Friday, February 24, 2012

Shades of my eight-year-old past cropping up again

The first hockey game I ever saw was on Feb. 12, 1994 when I was up far later than an eight-year-old should be and I happened upon a replay of a 4-3 overtime win by the New York Rangers over the Ottawa Senators. Two weeks later it happened again. I happened upon a game between the Rangers and Stars around 1 a.m. and I slowly got sucked in. See, my hockey knowledge was pretty rudimentary at the time. The one thing I remember most clearly is that my understanding of a "power play" was completely off, and I actually thought the running clock was a countdown until the power play started, rather than ended.

The things you learn with age.

Even though Rangers games were more readily available on TV when I was young -- the Devils were on Sports Channel, which was on a higher cable tier at the time. Regardless, I became a Devils fan for reasons I'm not entirely sure of, though I assume most of it has to do with the poster of the 1992-93 team roster that I grew up with in my room. Of course, I've covered this all before. The reason I bring it up now is because in 1994, the Rangers and Devils wound up with the two best records in the Eastern Conference -- and the League as it were -- before the two faced off in an Eastern Conference Final that I still consider the best playoff series I've ever seen in any sport (the 2001 World Series comes close) even if my team lost.

That was the last time the Rangers and Devils finished one and two in the conference standings -- and the last time they've ever been one and two since in general -- until now. See there is still a quarter of the NHL season left to be played, but the Devils have been among the hottest teams in the League since the All-Star Break and the Rangers have been among the hottest teams in the League all season long, and so here we are. The Rangers have the most points in the League and they're the only team in the East as of this morning with more points than the Devils.

So does this mean we're destined for a repeat of 1994?

Monday, February 20, 2012

So, Bad News. Pitchers and Catchers Are Reporting Today.

So, let's get one thing straight here. A little over two weeks ago, the New York Giants won the Super Bowl. That was pretty awesome. Far be it from me to get greedy. I'm quite thankful. As most of you know, my fandom for the Giants is usually less characterized by arrogance than anxiety, the sweet, sentimental kind detailed here, and thus proving I'm not the only one. This all means that when the Giants win a Super Bowl, I'm in a pretty good mood for quite a while. Add into that the Devils' recent hot streak, which has catapulted them up to fourth in the Eastern Conference standings as of this morning, Northwestern being roughly even money to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time ever, and the Lintacular Liminociously Linsome Lun of Lictories by the Lew Lork Licks -- all unfortunate racial slurs aside -- and things are looking pretty good for me sports-wise at the moment.

But if there's one thing that can bring all that joy down to Earth, it's this: Mets pitchers and catchers report today.

This, really, is too bad. Days when I was younger I was typically overjoyed to see that baseball was only six or so weeks from being under way, but now, with this team and its likely struggle over the coming 2012 season, I have little excitement and only depression over the impending 162-game gauntlet. There is a chance multiple Cy Young-winner Johan Santana may actually be healthy for the majority of the season, and if he is, a rotation that includes Jon Niese, Mike Pelfrey and R.A. Dickey isn't really that bad, to say nothing of minor leaguers like Zack Wheeler and Matt Harvey waiting in the wings. Throw in there that David Wright might finally be a 30-home run guy again because the walls in Citi Field were moved in from their resting spot in LaGuardia Airport, perhaps a resurgence for Jason Bay and the return of a healthy Ike Davis and the middle of the lineup doesn't look half bad. Throw in a rebuilt bullpen from the offseason and maybe this team can compete, right?

Oh hell, who am I kidding?

Friday, February 17, 2012

A New Garden, And A Word On The Kid

I know most of New York, the U.S., Taiwan and the Milky Way at large has been swept up in the excitement of Linsanity lately, so much so that SI has even taken the remarkable route of attempting to commandeer his popularity with its own SI-inspired hashtag that it is advertising on the cover this week. That is, of course, ridiculous, as is most of the LINtacular puns newspapers have been trotting out lately, so many so that you need some tremendous LINtestinal fortitude to be able to survive LINgesting it all. In fact, the puns are so overwhelming that they encroached from being mildly charming to potentially quite offensive.

Then again, what do I know? I'm only part Mongolian (true fact!), and a pretty small part at that. Either way, the whole thing is really a bit nutty, but as a Knicks fan, it's hard for me to argue that I'm not enjoying it a little bit, even if I can sense the irritation when friends of mine who are Asian are asked about Jeremy Lin wherever they are because they must know better than us white folk.

Either way, Lin is making the Garden rock on a nightly basis it seems and that's not the only change the place is experiencing right now, as I found out last night when I went to see the Blackhawks blitz the Rangers to snap their nine-game losing streak. As a man who also rather likes the Hawks I was plenty satisfied, but I was also a bit distracted since this was my first visit to MSG since it recently began a massive renovation and, well, this ain't your father's Garden. Most of the seats in the lower bowl have been changed out for nicer, cleaner -- albeit just as narrow -- replacements, and while there will be many changes to the building over the next few years, some crazier than others, but the most notable one, easily, was the concourse, which was once as cramped as a closet, and in many places is now positively massive. The change is so striking that I was completely taken aback as I walked around it for the first time.

For me this was an unusual situation because even though I'm not a Rangers fan, Madison Square Garden was the first hockey arena I had ever been to. In fact, it was the first sports venue I had been to other than a baseball stadium. As a result, the memories are emblazoned in my brain pretty solidly by that first visit and the dozens I've made in the two decades since. Seeing the new concourses was jarring, but easily in a good way. MSG's main bowl has always been one of the most energizing places to watch a sporting event that I've been to, but the rest of the stadium has lacked both aesthetics and practical application.

The changes to the building won't necessarily make it the prettiest venue in the world -- some accidental google imaging has convinced me that that is the utterly breathtaking Estádio Municipal de Braga in Braga, Portugal, a soccer stadium that is literally carved out of a rock quarry and overlooks the city. However, while I'd love to see that place some day, I know that even though MSG's reborn self isn't quite on that visual par, these renovations are easily a massive improvement, ones that were highly necessary and also make you wonder how on Earth they have the space to do them.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Greatness Unfolding Right In Front Of Your Eyes

Last night I enjoyed the common rite of passage for people my age and went to my grandmother's apartment to help her with her computer. That part of the experience wasn't particularly difficult or burdensome, but I was a bit taken aback when my grandmother asked me the following question:

"Oh, did you watch the Super Bowl?"

I'm sure my grandmother never actually entertained the thought that I might not have watched a Super Bowl, let alone one with my favorite team since childhood in it. I imagine it was more her way of bringing up the topic, but I think I still seemed amused or at least surprised before I composed myself and let her know that, "Yes, of course I watched the Super Bowl."

But as we now sit four days after the Giants' 21-17 victory over the Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI Sunday night, not only have I watched the fourth quarter about five or six times since the game itself, but I've had time to reflect on a title that was pretty remarkable not just in how similar it was to the championship New York took home four years ago -- and it is quite similar -- but also on the differences and what it says about the players involved, in particular Eli Manning, the once much-maligned and now seemingly endlessly-praised quarterback.

Many people will be stuck on the fact that both Giants teams had mediocre regular seasons before sneaking into the playoffs, both faced an undefeated foe in the regular season whom it would lose to by an identical 38-35 score before beating them in the playoffs, both knocked off the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds on the road to reach the Super Bowl, both won an NFC title on an overtime field goal by Lawrence Tynes and both teams defeated the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl.

Those are indeed an overwhelming amount of similarities, eerily so.

Monday, February 6, 2012

So, All In All, I Had A Pretty Good Day Yesterday

Kids, I know you've all seen me write in here about what I like to call "Hat Trick Nights" -- a day when any three teams I like win in a 24-hour period. It's not as common as you'd think, and I have, once or twice, experienced the opposite effect, but yesterday, I had a hat trick night and my sweet lord, it was probably the hat trick night to end all hat trick nights.

It all started earlier in the day when the Devils managed to beat up the division-rival Penguins for their fourth win in a row, not too shabby an achievement considering three of those wins came against teams ahead of them in their own division. That was a nice start and Northwestern, in the midst of a highly disappointing basketball season and with little time to turn it around for a potential first-ever NCAA bid, somehow managed to knock off Illinois at Assembly Hall for the first time since 1999. And really, with those two games in my back pocket, my day was going pretty well.

And then the Giants won the Super Bowl.


You'll have to excuse me for writing sporadically, but really, it is taking quite a bit of time to sink in. It isn't often that your favorite team since early childhood across all sports wins two championships in a span of five years with each coming on last-minute rallies against favored opponents and vindicates their much-maligned star player in the prospect. But sometimes it happens. And when it happens, it's pretty sweet even if some people don't quite know how to handle it and the winning score came accidentally after being foretold by a commercial earlier in the game. The feeling is all the more remarkable given the mediocre streakiness of a season that saw the Giants lose 5 of six games at one point, lose twice to the Redskins of all teams and suffer multiple injuries that had me optimistic but clearly still anxious way back in August even.

Of course in this situation, what makes the feeling so great, oftentimes, is not just the fact that my favorite team won, but the way in which they did it. I wouldn't characterize this one as quite the same gut-wrenching experience as watching the Giants sneak past the 49ers in San Francisco two weeks ago, but much of the game was an angst-inducing tenuous seesaw that finally saw New York pull out a championship, as it had many times before, in a fashion that wasn't pretty but required a certain level of mental toughness and clutch calmness that has slowly become the trademark of a championship hardened team.

There were dozens of wild and crazy moments throughout the game that turned the tide one way or the other, and I'll try to hit on as many interesting ones as I can in here, but it's nearly impossible to cover all of it.

Still, here goes nothing.

Friday, February 3, 2012

NFL Picks Super Bowl Edition: All In

I know. I know. I know.

I know.

I know what you're thinking right now. "Dave, why are we bothering to talk about this football game when the biggest, most hallowed sports championship of them all was already decided this weekend?" Don't worry, I have no intention of denigrating Takeru Kobayashi, one of the greatest athletes of our time, in arguably. But call me crazy, I'm a little more interested in this Super Bowl thing we've got going on on Sunday.

I'm sure, given the participants and the logistics, you can probably guess why, and when someone has a team in the Super Bowl like I do this year, it's nearly impossible a) maintain mental stability, b) get through the outrageously angst inducing two weeks before the game and c) not read every stupid, ridiculous, ludicrous prediction known to man.

Of course, I should point out that these predictions, really, in the grand scheme, are utterly, and completely meaningless. No one really knows what will happen, and a lot of the predictions, I've noticed, lack any real sort of intellectual gravity. For one thing, the celebrities asked for their picks are hardly the authorities for this sort of thing, though I do have a soft spot for Maya Angelou's choice. But of all things, I've noticed that that most of the predictions taking the Giants have revolved around some sort of logical reasoning based in facts, namely that Eli Manning will torch New England's patchwork secondary, that Rob Gronkowski's ankle injury will limit him or that the Giants' pass rush will make Tom Brady uncomfortable. Most picks taking the Pats are grounded in the idea that "Tom Brady is an awesome legend and he will prevail!". In fact, only one person I've seen picking the Patriots did so with a well-thought out reasoned argument. Don't people know that they could always talk about the versatile offense, the 10 straight wins or the 13-3 regular season record? At least they've got that going for them, right?

But predictions aside, and I'll get to my worthless one later, if nothing else, while this week has riddled me with discomfort and anxiety, I have gotten a sense of the fact that my Giants are a well-run, overachieving, class organization.

And just how did I get this epiphany?