Saturday, October 30, 2010

Game 8: Don't Bring a Hat You're Not Willing to Throw

Congratulations to Joe Pavelski and his wife, Sarah, on their newborn son!

In other news:
The Sharks are once again at 500! They improved their record to 4-4-0 with a big win over the Devils and looked okay doing it! The gameplay wasn't all that smooth overall, but even though the Sharks aren't at the strength they were at this point last season, Devils are almost completely in shambles. Trading away a veteran defenseman for Ilya Kovalchuk and then signing him to a prohibitive, career-ending contract with a no-movement clause seems like madness to me. To add to their miseries, the NHL decided to disallow one ridiculous contract, allow a second ridiculous contract, and then punish the team for one of the two (does it matter which?). I don't understand that at all. At any rate, the Devils look awful.
Joe Thornton had a hat-trick (you don't see that every year) and a point on all five goals. And what do I see the rest of the night? Thousands of dickweeds still wearing baseball caps. But what am I supposed to do, walk up to each of a thousand people and say, "Hats off, Jackass. I know that Giants cap was expensive and you just bought it in the last two days, but can you at least take it off? The man just scored three goals for your stupid ass."? It seems disrespectful to me to flaunt your hat after somebody scores a hat-trick. Even for the other team. Apparently, that's just me, though.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Games 5-7: "Two Out of Three Ain't Bad"

All-in-all I thought that was about as good a road trip as we had any right to expect, based upon the first four games of this season. The Colorado game was a little shaky at times, but a good win. The Edmonton game, besides the embarrassment of that short-handed goal (the one highlight from that game showed repeatedly on NHL network), was a gratifying blowout. In fact, one could say that the Sharks “responded well” to the bad play early in the game. The Calgary game was only bad for a little over ten minutes. The Sharks controlled most of the rest of that game and took the crowd right out of it, only thwarted by the outstanding play of Miikka Kiprusoff. Did anybody else hear how quiet it got in there? It sure didn’t sound like a 4-0 game. I wasn’t even prepared to own up to the fact that the Sharks were probably not going to come back until half-way through the third period. Antti Niemi can’t carry the blame for the three he let in and Niittymaki, who looks like he might have a leaky right pad, looked really solid the rest of the game. In fact, if that puck hadn’t been rolling on only one of its edges there’s no way it would have gone in for the one goal against him. It was close enough that I’d call it a fluke. The only worrying thing is that that makes two flukes in four games for Niittymaki. Despite the loss, I thought it was a confidence-inspiring road trip. And as I begin to look forward to tonight’s game against the NJ Devils (completely ignoring game one of the world series for today), I leave these words for those still looking back on the road trip:

Don’t be sad, ‘cause two out of three ain’t bad.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Game 4: Home-Ice Advantage Nowhere to Be Found

Another disheartening loss in San Jose. By my count, the Sharks are 1-3-0 at this early point in the season. Starting goalie Antti Niemi looked pretty solid in the 5-2 loss tonight. That's how bad the Sharks' play was. The Hurricanes had been on a skid so they came to play hard and they outmatched the Sharks from the start. The first goal of the game was a short-handed goal against, leaving us all feeling like we were picking up right where we left off against the Thrashers. Sometime in the second period the Sharks got their act a bit more together. They kept giving up the odd-man rushes, but successfully got in the way of the Hurricanes' passes across. Also Marleau scored two goals to bring the Sharks within a goal of tying. That kept the game interesting for most of a period.

I like the new lines! Rather, I really like seeing Marleau/Thornton/Setoguchi back together. I still like seeing Couture getting time on the second line. McGinn/Pavelski/Mitchell aren't loooking too bad. It is, however, at this time, when Mayers is injured and McLaren is scratched, that I can't help but fantasize just a little about how monumentally super bad-ass it would be to have Owen Nolan trolling the bottom two lines for under a million dollars right now.

I also can't help but feel that we may have lost our Home Ice Advantage. We miss Nabby. He was key to our home ice advantage. He was steady, homegrown (if drafting someone from Kazakhstan makes makes them homegrown), and fans loved to cheer him. Sid feared him and he was the last goaltender Ovie had never scored on (right up until he did it twice in 24 seconds). For the first time in a while, expectations seem to be lower than the year previous and the fans are a little more hesitant. Some of them are still cheering for Nabby from the rafters. The line juggling has also cost us some familiarity. In the end it means we lost our first two home games and looked bad doing it. And a big part of what made the HP Pavilion the most vaunted arena in the league* was not just the travel or the noise-level of the fans; it was the knowledge that it is the home of the Sharks and they will beat the crap out of you and take your two points.
We'll get the Advantage back, but we (the Sharks and the fans together) will have to earn it back.

*based on a sampling of 272 players by Sports Illustrated

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Game 3: "The Man with the Funny Name Strikes Again!"*

I've seen better home openers. Last year's comes to mind, when Dany Heatley got a penalty shot and scored The Hat Trick that Launched a Thousand BlackArmor Heatley Jerseys. The season opener the year before that, too, where we crushed the Ducks 4-0, as I recall. It was the start of several months of unbroken home domination. Last night we lost our first home game to the Thrashers. And I don't mean that our first home game was lost to the Thrashers. I mean that this is the first time we've ever lost a home game to Atlanta. That sucks! And for Byfuglien to get the game-winning that the fourth or fifth consecutive time he's done that to us? After they moved him back to be a defenseman? At least we know the problem wasn't Nabby. Andrew Ladd got a short-handed goal, too. The Blackhawks sure do like to score on our power play.

One thing that jumped out at me last night was that, as much as I would like to see another top-3 man added to what appears to be a weak defensive line-up, it was Dan Boyle who made me repeatedly groan in dismay. He failed to tie up the second man (Andrew Ladd) on the short-handed goal. He made blind, back-handed passes to nobody when he was pinching and one of them led directly to Atlanta's fourth goal. He knows better than that, so what's going on? He didn't look as composed as usual, and although he only came out -2 on the night, he was on the ice for all four Atlanta goals.** I don't mean to rag on him, I just find it ironic that, for all the fretting fans (myself included) have been doing over the Sharks' defense, it is the one man of whom I've heard no criticism that was making costly turnovers and missing assignments. Maybe that's because he played a minute longer than average.
For the record, I think Marleau had one of his off-nights, but the Clowe/Couture/Heatley line looked great! I just don't like to see Joe Pavelski bumped to the third line. Let's hope he can get Jamie McGinn and Torrey Mitchell to start scoring. Yes, I am aware that Torrey Mitchell is currently outscoring Joe Pavelski. I worry that the disparity in ice-time between the 2nd and 3rd lines will mean Todd McClellan will juggle the line combinations more frequently than usual, which might mean that chemistry is slower to develop. Kinda still feel that way about the defense.

From the rafters:

Let's go, Sharks!

*stolen from Ryan Leong's facebook comment
**Boyle earned +1 for an assist and one of the Atlanta goals was on the power play, which does not affect +/- scores.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Game 2: "Holm Opener"

Well, the Sharks lost, but it was a big bounce-back game for the fans! Maybe it was because our seat arrangements were a little different or because everyone was primed from the first game, or maybe because the referees' wives weren't sitting directly in front of us (they didn't like their husbands' terrible calls criticized). Anyway, good show, Fans! I couldn't help but notice a lot more of the calls were going against the Jackets in Game 2. Also, way to get Mike Commodore benched for the third period! Of course there's no way to prove any connection, but that's the kind of self-important, fan-aggrandizing guy I am.

Speaking of fans, the attendance to the Saturday game was even worse than Friday's! There had to have been under 10,000 people in there! It looked like the United Center two years ago. Greg Jamison was at the game; I regret not asking him when I had the chance why it is that the NHL seems content to let so many seats go empty. One would think that to "grow the game" abroad it would be best to keep the seats cheap (like, maybe, have some available for under $100) and make a killing on merchandise. The SAP Arena in Mannheim was packed and I couldn't get a scarf because the last two were sold to the people directly in front of me in line. My family and I walked around the whole arena looking for another one, but the entire place was sold out of Sharks merchandise by the second intermission!

Having now seen a regular season game from each of our two new goalies, I am not feeling very strongly one way or another. Niemi definitely outperformed Niittymaki in this pair of games, but Niittymaki did have a number of strong saves and Niemi's play wasn't overly confidence-inspiring. Certainly not enough to make me forget about the thin team defense. The words "defense by committee" scare me. I can only cling to my confidence that Doug Wilson knows what is up and that he's only waiting for the right guy...

I apologize for the lateness of this post, but I've been without internet from the end of the game until now. My throat is still sore from screaming (these back-to-back games are brutal), so I feel like I can sneak in under the statute of limitations.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Last Night's Game: Season Opener

I am happy to be typing, rather than talking, because my voice is not happy with me today. But before I begin talking about last night's game I should mention the guided tour of the city and the queens' palace, Drottningholm. Our tour guide was the same who gives tours to the Nobel Laureates and she began by telling us that she had requested to do the Sharks tour group because her daughter is best friends with Douglas Murray's sister. She even called his mom to see if we could drop by. Awesome. Also before the game my family and I hit up a thrift store two blocks from the hotel. My aunt found a Tre Kroner jersey for under ten bucks and I got a Djurgardens IF beanie for five. Tre Kroner is the Swedish national team and Djurgardens is the local team that plays in the Globe. Dan Boyle played for Djurgardens and I hear that Douglas Murray's legendary grandfather, Lasse Bjorn, was the long-time captain of the team. Lasse Bjorn has won 9 Swedish ice hockey championships, more than any other man. Marcus Ragnarsson is the current captain of Djurgardens.

And Now The Game:

The NHL doesn't seem to be concerned much with filing the seats at the Globe for these games. The cheapest tickets available are over a hundred dollars, so they couldn't even sell out the 13,500 seats there.
The atmosphere couldn't have been more different from the game in Mannheim. That exhibition game in Mannheim was riotously loud and the packed house and the beating drum sent my heart racing. As I said before, I had been expecting to be the loudest fans in attendance and to make an impression on the German fan base. Instead I found we had to speak into each other's ears just to have a conversation. The Swedish fans were cool enough, as much as you can expect for a game with no local team playing, but the fans here make me sick for home. Here in Stockholm we've got almost a whole section of traveling fans sitting together and I still don't know what to do to get more than ten of them chanting and jeering. I screamed myself hoarse that whole game at the refs, Mason, and Mike Commodore in the third period after he almost killed Jamie McGinn, but alas, it was almost all calls and no response. The fans seemed content to listen and laugh. At least our seats were above the glass and the arena was quiet; I could hear the refs calling "two minutes for charging," so I'm pretty sure those Blue Jackets heard every word and when it came time for the Sharks to give their fan salute, Joe Thornton knew exactly where we were.

Who's that? That's Kent Huskins

Hej from Stockholm! The city has been awesome so far. It's beautiful, has good public transport, everybody speaks English (notable exception: cab drivers. We must have told ours to take us to the Hilton, not the Sheraton, half-a-dozen times and he still had us within a block of the Sheraton before we got through to him) and they're all really helpful. It helps that I like colder weather. The streets are cobblestone and the architecture is ancient. It's a hipster's wet dream; bicycles have their own roads, there are coffee shops all over town, and the weather means nobody looks stupid wearing a pea coat and a scarf. Our first night here my family and I visited the Vasa museum. The Vasa is a Swedish warship dating back to the era of shipwrighting before they figured out that new ships could be designed with mathematics instead of just trial and error. The ship sunk in the harbor on its maiden voyage in 1629, but since it was in the supercold harbor the whole ship has been remarkably well preserved. It was only brought to the surface again in the 1960's. Maybe not something that I would have chosen to do, but it was definitely worth a look.

Thursday was a fan-viewable practice and a player "meet and greet." I put that in quotes because was more like the players trickling through the gauntlet of a hundred fans on their way to the bus. Just a mad scramble for autographs and pictures. There wasn't any structure to speak of, and if it had been in San Jose it would have been intolerable, but as it was with the limited number of fans on the trip it was pretty exciting to say hi to all the players, to congratulate Jumbo Joe on his new child and Niemi on his Stanley Cup (I didn't know what I was saying; it just came out), and to tell Logan Couture that it's nice for somebody awesome to be wearing the number 39 again. I overheard some guy congratulating Boyle on becoming the captain. That must've rubbed a little salt in, given that Danny Boyle had heard only minutes before that Joe Thornton had been named captain. It's interesting to see the kind of fans that have come on this trip. Most of them seem to purchase the Sharks ten-game pack or split season tickets with several other people, some are season ticket holders. But there is one thing it appears everybody had in common: no one could recognize Kent Huskins.

At practice: "Who's that?"
Me: "That's Kent Huskins."
5 minutes later: "Who's THaT?"
Me: "That's Kent Huskins again! They just switched sides."

Lady at the team meet & greet: "I don't think I recognize any of these kids up from Wooster."
Me: "Well, that's Kent Huskins."

Lady: "Oh!!"

It went on.

I guess he's just got one of those faces.

Had a conversation with Dan Rusanowski regarding why Thomas Greiss wasn't given any game time during the Mannheim game. The goalies for Mannheim switched at the half-way point of the game. He said that the decision was to not reward Greiss by playing in his home country because, with their first game less than a week later, it was important to prepare for the coming season. When I asked if you shouldn't play your German players if the purpose of the exhibition game was to grow the sport in Germany, Dan said, "Not the goalie." (He also confirmed that Jeff Friesen still plays for the Berliner Eisbaeren)

One complaint this post, at the risk of coming across as a spoiled ingrate: The gifts we got from the Premiere Sports Package were chintzy and lame, verging on insulting. My parents celebrated their thirtieth anniversary by going to Japan for the the Sharks GAME ONe a dozen or so years ago. They each received an authentic jersey with the GAME ONe patch on the sleeve. Naturally, my family and I had been hoping for and half-expecting one the jerseys the Sharks are wearing here with the Stockholm patch on the chest and the XX twentieth anniversary patch on the sleeve. What we got when we checked into the hotel 6,000 miles later was a puck, a give-away bag with cords for straps, and a tiny plastic helmet you don't buy at the store for $15 because what are you gonna do with that piece of junk? It's also a huge pain to pack for the ride home. Maybe not everyone feels that way, but I can tell you it's not just me.

Oh, one last travel tip from Stockholm:

We were walking about the city with a Swedish relative of ours who lives ten blocks from our hotel, looking for a place to eat, and after the first restaurant was too expensive and the next two had too long of a wait, we just stepped into what looked like a pub. Apparently, and according to our local relative, every bar here is required by law to have a full kitchen and to serve food! So if you ever find yourself in a similar position, the cheapest and most fun way to go may just be the local bar.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The OhLordStanley Cup 2010

So, as you may have noticed, ohLordStanley has returned from hiatus a
bit sooner than I had planned, and before I get to the European road
trip, I have some housekeeping to take care of.

I don't think it comes as a surprise to anyone that Groff won this
year's playoff pool (puck Fronger).  He picked the Flyers 5 points
higher than anyone else (dammit, Pronger) and once we got to the
finals, he just ran away with it (seriously, Pronger. Booooooo).

So congratulations, Groff!

And as his (dubious) reward, he gets to start blogging --  introducing

Okay, so they're actually completely unrelated events, but given that
I have come last or nearly last every year so far, it's nice to have
an OhLordStanley Cup winner bringing some credibility to the blog.
His first post is already up, and it is awesome.

Back soon with news from the road ...

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Eagle vs. Shark

Score: San Jose Sharks-2, Adler Mannheim-2, Sharks win shootout 2-1

On Saturday night, the second of October, SAP Arena was packed with all kinds of NHL fans. It would be easier to list the NHL teams whose jerseys I did not see. But I won't. Many of these fans had traveled to be there. We met Sharks fans from the States, Germany, Switzerland, not to mention that almost half of the other guests we saw at the hotel were wearing Gretzky Oilers jerseys, Luongo and Crosby Olympic jerseys, or giant teal foam fingers. The Germans love sport and, I have to say, it was easily the most electric preseason game I have ever attended; that arena was LOUD. I had expected to be part of a strong Sharks contingent screaming and hollering over the rest of the crowd, the pride of the Sharks showing Central Europe what it means to have one of the most dominant teams in the world's most competitive league and why the Sharks have one of the loudest buildings in that league day-in day-out. As a proud and long-time season ticket holder in sec. 208, I have to admit: they put us to shame. From the moment the puck hit the Eis, there was nonstop drumming and singing coming from the equivalent sections behind the away team's net. And I am not referring to the drunken droning one is occasionally embarrassed to hear wafting over from somewhere around sec 212 at the Tank. I am talking about a strong, sharp unison of voices singing a variety of songs to heavy, malletted drums, so well organized that it sounded like a Japanese Taiko drum performance. Their responses to the announcer's calls were intense and precise, even militaristic, conjuring images of courtyards full of disciplined men practicing Kung Fu (okay, I watched the new Kung Fu Kid movie featuring Jackie Chan on the plane). Anyway, I couldn't sing the chants back to you weil ich verstehe nur ein bisschen Deutsch, but they were intense. Sections 420 and 216 of SAP Arena, I salute you.

Interesting to me was the fact that the Sharks brought with them the Shark Tank's announcer Danny Miller, a lot of the montages and short features which are used on the gondola at the Tank, and also that particular keyboard-recording of rock and roll part two for when they score. I have since learned that that is because they brought with them director of event presentation Steve Maroni. This is also the first game I've been to in which both the home and away teams had goal-celebration music. It was extremely refreshing to see a return to home-white uniforms for this game and it was super cool to see the Sharks play on international-sized ice, on which I had never seen a game played before, and also fun to see Sharkie in Lederhosen. The wider ice really seemed to favor Mannheim, which served as a reminder to me just how unfair it was for the Vancouver Olympics to be played on NHL ice (isn't one of the prerequisites of hosting the Olympics the possession of or the willingness to construct Olympic facilities?). The San Jose forwards lost the puck just about every time they rimmed it around the boards behind the net and the defensemen, who still seem to be working on their communication, played about the same positioning I expect to see on the smaller ice surface and thereby struggled to keep the puck in when it came along the far boards. The Sharks were also not their usual, physically dominant selves. My own lack of hockey-playing experience allows me only to speculate as to whether that is a case of a slower team not wanting to be caught out of position or whether it is because the Sharks were expecting a friendly exhibition. At any rate, one thing was clear from minute one: the Germans play fast. Much faster than what we are used to in the NHL.

Mannheim took a one-nothing lead in the first period and, despite the Sharks coming on stronger in the second, were able to hold that lead until the third, at which point special teams took over and the Sharks were able to claw their way onto the board on the power play and then take the lead on a 5-on-3, which they got when one of the Mannheim players took a delay of game penalty. I wonder if the German league typically uses the same delay of game penalties as the NHL. I had heard there isn't really any fighting in European hockey, which is why I was surprised to see Ryane Clowe drop the gloves with someone after he didn't like one of the hits Mannheim threw. It wasn't much of a fight. The Mannheim player clearly did not want to go. In fairness, I don't believe anybody ever actually wants to fight Ryane Clowe. Mannheim tied the game on their own power play later that period. The game ended in a 2-2 tie and the Sharks won the subsequent shootout. For those of you who care: Logan Couture and Jamie McGinn were both failed to score on the Mannheim netminder in the shootout. Ryane Clowe beat their goalie with his high, glove-side backhand (you know the one) and Dan Boyle lured the goalie into making the first move and patiently slid the puck just past the post at the last moment on his forehand (same glove-side). Only Mannheim's second shooter (of four) beat Niemi. I would love to be able to give a better account of the Mannheim players, but there were no stat sheets provided and where one expects to see the player's name on the sweater there is only a big label: "SAP". It's all I can do not to make jokes about it. Surnames are written in small print beneath the numbers. I couldn't read them. Even when they were announced in the shootout, the announcer only gave the players' numbers and first names; the crowd shouted [unintelligibly] their last.

A couple of annoyances this preseason: 1. Why can Dany Heatley not stay on his feet? 2. Why did Thomas Greiss not dress for this game? That's bullscheisse. I'm sure Todd McClellan wanted to make the professional choice and not the personal one based on Greiss's family and friends coming to town, but if the purpose of this exhibition game was to grow the sport in Europe/Germany, you'd think you'd play your German players. I guess Niemi needs all the experience he can get right now.

A word on Germany: don't be afraid to travel here. Germans are required to learn a second language very early in school (by our standards) and many of them choose English. Almost anywhere you go there will be a German/English speaker within earshot and the number of them increases pretty sharply as you approach an international airport. By the time you get to Berlin you won't need to know a word of German (Berlin Street Vendor: "It's okay, you can order in English; I'm from Detroit." Us: "Oh. Uhh... go Wings?").
I had been hoping to catch the last weekend of Oktoberfest here, but my family and I spent pretty much all of Saturday traveling and checking in to the hotel. I had only enough time for a couple Special Oktoberfest brews before the game and Sunday was Unification Day, which meant that almost nothing was open. But anyway there really weren't any big festivities going on in Mannheim, only a few Germans in Lederhosen or those distinctive traditional dresses (think St. Pauli Girl) at the restaurant, and I'm not convinced they don't wear those 365 days a year. If you want to go to the famous festival of huge, crowded tents each serving a single brand of beer, you pretty much have to go to Munich in September. It's about three weeks long, but it ends the first weekend in October. The good news is that this is still Germany all year 'round and any restaurant you walk into will serve you a beer for a little more than the price of a Coke (Coke being a bit more expensive here). Also unfortunate is the fact that the Berliner Eisbaren are on a road trip right now, so we were unable to see if Jeff Friesen still plays for them (didn't find a roster on their website, either).

Anyway, it took me a while for my sister and I to figure out how to post to this blog from her tablet (I don't want to give the brand a free plug), but given that we are leaving Berlin in the next eight hours for Stockholm, I decided it was time to pull this all together and get it online. You will hear from me again from Sweden. And you won't have to suffer through any pitiful attempts to write the language, because the only thing I know how to say in Swedish is "a horse."

From Berlin,