Round 2, fight!

Round 2 of the 2009 NHL playoffs start today. I was 6 for 8 in my first round predictions; let’s see if I can be 3 for 4 in my second round picks.

Series: Detroit Red Wings (1) vs. Anaheim Ducks (4)

My Prediction: Red Wings in 7.

Thoughts: The underachieving Ducks–who finished 8th in the Western Conference–knocked off the Sharks in 6 games. Can they repeat their success against the Red Wings? Nope! I don’t know why the Sharks keep sabotaging themselves each year, but the Red Wings don’t seem to have this self-destructive tendency. I’m not saying the Ducks will go away that easy; this series will go down to the wire.

Series: Vancouver Canucks (2) vs. Chicago Blackhawks (3)

My Prediction: Blackhawks pull UPSET in 6.

Thoughts: Yes, I’m pulling for my team here, but they’ve won two and lost two against the Canucks during the regular season. The Hawks will win if they can steal a road game early–if it goes to seven games, then the Canucks will draw upon the power of playing on their native Canadian soil and win the series.

Series: Boston Bruins (1) vs. Carolina Hurricanes (4)

My Prediction: Bruins in 5.

Thoughts: If you use your imagination, you can pretend it’s a Bruins-Whalers matchup (there I go again, living in the past). While Carolina upset the Devils, the Bruins averaged 4 goals a game against the Canadiens. Tim Thomas is having a hell of a playoffs (1.50 GAA so far), so the Bruins will make it to the Final Four.

Series: Washington Capitals (2) vs. Pittsburgh Penguins (3)

My Prediction: Penguins UPSET in 6.

Thoughts: This one will be interesting. Capitals rookie goaltender Simeon Varlamov kicked ass in goal against the Rangers. Can he continue to do so against the Penguins–a team who will push him to his limits. I think Alexander Ovechkin is a better player than Sidney Crosby, but I think the Penguins have the better team.

Round One Recap

After two weeks, the first round of the playoffs are finally over. There were some surprises, like the President Trophy-winning Sharks getting usurped by the 8th-seed “mighty” Ducks. And an exciting, “it-ain’t-over-’til-it’s-over” comeback by the Carolina Hurricanes.

Here are the predictions I made two weeks back, and how the series actually played out:

Series: Sharks (1) vs. Ducks (8)

My Prediction: Sharks in 6

What actually happened: Ducks won in 6 games

Comments: Wow…It’s funny how it seems that, more often than not, that the team with the best record in the regular season fizzles in the playoffs. I really thought this would be the year for the Sharks. I know they’ve come up short in past seasons, but I really believed that the Sharks would go all the way.

Series: Red Wings (2) vs. Blue Jackets (7)

My Prediction: Red Wings SWEEP in 4

What actually happened: Red Wings win in 4 games

Comments: We knew the Wings were going to win this series. They’re pretty much the same team as last year, only now they have Marian Hossa. Columbus is one of those “dog shit” teams that should not have won a game in the series, and they didn’t.

Series: Canucks (3) vs. Blues (6)

My Prediction: Blues in 6

What actually happened: Canucks won in 4 games

Comments: Wow, another sweep in the Western Conference. I thought that the Blues would pull of an upset, because while the Canucks are good, they still seem like a very beatable team. Instead, the Blues curled up and died like the Blue Jackets. Maybe having the word “blue” in your team name dooms you to mediocrity.

Series: Blackhawks (4) vs. Flames (5)

My Prediction: Blackhawks in 5

What actually happened: Blackhawks won in 6 games

Comments: Yeah, I’m pulling for the ‘Hawks because they’re my team, but I knew they’d win in less than 7 games. Most of the games were very close, and it was a very entertaining series. I thought Dustin Byfuglien would do well in the series; in actuality, he did OK getting one assist and one empty net goal. He was a presence near the crease, which did lead to some goals while he hovered near Kiprusoff.

Series: Bruins (1) vs. Canadiens (8)

My Prediction: Bruins SWEEP in 4

What actually happened: Bruins win in 4 games

Comments: I’ll admit, I didn’t want the Canadiens to win because this is their 100th season of existence, and frankly they are not that good of a team. If the Canadiens did pull off an upset, then we’d have to hear about how it has something to do with the whole “magical-ness” of this being Montreal’s 100th season, blah, blah, blah. Besides, the Bruins are a damn good team, so they deserved to win.

Series: Capitals (2) vs. Rangers (7)

My Prediction: Capitals in 5

What actually happened: Capitals won in 7 games

Comments: This one was close, and we all have to give the Capitals credit for clawing their way back from being down 3 games to 1. Rookie goaltender Simeon Varlamov came out as the hero after Jose Theodore started and lost Game One. Could this make Varlamov the next Cam Ward…and Theodore the next Martin Gerber?

Series: Devils (3) vs. Hurricanes (6)

My Prediction: Hurricanes UPSET in 6

What actually happened: Hurricanes win in 7

Comments: I knew that the smoke-and-mirrors known as the New Jersey Devils would not make it far. Some “Anonymous” poster–who thinks I’m living in the past–pointed out that the Devils don’t play their neutral zone trap anymore. Who cares? They’re still a boring team. The ‘Canes, on the other hand…scoring two goals in the last 90 seconds of play…going from about to be the losers to the winners. Now, that’s what playoff hockey is all about! I think the last time the Devils made a play that exciting, Kirk Muller was wearing the “C” (OK, maybe I am living in the past). Plus, we won’t have to hear from the Devil’s “fat goalie” anymore. No party for Marty.

Series: Penguins (4) vs. Flyers (5)

My Prediction: Penguins in 5 (though I really wanted a 7 game series)

What actually happened: Penguins won in 6

Comments: The Pengiuns were the better team, and have way too much offensive firepower to be brushed aside by the Flyers.

Anyway, I picked the right winners for 6 of the 8 series, so I guess 75% isn’t too shabby. On Thursday, I’ll give my predictions for Round Two. And eventually, I might even write something about hockey cards again.

DePaul Hockey, part 2

In September of last year, I mentioned that my grad school–DePaul University in Chicago–has an ACHA Division 2 hockey team. Since attending their first game, I have covered the team throughout the season for the school newspaper, The DePaulia.

It’s cool being a hockey writer, even if it was for what one might consider the “minor league” of college hockey (DePaul does not have an NCAA hockey team, just ACHA “club” hockey).

But to me, hockey is hockey. I wrote quite a bit about the Chicago Wolves when I was an undergrad, and put the same effort into it as if I were covering the Blackhawks. Same deal here. When you love a sport, you always want to do your best to “spread the word” and try to win over a few new fans for it.

Speaking of winning, DePaul’s hockey team had a winning season. They won both games at the Regional Tournament, then went 2-1 at the National Championships, finishing 7th. Mind you, only 16 out of 170 Division 2 teams make it to the Nationals, so that places DePaul within the top 5 percent of teams nationwide.

After that, a few of their players were invited to the All-Star tournament, capping off a very successful season for the team.

Of course, it’s always easier to cover or follow a winning team than a losing team. Win or lose, I plan on covering the team next season too.

The ’73-74 Topps set build

I was at a card show this past weekend, and suddenly decided that I am going to build a 1973-74 Topps Hockey set.

OK, maybe not suddenly. Even my “sudden” decisions still seem to be mulled over.

Truth be told, I never really cared for the ’73-74 design. The variance in border colors are rather haphazard, the team name in that little “ribbon” just gets in the way while the torn edges around each photo seems arbitrary.

In other words, the design just plain sucks. But…I have every Topps set from 1968-69 to 1972-73, so this would be the next “logical” 1970s set to collect. Like I said, even sudden decisions have some rationale to them.

Well, I’m not the only one who seems to dislike this set. At the show I went to, most of the cards were very cheap, and I was able to pick up 133 cards for $53–including Bill Barber (RC), Gilles Gilbert (RC), Dave “The Hammer” Schultz (RC), Darryl Sittler, Marcel Dionne, Stan Mikita, Rick Martin, Gilbert Perreault, a “marked up” checklist and some minor stars.

Checking my collection, I already have a Billy Smith RC. I remember paying $4 for it back in 1991. I also have the Guy Lafleur card from that set–probably paid $1 or $2 for it back then–as well as 14 other commons that I’ve had forever and probably paid a dime each for.

On Monday, I managed to pick up the Bobby Orr card in the set for $5.

Counting the cards I bought when I was a kid, I spent $65 thus far on putting together this ’73-74 set. My goal is to piece the set together for less than the Beckett “low” price of $125.

Of course, I’ll need a Ken Dryden, Bobby Clarke, Phil Esposito, Tony Esposito and a few of those “League Leaders” cards. Once I get those–and an upgraded checklist–the rest I need are commons.

After that, it will be onto 1974-75…as well as all of the “current” sets I’m always trying to build.

Thanks for nothin’, NHL

Yesterday I would have loved to have watched the All-Star game. What’s not to love about a 12-to-11 blowout that was settled in the shootout? The only problem was, the game was on VS.

VS, aka Versus. You know, that channel that has the national broadcast rights to the National Hockey League here in the U.S. of A. As far back as I can remember during my years of following this sport, the NHL All-Star game has been televised on NBC. Free TV, not cable.

But this year, the League–despite its hype and high ratings of the Winter Classic–felt that the annual game made up of the best hockey players in the world would best be served on a cable TV station that many people in the U.S. don’t get.

Even the NHL circa-1990, with their caveman-like ways of yore, were smart enough not to bury the All-Star game on cable. At the time, their national broadcast partner in the United States was SportsChannel, which was not carried in many regions. But the All-Star Game, thankfully, was on NBC. It usually got piss-poor ratings, but it was the one hockey game that anyone in the U.S. could see.

So, I have to wonder, what gives? With “The NHL on NBC” having a “Game of the Week” each Sunday–as well as games three through seven of the Stanley Cup Finals–you’d think the freakin’ All-Star Game would have been a killer time-slot filler. Sadly, that was not the case.

Now, don’t get me wrong–I can get Versus in my area. For the past six years, I subscribed to ComCast Cable. ComCast owns Versus, and is trying to grow it to become a competitor for ESPN; hence Versus was part of even ComCast’s most basic of channel lineups. As in, you always got it, and for no additional cost.

Since moving last June, I decided that I was damn tired of ComCast’s overpriced cable. Sure, it was good, but is it eighty dollars a month good? My girlfriend Shellie previously subscribed to Dish Network, and I was easily swayed, as we could get most of the channels we wanted for $50 a month.

Most of the channels. Guess what channel is not included.

Yep, that one. A basic subscription to Dish Network would cost $40/month. For $10 more, Shellie can get all of her Animal Planet-type channels, and I would get ComCast SportsNet Chicago–which makes me ask, just how many “sports channels” does ComCast own? But CSN is a necessity to me, since they televise most of the Chicago Blackhawks games. But paying $60 a month (instead of $50) just to get Versus, seems like a waste of money.

Here’s why Versus *is* a waste of money if you are not a ComCast Cable subscriber. Versus shows two games a week, usually involving one or more of the following teams per game: the New York Rangers, the New Jersey Devils, the Detroit Red Wings, the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Washington Capitals and/or the Buffalo Sabres. For $10 a month, you can get your fill of the Patrick Division, and then some. But you’ll never get to see, say, the Phoenix Coyotes take on the San Jose Sharks.

After some thought, I decided–with urging from Shellie–to take the extra $10 that I’d be spending each month for Versus and apply it to the Center Ice package.

OMG! Now, instead of seeing two games per week, I can see all the games *except* the two that are on Versus. Because unbeknown to Versus, hockey games occur on Tuesdays through Sundays too. Either Versus does not know that “hockey happens” seven days a week, or they’re too busy televising quail hunting or bull riding or swamp boat racing.

Except that, yesterday Versus put aside their bull riding and televised the All-Star Game instead. Damn.

Canadians are lucky that they don’t have to put up with this.

When hype meets frostbite

Living in Chicago and being a Blackhawks fan, you would think that I would be dying to go to this season’s NHL Winter Classic on New Year’s Day.

To tell the truth, I did want to go to this game really bad. As my sister asked me, “How many times can you say you’ve seen a hockey game at Wrigley Field?” That raised a good point. Continue reading “When hype meets frostbite”

My 2nd article in Beckett Hockey

Beckett Hockey #209My geek joy continues! This month, my second article for Beckett Hockey Magazine was published.

Entitled Pro Set Story, it is a retro review of the 1990-91 Pro Set Hockey Set, as well as a short overview of the Pro Set Company. The article appears on pages 20-22 of issue 209, which just came out last week. Continue reading “My 2nd article in Beckett Hockey”