Friday, April 12, 2019

Sharks fans as mad -- and jealous -- as ever against show-stealing Las Vegas Golden Knights


Just when fans of the San Jose Sharks thought the NHL world was rightfully back on its correct axis, their team got upstaged yet again by the Las Vegas Golden Knights.
The Sharks lost a crucial game and Logan Couture thought he lost a testicle on the game-changing play.
Though they rallied from 3-0 deficit in the game’s first 6 ½ minutes and managed to tie it by first intermission, the Sharks couldn’t seize the momentum and lost Game Two of their best-of-seven playoff series against their newest arch nemesis. Couture thought he scored the go-ahead goal early in the second period, deflecting with his stick a hard shot by teammate Brent Burns aimed at Couture's crotch past Las Vegas goalie Marc-Andre Fleury.
“I thought I lost a testicle. Luckily it’s still there,” Couture said later.
Unfortunately, it was not a joking matter at the moment. Couture’s go-ahead goal was disallowed and instead he was given a two-minute penalty for goalie interference. The Knights scored the go-ahead goal on the ensuing penalty a mere 40 seconds later.
“The problem I had with the call is No. 1 he (Couture) is entitled to that ice because Fleury was outside the (goalie’s) crease,” said Sharks coach Peter DeBoer. “The travesty of the call is that one call is a two-goal swing. It was devastating for our players.”
The series now moves to Las Vegas where the Sharks’ chances of being show stoppers are akin to Siegfried and Roy reuniting with tigers.
For Sharks fans this act is getting as old as Wayne Newton. Last year they watched their beloved team lose to an expansion team Knights, in the playoffs. Worse, Las Vegas made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals in its first year of existence.
Sharks fans weren’t furious. They were insanely jealous. After all it took their team 25 long and aggravating years to make the Stanley Cup Finals for the very first time. They had to suffer through the Cow Palace days, the Mike Rathje Era, and all the playoffs that started with promise and potential and ended in frustration, disappointment, and lame excuses.
The Sharks used to be the NHL’s darlings. First of their kind teal-colored uniforms, the team entering the ice through the mouth of a giant shark into the loudest building in the league and fans with cardboard “teeth” signs doing the chomp to the theme of “Jaws” for power plays. The league had never seen anything like it!
Then along came Las Vegas with all its glamour and glitz. This week the T-Mobile Arena was voted the best hockey atmosphere in the NHL because their home games are show stoppers. Their Vice President of Entertainment was hired away from the WWE. They introduced the Knight Line drummers, produced “Tournament of Kings” skits on ice in pre-game and rock bands played between periods. The Wheel of Fortune’s Pat Sajak, a season ticket holder, read the starting lineups and Knights fever made its way to the point that Celine Dion started wearing a Marc-Andre Fleury jersey and the Bellagio fountains sprayed to the tune of “Viva Las Vegas.”
Once the place to be for NHL hockey theater, the San Jose Arena and Sharks fans started to feel like Knott’s Berry Farm to the Las Vegas Knights’ Disneyland.
However, in Game One on Wednesday, the bounces seem to be going to the Sharks’ way again, witness their first goal of the playoffs. A rocket hard wrist shot inside the blue line by Brent Burns was deflected into the goal by teammate Joe Pavelski off his mouth – yes, his mouth – standing outside the crease. Pavelski lost multiple teeth, but gained momentum for the Sharks.
As weird shots go, it ranked right up there with Steve Hanson’s slapshot off the head of the organist in the Hanson brothers first shift on the ice in War Memorial Arena with the Charlestown Chiefs in the 1977 movie Slapshot.
The Sharks also scored a goal 3-of-3 for the first time in the team’s playoff history. The last NHL player to score a goal 3-of-3 in the playoffs was Wayne Gretzky. In 1985.
It appeared Lady Luck and destiny was on the Sharks’ side until, in Game Two, the Knights worked over Sharks goalie Martin Jones like a nickel slot machine on The Strip. They took a 3-0 lead and Jones was replaced into goal just 6:39 into the game.
Somehow the Sharks played their way back into the game by scoring three goals of their own in the final three minutes of the period.
Sitting next to in the press box Dave Taylor, who played with the L.A. Kings from 1977-94 and now Vice President of Hockey Operations for the St. Louis Blues, said he’d never seen a wild first-period like that in NHL playoff history in his lifetime.
And that was before Couture put the game – and his testicles -- on the line. Though the Sharks surrendered two shorthanded goals and a power play goal in the game while their power play was 1-for-8, Sharks fans clearly blamed referee Kelly Sutherland’s goalie interference penalty on Couture for the loss.
In the final seconds of the game, Sharks fans chanted “Ref You Suck.” The Knights may have voiced a different opinion in their dressing, but they weren’t telling. You know what they say “What happens in San Jose stays in San Jose.”
The Sharks were one-upped again by Las Vegas.

Monday, April 1, 2019

World Series champs are chumps in Oakland


When the late Al Davis convinced/snookered the City of Oakland and County of Alameda in 1995 to lovingly welcome the Raiders back to Oakland with open mouth kisses and confetti and spend millions of dollars to fix up the Oakland Coliseum, his master plan included having Oakland hosting a Super Bowl.
Oakland? Super Bowl? Right.
For the Raiders’ owner to return, the Coliseum’s renovation had to feature a new 22,000 top tier seating section along with two 40,000 square-foot club levels, 125 luxury suites, and two new color video boards. This colossal of a concrete mistake came to be known as “Mt. Davis” and was so steep that former Contra Costa Times sports columnist Gary Peterson opined that if anyone accidentally fell back and out of the top row and plunged toward the pavement far below “they would die from old age before landing.”
The increase in seating capacity to more than 65,000, Davis believed, would convince/snooker the NFL to consider the Oakland Coliseum as a future site for the Super Bowl. Well, Mt. Davis for the past 11 years has been a wasteland of green tarps covering empty seats and the Raiders are soon leaving town again for good so a Super Bowl in Oakland seems about as likely now as a Donald Trump-Michael Cohen Reunion.
Now look closely. It may not be THE Super Bowl, but Oakland does in fact host a Super Bowl-like event every year in the Oakland Coliseum and we’re not talking about the Monster Energy Supercross Series.
We’re talking about pretty much every time the Boston Red Sox come to play in Oakland. Oakland feels like a winner.
Let me explain. The favorite teams may be most of the time on opposite sides of the competitive and payroll scales now, but whenever A’s and Red Sox fans collide in the Oakland Coliseum, it’s the Irresistible Force (Red Sox fans) versus the Immovable Object (A’s fans). Red Sox fans chant “Let’s Go Red Sox” (followed by five claps) which A’s fans try to shout down with chants of “Let’s Go Oakland” followed by the middle finger.
For the Red Sox, now defending World Series champions, a trip to play the A’s in Oakland has become a new curse in franchise history. Let’s call it the Curse of Coco Crisp. Or any ex-Red Sox player who ever don the green and gold in Oakland. Boston has traded away or refused to resign most of their former Red Sox players, names like Josh Reddick, Brandon Moss, Jed Lowrie, Dennis Eckersley, Scott Hatteberg, Dave Henderson, Carney Lansford, Matt Stairs, and the aforementioned Coco Crisp, A’s players who regularly haunted their former team.
The Red Sox, in Oakland, have lost 36 of their last 51 games and have won only three of their last 16 series here. Last night, the Red Sox lost to the A’s when Khris Davis blasted another home run off David Price after he hit a game-winning three-run HR off Price here last year. Davis, for the record, is not an ex-Red Sox player, but in December of 2017 Boston was inquiring about his availability during its pursuit of free agent J.D. Martinez.  Ramon Laureano also homered off Price and threw out Xander Bogearts at home plate from centerfield. Laureano was born in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic where the Red Sox established a baseball academy when he was 10 years old.
OK, I’m reaching to see how far the Curse of Coco Crisp extends, but the simple fact is the Red Sox win as often in Oakland as often as Golden State Warriors’ foes in the playoffs.
And it doesn’t matter who pitches. Roger Clemens, wearing eye-black and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle shoelaces, famously got kicked out of a playoff game playoff here and it had nothing to do with his weird choice of apparel. Red Sox fans show up hopeful and go home harassed.
Take last night. Barely 12,000 fans showed up on a cloudy and cool evening yet, in the seventh inning when the Red Sox got two runners on base, Red Sox fans started their “Let’s Go Red Sox” chant and A’s fans drowned them out with boos. This combative back-and-forth, despite the small crowd size, creates an intense and interesting Super Bowl atmosphere in the Coliseum that ordinarily has the feel of a mausoleum.
In the end, the Red Sox rally fizzled, the A’s beat them in the Coliseum, and A’s fans once again mocked Red Sox fans heading to the exits with chants of “Let’s Go Oakland.”
For Red Sox fans, this has become more than a disturbing tread. It’s become another curse.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Looking to escape March Madness NCAA Tournament Bracket Sadness? Go to Hawaii


After too many maniacal years of having my NCAA men’s basketball tournament bracket busted as often as a Kardashian boyfriend I devised a new March Madness strategy this year.

I went to Hawaii.

Aloha means goodbye to tearing up my bracket and tearing the hair out of my head. Farewell, Bracketology. Hello, Fantasy Basketball.

Without a care in the world, I leisurely filled out this year’s bracket during a five-hour flight to Honolulu and then placed my tray table back in the upright and locked position. My only visual source of tournament information was the sports section from Tuesday’s USA Today with two full pages of the breakdown of each team in the four tournament regions. It was so refreshing. Hmmmmm … Utah State vs. Washington? Flight attendant, bring me another mai tai and bag of peanuts. I’m going off line for this decision.

Gone was the stress of assessment. Hours spent combing through Internet stories deducing, predicting, imploring upsets galore, sleeper teams, and dark horses. I used to sit down at the dinner table on the Monday night prior to the start of the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament with the sport sections of multiple newspapers laid out like so many condiments, thumbing through page after page of printed material looking for a nugget to push my pencil up or down one line in search of the utopian of upset picks.

This, of course, after trying to watch every post-season conference tournament game to decipher which teams were truly peaking and which teams were merely cruising to the Dance and playing me for a fool. In a word I was obsessed.

This year the only NCAA basketball game I watched from start to finish all season involved the Dominican University of California Penguins women’s basketball team. I saw more of Natalie Diaz than Zion Williamson. Natalie never blew up a Nike.

So when Selection Sunday came and went, I listened intently but not intensely to the gospel of the college basketball experts – the know-it-all talking heads from Jay Bilas to Dickie V. – who watch basketball like porn. I drew my own conclusion which was: For everyone that likes a Wofford, there is somebody that likes a Seton Hall just as much. For all the paralysis by analysis in the end it’s a simple coin flip. So I vowed I was not going to flip out if the team I picked to win missed or surrendered a game-winning shot at the buzzer.

This year, it didn’t matter.  I was in Hawaii where the first-round games tipped off locally at 7 o’clock in the morning. Why stuff my butt on a condo sofa and agonize over every errant shot and stupid turnover when I could walk outside to a beach and watch the sunrise?

Are you feeling me? Life was a cocktail umbrella, not the perfect bracket.

Hence, words I did not speak in Hawaii: “Honey, can we put off going to dinner at Duke’s so I can watch Duke’s game against North Dakota State? You see nothing, absolutely nothing, keeps me from Hula Pie, not even the prospect of another 12 seed beating a five seed or someone playing to be Cinderella.

So while I drove the North Shore and walked Wakiki Beach and hung out at the Aulani Disney Resort, they played 48 basketball games in my time in the 49th state. I didn’t see Donald Duck, but I didn’t see an Oregon Duck either.

But you know what? This is the most relaxed I have ever been during March Madness and it showed. I was right about Murray State beating Marquette and UC Irvine beating Kansas State. I went 13-3 on the first day of the tournament and 14-2 over the weekend. Fourteen of the teams I picked for the Sweet 16 got there, including my Final Four.

Aloha, Hawaii, my NCAA tournament bracket bliss.  As they say there,  A’a i ka hula, waiho i ka maka’u i ka hale. Dare to dance, leave shame at home.