Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Crowning Of The Kings

The Los Angeles Kings finally finished off the New Jersey Devils last night to win the Stanley Cup. This ends one of the most remarkable playoff runs in NHL history, going 16-4, winning 10 of 11 games on the road and led each series 3-0. And this was done by an 8th seed. This once again shows that in the NHL, all that matters is that you get in the playoffs and anything can happen (though low seeds don't tend to win the Cup, this year a low seed was winning it regardless). I'll have more thoughts on this later, but for now, let's watch how the Kings were crowned.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Time To Change The Triple Crown

If you haven't heard by now, I'll Have Another won't run in the Belmont Stakes today, after a sore tendon on his foot. This is the first time since 1936 which the winner of the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes won't race at Belmont. However, horses that aren't going for the Triple Crown tend to not run in all three races that often. The reason; because the modern horse is risking major injury (including life-threatening) by running 3 races in 5 weeks.

The fact that my father isn't just a horse racing fan, but someone who I'd allow to write a horse racing post if the time was right, means that I've had chances to see how often horses run if/when I go to the track (at least twice a year I'd say). None of those horses run three times in a five week span. Because of this, I think it's time to start spacing out the Triple Crown races.

The Kentucky Derby will and should always begin on the first Saturday in May. There's too much tradition at this race, and it's too much of a party atmosphere to change it. The Preakness? No longer two weeks later. We will move it to Memorial Day weekend, while giving those 3-year olds a week or two extra rest and a chance to see many of the Derby horses return for the second leg. Finally, the Belmont will move to Fourth of July weekend. I know some will read this and think that no one's going to pay attention for two months to see if a Triple Crown happen. I say, the race last 2-2 and a half minutes, you can stop what you're doing to watch it.

It really is time for horse racing to adapt to allow a realistic chance to win the three biggest races in the sport. What we don't need is for these 3-year olds to have to retire like I'll Have Another just did, or worse see a Triple Crown attempt end because the horse pulled up and turns into another Barbaro or Eight Belles. Which I say if that happens, we can begin to see the end of the sport in it of itself.

UPDATE: I thought of those wondering if my plan makes it easier for horses to win the Triple Crown, making the achievement a lesser one. My counter; the Belmont is still a mile and a half race, longer than almost any other race any horse will run. It'll never be an easy race.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Euro 2012 Preview

Here's Travis Lankford again to give us his Euro 2012 preview. 

It’s that time again, folks. Euro 2012 begins as Poland opens up the European tournament against 2004 winners, Greece. The Poles are co-hosts this year alongside the Ukraine. Two European backwaters get to put their countries on full display. Poland, which I love calling the Mexico of Europe, will be delighted to show off their unique culture and their brilliant stadiums. Ukraine will look to shrug off its red past and brush its human rights violations under the rug. The tournament is separated into four groups (A, B, C, and D) but will further expand in 2016 and involve 24 teams instead of the current format of 16.

Group A is home to Poland, Greece, one of Poland’s historical bullies in Russia, and rounded out by the Czech Republic. On the outside this group does not seem very compelling. However, Greece is a very efficient side and Russia has been on the up in competitions. It will be interesting to see if Russia are able to play more open and score goals; they have trouble with the latter. However, Greece has an amazing defensive record. Poland do not have a squad that jumps out at you but playing at home is always an advantage. The Czech Republic are led out by veteran, and newly crowned Champion of Europe, Peter Cech. They have some bright youngsters but I don’t foresee them getting the better of Greece or Russia. I hope Poland use this relatively easy group to progress. My prediction, Russia finish top with Poland runners-up.

Group B contains two European, and world, heavyweights in Germany and the Netherlands. Portugal and Denmark round out this murderous group but I don’t foresee them standing a chance against the Germans and the Oranje. Portugal has a good side but the German and Dutch teams are just too good. Denmark is the minnow in the group and hopefully they aren’t beaten too handily but the other three teams in the group. I see Netherlands finishing top with Germany as runners-up.

Group C is nothing but tragedy for the Republic of Ireland. Tourney holders Spain are coupled with Italy and Croatia. While Spain does not play the most electrifying soccer (I’ll never be a fan of tiki-taka), they will easily finish as winners of this group. The real question is will the old Italy show up or the new Italy that loses and keeps losing? Croatia should not be overlooked as England learned that the hard way in the past. I don’t think Italy will be revamped and reenergized enough to challenge as runners-up and I have Ireland, shockingly, being runners-up of this group.

The final group, Group D, is home to the other co-host, Ukraine. England, under new boss Roy Hodgson, haven’t dazzled in their build-up but have won. France seems to be on the up by the leadership of Laurent Blanc. Sweden has the tallest team of the tournament and has some very good players even if they aren’t known to be a strong side. Ukraine would have threatened in this group but their defense has been ravaged by injury. France has looked impressive and I see them finishing as winners of Group D. The runner-up isn’t as clear cut as some would want to argue. England has played very conservatively and do not look to have any flair or imagination when they have the ball. I think Sweden’s more advantageous style will prove the deciding factor and England will falter (yet again).

It will definitely be an interesting tournament but I doubt we’ll see a Cinderella team a la Turkey in 2008. I’ll breakdown the knockout stages once we arrive but I will say that I think the Oranje will win the tournament and exact their revenge upon Spain for losing the World Cup Final to ‘La Furia Roja’.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Once In A Blue Moon

Delayed Premier League Review by Travis Lankford. He'll have a more timely Euro 2012 piece coming up before it starts.

The Barclays Premier League proved to be another one for the books. That book will either be burned or enshrined depending on what side of Manchester the librarian calls home. There were many surprises, failed experiments, let-downs, disasters, and heroics. The title race was just as compelling as the fight for fourth and the always gripping relegation battle. The Premier League even went into its final day fixtures with everything on the line. While many will say that the cup competitions are where true, gripping football occurs; the Premier League gave us all an extremely gripping final day and there was indeed drama throughout the year.

Manchester United came in as the reigning champions but big spending Manchester City was still looking for more silverware. Arsenal typically hadn’t done much in the way of solidifying their defense. Chelsea had sacked yet another manager and had decided to revolutionize their squad under Jose Mourinho protégé, Andre Villas-Boas. King Kenny was into a full-season as Liverpool manager and he had to produce the goods that he and Hodgson hadn’t the previous year. The newly promoted teams would be comprised of QPR, Norwich City, and the first Welsh side to play in the Premier League, Swansea City.

Manchester City won the League for the first time since 1968 by beating Manchester United on goal difference. Their come-from-behind win against QPR on the final day was a spectacle to behold.  Manchester United couldn’t close out the title race and were marred by rather conservative tactics towards the end of the season. Chelsea’s early form was soon followed by a disastrous middle of the season and the sacking of another manager, AVB, in March. This would be Chelsea’s first finish outside of the top four since Abramovich bought the club in 2003. Liverpool’s big spending, £165m worth, turned out to be a waste (outside of maybe Suarez). Arsene Wenger was able to steady the ship after a disastrous opening campaign; Alan Pardew led Newcastle to a shock finish of fifth after a great defensive display all year and the combined efforts of Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse.

David Moyes – someone please give this man a transfer budget! – led Everton to finish higher in the table than Liverpool. This was easily the deciding factor in the sacking of Kenny Dalglish from his second managerial stint at LFC. Tottenham somehow hung onto a fourth place finish after stumbling and seemingly on the edge of collapse during the transfer saga involving their manager, Harry Redknapp, and the England managerial vacancy. Their jubilation upon achieving Champions League football would soon be dashed by Chelsea’s result in Munich.

The bottom of the table was just as compelling, if not more, this past season. All three newly promoted teams from the Championship were able to stay up this season (a financial windfall for each club). Swansea City deserves recognition for their sublime home form and the tactics employed while playing in Wales. Brendan Rodgers steered them to an unbelievable eleventh place finish. With each newly promoted team retaining Premier League status, that meant that three Premier League clubs had to be relegated. Wolves had an utterly dreadful season and finished bottom of the table – worst on goal difference to boot. Blackburn Rovers finished just above Wolves even if they had pulled out that shock 3-2 upset of Manchester United earlier in the season. Bolton Wanderers rounded out the relegated teams but were only one point below QPR and two below Aston Villa.

The teams to replace Wolves, Blackburn, and Bolton will be Reading, Southampton, and West Ham United. The next season looks to be an interesting one with Manchester City and Chelsea playing against each other in the Community Shield to begin the festivities! What will the new season hold for each team? The only certainty is that weird things do happen once in a blue moon…

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Celtics Win, Miami Gives "Good Job, Good Effort"

The Celtics went down to Miami tonight and stole Game 5 to take a 3-2 lead in their series over the Heat. The game's turning point also turned out to be the play that most represented the way each team played. After a Dywane Wade block on a Brandon Bass dunk, Rajon Rondo found a way to get the loose ball to Michael Pietrus for a 3. The Heat were up 78-72 when the block happened; the Celtics answered with a 22-10 run to end the game, including a dagger 3 by Paul Pierce in the face of LeBron James. However, all is not lost as there's still a young little Miami Heat fan who still views his heroes in a positive way.

Have a great night, everyone. Good job, good effort.

(h/t to @jose3030 for the video)