Sunday, April 24, 2011

3rd Class Of NASCAR Hall Of Fame Finalists

5 more people get into the NASCAR Hall Of Fame in 2011, and this is the list of the 25 finalists.

Following are the 25 nominees, listed alphabetically:
* Buck Baker, first driver to win consecutive Cup Series championships (1956-57)
* Red Byron, first Cup Series champion, in 1949
* Richard Childress, 11-time car owner and champion in NASCAR's three national series
* Jerry Cook, six-time NASCAR Modified champion
* H. Clay Earles, founder of Martinsville Speedway
* Richie Evans, nine-time NASCAR Modified champion
* Tim Flock, two-time Cup Series champion
* Rick Hendrick, 13-time car owner champion in NASCAR's three national series
* Jack Ingram, two-time Busch Series champion
* Dale Inman, eight-time Cup Series championship crew chief
* Bobby Isaac, 1970 Cup Series champion
* Fred Lorenzen, 26 wins and winner of the Daytona 500 and World 600
* Cotton Owens, driver-owner, won 1966 owner championship with David Pearson
* Raymond Parks, NASCAR's first champion car owner
* Benny Parsons, 1973 Cup Series champion
* Les Richter, former NASCAR executive; former president of Riverside International Raceway
* Fireball Roberts, won 33 Cup Series races, including the 1962 Daytona 500
* T. Wayne Robertson, helped raise NASCAR popularity as R.J. Reynolds Senior VP
* Herb Thomas, first two-time Cup Series champion (1951, '53)
* Curtis Turner, early personality, called the "Babe Ruth of stock car racing"
* Darrell Waltrip, 84 wins and three Cup Series championships
* Joe Weatherly, two-time Cup Series champion
* Glen Wood, as driver, laid foundation for Wood Brothers' future team success
* Leonard Wood, part-owner and former crew chief for Wood Brothers, revolutionized pit stops
* Cale Yarborough, three consecutive Cup Series titles (1976-78)

If I had a vote, I would go with Cale Yarborough, Benny Parsons, Rick Hendrick, Richard Childress, and Fireball Roberts. My next five are The Wood Brothers, Dale Inman, Curtis Turner, and Darrell Waltrip. I know that some of my picks aren't as popular as I thought they would be. Who knows how the NASCAR HOF voters will do.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Excellent hockey value

I was not expecting a tight defensive, scoreless first period nor a 1-1 tie with 5.2 seconds remaining when I walked into the Androscoggin Bank Colisee last night.  This is not the first Lewiston Maineiacs game I've attended but I think like most people I still have a perception about the style and quality of play in the QMJHL.  That perception was permanently dispelled last night.  The quality of play, especially defensively and between the pipes, was at a level nearly rivaling the AHL.
Now these are still just kids and sometimes the play does get sloppy and the stick handling is probably the most noticeable aspect of play that's not polished but at least in this game last night you could easily forget what level of professional hockey you were actually watching.
My intent with this piece is not to write a review of the game (for that you can go here) but to attempt to help promote a league and a team that deserves more attention.  Where else can you pay $15.50 to sit in the seventh row of a professional hockey playoff game, pay three bucks for parking and get out of the parking lot in under 10 minutes?  If you combine those things with the quality of play and fervor of the 1,500 plus fans in attendance, I call that value.  Now 1,500 is a disappointing number for a second round playoff game, especially being the first home game of the series and where going in the series was tied 1-1; but this is a very small market and the only U.S. team in a Canadian league full of Canadian players.  Once you're in your seat and play has started, you don't remember any of those things, just that the quality of play and atmosphere in the building are high.  So if you're looking for something to do tonight or Sunday, get over to the arena and enjoy yourself.
Back to the game briefly:  The Maineiacs mascot, Lewey, put the puck in the net during intermission as he was demonstrating to a fan selected from the crowd how you go about winning a car shooting at a tiny hole from the opposite blue line.  The gentleman seated next to me said that wasn't the first time Lewey had done that.  I would like more beer choices than Bud, Bud Light and Michelob Ultra.  Four bucks isn't a bad price but for someone like me who wants something better tasting than beer-flavored soda, it was a little disappointing.  From my seat in the seventh row half way between the blue line and the opposing net, you couldn't have had a better view of the game-winning goal by Lewiston's Etienne Brodeur with 5.2 seconds remaining.  I could clearly see the puck, Brodeur, the opposing netminder and the opening top shelf, glove side; and that's exactly where I saw Brodeur put it.  Finally, while the shots on goal favored Montreal, in this viewer's opinion Lewiston played the better game and deserved the win.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Brent's NHL Playoff Predictions

Eastern Conference:
1st Round

1) Washington Capitals vs. 8) New York Rangers
Washington Wins 4 Games to 2.

2) Philadelphia Flyers vs. 7) Buffalo Sabres
Buffalo Wins 4 Games to 3.

3) Boston Bruins vs. 6) Montreal Canadiens
Boston Wins 4 Games to 1.

4) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. 5) Tampa Bay Lightning
Tampa Bay Wins 4 Games to 2.

Eastern Semi-Finals
1) Washington vs. 7) Buffalo
Washington Wins 4 Games to 2.

3) Boston vs. 5) Tampa Bay
Boston Wins 4 Games to 2.

Eastern Finals
1) Washington vs. 3) Boston
Boston Wins 4 Games to 3.

Western Conference
1st Round

1)  Vancouver Canucks vs. 8) Chicago Blackhawks
Vancouver Wins 4 games to 1.

2)  San Jose Sharks vs. 7) Los Angeles Kings
San Jose Wins 4 games to 2.

3) Detroit Red Wings vs. 6) Phoenix Coyotes
Detroit Wins 4 games to 1.

4) Anaheim Ducks vs. 5) Nashville Predators
Anaheim Wins 4 games to 2.

Western Semi-Finals
1) Vancouver vs. 4) Anaheim
Vancouver Wins 4 games to 2.

2) San Jose vs. 3) Detroit
San Jose Wins 4 games to 3.

Western Finals
1) Vancouver vs. 2) San Jose
San Jose Wins 4 games to 3.

Stanley Cup Finals:
3) Boston vs. 2) San Jose
San Jose wins 4 games to 3.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Time For A Summer Cleaning Job In Carolina

After the 2006 season, I thought that good times were as far as the eye could see as it pertained to the Carolina Hurricanes.  The Canes had just won the Stanley Cup and with the farm system not being as strong as it once was, but still in the top half of the league, I believed that the Canes would win the division a couple of times.  Possibly be a perennial threat to be the Eastern Conference representative in the Stanley Cup final.  Boy, how I was wrong.

Over the past 5 seasons, Carolina has only qualified once for the post-season.  And even that was by the skin of their teeth.  And after pulling out two game 7's in that 2009 run to the Eastern Confernece final, I still held the belief that the Canes could be a force in the East.  After 2 years of missing the playoffs, we got back in and did some damage in 2009.  Last year, we had injuries up the Wazoo and didn't finish strong.  This year, there was no excuse.  We had the least games lost due to injury in the NHL.  The team has fallen and cannot get up.  It is time to fix the team and compete with the Washington Capitals and the Tampa Bay Lightning for the Southeast division crown.  And I believe that I have the plan.

1.  Fire (or move) the braintrust.  Jim Rutherford has been the architect of this team for a long time now.  And he also needs to take the blame for the disappointing results that the team has given it's fans.  Time to promote him to President only.  The General Manager title should be taken away from him and either given to Jason Karmanos and have his Vice-President title stripped from him or go outside the organization to find a person who's sole responsibility is to perform the General Manager duties for this team.  Because right now, our farm system isn't looking too good and the parent club needs help.

2.  Say Good-bye to Paul Maurice yet again.  Mr. Rutherford went back to a coach that he was comfortable with when he fired Peter Laviolette.  It was another wrong decision that has plagued the club for the past couple of years.  Maurice proved in his first tenure as Canes coach and in Toronto that he doesn't have the skills to take teams farther than what there talent level is.  The 2002 Stanley Cup run was a fluke.  The history since that season proves it in regards to Maurice.  I would look at a Head Coach that has experience, but if there is a coach in the minors that really impresses, maybe go that way.  Either way, talk to Ken Hitchcock and see what he might bring to the club.  It couldn't hurt.

3.  Be active in Free Agency.  A few good veteran free agent could be a big difference in the fortunes of this team.  Take a look at this roster.  Only 4 players are 30 years or older.  Eric Cole, Cory Stillman, Bryan Allen, and Joe Corvo.  Not exactly the veterans that you think of that will bring you Stanley Cups.  A nice 3rd Line Center would do wonders.  A Top 6 Defenseman would also help in the form of a veteran.  I don't think that Justin Peters is the answer as the backup for Cam Ward.  Maybe bring in a veteran that can help win games when Ward needs a night off.

4.  Start investing in the farm.  The NHL club is not where the young players need to develop their game.  Charlotte has a couple of players that will crack the roster within the next few years, but there needs to be that steady pipeline of players ready to contribute fairly well to the NHL club and that hasn't happened over the past couple of years.  We are going to have some front line help over the next couple of years from the farm and anything that the Goalies down there show, should be used as trade bait unless you get rid of Cam Ward, and I don't think that is happening.

5.  Stop being a cheapskate as an owner and start worrying about making the team a powerhouse.  This point is directed at owner, Peter Karmanos.  The product can make you money, but you must take the risk of paying out more money to make it happen.  I understand that you are looking for a minority owner in this club.  And yes, I know that you don't play in the major markets of the NHL, but you have a rabid fan base down in Carolina and can make a profit down there while providing the fans with a winning product.  I am tired of the self-imposed salary cap that doesn't allow for any mistakes on personnel decisions.  That has contributed to our dismal finishes in the past couple of years.  Mr. Karmanos must realize that he can't take his money with him and that his family is taken care of for the next couple of generations.  Time to take the satisfaction in having a team that is a powerhouse and forget about saving a couple of million dollars more for the financial coffers. 

The Carolina Hurricanes are one of those teams that have become a bottom feeder in the league.  And that sentence is one of the hardest that I have wrote since I have started blogging.  This franchise should be the model of the Southeast Division.  But yet we are looking up at Tampa Bay and Washington.  Florida and Atlanta should be an afterthought for us in the standings, but yet we have to worry about them.  It is sad when the blasted Toronto Maple Leafs have more faith in the future than us Hurricane fans.  There isn't a big jump needed right now to get the 'Canes back to playing playoff hockey and stunning those favorites of the league.  But if they decide to ignore their problems, then a major overhaul of the organization will be needed a few years down the road.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Sports Bucket List

Watching the Masters today at Augusta National got me to thinking about a blog post that I've had in the back of my mind for quite a while; and watching how pristine and beautiful Augusta National looked, as always, it reminds me how much I'd like to go play there and further thinking about the other sports-related events I really want to attend and places I'd like to see.
I'd obviously like to get my golf game at least to the point where I could enjoy playing a course like Augusta National or TPC Sawgrass or Pebble Beach or St Andrews, all of which are on the bucket list.
What follows is more of my bucket list with a few comments.
What auto racing fan doesn't want to attend the Indy 500?  The speed and sound of the cars, the traditions of the event, the iconic straightaways and being inside a venue that holds over 200,000 fans.  Since I have been to a Daytona 500, Indy is at the top of my racing wish list, followed by watching Nascar races at Darlington and Bristol.  And it might come as a surprise to some of you, but the Indy 500 is probably at the very top of the list overall, even ahead of going to Wrigley Field or a World Series game, although that would change if that World Series game involved the Red Sox, OF COURSE.
I need to be able to say I've attended a sporting event at Madison Square Garden, preferably a hockey game but I won't be unhappy with an NBA game; heck, even a Big East conference tourney game would be pretty cool at that historic basketball barn.
Since I've become a little interested in the English Premier League and Liverpool in particular, I've watched Liverpool matches at historic Anfield on television, one of the most historic sports arenas anywhere in the world (yes, Wembley's on the list also).  So I would love to attend a Liverpool match at Anfield, singing the songs along with the other fans of the Reds.  Along with such places as the LA Coliseum (which I have been to twice), Wembley is as well known as any in the world and I think it would be great to be there, perhaps during the upcoming Olympics.
A few other places and events that are on this shortened version of my sports bucket list include Soldier Field and Lambeau Field; the Frozen Four, especially if Maine were playing; the USA in an Olympic hockey game; the Rose Bowl, either the building or the event; Harvard vs Yale at the Yale Bowl; the Super Bowl and the World Cup, the two biggest events in the world and ones that should be on every fan's list.
Did I miss anything obvious that I should be ashamed is not on this list?  What places and or events are on your list?

Monday, April 04, 2011

Not so sunny after all

As I was thinking about this post Friday, it was intended to be along the lines of this:  Despite a blizzard here in the Northeast, it still felt like spring watching the Red Sox play on green grass under bright sunny skies in Texas.  I might still have written that after Friday's loss but, after losing the whole series, it doesn't feel so warm and sunny anymore.  No, I'm not going to jump off a bridge, like some Sox fans already have.  I'm a huge baseball and Sox fan but I have so many other sports interests that, while I always eagerly await opening day, I'm in mid and late season fan form with other sports.  So I don't tend to get too wound up about how the Sox season is going until the Celtics' and especially the Bruins' fates are known.
So I've decided to do another weekend wrap-up post and since the UConn Huskies beat Kentucky on Saturday, we know that I have won our bracket challenge; and you can consider this post fulfilling that duty.  So I'll start there. 
It was cute to watch my wife make notes about the tourney because it appeared practically a lock that she'd win with her conservative picking, until the upsetters kept taking out the top seeds and left UConn as the only team anyone was getting points from.  We watched a few games and she cringed listening to me rave about how bad the coaching was as favorites kept losing late because they refused to move the ball.  I'm not a very big college basketball fan but it seems right to me when Northeast teams do well.  So it may come as a surprise to you that despite the fact that UConn is from New England and despite the fact that their run is why I won our bracket challenge, I will find it difficult watching the game tonight and not root for that gritty, very well coached bunch from Indiana, the Butler Bulldogs.  So a Hoosiers moment would be just as enjoyable as a New England team winning this time.
Back to my Bruins:  Congrats and well deserved to Brad Marchand on winning the Seventh Player Award, a rookie who wears number 63 who came into the season just trying to make the team is not who you'd expect to win this award; but just as he did in getting the assist on the Bruins' first goal of the game Saturday (scored by the ageless Mark Recchi), he just finds a way to contribute in big ways.  A little trivia question for you:  Who was the last Bruin to win this award during a season in which the Bruins won the Stanley Cup?  I'll put the answer at the end of the blog.  In defeating the Thrashers on Saturday the Bruins clinched the Northeast Division title and thus will be seeded no lower than third when the playoffs begin.  Getting on a hot streak now is important for momentum going into the playoffs but equally as important if it means they finish the regular season ahead of the Washington Capitals and George would have to write a blog post instead of me as a result of our preseason challenge on who would finish higher..  Michael Ryder scored the game winner in this game on a penalty shot and I've said before that he is going to be crucial to the Bruins offense in the playoffs.
The Lewiston Maineacs of the QMJHL won their first round playoff series versus Moncton over the weekend 3 games to 1; and since their first round home game dates were inconvenient for me, I'm happy to report I'll be attending either game 3 or game 4 next week against Montreal.  So expect a little blog post regarding that next week.
It was great to see Phil Mickelson shoot a 63 on Saturday and nearly duplicate that score on Sunday to win in Houston this weekend in tune-up for this weekend's Masters.  Between him and the red hot Bubba Watson, there's a good chance we'll see another risk-taking lefty win at Augusta.
Did you enjoy the Nascar race in Martinsville yesterday?  Even if you're not a Dale Jr fan, weren't you hoping he'd miraculously hold off Kevin Harvick's charge?  Did you find it as ironic as I did that it was Harvick, driving the "#3" car and driving for Richard Childress, who beats Jr and continues his winless drought that now stands at nearly 100 races?  Did you think it possible for a car to hit the wall at Martinsville as hard as Martin Truex Jr did yesterday?  Amazing too that he said it didn't hurt at all.  Which brings me to the bad luck weekend for my three drivers -- Kasey Kahne, who was in the wrong place at the wrong time when Truex's accelerator locked up; Marcos Ambros in the 9 car getting run over by the 66; and the 43 car, which ran between 5th and 10th most of the day, getting caught on pit road during the last caution of the race and finishing 14th.  Did he have a car good enough to win?  Probably not but there was one point during the late stages of the race where it looked like he might.  But it is great to see the 43 run well there again.
(The answer to the trivia question is Derek Sanderson in 1972)

Sunday, April 03, 2011

The Playoff March: The Final Week

LeafsTHE WEEK IN REVIEW: The Leafs did everything possible to keep their slim playoff hopes alive by going 3-0-0. They started the week with a much-needed win in regulation against the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday night, then traveled to Boston and surprisingly beat the Bruins on Thursday night. The Leafs ended the week with a convincing 4-2 win against the hated Ottawa Senators in this season’s final installment of The Battle of Ontario.

THE PATH TO 90 POINTS: The Leafs still need to win all three of their remaining games to reach 90 points, but even if they succeed in beating the Washington Capitals, New Jersey Devils and Montreal Canadiens this week it may not be good enough to clinch a playoff spot. The Leafs need divine intervention at this point – and I don’t mean three James Reimer shutouts in a row.

The Sabres have four games to earn three points and reach 91 points. The New York Rangers, who currently hold down eighth place in the Eastern Conference, only need four points in four games to get to 91 points. The Carolina Hurricanes, who are in ninth place, need five points in four games to reach 91 points. If two of these teams accomplish that in the coming week then the Leafs will once again be on the outside looking in when the Stanley Cup Playoffs begin on April 14th.

WHAT TO EXPECT: The next twenty-four hours will likely determine the Leafs fate. This morning (for me) the Rangers play a Philadelphia Flyers team that’s struggling to hold off the Pittsburgh Penguins for the Atlantic Division lead. Later in the day the Sabres and Hurricanes face each other in Raleigh.

The worst case scenario would be the Rangers and Sabres winning, with the Hurricanes picking up the “pity point” for losing in overtime, which would make the Eastern Conference look like this on Monday morning:

7 Buffalo 79 90
8 NY Rangers 79 89
9 Carolina 79 87
10 Toronto 79 84

If this happened, then it could all come down to a Monday night game between the Bruins and the Rangers. If the Rangers win, that would give them 91 points and leave the Sabres as the only “playoff” team the Leafs could catch in the standings. Considering the Sabres play the Tampa Bay Lightning, Flyers and the Columbus Blue Jackets later in the week it should be too hard for them to reach 91 points and knock the Leafs out of the playoffs.

I think the Leafs could win their three remaining games, but as I demonstrated above it’s going to take a miracle to make the playoffs regardless of what they do.