Friday, May 19, 2017

Best Night of the Year

O.K., perhaps the headline is overselling it a bit, but not much.

We have, starting at 7 pm Eastern, the Showtime special "All Access: Quest for the Stanley Cup." The Lounge will have that stream via the Showtime app on the Roku stick.

At the same time, I will have a screen in the Lounge dedicated to the opening night of the Memorial Cup, the championship tournament for major junior hockey. Tonight's game features the host team, the Windsor Spitfires of the Ontario Hockey League against the Saint John Sea Dogs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Windsor was knocked out in the first round of the OHL playoffs, but are in this four-team tournament because, well, they are giving the party.

The tournament runs through May 28. The other two teams in the tournament are the Seattle Thunderbirds, champions of the Western Hockey League, and the Erie Otters, champions of the Ontario Hockey League. You have to love it, two U.S.-based teams in the hunt for the championship of the Canadian Hockey League, the umbrella organization for the QMJHL, OHL and WHL. The last time two U.S.-based teams reached this event was in 2007, when the Lewiston Maineiacs of the QMJHL and the Plymouth Whalers of the OHL advanced to Vancouver.

The teams are loaded top prospects who have been drafted and more who will expect to hear their names called at the NHL Entry Draft next month. Most of these games can be seen on the NHL Network in the United States, though I am not certain of the exact schedule, as the games could run long and conflict with the "NHL Tonight" shows that go with the Stanley Cup. In short, check the listings for live coverage and replays of the games. (In Canada, all games are on Sportsnet.) And all games will be streamed live via the web because the Lounge has paid the $26 subscription fee to see all the tournament games.

At 8, the Lounge have Game 4 of the Eastern Conference final between the Penguins and Senators via the SlingTV app on the Roku stick, though I am always tempted to wait until the game is over to stream the Hockey Night in Canada feed through the app on the Roku stick or iPhone. We stream sports, movies and music in the Lounge, or we don't watch.

The eyes are in for a beating tonight, but when I finally close them, I'll be smiling.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Stanley Cup Playoffs Finally Begin

Opening night of the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the Lounge is better than Christmas morning or my birthday.

Nothing like hearing the roar of the crowd in Montreal to start the spring and summer tournament. That said, Tanner Glass helped suck the life out of the Bell Centre as the Rangers came away with a 2-0 victory, but those are minor points for me. My Los Angeles Kings are doing the walk of shame to the golf course after missing the tournament.

This time is for the winners, and the Rangers played like one tonight, surviving an early surge by the Canadiens before forcing the Habs to play on the fringes of the rink. Montreal's shots proved less effective from that range, and on this night, fans there will have to wash down those smoked meat sandwiches with flat beer and salty tears.

To the west, Ottawa was done in by a Brad Marchand shot that gave the Bruins a 2-1 victory. Canada, which had no teams in the tournament last season, fell to 0-2 on this night, with the Edmonton Oilers still to play as I write.

And as I write, Sidney Crosby and Connor Sheary make mistakes and Matt Calvert gets Columbus back in the game with a goal late in the third period. But I still feel the Penguins will hold on to take Game 1 at home.

Now I have to refill my snack bowl and prepare for the late game here in the Lounge. Opening night. Consider it a holiday.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Talking Hockey and Land Grabs Over a Beer

A full menu of items to talk about and a fresh shipment of Labatt's Blue in the commemorative Goodbye to the Joe cans is here in the Lounge thanks to the good patron Wayne from Port Huron, who likes to bring in all things Michigan when he returns to New York after a visit to his parents' home in The Thumb.

Nothing like having good friends to feed your hockey memorabilia tastes and have the items come with some cold adult beverage inside. (If only the cases could have had a few Lafayette Coneys inside, but that would have been way too much to ask for.) Ah, I do miss Michigan, the food, the beer, the hockey, the cold. But not the summer. You can have the summers, with the high humidity, the sleep-inducing drone of Tigers baseball on the radio and the steady supply of mosquitos waiting outside your screen door to suck the life out of you.

As a whole, summer is the worst, which is why we are happy to be in the Lounge, windows open to give the room a chill before the Capitals visit the Canadiens and the Kings face the Flyers. Both games will be on in the Lounge, starting at 1 pm Eastern, joined at 3 pm with the broadcast of the Jets at Avalanche.

When given a choice, I go with the Canadian feeds to get more solid between-periods gossip/reporting on the shows. The US broadcasts, particularly when it comes to news around the league, are well behind those of our northern neighbors. And on Saturdays, its like getting the old Sunday newspaper notes columns a day early.

I cannot imagine how quick the Canadian shows will discuss the collapse in arena plans in Arizona, and I will put a fiver down on the bar that it will not take more than 30 seconds for someone to mention that there is a brand new building in Quebec City waiting for an NHL team. Mortal lock, I say, with a better chance of paying off than those Super Bowl pools, where you put your mark in one or two squares to win big or, at least in my case, lose the $40 I invested with Jersey Paul, a friend of the Lounge and the man whose thirst for the NFL cannot be slaked.

Commissioner Gary Bettman has quite a shopping list to distribute to those on his team. He gets to answer in the negative all those questions about the ownership issues or nonissues in Carolina. And then there is issue with the Coyotes and their lack of a home they can call their own, and the Islanders, who try as they might, do not have an idea where they may be in the immediate or long-term future. Time to queue up the Frogman on the jukebox.

To me, with no skin in the game, the answers are quite simple. In Phoenix, the old Veterans Coliseum is available for the interim, and it is much closer to the Coyotes' fan base. At least, the fans in Scottsdale, Tempe, etc., may be more willing to try to get to a more central spot near Interstates 10 and 17 rather than drive in deadly traffic halfway to Las Vegas, which is a kind description the route one must take to reach Glendale on a weeknight.

Problem one solved. The Islanders? There is talk of possible, tentative, wish list, dreams of a gleaming building in Queens near that hellhole that is Laguardia/CitiField/U.S. National Tennis Center/World's Fair traffic tangle. But that would be a new dog with the same old fleas.

I say move the Islanders to Quebec, putting an established team in an appreciative market, while reducing the number of teams in metropolitan New York from three to two.

In my book, the next smart move would be moving the Devils out of the always overpraised, undervisited downtown Newark. Perhaps Houston or Salt Lake City would be a smart move to enhance a western footprint, while leaving New York with only one team, which is the proper number. Right now, the Rangers, Islanders and Devils all play on the same night at the same time. Even when they go on the road, they manage to line up their start times within an hour of each other.

It is funny/sad to see the sports TV writers to ignore the surplus of supply and the limited demand for the Islanders and Devils. The Rangers' numbers tend to remain steady, which is to their fans' credit. So ease the situation and share hockey with other areas.

(A quick news update: A mousehole-like crack at the bottom of the dasherboard behind the net of Washington's Braden Holtby has delayed the game as the Bell Centre crew comes in like a NASCAR crew, with power tools, pry bars and shovels to make what they hope is a quick break. And the good fans of Montreal get to run for another adult beverage and some snacks early in the period. Meanwhile, the Sportsnet broadcast turns into a DIY fixer-upper show on the Home and Garden channel, with play-by-play on how to drill new holes, etc. Actually, it is quite compelling.)

Back to the Lounge Solves the NHL To-Do List: Next, I watch the Carolina situation more closely, with interest as to who might have the money to spend on more nights in Raleigh, N.C. Players speak warmly of the area and the fans have come out when the team was good. Funny how that works, isn't it?

But there is a new wrinkle to look at thanks to the Atlanta Braves. Their move from central Atlanta to a new stadium in DeKalb County (population of 720,000) puts them, the team says, closer to its fan base. Sound like the Coyotes' situation to you? Well, there is bad traffic in the central city, a supposed dedicated fan base that is not in the central city and an opportunity to extract money from a government entity willing to give away public money?

Yes, but Glendale, Ariz., did not have the fan base to start with. So where am I going with this theory? OK, the ECHL Gwinnett Gladiators did well when the Thrashers were around, and managed to maintain their business when the NHL team left Georgia for Manitoba. The Gladiators rebranded themselves as the Atlanta Gladiators though they remained in Gwinnett County (population 860,000). And this is where a dedicated fan base was mentioned/rumored to be when the Thrashers were exploring options that did not include staying in downtown Atlanta.

So, might this push for a suburban county to be big league attract the NHL and a land speculator? Well, it worked to get a carpetbagger to move his team from Hartford to Raleigh, so it could work again. Hey if DeKalb County has a new big-league industry, why can't Gwinnett County have one, too, the thinking goes. This type of logic has inspired companies, large and small, to move all across this great continent. So I have faith this idea will not be ruled out immediately.

What I will rule out now is to keep this post going. I have taken great advantage of your patience, but you are missing a good game (1-1 in the first period) in Montreal and the Kings' usual strategy of no one scores until we have to. It is Zed-Zed in Philly.

I thank you for your patronage in the Lounge. I promise to be back behind the bar more often. As an enticement, here is a Sportsnet Big Read article on Bill Barilko. Consider it a Sunday sports page feature a day early. Visit that site early and often as well. It replaces their magazine, which was put down way before its time. (Of course, I was a paid subscriber. Did you really have to ask?) I'll raise a glass for the magazine, which delivered more hockey than any copy of Sports Illustrated or ESPN the Magazine has presented in the last 30 years.

After I top it off, you should raise a glass, too.