Thursday, June 16, 2011


An otherwise memorable playoff season was badly marred last night as thousands of unhinged, moronic, presumably drunken Canuck fans rioted after the Bruins dominant 4-0 Game Seven win, causing millions of dollars of damage to their beautiful city and a permanent stain on Vancouver's image. An ancillary victim of the carnage: hockey itself, which now has the word "hooligans" branded on its Canadian fans, much as the sport of soccer has on its fans in Great Britain.

Canadian fans? Is it fair to throw an entire country under Vancouver's deranged bus? Well, I've spent a lot of time covering hockey in Canada, and I've seen this kind of thing before. In 1993, the last time a Canadian team won the Stanley Cup, Montreal fans rioted in the streets afterward, breaking windows on St. Catherine's street, looting, and overturning cars. That was the first time I'd ever seen such a mindlessly crazy reaction (I had to walk through the rioters on my way back to the hotel to write my story for Sports Illustrated...the Canadiens had beaten Wayne Gretzky's LA Kings), and that was after a WIN! Since then it has become something of an annual ritual in Montreal. Google "Montreal Canadiens fans riot" and you will find that they also rioted after beating the Penguins in 2010 and after a lowly first round win over the Bruins in 2008. In 1994 Vancouver fans rioted after the team lost in Game 7 of the Finals to the New York Rangers. There's a pattern here.

But last night's riot appears to have been much worse, and unfortunately I can't say I'm shocked that it happened. During the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, after the U.S. men's hockey team beat the Canadians in a preliminary round game, there was enough simmering anger in the streets that I was concerned about the possibility of a riot if the US beat Canada in the gold medal game. It didn't happen, but I now firmly believe if it had things would have turned very ugly, and an otherwise great Olympics might have been spoiled. Tens of thousands of people were in the streets during the gold medal game, drinking heavily, wearing team colors, hollering CA!NA!DA! in unison, feeding off the mob's collective energy. Once that energy turns negative, tempers ignite and destruction follows. Especially if the police is unprepared for it, as, incredibly given the history, Vancouver's seemed to be last night. It's unfathomable how an otherwise polite, measured society--Canada--that prides itself on its manners can become so completely unbalanced over the result of a hockey game. But it has happened with some regularity. And it happened last night in the extreme, tarnishing an otherwise wonderful playoffs for the NHL. (The overnight ratings for Game 7 tied the best Stanley Cup ratings ever, and in Boston they were a stunning 43.4 with a 64 share--nearly 2/3rds of the TVs that were on were tuned to the game.)

Far better to try to remember the 2011 playoffs, both in basketball and hockey, for the triumph of perseverance and teamwork over superstars and flash. The Bruins best player was 37-year-old Tim Thomas, the Conn Smythe winner as the playoff MVP, and the definition of a late bloomer. A career minor-leaguer, he broke into the NHL in 2005 at age 31 and did not even open this season as the Bruins starting netminder. The rest of the team, and I include Zdeno Chara, their 6' 9" captain, is cast in blue collar mold, long on substance and grit, short on style and flash. Honest, tough, hard-working and team oriented. That's the Bruins. They aren't beautiful. But they're a close knit group; a fist, not fingers.

The Dallas Mavericks? They had one superstar, 32-year-old Dirk Nowitzki, but until this playoff season, he was a tarnished one, accused of being soft when the stakes were the highest.

No one believed that he and his Mavs teammates could stand up to Miami's "Big Three": Lebron James, Chris Bosh, and Dwayne Wade. But it turned out that at crunch time it was the Mavs who stepped up, while the "Big Three", especially James, did a disappearing act and played soft. In the Game Six clincher, Nowitzki had a terrible first half, shooting 1-for-12. But his role-playing teammates took up the slack and gave Dallas the lead, with veterans like Jason Terry and Jason Kidd, and the undrafted J.J. Barea, doing the scoring. It's practically all Nowitzki, the Finals MVP, talked about after the game. How his teammates had carried him until he found his rhythm. The team prevailed over the individual stars. It's why most of America was cheering for the previously unloved Mavericks.

So the long winter sports season is finally over, and I cannot remember a year when there were two more absorbing finals, and two more deserving champions. Nor can I remember a reaction to a sports event that left a fouler taste in my mouth than the one put on by Vancouver's "fans" last night. The city should be hanging its collective head in shame, and Canada's hockey-mad culture should be taken to the woodshed and taught to get a grip.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Don't Eat his Index Finger: Eat Tongue

The NHL finals got off to a rousing start Wednesday, with all the elements in place for a memorable series between the Vancouver Canucks and Boston Bruins. Both fan bases are long-suffering: In their 40-year history, the Canucks have never won the Stanley Cup; the Bruins haven't won in 39 years. National pride, curiously, is at stake: A Canadian-based team hasn't won the Cup since 1993, an unprecedented drought for a hockey-obsessed nation. So is civic pride. Think Boston isn't still a hockey town? Game One, a classic 1-0 defensive gem won by the Canucks, drew a 25.5 rating and 39-share in the Boston market, blowing away the 19.1 rating/ 34 share Game One of last year's NBA Finals between the Celtics and Lakers, the NBA's marquis match-up. And now there is some genuine ill-will between these two teams who have very little history between them. Vancouver's Alex Burrows chomped down on Patrice Bergeron's index finger during a first period scrum, biting hard enough to break the skin.
Burrows chows down
The NHL chose not to suspend him, and the Bruins will be looking for payback. For story-lines, this series gives sportswriters much to chew on.

I'm taking myself out of the prediction game, having gone a pathetic 1-3 in the second round. In today's NHL--and this is starkly different from the league I grew up watching--the better goalie usually beats the better team in a playoff series, so prognostications are little more than guesswork. Vancouver had the best record in the NHL's regular season, so they would appear to be the favorite. But home-ice has not proved to be much of an advantage in these playoffs, and Bruins goalie Tim Thomas, the probable Vezina Trophy winner, is capable of winning a series all by himself.
So is Vancouver's goalie, Roberto Luongo, for that matter. The better goalie over the next ten days will win this series. That's my prediction.

Interestingly, they play completely different styles. Luongo's big; he plays on his knees; and he plays deep in his net, meaning the Bruins had better rattle their shots off the top post to beat him, as Chicago was able to do in the first round against Vancouver. That's all Luongo gives you.

Roberto Luongo

His one weakness is that he's terrible at handling the puck. The Bruins dump and chase a lot, so they might be able to take advantage of that. But I don't think they snipe well enough to score a lot of goals in this series. And their power play is awful. Boston was 0-for-21 in its seven-game win over Montreal in the first round, becoming the first team to win a playoff series without scoring a power play goal.

Thomas, by contrast, is aggressive and will challenge a shooter from the top of his crease. He's athletic, flexible, and unorthodox.
Tim Thomas
He reminds me quite a bit of Dominick Hasek, often making saves while flat on his back. But I'd be surprised if Vancouver, by making an extra pass or intentionally banking a shot off the backboards, wasn't able to exploit Thomas' aggressiveness into some open net tap-ins, similar to the only goal scored in Game One, which came in the final 18 seconds. Vancouver's Sedin twins love to make plays from behind and beside the net, making the extra pass that sometimes gives Thomas trouble. Don't be misled by shots-on-goal totals in this series. The Bruins will take more shots, but the Canucks will get the better scoring chances. Who will win will be decided by the goalies, however, who in my opinion have outgrown the size of their cages.
Daniel and Henrik Sendin

Now, a few words about the incredible, edible tongue.
13 1/2 inches of low-fat protein
As you can see by this photo, a cow's tongue is a real mouthful. The average weight is about three pounds. This one came from Beal Beef, a grass-fed beef operation in New Hampshire run by our good friends George and Barbara Beal. If you have an interest in ordering grass fed beef and reside in the Boston area, I strongly urge you to contact Barbara at (Full disclosure: they are temporarily out of beef tongues.) All grass-fed beef is low in fat and high in protein, but the tongue is also chock full of vitamin B-12, which boosts production of red blood cells. If you are anemic, get thee some tongue! It is mild in flavor, excellent in salads and sandwiches, can be served hot or cold, and has a proud history. Every Monday for the fifteen years he was in the White House, President Franklin Roosevelt ate beef tongue for dinner.

I don't know why so few Americans eat tongue these days. Fifty years ago it was a staple. It's easy to prepare. You simply put the tongue into a pot, cover it with 3 cups chicken stock plus enough water to cover the tongue, one peeled and quartered yellow onion, two chopped carrots, two chopped celery sticks, and a dozen peppercorns. Boil for 2-2 1/2 hours. Remove from broth until cool enough to handle. (I strain and reserve the remaining liquid and use it for beef broth.) Take a sharp knife and make a slit in the tough outer skin of the tongue, and peel off the skin to reveal the smooth, pink flesh. Slice and serve.
Because it is so mild in flavor, it needs some spice or seasonings to make it interesting. Capers. Hot mustard. Peppers. Onions. It's excellent on a bed of flavorful swiss chard, covered with a lemon vinaigrette. Below it's served on a bed of lettuce, smothered in capers and a vinaigrette.
Mr. Burrows, this is not finger food. You will need a knife and fork. Bon appetite!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

First Round Highlights, Second round predictions

Hawks goalie Corey Crawford

I couldn't let the gallant comeback efforts of the Chicago Blackhawks, 2010 Stanley Cup champions, pass without comment.   For those who didn't stay up till 1 a.m. to see the end of the Game 7 thriller, the cliff notes version is: a) Vancouver, which had lost three straight, scored in the opening minutes and held that 1-0 lead entering the third period.  They were desperate and very physical.  b) Chicago goalie Corey Crawford stopped a penalty shot by Vancouver's Alex Burrows just 27 seconds into the 3rd, the first Game 7 penalty shot in Stanley Cup playoff history, believe it or not.  c) Crawford continued making one breathtaking save after another to keep the Hawks in it.  d) Hawks Captain Jonathon Toews tied the game with just 1:56 remaining, shorthanded, no less, whacking in his first goal of the series while lurching up from his knees.  e) Burrows won it with his second goal of the game after an unfortunate turnover early in the overtime, but not before he'd taken a penalty in the opening seconds of OT to give Hawks fans further reason to believe destiny was smiling at them.
Ben Smith wins Game 6
     It was one of the best hockey games I've ever seen.  The Hawks, who'd backed into the playoffs, had fallen behind three games to none, but showed their hearts by nearly becoming just the 4th team in NHL history to come back from that deficit.  And they did it against the team with the NHL's best record in the regular season, and against the league's top goalie, Roberto Luongo, who was pulled from two straight starts.  Crawford, a rookie, got better every game of the series, and looks like a keeper going forward.  Decimated by salary cap cuts last summer after winning their first Stanley Cup since 1961, the Blackhawks proved that GM Stan Bowman has assembled enough young talent to keep them one of the league's elite teams for years to come.  They are led by two 22-year-old superstars, Toews and Patrick Kane, and their top defense pair of Duncan Keith (27) and Brent Seabrook (25) will be in their prime for another decade.  Another 22-year-old, former Boston College Eagle Ben Smith,  who'd played in only 6 NHL games prior to the series, emerged as the surprise of the playoffs, scoring three goals including the OT winner in Game 6.  This is a very, very exciting team with a great future, and it's a shame their run and gun style is not going to be on display the rest of the playoffs.  They play beautiful hockey.
     I've always believed the first round of the Stanley Cup was the best entertainment of the playoffs.  The teams are fresh, the energy high, and the upsets are many.  Eight sedes beating top sedes happens all the time.  Why?  The goaltenders in hockey have a disproportionate effect on the outcome of a short series.  The better goalie will often beat the better team.  As the playoffs drag on, the players start to wear down, and nagging injuries effect the quality of play.  The energy levels just cannot stay at that early fever pitch.  This year's first round will especially be remembered as a great one.  The last two nights I watched four game 7s, something I never remember doing before, or being able to do.  Vancouver-Chicago was by far the best of these, though the Bruins-Canadiens grudge match also went into overtime. But the skill level of Montreal-Boston was noticeably below that of Vancouver-Chicago.

Edwards and Brickley: The worst
      Though I live in Boston, I actually ended up rooting for Montreal.  Why?  Bruins announcers Jack Edwards and Andy Brickley are such insufferable homers that they ruin the game for me.  I have one friend who, smartly, just turns them to mute.  Brickley tries to sound like a college professor, taking twenty words to say something when four will do.  Instead of "he should skate harder", Brickley will bombast thusly: "He needs to eliminate those portions of the hockey game when his legs are at the ready but remain motionless while his skates are gliding, and endeavor to sink his edges deeper into the ice surface to propel himself with greater alacrity and tenacity." 
     Edwards, meanwhile, sounds like an utter lunatic, especially when there's a fight or when someone makes a big hit.  Check out this clip from a game against the Philadelphia Flyers, when Edwards does his mad scientist laugh after watching a Flyers forward pummeled into the boards from behind.
He sounds like someone who should be committed.  In last night's Game 7 against the Canadiens, Montreal forward Jeff Halpern, 34, a classy player throughout his career, was given a cheapshot a zone behind the play which sent him to the ice with a possible concussion.  It was a totally uncalled for, dirty play in the 3rd period of a do-or-die game.  The ref didn't see it, so it wasn't called.  But it was caught on tape.  Instead of recognizing the Bruins luck, never mind acknowledging that sort of play has no place in the game, Brickley kept repeating that plays of that nature happen all the time in the NHL. (Right, and they lead to suspensions.)  Then Edwards sunk to a new low by announcing he was "putting the clock on him" when Halpern was led to the dressing room so trainers could examine him for a possible concussion.  New NHL safety rules say players should stay there for 15 minutes to be properly examined.  When Halpern returned six minutes later, Edwards began ranting about how the NHL wasn't properly enforcing its own safety procedures, and that Halpern should not be allowed back before the full 15 minutes had expired.  He was outraged.   Never mind that it was game 7 of the playoffs, and that the Bruins' Andrew Ference, who'd delivered the cheap shot, had assisted on the go-ahead goal while Halpern was in the dressing room.  The whole sequence ruined the game for me.

Okay, prediction time:  Detroit Red Wings vs San Jose Sharks
    These are the two best teams remaining in the playoffs, I believe, and the winner will take the Stanley Cup.  Detroit is playing fantastic, and they're rested. 
Prediction: Detroit in 7.

Vancouver Canucks vs. Nashville Predators
     Tough one.  The Preds are playing great, and Vancouver is tired.  But I think Roberto Luongo has emerged from the Chicago series a stronger goalie mentally, and perhaps the Canucks team has, too.
Vancouver in 7.

Boston Bruins vs. Philadelphia Flyers
    A rematch of last year's first round, when the Flyers became the first team since 1975 and only the third in history to win a series after falling behind three games to none.  It won't be that close this time.  With Chris Pronger back on defense and Danny Briere at the top of his game, the Flyers will handle the Bruins.
Flyers in 6

Washington Capitals vs. Tampa Bay Lightning.
     If you care about hockey, root, root, root for the Capitals.  Tampa Bay is playing a stultifying 1-3-1 defensive scheme, abandoning forechecking.  Yes, it leads to wins like the 1-0 Game 7 shutout last night over the Penguins.  But it is a snooze cruise all the way.  Meanwhile, Washington has learned how to play defense, and the best player in the playoffs, Alex Ovechkin, has bought in.

Capitals in 5.