Monday, January 20, 2014

Must Love Hockey

The one sentence in the English language that elicits the most exasperation from me is this: "I just don't like hockey."

From what I have experienced, individuals who have uttered this sentence usually fall into one of three categories:
(A). People who have made a concerted effort to watch hockey both in person and on television, to learn the rules, and to understand the game.
(B). People who have watched hockey on television, but have never been to a game in person.
(C). People who have never attempted to learn or watch anything that has to do with hockey, save for the occasional highlight on SportsCenter.

People who belong to Category A are very few and far between. I've encountered maybe two or three persons who actually put in time to become somewhat educated in hockey and still ended up not liking the sport.

Generally speaking, the majority of people whom I have come across fall into either Category B or C. The most common excuse used by B persons is that it's far too difficult to follow the hockey puck on TV, and, as a result, too difficult to follow the action in the game. Prior to the early 2000s, this line of thinking would be understandable. Grainy television feeds made it quite hard to find and follow the puck, and not everyone had the finances to attend games in person on a regular basis. With the development and availability of high-definition television, however, the validity of this excuse is diminishing.

Those in C cause my sincerest annoyance with hockey detractors. "I don't know anything about it, so I don't like it" is an insufferable attitude to have towards anything, not just hockey. I can't even count how many times I've had this exact conversation:

Me: "Hey! Do you want to watch/come to a hockey game with me?"
Person X: "No, thanks. I don't really like hockey."
Me: "Really, why not? What don't you like about it?"
X: "I'm not sure. I just don't like it."
Me: "K."

Unbelievably irritating. In this day and age, it is so easy to hop on the Interweb and learn the most basic rules of hockey, the teams and star players, and where and how to watch games. Actually going to a hockey game has become super affordable, especially in comparison to an NBA, NFL, NCAAF, or MLB game. A more-than-decent seat at a Kings game may cost $20, and there are Ducks seats being sold for less than $10 on StubHub at this very moment. I've gone to a number of hockey games over the course of my life, and I can't say that there is a bad seat to watch one in. I've sat on the ends of the rink, near the very last row of the whole stadium, in the lower bowl and upper bowl. It's more than possible to enjoy the vast majority of the action from any seat in the house.

I'm not going to use this space to force you to like hockey, nor will my opinion of you be any less because you know nothing about the sport. What I will do, however, is make you more aware of hockey's existence, and to provide you with reasons why you should give hockey a chance to win over your heart. To me, the best way to accomplish this is to go to a game. Every friend I've ever taken to a game has come away with a greater appreciation for and interest in the sport, and I'm sure the same would be true for you, as well. I promise you won't be disappointed.

Come on, even Kobe Bryant likes hockey.
For now, here are ten vague reasons why you should definitely, totally, absolutely be more interested in hockey than you already are. In no particular order,

(1). Shootouts
(2). Zambonis
(3). Line changes
(4). Fans
(5). International flavor
(6). Power plays
(7). Skating
(8). Physicality
(9). Ice girls
(10). Darryl Sutter

And now, the continuation of my personal Top 5 Sports Moments of 2013.

(2). Kings-Sharks: 2013 NHL Western Conference Semifinals, Game 7

To a sports fan, there is nothing more nerve-wracking than a Game 7. The significance of this scenario is magnified when the opponent is an in-state rival, a team whose mere mention evokes feelings of scorn and contempt. 

The lockout-shortened 2012-13 NHL season began with the Los Angeles Kings as the defending Stanley Cup champions, an unprecedented distinction for the squad. Following the heroics of Jonathan Quick, Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty, and Mike Richards (among others), the Kings became the team to beat. Finally, the Kings had shaken off its status as an NHL franchise that could never win the big prize. 

Enter the San Jose Sharks, a team that has had considerable regular season success, yet virtually none in the postseason. Six division titles, one Presidents' Trophy, 95+ points in 10 out of the past 12 seasons, and the franchise still has as many Stanley Cups as the Washington Generals. Being a Sharks fan is a unique form of torture. The hope and optimism after every successful regular season evaporates once the team fails yet again in the playoffs. 

On the final day of the regular season, the Kings snatched the 5th seed in the West, while the Sharks settled for the 6th seed. This would prove to be critical in their second round playoff matchup. The Shark Tank in San Jose has always been a nightmare for opposing teams to play in, and the Staples Center had recently been quite unfriendly to visitors. These trends continued during the playoff series, as the home team won each of the first six games. Thus, Game 7. In Los Angeles.

The atmosphere at this game could appropriately be described as nervous optimism. Playoff hockey arenas are saturated with delirious energy and excitement, but Kings fans knew just how dangerous and hungry this Sharks team was. No one would be comfortable until the final horn sounded.

Something about Sandstorm is so magical during hockey games.

The first twenty minutes of the game came and went with the score remaining 0-0, which did nothing to quell the LA crowd's anxiety. The team that scored first would be undoubtedly be in the driver's seat, and we were all convinced that Jonathan Quick could not be beaten with a 1-0 lead.

And with 4:11 into the second period, the Kings finally struck first. A power play wrister by Justin Williams put the Kings ahead, providing a slight sense of relief. 

Less than three minutes after his goal, Williams delivered again. The crowd went, in a word: wild.

A two-goal lead at home with the best goalie in the Milky Way galaxy. What a glorious feeling. Of course, the Sharks wouldn't go down without a fight; it is hockey, after all. Dan Boyle fired an absolute laser of a shot in the third period, and the rest of the Sharks pounded relentlessly until the bitter end. San Jose fired 14 shots on goal in the final frame, and it seemed almost inevitable that the Sharks would force overtime. Luckily, the final horn sounded before the Sharks could make that happen. Cue mass hysteria.

Hooray! Sportsmanship!
The emotions that run through your body after a victorious Game 7 are hard to describe. Euphoria. Relief. Guarded optimism. If nothing else, you think, "There's still a chance." 

The Kings, having been run ragged by thirteen brutal games with the St. Louis Blues and San Jose Sharks, eventually fell in five games to the supremely talented and eventual Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks. No shame in that. Chicago had been the best team all season and basically deployed an All-Star squad on its top line. The lockout took a physical and mental toll on every team, and the 'Hawks seemed to be the least affected.

But for one night, nothing else mattered except for the Kings' victory over the Sharks in a do-or-die, winner-take-all Game 7. The Kings continued to cement themselves as a team to be reckoned with in the future. No longer a hockey doormat, the Kings will be in the Stanley Cup mix for years to come.

P.S. If you think hockey is irrelevant...
The Chicago Blackhawks 2013 Stanley Cup Championship Parade (Courtesy of @NinaFalcone)

Thursday, December 19, 2013

It's Time For Dodger Baseball

Being a sports fan living in Los Angeles definitely has its perks. This is especially true if, like myself, you grew up rooting for the LA teams, and dreamt of spending every day going to Lakers, Dodgers, and, Kings games, and somehow getting paid to do it (is there such a thing as a professional fan?). My apartment is quite literally right down the street from Staples Center, and a mere seven miles away from Dodger Stadium. Life doesn't get much sweeter than that.

Being an LA sports fan also has its perks. Los Angeles is the 2nd largest media market behind New York, and the team ownerships have the money and power to reflect that significant sphere of influence. Generally, LA fields respectable teams at the very least, and these squads are always seen as marquee opponents. In 2011, however, the LA Dodgers were trapped in a great deal of financial uncertainty that just did not make any sense. Amazingly, the Dodgers filed for bankruptcy on June 27, 2011, and sought numerous huge loans to continue its daily operations. More on this strange turn of events can be found here and here. The Sparknotes version:
  • January 29, 2004 - Frank McCourt buys the Los Angeles Dodgers. Most of the money is borrowed as debt, and McCourt uses very little of his actual money.
  • October 14, 2009 - The McCourts announce their separation
  • April 5, 2011 - Fox provides the Dodgers with a $30 million loan to cover the payroll
  • June 20, 2011 - The MLB declined to approve a $3 billion Fox Sports Net TV deal for the Dodgers
  • June 27, 2011 - The Dodgers file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and seek a $150 million hedge fund loan
  • October 17, 2011 - Frank McCourt is ordered to pay $130 million to Jamie McCourt as part of the divorce settlement
  • Long story short, McCourt bought the Dodgers with mostly borrowed money. McCourt and his wife began to exorbitantly spend money on homes, luxury items, vacations, etc. once the Dodgers were his. Once the divorce proceedings began, the Dodgers began to spend conservatively and were mired in mediocrity. The team was in a state of turmoil, and the divorce settlement was thought to be the largest in California history. McCourt refused to sell the team throughout this ordeal.

During this time, the Dodgers made virtually no player transactions, something that does not generally (read: never) sit well with a fan base that knows how profitable a sports team in LA should be. McCourt stopped signing off on free agent signings (bye, Hiroki Kuroda). If it weren't for his incredible regular season and runner-up finish to admitted cheater Ryan Braun in the NL MVP voting, Matt Kemp probably would not have received the contract extension he so desperately deserved. 

And then, something wonderful happened. On May 1, 2012, the Dodgers were officially sold to the Guggenheim Baseball Management Group, a collective that included LA demigod Earvin Magic Johnson. Finally, the Dodgers were released from the torturous grasp of sleazeball Frank McCourt, and a huge sense of relief and optimism replaced the anger and frustration that Dodger fans had been suffering from. 

Hands in to save Dodger baseball, woo!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Fantasy Sports Have Crushed My Soul

I wouldn't necessarily consider myself a nerd/geek/hermit/hermit crab/social outcast, EXCEPT when it comes to fantasy sports. If you happened to mention fantasy sports with your last, dying breath, I would probably try to resuscitate you, just so we could talk about them together for a couple of hours.

Fantasy sports, in a word, are insane. Let me explain. Suppose you had been cryogenically frozen fifty years ago, and I just so happened to stumble across your body and thawed you out. Then, before asking me about the strange gizmo I communicate with, or the vehicle I drive you around in, or whatever "twerking" and "swag" are (we'll cover why our society is crumbling in a later blog post), you instead ask me, "Paul, could you please explain to me what fantasy sports are?" Here's how I would enlighten you:
Don't fret, my friend! I'm here to teach you about fantasy!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Il Ritorno di Kobe Bean Bryant

April 12th, 2013. 

Do you remember where you were the night Kobe Bryant tore his left Achilles tendon? I sure do. I sat on my old apartment's living room couch, trying to comprehend what had just happened. Honestly, I was stunned. I couldn't move. My stomach dropped ten stories, and I had no idea what to do.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Grand Opening

Hello, World.

The establishment of this blog feels long overdue. If you know me, you know that I'm a huge sports fanatic. I psychotically follow nearly everything that happens in the sporting world. My television forever stays on ESPN, or on whatever games/matches are on at that particular time. My most visited websites include ESPN, Grantland, my fantasy football and basketball leagues, SB Nation, Football Outsiders, and Basketball Reference, among others. I like to keep myself well-educated when it comes to sports, and I tend to get annoyed by people who talk about sports out of their posteriors.