Round Two: FIGHT!

The dust has settled and now only eight teams remain in the hunt for the greatest trophy in professional sports — the Stanley Cup. Plenty of great match-ups can be found across the board, but only one will receive that extra special level of media attention. It’s been four years in the making, but Gary Bettman finally gets his ultimate dream match-up — Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins versus Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals.

And I suppose some jerk named Malkin will be involved, too. Last I heard he won a race of some sorts. Not exactly sure what kind of an impact a runner or a sprinter will have on a hockey series, but we shall see, right? After all, the playoffs are all about one thing — unpredictability!

That being said, here are my predictions as to what’ll go down during the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs:

  • Gary really, really likes this match-up. Unless the Derby is on.

    Gary really, really likes this match-up. Unless the Kentucky Derby is on.

    In a bold move, Gary Bettman forces the NHL Board of Governors to introduce a radical new rule change, effective immediately: “In the event of a playoff series involving Washington and Pittsburgh, the two teams shall be forced to play a best-of-fifteen series as opposed to the traditional best-of-seven. No other series shall be affected.”

  • NBC will cut away from Game One before it even begins to show footage of the Kentucky Derby horses eating. No commentary, no interviews, no pre-race analysis, no betting odds … just horses eating.
  • Jose Theodore is all smiles on the bench, content that he doesn’t have to face Crosby and Malkin every other day.
  • The rink crew at the Verizon Center still won’t know how to replace a broken pane of glass in less than 10 minutes.
  • Donald Brashear returns from his suspension and score a hat trick to win the Game Six for the Caps. That, or he gets suspended again for doing something retarded because he’s too slow and untalented to actually make a difference on the ice. Flip a coin, really.
The very definition of a complete, two-way player.

The very definition of a complete, two-way player.

  • During a TV timeout, Bruce Boudreau orders a hot dog from a vendor and proceeds to eat it while behind the bench, simply because he looks like the type of guy who would do that sort of thing. He did spend a hell of a lot of time in the minors, if you recall, and if Slap Shot taught me anything, it’s that the minor leagues are full of crazy antics and goofball shenanigans.
  • Intrepid reporters will finally reveal the truth that, yes, Evgeni Malkin is indeed the result of human-troll relations.
  • Alex Ovechkin starts at centre so that he can engage in fisticuffs with Sidney Crosby immediately after the opening faceoff of every game. Crosby eventually gets shifted to the wing to avoid being utterly destroyed before the start of each game.
Stop hiding behind the ref, Sid! Take your beating like a man!

Stop hiding behind the ref, Sid! Take your beating like a man!

  • In a marketing stunt gone wrong, staff at the Verizon Center place bullseye markers all along the end boards. Whenever Ovechkin misses a shot and hits one of the targets, one lucky fan wins a free beer. In the end, numerous people will be escorted out of the building due to public drunkenness.
  • During the final and deciding game of this series, Simeon Varlamov lets in an uncharacteristically soft goal when he allows Malkin score on him from centre ice. Amidst the shock and confusion, Varlamov then goes all “nWo” on his teammates by pulling off his Capitals sweater to reveal a Penguins sweater underneath. He then uses the referee’s microphone to state, in perfect English, that he had been in cahoots with Comrade Malkin the entire time and had actually poisoned the Gatorade of Jose Theodore in order to get him off his game so that he could take his place and ultimately sabotage the Capitals in their most crucial moment.
  • Some other teams will win some games (or not) in some other series. The NHL doesn’t care about Boston or Carolina, so why should I? Ovechkin! Crosby! Ovechkin! Crosby! Match of the Century! BE THERE!

Willy Wonka and the Anthropomorphic Candy

You know what are great? Nerds candy. They always have been and always will be quite awesome. In fact, I had some recently and they were tasty and good. End of story. End of blog post. Have a nice day.

But seriously, as I was eating these delicious little nuggets of crystallized sucrose, I noticed something rather startling. You see, like many products designed for kids, the esteemed Willy Wonka has seen fit to provide the eponymous Nerds with various anthropomorphic qualities, turning the candy itself into adorable little creatures with no arms and big noses:

Clearly these Nerds are XTREME!

Clearly these Nerds are XTREME!

Note the happy nature of the little guys. They’re skateboarding, rollerblading, playing Frisbee, tossing around a beach ball … all without a care in the world.

Until you pluck them from their joyful existence and devour the entire colony whole.

You are Gargamel and they are the Smurfs. Only this time, Gargamel wins.

Sure, the anthropomorphic nature of food and candy and whatnot is nothing new or earth-shattering. There are undoubtedly hundreds of examples of companies slapping googly eyes on something and calling it a day, such as the creatively-bankrupt Nugget Buddies at McDonald’s.

But to fully understand the true nature of Nerds, we have to look at something a little more similar than hunks of deep-fried chicken. Thus, I present to you Exhibit B — fellow Wonka product, Runts:

Not quite as XTREME as the Nerds.

Not quite as XTREME as the Nerds.

Look familiar? I would hope so, as the designers of this box did the same thing as the geniuses behind the Nerds box — they slapped some eyes, sunglasses, and various sporting goods onto their candy. Yet the effect is entirely different (for starters, I don’t feel that I’m committing genocide when I eat a box of Runts).

The reason? Well, with Nerds, you’re eating blobs of hardened sugar that come in a variety of random shapes and hundreds of crazy flavours. As such, there is no preconceived notion as to what a “Nerd” truly is. Therefore, you can attribute whatever characteristics you want to them before shoving them down your throat.

In comparison, when you eat Runts, you know that even though they may be wearing sunglasses and riding rollerblades, you’re still eating bananas and strawberries — and nothing more. A Nugget Buddy is just a tasty Chicken McNugget that happens to have the gift of sight. But really, what the hell is a Nerd, and why I am I eating them? It’s enough to stop filling your face for a second and ponder the mysteries of life.

Just for the record, I’m not some hippy vegetarian that refuses eat anything that has a face. I have absolutely no qualms about murdering an entire family of soccer-playing Nerds. But the fact that the anthropomorphizing of these two types of candies leads to two entirely different states of mind is an interesting observation, if I do say so myself.

The NHL All-Brother Team

Unless you’re watching a Vancouver Canucks or Anaheim Ducks game, you don’t usually think about how many amazing brother combinations can be found throughout the NHL. At the moment, we can only see the Sedins and Niedermayers playing together — but what if all of the siblings across the league were all on the same team?

Swedish twins!

Swedish twins!

In response to this question, I’ve decided to assemble my roster for the 2008-2009 NHL “All-Brother” Team. My criteria for picking players was simple — if you played the 2008-2009 season for an NHL team or its AHL affiliate (but have played in the NHL previously), then you were eligible for the team. If you used to play in the NHL but have since high-tailed it to Russia, sorry, but you’re out of luck.

With that being said, here are my picks:

FORWARDS

Daniel Sedin — Henrik Sedin — Milan Michalek

Drew Miller — Eric Staal — Mikko Koivu

Tuomo Ruutu — Jordan Staal — Rob Niedermayer

Peter Schaefer — Saku Koivu — Jarkko Ruutu

Joel Lundqvist

DEFENCEMEN

Niklas Kronwall — Scott Niedermayer

Tomas Kaberle — Marc Staal

Zbynek Michalek — Frantisek Kaberle

Staffan Kronwall

GOALIES

Henrik Lundqvist

Ryan Miller

Nolan Schaefer

You can't argue with success.

You can't argue with success.

Using only brothers, I think we’d have a pretty solid NHL team. The goaltending would be absolutely tremendous between Lundqvist and Miller, and the defence has a healthy mix of puck-movers and stay-at-home guys (although that third pairing looks a little shakey). The only problem I see is up front — while the team is considerably stacked down the middle and the checking line of Ruutu-Staal-Niedermayer is supremely awesome, the lack of scoring wingers could be rather problematic. Call it the “Mats Sundin Syndrome”, if you will.

Of course, I only have myself to blame for that. Based on my criteria, even if you played numerous seasons in the NHL but just recently signed in Russia, then you didn’t qualify. Under those terms, Marcel Hossa was not eligible — which meant I couldn’t put Marian Hossa on this team. And make no mistake, Hossa would have looked pretty nice on that top line with the Sedins.

In creating this roster, I left out a few other eligible sibling duos, such as the Kostitsyns and the Brookbanks, who wouldn’t have really added anything to the team anyway. And if this roster were to be updated next year, there’s no doubt that the Schenn brothers would crack the starting line-up.

So, what do you think of my picks? Anybody missing? Any changes to be made?

Sorry, you're cut. Better luck next year.

Sorry, you're cut. Better luck next year.

Virtual Sports Illustrated News Update, Vol. 1

Here’s a look at what’s happening around the world of virtual sports this week:

TORONTO COACH FINED FOR OFFICIATING REMARKS

Toronto Head Coach Pat Schwinn has been fined $5,000 for comments made following last night’s 4-2 loss to Chicago. During the post-game media scrum, Schwinn ripped into the referees as he lamented the numerous “blown calls” he witnessed throughout the game.

“I don’t know if they’re blind as bats or what, but when our guy is coming out of the zone and gets punched in the face by the Chicago player, who then goes and takes the puck up for a breakaway, that’s gotta be called, no questions asked,” Schwinn said. “I understand these are rookie referees, but these sort of non-calls have been happening far too frequently against us. Like that time the other team instigated a fight, but our guy was the only one sent to the box. It’s a joke, I tell ya. A big, fat joke.”

When asked about the fine during this morning’s practice, Schwinn had no comment.

Is it time to crackdown on fighting and roughing?

Is it time to crackdown on fighting and roughing?

HOCKEY CANADA, IIHF REACH AGREEMENT ON UNIFORMS

For months, Hockey Canada and the IIHF have been trying to find a compromise to “Jerseygate” and the use of Hockey Canada logos on team equipment, including the sweater itself. At a joint press conference today, the two sides announced that a compromise had been reached and Team Canada will take to the ice for the upcoming World Championships in a brand new uniform — in a colour that might take some Canadian hockey fans by surprise.

Team Canada's shocking new colours.

Team Canada's shocking new colours.

Gone are the days of the red, white, and black. Instead, the new sweaters will be predominantly green with slight black trim, and in a shocking twist, completely void of any Hockey Canada logos. When asked about the bold new colours, Hockey Canada issued the following statement:

“The Russians had dibs on red for whatever reason, and white would have blended in with the ice. So, we put a bunch of colours into a hat and pulled out green. Could have been worse, though. Fuchsia was one of the options.”

TEAM CANADA SELECTS ROSTER FOR WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS

Team Canada is an early favourite.

Stacked with Fat Guys, Team Canada is considered an early favourite.

After weeks of speculation, Team Canada management has announced its final roster for the upcoming World Championships. Featuring three Fat Guys and one Skinny Guy, this year’s edition of Team Canada will be strong up front, not afraid to take the body, and boasts a bevy of blistering shots from the blue line.

“We feel we have a real strong team this year,” says General Manager Jacques Poutine. “With the players we selected, we’re confident that we match up extremely well against the likes of URS and TCH.”

One puzzling omission from this year’s squad is Medium Guy, who has enjoyed a breakout season.

“Although Medium Guy had a solid year, he just hasn’t shown the skating or face-off skills that Skinny Guy can bring to the table,” Poutine said. “In a tournament this short you need specialists, not generalists, and we believe we have that in spades.”

With such a high level of talent, many are considering this year’s edition Team Canada to be the early favourites to bring home the gold.

SURVEY: UTAH JAZZ DECLARED “UNSTOPPABLE”

They're heating up!

They're heating up!

A recent poll of NBA coaches and general managers has come to one conclusion: the combination of Karl Malone and John Stockton is practically unstoppable.

With Malone’s “monster jams” and Stockton’s uncanny ability to nail three-pointers “from downtown”, the Utah Jazz are a force to be reckoned with and have definitely raised eyebrows around the league.

“Those two guys work so well together,” said one GM. “When they really get clicking and using their strengths to their advantage, they’re unstoppable. They’re on fire.”

The poll, which asked coaches and GMs to name the most-feared one-two punch in the league, saw Malone and Stockton take top honours, followed by Olajuwon and Horry of the Houston Rockets.

BLUE JAYS SLUGGER PLACED ON 15-DAY DL

The Toronto Blue Jays will have to find a way to win without the big bat of W. Jack, who has been placed on the 15-day disabled list with contusions to the knee and thigh. The incident, which occurred during the second inning of yesterday’s game against the Boston Red Sox, saw Jack violently shatter his bat over his knee after being struck out on three consecutive pitches by Boston ace S. Heat. Jack limped back to the dugout and proceeded directly to the dressing room, where he was evaluated by team medical staff.

This has been a troubling season for Jack. In addition to slumping in the batter box, he continues to fight allegations that his name is actually a pseudonym and that his true identity is “Joe Carter”.

Team doctors are still removing the splinters.

Team doctors are still removing the splinters.

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Ah, mid-April. Truly the most wonderful time of the entire year. The birds are chirping, the days are getting warmer, seasonal allergies have yet to launch their assault … and 16 teams are about to embark on an epic journey in an attempt to earn the right to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup.

The greatest trophy in professional sports.

The greatest trophy in sports.

Yes, tonight marks the start of the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and like a kid on Christmas Eve, I can’t wait for the games to begin. Even if my beloved Toronto Maple Leafs aren’t in on the festivities (an occurrence that has happened far to frequently in recent years), it’s still playoff hockey, and I’ll be damned if I miss out on the action (even if I’m not emotionally invested on who wins or loses). The highlight-reel goals, the close calls, the great saves, the triple-overtime nailbiters, the unlikely heroes, the unparallelled passion and emotion … it’s all amplified to a whole new level in the post-season. Quite frankly, it’s “must-see TV” at its finest.

And it all start tonight — a night where, just momentarily, every team is back on equal footing. Every squad has zeros across the board. No wins, no losses … just hopes, dreams, and potential. What you did in the regular season counts for diddly now — it’s what you do over the course of the next few weeks that really matters (psst … San Jose Sharks, I’m looking in your direction).

So, who am I picking to go all the way? Well, I’ll tell you who I’m not picking — and that’s the aforementioned Sharks. I’ve been burned too many times in the past by picking the Sharks to go deep, so screw San Jose. I say the Anaheim Ducks pull off the upset and send the regular season champs packing early.

Overall, I like the chances of Pittsburgh, Boston, Vancouver, and Detroit. I feel that those four are the teams to beat this year. The Penguins have been phenomenal since Therrien got kicked to the curb and any team with Crosby and Malkin simply can’t be ignored. The Bruins have been consistently superior all season long, with Tim Thomas leading the league in GAA and save percentage. Vancouver has Roberto Luongo, of course, but unlike recent years, it seems like the Canucks actually have a bit of offence, as well. As for Detroit, well, the Wings are the Wings. Say what you will about the porous defence and the terrible stats of Chris Osgood, but when you have the likes of Hossa, Datsyuk, Zetterberg, and Lidstrom on your team, how do you bet against them?

I’d love to see Ovie and the Caps go far, and I think they can hang with the Bruins and Pens in the East, but for Washington to have any chance at all Jose Theodore will have to bring his game to a whole new level. While he won’t run into many problems against the New York Rangers, it’ll be a different story against the likes of Sid and Geno.

Of course, my predictions could be totally wrong. In fact, they probably will be. Heck, last year I picked the San Jose Sharks to defeat the New York Rangers for the Stanley Cup, and as we all saw, that didn’t come anywhere close to happening. But the unpredictability of it all is just one more reason to love the Stanley Cup Playoffs. I mean, it could be basketball, where the underdogs never, ever win. Or it could be baseball, where the same teams make the playoffs year after year. Anything can happen during the NHL’s post-season … and I wouldn’t have it any other way (unless it results in a Carolina vs. Columbus final … I wouldn’t approve of that very much, and neither would the league itself).

Indeed, mid-April is the most wonderful time of the year. Let the games begin!

Who will lift the holy chalice this year?

Who will lift the holy chalice this year?

Easter Holiday Special: Psycho Cannibal Jesus

For hundreds of years we’ve consumed his flesh …
Now he’s back to return the favour!

Say your prayers!

Say your prayers!

Troma Entertainment Presents …

PSYCHO CANNIBAL JESUS

INT. CATHOLIC CHURCH — NIGHT

A small church, packed with an assortment of ordinary god-fearing folk, as the decrepit, bespectacled REVEREND O’MALLEY presides over Communion. Outside, a raging thunderstorm terrorizes the night.

O’MALLEY
Deliver us, Lord, from every evil, and
grant us peace in our day. In your mercy keep
us free from sin and protect us from all anxiety
as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of
our Savior, Jesus Christ.

CRACK! Thunder crashes and a flash of lightning illuminates the interior of the church. The wind HOWLS angrily.

CONGREGATION
(in unison)
For the kingdom, the power, and the glory
are yours, now and forever.

CRACK! Another hit of thunder and lightning. The lights suddenly go out, plunging the church into darkness.

KNOCK! KNOCK! KNOCK! A loud banging noise is coming from the other side of the large, heavy doors at the entrance of the church.

THE CONGREGATION

murmurs nervously in the darkness.

Flames pierce the darkness as O’Malley lights a series of candles near the altar. He turns to face the congregation.

O’MALLEY
Please, let us continue.
(beat)
Lord Jesus Christ, you said to your apostles:
‘I leave you peace, my peace I give you.’

KNOCK! KNOCK! KNOCK! The banging at the door continues — louder, more frequent.

THE CONGREGATION

murmurs again, frightened.

A WOMAN quickly crosses herself.

CRACK! More thunder and lightning. The wind picks up.

VOICE (O.S.)
Your wait is over, my son.

The congregation looks back to the direction of the voice — the entrance of the church.

The thunderstorm is relentless. In a flash of lightning, we see that the doors to the church have opened. A SHADOWY FIGURE stands in the doorway.

O’MALLEY

adjusts his glasses and squints, trying to make out the silhouette.

O’MALLEY

Who’s there? Show yourself!

The shadowy figure steps forward into the church, revealing himself to be JESUS CHRIST. Dressed in ancient robes and dripping wet from the rain, his eyes are intense, his face like granite.

JESUS
I hope I’m not late.

JESUS

walks up the aisle toward the altar. The congregation sits in their pews and stares as he passes by, awestruck.

O’MALLEY

removes his glasses, his hands trembling.

O’MALLEY
This … this cannot be …

JESUS

steps up to the altar and stands next to O’Malley.

JESUS
But it is.

Jesus gently puts his hands on O’Malley’s shoulders. O’Malley instantly drops to his knees.

O’MALLEY

looks up at Jesus, tears in his eyes.

O’MALLEY
Oh, Jesus … Oh, Lord …

JESUS

glares down at O’Malley.

JESUS
Tell me, my son, how does it taste?

O’MALLEY
Excuse me?

JESUS
I asked, how does it taste?

O’MALLEY
I … I don’t …

JESUS
(angrily)
How does it taste, motherfucker!

THE CONGREGATION

gasps and whispers.

JESUS

grabs O’Malley by the collar, forcing him to his feet.

JESUS
How many times have you eaten my
flesh, my son? How many times have
you sipped from my blood?

O’MALLEY
(terrified)
You … You told us to …

JESUS
I’d like to try this Communion thing, but eating my own
flesh would be so very wrong. Any ideas, Reverend?

O’MALLEY
They’re just crackers–

JESUS
You dare question me? I am your shepherd …

Still holding O’Malley’s collar, Jesus leans in closer. They’re nearly nose-to-nose.

JESUS (cont’d)
And it’s time to lead my sheep to the slaughter.

Jesus lunges at O’Malley’s, sinking his teeth into his throat.

THE CONGREGATION

SCREAMS AND SHOUTS. In a panic, many people leap from their seats and bolt for the exits.

JESUS

pulls back, completely tearing O’Malley’s throat out.

A SPLASH OF BLOOD

splatters against a nearby stained glass window depiction of Jesus. Thunder and lightning strike once more as the congregation SCREAMS hysterically in the background.

That ain't his blood.

That ain't His blood.

DISSOLVE TO:

INT. CATHOLIC CHURCH — MORNING

The blood is now caked to the stained glass window. The morning light shines through into the church.

PAULSON (O.S.)
Jesus Christ …

DETECTIVE PAULSON, a stocky man in his 40s, kneels over the body of O’Malley. He shakes his head.

PAULSON
These people didn’t deserve this.

Paulson rises to his feet and scans the area.

PAULSON’S POV

There are bodies everywhere. In the aisle, draped over pews … men, women, and children alike have been slaughtered, their throats ripped out, their guts dangling from torn abdomens. The whole church has been stained with blood. SEVERAL COPS mill about, doing their business.

PAULSON

reaches into his pocket and pulls out a notepad and a pen. He looks down at the paper as he jots down some notes.

PAULSON
What in God’s name happened here?

VOICE (O.S.)
I might be able to answer that question.

Paulson looks up from his notepad.

THE POPE

stands at the doorway of the church, decked out in full ceremonial dress.

THE POPE
And if you act soon enough, Detective, you might
be able to stop him from killing again. Quickly, we
must go. I’ll explain on the way.

Good ... bad ... I'm the guy with the gun.

Good ... bad ... I'm the guy with the gun.

How to Improve Baseball (and Make It More Like Hockey)

It’s early April, and you know what that means — playoff hockey is just around the corner! Of course, the beginning of spring also signals something far more sinister in the sporting world — another baseball season has arrived. That’s right, 162 games of yawn-inducing tedium. Can you feel the excitement?

What kind of a name is "Rance", anyway?

What kind of a name is "Rance", anyway?

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate baseball. In fact, I used to love baseball and was a huge fan of the late ’80s / early ’90s Toronto Blue Jays teams. Jesse Barfield, George Bell, Lloyd Moseby, Kelly Gruber, Tom Henke, Dave Steib, Cecil Fielder, Tony Fernandez, Rance Mulliniks … they were all awesome (but not as awesome as the Joe Carter / Roberto Alomar teams that actually went all the way, of course). And while I still can appreciate the sport and all of its subtle little intricacies, I rarely ever watch it anymore — and if I do, it’s usually the last couple innings of a playoff game.

And why is that? Because baseball is downright boring to watch — and if it’s the regular season, it’s absolutely dreadful.

So, in order to spice things up and infuse a little bit of April hockey excitement into boring April baseball, I am proposing the following changes to the game:

Full Contact Baseball

Of course, step one would to be unpussify baseball by making it a full contact sport. Yeah, I know, there’s already a little bit of contact involved in the play (especially at home plate), but these cases shouldn’t be isolated incidents — they should be actively encouraged. I see absolutely no problem with allowing first basemen to deliver a crushing shoulder check to the baserunner as he comes charging in, and I particularly relish the thought of seeing the shortstop sending a runner head-over-heels with a devastating hip check as he dashes between second and third.

Like this, but anywhere on the field!

Like this, but anywhere on the field!

Not only would this suggestion make the baseball highlights on TSN slightly more bearable to watch, but as as added bonus, baseball becomes a much tougher sport to compete in. As the injuries pile up and the fatigue sets in, Bud Selig will have no choice but to drastically reduce the schedule as he sees that the players are no longer capable of participating in 162 meaningless games. It’s a win-win situation for everybody, really.

Replace Walls with Boards and Glass

This suggestions calls for short boards and glass be installed along the entire perimeter of the baseball field, just like a hockey rink. First, it would provide a bit more protection from errant foul balls and broken bats for the fans in the first few rows. Second (and most importantly), it would add a touch of excitement to the routine fly ball. Can you imagine the centre fielder running back to the warning track to make a catch, and then at the last moment jumping into the glass for the grab, re-enacting an Alex Ovechkin goal celebration as he’s surrounded by screaming fans pounding on the glass? Now that would be interesting.

Back ... back ... back ... Ovechkin grabs it at the wall! What a catch!

Back ... back ... back ... Ovechkin grabs it at the wall! What a catch!

Feeling Shame in the Penalty Box

In baseball, when a player commits an error, nothing really happens. Sure, maybe a run gets scored, but chances are the scorekeeper was just tired of seeing zeros in the last column of the game’s boxscore and decided to take matters into his own hands. Why not make an error actually mean something by sending the offending player to a newly-created penalty box, forcing his team to play a man short for the rest of the inning? It would up the offensive output considerably, as there would be many more gaps in which to bloop singles — and if the “new” NHL has taught us anything, it’s that more offence puts butts in the seats, right?

Those are just a few ideas that could add some life into mundane springtime baseball. Would they actually generate excitement for the sport once implemented? Well, there’s only way to find out — which means the ball’s in your court now, MLB. Or is that dugout? Batter’s box? Whatever, you have the ball, just do something with it, jerks.