Thursday, April 25, 2013

Columbus Blue Jackets: Turning the Corner

As the 2013 NHL season is coming down to the end, I think that Blue Jackets fan should be happy with the direction that the team is headed.  Granted this season did not start as well as planned but with some firings and a surprise trade, the Blue Jackets found themselves on the doorstep of the playoffs.  The playoffs have not been on the topic of conservation with the Blue Jackets in some time.  It has been a welcome topic in this region, not a traditional hockey city, but a city none the less ready to support their team.  As, the team moves to the Eastern Conference, the future has to be looking very bright for the Blue Jackets.

One of the most important decisions of the season was made off the ice by Davidson and that was the firing of Scott Howson.  While I am sure that Howson is a great guy, the direction of the team was not going according to plan.  A change needed to be made and Davidson brought in Kekalainen as the new GM.  They did not waste much time making moves before the trade deadline, and landing Gaborik from the New York Rangers.  It was a surprise move but it was greatly appreciated by Blue Jackets fans, finally getting a 1st line winger since the departure of Rick Nash.

Gaborik celebrates a goal. 
For most fans, this does not seem like a great deal for the Blue Jackets.  It saw the departure of fan favorites Dorsett and Brassard.  For others, like myself, this trade was one hell of a steal.  Gaborik, a 40 goal per year scorer for 2nd and 3rd line players.  You cannot ask for more.  The New York Rangers who were more then happy to get Gaborik out after run-ins with the coaching staff; led to limited ice time for Gaborik.  Gaborik will be an important part of the Columbus Blue Jackets moving forward.

One of Gaborik's former mates in New York has had a huge impact on the Blue Jackets and that is Anisimov.  Although limited by a series of injuries this year, we have seen great play from the winger.  Anisimov, before the Gaborik trade, was one of the only Jackets that could create opportunities for himself.  He would come down the ice 1 on 1 or 1 on 2, and still generate shots and opportunities that made Jackets fans remember about the skills of Rick Nash.  As long as Anisimov can stay healthy he will be a big part of the 2014 campaign.

Bobrovsky flashin' the pad.
Another huge part of the Blue Jackets new found success and ability to turn the corner this season has been the play of goalie Bobrovsky.  The term for a goalie playing well is that he is standing on his head, that even might be an understatement here.  Bob shared time with Mason until it was clear that this was Bob's team, and Mason was sent away at the trade deadline.  He has played better and done more then any Jackets fan could ask this season.  Being goalie for the Blue Jackets, a struggling team, is always a tall order, but I think that they have found a keeper in Bobrovsky.

As we start to see more quality players coming into Columbus, I am reminded of a reoccurring thought, and that is that winning teams make plays to win, and losing teams make plays to lose.  A great example of this was during the Blue Jackets current road trip.  They led 3-1 against the San Jose Sharks in the Shark tank, the Sharks would come back to tie the game with about 3 minutes left in the 3rd.  Much to my surprise with about 1:30 left the Blue Jackets scored what would be the game winner.  Too many times we have seen the Blue Jackets cave, but that was not to be.  The Blue Jackets turning the corner.

The Blue Jackets are starting to make the plays that winning teams make on a consistent basis.  I think they have fed off the Gaborik trade, because they have won 6 of the last 7 games.  You can see a different in the way they have been playing.  They are skating faster and playing much better over all.  They also seem to be playing better as a team.  The lines are rolling better, as the roles of players are becoming more defined.  I hope they can carry this into the 2014 campaign.

As for the future of the Blue Jackets in 2014, they move to the Eastern Conference.  They leave what I have referred to as the division of death.  The central division has been one of the toughest divisions in the NHL for the past couple of years.  The Blue Jackets will move East with the Detroit Red Wongs, the other three will stay in the West.  This will give the Blue Jackets a better chance to practice more with less travel between games.  This should be another plus for the Blue Jackets moving forward.

Casual fans might be disappointed with the way that this season is finishing up.  The Blue Jackets playoff are getting slimmer.  Honestly, there is great hope for the future here.  Ownership and management of the team finally seem to be getting the ship rowing in the right direction.  They have players like Bobrovsky and Gaborik that are cornerstones in the roster moving forward.  The playoffs are coming in the future, the time is now to Join the Battle!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Eagle Blue

The story of Fort Yukon
I just finished reading a book called Eagle Blue by Michael D'Orso, a story about a Native American basketball team in the interior of Alaska.  To preface what you are going to read in this post, I am going to attempt to write a book review, if you will.  I must add also that I have not done a book review in some time so this might be a little rough.  I am not a big reader, so if I am going to read a book, it has to be something that I am insanely interested in, like sports, like basketball.  So with that in mind, let me get back to the story of the team.

In this story of Fort Yukon's basketball team, we must remember the fact that they are in the interior of Alaska much further north then places we have heard of like Fairbanks, or Anchorage.  Fort Yukon, was built in World War 2 if my memory serves me correct, but if not it's not real big deal.  The Fort saw a big boom in the 1970's when oil and natural resources were found.  The money was flowing in, and there were little problems then.  That is a far cry from what it is today, outsiders have been known to call it "Fort Yuk."  

Fort Yukon marked in red.
The story focuses on the men's basketball team, and not just the actual season, but the background stories of some of the players and the coach.  The background stories of the players are critical to understanding their family situations and why they struggle to keep eligibility for the team.  Alcoholism, and drug abuse are high in the Fort, which the players have to keep away from if they want to continued to play basketball.  To say that it is an uphill battle for the players is an understatement, it is a true test and show of their character the way they perform on the court.

The book also focuses on issues that impact all Native Americans like the fact of the US government drilling for natural gas and oil on their lands.  The things the Native Americans have been fighting against the government for years.  It would be my belief that at some point, we need to leave them alone.  Let them live on their land, and go find natural gas somewhere else.  Have we not done enough to uproot them from their lands in the past?  

A third main theme of the book, has to be the fact that some people in the Fort, wish that the money was spent more on academics then on the team.  A huge chunk of the schools yearly budget is given to the basketball program.  The teams gets $20,000 from the budget to pay for basketball related activities, but it is not nearly enough.  Think about your high school, think about the teams you play, it's probably within a 20 mile radius of your high school.  The Fort has to charter airplanes to fly to away games because some of the places are too far to drive.

Not only are they chartering airplanes to get to away games.  They have to rent vans once they get to the destination, and some times drive 2 more hours because there is not a airport in the town they are playing.  They save money by sleeping in classrooms of their opponents, or in churches or other buildings if they are playing in a tournament.  Any fund raiser you can think of, they have probably done.  The Fort loves their team and would hate to see it go.

The airport, run by Coach Dave and his wife.
The coach, Dave, has pretty much brought this team from no where to the top of 1A basketball in Alaska.  To fully understand what division 1A is, is to understand the point of the book, which is that most of the teams they play are mostly made up of Native Americans.  Some school do not have enough boys to come out for the team so the girls play with the boys.  The Alaskan basketball divisions are broken down from 4A, 3A, 2A, and 1A.  The Fort plays team from 2A and when they play in some of the tournaments maybe a 3A team.  

Dave has a pretty tough job from making sure that the boys are eligible to making sure they have teams to fill their schedule.  Some of the teams in 1A sometimes just do not have enough players to come out for the team and therefore they just do not have a team for that season.  Its a logistical nightmare, trying to schedule more games if a team drops out for the season.  For example, one of the teams the Fort was suppose to play dropped out, and they were forced to play a team called Anderson 4 times in a two week period.

The team.
Dave also handles all the logistics of getting the team to their away games.  This means chartering planes, the vans, where they are going to sleep and meals.  Sometimes its even a question, if it is too cold outside they might not be able to fly to the games, Dave handles that as well.  Many of the kids, parents are split up because of jobs and what not.  So, Dave has to keep the kids in line as well.  Most schools have staffs of people for this work, Dave deserves much credit for keeping the ship from sinking.

I do not want to get into the season that they discuss in the latter part of the book because if I tell you what happens then you are not going to read the book.  I think if you read the book, you should be mindful of the important themes.  It is not to say that on some level this team holds the Fort together.  Its funny how sports bring people together, and how heavily it is leaned on.  This team is very important to its community.  This is a great book, I really think you should read it if you are looking for something inspiring to read.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Men's Frozen Four 2013 - 1st & 2nd Round Update

They call it the hardest tournament to pick because literally anything can happen.  Everything and anything happened in the 1st and 2nd rounds of this year's road to the Frozen Four.  The tournament stands on its own at least in major sports where you have 1st round and 2nd round games being played at the same time, on the same day.  It didn't take long for there to be upset, hell, the first game when Yale knocked off Minnesota in OT, we knew that the party was just beginning.  We will talk more about that game later in this blog.

Due to the very limited resources here at Seasons in the Sun, we had to follow most of the games via  We do not get ESPNU here at the home offices.  We also fired up the radio networks for Minnesota State and St. Cloud State.  Miami (OH) needs to make their radio network free so that we can afford to listen to their games.  We must say or we would be remiss, that the radio network for the Minnesota State Mavericks was very classy in their loss to the Red Hawks of Miami.  They were very positive and upbeat during the program, and it made listening to their program very enjoyable.

So now we are going to go game by game and give you a break-down of what happened in the first and second rounds of the 2013 Men's Frozen Four.  


East Seeds

#1 Quinnipiac vs. #4 Canisius - We picked Quinnipiac. They won 4-3.

This was a little closer then we would like to see from Quinnipiac, the #1 overall seed in the tournament.  Quinnipiac would score first, but that was followed by 3 goals by Canisius.  Quinnipiac woke up in the 3rd period though.  They scored 3 goals in a 6 minute and 30 second period to make it, and win the game 4-3.  Super effort from Canisius, but they just could not hold on for the "W."

#2 Boston College vs. #3 Union (NY) - We picked Boston College.  They lost 5-1.

This was the 2nd game that totally killed our bracket.  Union came out for blood and that's what they got.  They scored the games first 5 goals, including 3 goals in the 2nd period which really did in the Eagles.  The Eagles waited until 16:02 into the 3rd peroid to score, and it was cliche, too little too late.  We were dumbfounded by this result, we really thought that Boston College would come out and play better, that was not the case.  Hockey more then any other sport is a game of bounces, pucks that go in the net one night, don't go in the next night.  Really solid effort from Union, dominating last year's champions.

Midwest Seeds

#1 Notre Dame vs. #4 St. Cloud State - We picked Notre Dame. They lost 5-1.

In similar fashion to Boston College, the Fighting Irish got slammed 5-1 by St. Cloud State.  St. Cloud State got the first 4 goals of the game.  They also scored 3 goals in the 2nd period like Union did against Boston College.  Notre Dame's lone goal came short-handed in the 3rd period.  The momentum was short lived as St. Cloud State would charge back with a tally of their own making it 5-1.  We expected more from the CCHA tournament champions but St. Cloud State was more then up to the task in this one.  Again, great job by St. Cloud State coming out, and dominating a team that was seeded higher.

#2 Miami (OH) vs #3 Minn State - Mankato - We picked Minn State.  They lost 4-0.

This game we enjoyed via the Minnesota State radio network, and let's just say they were very classy in defeat.  There was no scoring in the 1st period and only one goal in the second period which was by the Red Hawks of Miami.  Miami started the 3rd period well, scoring 2:30 in, to make it 2-0.  They added a third goal 7 minutes later, and the empty net goal to close out the scoring.  Miami played huge on defensive against a team in Minnesota State which had not been shut out in over a year.  A great defensive accomplishment by Miami, and also an impressive streak by Minnesota State playing in a tough WCHA.

Northeast Seeds

#1 Mass-Lowell vs. #4 Wisconsin - We picked Mass-Lowell.  They won 6-1.

Mass-Lowell came out and put the hammer down on the WCHA final five winners, which was finally a correct pick for us in the first round.  Mass-Lowell scored 1 in the first and 2 in the second to make it a 3-0 game.  Wisconsin got a power play goal early in the 3rd to make it 3-1.  Mass-Lowell turned up the heat and the fire power with 3 third period goals, two of which were late goals, to make the final 6-1.  We had confidence in this match-up because the game was played up East not too far from Mass-Lowell.  We expected more from Wisconsin but we think that Mass-Lowell should be credited for shutting them down, and not letting them breathe.

#2 New Hampshire vs. #3 Denver - We picked New Hampshire.  They won 5-2.

We knew that playing in New Hampshire would definitely help, and they needed all the help they could get.  It might not look it from the score, but New Hampshire was down 2-1 after the first period.  New Hampshire would tie it 14:34 into the 2nd on the power play.  They got a late goal in the 2nd, to take a 3-2 lead to the intermission.  They tallied two more goals in the 3rd to make a 5-2 victory.  Denver played well but they were really at the mercy of the seeding, playing New Hampshire at home.  New Hampshire should be also credited playing well with the pressure of being at home during the tournament, its never an easy thing.
West Seeds

#1 Minnesota vs. #4 Yale - We picked Minnesota.  They lost 3-2 in OT.

This was the first game of the day on Friday, and it completely destroyed our bracket.  Yale came into the game as probably the last team in the tournament, and did not look it at all.  We said what made us nervous about picking Minnesota was that one power play or one break away goal could change the game in Yale's favor.  That is exactly what happened, Yale, first got a power play goal, then they got a breakaway goal to make it 2-0.  Minnesota got two goals in the 3rd period to force OT.  Yale scored 8 seconds into the OT, making it the fastest goal in OT in the history of the tournament.  You have to give Yale much credit for coming out and weathering the storm of Minnesota.  You also have to give Minnesota much credit for not hanging it up in the 3rd period and making a game of it.  In the end, Yale got the victory in a great game that will be remembered for a long time

#2 North Dakota vs. #3 Niagara - We picked North Dakota.  They won 2-1.

North Dakota was supposed to play Minnesota and it was supposed to be a heated rivalry game but that was all for not when Minnesota lost.  This game also was no walk in the park for the heavily favored North Dakota.  Niagara got their lone goal in the 2nd period, after a scoreless first period.  North Dakota found themselves down 1-0 going into the 2nd intermission.  Whatever, the coach said during the break really hit home, North Dakota scored 2 twice within the first 3 minutes of the 3rd period.  The two goals were 57 seconds apart and that would be all North Dakota needed to eliminate Niagara and earn a date with the upstart Yale squad that beat Minnesota.


East Seeds

#1 Quinnipiac vs. #3 Union (NY) - We picked Boston College. Fail.  Quinnipiac won 5-1.

Unlike their first round match up with Canisius, Quinnipiac came out firing like the #1 overall seed should.  They scored 3 times in the first period, leaving Union begging for the intermission to stop the bleeding.  On this night though, there was no band-aid for the bleeding for Union.  Quinnipiac would add two more tallies in the 2nd period to make it 5-0.  Union got their only goal of the match 3:15 into the 3rd period.  The scare in the first round really woke up Quinnipiac and helped them focus in on Union.  Union might still had been a little pumped up about their upset of Boston College, and they got blind sided.  Do not get us wrong Union still has a solid program, they just were not a test for Quinnipiac on this night.

Midwest Seeds

#2 Miami (OH) vs. #4 St. Cloud State - We picked Notre Dame. Fail. St. Cloud State won 4-1.

Call them the CCHA killers, St. Cloud State knocked out the only other CCHA team in the tournament, the Miami Red Hawks 4-1.  St. Cloud State feeding off the momentum of beating Notre Dame the day before, made easy work of the CCHA regular season champions.  St. Cloud State opened the scoring early in the first making it 1-0.  They also scored early into the 2nd period, to widen their lead (2-0).  The Red Hawks scored a power play goal shortly after (2-1).  St. Cloud State answered back just 3 minutes later with a tally of their own (3-1).  St. Cloud State earned a empty net goal to seal the victory.  We enjoyed this game via the St. Cloud State radio network, very good job done by their program.

Northeast Seeds

#1 Mass-Lowell vs. #2 New Hampshire - We picked Mass-Lowell.  They won 2-0.

In the only region of the bracket that we had not totally screwed up, we had picked Mass-Lowell over New Hampshire even though they played the game in New Hampshire.  Mass-Lowell shut out and shut down New Hampshire.  Any time you can get a shut out in the playoffs you should feel really good about how your team played.  There was no scoring in the 1st and fans had to wait 19:30 into the 2nd before Mass-Lowell put the puck in the net to make it 1-0.  They say in hockey that goals in last two minutes of a period are absolute killers because you get the momentum, and your opponent does not get much time to answer.  Mass-Lowell second goal came just over midway through the 3rd period to make it 2-0.  This was the closest game of the 2nd round.  Congrads to both teams for a solid effort in this one.

West Seeds

#2 North Dakota vs. #4 Yale - We picked Minnesota. Fail. Yale won 4-1.

Yale barely won their first game against Minnesota, and they barely made the tournament all together but if you are going to get there you might as well make the most of it.  Yale took their new found momentum and like St. Cloud State, the CCHA killers, you can now call Yale the WCHA killers.  North Dakota would opening the scoring 7:22 into the first period (1-0).  After a scoreless 2nd period, Yale found daylight 12:25 into the 3rd (1-1).  That would open the floodgates for Yale, scoring at the 15:04 mark, the 17:39 mark, and finally at the 19:00 mark, into an empty net.  It was a huge 3rd period for Yale and sent them all the way to the Frozen Four.

It was two crazy days for the 1st and 2nd rounds of the Men's 2013 Frozen Four.  Our bracket has been completely destroyed.  We only had one of the Frozen Four this year, and that was Mass-Lowell.  We picked Minnesota to beat Boston College in the final, so we cannot get any more points for correct guesses.  This was a down year for us, we got as many right this year, as we missed all of last year.  The Frozen Four will continue April 11th with Quinnipiac vs St. Cloud State, and Mass-Lowell vs. Yale.  The Championship game will be played on April 13th, we will keep you posted on the events in Pittsburgh.  The games will be televised on ESPN2, but you can also check out the team's websites for audio if you rather listen to the games.