Category Archives: Sports
Friday night, June 29th. The Canadians, after winning their last series against Tri-City, spanked the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes, 11-1, in the opener of a five-game set.
THE GAME: Yes, it was a rout, but the chatter in the press box early on was about LF Brandon Polizzi, the No. 9 hitter in the Vancouver lineup. A few of us were impressed with Polizzi, who started the game in left field before moving over to second base after two innings. Drafted by the Blue Jays in the 35th round in 2017, Polizzi has good speed – and is arguably the best base runner on the Canadians this season. If he’s not hitting .148 (coming into tonight’s action), he’s probably the leadoff hitter on the club.
Anyway, the exciting Polizzi thrilled the crowd on this night by smacking a run-scoring triple to right field to cap a three-run second inning, as the Canadians took the lead early and never looked back.
3B Bryan Lizardo, the regular third baseman playing first base on this night, was 4-for-4 with a double, three runs scored, and three RBI. Five games into the season, when the Canadians had their home opener at Nat Bailey, Lizardo was hitting just .071. Tonight’s four-hit game raised his average to .325.
RF Griffin Conine continues to impress. One of the highlights of the C’s offensively – there were plenty on a night the team scored 11 runs – was Conine’s two-run triple to right during a five-run sixth-inning outburst that put the game out of reach. The son of former major-leaguer Jeff Conine, Griffin had homered the day before in the 3-2 victory over Tri-City.
North Vancouver’s Will McAffer, meanwhile, has become this team’s “vulture.” Entering the game with two outs in the fifth in relief of starter Jordan Barrett, McAffer got out of a bases-loaded jam to preserve a 5-1 lead and then proceeded to work the next three innings to earn his third win of the season.
Barrett, the starter, didn’t throw harder than 90 mph, according to the radar gun. He did, however, have good location in the first four innings before seemingly tiring in the fifth and came one out short of a victory. Some in the press box were crowning Barrett “Cy Young” – until he couldn’t get out of the fifth inning, that is. Still, it was a good night for the left-hander drafted by the Blue Jays in the 18th round in 2017. He gave up just one hit with eight strikeouts – walking five.
The only player who struggled offensively was CF Hunter Steinmetz, who was making his Canadians debut. Called up from Bluefield (rookie ball) the day before, Steinmetz went 0-for-5 hitting out of the No. 2 spot in the lineup. The native of Jefferson City, MO, was selected by the Blue Jays in the 11th round of the 2018 draft out of Missouri State.
Overall, a great night for the home team, as the C’s banged out 16 hits – they outhit the Volcanoes 16-2 on the evening – to send Salem-Keizer, the league’s top team at 10-4 entering play, to the lopsided loss.
THE ANECDOTES: And oh, by the seventh inning, the game had dragged on so much that I desperately needed a Coke. I walked over to the fridge to grab a bottle – before Jordy, one of the media relations assistants, persuaded me to put it back. I needed that. It’s easy to give in to temptation – on a long night, sometimes I just have a craving for a pop. But I definitely needed the awesome Jordy to keep me in check. Yes, I placed the Coke bottle back into the fridge and stuck to water.
OTHER SIGHTS: What can I say about the sunset? Well, a picture is worth a million words, so I’ll let the follow image do the talking…
As previously mentioned, I am not a Montreal Canadiens fan, but June 9th, 2018, marks the 25th anniversary of their 1993 Cup championship, so here’s a guest post by Fantasy Sports insider Drew Farmer discussing why that Cup victory remains special to this day…
Why the 1993 Montreal Canadiens Cup Victory Remains Special Even 25 Years Later
By Drew Farmer | Twitter: @DrewMFarmer
It has been 25 long, frustrating years since a Canadian NHL team has won the Stanley Cup. It seems unfathomable. How could a team from the country that eats, sleeps and breathes ice hockey have not won Lord Stanley’s Cup in over two decades?
It has been 25 years of hurt as Canadian hockey fans have had to look enviously south at the clubs in the United States. The country isn’t even cold in some of its major hockey markets. Nashville, Tampa Bay, Dallas and Vegas have all seen more success in the last two decades than Canada’s club teams. But it wasn’t always that way.
Canada’s last great team
The 1992-93 Montreal Canadiens were the last team from north of the border to win the NHL Stanley Cup. The Canadiens were the last in a long line of great teams from the Great White North. Just a few years before Montreal’s triumph, Canada dominated the middle to late 1980s thanks to the Edmonton Oilers five Stanley Cup wins in seven seasons.
The 1970s had belonged to Montreal, who had recorded six title wins during the decade of disco. Four of those Stanley Cups came in consecutive years as the Canadiens flexed their muscle.
Those iconic days of Canadian dominated hockey are done. It left along with the old-school style of the league and its hardnosed, hard drinking, hard playing players. It has been replaced with glitz and glamor, something the NHL tried long to repel to no avail. Now, it is the glitz and glamor that has taken over the league and brought success to teams in the lower 48 states.
The Great Canadian Dry Spell
On Wednesday night June 9, 1993, the Montreal Canadiens etched their names into NHL history for the 24th time. Kirk Muller’s second period goal turned past Los Angeles Kings goalie Kelly Hrudey secured the win for Montreal. Although the Canadiens won Game 5, 4-1, it was Muller who tallied the game winner as he achieved a dream all Canadian boys grow up with.
The iconic goal scored by Muller is well remembered by fans of the Canadiens, especially with every passing year that goes by without another Montreal Stanley Cup win.
Since Montreal hoisted the cup on that famous June night 25 years ago, just five Canadian teams have reached the playoff’s final series. The Vancouver Canucks have done it twice, while Calgary, Ottawa and Edmonton have accomplished the feat once each.
No Canadian team has returned to the NHL Stanley Cup finals since the 2011 Canucks. The team took the series to seven games before Montreal’s archrivals, the Boston Bruins, finally defeated them.
Montreal’s rode to the ’93 Stanley Cup final
Coached by Jacques Demers, Montreal was good during the 1992-93 season, but the team wasn’t great. The Habs’ bench boss had seen plenty of NHL games and playoff series by the time he took over the Canadiens in 1992 – but he had never taken a team to the Stanley Cup finals. Demers’ last head coaching job had ended in 1990 as his Detroit Red Wings missed out on the league’s playoffs.
If Montreal fans weren’t excited for Demers’ appointment they could be forgiven. The Canadiens had finished second in the Prince Wales Conference the previous season and under coach Pat Burns, the club was continually one of the NHL’s best.
In each of Burns’ seasons as Canadiens coach, he led the team to the second round of the playoffs. Yet, each season the team ran into its old rivals, the Boston Bruins. Between 1989 and 1992, the Bruins eliminated the Canadiens in the second round of the playoffs three years running.
Burns frustrations were at record levels and the media’s continued pressure in Montreal led to the coach’s breaking point. Burns stepped down in the summer of 1992, ushering in Demers.
At one time, making the NHL playoffs in Montreal was the club’s God given right. While other teams struggled to put together winning seasons and hopes lived and died on making the postseason, it was a foregone conclusion that the Canadiens would qualify each year. The team had last missed the playoffs in 1970 and under Demers, the team’s run of consecutive years in the postseason continued.
Montreal finished fifth overall in the conference. It was good, but not great. In the Stanley Cup playoffs first round, the Canadiens came up against the Quebec Nordiques. It was a showdown of the province’s two ice hockey clubs. It was a bitter battle for bragging rights in the area, and it was won by the Canadiens. Down 2-1 in the series, Montreal won Game 4 in Montreal. Back in Quebec City, Montreal took its rivals to overtime. There, the Canadiens won away from home, 5-4. The shocked Nordiques couldn’t overcome the loss and Montreal put the team out of its misery days later in Game 6.
Due to the Buffalo Sabres four games to zero series win over the Bruins, Montreal was denied the chance to beat its archrivals. After three straight years of being denied in the second round by Boston, Montreal blitzed the Sabres in four straight games. The series win took Montreal to the conference finals and a date with a former great franchise, the New York Islanders. Montreal would win Games 1, 2 and 3 before the Islanders were able to draw blood. The wins to open the series pushed Montreal’s playoff win streak to 11 games. A Game 4 loss was followed by an emphatic Montreal 5-2 win. The Stanley Cup final was set with Montreal taking on Wayne Gretzky and the Kings.
Although Montreal had dominated its playoff series, the team fell victim to the Kings in Game 1. Call it over confidence, arrogance or just bad luck, but the Kings tallied four goals against a nearly impenetrable Canadiens defense.
Three straight overtime games would follow with the Canadiens getting the upper hand in each game. Montreal returned home for Game 5 with the Kings up against the ropes. The Kings were punch drunk and exhausted, and by the end of the second period, Muller had connected with the knockout punch.
Legacy of the 1993 Canadiens
The Canadiens’ legacy grows with every NHL season a team from north of the 49th parallel doesn’t win the Stanley Cup. A generation of ice hockey fans have seen teams from the United States dominate the NHL. A generation of ice hockey fans have continually seen Canadian clubs fail in the NHL playoffs. A generation of ice hockey fans have no idea how great the Canadian teams of the 1970s and 1980s once were.
Canada is no closer to recapturing its past NHL glories. It is a drought that has seen the country’s national pastime become the hipster sport of a generation of Americans.
While USA Today‘s Bob Nightengale looks at a ‘new’ baseball rivalry between the Cubs and Pirates, I prefer looking back at some of the classic ones that, over time, have faded – or even vanished – due to various reasons (such as realignment, relocation, teams being mediocre, etc.).
Here’s a look-back at an old rivalry involving Chicago’s hockey team, one that was at its peak during the 1980s – the forgotten Black Hawks-Minnesota North Stars rivalry.* Fantasy Sports insider Drew Farmer, guest posting again today, provides us with the history lesson.
*The Blackhawks were known as the ‘Black Hawks’ (ie. two separate words) until 1987.
The Forgotten Minnesota North Stars – Chicago Blackhawks rivalry
By Drew Farmer | Twitter: @DrewMFarmer
The Minnesota North Stars and Chicago Blackhawks had one of the most intense hockey rivalries the NHL has ever seen. The sad truth is that the games that produced so much hate between players and fans is nearly forgotten. It has been almost 25 years since the Minnesota North Stars relocated to Dallas and took the franchise’s legacy with it.
Not only were thousands of North Stars fans left without a team, ripped from their hands by owner Norm Green, but future generations knew little to nothing about the team that once called Minneapolis home. The departure left fathers only stories to tell their children about the great games between the North Stars and Blackhawks. The tales of Minnesota overcoming the top seeded Blackhawks on the way to the Stanley Cup finals is just a memory and one that is a part of the forgotten rivalry between the two NHL teams.
In the beginning
The rivalry between the Minnesota North Stars and Chicago Blackhawks began in 1981. Despite both hockey clubs being in the NHL for some time, Chicago since 1926 and Minnesota since 1967, it took years for the rivalry to take shape. By 1981, it was ready and for the next decade the two clubs put on exciting games in the regular season and playoffs.
The games between the two teams were considered wars, and former Blackhawks player Denis Savard has claimed he never slept well the night before playing Minnesota.
In the 1981-82 NHL season, Minnesota finished atop the Norris Division. The team accumulated 94 points under coach Glen Sonmor, while Chicago came fourth with 72 points. The two teams met in the first round of the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs. It was a series of goals as 28 goals were scored in four games.
The Blackhawks 3-1 win in the best of five series stung the North Stars. The team had never won the Stanley Cup and its diehard support craved the trophy more than anything else. Chicago’s dominance in the first round of the playoffs was officially the start of every fight, hateful word and bloody lip. There would be more to come.
In the middle
A year after Chicago dumped the North Stars out of the Stanley Cup playoffs, the two teams reignited hostilities. This time, the hockey teams met in the second round of the playoffs. Unlike the previous season, in 1982-83, Chicago topped the Norris Division with 104 points. Minnesota finished in second place with 96 points.
The series was once again filled with goals from both teams. Thirty-eight goals were scored and incidents on the ice made it a must-watch series. The series was dominated by the home team as four of the five games went to the home side. The one game that wasn’t won by the home team was Game 5 and it proved to be pivotal. Chicago defeated the North Stars in Minneapolis, 4-3 in overtime. The Blackhawks then put five goals past Minnesota goalkeeper Gilles Meloche at Chicago Stadium in Game 6. Minnesota was out again.
The 1982 and 1983 playoff series between the North Stars and Blackhawks had been so good, why not do it all again? That is exactly what happened in 1984. The teams met once more in the postseason’s first round. Minnesota had won the Norris Division while Chicago just made the playoffs. The series went back and forth, but after losing Game 4 in Chicago, things looked all too familiar for the North Stars. Remarkably, Bill Mahoney’s team recovered at home for Game 5 to win 4-1. The North Stars had finally registered a punch in the fight.
The win changed the face of the rivalry. Prior to Minnesota’s win in 1984, the feud had been one sided. Chicago was the bully beating up on the North Stars. Now, revenge had been found and Chicago no longer had the edge on Minnesota.
Minnesota’s revenge was short lived. A year later, meeting for a fourth straight season in the Stanley Cup playoffs, Chicago put the North Stars to the sword. The six games series featured 61 goals as the teams once again showed their unique style of attacking ice hockey.
Looking back on the rivalry, the 1985 playoff series between Chicago and Minnesota marked the end. The games between the clubs had become the best thing on ice for the NHL, but in 1986, the two teams were eliminated from the playoffs in the first round. For some fans, it was an anti-climactic way to end the season. How could the two teams not play each other after four epic battles in four years?
Off the ice things were changing for Minnesota. The franchise’s owner Norm Green, who took over the club in 1990, was looking into moving the team. Unhappy with a number of things in Minnesota, including falling attendances due to poor results, Green worked behind the scenes to move the North Stars. He attempted to move the team to Los Angeles, but his efforts were stopped when the NHL gave the go ahead for the expansion Anaheim Mighty Ducks.
However, just before the North Stars left Minnesota, there was a glimmer of hope in 1990 and 1991. The NHL was about to make changes never before seen in the league and usher in a new era. It was only fitting that one of its best rivalries from the past would be renewed briefly.
The first round of the 1990 playoffs witnessed the Blackhawks once again pulling their magic over Minnesota. It took seven games, but Chicago was on its way to the Stanley Cup semifinals.
In 1991, the North Stars found redemption. As seemed the case for so many years, the teams met in the first round of the playoffs. It was back and forth hockey with the teams displaying their attacking styles. In Game 5, after years of anger and frustration at the hands of Chicago, the North Stars exercised their demons. Minnesota throttled Chicago 6-0 in the Windy City. It was an earthshattering result and it led to a 3-1 Minnesota win in Game 6.
Minnesota’s new-found belief led it past the St. Louis Blues and mighty Edmonton Oilers to reach the Stanley Cup finals. There, the dream was ended, however. Despite winning Game 1, the Pittsburgh Penguins destroyed Minnesota in the series. Most humiliating was the 8-0 Game 6 clincher that saw the North Stars’ Stanley Cup dreams shattered.
The North Stars had missed the playoffs the next season, and in 1993, Green finally moved the franchise to Dallas. The move south ended what was one of the greatest NHL rivalries ever produced on ice. Today, the playoff series the teams contested are just a memory to hockey fans of a bygone era.
Let me first say this to get it out of the way: I’m not a Habs fan and I have never been a Habs fan. Growing up, I loved the Bruins and I thought Denis Savard (who played for Montreal in the early 1990s) was awesome – but I never rooted for the Canadiens in 1993.
Having said that, the Canadiens’ 1993 Stanley Cup run is a part of hockey history, and that championship is magnified every spring when the last Canadian-based team alive is eliminated – as no Canadian team (not Montreal Canadiens, but Canadian, period) has won a Cup since then. Even if I am not – and was not – a fan, it’s a story that still must be discussed.
June 9th, 2018, marks the 25th anniversary of the Cup clincher. To “celebrate” that, here’s sportswriter and blogger Rajan Nanavati with a guest post, discussing the career of forgotten Cup champion Paul DiPietro – an unsung hero who was a key contributor during Montreal’s 1993 run.
The Interesting, Long-Lasting Hockey Life of Paul DiPietro
By Rajan Nanavati
In life, we tend to be so focused on where we’re going, that we often forget to take a step back and enjoy the journey.
If we could give advice to former NHL player and Stanley Cup champion Paul DiPietro, we would do so. While he was one of the stars of Montreal’s championship in 1993, it was a long and twisted road for DiPietro to get there.
In 1990, the Montreal Canadiens selected DiPietro with their fifth-round pick (102nd overall) in the NHL Draft. Despite scoring 119 points in 66 games as a member of the Sudbury Wolves of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), DiPietro lasted that long largely in part because of his size, or lack thereof — he was only 5-foot-9, which didn’t exactly give him the idea frame of someone destined for a long career in the league.
Like most rookies, DiPietro spent his entire rookie season playing with the Fredericton Canadiens — also known as the “Baby Habs” — of the American Hockey League (AHL). But, it didn’t take long for the “big league” Canadiens to realize that they might have a future contributor on their hands. In DiPietro’s rookie season, he had 70 points in 78 games, which included 39 goals.
Clearly encouraged by what they saw, DiPietro spent his next two seasons splitting time between Fredericton and Montreal, playing at last 29 games for the NHL club in both years. In fact, his 17 points in 29 contests during the 1992-93 season solidified a spot for DiPietro on Montreal’s postseason roster, as the Canadiens finished with the third-most points in the Prince of Wales Conference standings.
That decision would unquestionably pay dividends for Montreal. After the Canadiens found themselves in an 0-2 hole against the favored Quebec Nordiques, with the local media even saying that the Canadiens should consider trading away future Hall of Fame goaltender Patrick Roy, Montreal turned the tide in the series, winning the next four straight games. DiPietro would help Montreal clinch the series in emphatic manner, as he tallied a hat trick plus an assist in Game 6 of the series, giving Montreal the 4-2 series win.
In Game 1 against the Buffalo Sabres in the ensuing series, DiPietro picked up where he left off, adding another goal and an assist in Montreal’s 4-3 win. His goal in the first 6:23 of the second period helped give Montreal a 3-1 lead in the game. You could say that helped Montreal start off on the right foot against Buffalo, as they swept the Sabres in a series that lasted only six games.
In the Prince of Wales Conference Finals, DiPietro added two more goals and an assist in Montreal’s 4-1 series win against the New York Islanders. His goal in Game 2 helped tie the score up late in the second period, and Montreal would add another in the third to secure the win. DiPietro scored again in Game 4, though Montreal ended up suffering their lone defeat in the series; he was the only score for the Canadiens in their 4-1 loss.
Montreal then advanced to the 1993 Stanley Cup, giving them their third appearance in the league’s final series in a decade. However, while Montreal did most recently make it to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1989, they were on the losing end of the series, suffering a 4-2 loss to the Calgary Flames; it was only the second loss in the Stanley Cup in 33 years for the franchise that has been to and won the most Cups. Montreal had most recently won the Cup in 1986, but nothing after that.
The series had an added layer of intrigue, as Montreal would be facing off against Wayne Gretzky – “The Great One” himself – and the Los Angeles Kings. Gretzky had led the Edmonton Oilers to four Stanley Cup championships, but hadn’t been to the Finals after being traded to the Kings – until now.
Gretzky, Luc Robitaille, and the Kings got off to a fast start, with Robitaille tallying two goals and Gretzky dishing out three assists (and a goal of his own) in the Kings’ 4-1 win over the Canadiens. But LA’s celebration would be short-lived, as Montreal would end up winning the next four games straight.
Ironically, in a series featuring the game’s greatest player in history, DiPietro is the name whom the history books will likely remember, as he scored two goals in the deciding Game 5 of the series, giving Montreal a 4-1 win in the game and the series. DiPietro scored the first goal of the game, and when Los Angeles tried to make a comeback while trailing 3-1 in the game (and the series), DiPietro scored the last goal of the game, which was effectively the nail in the coffin of the Kings.
Members of that Canadiens team that won in 1993 have all lauded how DiPietro emerged as one of the stars for Montreal in that series. Others commented on how DiPietro contributed as a fourth line or reserve player, giving them the types of clutch goals and key plays that are needed from guys deep on the roster in the postseason.
The hero of the 1993 run would go on to play another two seasons with Montreal; in the year after DiPietro helped Montreal win the cup, he registered a career-high 13 goals with the Canadiens. But two seasons later, Montreal traded him to the squad that was “persona non-grata” to any hockey fan in Quebec: the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Unfortunately, DiPietro bounced between the NHL and the minors once again, eventually culminating in the Leafs trading DiPietro to the Los Angeles Kings (in something of an ironic twist). But his career alongside Gretzky was very short-lived, as he spent the vast majority of his time in the IHL, with teams like the Phoenix Roadrunners and Cincinnati Cyclones.
But if you think that was the end of DiPietro’s career, you couldn’t be more wrong. DiPietro went on to play another 16 years of professional hockey, the vast majority of which took place in Switzerland. It wasn’t until 2014 when we officially saw DiPietro retire.
While I’m busy working on other day-to-day projects, I haven’t had time to post anything…. so, here’s a guest post by Fantasy Sports insider Drew Farmer.
One more knuckleball is one too many
By Drew Farmer | Twitter @DrewMFarmer | Facebook @DrewMFarmer
One more knuckleball is one too many… or perhaps one more season in the Big Leagues is too many. For former Major League Baseball player Phil Coke, the knuckleball was an attempt at preserving his Big League career. It was a chance for one more day in the sun as a member of the elite class of the boys of summer. Yet, one more knuckleball is one too many.
Coke’s dream of returning to The Show at 35-years old was spurred on by the befuddling pitch that defies bats, catchers’ mitts and the laws of physics. Coke hoped he could master the greatest pitch in a hurler’s arsenal for one more chance at MLB glory. It is the pitch few attempt and even fewer master. It is an uncontrollable slow-moving bastard of a pitch. But the nine-year veteran of the mound just didn’t have it and the knuckleball was too elusive.
Coke made his MLB debut with the New York Yankees as a relief pitcher. His stuff was average as his four-seam fastball hit the mid-90s and topped out at 97 on a good day. He was hittable, and for the most part, Coke’s ERA showed it. Good left-handed relief pitching is difficult to come by, however. The need for an arm to gobble up innings is a necessity and Coke played the role perfectly for the Yankees, Detroit Tigers, Chicago Cubs and Toronto Blue Jays. His success as a relief pitcher provided Coke with the chance to play in the Big Leagues as a journeyman. The need to play match ups late in games gave Coke an extended career. Perhaps one others haven’t been afforded.
Coke’s best season came in 2010 as a Tiger. He recorded a 7-5 record while posting a 3.76 ERA in 74 games. He also had two saves. But as the arm declined, so did Coke’s chances. Every season was a fight to stay with an MLB team. Every spring there was the fear of being cut. He had to perform on the days he was called upon. Two innings here, four innings there; whatever he could get was a chance to impress. It was also a chance to move closer to the exit, if he gave up runs.
After bouncing around the bigs in 2015 and 2016, playing for four different teams, Coke’s MLB career was finished. He went to Japan and pitched one season for the Orix Buffaloes. It was more of the same for the hurler, and after just one season, the club parted ways with Coke.
Despite registering a 4.56 ERA in Japan, Coke had one last go at an MLB career. In the spring of 2018, he attempted a comeback. He was accompanied by a new pitch; the unharnessed, unreliable knuckleball.
Coke hoped to make a club in spring training, but the best he could do was a contract in Mexico with Acereros de Monclova. The knuckleball didn’t last long, however. Coke was released less than two months after signing on with Monclova.
The lefty reliever wasn’t able to get the knuckleball to work and impress clubs. Nor could he get his knuckleball to defy the bats and batters in spring training or south of the border. The odds of returning to MLB with a new pitch in his mid-30s were always against him. Although Coke is still searching for a team that will let him take the hill just one more time, it looks like one more knuckle ball is one knuckleball too many.