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!