Wednesday, February 23, 2011

More Hockey (for Bruins fans!!)

Over my lifetime I have taken a lot of grief from Bruins fans, including Saturday during the Bruins/Whalers legends game at Whale Bowl. Here are few facts I thought Bruins fans should know:

1) You have to win 4 playoff series in one year to win the Stanley Cup. The Bruins have 4 playoff series since 1993. Four series in 18 years!!!

2) No Stanley Cups since 1972. I don't see that changing this year.

3) The Minnesota North Stars have played in the Stanley Cup more recently than the Bruins. They moved to Dallas in 1993!!!

4) The Bruins have two Stanley Cup Championships since 1942

5) The Bruins have played in two Stanley Cup Finals series in 30 years. They won a total of ONE game in the two series.

And as we all know

6) The Bruins are one of three franchises to blow a 3 games to none lead in a best of seven playoff series. As a footnote, they are the ONLY team to blow 3-0 in the seventh game of that series.

How bout that B's fans?

Whale Bowl

I now know how those fans felt in Green Bay on New Years Eve in 1967. The temperature for the Ice Bowl game between Dallas and Green Bay was -15 degrees that day at game time. At Rentschler Field in East Hartford, I attended the Whale Bowl on Saturday. The temperature at the Rent was a balmy 25 degrees in comparison, but the wind was unlike anything I have ever felt. They might as well have played the game atop Mount Washington in New Hampshire. The windchill dropped the temperature to about -10 degrees, and it never let up through the 4.5 hours I was there.

I drove the 80 miles from my house in Massachusetts to show my support for the rebranded AHL Connecticut Whale, to see some Whaler and Bruin legends, and to show the NHL that Hartford deserves a franchise more than places like Nashville, Phoenix, Sunrise, Florida, and yes even Raleigh. The Bruins-Whalers legends/celebrity game was a blast. I remember watching Pat Verbeek, Nelson Emerson, Scott Daniels, and the Babych brothers on Sportschannel New England. Rick Middleton, Reggie Lemelin, Lyndon Byers, Brad Park, Craig Janney, and Ken Linseman were Bruins players I used to watch on TV 38 during those successful years in 80s. It was great to see all of them again. I even saw my favorite New York Ranger and Connecticut native Brian Leetch. I have to say I was disappointed with the amount of empty seats I saw. In fairness, the wind was such a factor, and was nearly unbearable. I have been a Patriots season ticket holder for nearly fifteen years, and not a single game at either Gillette or the old Foxboro Stadium had wind whip through the stands like this. I can't even remember a ski trip with winds that strong. Most of the conversations I had with other fans were held in the Men's Room. Souveneirs were blowing off tables, and I had to chase my hat through the concourse at least a half dozen times. The stadium was filled with red faces, shivering knees, and brave souls. Nonetheless, it is possible that Jeff Jacobs was right when he mentioned in his column Sunday that Connecticut may have missed an opportunity to showcase Hartford as a major player for the return of the NHL.

I have lived in Boston for more than 80 percent of my life, yet the Whalers always have and always will be my team. I loved the atmosphere at the Civic Center. The Whalers had a good thing going in the 80's with players like Ron Francis, Pat Verbeek, Kevin Dineen, Mike Liut, and Ulfie Samuelson. Poor personnel decisions and management after Mr. Baldwin left the team brought the franchise to its knees as we all know. The two hour drive to see a game never bothered me because I felt like I was watching a game with 14,000 friends and neighbors. Brass Bonanza gave our team an identity, and it is still used at Fenway Park today. I used to see players meeting with fans after games and at local hangouts in downtown Hartford. We loved the players, and they loved the fans. Howard Baldwin owned the franchise in its 80s heyday and he knows the franchise should never have been moved to Carolina by that bandit with the ponytail. The games were also affordable and accessible to most. The team wasn't overly successful, but there were moments: Kevin Dineen's game winning goal against the Canadiens in 1986, Dave Babych's game tying goal in Game 7 vs. Montreal in '86, Yvon Corriveau's game winner against the Habs in the 1992 playoffs, and the nine goals scored in the clinching game of the Whale's loan playoff series win. I have taken a lot of grief from Bruins fans in my life, but I know Howard Baldwin cares more about his fan base than the Jacobs family ever will. More on Bruins fans in my next post.

The truth is I think Gary Bettman would have to leave his position in order for Hartford to get a franchise. Winnipeg and Quebec are also great hockey cities bidding to get teams. It's an uphill battle and I hope Hartford gets another chance to show the support that I saw for 18 seasons that it was an NHL city. I wish the 6,000+ that paid, but missed out on this great day had shown up. But I also know that if there is a chance to fill an arena indoors for 81 games, Hartford will do it. I witnessed it. I also know there is no way in this world that the so-called "Caniacs" would have endured those conditions for an NHL game, much less an AHL game.The rebranded Whale is drawing well, and playing exciting hockey. I always wonder what we could have witnessed in Hartford had Pete Karmanos not pulled the rug out from under us. Neither the Bruins nor the Rangers have even qualified for the Stanley Cup semifinal round since the Whalers left town. I think we would we would have had a lot of new fans and excitement in Hartford with two finals appearances and one Stanley Cup.

Keep the faith Whalers and Whale fans. Howard Baldwin is a smart, passionate and influential man. He is one of the few owners that has the fans interest in mind. He put Hartford NHL hockey on the map. We need to help him bring it back.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Patriots 2011 Review

Now that the 2011 season is almost 2 weeks in our rearview mirror, I have a few thoughts as I put a wrap on an interesting year. First, congrats to the Packers and Aaron Rodgers, the BEST Green Bay QB of the last 20 years. He has as many Lombardi trophies as Brett Favre, more Super Bowl MVPs, and fewer interceptions and sexual misconduct allegations. Brett Favre, how stupid do you feel now? I know how stupid you SHOULD feel. Ok enough of that.

As far the Patriots go, I must admit I predicted a 9-7 finish at best this year. It was a good year for the Patriots, but wow what a miserable ending. I was yelling positive encouragement all the way through the first half of the game against the Jets. It worked out on the first drive after an interception as the Patriots prevented the Jets from getting into the end zone, and then the Jets missed a field goal. I thought maybe there is something to this positive thinking. I was wrong. Then came the fake punt with 1:14 left in the first half. Has there ever been a worse idea? AND NO I WOULD NOT HAVE THOUGHT IT WAS A GOOD IDEA IF IT WORKED! Here's my logic. Football is like life. You have to make decisions based on situations that exist around you like the amount of time left, field position, time outs left, the score, personnel on the field, the way you're playing, what quarter it is. Then you determine if it's worth the risk. Absolutely the worst decision this side of Red Sox former manager John McNamara. You can't make a risky decision just because a player may be six inches to the left of where you think he should be. And Bill Belichick the control freak, you allow a second year player to make a decision like that on the field? Shame on you. The worst part was how DESPERATE the decision looked. Never have I seen desperation like that from the Patriots. Terrible.

Then came the fourth quarter, and Brady taking his time as the Patriots were down by two scores. It looked as though he was driving to his colonoscopy rather than the end zone. No urgency at all. Unbelievable.

Aside from that the Patriots really did have an amazing year. They were great at forcing turnovers in the regular season, and the offense was fantastic despite the midseason subtraction of one Randy Moss. A fall from grace only exceeded by Brett Favre. Sad. We could have used you Randy.  Kudos to Devin McCourty. Great season. Now hopefully the Patriots will address a need I've been talking about for five years. A pass rush. PLEASE BILL. GET US A PASS RUSHER IN THE DRAFT.

By the way, is it me or was the 25th anniversary of the Patriots first Super Bowl not acknowledged at all? I would rather look at an AFC Championship banner for that team than that stupid 2007 perfect/unperfect season banner that hangs near the south end zone. The '85 team was the first and only team from Super Bowls I to XXXIX to win 3 road games to reach the Super Bowl. Great accomplishment that unfortunately ended with a loss to arguably the greatest single season team of all time the 1985 Bears. Shame on the Krafts. At least they are wearing those 1985 uniforms in the picture I took.

Next, lets talk about treatment of fans at the games. The Super Bowl was shameful. Dallas, the NFL, and Jerry Jones should crawl under a rock. 1200 fans pay for seats and get a TV screen in the basement. Gotta love that southern hospitality. Oh did I mention Jones charged fans 200 dollars to watch a game on the screen outside, while Arod was fed popcorn in a luxury box for free? And George W. Bush gave his customary blank stare from from Jerry Jones' special perch? Nice going Dallas. Here's a tip on snow removal: plows, shovels, salt. Use them. And the NFL offers triple the face value to fans for their tickets. That's probably what they paid for the tix anyway. Forget about travel, hotel, and transportation from the airport, which apparently there was none.

Poor treatment was the rule at Foxboro too. Opening Day, a  6 year old fan was invited on to the field to take pictures and meet players. But an overzealous thug known as a Gillette Stadium employee had the kid carried off the field, screamed at the kid and the Dad despite requests from NFL officials to leave the father and his son alone. It turns out, the employee upset the father so much, the poor guy went back to his seat with his crying and devastated son, had a heart attack and died!! What's that? Didn't hear about that? Yeah the Patriots have a habit of concealing more than just injuries. The truth is I saw a ton of mistreatment this year. The picture I attached I took as I was telling a Gillette Stadium employee to take a step back, among other things, as I took the picture. As I walked up to my seat saw another fan doing the same thing, taking a picture. The stadium employee did the honorable thing and called 5 Foxboro Policemen to get that horrible picture taker.  These employees are like the kid on the playground that start a fight with other kids while the teacher standing behind him. They ruin the experience for everybody.

I guess what I'm asking is how much does the NFL and franchises expect fans to endure when paying outrageous prices to sit a half mile from the action? We'll see. Brady and Belichick won't be here forever. Fear not though Pats fans, the Steelers, Jets, and Colts all went home too. Next  year is a fresh start.