Archive for October, 2011

Does rebuilding even exist?

Posted: October 26, 2011 in Hockey

The Everett Silvertips are in a rebuilding phase.  In their first eight seasons they were almost always expected to be at or near the top.  Well, with the obvious exception of their inaugural season in 2003-04.  But, then again, they wound up there anyway.  However, after two straight first round playoff exits they have gone green.  With inexperience running deep within this season’s roster.  It’s the core concept of rebuilding.  So then what exactly is rebuilding?

Does it mean the season is an automatic write-off?  Does it mean the team won’t settle for anything less than the playoffs, but a first round annihilation is okay?  Does it even take a full season?  Does the team still have a chance to turn the corner around the time of Christmas break and challenge for the division down the stretch?  Wait.  Isn’t every season a rebuilding season when your team is composed of 16-20 year olds?  Don’t all of these same questions apply to every team in a sense?

What it truly comes down to is this is a team sport.  Teams that are made up of teenagers.  Many of these young men are thousands of miles away from home.  They have to live and go to school in strange surroundings with limited guidance from family and close friends.  They’re essentially alone when it comes to enduring the always brutal teen years of your life.  Oh yeah, they also have to eat, sleep and breathe hockey at an elite level; one step below the pros for some, below the NHL for an even more select few.

Every year you can never know what to expect.  A saying I like to keep in mind is, “expect the unexpected when you least expect it.”  The prime example of that for this topic can be illustrated by looking at this same Silvertips franchise in its first season.  All they did was shock the hockey world by winning the U.S. Division and then run through the playoffs by sweeping Spokane, rocking Vancouver in six and then completing one of the absolute greatest, most intense, fantasy produced thrilling upsets in seven games against Kelowna.  No, seriously it is still looked back upon in awe by many people to this day (I get chills every time I recall the series).  They did all of that and who were those players?  Basically the rejects that no other teams wanted.  For an expansion draft, teams select the dozen or so players they want to keep and the others are up for grabs by the new team.

A lot of people associated with the team (players, coaches, personnel, fans) point to the early November road trip to Alberta that season as when the team clicked together and hit their stride.  Granted it was a highly unusual trip as the Tips only played three Alberta teams on the six game trek (the other’s came on a trip in January).  Nonetheless, it was still a great test and they went 3-3 including the team’s first ever shutout victory.

I take you through all of that because this year’s team that is in a somewhat similar scenario is at a near identical spot in their season path.  I will say one thing up front: yes, that 03-04 squad had more experience than this current one, but they too were fresh to the franchise and most of one another.  The Tips that year were 5-6-3 (back in the good ol’ days when ties weren’t viewed as a sin) for 13 points through 14 games as they embarked on that journey east.

This year’s Tips have played one fewer game and are five points lower with a 3-8-2 record for 8 points.  The last column in the record represents overtime and shootout losses (in this case both SOLs) as oppose to ties, but they both are similar in that they represent one point.  So, at first glance this season looks to fall quite short of the example it’s being compared to.  However, it may all workout fairly even in the end.

There are no split road trips to the Eastern Conference.  Tomorrow night the Tips begin six straight games in the Central Division over a ten-day span (seven in twelve if you count a stop in Spokane on the way home).  If that inaugural team was able to bond and grow in three games, imagine the potential for this team to explode with twice the opportunity.  Getting on the road is always a huge team building experience.  Plus, a lot of these kids will get the chance to play near home – if not in their hometown – in front of friends and family.  There’s no substitute for that morale boost which is one I’m sure a lot of players on the Canadian teams take for granted over time.

So, what exactly again is rebuilding?  Is this season suppose to already be written-off?  Just like that first season was supposed to be?  Well, as we learned that year you never know when the rebuilding phase will come to a conclusion.  It could be a couple of months, it could be a couple of years.  As we learned in the past though this team is embarking on a major chapter.  Sure they aren’t as decorated on paper, but as I said it could all end up being relative.  We can’t forget these are kids playing junior hockey.  A very elite level at which we just need to be super thankful we get to witness and be part of the incredible journey.

The visor debate

Posted: October 24, 2011 in Hockey

I’ve been thinking of writing about this topic for a couple of weeks now.  However, other events led to other topics.  Then, events tonight involving NHL veteran Chris Pronger brought it back to the forefront: visors in hockey.

Many arguments have been made through the years as to whether or not they should be mandated.  Some say no because it should be the player’s personal choice – hockey’s version of Roe vs. Wade almost.  Others say no because it creates respectful play out on the ice as opponents are more guarded around the head area of a visor-less player.  Then there’s the overwhelming gray area for the “no” side and that is “The Code”.

As part of hockey’s code, tough guys usually don’t sport a visor and the enforcers most definitely do not.  Two schools of thought go along with that.  One, it’s just not very macho to be a tough guy with a visor.  Two, you can’t go out there policing the game with physical play and chirping and yet hide behind added security.  To me, the code argument is the toughest one to debate against.  There is no arguing the code.  Not only is it one you will never win, but you look completely foolish for even trying.

However, there is a “yes” side to this whole discussion and that’s the side I lean toward.  Why?  I give one reason every time and tonight’s incident with Pronger is the latest living proof: inadvertent objects to the face.  From blind-siding pucks to high sticks to (the worst fear of all) skate blades.  It’s those unexpected facial injuries where the visor truly does its duty.  That one added piece of safety equipment could save innocent victims a lot of time off the ice, pain or even more importantly their careers.

In today’s age of the game, it’s all about safety.  You need not look any further than the way they’re handling hitting in today’s game.  The NHL is beginning to stand for the No Hit League.  But, I guess that’s an entirely different discussion – or more of a rant depending on how you want to look at it.  Bottom line, though, if safety is such a concern then how can you try to ignore unnecessary major injuries that are only going to continue happening?

Yes, I know visors go against the code.  Yes, I know I said you can’t argue against the code.  Yes, I fully understand how no visors can increase respect from opponents.  No, I don’t think any of those are good enough reasons to not attempt protecting a very significant part of the human body.  Sure, maybe it should be the player’s individual choice if he wants his career ended by a stick or puck that he never saw coming.  After all, these men risk their health every time they lace ’em up.  But, what happens when a superstar, face-of-the-franchise or league player loses his career a quarter of the way through it because of a significant eye injury?  Then what?

Maybe then everyone will realize these guys look way cooler on the ice with visors as oppose to no visor and eventually sitting in a La-Z-Boy instead of on the bench.

Still the coolest race ever

Posted: October 22, 2011 in Racing

This is something I’ve previously written. The race date was August 13, 2011 and I wrote this just a couple of days later.  All of the emotions, excitement and disbelief contained within this document are all very vivid to this day when I reread it.  I have grown up around sprint cars and have seen countless auto races in the Northwest, California, Montana, Kansas and Nevada.  I have also been witness to SuperCross, Mickey Thompson Off-Road, monster trucks and the NHRA “big boys”.  However, this Saturday night is still the coolest racing event I have ever experienced in my life…

When asked prior to leaving for the arena if I was excited, my response was a simple, “It’ll be interesting”. I knew, however, that it was going to be awesome. I had a definite idea of what it was all about and a vague pre-notion of what to expect. It was just a matter of physically seeing it in person to make those “ideas” and “pre-notions” transform into “knowing”.

I now know that EnduroCross is beyond awesome; more so borderline amazing. My inaugural event was Saturday night’s (official) opening round here in Everett for the AMA EnduroCross series. I represent the third generation of my family to be involved with racing and I have never experienced anything like what I witnessed inside of the arena. Easily the most fun night of racing I’ve ever had.

It’s always added pomp and pageantry when it’s a season opener. This night was sort of mixed in that respect though because it was technically the second round for the Pro class (having competed as part of the XGames two weeks prior). That actually added a pretty cool element as with this night we got to bask in the glory of the hype from that event. It was a bit of an extended celebration from Los Angeles that none of the other rounds will get to really experience.

Then came the racing. It’s almost futile to try explaining it. Even after seeing it the whole thing seems hard to believe. From the local amateurs to the internationally decorated pros – dirt bikes were being manhandled into doing things that even the bike didn’t know it could do. No examples were more evident, more extreme than Taddy Blazusiak. Heading into the event, I kept saying that I couldn’t wait to see Taddy in person. To merely hear and read about the guy makes him appear to be almost mythical. I can now say from firsthand experience that the man is on a whole other planet.

That’s not to take anything away from the other riders, however. Every single one of them rode their butts off and not one of them could be accused of quitting. It was truly an inspiring act of determination to watch all of the riders bear down and gut it out until they passed under the checkered flag. It didn’t matter if they had been out front, falling and swapping the lead lap after lap, or if they were in last place and finishing several minutes behind the winner. Each rider was treated to a victor’s celebration from the fans as they crossed the line.

The race that most vividly exemplified this notion was the Women’s class. They too were a part of XGames and received a mixed reaction to say the least. Their race this night was a mere two laps for the handful of ladies who took to the gates, but the event was a remarkable demonstration of rider versus bike and track. Physically, the toll was quickly evident. Emotionally, they never wavered. Mentally, they only got tougher.

I don’t know the official numbers, but I would venture a safe guess that their two lap main took right around the same time duration as the Pro’s ten lapper. That’s not a knock on the ladies. That’s wherein the compliment lies. Their “never give up” attitude was intense. The crowd interaction that came as result was unlike anything I have ever been a part of. Whether they had to drag their bike across the finish, or whether they were trying to get the crowd to make some noise to help will their bike into starting back up, every lady got a thunderous – more importantly a very sincere – standing ovation as she gutted her way home. It was very cool. It was the signature moment for what was ultimately the underlying sentiment of the entire night.

I will quickly admit that I have extremely little experience on bikes. But, I have enough to understand how incredibly impressive the skill level is to be able to compete in this version of the sport. With each race you could see not only the differences in experience levels, but also in fitness. Which is an example of one of the most overlooked features of this racing: any local rider with whatever level of experience could very well find himself lined up along side one of the nation’s (or even world’s for that matter) best in only his first event. That’s pretty cool.

It’s definitely not the only cool thing though. At the start of the night, I knew it was going to be awesome. I now know that was stupid of me. When it comes to EnduroCross, there are no words. Just one hell of an experience.

It’s all just part of the deal

Posted: October 18, 2011 in Racing

Dan Wheldon died.  That’s the blunt of it.  Another racer gone.

Much like the race did on Sunday following the accident, things should end there.  For the most part things have; way has been made for the flood of touching tributes and remembrances in Dan’s honor, in his family’s honor.  Fellow racers and teams are deep into the process of attempting to make sense of the last 48 hours.  All of that is made easier by the fact that this was the last race on the Indy Racing League schedule, thus giving everyone all the time they need to grieve.

Those closest to the situation – those involved in the series in which a death occurs – have the most difficult grieving process of all (minus obviously the devastated family).  They do so calmly, privately, professionally.  They do so knowing very damn well that it could have happened to them; it still could be them.  It is a very surreal mental and emotional process that many will never understand because they thankfully will never have to go through it.

Growing up involved in the sport, I learned very early on in my 26 years that death is a part of it.  There’s no way around it.  You can make all the safety changes and implementations that you want, but injury and death are going to be mainstays.  It’s by far and away the crappiest part to that way of life.  It’s what differentiates the sport from the majority of all the others.  In the various forms of competition you might head back home with a broken limb.  Yes, you might have a hospital stay tossed in there or, worst yet, your career might be covered with question marks.  But in racing you might not head back home at all.  That is the basis in which the biggest problem of the sport today lies.

At least by my perception anyway.  I have not been involved with racing for over a year now though it will always be running through my blood.  There are many reasons for me making that choice, but a major one is the current lack of respect from the drivers and the fans in regards to situations like these.  Both take way too much for granted.

Many examples are out there, but we will use Sunday since it is still painfully fresh in our minds.  Many are actually going as far as trying to blame the IRL for Dan’s death because they claim the conditions for the race were unsafe.  “Conditions” in this case meaning the speed and number of cars in the field.  Both are brutal arguments.  Both are the basis on which the series was founded.  The IRL has always been a series designed for close, high-speed racing on oval tracks.  Funny how none of these people cried foul throughout the years until now.

It doesn’t matter how many cars are on the track or how fast they are going.  Whether it’s the 34 cars from Sunday or 14.  Whether they’re going the 220 m.p.h. from Sunday or 130.  They are all still going to be in the same pack racing the same distance apart.  Look at that joke of a racing organization NASCAR and their disgusting restrictor plate idea of “racing”.  It doesn’t matter if it’s 43 cars or 20 at 200 m.p.h. or 150 – they’re still going to be beating and banging on each other and having “The Big One”.  Plus, the irony of the field size and speed argument from the fans is that 90% of them wouldn’t even watch if car counts and speed were lower.

So ultimately, in my opinion, it comes down to lack of respect from the drivers.  They take for granted that today’s safety standards are guaranteeing them their mortality.  Back in the good ol’ days of racing (say the post-war years of the 40’s and 50’s up through the 70’s and 80’s) the racers went out knowing damn well that once they left the paddock they may very well not be driving back in.  They raced their competitors with that very same mindset.  Yes there were rivalries and there has always been borderline over aggressive driving, but overall they raced each other like men.  Unlike today’s bogus rivalries where they battle to find out who can spinout and wreck who first.

Today’s generation is losing respect for the sport’s inherent dangers and thus losing respect for each other.  I’m purely shocked that we haven’t had a death as direct result of one competitor intentionally wrecking another.  It happens all of the time and racing is lucky as hell that it has yet to become a factor.  However, at the current rate it won’t be long.

All of this just makes it even more bizarre that the IRL of all series is in the midst of this unnecessary controversy.  Of all the types of racers out there, indy car drivers are some of the best.  To race in open wheel cars at those speeds and that close together takes insane amounts of talent.  Yes, Sunday’s racing incident (that’s right, it was just a racing incident) began with cars bumping wheels.  Yes, the IRL has had some ugly wrecks in the past (Kenny Brack, Davey Hamilton) but overall their racing record is fairly clean.

Four drivers have lost their lives since the series began back in 1996.  I remember all four of those deaths and one major fact about them popped out at me; all the stuff I’ve read, heard about the Wheldon crash has failed to mention it: before Sunday, no IRL driver had ever been killed in a race.

A quick glimpse at the four men we should all always remember: Scott Brayton – after winning the Indy 500 pole yet again – killed in a single car accident in practice before the race.  Tony Renna – also at Indy, this time in a tire test – killed while being the only car on the track in 2003.  Paul Dana – in his rookie season – killed in 2006 at Homestead-Miami during the season opening weekend (his accident involved another vehicle and was in fact on race day, however, it occurred during morning warm-up).  Dan Wheldon – two-time Indy 500 champ and former series champ – first driver killed during a race this past Sunday.

To put it in perspective, the IRL now has 16 seasons under its belt.  Comparing it to its now defunct competitor series CART, the former has a safer record in terms of the races themselves.  From 1982 through its last death in 1999, CART also had four fatalities with three occurring in the final four years of that span (including back-to-back months in ’99) and two of them during races.  Also, CART was not really known for producing the same type of wheel-to-wheel racing that the IRL has given us.

So, with that being thrown out there, my true feelings are that a racer can lose their health and/or life at any given moment while on the track.  People always say they understand the risks, but do they really?  I guess there’s a huge difference between understanding the risks and actually respecting them.  It disgusts me to see how much racers now days show little regard to looking out for one another.  It disgusts me to see how much fans condone those actions and want to see their most hated driver’s car end up in pieces next to the wall.

The overall current mindset within and toward racing needs some adjusting.  Let’s use Dan Wheldon’s memory as the jumping off point.  He was an incredible personality that is a painful void to our sport.  But don’t dare be sad about his loss.  Be more grateful the next time everyone makes it back home safely.

– JRD

Welcome to you or me?

Posted: October 18, 2011 in Uncategorized

Over the past few months I’ve contemplated starting one of these things.  Never made mention of it, but the thoughts were going around in my head.  I wasn’t sure if it would really serve its purpose, whether anyone would read it or even care to for that matter.  Plus, I felt it was a step backward.  I’ve worked in the sports journalism field and have seen all of the armchair journalists who use these types of sites to act like they’re a Pulitzer Prize winner.

However, I miss the job too damn much.  I still write, but what I write just ends up sitting in the midst of a legal pad buried deep within a drawer.  Over the past few weeks, peers have made mention to me that I need to start a blog or something; my writing needs to be put back out there.  So, here it is:

Greetings and salutations folks and welcome to my new venture.  Or “endeavor” if you will as is highlighted in the title (yes, I’ve dusted off the old business name).  What comes next I don’t really know.  Everything from sports to music to life will be thrown down on the page.  So, hopefully at some point, at least one of you will find it worth the while to do a little bit of reading in your downtime.

– JRD