On The Clock NFL Mock Draft from Fanspeak.com

You are browsing the archive for May 2011 - steveospeak.

Grading the Title Contenders' Cities

May 31, 2011 in Uncategorized

By Guest Blogger Rob Yunich:

Grading the Title Contenders’ Cities

With the championship round of the NBA and NHL about to begin, here’s a look at the homes of the teams vying for the title. The rankings are set on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being an amazing sports town and one being a head-scratcher. The cities are listed in order of supremacy:

Boston

Population: 617,594

Sports Teams: Bruins, Celtics, Red Sox, Patriots, New England Revolution (MLS)

Bruins’ home rink: TD Garden (shared by the Celtics)

Overview: One of the oldest cities in the United States, Boston is also one of the country’s best sports towns. Not only does Boston have sports longevity, but it’s got success — winning 32 titles, most recently by the 2008 Celtics (who also reached the NBA finals last year). Although the Patriots are the new kid in town (relatively speaking, since they started play in 1960), they’ve won three Super Bowls (2001, 2003, 2004) and have cemented themselves as one of the league’s elite, missing the playoffs just twice since 2001. The Red Sox will always rule Boston sports, and the franchise has one of the most fascinating histories around. The Sox have made the playoffs six of the last eight years, winning the 2004 and 2007 World Series. The Bruins’ run this season certainly has captured the city’s imagination. The Bruins were founded in 1924 and have won five Stanley Cups, but none since 1972. They have made the playoffs in seven of the last nine years, and captured four division titles during that span.

Grade: 9.5

Dallas

Population: Approximately 1.2 million

Sports Teams: Stars, Mavericks, Rangers, Cowboys, FC Dallas (MLS)

Mavericks’ home rink: American Airlines Center (shared by the Stars)

Overview: The Cowboys, who hosted the most recent Super Bowl, play in the largest stadium in the NFL and lead the league in attendance last season (averaging 87,047, just ahead of the Redskins’ 83,172). Cowboys Stadium also hosted the 2010 NBA all-star game and attracted a whopping 108,713 to that contest. The locale is slated to host the 2014 Final Four. On the field, though, the Cowboys haven’t won a Super Bowl since capturing three in four seasons (1992, 1993, and 1995) and went 13 seasons without winning a playoff game of any kind. The Rangers made the franchise’s first World Series last season, but before that, hadn’t made the playoffs since 1999. That year also was the season the Stars won the franchise’s only Stanley Cup, but they’ve had some tougher times lately (missing the playoffs the last three seasons). The Mavericks, however, have 50 regular season wins for 11 straight seasons, although this is only the franchise’s second NBA finals berth (the other came in 2006, when they lost to the Heat).

Grade: 8.0

Miami

Population: Approximately 2.5 million

Sports Teams: Dolphins, Marlins, Heat, Panthers

Heat’s home rink: American Airlines Arena

Overview: Any city that can’t sell out a playoff game loses credibility right from the start. That being said, the Heat averaged 19,778 (fifth in the league) this past season and won a title in 2006. But they’re the exception. Despite winning the World Series in 1997 and 2003 (the only two times they’ve made the playoffs in franchise history), the Marlins have one of the worst histories of attendance in the National League and now curiously are opening a new stadium next season. The Dolphins, best known for its 1972 perfect season, only have won two Super Bowls (1972 and 1973) and haven’t reached the big game since 1984 or made the playoffs since 2008 (although they participated in the postseason five straight times from 1997-2001). Miami has hosted the Super Bowl a record 10 times, however. The Panthers have only qualified for the playoffs three times in 17 seasons of existence and not since the 1999-2000 season. They were in the bottom third in the league in attendance this past season.

Grade: 6.2

Vancouver

Population: 578,041

Sports Teams: Canucks, BC Lions (CFL), Whitecaps FC (MLS), Canadians (short-season minor-league baseball)

Canucks’ home rink: Rogers Arena

Overview: If this were a grading of hockey-mad cities, Vancouver would receive a near perfect score. (Ditto for Olympic hosts.) But since it is an overall ranking of sports cities, Vancouver suffers from being in Western Canada and not being a part of other major professional leagues. They’ve already lost an NBA franchise(which is doing quite well in Memphis) and a triple-A baseball franchise. Their MLS franchise is in its infancy and the BC Lions, while one of the most established franchises in the Canadian Football League, still plays in a league that’s inferior to the NFL. Still, the Canucks are one of the most passionate franchises in the NHL and have a rabid fan base. And, for that, Vancouver gets major points. They also get credit for making the playoffs eight of the last 10 seasons, reaching the 1982 and 1994 Stanley Cup finals and becoming the first Western Canadian franchise to capture the Presidents’ Trophy since the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames won the first four.

Grade: 4.8

You can find more of Rob's work at http://www.stormingthecrease.com/.

NBA Finals: Miami Heat vs. Dallas Mavericks

May 30, 2011 in Uncategorized

By Guest Blogger Tyler Daly:

Two teams whose strengths and weaknesses seam to blend together in a poetic fashion to create a storybook final series. The aging superstar in Nowitzki, looking to cement his legacy as one of the all-time greats. The young Lebron James, thirsting for a title after many heartbreaking failures in the postseason. Dallas has the great bench, Miami the great starting lineup. Those who refer to this as a rematch of the 2006 series do so only recognizing the teams-in-name meeting once again.

In all honesty, both teams couldn’t be further from the squads that put them in the Finals in 2006. Dwayne Wade and Udonis Haslem are the only remaining Heat players who were on that championship team. Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry are the only two Mavericks who came so close to the ultimate prize that year, only to taste sour defeat. Wade had an aging, but still fairly dominant paint presence in his running-mate, Shaq. Back then, people still referred to the Mavericks as “soft.” Tell that to anyone around the NBA now and they’ll laugh in your face.

This season we have watched as the Dallas Mavericks have changed the culture of their basketball team. A group that was once cleverly named “allas Mavericks” for their lack of “D,” has become a defensive nightmare for many teams around the league. We have also watched the constant spotlight shown on the Miami Heat in South Beach, the press jumping their every move. The adversity that both of these teams have overcome is more important to this series than any statistic or speculation that will occur before Tuesday’s game.

When it comes down to it, I believe it will be the team who shows the greatest will to win who will become victorious. Now at first that seems obvious and sort of cliché to say, but a lot will be told about how close either of these teams is to a ring on Tuesday night. Game 1 will present the platform for players to show the extent of effort they’re willing to put forth, the amount of drive they have to close out a game, and what a championship really means to them. Both have very compelling storylines, but who will grab the Hollywood ending? Stay tuned…

 

Nats Call Up of Maya Could Shake Up The Rotation

May 29, 2011 in Uncategorized

For the first time this season the Nationals have had to rely on a pitcher outside their top 5 starters to take the ball for them as Tom Gorzelanny is on the D.L. with a sore elbow. The Nationals are bringing up Yunesky Maya, who they signed last season after he defected from Cuba for 4 years $8 million. Maya isn't a prospect, since he'll turn 30 later this year, and dominated professional baseball in Cuba, but was in the minors to work on becoming a more refined pitcher and learning some of the American nuances.

The Nationals last year didn't get much in Maya's brief time in DC as he 0-3 with a 5.88 ERA in 5 starts. Maya has improved this year in AAA, after a solid performance in Spring Training. While Maya's 1-4 record doesn't appear to impressive, his 3.79 ERA, .994 WHIP, .214 opposing batting average, and 3.75-1 K to BB ratio all look pretty good. Now the question remains, can he translate that to the Major League level.

Normally I'd feel leery about being so confident, but given Maya's background in the Cuban professional league, and international competitions, I think that he'll be able to make the jump with relative ease. Now given Maya's age, there isn't much potential for him to be a top of the rotation starter. But, I think he will fit in quite nicely as a back of the rotation type of guy. He can be workhorse strike thrower, who should throw 6-7 innings every time out and give up 3-5 runs most starts. That's not bad value given his price tag.

While Gorzelanny's injury is a bit inconvenient for the Nationals, it could be a blessing in disguise if Maya pitches well. He will make at least one more start after today (assuming all goes well), and if he looks good in both starts the Nationals could look for ways to get him in their rotation fulltime. Given his age their isn't anything left to prove in the minors so if he gets the job done, the Nationals could have even more incentive to trade Jason Marquis sooner rather than later.

Marquis right now is still pitching relatively well and remains one of the Nationals top trading chips to use by the July 31st deadline. If Maya shows that he is ready for the majors then the Nationals shouldn't wait, and move Marquis to open up a spot for him. While typically most deals are done in the last 10-15 days of July, it could be beneficial to both the Nationals and another team to make a deal now.

With so many teams in tough races (20 teams are either .500 or better or within 5 games of 1st place) there aren't many sellers right now on the market. Making Marquis one of the more attractive pitching options. He isn't going to be an ace or number 2 on a staff, but he could be a solid 3rd or 4th on a fringe playoff team, and a 4th or 5th on a higher quality contender. The supply and demand factor will never be more in the Nationals favor than it is right now. With so few sellers, the supply is low, while the buyers and the demand is at an all-time high. The Nationals should capitalize on that fact, and look to move Marquis when Gorzelanny is ready to return.

It also can benefit the buyers since if they deal for a pitcher now, they will get an extra 6-8 starts from him, as opposed to waiting until near the deadline. If a team would win an extra 2-3 of those than they typically would, that could be the difference in making the playoffs or not. This is especially true for more low-mid market teams who know they aren't going to pursue a big name pitcher if he becomes available, but would like to improve the back of their rotation so they aren't conceding them as they are now. And while they might pay slightly more than what Marquis (or a similar pitcher is worth) given the lack of available arms and the extra time, it's not as though they are giving up a top prospect that they wouldn't have to later in the year.

While the Nats could look to move Marquis soon regardless, their decision will be a whole lot easier if they get a couple good starts out of Maya.

 

Ravens Joe Flacco Leading Workouts Despite Looming Remarks

May 29, 2011 in Uncategorized

By Guest Blogger Alan Zlot:

According to NFL Network’s Jamie Dukes via USA Today’s Nate Davis, Joe Flacco may be a film nut, but some of his teammates are saying that the fourth year quarterback out of Delaware needs to put more time in.  Dukes said on NFL networks total access on Wednesday, “There’s no question he’s a talented quarterback. But from what I hear coming out of that locker room, he studies but some say he might need to put a little more time in. That’s what I hear.”

This is a shocking turn of events considering that Flacco is always studying film and working out in the gym.  I also wonder if the same players spewing the talk attended the three days of informal workouts this past week, organized by Flacco, Ray Rice and Derrick Mason.  On Tuesday, Flacco, Rice and Mason hit the field at Johnny Unitas Stadium on the campus of Towson University to hold the workouts with 24 other players.  There were 15 offensive and nine defensive players with three specialists at the workout. Each of three veterans took some of the new draft picks under their wings, so to speak.

Running back Anthony Allen, a seventh round selection out of Georgia Tech, was paired with Ravens Pro-Bowl running back, Ray Rice.  Allen seems ready to go as he and Rice have scheduled studying time together this offseason.

Anthony Allen

“I want to get in here and start studying,” Allen said. “It’s kind of like going into a test and studying the night before.”

Flacco pulled up to the campus with his students in tow, as wide receivers Torrey Smith and Tandon Doss along with quarterback Tyrod Taylor all piled out of Flacco’s pick-up truck with him.  The four players had spent the night on the Towson campus after Flacco organized a sleepover party, according the Baltimore Sun.

Quarterback Tyrod Taylor, a sixth round selection, has been working out in his hometown with Eagles quarterback and fellow Virginia Tech alum, Michael Vick.  Ravens player rep and wide receiver Derrick Mason worked with Baltimore’s second and fourth round selections.  Wide receiver’s Torrey Smith from Maryland and Tandon Doss from Indiana both had productive workouts.  Smith looked impressive running deep routes, out routes and middle routes. In fact, Smith caught every ball but one that was thrown to him.  When asked what he thought about his new weapons Flacco said of Doss, “From Tandon I saw a guy that can stay on the move and catch the ball well while staying on the move.  “He doesn’t need too much time to slow down,” Flacco said. “He can pluck balls out of the air.  “Torrey obviously has a lot of speed and also catches the ball well and can stretch the field vertically,” Flacco continued, “I’m excited about them.”

Torrey Smith

According to many on hand, Flacco and Smith appeared to get into sync very quickly. “It was weird knowing every time I looked back, there was the ball,” Smith said. “It’s a great feeling.”

Noticeably absent was, of course, the Ravens first round selection, cornerback Jimmy Smith. What, if anything, should be taken from Smith’s absence will need to be determined later.  It is important to note that Domonique Foxworth and Josh Wilson were there, and Wilson is a free agent who is potentially risking injury.  Other notable defensive players that attended were safety Haruki Nakamura, linebackers Jarret Johnson and Jameel McClain.

Speaking to the local media about the absence of Jimmy Smith, Torrey Smith said, he had a conversation with him recently, and the cornerback was still in Los Angeles.  “I talked to him last week, but there weren’t as many defensive players as offensive players coming,” Torrey Smith said. “The guys he talked to said they weren’t coming.”  I did not realize that others players attendance were a necessity for Jimmy Smith to get a jump on his NFL career.  Nobody knows for sure if this is a sign of things to come but one thing is for sure, Jimmy Smith’s attendance would have gone a long way to bury all the pre-draft talk of his off-field issues.

I am also not sure how much water the Dukes comments about Flacco hold prior to or after this recent workout.  The situation should be monitored, but honestly, as a Ravens fan, I am more encouraged by what I saw this week with the time that Flacco did put in than the about the negative remarks from unnamed teammates.

This is the second time during the off-season that Flacco has held a workout session with some of his receivers. He also conducted a mini passing camp in Arizona earlier this offseason. Many in the organization wanted Flacco to be more vocal, he has done that this offseason, although not in an exactly positive way.

Delaware days

Ravens brass wanted more leadership from the Delaware product; well, this week proves that Flacco has taken the steps to do just that. It is possible that Flacco could never have stepped up and become the leader we all want him to be if he was the youngest player in the huddle.

That has changed with this year’s draft. Who knows, this may be exactly what Flacco needed to change his and the Ravens fortunes come January.

 

NBA Mock Draft – 5/27

May 28, 2011 in Uncategorized

1. Cleveland Cavaliers:  PG Kyrie Irving, 6’2″ Duke-

It’s a tough call for the Cavs, they can take the top PG, whom many believe is the top player or the star wing they desperately need. I think they will lean towards Irving even though that is a bit of a mistake. While I think Irving can be a star PG, having the 4th pick gives Cleveland some options. If they take Williams here, they will get one of Irving, Kanter or Brandon Knight at 4 (likely either Knight or Kanter). Either way they will be able to add the center or point guard at that pick. The worst case scenario for the Cavs would be if they take Irving, Williams goes next, and Kanter is selected 3rd. Then the Cavs would be sitting there with Knight on the board, but zero need for him. Another thing I could see is the Cavs potentially swapping spots with Minnesota to land the T-wolves later pick in the first round.

Irving is likely to be the pick, but it is a big risk if Williams and Kanter go next.

2. Minnesota Timberwolves: SF Derrick Williams, 6’8″ Arizona-

The Timberwolves have a ton of young talent and they don’t particularly need a SF (though Williams couldn’t hurt), meaning this pick is likely to be moved. Minnesota could look to move up to grab Irving if they can flip Ricky Rubio in another deal. Otherwise look for them to move this pick for an established player to play alongside PF Kevin Love.

3. Utah Jazz : PG Brandon Knight, 6’3″ Kentucky -

The Jazz could look to take Enes Kanter here, or trade this pick for an established player, but Knight is probably the best fit. I love his PG potential, and think he can quickly replace Deron Williams as Utah’s PG.

4. Cleveland Cavaliers: PF-C Enes Kanter, 6’10″ Turkey-

The Cavs luck out here as the 2nd player the covet is still on the board. Cleveland adds both a PG and C in this draft and should quickly enable their rebuild. The options aren’t good after the Williams and Kanter go, but i could see the Wizards grabbing a European big man who has the upside to be a star. Motiejunas isn’t a great rebounder, but he is still developing and the Wizards already have bigs like Booker and McGee who are more defensive-minded.

5. Toronto Raptors: PF Donatas Motiejunas, 7’0″ Lithuania-

The Raptors will likely take one of the Euro players with this pick. I know Motiejunas isn’t rated as high, but I think he fits better. There also appear to be less questions involving his buyout, making him a safer pick for the Raptors.

6. Washington Wizards: F Tristan Thompson, 6’9″ Texas-

The Wizards need to add some size and should take a long look at Thompson. Thompson has unlimited potential and he could make an early impact for the Wizards. The team desperately wants either Williams or Kanter so they should be looking to move up.

7. Sacramento Kings: F Jan Vessely, 6’11″ Czech Republic-

Vessely gives the Kings another quality big to play alongside Cousins in the Kings front court. He looks to be a solid two-way player and he has some serious upside.

8. Detroit Pistons: PG Kemba Walker, 6’0″ Connecticut-

The Pistons don’t really need a PG, but that’s alright because Walker isn’t a true PG. Walker is a competitor and a winner and is a great fit for a team like Detroit. He can help the Pistons move on from some of their veteran players, and get younger.

9. Charlotte Bobcats: SF Kawhi Leonard, 6’7″ San Diego St.-

Leonard isn’t a star, but he is a quality 3 and could fill Gerald Wallace‘s shoes quite nicely.

10. Milwaukee Bucks: SG Jimmer Fredette, 6’2″ BYU-

This could be a spot for Burks or a big man, but I like the idea of Fredette here. His range on his 3-pointer is unreal and he will give Milwaukee a great option beyond the arc.

11. Golden St. Warriors: PG/SG Josh Selby, 6’3″ Kansas-

Selby is an extremely gifted athlete who I think will challenge for a lottery spot. He can back up both guard positions and he has the type of speed that the Warriors build their offense around.

12. Utah Jazz: PF Bismark Biyombo, 6’9″ Spain-

The Jazz should use their 2nd 1st rounder to add some size to their front court. Biyombo is a raw talent, but he looks to be an excellent rebounder and has plenty of upside.

13. Phoenix Suns: PG/SG Alec Burks, 6’6″ Colorado-

Burks isn’t a perfect fit in Phoenix as he is more of a slasher than a shooter, but he has excellent potential, is highly athletic and can play multiple positions.

14. Houston Rockets: C Jonas Valanciunas, 7’0″ Lithuania-

Houston is a team to watch in moving up, but if they stay here this is a smart pick for them.Valanciunas might be the best European player, but his buyout will likely make him slide in this draft. He has excellent size though and would be a nice fit in Houston whenever they can bring him over.

15. Indiana Pacers: F Tobias Harris, 6’8″ Tennessee-

Forward isn’t the biggest need, but Harris is moving up draft boards and looks to be the best player here. Harris has a ton of potential and could be a very good starter in a couple of years. Ideally though I think the Pacers might trade out of this pick, and try to acquire a late first and a first next year. The Pacers could look to move up to grab either Derrick Williams, Brandon Knight or Enes Kanter, but if they stay here this is solid value for them.

16. Philadelphia 76ers: SF/PF Marcus Morris, 6’9″ Kansas-

The 76ers need some help to their front court and grabbing a Morris twin here makes sense. Marcus is the better offensive player and would be a nice fit in Philly.

17. New York Knicks: PG Reggie Jackson, 6’3″ Boston College-

The Knicks look to be looking for a young point guard and Jackson would be a good fit here.

18. Washington Wizards: PF Kenneth Faried, 6’8″ Morehead St.-

Does Washington need another PF, no not by any means. But the Wizards shouldn’t pass up one of the most productive players in college basketball. Now Faried will need to at least have some semblance of a jumper to be a starter, but he should be an excellent role player for the Wizards. The Wizards could potentially use this pick to move up, but it looks like Minnesota wants a veteran to move the 2nd pick.

19. Charlotte Bobcats: G Marshon Brooks 6’5″ Providence-

With their two picks the Bobcats should look to add a G and a forward, with landing Leonard earlier the Bobcats will be quite happy to see Brooks still on the board. Brooks can be the point guard they are looking for or he can fill in at SG. He’s got great versatility and upside. He should be a at worst a 6th man as a rookie, and should provide Charlotte with a boost to their backcourt.

20. Minnesota Timberwolves: Jordan Hamilton , 6’7″ Texas-

If the T-wolves pass on Derrick Williams with the top pick, I think they will look to take the top wing player available. Hamilton is a steal if he slides this far, as he is one of the best scorers in college. This pick really depends on what the Timberwolves do at the top. If they draft Williams this is a guard or a center, but if they go with Kanter or trade back a SF could be in play.

21. Portland Trailblazers: PF/C Markieff Morris, 6’10″ Kansas-

The Trailblazers could use another power forward here, and while Morris isn’t a great all-around player he fits here. He’s got excellent size and can play both the 4 and the 5, with a strong defensive game and an increasing offensive game. He can come in as a role player early and hopefully develop a defensive presence down the road.

22. Denver Nuggets: SF Chris Singleton, 6’8″ Florida St.-

Singleton is moving up draft boards, and he could help fill the large shoes of Carmelo in Denver. The Nuggets could look at more of a big man here, but I like Singleton’s upside.

23. Houston Rockets: PG/SG Nolan Smith, 6’3″ Duke-

This might be high for Nolan Smith, but I really like his game. I think he is a smart player who gets the most out of his abilities. He probably will peak as a 6th man type of guy, but he should offer the Rockets good depth at both guard positions.

24. Oklahoma City Thunder: PF Trey Tompkins, 6’10″ Georgia-

Tompkins gives the Thunder another young big man. He isn’t exceptional in any one area, but he should give them good minutes and be a quality role player on that team. He’s also a junior so he is more refined than some of these underclassmen/international players, which should allow him to contribute more early.

25. Boston Celtics: C Lucas Noguiera, 6’11″ Brazil-

Boston needs to add some size, and whether they decide to keep Noguiera overseas or not this is a good value pick for them here.

26. Dallas Mavericks: G/F Tyler Honeycutt, 6’8″ UCLA-

The Mavericks don’t have one major position of need so I think they will look for the best player available. Honeycutt fits that bill, and he is the type of guy who can be a solid role player off the bench before developing into a potential starter.

27. New Jersey Nets: F/C Jordan Williams, 6’10″ Maryland-

Williams seems to be moving up draft boards and its easy to see why. He is a legit big man who has the bulk to take on almost all 4′s and 5′s. While his game hasn’t reached his potential yet, his size alone will make him valuable. He would be a nice fit next to Lopez in the middle.

28. Chicago Bulls: SG Klay Thompson, 6’6″ Washington St.-

If the Bulls just had quality play from the SG they could really be an elite team. Thompson gives Chicago an excellent shooter and a 3-point sniper for Rose to find when the defense collapses around him.Thompson is a smart ballplayer and should get the most out of his abilities. He isn’t a penetrator, but his shooting more than compensates for that.

29. San Antonio Spurs: PF JaJuan Johnson, 6’10″ Purdue-

The Spurs need to add some size here, while they are getting old all over, their inside game is extremely vulnerable when Duncan isn’t in there. Johnson is a nice safe addition here.

30. Chicago Bulls: SF Chandler Parsons, 6’10″ Florida-

Parsons has been flying up the draft boards and now looks to be in the late 1st round mix. I think this could be slightly high for him still, but he gives Chicago a smart backup forward, who should get solid minutes. He might never be a starter (though the potential is there), but he will likely be a significant contributor and should be a nice role player for Chicago.

 

 

 

2011 Eastern Conference Finals: A Look Back at Four Classic Battles

May 27, 2011 in Uncategorized

By Guest Blogger Alan Zlot:

With the Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning set to do battle in about an hour for the right to play in the Stanley Cup Finals, I thought it would be fun to take a look back at four of the most thrilling Eastern Conference finals series that reached seven games in recent history.

The conference finals as they are now known began in 1982. The East was known as the Prince of Wales Conference and the West, the Clarence Campbell conference.

In 1993, the names of conferences and divisions were changed to reflect their geographic locations. Commissioner Gary Bettman thought the change would better help non-hockey fans understand the game.

Once again, real hockey fans were left out in the cold and the conferences simply became the East and West.

Since 1982, there have been six Game 7′s played in the eastern Conference and five in the Western Conference. Of the 11 times the conference finals have reached a seventh game, the eventual Stanley Cup Champion prevailed seven times.

Both the Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning have participated in a Game 7 in the conference finals.

Despite going the full seven games, the Bruins victory over the Devils in the conference finals  back in 1989 provided little in way of drama.

The Lightning, now they are a different story. Their series against the Flyers back in 04 is one of the four games profiled below——-You will have to keep reading to find out which other three made it. Enjoy.

1996 — Florida Panthers vs. Pittsburgh Penguins

Remember the Rats

Led by goalie John Vanbiesbrouck, who appeared in 57 regular season games, and veteran Scott Mellanby, the Panthers made their first trip the Stanley Cup playoffs in their brief three-year history in 1996.

Once in the postseason, Vanbiesbrouck continued his stellar played between the pipes but the Panthers would get contributions up and down the roster from other veterans.

Dave Lowry and Ray Sheppard, who combined to score 34 points in the regular season, were one and two for Florida in the postseason with 33 points.

Florida finished fourth in the East and drew the Bruins in round one.

After a five game series win over Boston, they dispatched the Eastern Conference’s top dog in the second round, taking down the Philadelphia Flyers in six games.

The Pittsburgh Penguins were the usual high scoring offense during the regular season.

With a combined 429 regular season points, Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr and Ron Francis led the Penguins to a second place finish in the East with 102 points, just two behind the Flyers.

The Beezer

The Pens cruised in the first two rounds with playoff wins over the Capitals and Rangers as the Eastern Conference Finals looked to be nothing more than merely a tune up for the Penguins on their way to Stanley Cup.

The Panthers had other plans and found themselves tied two games apiece after physically beating the Penguins around the ice in the first four games.

Lemieux and Jagr had just one goal each after the first four games and looked tired while Florida outskated and outhit Pittsburgh at every turn.

This was still the Penguins and they somehow managed to alternate wins and losses through the first four games.

After a tense 2-1 Game 4 victory, the Pens looked to win two in a row back home in Pittsburgh for Game 5 and that is exactly what they did.

Although the dynamic duo of Lemieux and Jagr did not score in the fifth game, each had two assists and behind the magnificent 28-save performance of Tom Barrasso, the Pens found themselves one win away from the Cup finals.

That is as close as they would get.

After trailing 2-1 in the second period, the Panthers would score three of the game’s next four goals and win Game 6, 4-3, forcing Game 7 back in Pittsburgh.

The Panthers seemed destined to play for the Stanley Cup and if there was any doubt about that, then Game 7 removed it.

With two “fluky” goals and a listless performance by Pittsburgh, the Florida Panthers, behind a 60-foot blue line goal (see video above) off the stick of Tom Fitzgerald, were headed to the Stanley Cup finals.

A stunned Pittsburgh crowd watched as the Panthers celebrated their first-ever trip to the postseason with an Eastern Conference Championship on foreign ice.

The magical run ended there as Patrick Roy and the Colorado Avalanche held the Panthers to just four goals in 15 and a half periods.

The Game 4 clincher for Colorado will always be a Stanley Cup Finals classic. It required three overtimes as John Vanbiesbrouck and Patrick Roy combined for 119 saves.

Roy, who made 63 saves, cliched the Cup with a shutout.

2006 — Carolina Hurricanes vs. Buffalo Sabres

A winning goal

This one was special to me, as I happened to be living in Charlotte, NC at this time of my life.

Always a Capitals fan first, this playoff run by the Hurricanes was enjoyable to watch and attend.

This was southern hospitality at its finest. Canes head coach Peter Laviolette must have known the dismay I felt during the playoffs as a Washington fan.

In fact, I felt for the Hurricanes as they lost in the Stanley Cup finals to the Detroit Red Wings the first year I arrived in the Carolinas just three years prior. My exact words of wisdom to my fellow Carolinians was, “been there done that, at least you won a game against them.”

This year was different for the Canes, with 112 points, they finished just one point behind Ottawa during the regular season and landed the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference.

Carolina had a great mix of youth and veteran leadership. On offense 21-year-old, Eric Staal led them. Staal finished the regular season with 100 points. Although he did not have 100 points, 24-year-old Justin Williams had 31 goals and 45 assists.

The veteran leadership proved to be invaluable for the Canes.

As a Caps fan, this has to make you sick

There was Rod Brind’Amour, Glen Wesley, Corey Stillman, Bret Hedican and Doug Weight. Stillman and Brind’Amour combined for 52 goals and 92 assists during the regular season.

The Hurricanes dropped the first two games of their opening round series against the Montreal Canadiens but then went on to win seven in a row to dispatch the Habs and then the Devils in round two.

Buffalo also had a stellar season finishing with the same amount of wins as Carolina but two less points due to overtime results.

Maxim Afinogenov led the Sabres on offense with rookie Ryan Miller in the net. Miller was outstanding during the season posting 30 wins with a .914 save percentage.

The Sabres, who were making their first playoff appearance in five seasons, dispatched the Flyers in six games and then quickly disposed of the No. 1-seeded Ottawa Senators in just five games.

This eastern conference showdown was a seven game thriller that nobody watched in the United States.

With coverage in the U.S. on the OLN network, the NHL was desperately trying to rebuild its image after canceling the entire season the year before.

Both teams were very much alike and many experts believed that scoring the first goal of the game would be huge in the series.

Each team had won 36 times during the regular season when doing so, as only the Senators had more wins (40) when scoring first. The Sabres scored first in Game 1 and won 3-2 behind a 29-save performance form Ryan Miller.

In Game 2, Carolina scored first and returned the favor in winning the game 4-3. The Canes’ Eric Staal continued to stay hot in the postseason by extending his point scoring streak to 13 games. The Sabres could muster only 19 shots in the game but scored three times on the power play.

Game 3 saw a change in net for Carolina. After allowing three second period goals, Cane coach Peter Laviolette pulled his rookie in favor of the 32-year-old Swiss veteran, Martin Gerber.

Gerber stopped all seven shots he faced from Buffalo but the damage was done. The Sabres held onto win 4-3 and took a one game series lead.

Gerber would come back to start Game 4 and the decision by Laviolette paid immediate dividends. Behind Gerber’s 22 saves the Canes shutout the Sabres 4-0 to even the series at two games each.

With the series now a best of three, the boys were just getting started. Games 5 and 6 would be overtime thrillers with each team winning one.

In Game 5, the Sabres scored early and often on Gerber who surrendered three goals on 11 shots. Pay attention Flyers fans, this should all sound eerily familiar.

At home in Game 5 and trailing the Sabres 3-1 in the contest, Laviolette went back to the 21-year-old Cam Ward. The Canes immediately responded and scored twice in a span of 10 minutes.

In overtime, Corey Stillman scored on a shot that deflected off the boards to give the Canes a 3-2 series lead. Back in Buffalo, Game 6 would be a goaltenders duel as the rookies bested each other holding the score at one goal apiece through three periods.

For the second consecutive game, overtime was needed to determine a winner. The Sabres received a gift from the Canes’ Doug Weight. A justified boarding penalty was called after Weigh hit Jason Pominville early in overtime.

The Buffalo captain wasted no time with the extra man, beating Ward with a shot to his glove side and tying the series at three games apiece.

It is worthy to note that Eric Staal’s 15-game playoff point scoring streak was stopped in the loss. Staal fell four games short of the postseason record of 19-games set by Bryan Trottier for the New York Islanders in 1981.

Game 7 was a very tight, hard checking affair, but one the Sabres would have to play without one of their top defenseman.

For the second time in his career and during the postseason, Jay McKee would miss time. He missed five games in the ’01 playoffs and would miss Game 7 against Carolina with a severe infection in his leg. The injury was reportedly caused by a cut or bruise he sustained blocking a shot in an earlier round of the playoffs

The Sabres fought forward but Carolina scored fist. The Sabres scored the next two goals in the middle frame but the Canes would rally quickly. Just 1:34 into the final stanza, Doug Weight made up for his boarding call the game before by tying the game.

Desperate to finally win a Stanley Cup, Rod Brind’Amour scored a power play marker with 8:38 remaining in the game.

The lead stood, but the Sabres kept buzzing. Buffalo had scored 11 goals in the postseason during the final minute of the third period; Game 7 was far from over.

However, it would be Carolina that notched the final minute marker, sealing the game, the Conference Finals Championship and the Canes second trip to the Stanley Cup finals in three years. Justin Williams scored with 15 seconds to secure the 4-2 victory for the raucous RBC Centre crowd.

It was there that Carolina would run into some hot goalie named Dwayne Roloson, who just happened to be backstopping for the Edmonton Oilers.

When I say ran into, I mean that in a literal sense.

The injury that ended Rollie's Cup run

In Game 1 Roloson suffered a third-degree MCL sprain of his right knee when Hurricanes forward Andrew Ladd was pushed into Roloson by a back-checking Oilers defenseman and current Lightning teammate, Marc-André Bergeron.

Roloson never returned but the Oilers hung tough despite his loss. The Canes proved to be too much as Cam Ward became the third rookie goalie to lead his team a Stanley Cup win.

The Canes needed seven games again, but from personal experience, I am grateful, as it was the only game I was able to secure a ticket to attend.

2004 — Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Philadelphia Flyers

The Russian stopper

“Don’t Think — Do” was the motto that Tampa Bay Lightning head coach John Tortorella preached to his team during the year and into the post season back in 2004.

Tampa certainly had followed their coach’s order during the regular season, as they were the No. 1 seed from the East with 106 points.

This team was loaded, from top to bottom; with head coach John Tortorella leading the way, Tampa Bay was built to win a Stanley Cup.

Three players on tonight’s roster in Game 7 against Boston skated with Tampa in the 2004 postseason. Two of them will be counted on now, just as they were then.

Martin St. Louis led the Bolts with 94 points during the regular season, and Vinny Lecavalier chipped in with 66. Tampa sported a roster of current NHL superstars: Brad Richards, Ruslan Fedotenko and Dan Boyle, just to name a few.

Also on the roster was hard luck Dave Andreychuk, who had spent 22 years in the NHL with no championship ring. In net, it was the Russian Nikolai Khabibulin, who at 31-years-old was in the prime of his career.

Tampa disposed of the Islanders and Canadiens with lightning quickness. The Isles were gone in five games, and the Habs were swept in four straight. Tampa looked unbeatable headed to their first conference finals.

The Flyers had some big names of their own in Mark Recchi, John LeClair, Tony Amonte, Jeremy Roenick and Keith Primeau.

St. Louis was killing them back then as well

The Flyers did not have as easy of a time in the first two rounds as the Bolts did, but they did manage to eliminate the Devils in five games and the Maple Leafs in six.

With Ken Hitchcock walking the bench, the Flyers were not going to beat themselves, and Tampa would have to be at their best to have a chance to play for their first Stanley Cup in franchise history.

Game 1 was a defensive affair as both teams combined for just 37 shots. Tampa’s Nikolai Khabibulin just was not going to be beaten (most of the time, see Game 2), facing 20 shots  as Tampa cruised to a 3-1 opening game victory.

The only thing that was cruising in Game 2 were pucks past Khabibulin, as the netminder allowed four Flyers goals on just 12 shots.

Backup goalie John Grahame was not much better, allowing two more. Behind six different goal scores, the Flyers defeated the Lightning 6-2 and tied the series heading back to the city of brotherly love.

The Flyers failed to capitalize on the momentum as Khabibulin returned and with a did so with a short memory.

He allowed just one Philadelphia goal on 25 shots as Cory Stillman, Brad Richards, Vinny Lecavalier and Fedotenko all scored for Tampa as the Bolts regained home ice with a 4-1 Game 3 victory.

The Flyers vets pulled it together in time for Game 4. Keith Primeau, John Leclair and Mark Recchi scored to help their team even the series with a 3-2 Game 4 win.

Tampa Bay headed back to the Gulf Coast of Florida for the pivotal Game 5. This is the edge game in every series, and the team that wins this crucial game wins 68 percent of the series they play.

23-year-old Brad Richards, who now has 62 career points in 63 career playoff games, notched two of those points in Game 5 with two goals for Tampa.

Richards became the first player to score more than one goal in a game during the series but he would not be last. The Bolts defeated the Flyers 4-2 and were now just one win away from their first ever trip to the Stanley Cup finals.

To accomplish the feat, the Bolts would have to win Game 6 in Philadelphia. The Flyers had lost just once there all postseason.

The Flyers were not about pick an elimination game to lose their second.

Current Bolts player, Simon Gagne scored two goals of his own in Game 6. Gagne’s second of the game would come with just 1:42 remaining in the first overtime.

The Flyer faithful now believed that the Bolts could be had back in Tampa but the Bolts would not allow the Flyers to win again in Florida. Game 7 back in Tampa was a defensive struggle with Khabibulin and Flyers netminder, Robert Esche keeping their teams in the game and the other team off the scoreboard.

Not feeling any better seeing this one

The Lightning struck first in Game 7 as Fedotenko opened the scoring for Tampa with a power play goal in the first period.

Freddy Modin added the game winner early in the second period. The Flyers would cut the lead to one goal but the Bolts, behind Khabibulin’s fantastic goaltending, would hold on to win.

The 2-1 victory sent the St. Pete Times forum crowd into a frenzy as the Bolts moved on to play the Calgary Flames in the Stanley Cup Finals.

As he did against the Bruins in Boston two nights ago, Martin St. Louis came up big for Tampa in Game 6 of the cup finals.

With the Bolts facing elimination in Calgary, St. Louis scored the game-winner for the Tampa thirty-three seconds into double overtime, to force a sudden death Game 7 back in Tampa Bay.

Behind the same 2-1 score that they used to close out the Flyers in seven games during the conference finals, the Bolts closed out the Flames 2-1, to win the title.

After 20-plus seasons and several near misses, Dave Andrechuk finally hoisted Lord Stanley’s Cup.

You Did Not Think I Would Forget This One Did You?

It may have started like this but it ended differently

Everyone is entitled to an opinion, but in my lifetime, there has never been a better seven game playoff series in any sport than the 1994 Eastern Conference finals between the New Jersey Devils and the New York Rangers.

All too often in sports, fans and prognosticators use the word rivalry to define a game or series. Most of the time the anticipation and over-analyzing of the teams and contest turns out to be over-hyped.

This was not the case in 1994, the Rangers and Devils were as advertised.

This series had three double overtime games, hard hitting, great goaltending, great coaching, hall of fame players and much more in terms of what was at stake.

For the Rangers the chant from the opposition’s fans was ”Niiiinnne-teeen forrrty.”

Simply put the Rangers were now in a 54-year Stanley Cup draught, as the year 1940 was a long time ago, and it was the last time the Rangers hoisted the Stanley Cup.

To say the natives inside MSG were getting restless, is an understatement.

The Rangers had gone out and bought the best team they could. They wanted to ensure the next time they heard a chant about the last time they won a cup, the year they would hear would be 1994.

You know the names. For starters, many of the Edmonton Oilers that were a part of five Stanley Cups now called Madison Ave. home.

Instead of Where's Waldo, you can play, find all of the Rangers

Mark Messier, Esa Tikkanen, Kevin Lowe, Craig MacTavish and Glenn Anderson, to name a few, but that is not all of them. They were all brought to New York, recruited by “Mess” to do one thing: Win the Stanley Cup.

Anything less and it would be considered a failure.

The New Jersey Devils were onto something as they were beginning to build what would become a dominant multi-Cup winning franchise for the next decade.

The two teams battled all season in the newly formed Atlantic Division. The Rangers won both their division and the East with 112 points, and the Devils finished second in both with 106.

During the regular season, the Devils failed to beat the Rangers in six games.

I do not need to tell you what the New York faithful were calling the Devils. They had said that New Jersey was their — well, hopefully you know what I’m talking about when I say it rhymes with “itch.”

The stage is set, so here we go.

Game 1 appeared to be headed into the win column for the Rangers, but the Devils’ Claude Lemieux had other plans. Doing what he did best for years in the NHL, Lemieux scored a goal to send the game into overtime.The goal came as the final period was winding down.

As frustrating as the tying goal was for the Blueshirts, it paled in comparison when Stephane Richer scored for the Devils in the second overtime, giving New Jersey their first of the season against the Rangers and a 1-0 series lead.

Game 2 was not close, although the physical nature of the series ramped up with 72 penalty minutes, 24 of them by way of the Devils Game 1 hero, Claude Lemieux.

The Rangers prevailed 4-0 behind a blue line that allowed just 16 New Jersey shots.

Game 3 would cross the river to the Meadowlands in New Jersey and again require more than four periods to complete. Martin Brodeur stopped 47 of 49 shots until Stephane Matteau scored six minutes into the fifth frame.

The Rangers could not get going in Game 4, and the Devils skated past them winning 3-1, to tie the series at two games apiece. The big story of this game was Rangers head coach pulling Mike Richter after he surrendered two goals on 11 shots.

The move was more to rest Richter, who like Brodeur, had played in almost five games through the first four games of the series’ games.

Game 5 would be the shocker of the series as the Devils would stun the Rangers faithful, and behind two goals from Bernie Nichols, blister the home team with a 4-1 win at Madison Square Garden.

Is that Joe Namath on skates?

This did not please team captain Mark Messier, as he followed in the footsteps of another famous New York athlete and guaranteed a Game 6 victory.

This is the famous Messier quote as printed in every paper in New York, “We’re going to go in there and win Game Six. We’ve responded all year.”

Messier continued: “We’ve won games we’ve had to win. We know we’re going in there to win Game 6 and bringing it back for Game 7. We feel we can win it, and we feel we are going to win it.”

Like the other famous New York athlete, Messier would also have to take care of business himself. Trailing 2-1 and headed into the third period, Messier scored a hat trick for the Rangers and single handedly forced Game 7 back home at the Garden

Messier delivered one of the greatest moments in hockey history with his Game 6 performance and quite possibly, one of the greatest moments in all of sports history.

The Devils looked as stunned as their fans but they had to regroup and play Game 7. The Devils were happy to return the favor as the Rangers looked headed to the Stanley Cup finals, leading 1-0 with 10 seconds left in the third period.

This time, Devils forward Valeri Zelepukin did the damage late with the tying goal, as only 7.7 remained on the clock.

Finally

The two teams played into double overtime for the third time in the series, meaning that both teams were now playing in an unofficial Game 8.

Just as he did in Game 3, Matteau ended Game 7 in double overtime. This time 4:24 into period five with a wrap around goal, that Devils goalie Martin Brodeur never had a chance to stop.

Just like that, it was over, and the Rangers were off to beat the Vancouver Canucks in seven games to win their first Stanley Cup in 54 years.

In tonight’s game, I suppose I have to go against all the morals and scruples I was taught as a sports fan, never——-ever———cheer for another rival team in your divison to win a big game.

This is a little tough for me since I live in Florida and my 4-year-old son, Marco, loves the Bolts.  So tonight as Marco would say, ”Lets Go Blue Lightning”——–The sacr

 

 

Nats Should Look To Move Coffey Quickly

May 27, 2011 in Uncategorized

Yesterday MLB.com's Bill Ladson reported that the Texas Rangers inquired with the Nationals about the availability of reliever Todd Coffey. The Rangers who are in a tight race out west, could really use an arm to setup for Neftali Feliz, as their bullpen has thus far been their biggest weakness. The Nats meanwhile would be trading from their biggest strength, as Washington has a solid foundation with Tyler Clippard, Henry Rodriguez, Sean Burnett and closer Drew Storen. Coffey has been a nice surprise for the Nationals as in 19 innings he has a 1.89 ERA and a 0.95 WHIP. Coffey was signed this offseason for $1.35 million and is a free agent after this year. Washington should have no qualms trading an impending free agent like Coffey, so now the question remains, what can they expect in return?

Given his relatively minor profile, and lack of future team control, the Nats can't expect a lot in return for Coffey. But given his cheap contract and extremely good numbers he should net the Nationals something positive in return. The deal I'd propose to the Rangers if I was the Nationals would be Todd Coffey for 1B Chris Davis (AAA/MLB) and LHP Kasey Kiker (High-A).

Kiker was a first round pick for the Rangers back in 2006, but he hit a wall as a starter last season in Triple-A. The Rangers on now trying him out in a relief role that has had pretty rough results. While the production isn't there he could just need a change of scenery to get his career going as a LH reliever. He at one time had a major scouting profile and at 23 is worth the risk.

The major piece of this trade for Washington would be 1B Chris Davis. Davis is a 25 year old 1B for the Rangers. He at one time looked to be one of the top prospects in their system, and even hit .285 with 17 HR's in a midseason call-up in 2008. Since then though he has struggled through parts of two seasons, and has been more of a bench player this year. Davis though could make a lot of a sense for the Nationals who are likely to be without Adam LaRoche for the rest of the season.

While Michael Morse has done a good job filling in for LaRoche, he could just as easily go back to the outfield (especially if the Nationals move Laynce Nix as well). Davis could be a nice cheap option for Washington as he is under team control for 4 more seasons after this year. While his major league numbers leave a lot to be desired, he has shown a decent ability to hit right-handers, and has actually slightly better numbers away from home. Now i realize the odds are still stacked against him ever being a major run producer, but I'm not ready to write him off just yet.

I believe his bat still has the potential given a change of scenery and a new approach. He's still relatively young, and if the Nationals can give him regular work, while minimizing his exposure to tough lefties, they could be happy with the results. Given his contract status and the lack of much in the pipeline when it comes to first basemen, the Nationals could at least get a solid cheap backup for the next couple of years, if he doesn't workout as a starter.

The other question that needs to be asked is would the Rangers make this deal? I truly believe the answer is yes. The Rangers appear to be set at 1B with Mitch Moreland there for the foreseeable future. By trading Davis and Kiker, the Rangers would keep their 'war chest' of a number of top prospects intact. While Davis could be a useful backup or a 3rd or 4th piece in a major trade, the Rangers will likely be able to absorb his loss. And while Coffey is just under control for this season, the Rangers have a really good team and should make a serious run at the World Series, so I think it is well worth it.

Matt Stover, One Of Ravens All Time Greats Set To Retire In Baltimore

May 26, 2011 in Uncategorized

A Guest Blog By Alan Zlot

When debating who has been the greatest Raven since the team arrived from Cleveland in 1996, two names always surface—Ray Lewis and Jonathan Ogden.

One player’s name who deserves to be in the discussion will officially retire from the NFL tomorrow.

According to the Baltimore Sun and Ravens.com longtime Ravens placekicker, Matt Stover, will announce his retirement from the NFL after 19 seasons.

The Baltimore Ravens are expected to unofficially sign Stover to a one-day contract, allowing him to retire as a Raven.

Players are not allowed to sign official contracts during the lockout. The press conference will be streamed live on the Ravens’ website at approximately 3 p.m. EST.

Stover is the Ravens’ all-time leading scorer with 1,464 points and was their entire offense on many occasions.

Kickers are generally not considered leaders on football teams, but Stover was different.

He was a leader for the Ravens on and off the field during his time in Baltimore.

Stover attended Louisiana Tech University and was drafted by the New York Giants with the 329th selection in 1990. When he failed to beat out Matt Bahr, he landed in Cleveland.

Stover stayed with Cleveland through the move to Baltimore and became the last Ravens’ player with ties to both franchises.

In 2009, the Ravens did not offer to bring Stover back, but midway through the ’09 season, he signed with the Indianapolis Colts after Adam Vinatieri was injured.

Stover made an immediate impact in Indy, where he kicked the game-winning field goal against the New England Patriots two weeks after his arrival, helping the Colts reach a 9-0 record.

Stover remained consistent and accurate in Indy, where the Colts reached the Super Bowl that season.

Stover in SB w/Colts

Eleven days past his 42nd birthday, Stover set an NFL record when he became the oldest player to play and score in a Super Bowl.

Stover is listed as the seventh most accurate kicker in NFL history, but that number and ranking do not do justice to what Stover accomplished or how reliable he was in clutch situations.

He was good 83.7 percent (471/563) of the time and was seemingly never rattled as his 14 game-winning field goals were the most in NFL history following the 2009 season.

Mike Vanderjagdt is the only kicker on the list who ranks higher than Stover and is no longer playing in the league. In 19 seasons, Stover attempted 594 extra points, missing only three.

With 2,004 points, Stover ranks fourth all time in the NFL in scoring. He once kicked a field goal in 38 consecutive games for the Ravens, an NFL record.

Only kickers Morten Andersen, Gary Anderson and John Carney scored more NFL points than Stover, and Hall Of Famer (just planting a seed) George Blanda is fifth with 2,002 points.

Perhaps the number that speaks to Stover’s reliability and skill the most is that he missed just four field goals in 188 attempts of 30 yards or shorter.

Stover was the unsung hero—and possibly the MVP—of the 2000 Ravens’ Super Bowl team during the regular season. Without Stover, the Ravens could still be without a ring.

During the season—and before Baltimore was considered a contender—the Ravens’ offense sputtered through a five-game stretch where they failed to score a touchdown.

Super Bowl XXXV

Stover came through for the purple and black, scoring 49 points during the TD draught. Stover’s leg and a tenacious Baltimore defense still won two of those games.

It marked the second season Stover was selected to the Pro Bowl. He also made the team in 1994 as a member of the Browns.

Known as “Mr. Automatic” and “Money Matt” during his career, the Dallas native was loved by fans and players throughout his 13-year career in Baltimore.

As a Ravens’ fan, I cannot tell you how many times I high-fived a buddy as Stover walked out to kick a field goal, telling my friend, “At least we got three.”

This was on most occasions before Stover even kicked the ball. Pointing to the sky following every made field goal, Stover rarely let his team down.

“He’s one of the better men that I’ve ever been around my whole life,” Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis said two seasons ago. “He’s a class guy. You know that in clutch times, Stover is always going to be there.”

Stover was respected in the locker room and throughout the entire Baltimore community. No. 3 jerseys were a common sight at home games.

Stover’s charitable foundation is his pride and joy.

Believing heavily in his faith, Stover formed the Matt Stover Foundation in June 2002.

According to the foundation’s website, the mission is to provide financial support to underfunded educational, religious and other charitable organizations.

No.3 for the Chiefs

The only kicker currently in the Pro Football Hall Of Fame is former Kansas City Chiefs’, Green Bay Packers’ and Minnesota Vikings’ kicker, Jan Stenerud. Inducted into Canton in 1991, he was also named the kicker on the NFL’s 75th anniversary team.

For the record, Stover attempted five more kicks over his career than Stenerud, making almost 100 more.

Stover’s field goal percentage is almost 17 percent higher, and he missed 18 less extra point attempts than did the Norwegian-born Stenerud.

It is a shame, but kickers do not make the Hall Of Fame.

However, just like a few other great kickers in NFL history sitting on Canton’s doorstep, waiting for their call, Stover will also deserve to be there when his time comes.

Stover was a vital part of the Ravens and remains a vital part of the Baltimore community.

Congratulations, Matt Stover, on a great career. You were one of the best kickers in NFL history, but more importantly to me, one of the greatest Ravens of all time.

 

Comparing Game Day Experiences for the Caps, Wizards

May 25, 2011 in Uncategorized

By Guest Blogger Rob Yunich:

With Verizon Center mostly dormant these days (although the WNBA regular season starts soon), it’s time for one last look back at the seasons there for the Washington Capitals and Wizards.

Crowds: The Caps sold out every game last season and their crowds are one of the loudest in the league. They're into every game and, for the fans of visiting teams that do get in, they are faced with being drowned out and/or heavily heckled. Verizon Center is a sea of red for Caps games and it's definitely impressive.  The Wizards largely get a pass on this one, because the Caps were once in their shoes. Despite that fact, the crowds that do attend Wizards games are involved, although there are definitely periods of silence during the game. But you can tell that there's a vibe in the air and the arena most definitely will get louder as the team improves.

Music: The NHL has always been a hard rock league and the NBA tends to lean more towards rap and R&B. There are exceptions, but that's typically what is heard at Caps and Wizards games, respectively. The Caps added a nice twist last season with the popular Brett "Stretch" Leonhardt putting together a mix of his favorite music during warm-ups. During the game, there are plenty of rock tunes to choose from and some songs tied to a power play, etc. The Wizards don't really have a theme for their music, although they do play Guns and Roses' iconic “Welcome to the Jungle” at the start of every game. (The Caps, for the most part, have leaned on "The Game" by Motorhead.)

Video Montages: The Caps, of course, have "Unleash the Fury," which has taken on a life of its own. When those first few words from "Invincible" play ("starting today, we're on the path towards winning") the crowd knows what's coming and starts to stand. The Wizards haven't established one of those yet, although they share with the Caps in some of the late game rally-type montages. It's a work-in-progress for the hoops squad.

Cheerleaders (aka Red Rockers vs. Wizard Girls): Cheerleaders have different roles in the NHL than they do in the NBA, starting with the fact that most of them don't go on the ice. They're around at both games, although the Wizard Girls do an on-court dance routine at some point during the game and change outfits at least twice during the game. The Red Rockers mostly stay on the concourse (the Wizards Girls are in the corners of the floor) and help with T-shirt distributions and awarding fans with prizes, etc.

Mascots (aka Slapshot vs. G-Wiz/G-Man): This is a no contest. Slapshot is a great eagle that skates and helps with between-period contests and of course poses with fans. He's even got a Mini-Me character that joins him from time to time. G-Wiz is a magician thing that morphs into G-Man (an all polyester-suit guy) that helps with a dunk demonstration after the third quarter and plays a very loud drum during a poor "dee-fense" chant. (Full disclosure: Slapshot has been known to wield a drum from time to time.)

Final Thoughts: The Caps have Goat and Horn Guy and the Wizards have this guy (who could be called a male cheerleader). Most of the noise at Caps game is initiated by the fans. At Wizards games, the sound system or G-Man's drum dominate. That might change, but right now, Caps game are more electric.

You can find more of Rob's work at http://www.stormingthecrease.com/.

 

 

2011 NBA Draft: Small Forward Rankings

May 25, 2011 in Uncategorized

1. Derrick Williams, Arizona, 6'8":

Williams is in my book the best player in this entire draft class and a perfect small forward. He can score by driving to the basket or face up and drain a 3. He's a very good jump shooter overall and has the ability to just take over games. Williams is an advanced defender as well, and a very strong rebounder and shot blocker. He is just beginning to scratch the surface of his potential so the sky is basically the limit for him. While the LeBron James and Kevin Durant comparisons seem unfair he could reach that level within a year.

2. Jan Vesley, Czech Republic, 6'11":

Vesley is a bit of a tweener as he isn't strong enough to the basket to be a 4, and he isn't really quick enough to run with most 3's. I think when he eventually develops he becomes the reverse matchup problem, as most 4's can't defend the perimeter and most 3's won't have the size to guard him. Vesley needs to add strength and show an ability to go to the basket to compliment his outside game. Vesley will get the Dirk Nowitzki comparisons, but he might be closer to Andrei Kirilenko.

3. Kawhi Leonard, San Diego State, 6'7":

Leonard is a very good all-around prospect. He excels on defense and along the boards, while giving quality offensive production. He doesn't have a ton of range and right now will be unable to contribute from the 3-point line, but he's still relatively raw, so he could still develop. He isn't the quickest player, but he plays a pretty sound game which helps. I think he is a more raw version of Shawn Marion when he came out, and if he has a career anywhere as good as him, he will make a fine top 10 pick.

4. Jordan Hamilton, Texas, 6'9":

Hamilton has fantastic size and shows well on both ends of the court. He is a stronger offensive player, who can be deadly accurate from deep. He runs the floor well, and is good at finding teammates when they are open. He was part of a fairly young Texas squad last year, and at times would force shots, but should do well when playing next to more quality players. His game reminds me a lot of Danny Granger, and I see that as his upside going forward.

5. Chris Singleton, Florida State, 6'9":

Singleton is an extremely advanced defender who forces quite a few turnovers and bad shots. He's a good rebounder and shot blocker as well. Although this past season he developed into an offensive threat he didn't have that game his first couple years in college. Despite fantastic size he doesn't utilize it on the offensive end like he does on defense. He has an okay outside shot, but he is at his best with a mid-range jumper. Singleton needs to slightly improve his outside shot and his ability to take it to the basket to really be a starter at the next level. His defensive ability means there is a quality role for him regardless, but without an offensive game he is just a solid player. I see a potential Tayshaun Prince career path for him with a little work and like him as a top 20 prospect.

6. Tyler Honeycutt, 6'8", UCLA-

7. Nikola Mirotic, 6'9", Serbia-

8. Chandler Parsons, 6'9", Florida-

9. Kyle Singler, 6'8", Duke-

10. Jereme Richmond, 6'7", Illinois-