17 March 2009

Coyote Trails

Yet another dismal season for the Phoenix Coyotes.

For awhile, the scrappy 2008-2009 squad hung on to the middle of the NHL standings ladder, but soon, reality set in and their fortunes plunged. Now the only remaining incentive for the string of remaining scheduled games is to avoid last place in the Western Conference. And it will be another season without postseason participation.

The Coyotes, since being transplanted from Winnipeg in 1996, have yet to win an NHL playoff series. True, early on, they were competitive and posted winning records. But now it’s over a decade of failure. Not just based on performance, but the lackluster campaign mounted to win the allegiance of Arizona sports fans. Today, rumors swirl about the team’s future prospects, as the team’s financial woes continue to mount, and talk of once again, another ownership change. One that may perhaps mean a migration to another city for the old WHA Winnipeg Jets. There, playing in that league that merged with the NHL in 1979 (and can you guess which of the 4 teams that were admitted to the NHL still plays in its original city?), the Jets captured three league championships (Avco Cup) and lost in the finals on two other occasions. Maybe the Coyotes will sprint back to Manitoba.

Since their move to Phoenix, everything about how the Coyotes have been managed has been a soulless, corporate exercise. From the very beginning, I was elated about a NHL franchise in Phoenix. At the end of the 1995-1996 season, the final Winnipeg year, promos flooded the local sports television fare, mostly clips of the sensational Teemu Selanne scoring goals. But one of the first moves the new team made was to trade Selanne away for two lesser skaters. Selanne scored 76 goals in his rookie season and now, 16 years later, is still playing in the NHL, and headed for the Hall of Fame. The two players the Coyotes received never amounted to more than bit players, and ceased to skate on for an NHL team top line years ago. Crushed, I refrained from making a season ticket purchase. Even the fan contest to name the team was tainted — reportedly, management chose “Coyotes” as the result — but many believed it was a fixed affair. That the chosen name was to pay homage to the Phoenix 40, and none of the other name offerings had a chance.

But as stated, the Coyotes put together competitive teams in the early years, and treated the fans to some spectacular opening playoff series play. In their first season, Paul Kariya broke the hearts of Coyote fans, sealing a game 7 victory with a breakaway goal. A few seasons later, fans experienced a crushing overtime game 7 loss to St. Louis Blues. In 5 out their first 6 years, Phoenix qualified for postseason play. And the last time, in 2001-2002, was particularly thrilling as it was a younger club, after departures by Jeremy Roenick, Keith Tkachuk, and goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin. A squad that posted the best regular season mark in Phoenix’s short lived NHL history to date. That season, and the next, I was a season ticket holder. And those were the last two seasons in America West Arena (located in downtown Phoenix, in the NBA Suns home, though named USA Airways Center now). Despite to moving just down the road from me in Glendale, Arizona, I could not afford the jump in price for a pair of season tickets. Plus, a friend who I shared the cost with, no longer wished to purchase a season ticket plan either (and he lived even closer to the new arena).

In many ways, the Jobing.com Arena is a fabulous hockey venue. No obstructed seats, like America West Arena (which eliminated at least 3,000 seats on one end above the rink), and a brand spanking new facility. Still, to me, it was inferior to the old Veterans Memorial Coliseum where the IHL Roadrunners used to play. More skyboxes, neighboring commercial office buildings and other corporate tidings do not comprise a great hockey arena. Even though I live within a 10 minute drive, going to the games on my side of town still involve a longer commute as I have to wade through an outdoor mall to get to my seat.

I’ve rambled on long enough and haven’t even addressed the main cause of the Coyotes myopic misdirection in Arizona. Everything Phoenix Coyote management has done (and no matter which ownership set we are discussing, Richard Burke, Gretzky, Moyes, etc.…) seems to be lifted from a lifeless corporate playbook. Focused on short term sales, instead of planting seeds to grow hockey fandom in Arizona. It’s where they have failed ridiculously.

The desert may not seem a haven for hockey enthusiasts. Sheets of ice are completely unnatural in a land of plentiful sun. But that 300+ yearly allotment of sunny days means a virtually never ending calendar of hockey on wheels — roller blades. Within a short drive of my home, I can tally dozens of roller rinks, some outside and a few inside, where you can skate and shoot on net until your legs turn to jelly. And although it’s not as cheap to get all the required gear as say basketball, it’s a lot more affordable than ice hockey or golf. After being exposed to hockey skating, many a future fan immediately acquires an appreciation of the game’s beauty, and a lifetime fan is thus created.

What have the Coyotes done to plant those seeds to grow a future fan base? Not much at all. Other than token appearances where team stars sign a few autographs for kids and pose for some publicity photo shots. I still can’t fathom how I can write this — that this should be as obvious as can be, but such thinking eludes the Phoenix Coyote stewardship.

A few miles away from the Coyotes home rink in Glendale, an inline hockey rink is chained up, and rarely used. I played in a league there a few years back. It was only opened up for league play (which only occurred during the winter months) and if you could get hold of the individual that oversaw the league to come and unlock it. That fellow informed me that no way could they open the rink up as it would be destroyed by the public. Maybe so, but 20 miles further up the road, in that exurban hell of Anthem, an outdoor rink is available to the park visiting public at all hours (though you have to pay to get the lights turned on at night I believe). Yes, there they have somebody riding around and patrolling the premises. It would seem that the Coyotes could gain so much mindshare by contributing or investing in those facilities. To bring the joy of hockey to kids in Glendale, Arizona.

I remember the Penguins early years in Pittsburgh. Like the Coyotes, the franchise struggled on the ice. But one thing they did do was ignite interest in hockey amongst the youth. Empty basketball courts in the winter soon became flooded by kids with hockey sticks, goalie nets, and little red balls. Later, in the 1980s, the presence of Mario Lemieux inspired a generation of youngsters to take up the fabulous sport of hockey. The Coyotes might bereft of a blockbuster superstar on the roster, but their coach is the all time scoring leader and arguably the greatest (along with Bobby Orr and Lemieux and maybe Gordie Howe) hockey player of all time — Wayne Gretzky!

As a subscriber to the satellite NHL Center Ice package, I get to see hockey games in HD. But they black me out from the Coyote games — and it’s most irksome because there are a number of games for which there is no local broadcast. And if it indeed is airing on the local cable sports channel, it’s not a HD broadcast, or worse, it’s a fuzzy, compressed, substandard video feed that looks dreadful. Way to go in keeping me an excited Coyotes fan!

Plant seeds, then in a decade or two, a loyal, rabid fan base that lives and bleeds for the home team will ensure the team’s financial health. Focus on the short term and any success will be fleeting, subject to the vagaries of the team’s won-loss performance. Germinate the metropolitan area’s hockey ecosystem and expose more to the wondrous sport of hockey.

In attendance at a recent game (tickets given to me), I wondered how inept Coyote management must be, if somebody like me, a bona fide hockey nut, located a few freeway exits away, in possession of gainful employment at well above poverty wages, cannot be persuaded to plop down some coin for tickets. That is big time failure.

I will be sad when the Coyotes exit Phoenix, as without a radical departure from the course they’ve chartered, I see no rationale for hope. My non-hockey-loving friends and coworkers (I’ve converted my family, or at least some arrive at an understanding of the underlying passion) tease me about hockey being a minor, irrelevant pasttime. I always respond that hockey is the “one true sport” — as it embodies the elements of all the other sports: the skill in baseball, the precision of golf, the speed of racing, the quickness in basketball, power of football, toughness of boxing, the “anything can happen” in soccer, etc.…

23 July 2007

Why don't we just put up the "for sale" sign on this country and be done with it?

In wake of reports about an NBA referee who is under FBI investigation shroud for gambling and allegations that the ref was making critical calls to purposefully affect the point spread result, the subject of Pete Rose and his gambling excursion came before me. And, recently, somebody vehemently argued to me that it was a crime that Pete Rose was not in the Hall of Fame already.

Now, yes, I am aware that a majority of baseball fans think what Rose did was no big deal, that now he's come clean and time is ripe for reinstatement. Pete Rose remains a hero, despite a double decade of deliberate deceit. He denied the charges, but then signed an agreement that he would not answer the charges and instead accepted permanent banishment.

The banishment for life of Pete Rose from baseball is the sad end of a sorry episode. One of the game's greatest players has engaged in a variety of acts which have stained the game, and he must now live with the consequences of those acts. By choosing not to come to a hearing before me, and by choosing not to proffer any testimony or evidence contrary to the evidence and information contained in the report of the Special Counsel to the Commissioner, Mr. Rose has accepted baseball's ultimate sanction, lifetime ineligibility.

Then Rose, in the aftermath, took the case public, writing a book that adamantly defended himself against the charges. A few years ago, he admitted to betting, but only on his own team.

How can anybody trust in anything Rose says, with all the evidence pointing to somebody who has been a slave to addiction, possibly even lying to himself? And consider the company he partnered with and may have enriched by doing managerial favors that didn't involve a deliberate game throwing episode? Rose has contended that he always bet his team, but the gentleman who authored the report that led to Rose's banishment from the game disagrees with assertions made by Rose that he bet on his team EVERY night.

The Dowd Report says Rose bet on the Reds 52 times in 1987. Each Major League Baseball team plays 162 games.

Dowd has said that when Rose didn't bet on the Reds, it was a signal to bookies that it might be a good night to bet on the Reds' opponent. That is why baseball's rules against betting draw no distinction between a principal in a game betting on his team or against it.

At the very least, even if Rose had been true to his present pronouncements, and only gambled on his own club, there still remains grave concerns over the integrity of the game. The absence of conditions that guarantee a "fair game" means every outcome is meaningless. Bottom line, he was in violation of Rule 21(d).

Read the unabridged Dowd Report (it is a lot of reading) or catch a summary evaluation at baseballprosectus.com.

24 June 2006

Capitalist Soccer and Socialist Football

The 2006 FIFA World Cup begins the round of 16 today. I am not much of a soccer fan, but I definitely tune in and watch as many matches as possible every four years when this epic sporting event occurs. And I have enjoyed immensely the 2006 edition, hosted by Germany, with match start times of early morning or noon time, I've been able to catch a number of matches. All of the contests are being broadcast in HD and look fabulous on the big screen.

In the United States, professional football rules the sports roost, but all over the world, soccer is the premier game. Much ballyhooed is the spectacle of the televised Super Bowl every year, but it pales in comparison to the World Cup. While the Super Bowl enjoys a television audience of close to 100 million people (98% of which reside in the United States), the 2002 World Cup final was watched by 1.1 billion individuals (a sixth of the entire planet population).

Soccer is often derided as a boring pasttime for socialist, drunken hooligan, action deficient European nations, but truth is professional soccer is definitively more capitalistic than the decidedly socialistic nature of the American professional sports.

6 April 2006

A super class guy who knows his hoops

One of my high school classmates has just accepted a postition at Arizona State University and will relocate to the desert.
Herb Sendek, who has taken North Carolina State to five consecutive NCAA appearances, won more than 250 games in the past 13 seasons and has been a part of Final Four coaching staffs at two different schools, has been named the 13th men's basketball coach at Arizona State University, Vice President of Athletics Lisa Love announced Monday.

"I am very excited to have Coach Sendek taking the reigns of the Arizona State basketball program," said Love. "His knowledge of the game and proven record of success made him the ideal candidate for us. His experiences as a head coach on the major conference level and in building winning programs is exceptional, as is his background as an assistant coach. He has been on the staff of two Final Four teams and worked at high-level programs. We look forward to helping Coach Sendek produce those same results at Arizona State."

Good luck to Herb in turning around the moribund Arizona State basketball program. While my sports attention is generally focused on hockey rinks during basketball season, I still cheer for ASU, and hope he is just as successful here as he has been in his career thus far.

Not that I knew Herb at all back in those school days — it was a big high school, with a graduating class over a thousand students. The high school was split into separate schools for 9th-10th grade, and another for 11th-12th grade. Honestly, I can leaf through my high school yearbook and there are many more faces that I cannot recall than those I remember.

Herb Sendek isn't the only classmate of mine to make it big in the realm of the sporting world — here are a few others, along with this guy whom I batted against as a young ballplayer.

6 February 2006

One for the Thumb

A most improbable playoff run for the Pittsburgh Steelers nets them a fifth Super Bowl trophy, 26 years after their last capture of the coveted Lombardi trophy.

The Steelers, after losing three straight in the middle of season, faced a win-out scenario to have any chance at all of qualifying for the post season in the highly competitive American Football Conference. They did so in convincing fashion and ended the season securing the sixth and final seed of the playoff poll.

In playoff game one, pitted against the division rival Cincinnati Bengals, the Steelers knocked out the opposing team's star quarterback on his first pass of the game, in route to a convincing 31-17 victory on their enemy's home turf.

Playoff game two was a game for the ages, where the Steelers dominated early but had to fend off a Indianapolis comeback with a smattering of bizarre twists and turns. From NFL admitted atrocious official's replay reversal that overturned an obvious Troy Polamalu interception to an egregious no call on a bltatant pass interference against Steeler receiver Randel El. To an anomalous game ending where we witnessed a future Hall of Fame running back, who fumbled the ball not once during the regular season, cough it up on a first and goal from the Colt one yard line — and a Colt victory thwarted by a Ben Roethlisberger shoestring tackle. The stress was simply too much for some Steeler fans to endure. Then, incredibly, the most accurate field goal kicker in the game today shanks a field goal attempt to tie the game. The football gods were indeed smiling upon the Steelers on that Sunday.

On to Denver, where the Steelers have their way with a team that was used to dominating on their home field.

And finally, yesterday, Super Bowl XL where everything went in the Steelers favor. All the close calls tilted their way, and the Seahawks were unable to take advantage of their early edge in play. Seattle fans, no doubt, are sore at the officials, but the Seahawk squad squandered opportunites by missing field goals, managing the play clock inefficiently, and yielding big plays. Despite the storybook finish for a spectacular Steeler Super Bowl victory, the game boiled down to three giant plays:

  • A mad scramble by Roethlisberger on a 3rd down and 28 that lead to a 37 yard pass completion to Super Bowl MVP Hines Ward in the second quarter that setup a Steeler strike that put the Steelers ahead for the game duration.

  • A Super Bowl record setting 75 yard run by Willie Parker on the Steeler's first possession in the third quarter.

  • A stunningly successful gadget reverse pass play that saw the ball go from Steeler quarterback hand to Willie Parker's hands, then handed to Randel El who in turn threw a strike to a streaking Super Bowl MVP Hines Ward. Both the Steelers receivers who touched the ball on that play were quarterbacks in their college days, and that experience paid off handsomely for the Steelers.

Hines Ward is awarded the Super Bowl MVP, and what a fitting prize for a football player who epitimizes the blue collar spirit of the Steel City. Not the fastest, or the most talented receiver by any stretch, Ward has forged himself into a star by his discipline and hard work.

27 July 2005

How we will say thank you for their incredible loyalty and support throughout the work stoppage

The NHL is back in business after a divisive feud between owners and players resulted in a year long lockout, and the Phoenix Coyotes are lowering ticket prices to lure fans back to the Glendale Arena.
The Phoenix Coyotes announced today the team's season ticket pricing for the  2005-06 NHL season. The Coyotes have reduced ticket prices on nearly 15,000  seats in Glendale Arena ranging from 11 to 25 percent. The average ticket price  reduction is 12.8 percent.

The prices for top level, center ice seats appear to be most reasonable to me — $23 and $15 respectively, except for the first few rows which are $38.

New league rule changes will be in effect for the 2005-2006 season, in an effort to open up the game amd revitalize fan excitement over NHL action. Most significant of these are the removal of the red line for offsides passing and the introduction of a shootout to settle ties.

18 February 2005

Juiced is about a lot more than just steroids

A MSNBC Keith Olbermann review of baseball star Jose Canseco's tell-all book contains additional juicy tidbits besides his admission of his (and teammate) steroid consumption. Including some commentary on Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens bribing umpires, and an encouraging word for aspiring young baseball stars concerned about the effects of steriod usage on the reproductive organs.
(Page 218) The simple fact is that Barry Bonds was definitely using steroids.

And believe it or not, Juiced is about a lot more than just steroids. It's also about players bribing umpires (page 162): "Fans would be amazed just how far some players - especially pitchers, even the best of them - will go to try to stay on the good side of umpires. Roger Clemens… was always very conscientious about taking care of umpiring crews. One thing he would do was use his pull to get them on the best golf courses… Some players are constantly signing bats and balls for them, taking pictures with their kids - even sending them Christmas gifts, like sporting equipment ordered directly from whichever company they have an endorsement deal with."

And Jose closes with good news for you youngsters just starting out on steroids (page 98): “One definite side effect of steroid use is the atrophying of your testicles. I can confirm that. Whatever size they start out, they will definitely shrink if you are taking steroids over a period of time. But here's the point I want to emphasize: what happens to your testes has nothing to do with any shrinking of the penis. That's a misconception. As a matter of fact, the reverse can be true. Using growth hormone can make your penis bigger, and make you more easily aroused. So to the guys out there who are worried about their manhood, all I can say is: Growth hormone worked for me.”