Sunday, November 25, 2012

Turkey of the Year

One of the many traditions I've come to love surrounding the Thanksgiving holiday is reading the annual Turkey of the Year column in the Star Tribune written by Patrick Reusse. The eventual turkey isn't even the best part sometimes, it's reading about the other sports-related figures who've been invited to the table that year.

A couple years ago, I came up with a list of my turkeys, so I thought I'd try it again. Yes, I know I'm a little late because Thanksgiving was a few days ago. Oh well. Better late than never.

The winners are...
I'm really keeping it simple with a narrow focus for the turkey honors from this year: It's NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, the National Hockey League Players' Association Executive Director Donald Fehr and all the players and owners for this ridiculous lockout that has halted the 2012-13 season at least through Dec. 14.

A new collective bargaining agreement between the NHLPA and the league owners is what's on the table, and both sides can't seem to agree. Negotiations often seem like they're going in the right direction, then the next thing I hear, the two sides are even farther apart than before.

Perhaps the leader of this turkey feast is Commish Bettman. When you're at the top you get all the credit, and blame, for what goes down. This is the third lockout since he's been in this lead role, one during the 1994-95 season and another that wiped out the 2004-05 season. That doesn't exactly inspire confidence.

Killing it - and not in a good way
The bottom line for me in all this lockout business is that it's killing the NHL. Just killing it.

I don't care if you're an owner or a player, you're part of the problem. It's as bad as gridlocked politicians not being able to get anything accomplished because they don't want to give an inch for compromise. That's what ending this lockout is going to take. Compromise. Quit arguing over your millions of dollars and get a deal done.

It's not like hockey is a top sport in this country. You've got football, baseball, basketball and NASCAR most definitely above it in popularity. This lockout is only going to make the sport tumble down even more.

It's the fans who are losing out. And will all of them come back? No. It all depends on the market, of course. I think the state of hockey here in Minnesota will rebound alright. Detroit loves its Red Wings, Boston has the beloved Bruins and the Canadian teams still flock to hockey as well. But what about teams in Florida? Phoenix? Other markets with struggling teams? They might have a harder time bouncing back whenever it is that another NHL game gets played.

Too many problems
I've also heard that only short-term deals are being discussed between the two sides. Meaning, we'll probably be back in the same boat in a few years with another lockout on our hands. That's not a good idea either. Putting a bandage on the collective bargaining agreement every few years isn't the best solution.

The problem as the lockout drags out is who still cares to pay attention to the negotiations. I see bits and pieces through Twitter and news sources to keep up, but it's really kind of depressing. There's also nothing I can do about it, so I'm hoping they get a deal done, but I'm also at the point where I just want to know when the lockout's over.

I've heard and seen people, fans and sports writers indicate they don't care anymore about what's going on with the lockout. It seems people are losing interest in what's become a ridiculous soap opera of sports greed. I'm worried about the permanent damage this lockout will cause the league and the sport of hockey.

So, enjoy your prestigious turkey award Mr. Bettman, Mr. Fehr, owners and players. May the recognition knock some sense into you all, in hopes of reaching an agreement.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

It's back to winning ways for Austin Bruins

The Austin Bruins (15-3-2) got back to their winning ways this weekend with a home-series sweep of the Brookings Blizzard. They are the two teams battling at the top of the Central Division in the North American Hockey League. The Bruins are now six points up on the Blizzard (13-6-0).

It was a 4-1 victory Friday night for Austin, and the offense really exploded Saturday for a 7-5 win by the home team once again. It was a better scoreboard showing than last weekend, with a 5-4 shootout loss and a 5-1 loss.

I was at Riverside Arena Friday night to take in another night of hockey. I spent most of it along the boards near the south goal again. That really is a neat perspective to watch a game, a spot I haven't really taken advantage of before.

It makes it a little more exciting when a lot of the action plays out right in front of you. In fact, the Bruins celebrated their first goal about four minutes into the game Friday along the glass right in front of where I was standing. Not bad in terms of excitement.

Get the scoring started
The first period had its share of penalties, with some combinations of four-on-four hockey and power-play time for each side. By the end of the first, the Bruins held their 1-0 lead.

Brookings tied it up early in the second, but Riley Colvard answered right back a few minutes later to give the Bruins the lead for good. In the third, a nice play from Brandon Wahlin to John Simonson made it 3-1 with 7:38 left, and Jay Dickman tossed in the empty-netter with 7.8 seconds remaining to wrap up the win.

Austin took control in the final two periods and could have had more than the four pucks that went in the back of the net. They had a couple of loud clanks off the iron for close-but-no-cigar moments; Cody Dixon in the first, AJ Reid in the third.

Fight? Not this time
Nothing really too notable in the fight department. A couple guys dropped the gloves right from a face-off, but the referees stepped in as the two were still skating around waiting for the first move. The fight-that-wasn't netted each player a two-minute delay of game penalty along with a 10-minute misconduct. The fans, who can get more excited about fights than the actual game, let out a few boos and seemed upset they didn't get to see a the rough stuff.

The Bruins face off against Brookings again this Wednesday for a little pre-Thanksgiving play, this time it will be on the Blizzard's home ice. Austin then travels to Aberdeen for a two-game series Thursday and Friday. It'll be interesting to see if the Bruins can increase their points lead, or if Brookings can narrow the margin a bit.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Austin Bruins are back in town

To help me get a hockey fix, since the NHL lockout continues, the Austin Bruins returned to town this weekend after a few games on the road. I went to the games at Riverside Arena on both Friday and Saturday, which unfortunately ended in back-to-back losses.

The Bruins have had a great start to the season and rose to become a first-place team in the Central Division in the NAHL with a 12-2-1 record before coming home this weekend. At 12-3-2, the Bruins are now tied with Brookings for first place.

I've kept up with some of the games through in-game updates via Facebook. It seems like the Bruins have had some nice comeback wins already this year. That's good and bad - good your team can make the comeback, bad it didn't have the lead to hold on to.

Shootout and a proposal
Friday, the Bruins lost 5-4 in a shootout to the Minot Minotaurs. It was a back-and-forth scoring battle throughout the game. A 4-4 tie at the end of regulation means a lot of offense, obviously. I can't remember seeing a shootout game at Riverside before, so that was kind of exciting, and reminded me of some of the shootout games I've been to for the Minnesota Wild.

One of the more exciting things that happened Friday was during the first intermission at center ice. It was the first marriage proposal at a Bruins game and in the history of the arena. I had the chance to meet Dan Swanson, who popped the question to Hillary Tapp, the day before the game and write a story about the proposal for the Austin Post-Bulletin.

I talked to the couple as they came off the ice, where they shared tears of joy and hugs with their parents. They were very willing to talk and share their moment with the media. During my interview, I asked Tapp what she loved about Swanson, and it took her a minute because she started crying again. It was so sweet. Swanson also teared up as I asked him to repeat what he told Tapp on the ice just before he asked her to marry him.

It was just a cool story to do, mostly because I hadn't done one like that before, and it was the first proposal at a Bruins game.

Effort falls flat Saturday
Still not getting my complete hockey fix, I went back for Saturday's game against the Bismarck Bobcats. For the first period, I got a different perspective on the game and stood along the glass on the south side of the rink. There were some hard checks right in front of me, which was cool.

Too bad the Bruins lost the game 5-1. It's tough to come back from a 3-0 deficit after the first period, with some quick goals close together. The Bobcats added a couple more in the third period after the Bruins scored in the second. If I'm not mistaken, all the goals in the game were scored on the north end of the arena, just for a little game tidbit.

The crowds have been coming out to support the Bruins once again this season. It's the third year the Bruins have been in town. Friday's crowd was 1,064 and 1,387 came out on Saturday. The community likes the hockey, and probably the fights, too.

I'll definitely be attending more Bruins games this season. They're a fun bunch to watch, and hey, it's hockey. What else do you need?