What? Wow! Really? Jarome Iginla is headed for the Steel City

This post was originally written on Friday, March 29.

It was early Thursday morning and I couldn’t believe what I was reading. As I scrolled down on my Twitter timeline, numerous Pittsburgh hockey reporters, as well as national reporters, were speaking of possible line combinations for Jarome Iginla and various Pittsburgh Penguins players.

“This doesn’t make sense,” I thought. “Are they saying what WOULD have happened?”

Before I took a long shower, TSN had reported that the Boston Bruins had agreed to terms with Iginla. In exchange for the veteran winger, Boston would send center Alex Khokhlachev, defenseman Matt Bartkowski and a first-round pick to the Calgary Flames.

I was hardly surprised about Boston acquiring the long time Flames captain.Since Iginla had to waive a no-trade clause, he had reportedly drawn up a short list of teams he would play for. It was believed that list was comprised of Pittsburgh, Boston, the Los Angeles Kings and the Chicago Blackhawks. And since Pittsburgh had already acquired a veteran winger in Brenden Morrow, they probably had taken themselves out of the hunt.

There was a flood of tweets, more than one hundred since I had been away from my computer. But as I scrolled farther down on my timeline, I started to see “breaking news.” My heart jumped up into my throat and my eyes became the size of pucks. That’s when I found the tweet that confirmed my excitement.

Bob McKenzie's Tweet

I wanted to call every Penguins fan I knew, but it was around 2 a.m. so I figured it wasn’t an option. So I texted every Pens fan I knew and gave them the best news they could wake up to.

But the truth is, I was completely happy with the Penguins before they landed Jarome Arthur-Leigh Adekunle Tig Junior Elvis Iginla. They were in the midst of a 12-game win streak and earlier than week, Penguins GM Ray Shero acquired Morrow and bruising defenseman Douglas Murray from the San Jose Sharks.

Morrow was a captain for the Dallas Stars for seven years. He had played 835 games in his career, all with Dallas, and he had scored 528 points (243 goals and 285 assists). The 34-year-old winger wasn’t a prolific scorer, but he brought experience (clearly), grit and a net-front presence. Morrow played a solid defensive game and he forechecked relentlessly.

Those attributes were the only thing missing in the Penguins offense. They would beat teams because they played an up-tempo game and usually scored a ton of goals. Grinding games out wasn’t quite their forte.

The other net-front presence they were lacking was that in the defensive zone. I can easily say that the worst area for the Penguins was in their goalie’s shadow. They were having trouble clearing guys away from the crease and greasy goals were on the ledger in almost all of their losses.

Murray was a pick-up to solve that deficiency. He looks like he’s skating in taffy but when Murray posts up in front of the net, there’s no offensive player in this league that can move him. He’s 245 pounds of angry muscle. If you’re loitering on his property, don’t expect to stay standing.

Pittsburgh lacked some grittiness, net-front presence and defensive zone muscle. They solved it with Morrow and Murray, and lost only peanuts in the process. They were as square as a postage stamp.

But just because something is seemingly perfect doesn’t mean you can’t improve upon it. That’s why Shero continued to pursue Iginla, even after he’d added some great pieces.

The 35-year-old Iginla might not be as fleet of foot as he once was, but there’s no denying what he’ll bring to the city of Pittsburgh. The man has amassed 1,095 points (525 goals and 570 assists) in 1,219 career games, all with Calgary. He’s a six-time all-star, has two “Rocket” Richard Trophies, one Art Ross Trophy, one Lester B. Pearson Award, one King Clancy Memorial Trophy and a Mark Messier Leadership Award.

Iginla has bagged all those points and all that hardware basically despite his team (with the only exception being 2003, the year Calgary lost in the Stanley Cup Finals). The Flames just haven’t put the talent around Iginla to contend much. He’s never played with a center even close to being as talented as Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin.

And you can’t underestimate the toughness he brings, either. He has only missed one game in the last six seasons, and that was on Wednesday when he was held out because of the trade. He has 831 career penalty minutes and he’s not afraid of the fisticuffs: Iggy has dropped the gloves 62 times in his career.

It’s not clear yet where the Penguins will insert Iginla in their line scheme. He’s a clear fit with Crosby on the first line because the two already know each other well and have solid chemistry; he set up Crosby for the Golden Goal in Vancouver during the 2010 Winter Olympics.

But coach Dan Bylsma told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette the Kunitz-Crosby-Dupuis line “is one of the best lines in hockey right now” and “I think we’re going to continue to see those three guys play together.”

He’s right. That line has three of the NHL’s top-13 scorers and the chemistry is mesmerizing to behold. If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.

The best option would probably be for Iginla to drop down to the second line to play on the right side of Malkin. James Neal usually plays on the right wing, but he wouldn’t have any difficulty switching to the left considering that is his natural position anyway. That would drop Morrow down to the third line to play with Brandon Sutter and Matt Cooke.

That set up would make the top three lines quite possibly the best in the game. It would contain two top lines of pure scoring with deep talent and the greasiest, grittiest and most defensively-sound third line in hockey.

What a matchup nightmare.

Yahoo Sports hockey blogger Greg Wyshynski probably put it best: “The Pittsburgh Penguins are an all-star team. They’re something you’d create in a video game. They’re all the hockey cards you don’t throw away.”

The Penguins might not have needed Jerome Iginla, but they got him, and if they don’t win the Stanley Cup this year, they might go down as the biggest disappointment in NHL history.

No pressure.

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Entering the Sweet 16: Florida Gulf Freaking Coast University

I’ve lost plenty of games already and there are still 16 teams left to play.

As far as I’m concerned, I’ve already squandered my opportunity to win in any of the pools I’m in.

But on the opposite end of the spectrum from me sits Florida Gulf Coast University. They, my friends, have already won. A pair of improbable upsets have unofficially branded the Eagles as this year’s favorite Cinderella. In tribute to their success so far, I’ve written a quick piece for Mud, Sweat and Beers — the MatchPint blog.

It’s not too heavy and hardly comprehensive, but it’s enjoyable nonetheless. Click here to check it out.

Should the NHL mandate visors?

Yes. Here’s two simple equations to illustrate the point:

Vision = good.

Blindness = bad.

Ever since New York Rangers defenseman Marc Staal took a puck to the eye on March 5, the hockey world has been buzzing about whether or not the NHL should grandfather in a mandatory visor rule.

Staal will make a full recovery, but after watching the video, it’s no surprise plenty of players don’t have an issue with that mandate.

Since 2006, the AHL has demanded that all its players wear visors. The majority of draft picks that reach the NHL do so via a call up from the AHL, so anyone who has played in the AHL from 2006 on is used to wearing the devices – that’s a large portion of NHL players. And according to the NHLPA, 73 percent of NHL players already wear the protective plastic that partially or fully cover their faces.

That percentage reflects the fact that NHL players are wising up. The game is getting faster and more dangerous as players continue to evolve into even greater athletic marvels than their predecessors. The puck is traveling faster and sticks are getting lighter. Odds are greater that a deflected puck or an errant stick will inflict major damage to an unfortunate skater in their paths. Just ask Bryan Berard, Manny Malhotra and Chris Pronger.

But there are still a number of players who oppose a mandatory visor rule, despite an overwhelming amount of evidence that supports the change.

Many of these players are grinders, fighters and checkers. They are men employed to beat guys up, protect super-stars and take up space to block shots and prevent offense. They value toughness and the respect they garner from other players around the league.

These players cite a variety of reasons why they don’t want visors. Here are their excuses and my responses:

1. “Visors obstruct my vision and ability to play the puck.” You aren’t in the league for your ability to play the puck. You take the body. You knock guys down. You block shots. And even if you are a skill player and think a visor obstructs your vision too much to effectively play the puck, ask the elite skill players in the league like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Pavel Datsyuk and the other 73 percent of players how much negative impact a visor has on their vision. If they can get used to some fogginess and water droplets in front of their eyes, so can you.

2. “If I wear one, my peers will think less of me.” This isn’t high school and being a tough guy isn’t everything, even in the NHL. Do you want your kids to have a cyclops father? How would your mother feel watching you scream in agony on live TV because of an accident that could have been avoided? There are much worse things in life (like, I dunno, blindness) than guys like George Parros or Colton Orr thinking you’re a sissy. Blaze a path and be a leader that other tough guys can follow. If you make your living by protecting other players on the ice, rallying for mandatory visors would make you a greater protector than any fist you’ve thrown or any check you’ve delivered.

3. “If I instigate a fight while wearing a visor, I’ll get an extra two-minute penalty. Plus it’s hard to challenge anyone with a visor on.” This is actually a legitimate point. According to Rule 46.6:

If a player penalized as an instigator of an altercation is wearing a face shield (including a goalkeeper), he shall be assessed an additional unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Should the player (including a goalkeeper) who instigates the fight be wearing a face shield, but removes it before instigating the altercation, the additional unsportsmanlike conduct penalty shall not apply.

In the heat of battle, nobody with a visor is going to take off their helmet before defending a teammate who just took a cheap shot. And fighting someone with a visor on is considered dirty. This is situation the NHL to needs to remedy by removing the instigator rule and mandating visors. That’s what they did in the AHL and it hasn’t changed players from being physical or fighting. And since the NHL doesn’t want to cut out fighting altogether, it should make those changes.

4. “It’s my body and I should get to decide how to best protect it.” This is true in theory, but in professional sports, commissioners and other league officials have the duty to protect their players the best way they see fit, such as the mandatory use of the HANS device in NASCAR or the helmet rule in the NHL, which was grandfathered into the league in 1979. And here’s the beauty of grandfathering in the visor rule: If you didn’t wear a visor prior to whenever the rule was enacted, guess what? You’d be allowed to play without one! It would only affect players who signed their contract after the rule was placed. You’re old school? Fine, don’t wear one and accept the consequences if something bad happens. Everyone else? Too bad, these are the rules and we’d like you to have both eye balls and a lengthy career. All professional sports need to move forward in protecting their players because this isn’t ancient Rome, it’s the 21st century. A league’s investment in player safety is an investment in that league’s longevity.

5. “It’ll take too long to get used to it.” How long is too long? Two days? Three? If the rule is enacted, it will be done so during the offseason in the summer. That will give all of the remaining holdouts months to adapt to their new protective devices. Just ask Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik, a perennial tough guy who’s played more than 600 NHL games without a visor. He began wearing one in practice a few days after the Staal incident. A day later, he was comfortable enough to wear it during a game on March 14. He’s worn it for every game since. He said there was no noticeable difference and his play hasn’t suffered, either. And coincidentally, he was hit with a shot near his face during a matchup against the Rangers three days after he began using the visor.

Who knows what would have happened otherwise.

The GMs have already agreed on grandfathering visors and the NHLPA will poll players this summer to decide on whether or not to do the same.  If the players and the competition committee decide to approve the change, it will be up to the NHL Board of Governors to give the thumbs up before it is inked into the rule book.

The remaining 27 percent of visor-less players stand to be the only people that could block the rule. They need to stop making excuses and realize how precious their health is. This requires the abandonment of antiquated hockey tradition and the adoption of progressive thinking to protect themselves for their own sakes and those of their families and fans.

Like Orpik told Josh Yohe of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review: “I guess there really isn’t a valid excuse to not wear one anymore.”

March Madness preview on MatchPint

It’s that time of year, music fans.

The time of year when one rock/alternative band gets to ride the financial wave of the well-timed popularity of a sports related song!

Specifically…

Also, it’s March Madness time. Well played Muse.

I’m no bracketologist and if that’s your job, you’re the sports analyst equivalent of being a mixologist. But I enjoy the NCAA basketball tournament just as much as anyone. That’s why I branched out to write my first ever basketball blog on the tournament for Mud, Sweat and Beers — the blog of the British website, MatchPint.

In all honesty, I covered very little about this year’s tournament in the blog, but it’s a fun little read and there are at least a few bullet points about some stuff to watch for while you’re killing your productivity by watching basketball at work.

There will be some additional installments as the tourney goes on so keep checking back after the conclusion of each round for some quick, not so deep thoughts.

And if you’re curious about my picks for the tournament, I’ve posted my bracket below.

Don’t expect much success.

(Click to enlarge)

Pete's 2013 March Madness Picks

Regular season NCAA men’s basketball upsets (2012-2013)

There were 147 top-25 upsets in NCAA D-1 men’s basketball this regular season.

Here’s every one of them and the ESPN story about it.

 

NOVEMBER (19 UPSETS)

1. (23) Connecticut 66, (14) Michigan State 62

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=323140041

2. South Alabama 76, (25) Florida State 71

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=323140052

3. (9) Duke 75, (3) Kentucky 68

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=323180096

4. (21) Michigan State 67, (7) Kansas 64

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=323182305

5. Colorado 60, (16) Baylor 58

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=323210239

6. Saint Joseph’s 79, (20) Notre Dame 70

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=323210087

7. Oklahoma State 76, (6) North Carolina State 56

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=323230152

8. Georgetown 78, (11) UCLA 70

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=323240046

9. New Mexico 66, (21) Connecticut 60

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=323240041

10. Butler 82, (9) North Carolina 71

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=323250153

11. Virginia Commonwealth 78, (19) Memphis 65

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=323270235

12. Oregon 83, (18) UNLV 79

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=323282439

13. Minnesota 84, (19) Memphis 75

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=323280235

14. (5) Duke 76, (2) Louisville 71

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=323290097

15. Charleston 63, (24) Baylor 59

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=323290239

16. Cal Poly 70, (11) UCLA 68

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=323300026

17. Boise State 83, (11) Creighton 70

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=323330156

18. Miami (FL) 67, (13) Michigan State 59

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=323332390

19. Notre Dame 64, (8) Kentucky 50

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=323340087

 

DECEMBER (17 UPSETS)

 20. Baylor 64, (8) Kentucky 55 (Baylor ends Kentucky’s 55-game home streak)

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=323360096

21. Virginia Tech 81, (15) Oklahoma State 71

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=323360259

22. Wyoming 76, (19) Colorado 69

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=323362751

23. (13) Illinois 85, (10) Gonzaga 74

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=323432250

24. Tennessee 69, (23) Wichita State 60

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=323482633

25. Butler 88, (1) Indiana 86 (Butler upsets No. 1 Indiana on Alex Barlow’s late jumper in OT)

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=323500084

26. (8) Arizona 65, (5) Florida 64

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=323500012

27. Texas 85, (23) North Carolina 67

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=323540251

28. Temple 83, (3) Syracuse 79

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=323570183

29. (9) Kansas 74, (7) Ohio State 66

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=323570194

30. Kansas State 67, (8) Florida 61

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=323572306

31. (12) Missouri 82, (10) Illinois 73

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=323570142

32. South Dakota State 70, (16) New Mexico 65

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=323570167

33. New Mexico 55, (8) Cincinnati 54

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=323622132

34. UCLA 97, (7) Missouri 94

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=323630026

35. North Carolina 79, (20) UNLV 73

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=323640153

36. Saint Louis 60, (20) New Mexico 46

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=323660139

JANUARY (45 UPSETS)

 37. Purdue 68, (11) Illinois 61

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330022509

38. (11) Illinois 74, (8) Ohio State 55

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330050356

39. St. John’s 53, (14) Cincinnati 52

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330052132

40. Marquette 49, (15) Georgetown 48

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330050269

41. (25) Kansas State 73, (22) Oklahoma State 67

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330052306

42. Rutgers 67, (24) Pittsburgh 62

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330050164

43. Pittsburgh 73, (19) Georgetown 45

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330080046

44. (25) New Mexico 65, (24) UNLV 60

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330090167

45. Oregon 70, (4) Arizona 66

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330102483

46. (20) North Carolina State 84, (1) Duke 76 (C.J. Leslie, NC State hand No. 1 Duke its first loss)

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330120152

47. Ole Miss 64, (10) Missouri 49

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330120145

48. Wisconsin 74, (12) Illinois 51

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330120275

49. Connecticut 65, (17) Notre Dame 58

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330120087

50. (15) Ohio State 56, (2) Michigan 53

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330130194

51. Evansville 71, (23) Wichita State 67

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330130339

52. Wisconsin 64, (2) Indiana 59

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330150084

53. St. John’s 67, (20) Notre Dame 63

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330152599

54. Maryland 51, (14) North Carolina State 50

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330160120

55. UNLV 82, (15) San Diego State 75

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330160021

56. Northwestern 68, (23) Illinois 54

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330170356

57. (6) Syracuse 70, (1) Louisville 68 (No. 6 Syracuse rallies to knock off No. 1 Louisville)

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330190097

58. (13) Butler 64, (8) Gonzaga 63

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330192086

59. (18) Michigan State 59, (11) Ohio State 56

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330190127

60. Wichita State 67, (12) Creighton 64

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330192724

61. Cincinnati 71, (25) Marquette 69

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330192132

62. Georgetown 63, (24) Notre Dame 47

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330210087

63. Villanova 73, (5) Louisville 64

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330220222

64. Wake Forest 86, (18) North Carolina State 84

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330220154

65. (25) Miami (FL) 90, (1) Duke 63 (No. 25 Miami stuns No. 1 Duke in historic blowout)

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330232390

66. La Salle 54, (9) Butler 53

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330232325

67. Northwestern 55, (12) Minnesota 48

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330230077

68. Drake 74, (17) Creighton 69

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330232181

69. UCLA 84, (6) Arizona 73

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330240012

70. Richmond 86, (19) Virginia Commonwealth 74

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330240257

71. Villanova 75, (3) Syracuse 71

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330260222

72. Georgetown 53, (5) Louisville 51

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330260046

73. Iowa State 73, (11) Kansas State 67

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330260066

74. Wisconsin 45, (12) Minnesota 44

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330260275

75. San Diego State 55, (15) New Mexico 34

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330260021

76. La Salle 69, (19) Virginia Commonwealth 61

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330262670

77. Indiana State 68, (15) Wichita State 55

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330292724

78. Kentucky 87, (16) Ole Miss 74

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330290145

79. Virginia 58, (19) North Carolina State 55

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330290258

80. Stanford 76, (10) Oregon 52

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330300024

81. Saint Louis 75, (9) Butler 58

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330310139

FEBRUARY (49 UPSETS)

 82. (3) Indiana 81, (1) Michigan 73 (Indiana knocks off No. 1 Michigan, will likely regain top ranking)

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330330084 *

83. Oklahoma State 85, (2) Kansas 80 (Ok St. snaps No. 2 Kansas’ 33-game home winning streak)

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330332305 *

84. Pittsburgh 65, (6) Syracuse 55

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330330221 *

85. California 58, (10) Oregon 54

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330330025*

*Previous four upsets occurred on same day

86. Northern Iowa 57, (15) Wichita State 52

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330332460

87. Air Force 70, (22) San Diego State 67

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330332005

88. Arkansas 80, (2) Florida 69

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330360008

89. TCU 62, (5) Kansas 55

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330372628

90. Indiana State 76, (16) Creighton 57

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330370282

91. Providence 54, (17) Cincinnati 50

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330372507

92. Illinois 74, (1) Indiana 72 (Illinois upsets No. 1 Indiana on layup at buzzer)

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330380356

93. Colorado 48, (19) Oregon 47

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330382483

94. Texas A&M 70, (21) Missouri 68

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330380245

95. Wisconsin 65, (3) Michigan 62

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330400275

96. Oklahoma 72, (5) Kansas 66

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330400201

97. (25) Notre Dame 104, (11) Louisville 101 (Notre Dame rallies in regulation then outlasts Louisville to win in 5 OTs)

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330400087

98. UNLV 64, (15) New Mexico 55

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330402439

99. Illinois State 75, (16) Creighton 72

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330400156

100. (23) Pittsburgh 62, (17) Cincinnati 52

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330402132

101. California 77, (7) Arizona 69

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330410012

102. Illinois 57, (18) Minnesota 53

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330410135

103. (14) Kansas 83, (10) Kansas State 62

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330422305

104. (8) Michigan State 75, (4) Michigan 52

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330430127

105. Connecticut 66, (6) Syracuse 58

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330440041

106. Charlotte 71, (11) Butler 67

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330442086

107. Colorado 71, (9) Arizona 58

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330450038

108. Minnesota 58, (20) Wisconsin 53

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330450135

109. Maryland 83, (2) Duke 81

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330470120

110. (18) Marquette 79, (16) Pittsburgh 69

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330470269

111. Providence 71, (21) Notre Dame 54

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330472507

112. Tennessee 88, (25) Kentucky 58

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330472633

113. (20) Wisconsin 71, (13) Ohio State 49

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330480275

114. (25) Notre Dame 51, (20) Pittsburgh 42

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330490221

115. Missouri 63, (5) Florida 60

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330500142

116. Saint Louis 76, (24) Virginia Commonwealth 62

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330500139

117. UNLV 61, (22) Colorado State 59

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330512439

118. California 48, (23) Oregon 46

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330522483

119. Saint Louis 65, (15) Butler 61

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330532086

120. Wake Forest 80, (2) Miami (FL) 65

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330540154

121. (11) Georgetown 57, (8) Syracuse 46

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330540183

122. Villanova 60, (17) Marquette 56

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330540222

123. (18) Ohio State 68, (4) Michigan State 60

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330550194

124. (22) Marquette 74, (12) Syracuse 71

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330560269

125. Minnesota 77, (1) Indiana 73 (Trevor Mbakwe shines as Minnesota takes down top-ranked Indiana)

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330570135

126. Tennessee 64, (8) Florida 58

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330572633

127. Xavier 64, (19) Memphis 62

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330572752

128. Penn State 84, (4) Michigan 78

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330580213

129. USC 89, (11) Arizona 78

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330580030

130. Virginia 73, (3) Duke 68

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330590258

MARCH (17 UPSETS)

 131. UCLA 74, (11) Arizona 69

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330610026

132. Virginia Commonwealth 84, (20) Butler 52

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330612670

133. (22) Marquette 72, (21) Notre Dame 64

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330610269

134. Purdue 69, (17) Wisconsin 56

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330620275

135. (14) Ohio State 67, (2) Indiana 58

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330640084

136. Villanova 67, (5) Georgetown 57

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330650222

137. Georgia Tech 71, (6) Miami (FL) 69

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330652390

138. Iowa State 87, (13) Oklahoma State 76

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330650066

139. Xavier 77, (16) Saint Louis 66

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330652752

140. Washington State 73, (23) UCLA 61

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330650265

141. Colorado 76, (19) Oregon 53

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330660038

142. Baylor 81, (4) Kansas 58 (Baylor hands Kansas worst loss in seven years)

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330680239

143. (13) Oklahoma State 76, (9) Kansas State 70

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330680197

144. Kentucky 61, (11) Florida 57

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330680096

145. Air Force 89, (12) New Mexico 88

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330682005

146. Utah 72, (19) Oregon 62

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330680254

147. Temple 84, (21) Virginia Commonwealth 76

http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?id=330690218

Clutterbuck, Karlsson remind us hockey is a game of pain

The sport of hockey can be a beautiful thing to behold. It’s the fluidity of motion up and down the ice surface, the play constantly flowing like a dancer’s streamer. It’s Evgeni Malkin galloping through the neutral zone, waving his stick like a magic wand and making an entire teams disappear into thin air.

It’s Pavel Datsyuk commanding his stick with such precision that his name has been turned into an adjective: Datsyukian

It’s also the small, seemingly irrelevant plays that are easily overlooked but infinitely appreciated by the few people who recognize them, like Sidney Crosby tipping a puck to himself while whizzing into the attacking zone.

If soccer is the beautiful game, hockey is the beautiful game on ice.

But every once in a while, we are reminded about the true duality of hockey. It might take some unique abilities to deliver a precise wrister into the top shelf or to shield a puck away from a defender while working toward the net, but the game also requires courage and the willingness to take a beating.

The arena that displays greatness and beauty is also the home to brutality and pain.

The NHL has claimed more teeth than candy, soda and incompetent dentists combined. It’s routine for a player to ruin their orthodontist’s handiwork on any given night and it’s as common to see blood on the ice as it is to find tobacco juice on a Major League Baseball diamond.

But despite all the gore, pain and continual discomfort, NHL players just seem to keep calm and carry on. They have an unfathomable pain threshold and are able to compete at a world-class level while enduring physical trauma that would horrify and incapacitate normal folks.

NHL players seem to be able to tolerate just about any kind of pain, so when you see incidents like in Edmonton last week and in Pittsburgh in mid-February, it sends chills down your spine.

Last Thursday, Minnesota Wild winger Cal Clutterbuck collided with Edmonton Oiler Taylor Hall with about two minutes left to play in the third period. As he neared center ice, Clutterbuck unsuccessfully attempted to play the puck with his skate an instant before Hall glided up the red line and delivered the hit.

Clutterbuck never saw it coming.

As you can see from the video, Clutterbuck was in an immense amount of pain and remained writhing at center ice for minutes after the collision. He might be the prototypical tough guy in hockey, but his pain reduced him to a squirming body in agony. That’s what makes it tough to watch.

Hall received a five-minute major penalty and a game misconduct for kneeing, while Clutterbuck was assisted by teammates and medical staff down the runway of Rexall Place.

The Edmonton forward was suspended two games and fined $9,729.72. Clutterbuck missed games Thursday and Sunday with a thigh contusion. He will also miss Tuesday’s game against Calgary.

Editor’s Note: Hall’s hit might seem especially familiar to Penguins fans and Bruins fans. Pittsburgh defenseman Ulf Samuelsson hit Cam Neely in a similar fashion in the 1991 Eastern Conference Finals. That hit (and another knee-on-knee from Samuelsson) ultimately shortened Neely’s career, leading him to acquire a condition known as myositis ossificans.

Another incident that gave both NHL players and fans a reality check happened to reining Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson on February 13. Pittsburgh Penguin Matt Cooke (formerly noted for being a dirty player) attempted to pin the Ottawa defenseman against the boards by skating in behind him and raising his left skate. The skate blade cut Karlsson’s left Achilles tendon nearly the whole way through, leaving him screaming in pain and barely able to get off the ice.

Karlsson will miss the rest of the season after doctors surgically repaired his Achilles. The NHL decided that the play wasn’t illegal and Cooke was neither fined nor suspended.

This play was even scarier than the Clutterbuck incident. It’s easy to forget that these 200-pound athletes are flying around the ice on a pair of razor sharp blades. That is, until someone gets cut like Karlsson.

You could immediately tell that the 22-year-old D-man was in trouble, both after seeing this now famous picture from AP photographer Gene J. Puskar and upon noticing the anguish in Karlsson’s face after he tried to put weight on the injured leg.

Editor’s Note: Karlsson’s injury is gruesome, but far from the worst skate accidents to ever hit the NHL. If you want a graphic reminder, here’s a couple you might remember. (Warning, these videos are not for the faint of heart.)

 Goalie Clint Malarchuk gets throat cut by skate.

 Richard Zednik gets throat cut by skate.

Both Malarchuk and Zednik survived the incidents and returned to NHL action.

New York Islanders fans: bloodthirsty, boorish and absent

As I exited from Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on Tuesday night after the Penguins dispatched the Islanders 4-2, a security guard playfully urged me and a group of others to hurry up. “Go on you Penguins fans,” he joked, “get outta here.”

I responded in kind by thanking him for the hospitality. He scolded me briefly before I told him I was kidding. “Hey, it’s always fun to come out to the island,” I told him.

I was lying.

I’ve been lucky enough to live in the heart of the NHL’s Atlantic Division since I moved to New York City in the summer of 2010. Although this limits how many Pens’ games I can see in Pittsburgh every season, I still have relatively easy access to Madison Square Garden in Manhattan, the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J. and the Coliseum in Uniondale, Long Island. Because of this access and my affinity for seeing the Pens play live, I go to four or five away games every year against the Rangers, Devils and Islanders.

There’s something uniquely enjoyable being a Penguins fan in these venues. Rather than identifying with the majority, I become the enemy with limited or no support from other human beings around me. Sometimes, it feels borderline-dangerous and I’ll admit it’s kind of a rush. A little back and forth with local fans is entertaining and usually it’s just good-natured ribbing from both sides. But when I show up on Long Island to watch the Pens, I have to say that the majority (not all) of Islanders fans are boorish, rude and easy to dislike.

My experience on Tuesday was no different.

I’ve been to Nassau Coliseum to watch the Pens four or five times in my life and each time, I find myself being verbally accosted for no reason other than for wearing a Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin shirt. I never instigate and I never reply. Usually I’m by myself, so getting into an altercation with hoards of “enemy” fans would be unwise. But the main reason I don’t respond is because I don’t want to be a poor representative of Penguins fans. That is a concept that most Islanders fans cannot seem to grasp.

Within minutes of entering the arena last night, I was approached by three full-grown men who felt the need to inform me that many things “sucked.” It wasn’t just the typical “Crosby sucks,” it was “Hey man, you suck–” followed by some language I won’t repeat.

Charming.

This scenario happened a number of times during the course of the evening, in addition to being told to “shut the f*** up” after I cheered for the Pens. I turned the other cheek and smiled because after all, Pittsburgh was winning and nothing else mattered. I’ve come to expect the hostility from fans in the New York metro area (as well as most other pro sports venues that I’ve been to) but the Islanders faithful managed to step it up a notch on Tuesday.

The most disturbing portion of the night happened early in the second period when a Kris Letang shot caught Crosby in the face. Play was halted and the bloodied Penguins captain was immediately led into the locker room by trainers with a towel over his face. As soon as the scant crowd realized who had gotten hurt, it erupted into their loudest cheer of the night followed by a “Crosby sucks” chant.

How winsome.

Now, I realize opposing fans love to hate Crosby. He gets booed in every away arena in the United States (and even in Canada, despite the fact he won the country a friggin’ gold medal in 2010). Is it jealousy or even a form of veneration? Perhaps. On NHL Live last night, Boston Bruins radio analyst Bob Beers said that “everywhere Zdeno Chara goes, he seems to get booed, which I guess is the ultimate form of respect.”

So by that reasoning, Crosby is the most respected player in the NHL.

I’ve never had a problem with booing, it’s kind of a dumb fan tradition (imagine booing vegetables on your plate as a child or booing the staff at the DMV), but everyone does it and it’s harmless. I’ll take a “boo” over mindless cursing and the utterance of homophobic slurs any day.

But there is never an excuse for fans to cheer when a player gets injured.  That’s over-the-line behavior. It’s an abusive mob mentality that perfectly depicts the lack of respect some fans have. I’m sure the cowards who harassed me before the game were among the boisterous thousands who cheered while Crosby, a player with a history of head injuries, lay bleeding on the ice before them. It’s probably not a stretch to presume they’ve never been pelted in the face with a frozen rubber puck going 50-plus miles per hour, either.

I wasn’t the only person who was disgusted by the scene in Long Island Tuesday night:

Seth Rorabaugh — Penguins writer for the Penguins for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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Jesse Marshall — Co-owner/operator of Faceoff-Factor.com

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Dejan Kovacevic — Pittsburgh Tribune-Review sports columnist

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Arthur Staple — Islanders writer for Newsday

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Dave Molinari — Penguins beat writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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Josh Yohe — Penguins beat writer for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

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Crosby’s incident wasn’t quite as bad as Eagles fans cheering when Michael Irvin suffered a neck injury during a game in 1999, but both were disgusting. Philly fans already have the reputation for having the worst fans in all of pro sports, but New Yorkers (Islanders fans specifically) aren’t far behind.

I understand that this kind of behavior isn’t happening in the vacuum of New York and Philadelphia. Every fan base in pro sports has its share of bad apples, idiots, slack-jawed ignoramuses and drunken  morons — Pittsburgh included.

So what gives for all the idiocy and ignorance?

Former NBCSports.com contributor and current Miami Heat columnist for the Palm Beach Post Ethan J. Skolnick wrote an article in 2009 entitled “Why do sports turn us into irrational fanatics?” In the article, he interviewed Dr. Richard Lustberg, a Long Island resident who runs the site psychologyofsports.com. Lustberg offered one explanation of why fans act like fools:

“It’s without a doubt one of the great diversions that you can have in entertainment. People take that entertainment and then relate it to their own lives. People can understand getting to the precipice of getting to a promotion, and then succeeding at it or not. The merging that occurs between fans and players is the involvement that takes you away from other issues in your life, but also the understanding that you too have been involved with highs, lows, ups, downs in your life, and that’s how you relate.”

In the same article, Christian End, an assistant psychology professor at Xavier University specializing in sports fan behavior, said the following:

“Groups strive to make themselves distinct from other groups,” End said. “They also want to be better than the other groups when you compare them head-to-head. If they begin to believe that the taunting is having an impact on the game, they sort of take pride in being the best at providing a distraction. That can help them buffer, and make them feel better if the team isn’t as successful head-to-head.”

Take those two opinions, toss in a few decades of losing seasons and you have a valid representation of an Islanders fan.

Watching your favorite hockey team is supposed to be fun. It should be a pleasant distraction to everyday problems. But for Islanders’ fans, the team is just another problem creating yet another need for more distraction, i.e., drinking too much, name calling, etc. The team hasn’t finished above .500 since 2007, which also marks the last time it reached the postseason (they lost the series 4-1 to the Buffalo Sabres). The Islanders haven’t won a playoff series since 1993 and haven’t won a Stanley Cup since 1983. In my lifetime (25 years), they’ve been a winning team a grand total of eight times.

Yep, must be frustrating but it’s still no excuse.

And according to End, those fans take pride in being the best distraction since their team is no good. However, they failed at being anything more than background noise when it came to the play of the Penguins. Cheering during Crosby’s injury was distracting for me, but I highly doubt it did anything other than motivate Crosby and the rest of the Penguins. He returned in about 10 minutes he didn’t seem to exhibit any ill effects.

I suppose the cheering may have been more effective if Islanders fans would actually bother to come to the games. If you want to see an NHL game but can only afford to spend less than $20, the Islanders are for you! There’s virtually no local interest in this team. I bought my ticket on Stub Hub the evening before the game and the base price was $9.50.

$9.50.

With additional fees and the other standard charges, the grand total came to $19.50. Only twice have I paid less money for a ticket to a professional sporting event and both of those times were at Citi Field when the woeful Pirates came to town to play the lowly Mets.

Here’s the Coliseum about an hour before the puck drops. Yes, that’s pretty early before the game but there were about 20 fans in the building. The attendance of the hotel bar next door was far greater.

Come early and often! Or, don't bother with either...I guess.

Come early and often! Or, don’t bother with either!

So you’d figure that the Penguins would get a decent draw for away games. They’re one of the best teams in the league and super stars like Crosby and Malkin are major attractions, regardless of whether fans love them or hate them. But here’s a picture I took during the pregame warmups. This was about 20 minutes before game time.

The Islanders can't give away tickets.

The Penguins hold practices in front of larger crowds.

By the end of the night, the total paid attendance was a whopping 11,318. Major high school football games attract higher fan numbers. Last year, average attendance for Islanders games was 13,191 and total attendance was 540,838. The only team with poorer attendance was the Phoenix Coyotes and this year it looks like the Islanders could challenge the Coyotes for the bottom spot on the list.

Long Island used to be the home to a stellar hockey franchise that won four consecutive Stanley Cups in the ’80s. Fans were proud of the team and the team was proud of its fans. They deserved each other.

But now, I dare say that neither side supports the other and any dignity this organization built in the wake of its success has since faded. The on-ice product might be improving with the likes of John Tavares and Michael Grabner, but the fans on Long Island don’t seem to appreciate any kind of talent when it graces the ice of Nassau Coliseum.

Will the Islanders return to form as a playoff contender in the NHL  in the near future? It certainly seems like a legitimate possibility. They have a ton of young talent and the team has looked strong in a number of games this season. But the real question is if a considerate fan base will ever pack the confines of the Islanders’ home arena any time soon. The fact that a resurgence in respectful fan support for a four-time Cup winner can even be questioned is far more devastating than a puck to the face.

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