Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Joy

I've been thinking about football lately. I have a new friend who grew up in Boston and who has kids about the same age as mine. We've all been playing hockey at our outdoor rink and having a great time. Anyhow, he's a football fan and I found myself trying to explain succinctly why I no longer follow the sport closely.

I was a huge fan of both the NFL and college football for many years, and have some great memories of the sport. I was in the stands when Marshall Faulk played his first college game, a redshirt coming off the bench in the second quarter to replace an injured running back. He came out of nowhere and spent the whole rest of the day breaking out for one long run after another, setting the NCAA single-game rushing record. And there's that excitement and anticipation when the quarterback steps back and unleashes a bomb. Fifty thousand people standing and holding their breath as the ball arcs toward the speeding receiver down the sideline.

When trying to explain why I gave up football I've told people I was fed up with the inner-city in-your-face culture where winning is everything and sportsmanship is uncool. But that's not the main reason. When I think about football, I think of long dark Sundays, headaches, and malaise. Watching the game on TV has always left me feeling drained and even depressed--even when my team won. And if they didn't I was lost. Each game is an epic. Yet it all too often comes down to one play in the end: a missed field goal, or a winning touchdown called back on a penalty. The game has so much to offer. It's an epic battle, and it's often very exciting. But for me there's no joy in it. There's just no joy.

I was thinking about this as I was watching the Bruins play the Predators last night, sitting there with this huge grin on my face. I found myself laughing out loud. There was Timmy making huge saves, even an old-fashioned two-pad stack! And Metropolit deking like an all-star, scoring not once, but twice. That unbelievable pass Savvy made--a spinorama behind the back, right on the tape. And that Predator bowling over Timmy and Timmy squirming underneath trying to fight him through his pads. It was great fun.

It was joyous.

Monday, January 14, 2008


Some random thoughts from the last few days...

Marc Savard has been belatedly named to the all-star game. My thoughts on this: huh? But of course he deserves to be there (as does Timmy). According to Fluto Shinzawa he's replacing the injured Dany Heatley.

Speaking of all-stars, has anyone else noticed how Chara's play has stepped up since he was named to the team? He seems to be skating and stick handling more. I swear he looks like a smaller man with the puck. I keep thinking, "Who is that defenseman... Oh, it's 33... wow. Didn't know he could do that."

And another thing: the NHL all-star game is a joke. Picking the starting teams via fan-polling on the web is just plain stupid. It's nothing more than an excuse for the NHL to harvest information on fans to be used by their marketing department. The all-star game should have more dignity than that. I say, let the players choose who goes.

And speaking of marketing, I bought a couple of hats online the other day from the Bruins store. I immediately started receiving email spam from the NHL even though I had declined all their "newsletters." That's just slimy. Customers (um, I mean fans) should be treated with more respect than that. Maybe next time I'll buy some knock-offs on ebay instead.

Jordan Sigalet is back to playing with the baby B's. Man, it's great to see him succeed despite that damned disease. I hope we one day see him play in the NHL.

It's difficult not to notice how the overall amount of blogging by my fellow Bruins bloggers is down this year. Maybe its because things have been going fairly well. But it's not like there hasn't been anything to blog about. I would have expected to read more about Bergeron's hit, for instance. I suspect it's because most of us fans are still waiting to see if the Bruins are truly for real. I'm sure we'll find out before June.

And hey, you! Boston sports media! You know who you are. Let me give you a tip. I know that math isn't something that athletes or journalists are known to excel at, but geeze... there is this symbol called a plus sign, see. It has an analogue called a minus sign. They look like this: +, -. Maybe you've seen them? Believe it or not even us hockey types are familiar with what they mean. So instead of typing, "Axelsson has a plus-minus rating of plus-10 and Kessel has a plus-minus of minus-9", give us a break! It's just as clear to say, "Axelsson has a plus-minus rating of +10 and Kessel has a -9. Actually, come to think of it, that's more clear. Because "plus-9" is confusing, what with both the plus and the minus. In fact, I argue that if you wrote, "Axelsson is +10 and Kessel is -9," everyone would know what you were talking about (except perhaps your editor). Or do they pay you by the word? Not that any of you guys are going to read this, but I did have fun getting it off my chest nonetheless.

Is it Thursday yet?

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Rattled and Disappointed

I'm of course disappointed that the Bruins have lost yet another game to the hated habs. But this time it's more than just another loss in a long season. It's the way they lost that really gets to me. The habs are very good, and they played well. But this game was winnable. Forget the messy first period and all the penalties. A bad penalty is at least understandable exuberance. No, what has me really depressed is what happened in the 3rd period.

The score was 3-2 and the B's were gaining momentum. They were dominating and generating scoring opportunities. One hard shift led to a penalty, as hard shifts often do. Here was their big chance to tie the game. But the PP unit came out flat. They looked uncertain, tentative, and unnerved. They looked rattled, almost scared. I couldn't believe it. They made bad decisions and even worse passes. What really got me was that it wasn't due to particularly great penalty killing. It was just their mindset when they skated out. I was yelling at the TV all through it, and when their pitiful excuse for a power play was over the next shift came out the same way. It was quickly 4-2 and the game was over. If they start selling Timmy out regularly like they did on the last goal then this season is going to end up looking just like the last one. No goaltender can stop a two on zero.

For me this was the most disappointing loss of the season so far. It really rattled me. I guess it's because I don't understand it. What happened? Why did those guys get unnerved like that? It reminds me of last year when they would sometimes have a great first period only to come out for the second like they just didn't give a crap anymore. I never did get that.

I don't know. Maybe I'm just in a "glass half empty" kind of mood. Losing to the habs can do that to a fan, I guess. Maybe I should be glad that this is the first time all season that they have turned it on only to collapse when it mattered. Maybe I should assume that it will be a mistake they will learn from and it won't happen again. But that's for tomorrow. Right now I'm just plain disappointed.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

The B's Are Back (Again)

Here is a snapshot of the 2007/2008 Boston Bruins: they fight their way to within a few points of the conference leading Senators, only to lose decisively to them for the third time. Then with a pair of key defensemen and sniper veteran Glen Murray out with injuries they go on a six-game losing streak capped off by a 5-0 stinker against the Thrashers. "The wheels have come off," exclaims the NESN broadcast team. Two days later they meet the Thrashers again and give up another two points in another poorly played first period. That's a total of seven unanswered goals against. Game over right? Season over right?

Final score: Bruins 5, Thrashers 2. And in the next game against the rolling and hungry Capitols the B's look to be right back in their old form as if it was nothing more than a little blip along the way.

This sort of comeback from adversity is impressive, and it's not the first time. The B's were rolling early on until Bergeron's concussion. They were shaken at first, emotionally and because the lines had to be reconstructed. But within a few games they had adjusted and they looked like they had before.

Then it was revealed that goaltender Manny Fernandez was injured, along with Shawn Thornton and Aaron Ward. Again, the team hit the skids for a while, and again they bounced back to their earlier form.

That time people said that it was only the play of hot goaltender Tim Thomas that got them through it. A fellow blogger called the B's a, "one man team." Then the worst happened: Tim Thomas went down with an injury himself. The B's relied on young prospect Rask for a few games and it was rough for a while. Then they acquired discarded goaltender Alex Auld from Phoenix and he went on a huge and unlikely hot streak, and somehow the B's bounced back once again.

These things--this overcoming adversity--is the stuff that great teams are made of. It's the stuff, dare I say, that champions are made of. This is the kind of team that would maybe lose a game or even two against Montreal in the playoffs after going up 3 games to one, but they would never lose the series. I'm not saying they will win the Cup. In the end they simply may not be good enough. But I think we can all rest assured that the Bruins will give their absolute best trying, and as a fan I have never asked for more than that.

The 2007-2008 Boston Bruins are more than the sum of their individual talent. The 2007-2008 Boston Bruins have character. The 2007-2008 Boston Bruins have... Claude Julien.

This fan thanks you, Claude.