Sunday, October 3, 2010

Finally, Hockey Season!

It has been a long off season since that fateful day that the Penguins lost in game 7 of the playoffs to a hard-working Montreal Canadians team. A lot has happened in the time since then. On a personal level, I ran face-first into the working world after a four year fairy tale called college. I'm not sure what my expectations were for working full-time, but I certaily look forward to the weekends more. In the Steel City, the NFL decided to attempt to ruin the Pittsburgh Steelers season by suspending quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for six games (subsequently reduced to four) for allegedly forcing himself upon a girl in a bar restroom. The Steelers foiled this plan by going 3-1 (narrowly missing going 4-0 by losing to the hated Ravens on a last minute touchdown) with a glut of quarterback issues. For those of you foolish enough to think that Charlie Batch should start when Ben comes back, please refer to his horrid performance against the Ravens and ask yourself whether you want to see the Steelers have a chance to win another Super Bowl or if you want to see a player further punished for something that he was not even proven guilty of. Admittedly, Ben needed a wake-up call to clean up his act, but the guy wins games. And that brings us to the long-awaited start of the NHL regular season.

The Pittsburgh Penguins will bring a slighly altered look to the ice this season. Among the losses are offensive-defenseman Sergei Gonchar, old-leader Bill Guerin, and occasional-scoring winger Ruslan Fedetenko. Each of these losses takes something different away from the Penguins, however, they more than made up for the losses with their offseason acquisitions. Added to the blueline will be Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek. These defensemen will join a solid core from last season to provide a strong blueline in front of netminder Marc-Andre Fleury. On the offense, Mike Comrie comes to the team as a verastile center/winger to potentially provide support to Crosby. Along with Comrie are a host of young, talented forwards vying to make the team. The question remains whether the Penguins can regain their 2008-09 form and bring home another Stanley Cup.

The potential of the Penguins this season looks good. Their offensive core remains mostly unchanged from last season (assuming the healthy return of Jordan Staal at a reasonable time) and the defense has added talent to make it very strong. Only time will tell if the Penguins can repeat thier Stanley Cup winning performance from two seasons ago, but it will definitely be a season to watch. Now lets hit the ice.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

A Little College Nostalgia

Well, a month has come and gone since that eventful day when I walked across the stage on the Grove City College Quad and accepted my diploma. In that month since, seldom a day has gone by that I have not thought back to the great times that I had during those four short years.

As my friends and I have gone our separate ways and immersed ourselves in the process of trying to take life seriously, I wanted to take a second to reminisce. At no other point in my life will I have the opportunity to live with all of my best friends for an extended period of time. Hopefully my friends and I will have the ability to reconvene every year or so at a beach house, but the days of living like family with my friends have been extinguished. And while I am certainly disappointed that those times have passed me by, I will eagerly and excitedly look forward to our reunions.

More than think about the times that have passed me by, though, I wanted to write about the great memories that I made and the great times that will surely come.

While college provided me with one of the greatest growing experiences one could ask for, I felt more than adequately prepared to become an engaged citizen of the "real world." Sure college was mildly difficult, but in no way was Grove City the "real world."

My walk in the "real world" offers many opportunities that I am anxious to experience. Without any pre-conceived thought or interest, I managed to graduate college with an awesome girlfriend. With slightly more thought and interest, I also managed to graduate college with a great job. Finally, with perhaps the most thought and interest, I graduated college with a group of some of the best friends a person could ask for. With these amazing parts of my life set, I am now ready to seize the day.

Now you may be wondering what parts of college I am missing the most. Well, college offers a unique situation in which you can openly go to a bar for lunch with the sole intention of drinking until inebriation and no one seems to judge you. Conversely, you spend a lot more weekends sleeping away the day and being utterly unproductive.

A college education would not be well-rounded without a glut of personal learning experiences. Playing lacrosse on a whim my senior year offered me a chance to meet a great group of people and play some great competition with virtually no playing experience. Drinking beer with alumni taught me the value of moderation and how to have a strong will. Dealing with self-righteous, judgmental Grovers taught me to value the opinions of those that matter and not those that think of themselves as superior. And finally, intramural sports taught me the need to maintain a calm head during all competition.

I urge each and everyone of you to take the time to truly enjoy the college experience. Value each and every moment that you have living with your best friends, all the time that you spend sleeping through class because you were out late bonding with friends, and try to learn something during your four short years.

If you have any good stories or advice that you want to share, post them in the comments, I'd love to hear them.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Summer Time Sports

Well ladies and gentlemen, it is that time of year when sports fans suffer from an overdose of mediocre baseball and are forced to hear about the third string running back who just might make an impression at this years pre-season football workouts. Living in Pittsburgh my entire life, I am used to watching sub-par baseball throughout the summer.

Lately, however, there has been some Pirates news that actually got me off the couch and interested. Local Pine-Richland high school star Neil Walker is making a name for himself on the Pirates roster. Drafted as a catcher, Walker has enjoyed most of his success at second base, where he currently holds the starting job. It will be interesting to see the young career of Walker develop over the next few months.

Another very intriguing Pirates story comes in the form of Stephen Strasburg's first Major League start. The 21-year old pitching sensation will make his Major League debut against the Pirates tonight at 7:05 in Washington. Be sure to catch this hyped performance of the 2009 number one pick.

As the Stanley Cup finals approaches its conclusion and the NBA Finals looks to crown a champion, may I offer a summer alternative to baseball. The 2010 World Cup kicks off in South Africa on June 11 as host nation South Africa faces Mexico. There is plenty of intrigue to hold anyone's attention and for the casual soccer fan, there are plenty of big matches. For the USA their biggest match comes in their opening game vs. England on Saturday June 12.

Outside of the individual games, there are plenty of players looking to make a mark at this years World Cup. Some of the players to watch include the USA's Clint Dempsey, Spain's David Villa, Argentina's Carlos Tevez, and Brazil's Robinho. While there are certainly plenty of other brilliant players such as Messi, Ronaldo, Kaka, and Rooney, the players listed above will definitely make an impact, but are lesser known outside of the soccer community. Enjoy watching the individual brilliance of these great players and the masterpieces that teams will most certainly produce. Whatever your interests, just remember that this is the beautiful game.

Closing Thought: In many countries across the world, the World Cup means a drastic drop in work productivity, a large increase in alcohol consumption, and a general sense of pride and community that only an event as big as the World Cup can create. As a reminder to my US readers, please take the time to enjoy this great game and maybe a quality beer along with it.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Change and Constants

It is graduation season and this particular year, graduation holds special significance, as I am graduating from Grove City College. As I sat in my dorm during finals, trying to put off the inevitable studying, a great many thoughts littered my mind. I got around to thinking about what was about to change in my life and what would stay the same as I started this new chapter. Things rarely stay the same for a great number of years (except the Pittsburgh Pirates 17 straight losing seasons), but that change is not always bad (I'm reminded of the Penguins turn-around between the 2005-06 season and their 06-07 season).

Regardless of the change that I was about to face, I knew that there would be many constants in my life. For instance, the Penguins will be one of the great teams in the long as they are able to keep Sidney Crosby. The Pirates will be one of the worst teams in the MLB...unless there is a change in ownership. The Steelers will be a great NFL franchise...unless players like Ben Roethlisberger continue to make poor life choices. Part of the appeal of the Pittsburgh sports scene are the constants that continue year after year. Each game has a life of its own, but the season has a strong history.

While constants are certainly nice, a little change never hurts anyone. I am eager to embrace the chance that is about to engulf my life and to take-on life as it comes. Sometimes its nice to just sit back and let life come to you and other times, as Coach Bombay says, "you have to make the first move." Will you make the first move or suffer a fate like the Pirates at that dead-end job? Each person controls their own destiny and there has never been a better time to seize the day.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

You Can't Handle Crosby

Montreal fans crowded downtown streets after the Canadians defeated the President's trophy winning Capitals in seven games Wednesday night. Among the chants of "Go Habs" and "Ovie Sucks," you could hear the chant calling out their second round foe. "We want Crosby," the chant rang out and the Penguins are here to bring them Crosby.

Despite being the only number eight seed to rally from 3-1 series deficit to win ever, the Canadians have met their match. Sure the Canadians have won the most Stanley Cups in the history of hockey and they have certainly had great players such as Richard, Beliveau, and Lafleur, but the Penguins are geared to give them all they can handle. The Penguins are the team of today and have the superstars to complement it. While Halak played "on his head" as the phrase goes, the Penguins will be able to break him. Unlike the Capitals who are rich with individual talent, the Penguins have a team mentality that starts with team owner, Mario Lemieux. Lemieux, the face of the franchise has assembled one of the greatest hockey teams in recent memory (Although I hate Detroit, respect to the Red Wings). Built on a foundation of number one picks Marc-Andre Fleury, Sidney Crosby, and Evgeni Malkin, the Penguins have the team to win another Championship.

While Montreal, led by Mike Cammalleri, will definitely slow the Pens down, the Pens will emerge victorious. A team with the depth of the Penguins, the Stanley Cup experience, and the youthful exuberance on top of the talent is ripe to win another Cup. The Penguins will get by the Habs and make it to the Eastern Conference final.

Music to my ears: Local Pittsburgh band and Penguins supporters, Good Brother Earl, just released a new CD titled fiction. I am waiting to get a copy of the CD when I see them play live at La Casa Narcisi, a great local winery, but if this CD is anything like their other releases, it will definitely be worth the purchase.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Phase One: Complete

The Pittsburgh Penguins completed phase one in their quest to repeat as Cup champions with an overtime thriller against the Senators. Their victory, however, was far from perfect and showed the hockey world why the defending Stanley Cup Champions will be a force to be reckoned with again this year. After going down three-nothing, the Penguins rallied to force overtime just two nights after fighting through three overtime periods. This time, however, overtime produced a different result and propelled the Penguins into round two where they await the winners of the other two Eastern Conference series.

As they await the winners of those series, the Penguins have a short rest; a rest they will certainly need after back-to-back overtime games. The Stanley Cup playoffs are an immensely physically demanding process, making rest and re-cooperation essential for success. Much like the job interviewing process, a process in which the winner is not necessarily the best candidate but the one who does not disqualify himself, the winner of the Stanley Cup playoffs is not necessarily the best team. Regular season success does nothing to guarantee playoff success as the President trophy winning San Jose Sharks proved last year. Playoff success is determined by surviving each grueling series and persevering until the end.

Outlasting opponents was a specialty of the Penguins last season on their run to the Stanley Cup. This year, they will have to show that same mettle if they wish to repeat, a feat they have a significance chance of achieving. Team captain, Sidney Crosby, is playing like a man possessed, leading the playoffs with 14 points. Role players are playing big roles in the penalty kill and in the goal department. These things only add to the Penguins chances of repeating.

Before I give them too much credit, though, the Penguins game six victory was far from pretty. Playoff sensation and point-leader Sidney Crosby was mediocre and second line center Evgeni Malkin played equally as bad. Yet somehow, the Penguins fought back with resilience from three nothing down to force overtime. Third line players like Matt Cooke, who scored two goals, and Pascal Dupuis, who had the overtime winner along with an assist, were the story of the night. On a night when the Penguins superstars looked like regular old joes, the third line shone through.

Heading into their next round matchup, regardless of their opponent, the Penguins should be confident that they will not be disqualified. Their mettle has been tested and it held strong. Their greatest strengths have been equalized and they still stole victory from the arms of defeat. They have been told that their time is over, and they said, "No, our time is now." Bring on the next opponent because the Penguins are ready.

Shameless Beer Plug: Thursday nights at the Blue Ribbon Tavern in Grove City, PA is a popular night with beer enthusiasts. The special on Thursday nights is $2.50 imports and microbrews, which provides a relatively inexpensive way to taste a variety of different, quality beers. This past Thursday while watching the Penguins lose in the third overtime, I had the opportunity to sample a few beers. My first sampling included Flying Dog's Raging Bitch, which is a Belgium IPA. It was a slightly fruity beer (hints of grapefruit) with a very hoppy taste. Surprisingly, these tastes blended quite nicely for a refreshing, spring beer that I would highly recommend. At 8.3% ABV, however, having more than a few is certainly a questionable decision. Another beer that satisfied my palate was from a local Pittsburgh microbrewery called Church Brew Works. The beer, Pious Monk Dunkel, is similar to a German-style Dunkel, although slightly lighter. Nothing can beat a few quality beers and a Pittsburgh Penguins victory, so enjoy an ice cold beer as you cheer on the Penguins.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Stanley Cup Playoffs

"It's a hockey night here in Pittsburgh." Everyone knows the voice of Mike Lange ringing out these familiar words and after the game 1 loss to Ottawa, it is time to take some interest in this first round match-up.

The black and gold of the Pittsburgh sports scene has long been the life-blood of this neglected steel town. The city has thrived upon the successes of both the Steelers and Penguins and likewise been devastated by seventeen straight losing seasons for the Pirates. As the Penguins begin their playoff run for a second consecutive Stanley Cup, a few things stand out as different from last season.

First, the two-headed dragon of Crosby and Malkin is seemingly injured. While Crosby had a breakout year in terms of goal production (finally breaking the 50 goal plateau), Malkin suffered from injuries and had stifled offensive production throughout the regular season. After game 1, however, in which Malkin scored two goals and added an assist, will he thrive in the playoffs and lift the Penguins to their second run of two straight Stanley Cups? Only time will tell if the these two young players will once again lead the Penguins to the Stanley Cup.

Second, defensive point production is up this season from last season. Gonchar has played an integral part in the Penguins power play (as seen when he went down with injury and the power play suffered) as have Goligoski and Letang. In addition, adding the likes of Jordan Leopold and getting greater production from Orpik, the defense has shouldered more of the offensive load than last season. Some say, however, that this greater offensive production has led to the defensive inconsistency that the Penguins have had throughout the season and after giving up five goals to Ottawa in game one, who is to say they aren't right. Regardless, the off season losses of Scuderi and Gill will have an effect on this year's playoffs.

Finally, the competition that the Penguins will have to face to win another Stanley Cup is stiffer and deeper than last year. The Washington Capitals are an offensive machine and look hard to stop heading into the playoffs having lost only two games in regulation since the Olympic break. The Buffalo Sabres have arguably the best goaltender in the National Hockey League in Ryan Miller. In the Western Conference the teams look even better. Regardless of the Western Conference champion, the Eastern Conference champion will have their hands full. Whether its Vancouver and the Sedin brothers, Chicago with the addition of Hossa, or San Jose with one of the most potent offensive lines in the NHL, it will be a challenge. Teams have matured, added players, and the competition looks tougher than ever as the Penguins make their playoff run.

Regardless of the Penguins chances in the playoffs, this year is different. To win a second Stanley Cup, however, the Penguins have to "play their game." Role players such as Talbot, Kennedy, and Cooke have to step up, Fleury must make big saves, and the Penguins energy line must score goals. If the Penguins can do these things, this year will be just like last year ending with another Stanley Cup raised above Crosby's head. LET'S GO PENS!