Emotion Ties All Olympic Athletes, Viewers Together

When the opening ceremonies of the Olympics got underway on Friday night, I couldn’t help but feel an overwhelming amount of anticipation for the days to follow. As an invested sports fan and writer, there’s nothing better than having something to watch, non-stop, for 17 straight days.

Like most proud Americans, I enjoy watching the events in which the United States is favored – swimming, women’s gymnastics, and men’s basketball to name a few – but in the end, I want to watch everything.  Because regardless of their popularity, every Olympic athlete deserves our attention.

It’s been only four days since the massive Olympic cauldron was lit in London and I’ve already watched handball, basketball, swimming, archery, diving, table tennis, equestrian, shooting, fencing, water polo, badminton, volleyball, beach volleyball, boxing, soccer, gymnastics, rowing, tennis, weight lifting and who could forget, white-water canoeing slalom.

Outside of Olympic competition, I routinely watch three of the above-mentioned sports (basketball, boxing and tennis). But that’s one reason I love the Games so much. It’s not only the coverage of popular and mainstream sports, it’s also the display of the obscure athletes that shine on a world-wide stage only once every four years. Little known athletes and world-wide superstars share common ground here.

The Olympics is the great equalizer.

As much as I enjoy watching familiar faces at the Games, I take equal satisfaction in watching the performances of the unrecognizable athletes who may never again have a chance to be in the lime light. These are the skeet shooters, table tennis players and kayakers who train every day of their lives for one moment in the sun, to represent their country and show the world that just because you never heard of them doesn’t mean they aren’t important.

From a monetary standpoint, it’s clear that one sport doesn’t mean more than another in the Olympics. The worth of a 2012 Olympic gold medal for the 10 meter air pistol event is equal to the worth of a men’s basketball gold medal – about $644. And using the United States Olympic Committee medal bonuses as an example, the amounts of $25,000 for gold, $15,000 for silver and $10,000 for bronze applies to the full gamut of U.S. athletes, regardless of sport.

But more importantly, all Olympic athletes share the pride of representing their country and the backing of their country’s citizens. And when it comes to emotion, the Games provide a level ground from which athletes of all sports fall or ascend from.

When U.S. gymnast Jordyn Wieber fell just short of qualifying for the individual all-around final on Sunday, you could see and feel her devastation. She said “it was a little bit of a disappointment” but the hollow longing in her eyes was palpable. It was more than slight disappointment.

It was agony.

This was the event that she was supposed to own. She knew it and the rest of the world did, too. Weiber was the reigning all-around champion and was heavily favored to win the event, but a wobble on the balance beam and a slight step out of bounds during the floor event dropped her to third place behind fellow Americans Aly Raisman and Gabby Douglas. Because a rule states only two members of a country’s team can move onto the final 24, Weiber could not advance. As the U.S. team exited the arena and started doing interviews, Douglas beamed her trademark smile from ear to ear. Raisman cried tears of joy. Wieber wept to the contrary.

It made for terrific television from both an entertainment standpoint and that of identifiable human emotion. It felt very human to experience the conflict the team was going through. Sure, the American group was pleased that two of its members made the final, but at the same time, the team shared the emotional burden of Wieber’s uncanny shortfall.

I found myself identifying just as much with the emotions of German fencer Britta Heidemann when she lost the gold medal in overtime of the women’s individual epee event on Monday. Although this event received next to no press attention, Heidemann was the defending Olympic champion in the event, winning gold in Beijing in 2008, and that made her one of the favorites to bring home the gold again from London.

Admittedly, I know very little about fencing and even less about the specific Olympic events within it. But I didn’t need to know anything about the sport to realize how much it hurt Heidemann to lose gold in OT.

After coming from behind to force a sudden death stage, it seemed like Heidemann held the momentum advantage. But as she aggressively advanced and struck toward her foe, it wasn’t her weapon that touched first. Green lights lit up on the stage, a visible sign of her demise.

After exchanging gracious kisses on the cheek with her opponent Yana Shemyakina of the Ukraine, Heidemann quickly paced into the shadows of the arena, away from the searching cameras. There wasn’t much time to examine the expression on her face, but a split second was all it took to recognize her despondency.

Britta Heidemann moments after her gold medal defeat. (Screenshot from NBC)

In contrast, Shemyakina tore her mask off in celebration after landing the winning blow. A deep and joyful embrace of her coach was followed by her acknowledgment of the roaring crowd, while she wrapped herself in the blue and yellow Ukrainian flag.

Heidemann displayed a smile during the award ceremony; after all, she earned a silver medal for her efforts. But you have to think that it was something of a mask, covering up the disappointment of being within one strike of winning back-to-back golds.

That’s what made it fascinating. How did she really feel after losing the gold, but still achieving silver? Were her emotions of disappointment greater than those of achievement, despite the grin?

 

The human element made it great, not the pure sporting perspective.

It is these moments of indescribable joy and unthinkable disappointment that make the Olympics so captivating. Whether they are the most famous athletes in the world or the least known competitors of little-talked about sports, they encapsulate the raw emotion that anyone can appreciate.

Ultimately, what links the big-time Olympic athletes, no-name Olympic athletes and average people watching on television is pride in our respective countries and the emotion generated by the drive to win Olympic hardware.

Because when our Olympians – recognizable or not – win medals, so do we.

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Death Penalty May Have Hurt Penn State Less

When the Joe Paterno statue was taken down outside Beaver Stadium on Penn State’s campus Sunday, a small portion of the recent scandal’s visibility was also removed. No longer would people be able to gaze upon a symbol whose new meaning is deception and human indecency.

But sanctions handed out to Penn State this morning ensured that the football program will continue to serve as a public reminder of those horrible acts conducted by Jerry Sandusky and the subsequent cover up by Penn State officials.

NCAA President Mark Emmert announced that Penn State will be penalized with a $60 million fine, a four-year football postseason ban and vacation of all wins since 1998. The school also must reduce its number of scholarships from 25 to 15 per year for four years.

It was a harsh penalty, but it wasn’t the death penalty. That would have meant football at Penn State would have been suspended completely for up to four years.

During the announcement this morning, Emmert said that the death penalty would have hurt too many innocent people. “Suspension of the football program would bring with it significant unintended harm to many who had nothing to do with this case. The sanctions we have crafted are more focused and impactful than that blanket penalty.”

Many believe that Penn State got lucky in not receiving the death penalty. But I’m not so sure. These sanctions may actually be more impactful than the death penalty when it comes to the football program and public perception of the university. Penn State must now endure the “living-death penalty.”

With these actions, the NCAA is doing more than just keeping the football program from playing in the postseason and limiting recruiting and finances. These sanctions will keep the football program in full view of public scrutiny as it carries out its sentence. It is a public shaming stemming from the infamy that Penn State officials brought on themselves. The Nittany Lion will be shut into the stockade and the world will decide whether or not to let the tomatoes fly.

If the football program was completely shut down for a few years, the talk of Penn State football in any media capacity would die off quickly. There would be no football to speak of. Beaver stadium would be empty every Saturday and no one would feel the usual buzz in the air of a fall day in Happy Valley. Maybe this scenario of talking about nothing would work in a plot line of Seinfeld, but not for the national media. It would be an unsettling quietness, but it would be quiet nonetheless.

Then in a few years, Penn State would return to playing football and recruiting players like it always has. It would be a rebirth of football in State College, rising from the ashes and establishing a new identity forged in the absence of football. Their difficult sentence would be over and a new page would turn, helping people to forget about the previous chapters written before it.

The death penalty would have meant a fresh start eventually.

Instead, Penn State will begin a four-year span of meaningless football and public scrutiny. There will be no break from media analysis for the football program. There will be no fresh starts. There will be no bowl games, no Big Ten Championships and no hope to make the NCAA playoff when it begins in 2014. But there will be plenty of time each Saturday for broadcasters to talk about the events leading to the current situation. Viewers at home and at Penn State games will witness the walking-dead Nittany Lions carry out their penalty every week of the season. Talk may die down as time goes on, but the scandal will always be the 800-pound gorilla in Beaver Stadium.

Public perception of Penn State football won’t be helped by a mediocre team, either. With the loss of scholarships and inability to play for Big Ten Championships, National Championships and bowl games, the talent wells for Happy Valley are bound to hit drought conditions. Elite players won’t want to come to Penn State to play for nothing. These young men will play for Penn State’s competition and make the Nittany Lions’ road to success on the field that much harder.

The football team will be bled to death slowly for the next four years and beyond as fewer and fewer top recruits commit. A team of walk-ons just won’t win many games. In the coming years, Penn State will set a different precedent besides the sanctions imposed against them: Never in college football history will such a pedestrian team get so much media attention.

But public perception and sanctions aside, I believe Penn State will recover from this someday. The next decade will be an uphill crawl for everyone who represents the university – the football team, students, alumni and fans (myself included). Success with honor may not have meant anything to Jerry Sandusky, Joe Paterno and other Penn State brass, but it still means something to the rest of us and it’s our duty not to forget what happened while still moving on to set a new standard of excellence.

Football at Penn State will be relevant some day in the future, but it will be the most publicly scrutinized return to relevance in the history of college football.

Sidney Crosby: The Best Captain in NHL History?

Sidney Crosby: The Best Captain in NHL History?

By Pete Dombrosky

With fireworks set to launch above the confluence of the Monongahela and the Allegheny in Pittsburgh this July 4th, Sidney Crosby and the rest of the Penguins waited for star free agent Zach Parise to decide where he would bring his talents for the foreseeable future. The Steel City had long anticipated the acquisition of a star winger to pair with Crosby and rumor had it that Parise just might be the man for the job.

But unfortunately for the Penguins, the Minnesota Wild set off some fireworks of their own, announcing they signed Parise and free agent defenseman Ryan Suter for identical 13-year, $98 million deals.

The Penguins’ plan A went up in smoke while sky-bursts lit up the North Shore.

Plan B might include Shane Doan, Bobby Ryan, Rick Nash or even Alexander Semin. Sure, a star forward would be a great gift for Crosby – whose birthday is approaching on August 7 – but he already has about as much as a 24-year-old Canadian could ask for.

On July 30th, 2005, Crosby fulfilled his life-long dream of being drafted into the National Hockey League. Although he grew up a Montreal Canadiens fan, Sid certainly wasn’t any less-enthused about joining the same roster as Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux.

He succeeded Lemieux’s captaincy in 2007 – becoming the youngest ever to receive the honor – and later that season led the Penguins to their first Stanley Cup Final since 1992, while winning the Art Ross Trophy, the Hart Memorial Trophy and the Ted Lindsay Award. Since then, Crosby has won a Stanley Cup, a Maurice Richard Trophy and an Olympic Gold Medal.

On Sunday July 1, the Penguins captain officially signed a 12-year contract worth $104.4 million, making him the highest paid player in hockey (if you average the first nine years of the front-loaded deal).

Yes, Crosby has more hardware than a Home Depot, but he’d be the first to admit that his championships are the most important. That’s why it’s reasonable to assume that what Crosby wants most is to keep adding his name to Lord Stanley’s Cup as many times as possible.

And that shiny new contract might give him a shot at an NHL championship record set in 1971 – the most career NHL championships as a captain. NHL legend Jean Beliveau won the Cup as captain five times – in 1965, 1966, 1968, 1969 and 1971 – during his 10-year captaincy of the Montreal Canadiens from 1961-1971.

Crosby may only have one Cup now, but there are four reasons why he has a chance to eclipse Beliveau’s mark.

1. Time is on Sid’s side. His new contract ensures that he will be a Penguin until 2025. Because there’s little chance anyone else becomes captain while he’s there, Crosby has a lengthy span to win five more Cups with the “C” on his chest.

When Crosby’s latest contract runs out in 2025, he will be 38. Yes, that’s pretty old for a hockey player, but there have been some pretty outstanding men to compete well past that age in the NHL. Chris Chelios was 46 years old when he won the Stanley Cup in 2008 when he and the Redwings beat the Penguins in Crosby’s first trip to the Finals. Former Penguin Mark Recchi was 43 when he won his third Cup with the Boston Bruins in 2011. Igor Larionov and Dave Andreychuk also won Stanley Cups when they were 41 and 40, respectively. Hockey players aren’t necessarily like fine wines, but they can be good enough to win for a long time.

2. Crosby’s contract is structured for team building. Upon first examination of Crosby’s new contract, it might seem like he’ll be handcuffing the Penguins in the first nine years of his deal. Here’s what it will look like: 2013-14 — $12 million, 2014-15 — $12 million, 2015-16 — $12 million, 2016-17 — $10.9 million, 2017-18 — $10.9 million, 2018-19 — $10 million, 2019-20 — $9 million, 2020-21 — $9.6 million, 2021-22 — $9 million.

But because of the structure of the deal, he’ll command an annual cap hit of only $8.7 million per year, the same as his previous contract. Because Crosby was willing to go without a raise for the rest of his career, that leaves plenty of annual cap room for the Penguins to sign additional talent to place around their captain.

Within the current roster, that means the Penguins will have a better shot at signing core players to new long-term contracts when the current deals expire. Evgeni Malkin – who won the Art Ross Trophy, the Ted Lindsay and the Hart Memorial Trophy this season, will be an unrestricted free agent in 2014. The same goes for All-Star blueliner Kris Letang. The following year, Stanley Cup-winning goalie Marc-Andre Fluery will also become an unrestricted free agent. They will be the priorities for Penguins GM Ray Shero. We won’t know what kind of contracts the three will be asking for by then (they’ll most likely be in need of raises at that point) but Crosby’s deal will give the team more wiggle room to lock them up.

In addition, the Pens will have the ability to go after big-name free agents when they pop up. Parise was a prime example. Not only was there cap room to pursue him, Crosby himself was part of the selling point. He called Parise on the Penguins behalf to entice him to Western Pennsylvania. Sid is a big draw for the fans in Pittsburgh, but he’s also an attractive worm on the hook to lure talent to the team. It’s a pretty big selling point to skate with the best player in the world and since Crosby will be in Pittsburgh for the rest of his career, big-time UFAs should be drawn to Pittsburgh for a decade.

3. Crosby is only 24 years old. Beliveau was 33 when he won his first Cup as a captain – 12 years older than Crosby was when he became the youngest captain ever to win a Stanley Cup in 2009. And Sid will be in the prime of his career for at least 3-4 more years. After that, you can expect a decline in his numbers, but a decline for Crosby probably won’t bring him down to human-like stats until he’s in his 30s. Obviously it’s speculation at this point, but it’s a reasonable assumption.

Crosby has seemingly reached his full maturity potential when it comes to his puck skills, scoring and skating, but I still believe he can further progress. Again, I’ll reiterate that he is only 24. Crosby would be the first to tell you that he still has plenty to learn and achieve. He already has a “veteran presence” but the average age of a captain in the NHL is 30. So it’s reasonable to assume that a player reaches full maturity and has the full capacity to become a stalwart leader around that age as well.
You think Crosby is mature now? Just wait six years. His physical abilities might have declined by then, but his intangibles will have escalated.

4. Crosby is one of the best players in the world. Although Evgeni Malkin probably holds the current title of best player in hockey, a healthy Sid can take over a game more so than even Geno can. He has an average of 1.40 points per game, which is first among active players and fourth all time, behind three guys named Gretzky, Lemieux and Bossy. Only once in Sid’s seven-year NHL career has he scored fewer than 24 goals, and that was last season, when he scored eight in only 22 games. His last full season was 2009-10, when he scored 51 goals, tying Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos for the Maurice Richard Trophy for most goals in the season.

Sid has a nose for the back of the net, but he’s also an outstanding playmaker. He has averaged .889 assists per game, putting him behind only Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Bobby Orr and Peter Forsberg on the all-time list. He currently ranks first among active players in that category.

Not only do Crosby’s stats represent his case, he has unquantifiable intangibles that make him extra valuable. He has outstanding vision of the ice. He knows where space is, even if it’s out of his field of view and he can always sense where his teammates are. Crosby has that unexplainable sixth sense of his surroundings that truly sets him apart. Even if his critics think he complains too much, they have to admit he is a special talent.

The main roadblock standing in Crosby’s way is his injury history. Sid missed the better part of the last two seasons with concussion symptoms. He was on pace to set career highs in goals, assists and points when he was blindsided by Washington Capitals forward David Steckel in the 2011 Winter Classic and suffered a concussion. During the next game, Tampa Bay defenseman Victor Hedman smashed Crosby into the glass, worsening the effects from the Steckel hit.

After rehabbing and seeking treatment for the remainder of the season and the following summer, Crosby came back on November 21, 2011, 320 days after the injury occurred. He lasted only eight games however, and was once again put out of commission by a David Krejci elbow. On March 5, Crosby returned again and played in the remaining regular season and subsequent playoff games, appearing to be back to normal.

Will Crosby’s concussion symptoms return? No one knows for sure.

His health will determine his longevity, but the Penguins brass seemed to be confident that Crosby’s concussions are a thing of the past. If they were truly skeptical about his condition, they might not have signed him to such a lengthy deal. That became more apparent when the news broke that Crosby’s new contract isn’t insurable because his concussion history is considered a pre-existing condition.

If Sid can’t finish his contract because of a concussion-related injury, he will still be paid in full, but the Penguins would not receive assistance from an insurance policy. Although this event wouldn’t cripple the team financially because of revenue generated from 251 consecutive sellouts, a big TV deal, hefty sponsorship and deep-pocketed ownership, Penguins management still needed some faith in Crosby’s health to sign him for more than a decade.

Another barrier to this record is the parity in the NHL. It’s been 14 years since a team won back-to-back Stanley Cups (The Redwings in 1997 and 1998). And the last captain to win multiple Stanley Cups? That would be Scott Stevens of the New Jersey Devils when he won his third in 2003; before that was Steve Yzerman of Detroit Red Wings, who won his third Cup in 2002. The last captain to win four Stanley Cups was The Great One in 1988.

For Crosby to win five more Cups in the next 13 seasons, the Penguins would have to average one championship about every two years. The difficulty of that task cannot be overstated. NHL teams just don’t have dynasties like in the days of the two-line pass. It’s highly improbable that there will be a new “Montreal Canadians” dynamic because of free agency. Teams just don’t have the money to pay an entire roster of stars any more. Although future collective bargaining agreements could change the salary cap ceiling in the future, it’s still unlikely that teams could hold onto all of the pieces they used to win one Stanley Cup.

Crosby’s best chance to keep a highly competitive team around him is to have the Penguins sign their core players and a few other star pieces to long-term deals, spreading the salary out to stay under the cap. And in these days where star NHL players make many times the salary of the President of the United States, it’ll be tough to convince the best of the best to sign for less money when they could go to other teams to pad their wallets.

So if the salary cap will be an issue when it comes to signing free agents to play with Crosby, the Penguins will have to be successful in stockpiling young talent from the ground up. As the whole, the organization has been successful recently. It seems to draft well every year and currently, has a wealth of defensive talent in its farm system including Brian Dumoulin, the 20-year-old defenseman who came over from Carolina in the Jordan Staal trade; Scott Harrington, the 19-year-old Penguins second round draft pick in 2011; Joe Morrow, the Penguins 19-year-old first round draft pick of 2011, as well as 18-year-old Derrick Pouliot and 17-year-old Olli Määttä, the Penguins 2012 first and second round draft picks, respectively.

The Pens absolutely need to keep hitting the bull’s eye with their drafts and player development. Not only will these youngsters need to develop to play for the Penguins someday, they also need to be good enough to use for potential trades to acquire other NHL players to address the immediate needs of the team. For Crosby to win more Cups, it’s essential that the Penguins be among the most competitive organizations from top to bottom in the league for the next decade, which is another very tough goal to achieve.

Pittsburgh also needs to sort out their postseason issues. Although they have a combined regular season record of 147-78-21 since winning the Stanley Cup in 2009, the team has gone 12-14 in the postseason since, winning only one series (against the Ottawa Senators in 2010). It’s a terrific regular season record to have, but it doesn’t mean anything if they can’t win games in April and May.

In the 2010 playoffs, the team had trouble scoring goals. It was the same story in the 2011 postseason, but the team had the excuse of an absent Crosby and Malkin. Last season, there was no shortage of offense for the Pens, but there were defensive breakdowns every two minutes and Fluery was abysmal. Hopefully for Pittsburgh, the offseason signing of veteran goalie Tomas Vokoun will give Fluery more rest during the regular season so he is fresher come playoff time.

And defensively?

They just have to be better, there’s no other way of putting it. Maybe that warrants calling up young defensive talent from Wilkes-Barre Scranton to join the full-time roster. Perhaps Pittsburgh should hire a coach to specialize on the penalty kill or change their overall PK philosophy. Maybe they need to find another blueliner via trade. Maybe all four.

But ultimately, the team goes as Sid goes. He is the heartbeat of the Penguins and if he stays healthy for the remainder of his contract, the team makes responsible roster decisions and the hockey gods sprinkle in a little luck, the one they call “The Kid” might very well see his moniker engraved in silver and nickel alloy five more times.

That would be the best present that Crosby could ask for.

Sidney Crosby
                                                                                                                 Credit: Dan4th Nicholas, Flickr Creative Commons
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Stanley Cup Wins by Captain

5 Stanley Cup Wins (1 player)
Jean Beliveau, Montreal Canadians (1964–65, 1965–66, 1967–68, 1968–69, 1970–71)
4 Stanley Cups Wins (5 players)
Maurice Richard, Montreal Canadians (1956–57, 1957–58, 1958–59, 1959–60)
Yvan Cournoyer, Montreal Canadians (1975–76, 1976–77, 1977–78, 1978–79)
George Armstrong, Toronto Maple Leafs (1961–62, 1962–63, 1963–64, 1966–67)
Denis Potvin, New York Islanders (1979–80, 1980–81, 1981–82, 1982–83)
Wayne Gretzky, Edmonton Oilers (1983–84, 1984–85, 1986–87, 1987–88)
3 Stanley Cup Wins (4 players)
Syl Apps, Toronto Maple Leafs (1941–42, 1946–47, 1947–48)
Sid Abel, Detroit Redwings (1942–43, 1949–50, 1951–52)
Scott Stevens, New Jersey Devils (1994–95, 1999–00, 2002–03)
Steve Yzerman, Detroit Red Wings (1996–97, 1997–98, 2001–02)
2 Stanley Cup Wins (12 players)
Sprague Cleghorn, Montreal Canadians, Boston Bruins (1923–24, 1928–29)
Bill Cook, New York Rangers (1927–28, 1932–33)
Sylvio Mantha, Montreal Canadians (1929–30, 1930–31)
Doug Young, Detroit Redwings (1935–36, 1936–37)
Toe Blake, Montreal Canadians (1943–44, 1945–46)
Emile Bouchard, Montreal Canadians (1952–53, 1955–56)
Ted Kennedy, Toronto Maple Leafs (1948–49, 1950–51)
Ted Lindsay, Detroit Redwings (1953–54, 1954–55)
Bobby Clarke, Philadelphia Flyers (1973–74, 1974–75)
Mark Messier, Edmonton Oilers, New York Rangers (1989–90, 1993–94)
Mario Lemieux, Pittsburgh Penguins (1990–91, 1991–92)
Joe Sakic, Colorado Avalanche (1995–96, 2000–01)
1 Stanley Cup Win (22 players)
Howard McNamara, Montreal Canadians (1915–16)
Hap Day, Toronto Maple Leafs (1931–32)
Charlie Gardiner, Chicago Blackhawks (1933–34)
Johnny Gottselig, Chicago Blackhawks (1937–38)
Cooney Weiland, Boston Bruins (1938–39)
Art Coulter, New York Rangers (1939–40)
Dit Clapper, Boston Bruins (1940–41)
Bob Davidson, Toronto Maple Leafs (1944–45)
Pierre Pilote, Chicago Blackhawks (1960–61)
Henri Richard, Montreal Canadians (1972–73)
Bob Gainey, Montreal Canadians (1985–86)
Jim Peplinski, Calgary Flames (1988-89)
Guy Carbonneau, Montreal Canadians (1992–93)
Derian Hatcher, Dallas Stars (1998–99)
Dave Andreychuk, Tampa Bay Lightning (2003-04)
Rod Brind’Amour, Carolina Hurricanes (2005-06)
Scott Niedermayer, Anaheim Ducks (2006-07)
Nicklas Lidstrom, Detroit Redwings (2007–08)
Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins (2008–09)
Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks (2009–10)
Zdeno Chara, Boston Bruins (2010–11)
Dustin Brown, Los Angeles Kings (2011–12)

Stanley Cup Winners By Team/Captain

Anaheim Ducks 
2006-07- Scott Niedermayer

Boston Bruins 
1928–29- Sprague Cleghorn
1938–39- Cooney Weiland
1940–41- Dit Clapper
1969–70 No captain
1971–72 No captain
2010–11- Zdeno Chara

Calgary Flames
1988-89- Jim Peplinski

Carolina Hurricanes
2005-06- Rod Brind’Amour

Chicago Blackhawks
1933–34- Charlie Gardiner
1937–38- Johnny Gottselig
1960–61- Pierre Pilote
2009–10- Jonathan Toews

Colorado Avalanche
1995–96- Joe Sakic
2000–01- Joe Sakic

Dallas Stars
1998–99- Derian Hatcher

Detroit Red Wings
1935–36- Doug Young
1936–37- Doug Young
1942–43- Sid Abel
1949–50- Sid Abel
1951–52- Sid Abel
1953–54- Ted Lindsay
1954–55- Ted Lindsay
1996–97- Steve Yzerman
1997–98- Steve Yzerman
2001–02- Steve Yzerman
2007–08- Nicklas Lidstrom

Edmonton Oilers
1983–84- Wayne Gretzky
1984–85- Wayne Gretzky
1986–87- Wayne Gretzky
1987–88- Wayne Gretzky
1989–90- Mark Messier

Los Angeles Kings
2011–12- Dustin Brown

Montreal Canadiens
1915–16- Howard McNamara
1923–24- Sprague Cleghorn
1929–30- Sylvio Mantha
1930–31- Sylvio Mantha
1943–44- Toe Blake
1945–46- Toe Blake
1952–53- Emile Bouchard
1955–56- Emile Bouchard
1956–57- Maurice Richard
1957–58- Maurice Richard
1958–59- Maurice Richard
1959–60- Maurice Richard
1964–65- Jean Beliveau
1965–66- Jean Beliveau
1967–68- Jean Beliveau
1968–69- Jean Beliveau
1970–71- Jean Beliveau
1972–73- Henri Richard
1975–76- Yvan Cournoyer
1976–77- Yvan Cournoyer
1977–78- Yvan Cournoyer
1978–79- Yvan Cournoyer
1985–86- Bob Gainey
1992–93- Guy Carbonneau

New Jersey Devils
1994–95- Scott Stevens
1999–00- Scott Stevens
2002–03- Scott Stevens

New York Islanders
1979–80- Denis Potvin
1980–81- Denis Potvin
1981–82- Denis Potvin
1982–83- Denis Potvin

New York Rangers
1927–28- Bill Cook
1932–33- Bill Cook
1939–40- Art Coulter
1993–94- Mark Messier

Philadelphia Flyers
1973–74- Bobby Clarke
1974–75- Bobby Clarke

Pittsburgh Penguins
1990–91- Mario Lemieux
1991–92- Mario Lemieux
2008–09- Sidney Crosby

Tampa Bay Lightning
2003-04- Dave Andreychuk

Toronto Maple Leafs
1917–18- N/A
1921–22- N/A
1931–32- Hap Day
1941–42- Syl Apps
1944–45- Bob Davidson
1946–47- Syl Apps
1947–48- Syl Apps
1948–49- Ted Kennedy
1950–51- Ted Kennedy
1961–62- George Armstrong
1962–63- George Armstrong
1963–64- George Armstrong
1966–67- George Armstrong

Pete’s Futbol Experiment: Final Thoughts

The 2012 European Championships have been finished for more than a week and the excitement still hasn’t worn off!

Ok, I’ll admit it, the excitement was never there in the first place.

But I feel like I gave soccer (without a U.S. team) a legitimate chance.I watched well over a dozen games over the course of the tournament, even when I couldn’t stand to watch another. I just kept telling myself, “it will get better.”

But it never did, even in the knockout stages.

My roommate, Super Fan Conor, almost had me convinced that watching the games of the Euro 2012 would be at the least, mildly entertaining.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t figure out how to enjoy the games that I watched. There were a number of reasons for this.

1. I was unfamiliar with the majority of the players and history of the teams. This one is 100 percent on me. The underlying story lines provided by the players and coaches drive the action in sports and make it extra compelling. Because I didn’t know who I was watching, I felt no compulsion. Even though I recognized a few of the players because they were the biggest names in the game, they weren’t big enough for me to root for or against them. This is the same situation I find myself in while attempting to watch NASCAR, golf tournaments without Tiger Woods and the WNBA.

2.  Player injuries every three minutes. This was my biggest complaint. Virtually every time there was physical contact between two players, one or both of them would fall to the ground in agony. They would writhe around on the ground, holding their arms or legs and praying for death to come quickly. But suddenly, just as quickly as they plummeted, they would regain their composure, stand up and take off down the field like a deer. I couldn’t tell who was pretending to be hurt and who was “legitimately” hurt because of a low pain threshold.

For as long as I can remember, the best athletes were the ones who could play through pain and win, despite adversity. Athletes are supposed to be tough, both mentally and physically. After watching a few weeks of soccer, the players just seemed too soft for me to truly appreciate what they do. I could be wrong, but I’m just calling it like I see it.

3. Soccer fans throw flares onto the field…routinely. I don’t know how many times it happened, but it was enough for me to take notice and become disgusted by it. It’s bad enough in American sports when fans chuck beer bottles or other food items onto the playing surface or at players.

That should never happen.

But a flare? That’s just idiotic. It’s dangerous and distracting. And every time a flare landed on the pitch, the game needed to be halted to clear it and the smoke it created. This wasted valuable time and potential momentum for the players. These mindless stoppages forced me to start doing something else to fill the monotonous, smoke-filled void. And once the game lost my attention, it lost it for good.

4. Ties. During the group stage, there were five draws. I witnessed four of them. As I reiterated many times during my tweets and previous blog entries…

There couldn’t be draws in the knockout stages, so the issue lasted only through the initial round. But that didn’t make it any less irritating. The NFL is the only major American sport that can end in a tie (only during the regular season) and this occurrence is rare. Since 1974, there have been only 17 games to end in a tie. And believe me, I was furious when I witnessed an NFL game end without a victor. In a tournament like the Euros, every game should be meaningful. And if it means something, there should be a winner and a loser. Period. After all, two soccer teams shouldn’t go into a game with the intention of drawing.

Herm Edwards put it best…

5. Shootouts. I can appreciate the work a soccer team puts in to win a game. There is plenty of strategy and hard work going on during a match and whichever team works harder and implements the better strategy should win the game. A shootout blows all of that to hell. It minimizes the skill of the players and goalies to a guessing match. Basically, who ever is luckier wins the game. And yes, the Super Fans would be quick to note that there is strategy. Some players have tendencies that goalies might or might not know. Those tendencies could determine the final result. But ultimately, who ever gets luckier and guesses better what the opposing player will do wins the game. Hell, there isn’t as much luck involved in a poker game as in a soccer shootout. Yes, the NHL has a shootout to determine winners. But that is only in the regular season and it doesn’t involve nearly as much luck as in soccer.

So soccer, it looks like it’s goodbye. You had a nice run. You gave me something to bet on in the bleak summer months between seasons of fantasy football and fantasy hockey. You dared me to try something European. You even got me to remember a few players’ names.

But when it comes down to it, we just aren’t compatible.

I like action and you like infinite passing and kicking the ball out of bounds.

I like winners and you’re cool with ties.

I call them cleats and you call them boots.

I enjoy watching players with first and last names. You usually settle for one.

Really, the Simpsons illustrate my point the best…

 

Ultimately, we’re both better off parting ways.

I don’t hate you and I hope you don’t hate me. And hell, every time the World Cup rolls around, I’ll swing by while watching the United States put in a meager effort. But until then, take care soccer. You have a world of fans that love and adore you. Keep them close. And if you ever want to swing by the States and see how REAL football is played, I’ll gladly purchase you an extra ticket.

Just don’t bring any flares.

#Buctober

Late last night, “Buctober” was trending in Pittsburgh.

 

Yes, the city is born again in the success of the Pittsburgh Pirates. After overcoming a four-run deficit against the Houston Astros last night, the newest Pirate to join the team — Drew Sutton — hit a stunning walk-off home run in the bottom of the 9th inning. The Pirates won 7-6 at PNC Park.

Although the game was exciting, the Pirates did something else that has fans taking notice. The team moved eight games over 500 for the first time since 1992, that last time the Pirates had a winning season and made the playoffs. Yes, for the first time in 20 years, the Pirates look like they have a special ball club capable to finishing the season as winners, and perhaps even making the postseason.

I don’t want to get ahead of myself so I’ll leave you to ponder the following.

The last time the Pirates were eight games over 500…

Bill Clinton became President of the United States.

Gas costs $1.13/gallon.

A stamp cost $.29.

The Buffalo Bills lost to the Washington Redskins in the Super Bowl.

Mario Lemieux and the Penguins capture their second Stanley Cup victory over the Chicago Blackhawks.

The Silence of the Lambs wons Best Picture

Compact discs surpassed cassette tapes as the preferred medium for recorded music.

They had these guys on their team…
And this was how the season ended
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