Outdoor Hockey

In general, I enjoy the NHL games played outdoors. I might argue that they are turning to that gimmick a touch too often these days, robbing the event of its inherent specialness, but I’m still on board for at least one outdoor game each year. It’s different and fun and the players just seem a little happier.

Most years, it’s also a chance to have a hockey game in a giant arena that holds tens of thousands more fans than fit into a traditional hockey venue. After a couple of dicey years, the NHL developed a mighty mobile refrigeration unit that could maintain a good sheet of ice just about anywhere.

Just about. Today’s outdoor game in South Lake Tahoe was a disaster. The sun shone down and any ice over painted areas, like the logo in the center of the rink or the red dots, turned to slush. After the first period it was decided to postpone the rest of the game until long after nightfall. Luckily no one was hurt before that decision was made.

When you schedule an outdoor game, the weather will always be a risk. It seemed smart at first blush to put a game where there was no need to accommodate fans in a beautiful wintry setting. So the NHL decided to play a couple of games in Tahoe, setting up the rink on a golf course next to the lake. Lovely.

The thing is, when you don’t have to accommodate fans, you don’t have to build a rink. There are thousands (probably) of outdoor rinks on this continent that could have hosted this game — and imagine all the extra hometown color that could have enhanced the story.

I have been skating plenty of times — as ai kid I hit the ice fairly regularly in the winter — but I’ve never skated indoors. Not once. The little rink in my hometown was nestled in a deep canyon and shaded by ponderosas and long banners of fabric hanging from wires overhead to thwart the Northern New Mexico sun. At 7200 feet altitude, the air was cold and dry. Good for ice.

For the cost of building a rink on a golf course and then destroying TV ratings by moving most of the game until after most hockey fans were asleep, the NHL could have installed glass at our little rink and played the game in the most nostalgic setting imaginable — a little rink in a little town (high enough up that even the Avalanche might have been short of breath), and the players could have got their hot chocolate in little plastic cups just like the rest of us do. It could have been fuckin’ magical.

Much fancier than back in the day, but ready to host a big game.

Addendum: I went looking for a picture of the ol’ rink, and apparently it has glass now. In fact: “Built in 1936, the Ice Rink is the only refrigerated, NHL regulation, outdoor Ice Rink in New Mexico.” Those who know the history of Los Alamos realize that in 1936 the town didn’t exist; the rink was part of the Ranch for Boys that occupied the land before the Manhattan Project. Maybe there’s an old photo somewhere of Colgate and Pond in hockey garb. All more fascinating material for the TV yakkers to gush over.

The rink in this picture looks WAY swankier than it did was when I was a kid. Maybe not so good for nostalgia, but that ice is just waiting for the NHL to figure out how to get a no-audience outdoor game right. And with the glass they won’t have to send someone up the slope into the woods to find the puck quite so often.

5

Hank Aaron

I was a kid in 1974, and not particularly attached to baseball. Yet I felt the buzz as Henry “Hammerin’ Hank” Aaron approached the all-time home run record.

Aaron was approaching a record set four decades earlier by Babe Ruth. He accomplished this (I read today) by being the singly most consistently great player in baseball history. This is something that can only be accomplished by a talented athlete who never takes a day off, mentally or physically, for decades.

In 1974, there were a lot of other things I didn’t know. My recollection of the game is vague, except for the part where Hank went long. While I watched the TV to see if this would be the at-bat that made him a legend (not even really understanding what that meant, but I was caught up in the spectacle), I did not know that Hank Aaron was receiving death threats every day. A lot of people were threatening to kill him if he, a Black man, were to break Ruth’s record.

When Aaron’s team relocated from Milwaukee to Atlanta, he wasn’t too stoked. He had played minor league ball in the South, and the fans had not been pleasant. But his team moved, and so did he, and he quietly became a voice of racial justice in Georgia.

But (I read today), rather than being filled with anticipation at breaking a legendary record, Aaron was living in hell, and just wanted that final home run that put an end to the conflict, one way or another. That angers me, that such an accomplishment would only be a source of catharsis, rather than joy. That the last part of the climb to that summit would be tainted by fear of something not natural but simply evil.

Aaron broke the record set by a man who played in a league that excluded black players. Imagine what might have become of Ruth’s numbers if he had had to face Satchel Paige occasionally, or any of a number of powerful pitchers and fielders relegated to the Negro Leagues.

Aaron’s record was eventually broken by the bioscience industry, with Barry Bonds as its representative.

Neither of those two were dealing with thousands of hostile letters every week. Neither of those were just wanting to get this whole thing behind them.

Hammerin’ Hank, you’re still my hero. You’re still the home run king.

Dogs and Tennis

I’ll admit it, yesterday I snuck over to Facebook to see what people have been saying about my more recent episodes (I probably log in to Facebook as often as once a month these days). In response to my recent episode about getting creative with sports, Candace Reedy said, “I always thought golf and tennis would be greatly improved by retrieving dogs…”

I agree wholeheartedly. And dogs and tennis balls? It’s as natural as beer on Friday. I once wrote somewhere in the million-plus words of this blog, that if dogs could raise a statue, it would be to honor the person who invented the tennis ball.

The Round Mound of Hound in intensive training.

So — dogs and tennis. Obviously a good idea. But how, exactly, would it work? I’m here to help make that real. You don’t have to thank me, it’s what I do.

Overall, I think dogs would add two things to the game: chaos and slobber.

Let’s think about slobber. You’re going to have wet-ball players and dry-ball players. When you serve a ball that is sodden with dog drool, it will feel like you’re hitting a lead weight. If you serve with the usual overhead motion, you will be launching a slug and while it might not get over the net quickly, when it touches the surface on the other side, it will drop flatter than a biological slug. The ultimate dream of topspin players to keep the ball low to the surface on the bounce; with a drool-ball there will hardly be a bounce at all.

But when you toss that saturated ball over your head, dog spittle spinning off, droplets shining in the sun, your opponent will know what is coming, and rush the net. So what do you do instead? The lob-serve. Hit it deep, keep it squishy, and your opponent will be forced to hit it on the volley rather than let it “bounce” – a relatively tough shot.

But here’s were things could get tedious. Your opponent is just as restricted as you are concerting shot options. She will be sending a lob right back. Not exactly the recipe for excitement.

Except, of course, there are dogs on the court! And the right dog for this game will be expert at shagging lobs. But then what happens? Simple: If the dog catches the ball on the volley, it’s a point for the dog’s team. If the dog catches it on the first bounce, no points for either side, a do-over. The dog can enjoy the ball for a limited time, juicing it up, but when her teammate says “drop”, the ball is returned to play.

Imagine you’re Roger Federer, able to serve a thousand miles an hour, give or take. You’re a dry-ball player. Your dog is an Australian Cattle Dog, nimble as all get-out and filled with energy, but is well-trained to give the ball back before it is too sodden. Your dog’s name is something like “Ace.” 

Today you’re facing an up-and-coming dog-tennis player named Casey, a scrambler in the Michael Chang mold, and his canine teammate Luna, a youngster of uncertain parentage with strong legs and an almost limitless supply of drool. Casey is good at deflecting hard serves so that Luna can have a shot at them, and Casey’s scrambling style will eat you alive once things get sloppy. A classic wet/dry showdown!

Stuff like that is what sport is all about.

Getting Creative with Sports

I’m writing a story with a lot of swimming in it — specifically swimming under water. It got me to thinking about things that have nothing to do with the story, about swimming and sports and whatnot. I knew some competitive swimmers back in the day, and I remember watching one of those guys traverse nearly the entire length of the pool without breaking the surface. That was a long time ago.

Less long ago, I read that in swimming competitions the rule makers now mandate that swimmers have to come to the surface a specified distance after they dive in or after they turn. Why? Because all that splashing on the surface slows you down. Underwater is faster.

The Swimming Czars put rules into effect because swimmers will otherwise exploit the limited size of the swimming pool and spend half their time submerged. Understandable, but… you want to know who does the butterfly fastest? Put them in a nice, calm lake and point to a buoy.

Maybe this has already happened, but I think swimming can learn from the biker kids over at the velodrome. I went to a few events when I lived in San Diego, and those bicyclists have some crazy competitions (motorcycles on the course, unknown race length, slingshot your team mate, it goes on). If there’s a way to cheat, the riders at the velodrome will have a competition to see who does it best. It’s actually a lot of fun to watch, even if you don’t understand everything that’s going on.

If the lords of the swimmin’ hole adopted that ethic, there would have to be a competition that disallows breaking the surface except on turns. I think that would be hugely entertaining. You have the best conditions for world-record times, but swimmers only get to take a breath once every fifty meters. Mess up your turn and don’t get a full fresh lungful, and you’re in a world of hurt for the next fifty.

I encourage the ruling bodies of every sport to consider events like this. Body-checking in a marathon? Making sounds in golf? Team bowling? We could revolutionize sport itself!

Prestigious Tattoo Locations

Let’s say for a moment that there is a field of sporting competition where, rather than a trophy or a belt, the winner earns the right to wear a special tattoo. As with every other sport, some awards are more prestigious than others. Where do the most prestigious awards go? Face, maybe, for world championships, but how do you rank lesser awards?

Obviously I’m writing a story where exactly this is the case, and our main woman has new ink for a recent win in a regional contest. “It’s only forearm,” I wrote, but then I hesitated. Forearms are pretty visible, and by proximity to hands might be pretty choice real estate. Or not. How do you rank thigh, calf, and elbow?

As I ponder this, I think if I were sponsor for one of these events I’d offer a prize of a tiny little star on the earlobe.

And! I bet there would be integrated tattoos, that formed a triple-crown meta-tattoo if someone gets them all.

And! Kids with promise could choose to put their high school state championship on their thigh to save room for greater rewards to come. The hubris! The insult to the people who got you to where you are! But here’s one trophy case you can’t rearrange later.

To be honest, none of this matters in the story I’m writing, except the “It’s only…”. Jaqi is shrugging off her most recent victory.

But honestly, I think UFC should consider this.

Deadspin, I hardly Knew Ye

It was about a month ago that I read on the pages of deadspin.com how corporate assholes had destroyed Sports Illustrated. There are no more journalists at that respected institution, and actually not even any more photographers. Three months ago Sports Illustrated broke a huge story about an athlete, rape, and intimidation. It was a careful, researched piece of journalism.

That will never happen again at SI. The new corporate masters want clickbait but no actual content. Many staffers — the ones involved with journalism or, ironically, illustrating sports — were let go.

One of the journalistic institutions that railed most loudly about the corporate machine silencing the voices of writers was Deadspin. They seriously do not pull their punches there. They will tell you exactly why your favorite team sucks (technically they are a sports outlet), but they will also tell you why mainstream journalists are so lost when covering a man-child president — looking for a plan when there is none, looking for a policy when the man in charge is incapable of formulating one.

But now Deadspin has fallen to the same corporate bullshit. Their media owners tried to impose a mandate that they only cover sports, and the social issues that were directly related, but to stay away from pop culture and politics in particular. The deputy editor said no, and was fired. Much of the staff quit in response.

This is not small.

Over at ESPN, there has been a slow, quiet purge of columnists who dare talk about race and gender inequality in the context of sports. Although management says they have “clarified” their rules about only talking about politics and race when it is directly germane to sports, it’s pretty much impossible to say that Jemele Hill crossed some invisible line. Her essays were always in the context of sport. But that wasn’t what the ESPN bosses really wanted, no matter what they said. The didn’t want anyone rocking the boat.

Deadspin, if you squint at the name just right, looks like it might have been born to mock ESPN. And up until this week, it was a fearless voice. Boat-rockers one and all. But in the last couple of days, in the wake of mass resignations, many recent “political” articles have been replaced by straight-up sports stories. Three years after Colin Kaepernick took a knee, even the “renegade” media outlets have been coerced to the idea that somehow that athlete’s protest was not related to sports — even if it was a protest about something that touched athletes and their communities directly.

To the writers who quit Deadspin, who have put their livelihoods at risk for a matter of principle: I have an underutilized little server in a bunker outside Las Vegas, Nevada. If you want to fire up Rebornspin, I’ll host you no charge.

2

A Few are Making a Stand

A few days ago I was reading an article by Bill Barnwell over at ESPN. Barnwell writes long, data-driven articles about sports (mostly football), and he has the ability to make what is often very dry subject material interesting. In this case, he caught my attention for something that wasn’t there.

This article was something like Blah Blah Blah NFL’s 10 Worst Teams. What he said about each team doesn’t matter for this episode; what matters is the list itself.

10. Denver Broncos
9. Detroit Lions
8. Buffalo Bills
7. Oakland Raiders
6. Washington
5. New York Giants
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
3. Cincinnati Bengals
2. Miami Dolphins
1. Arizona Cardinals

Don’t see it? Look at number 6 again.

When I noticed that, I dared hope for a moment that ESPN had decided as a powerful media company to simply not use an offensive racial slur on their site.

Nope. The r-word is still all over the place. But at least Bill Barnwell has made the choice to never utter it. If enough of his colleagues do as well, maybe something will change.

Baseball is Back, and maybe even the Padres

Spring is here, a new baseball season is starting, and I find myself oddly excited for this year. I really haven’t paid much attention to baseball the last few years. I’m not excited because of the teams nearby, but because of the perennially-awful San Diego Padres, who were once, long ago, my home team. It’s even possible they’ll be good this year.

Already they’ve won two in a row to start the year. You wouldn’t think much of that if you rooted for any other team, but the Padres haven’t managed that feat since 2011.

They also signed a big-name free agent, Manny Machado, who will be making gobs and gobs of money for the next ten years. This sort of move is not characteristic for them. But while there is plenty of conversation about Machado, it’s Fernando Tatís, who has now played in exactly two major league games, that is getting all the buzz.

Part of that buzz is because Padres management is managing his contract incorrectly. “Incorrect” in this case means not dicking over the player by keeping him in the minors an extra year, to squeeze an extra prime year out of his contract. Essentially The Padres are giving up a year of 27-year-old Tatís for a year of 22-year-old Tatís (numbers may not be exact, but the idea is there)*. Tatís will have another peak-years season to offer when he’s negotiating his next contract. The decision could cost the Padres tens of millions of dollars, and reap the player a similar amount, if he lives up to his potential.

From a bean-counting standpoint, the Padres are being dumb, and bean-counters run baseball. Yet the Padres, with some encouragement from veteran players like Machado, have decided to forego the contract shenanigans and start trying to be good NOW. As a side effect, the players sound pretty happy down there, as do the fans.

On a side note, with a potential lockout or player strike looming, this is a gesture by Padres management that other teams are probably not going to be happy about. But the Padres seem to be intent on making the pie bigger, rather than squabbling over who gets which slice. I have to say I like that.

One reason for the decision to bring up the rookies may be that the Padres are the only major-sport team still in San Diego. Now that there is no football team, the Padres may be making a play for the hearts and minds of sports fans looking for a new team to pull for. They may have a chance to make the pie quite a bit larger down there.

I say rookies, plural, because tonight another kid will make his major-league debut on the mound. If he looks sharp, my optimism will be compounded.

Anyway, I feel pretty good about this year. Right now they are playing the San Francisco Giants —a pretty bad team (they pinch-hit for a corner outfielder on opening day) — and it’s a long year, so the real test will come later. The Giants have an exciting prospect of their own, but it has been explained to the fans here that it would be crazy to bring him up now, and lose a prime year at the end of his contract. Because that’s how baseball works.

Except, right now, in San Diego.

___

* this is wrong. My point is quintuplufied by the actual math. See the comments.

1

Checking Out the Sharks’ next Opponent

While working on, well, work, I’ve got the Nashville-Winnipeg game on. It’s been a pretty good game. Gritty but not dirty, some good skating, each team making the other pay for mistakes. Hockey.

The winner of this game will play the Sharks, after San Jose despoils Cinderella.

I’m not sure who I’m rooting for. On the one hand, Winnipeg may be the most miserable sports city, and as a former resident of San Diego I have to feel for people whose teams always lose the way San Diego teams do, but who also don’t live in San Diego. That would really suck.

But Nashville fans have a song for everything. Seems like every tape-to-tape pass has the fans singing the “Nashville Tape-to-Tape song.” And the whole damn arena sings. It might be the best fan experience in North American sports. (Don’t tell Las Vegas, because dang they’re building an awesome fan experience in the way only Las Vegas can.) Nashville is the hockey arena I’d most like to visit for a game.

On the other hand, I’m more afraid of Nashville. This might be naive; Winnipeg is really good this year. But Nashville has been a problem for a long time now.

On the other hand…

There are an infinite number of hands. I’m enjoying a good hockey game, and both these teams deserve to be here. Either will be a challenge for the Sharks. Either will make for a fun series.

____

A few thoughts about the Sharks/Knights series currently under way:

One of the great things about being a fan of a team is having rivals. I hate the Ducks and I HATE the Kings. Then there’s fuckin’ Buffalo, a hapless team that somehow keeps beating the Sharks (although now we have their best player). Las Vegas is new; they have no historic slights to fume over. I volunteer my team to be the team the Las Vegas Knights fans learn to hate. Step 1: Knock them out of the playoffs.

I call the Las Vegas Franchise the “Las Vegas Knights”. It is a far better name than the official title: the “Vegas Golden Knights”. “Las Vegas Knights” speaks to the character of the town itself; it echoes the allure of being there. It sounds like the title to a novel — or a memoir — or a song — or… It sounds like Las Vegas. Eventually the Las Vegas franchise will fix their name.

Talk about home ice advantage — whoo boy that city knows how to put on a show. To build the drama before the opening game of this series, they had a really cool lighting effect that made it look like a huge shark was swimming under the ice. Of course in their show the shark was eventually slain, but San Jose should seriously steal that effect.

While I think you would be hard-pressed to find a resident of the Las Vegas metropolitan area who agrees with me, there is supposed to be hardship when a team is first getting started. Without that hardship you can’t have fans who can say “I was with the team back when…” It’s the lean times that scar a true fan. (Scars are cool, right?)

I kind of feel sorry for the Raiders, trying to move football into a rabid hockey town.

3

Going All-Out for the Finals

We’ve applied a lot of science to ritual cannibalism in this house, trust me. It started a few seasons ago when we had roast duck for dinner on the first night of the season when the Sharks hosted the Anaheim Ducks. The duck didn’t turn out as well as it might have, and the Sharks lost. In the ensuing seasons, the duck has been ever-more delicious, and the Sharks have won the season opener against the rival Ducks by ever-more comfortable margins. Last year, after stuffing the duck with orange quarters, we shut them out. Orange county, you see.

The science of ritual cannibalism is, therefore, irrefutable. We eat the duck, we beat the Ducks.

This year, as the home team has progressed through the playoffs, we (and by ‘we’ I mostly mean the Official Sweetie of Muddled Ramblings and Half-Baked Ideas) have explored the proper dishes required to vanquish ever-more-fearsome foes. For Nashville, whose fans throw catfish onto the ice, we ate catfish.

St. Louis was a little trickier: They are the Blues. How do you eat a musical style? We went with the color, which is slightly less tricky. We started with (yummy) Blueberry Crumble, but of course that didn’t work: we took their crumble, leaving them steadfast. We switched to a (delicious) blue cheese sauce on pork chops and never looked back.

Of course, there’s plenty of other Fan Science at work as well. Official Sweetie’s old-school Sharks t-shirt is banned from the living room at game time. When things aren’t going well, a glass of Canadian Whiskey will reverse our fortunes. The list goes on.

Pittsburgh has proven to be our greatest challenge yet. You don’t just pop down to Costco and grab a family-size tray of frozen penguin. Happily there are gummy penguins, and where there’s a will there’s a sauce.

For game one it was chicken (a flightless bird) with penguin sauce, and while it was most tasty, it was not effective. The Sharks started the game poorly, and though things stabilized after I turned to the whiskey it was too late. A heartbreak goal in the waning minutes sent our boys back to their hotel with heads bowed.

The menu for game two: Game hen with penguin sauce, with black and white rice. Really, really, tasty. Another close game; the whiskey brought the team back but they gave up a goal in overtime and were down in the series 2-0. Either game could have tilted the other direction, and while the Penguins seemed to be in charge much of the time they weren’t scoring very much. It wouldn’t take much to turn things around.

More research was required.

Thank goodness for the Internet. Sidney Crosby, the captain of the Pittsburgh Penguins and a darn good hockey player, is a man of ritual. On game day, he always has a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Aha! we had found the chink in his armor.

And speaking of science, pork chops are a proven winner. Forget the symbolism of the flightless birds; go with what works!

For game three tonight, we pulled out all the stops for victory. Pork chops grilled outdoors with a peanut butter and jelly and melted penguin sauce. Do not cringe, my friends, it was absolutely delicious. The char from the barbecue added the perfect bitter note to work with the sweet/salty sauce. Rice and grilled green beans rounded out the meal. I wore the black t-shirt, not the gray one. Canadian Whiskey, as always, stood at the ready.

We found out not long before game time that one of the Sharks’ best young players would not be playing due to injury. Tomaš Hertl had hit the iron frame of the net three times in the game two heartbreak; had any one of those three shouts bounced the other direction the Sharks could well have won. It was going to be up to the pork chops to make up for the critical loss for San Jose.

It was a nail-biter, I have to tell you, but in the end the good guys prevailed, scoring in overtime after steadily looking more confident all game. Joonas Donskoi, or “Donkey” as we call him, slipped a shot past the Pen’s excellent net minder as the home crowd made enough noise to be heard in space.

As we celebrated at home the Official Sweetie said, “I hope we have more pork chops.”

1

It Feels Different this Year

I’m a hockey fan, and if you insist that I be more specific I will tell you that I’m a fan of the local NHL franchise, the San Jose Sharks. Almost every year this team makes it to the playoffs. Almost every year they exit early.

Which is mostly just math. Half the teams in the playoffs are eliminated in the first round. By the end of the second round, only four remain. So MOST of the teams that make the playoffs go home early. But you do that too many years in a row, you get a reputation. Even if you go home because of a bizarre bounce in an overtime that shouldn’t have happened except the ref blew a call with 33 seconds to go in regulation.

Right now San Jose is skating agains St. Louis in a titan battle of saints in which God must be careful not to take sides. Like Joseph, Louis has earned a reputation for early exits. One of the two will reach the finals.

Three games in, it’s pretty easy to see that my team is the better of the two. Nashville took it to San Jose a couple of times in the previous round, but the Sharks answered by playing really good hockey. That good hockey has carried into the semifinal round with the Blues.

The Blues deserve to be here. They are a very good team, and they beat powerhouse Dallas fair and square. They beat the Stars by beating on them, and getting under their skin, and making Dallas do stupid things. They came out against the Sharks with the same strategy — and it failed utterly. A dude friggin’ pulled Joe Thornton’s beard and the Sharks laughed it off and scored on the power play. The Sharks, under the leadership of captain Joe Pavelski, just don’t take the bait.

Last game, Newt Gingrich Ken Hitchcock pulled his bullies and agitators and tried to match the Sharks with speed and skill. For a while, it seemed to be working. But nobody plays Sharks hockey better than the Sharks do.

And there’s the thing. Some time around the start of 2016 Joe Thornton started backchecking with energy and the rest of the team stepped up and Burns stopped making stupidly overoptimistic passes and it feels different this year. This isn’t a team getting by, it’s a team offering both an unstoppable offense and a disciplined defense (3 shutouts in the last 4 playoff games) and exposing no weaknesses to exploit. A team like that can laugh when an agitator on the other side tries to lure them into mistakes. Even people on the East Coast are waking up to what a good team this is.

It feels different this year. The Sharks aren’t looking for answers, they aren’t looking for the weakness of the other team. They’re playing their game, and they’re doing it well. It’s up to their opponents to solve the Sharks, and so far none has. Man, it’s been fun to watch.

It’s sports, and anything can happen. I felt confident two years ago when the Sharks went up 3-0 on the Kings only to choke away the playoffs. But this year the Sharks handled the Kings pretty easily, and while Nashville gave them a run for their money the way the Sharks emerged from that series has carried over.

What’s different this year? Maybe the most important thing is the C on Pavelski’s sweater. But don’t forget Wardo, and Donkey, and Jones. Don’t forget old man Zubrus making the fourth line a disciplined unit and a legitimate threat. Hertl’s lovely slap shot to open the scoring last night is now a rarity; under the new management the Czech kid is expected to be a complete player, not just a sniper but a stout defender and a guy willing to mix it up down near the goal. He has embraced the role and thrives on the chaos around the net. “Now I go to net, get rebound and score. Is better.”

The team knows: this is their chance. The older players, Thornton and Marleau in particular, know that time is running out, and this year they’re playing like their legacies are on the line. The new kids are hungry, and skilled, but they are inheriting discipline from the old-timers. It really is a joy to watch. At this time they are still six wins from their first championship, but no matter what happens I thank the Sharks for making it different this year.

1

John Scott, NHL All-Star

John Scott plays hockey. He’s a lunch-pail, blue-collar player who works hard to stay in the league. He’s been called a dying breed, or an old-schooler, but those are just soft words to disguise what he does so well. He’s an enforcer. He’s a peacekeeper. He keeps the peace by making it absolutely clear that he will destroy anyone who violates the peace. He was on the team I support last year, and it’s funny how many fights didn’t happen when John Scott came on the ice.

But if it’s fisticuffs you want, John Scott is your bloke.

CZ6qWnSXEAAOYnsThere are thugs around the league that everyone hates. Raffi Torres, technically a member of my favorite team, comes to mind. People hate Raffi, and for good reason. But people don’t hate John Scott. He’s a bruiser, a puncher, but not a dirty player. If you don’t violate John Scott’s peace, you need not fear.

Not only do hockey fans not hate John Scott, they like him so much that this year they elected him to the all-star game. Part of it is a joke, of course, the fans punking the league. But they’d never punk the league with Raffi Torres. He’s an asshole. They punked the league with someone they liked. I’m sure many people in San Jose hopped on the John Scott bandwagon, even though he doesn’t play here anymore.

The NHL did not handle the situation gracefully. They tried to bury him, to shuffle him out of the lineup, and to apply personal pressure to get him to step down. Scott readily acknowledges that he is not the most skilled player in the NHL, but when the league began dicking him over to knock him out of the game, he pushed back, in a low-key, John Scott sort of way. Because that’s who he is; that’s always been his game. Play by the rules, there’s no problem. Step over the line, and he will guide you back, gently, at first.

Fans howled. Whether they were his supporters before or not, the NHL brass was trying to nullify their vote. He will be playing in the all-star game.

Then the other all-star players voted, and he has a C on his sweater. Team captain. John Fuckin’ Scott, team captain in the all-star game. The players, at least, remembered who really pays their checks, and they don’t mind punking their employers now and then to boot. You can read a feel-good piece about it (twins any minute now!) over at espn (also the source of the above image).

And now I’ll probably watch at least some of that horrible game, just to hear the arena get loud when Scott steps onto the ice. The game is suddenly interesting, at least for a few minutes. Final victory: NHL.

1

Whither the Sports Columnist?

ESPN.com has completely gone to hell; si.com’s not much better. Grantland has ceased to be. Where does one go to read sports journalism any more? Does it even exist?

The Wrong Way to Celebrate a Goal

I’m at a bar where mariachi is playing and the TV is showing sports. Sports in this case is the most popular sport in the world, the version of football that involves both foot and ball.

It’s a listless game, for the most part; I hadn’t even realized the game had started — players were just milling about. Then I noticed the clock was ticking. I went back to my writing.

I looked up again when the guy watching the TV to my right turned up the volume. “GOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAALLLLL!” There were celebrations and then the guy who scored the goal ran to the sidelines and began furiously unlacing his shoes. A flunky ran up with a new neon-green pair, and the player put them on with a great show of urgency.

While the clock was ticking. The other team waited for him to finish. Perhaps they had to, it looked like he was on the wrong side of the center line. If he was stopping the game by being offside, it seems to me it was a yellow card offense. If not, I say let the guy change his jock for all I care, but his team’s going to have to play without him while he promotes his own agenda. If the clock’s ticking, the ball should be moving.

And what about the rest of the team? This guy was busy immortalizing his own damn wardrobe (and no doubt profiting from it), with no recognition that a whole bunch of other guys worked to create that moment.

While this example was particularly awful, don’t think for a moment it doesn’t happen in other sports. American football even has rules to limit celebrations. But honestly, I have no problem with guys throwing a brief party after they accomplish something. I do have a problem with a player delaying the game to profit personally.

If if turns out he auctions his shoes to support an orphanage, then I will suddenly applaud the opposing team for supporting his philanthropy by not putting the ball in play. I’m not optimistic.

Venus’ Last Stand

For a couple of years she beat her little sister, but now Serena gets all the big wins. Time is separating the two, now Venus is “only” the 23rd top player in the world. Tonight’s match may be the last meaningful showdown between the sisters.

First set: Serena.

Second set: Venus — decisively.

Third set: still early, leaning Serena. I’m kind of pulling for big sister Venus. I gotta think it will matter around the table at Thanksgiving.

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