He blatantly targeted an innocent man and his family at the game and made sexual gestures towards them, while threatening them with a baseball bat. Asking a fan how much his teeth are worth seems a little more drastic than using a slur that no one actually heard during an emotional game.

The two weeks suspension and “sensitivity training” that McDowell received as a punishment? Harsh is a word at the other side of the spectrum. Does anyone have any idea what “sensitivity training” actually is? Me neither.

Ironically, the words that were seen and not heard from Bryant are front and center with no one asking questions about an event that was far greater in my eyes

Categories: NBA

UFC 129 – Now or Never for Shields…

April 30, 2011 Leave a comment

New York – For Jake Shields, tonight is the opportunity of a lifetime. If he has any hopes of solidifying his name among the top fighters in MMA history, it is now or never. The underrated Shields has won his last 15 matches, from EliteXC, Strikeforce and now the UFC. He has found ways to win when he shouldn’t. Taking down the former champion Dan Henderson, submitting middleweight champion Robbie Lawler, and more recently a split-decision to Martin Kampann that secured his bout against the welterweight champion at UFC 129, Georges St. Pierre. For years, people have doubted the talent of Shields, who lacks in the stand-up game, but thrives on the ground. Is there any better way to silence the critics than to defeat perhaps the greatest pound-for-pound fighter to ever enter the octagon? 

But this is no walk in the park for Shields either, who goes up against not only the champion in GSP, but also the 55,000 fans that will be behind him at a sold out Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ontario, the home-town of the champ.

 

There has been talk of St.Pierre moving up to the middleweight division as there has been no opponent in the welterweight division to give GSP any sort of difficulty. He was able to defeat B.J. Penn and Josh Koscheck twice, reclaim his belt against Matt Serra and completely dominate Dan Hardy and Thiago Alves. As soon as he enters the cage, he controls the flow of the match. GSP is able to identify the weakness of his opponent and pick them apart at his own pace. Defeating Shields would be just another step for GSP to the dream match that MMA fans have hoped for, a bout against middleweight champion Anderson Silva, to claim once and for all, who is the greatest fighter in MMA history.

Shields stated yesterday, ““Winning the belt period, whoever I win it from, would mean a tremendous amount to me, but I think taking it from GSP is a whole different level. He’s possibly the best champ of all time. That’s a completely different level in my mind.” Shields has the respect for GSP, he isn’t a trash talker and proves himself in the cage.

The past few weeks leading up to the match, the pressure seems to be all on the shoulders of GSP. For what reason? Could it be that he is going to put his championship on the line in front of thousands of faithful fans? Or is it that people have doubted Shields for so long that he has been able to slide under the radar and could actually have a shot at beating GSP? Could the welterweight belt be in the hands of someone different for the first time in 4 years?

A Shields victory would be one of the biggest upsets in MMA history. Yes, GSP has the advantage in almost every aspect of the game; but Shields might have the mental edge. People do not expect him to win and a loss would not be shocking by any means. For Shields, it is not just about the championship, it is about proving to everyone who ever doubted his success and giving the term “underdog” a new definition.

———————————-

Although I would love to see someone take the crown from GSP, he is possibly the best conditioned athlete in the world and can go five rounds without breaking a sweat. If Shields can withstand the early rounds of strikes from GSP and find away around his defense, he might have a chance of going for a takedown and a submission. If I had to pick with my heart, it would be Shields, but if it was my wallet, GSP comes away as the reigning champion.

Categories: Uncategorized

Daniel Murphy is clutch

April 28, 2011 Leave a comment

You ever the get the feeling when you’re watching a Mets game that the batter will hit a home run on the next pitch?

Well, I can’t say this is completely true about last night, but I was pretty close.

After the debacle of a call by Marvin Hudson that erased Jose Reyes’ one-out triple, the Mets could have easily folded, just like they’ve been accustomed to doing over the last few years.

That’s the type of call that forces some players to say, “Not tonight boys, we’ll get them tomorrow.”

Daniel Murphy stepped in with two outs and no one on base against a pitcher in Tyler Clippard who has been dominant in the late innings, especially against the Mets.

For some reason, I knew Murphy was going to get a big hit. He kept fouling pitches off, waiting for one he can drive.

On the pitch before he went deep, I said to myself this one is it. And sure enough, another foul.

Then Clippard left a change-up straight down the middle and up in the zone, and Murphy clobbered it.

That is easily the biggest hit of the Mets season so far, and hopefully we can expect many more of those out of Murphy.

Though he was a little late covering second base in the next inning, these are the types of growing pains we will have to deal with as he continues to learn the position. However, if he keeps driving in big runs with clutch hits, I’m sure we can forgive him for some minor defensive lapses.

The great thing about Murphy is that he doesn’t settle for just one come-from-behind win. You can tell that he wants to win every single game he plays.

As we approach the end of April, this winning attitude can hopefully further resonate with the players. The Mets have a big road series in Philadelphia this weekend, so gutting out these gritty wins will be crucial.

This may be a tad premature, but get those pens out and start writing “Daniel Murphy” on the bottom of your All-Star ballot. Current Colorado Rockie, Brad Emaus, represents the Mets at second base on the ballot, so Murphy will have to be a write-in.

In other news, congratulations to Brooklyn-boy, Pedro Beato, for picking up his first Major League win. Also, the Jason Bay winning streak extends to six. Let’s not forget that he started off the ninth inning rally with a single up the middle.

Keep up the exciting play, Mets, and Citi Field will be packed for the next homestand.

Follow me on Twitter @JMMancari.

Categories: MLB Tags: ,

Game Seven Heaven – NHL Playoffs

April 26, 2011 Leave a comment

Just when you thought the NHL playoffs couldn’t get more exciting, we are thrown into four scenarios that are facing a final game seven showdown. (Three are definite, while the Boston/Montreal series is still to be determined, game six is tonight).

A seven game series is not completely uncommon in the playoffs, but having half of the match-ups in the first round come down to the final game is something that hockey enthusiasts dream of.

If this is just a taste of what is next for the NHL playoffs, I cannot imagine what is in store for the later rounds. Hopefully they will be just as exhilarating as the opening series have been.

Buffalo Sabres vs. Philadelphia Flyers

The series turned ugly last game when Flyers captain Mike Richards blindsided Sabres center Tim Connolly headfirst into the boards, causing him to leave the game. Sabres players, coaches and fans were irate when no action was taken against Richards. The momentum swung to the Flyers as they were able to come back from a 3rd period deficit and push the series to a seventh game after an OT goal on Buffalo’s home ice. The final game will be decided in Philadelphia and while many would think that they have the advantage playing at home, 8 out of the last 10 game-sevens, ended with the AWAY team claiming victory.

The Sabres will also get back their top scorer in Derek Roy who hasn’t played since December, suffering from a torn quadricep. For the Flyers, the goaltender carousel continues to turn as a starter for game seven has yet to be named. They have used three different goaltenders in the series and cannot find the support that they have been searching for in the pipes. The exact problem that occurred throughout the season was not solved and progressed right into the playoffs. So who will take the series tonight in the “City of Brotherly Love”? Ryan Miller comes up huge, Derek Roy scores and the Sabres walk away with a huge upset against the Flyers.

Chicago Blackhawks vs. Vancouver Canucks

The youngest captain in the NHL, Jonathan Toews, has been a crucial piece to the Blackhawks comeback in the series.

Coming into the playoffs, the Canucks had everything going for them. They finished with most points in the NHL, their defensemen were returning from injury, goaltender Roberto Luongo was playing great in net and the playoffs arrived just in time. The bad news? The Canucks were paired up against the Chicago Blackhawks, not only the defending Stanley Cup champions, but the same team that knocked them out of playoff contention two years in a row. To make matters worse for the Canucks, they had a three games to zero lead in the series and completely fell flat. Luongo looks like a piece of swiss-cheese in net, they can’t seem to put the puck in the net and the Stanley Cup champs, are looking more and more unlike the eighth place team that limped into the postseason.

Even on the road, how can you pick against the Hawks? I say it every year, it doesn’t matter about seeding, always fear the defending champs. They know what it is like to hoist the most prized possession in all of sports and even down in the dirt, they were able to get back up and put up a fight. If the Canucks can’t pull this out, the city of Vancouver will be flooded with tears for the third straight year and the Hawks will  be their newly acclaimed rival. Even though I would love to see a comeback for the young guns like Kane and Toews, the Canucks will edge this one out.

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Pittsburgh Penguins

Even without superstars Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, the Penguins have been able to keep pace in the Eastern Conference. Like the Hawks, the Lightning were able to avoid elimination in game six at home and push the series to single-deciding game. Martin St.Louis is playing the top notch hockey (4 goals, 4 assists) and the Lightning seem to be as fired up as anyone.

The Penguins have put together some ugly wins, but nonetheless came away with exactly that, a win. Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury has been inconsistent, solid in the net one night and the next, can’t stop a puck the size of a soccer ball. This game will hinge on the powerplay of the Penguins, who ranked 25th during the season and have only one powerplay goal in the playoffs. If Lightning goalie Dwayne Roloson can put on a show like he did last game, the game will be one-sided. Young sensation Steven Stamkos will be a huge factor in this game as the Lightning advance and send the Penguins packing.

Categories: NHL