2011-2012 Upper Deck Hockey Series 1 Review

I’m absolutely addicted to the cardboard gold that is Upper Deck Hockey.

Any hockey fan should be too.

In a time where card companies have been facing heat for sub-par products and ignoring the basic wants of collectors, those who are  hardcore cardboard collectors should take solace in the fact that there are still products that are fun and affordable to collect.

I don’t have a box break for you, but I’ve bought enough packs to get a full range of what UD Hockey has to offer fans.

Base Cards

Upper Deck divides their cards into two series much like Topps Baseball, with cards 1-200 being in Series 1, while 250-450 appear in Series 2.

The base cards are absolutely beautiful.

The cards utilize every millimeter of space on the card with a graphic that looks sharp and allows the photography to dominate.

Speaking of photography, it is absolutely amazing. The wide variety of shots used showcasing the players both on and off the ice keep the cards from getting repetitive.

The cards also are printed on durable, heavy stock which adds to the quality of the cards.

Inserts

UD Hockey features some quality insert sets that don’t swell to the point of overkill as seen in a lot of modern products (ahem, Topps Baseball).

Young Guns Rookies

While most sets center around jersey/memorabilia and autograph cards, UD Hockey keeps it old school with the wildly popular Young Guns set. Falling one in every four hobby packs, this set features the hottest rookies in the NHL on a sharp card. Defying the  laws of 21st century collecting, these no-frill cards still have a ridiculous amount of value. The card featuring top draft pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins of the Edmonton Oilers can be found on eBay going for $80-$100. Since the base is relatively easy to complete, finding the 50 rookies that account for cards 201-250 pose a fun challenge to collectors looking for something extra.

UD Canvas

I absolutely hate parallel sets. There is nothing more pointless to me than received a clone of a card but with a different border, font color, etc.. Upper Deck has one psuedo-parallel set, but it satisfies me. The UD-Canvas features a set of the biggest stars of the game printed on canvas instead of the traditional cardboard. The catch? It features a completely different graphic set and photo. Anything that gets to show off the great photography work even more gets a thumbs up from me.

Hockey Heroes

This insert set also falls about one in every four packs and features various players from the 1950’s. Not the biggest fan of this, but unlike in baseball cards, there aren’t many cards devoted to old players. I’ll live with seeing this every once in a while.

All-World Team

This long standing set assembles a team from various countries around the world. I know hockey is a very global game but they have been doing this since the 1990’s. Time for a change.

Hits

Each hobby box should deliver two jersey cards. It features a very vibrant design that jumps off the card. For those that are really lucky, autographs of top players are also to be found. The checklists for both feature a wide variety of players ranging from the unknowns to the Sidney Crosby’s and Alex Ovechkin’s of the NHL.

Final Grade: A

This is what a card set should be. A nice base set, some challenges (Young Guns) and some nice “hits”. The amount of value that can come from a box of this that retails from $60 to $70 is hard to beat this day in age ($3-$4 per pack). Once you start collecting, you won’t be able to stop until Series 2 comes out in February. I know I won’t.

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Todd Graham to Arizona State: High Octane Heads West

Hearing the news of Todd Graham leaving Pitt for Arizona State floored me. It seemed that after a 6-6 season in the Big East, Graham seemed like one of last people that would be moving out.

In typical Pittsburgh fashion, the media firestorm ensued. After taking the day to soak it all in, here is what I’ve taken out of it.

1. Todd Graham has every right to leave when he wants.

Let’s be real here. It certainly is easy to say what a horrible person Graham is for bolting out on Pitt for Arizona State, but if we are in his shoes, do we stay put? Todd Graham wanted his family and himself to be happy. If that means going for more money and living in a place with better weather, so be it. I know I would not stay in a place where I was unhappy when a arrangement that means more happiness for me and my family could be made (mainly $$$). It may upset others, but I would still do it. It is 21st century college football and I’ve grown to accept it. On the other hand….

2. There is no excuse for the way Todd Graham left.

My parents always tell me how much people don’t know how to communicate face-to-face in the 21st century. Texting and social media, in their opinion, has ruined our ability to talk with one another. I always thought they were crazy, until now.

What in the world was Todd Graham thinking?

A text to his assistant coaches was then forwarded in an email to players which read:

“I have resigned my position at Pitt in the best interest of my family to pursue the head coaching position at Arizona State. Coaching there has always been a dream of ours and we have family there. The timing of the circumstances have prohibited from telling you this directly. I now am on my way to Tempe to continue those discussions. God Bless. Coach Graham.”

It’s one thing to leave a team, it’s another to completely abandon them.

Then his wife Penni had the audacity to post this picture to Twitter of the two of them on a private jet to Tempe.

Graham is outfitted in ASU colors. It is as if they are mocking the Pitt program.

Could he really not work up the courage to look his players in the eyes and tell them he was moving on? He never had a problem keeping quiet when criticizing players or hyping up his failure of an offense. Why the silence now? I’m not buying his excuse of it being a time issue. Arizona State wasn’t going to give the job to someone else in the hour it would have taken to address the team. That’s what really upsets me.

3. Steve Peterson should lose his job

I don’t know how many chances someone in a powerful position such as athletic director of a BCS school should get. My hunch is it should be less than the number Pitt AD Steve Pederson has received.

After botching coaching hirings at Nebraska, it should be no surprise that he has now twice hired men of questionable character in less than a year to lead the football team. When Pitt takes the field for the BBVA Compass Bowl under interim head coach Keith Patterson, that will make it five different head coaches in roughly 13 months for the program. Someone should have to take responsibility for it, and Pederson should be gone.

4. The players have every right to be mad.

The backlash from players has been strong. None have been more vocal than wide receiver Devin Street.

I never played a day of organized football, but after being on the beat of a D-I college football team for a year, I can tell you there are few relationships in sports that compare to the one between football coaches and players. The athletes, who come from different backgrounds, connect with what the coaches are saying, not only on the field but off of it as well. To have a coach leave like this must be a horrible feeling. With all of the turmoil at Pitt in the past year, you can see that each incident brings this group together more. Though they are far from being the most talented college football team, they have certainly dealt with a lot of adversity which makes them a stronger group.

5. This will hurt Arizona State more than it will hurt Pitt.

I don’t know what the ASU Sun Devils are thinking getting a coach that just came off of a 6-6 season in the weakest conference the BCS has ever seen. The reaction has not been good on the SB Nation ASU blog House of Sparky.

Reports are that many former ASU players and alums are upset with the hiring, as a pattern of unloyalty has really become exposed for Graham. With the news of his departures spreading across the nation, recruits will know about his ways, and will basically know he is lying to their faces. Pitt may lose some recruits with another coaching upheaval, but they still have their reputation. That’s what matters when getting players.

It will be interesting to see what happens next, as what was looking to be another quiet off-season for Pitt Football has been turned upside down. While you are browsing for the latest rumors, make sure you check out Graham’s introduction press conference HERE.

The vicious cycle has begun yet again. Graham will make his debut as Arizona State coach on December 22 in the Las Vegas Bowl. It will be safe to say that a good portion of Western Pennsylvania will be trading their blue and gold for blue and orange that night.

72 Hours

Ask any Ohio University student what’s the toughest part about going to school there, and you will get a variety of answers.

Some will tell you it is trying to stay focused on academics during spring quarter and the fabled “Fest Season”. Others will tell you finding a place to live as an upperclassman or getting a table at Shively Dining Hall.

Another big one is filling the six-week void that is Winter Intercession. Due to the quarters system, students are off from Thanksgiving to New Years. Luckily for me, I was able to get a job and of course, cover some fun events.

My first full week off featured me returning to the $7.65 per hour grind of working in a toy store. While it is fun at times, and the team I work with is great, it doesn’t take many spoiled, bratty houswives yelling in your face at 7 a.m. over not having Just Dance for Kids in stock to realize that it is far from a desirable place to make a career.

To avoid letting this get me down too much, I was able to get experience writing right off the bat over break, covering two big-time events: The annual “City Game” between Duquesne and Pitt, and the 2011 MAC Championship which was held in Detroit, all in a three-day window.

The craziness began on Wednesday, November 30 at CONSOL Energy Center.

This was the first “big-time” event I had covered. After checking in and heading to the media room to get settled, seeing every Pittsburgh sports media member you could think of was surreal. The facilities were top notch. I had never gone to a place that has an actual “media workroom” or a buffet for the press consisting of more than a sandwich ring. My spot on press row was surrounded by members of the Oakland Zoo that made the trek up Forbes Avenue.

The game was attended by 15,580 people, the largest ever for a meeting between the two teams, making it a very unique atmosphere. Though the Dukes fell for the 11th consecutive year, it was still an entertaining game and seeing people you’ve seen on T.V. such as Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon in the flesh following a game was still something that has yet to sink in.

On the way out, I got lost (big surprise, right?). But while I wondered the bowels of the NHL’s newest facility, I got a unique view of the coolest parts of the arena.

Here is a mural outside the Penguins’ dressing room.

The doors to their locker room.

Right across the hall from there is the prestigious “Suite 66”, a luxury box with seats right on the glass next to the bench.

The suite features a clear glass wall that allows the fans lucky enough to get inside a chance to see the players make the walk down this hallway to the ice.

When I finally found my way, I then noticed this unique glass mural at the administrative entrance. It features the names of all Penguins to win the various trophies of the NHL.

After spending Thursday morning and afternoon working, it was back to Downtown Pittsburgh to board a bus at 12:15 a.m. to Detroit for the MAC Championship.

After arriving in a wet snow at 5:30 a.m., I got some sleep in our hotel room before taking in the sights of Detroit.

I stopped by Comerica Park and the cavalcade of Tigers guarding the ballpark.

I ate lunch at the Hockeytown Cafe.

Here is the GM Headquarters, known as the Renaissance Center. Our hotel was located in the middle tower.

I know Detroit has gotten an incredibly bad reputation as a depressed area, but it really was better than I was expected. It was eerily deserted for a workday (a Friday), which probably answers questions about the economic situation there. I still never felt like I was in danger, and some parts really impressed me including Ford Field.

There is a reason why it has hosted such huge events as the Super Bowl and Final Four, as it was a really beautiful facility. Even though this was a much smaller-scaled event, having something like the MAC Championship there made it feel like a big-time game.

It also blew my mind how much cheaper everything was inside. Souvenir drinks ran you back $6.95 at a concession stand, but you get unlimited refills. The same goes for $6 popcorn. I can’t think of an NFL stadium having that kind of deal. Parking was also much, much cheaper than what I was used to seeing on the North Shore back home. If you’re short on dollars, you may want to become a Lions fan.

I was perched a whopping eight stories above the field, much higher than I was used to.

The nice part about a domed stadium would be the fact that the press box was in the open, as there isn’t a need for a pane of glass to keep the elements out. It really made it feel as if you were a part of the game more than your typical outdoor stadium.

The game went just about as horrible as you could expect, with the Ohio Bobcats blowing a 20-point second half lead to the Northern Illinois Huskies, leaving the ‘Cats still without a MAC Championship since 1968.

The post-game interviews with head coach Frank Solich and senior linebacker Noah Keller were painful. Adding insult to injury, you could hear the celebrations of the Huskies echoing down the hallway. Though they were still able to make a bowl game, you could just tell this game was going to stick in the heads of the players for a long time.

The loss stung for any member of the Ohio University family, including me. Covering the team all year and getting to know the players throughout the season made it extra hard to swallow such a tough defeat after seeing the student-athletes work so hard toward their goals.

I then returned to my normal life in Bethel Park Saturday, including work the following Monday. After the first bratty customer to give me a hard time, it really dawned on me: A bad day in sports writing, including witnessing one of the worst losses I had seen in my life, beats the absolute crap out of doing anything else for a living.

MAC Championship Live Blog

5:05- Greetings from…

No, not quite.

That’s right, I’ve taken a road trip with the Bobcats to the 2011 MAC Championship which will be coming to you from Ford Field in Detroit. The Bobcats will be taking on the defending West Champion Northern Illinois Huskies. Keep it here for updates throughout the game.

5:20- No matter who wins tonight, one team’s streak MAC Championship futility will come to an end. NIU hasn’t won the conference since 1983, Ohio since 1968.

5:26- First people to the seating bowl? The Marching 110 of course!

5:38- The main matchup tonight will be Huskie quarterback Chandler Harnish vs. the Bobcat defense. He has single-handedly taken over games for NIU, averaging over 100 yards rushing and 200 yards passing per game.

5:41- Going down to the field.

6:25- Well, that was surreal.

6:32- Both teams have been receiving late season love in the polls. NIU earned 19 points in last week’s USA Today Coaches’ Poll (ranked 30th) while Ohio received eight (ranked 32nd).

6:38- The Marching 110 takes the field to do a pre-game set. Ohio will serve as the away team.

6:42- It’s go time

6:45- With the way the NIU band entered, we may just have two of the most unique bands I’ve seen playing tonight.

6:48- Just how good is Chandler Harnish on the ground? He ranks 15th in the nation in rushing yards per game. Remember he’s a quarterback!!

6:54- An Ohio win tonight would give them 10 wins, something they have also not accomplished since 1968.

6:55- For those curious, the game is airing on ESPN2.

6:58- Ohio is going to try and emulate Eastern Michigan’s game plan which consists of run, run, and run some more on offense to keep the ball away from NIU.

7:01- Kickoff, Ohio receives as Donte Harden returns the kick to the Ohio 26.

7:03- So about those jitters? Tettleton’s first pass of the game finds LaVonn Brazill for a 44 yard gain. Ohio down to the NIU 30.

7:06- The feelings are short-lived as Tettleton forces a pass into double coverage in the end zone two plays later by Jhony Faustin.

7:06- Two plays later, Noah Keller takes the ball right back for the Bobcats on a tipped pass and returns it all the way to the NIU 19. Bobcats couldn’t have asked for a bigger break.

7:11- Ohio can’t muster anything on offense and must settle for a 30-yard Matt Weller field goal. OU has had a problem capitalizing on red zone opportunities as of late.

7:12- That Harnish pick on the Huskies first drive was his first since October 15. Just his 5th total of the year.

7:18- Harnish’s first big run of the night get’s negated by a clipping penalty. Huskies can’t convert a 3rd and 16 and gives the ball back to Ohio. Bobcats have a chance to inflict some real damage here.

7;25- That’s how you finish a drive. An 8-play 70-yard drive capped with the ol’ Phil Bates reverse pass to Donte Foster. Ohio pulling out every trick in the book. 10-0 Bobcats with 4:05 left in the first quarter.

7:31- Huskies finally get a first down, but Ohio puts the clamps down. Incredible that they have held NIU to -2 yards passing and just 33 total yards as the first quarter winds down.

7:35- LaVon Brazill with another crazy one-handed catch to extend the drive.

7:37- END OF THE FIRST QUARTER

Ohio 10
NIU 0

-Holy domination.

-NIU has -2 yards passing.

-I’ll repeat that again, after one quarter NIU has -2 yards passing. 33 total.

-Tettleton is 7-of-9 for 103 yards with that one interception the only chink in the armor.

-Ohio is throwing the ball laterally more than I’ve seen all year. They are getting opportunities deep on the secondary with ease.

-This is not a time for Ohio to take their foot off the gas. NIU can get back in this game just as easily.

7:46- Bobcats driving yet again. Haven’t seen them move the ball at will like this since the Marshall game.

7:49- This could be a huge stop for NIU as Ohio is able to get down to the 5-yard line before stalling. A Weller chip shot makes it 13-0 with 11:03 remaining in the first half. It may not be in the Bobcats’ best interest to leave this game in the defense’s hands.

7:53- Return specialist Tommylee Lewis fumbles on the ensuing kickoff after being hit by kicker Matt Weller. Ohio has a chance to make this a laugher before half time.

7:56- Tettleton makes another bad decision forcing a throw while getting hit that gets picked by Dechane Durante.

8:01- NIU gets the spark they need as Harnish finds Nathan Palmer on a bomb that puts the Huskies at the Ohio 18. Huskies now inside the Bobcat 5.

8:04-Ohio gets yet another huge play as Noah Keller forces a fumble that is snatched up by Hasting. Survives the dreaded “tuck rule” review. Nothing could be going more wrong for NIU who will have to dig deep on defense yet again.

8:13- Ohio has driven down to the NIU 34 but call a time out when faced with a big 3rd-and-3. This could be a huge momentum swing.

8:18- Mario Dovell gets divine intervention from the replay booth as a questionable call keeps Ohio’s drive alive. Tettleton gallops for an 18-yard touchdown the next play. 20-0 Ohio with 2:35 left in the first half.

8:21- This is just getting uglier and uglier for NIU. They nearly lose the ball again on a fumble in their own territory. Mental struggles starting to creep in.

8:26- HALFTIME

Ohio 20
NIU 0

-The Huskies have been shut out at half time for the first time in 25 games.

-The yardage numbers are gruesome. Ohio with 302, NIU with 92.

– Even with Ohio topping 200 passing yards in the first half, I think they turn to the rushing game more in the 2nd. Harden has had some nice holes and is averaging 4.9 yards per carry.

-Chandler Harnish is 3-0f-7 for 35 yards. If it were not for his 37-yard completion late in the half, he would still be in the red.

-The always important time of possession battle favoring Ohio 19:21 to 10:39.

-LaVon Brazill has 7 receptions for 118 yards. Hello MVP.

-NIU looks like a D-6 high school band compared to the Marching 110.

8:50- NIU blows their chance to get back into the game with yet another fumble that gets recovered by Josh Kristoff. A scrum in the pile results in Cory Hastings getting ejected for punching an NIU player. Huskies have now committed four turnovers so far tonight, a new season high.

8:56- Ohio goes three-and-out and Paul Hershey punts for the first time tonight.

8:59- Announced attendance is 13,052. That is much lower than the season average for both teams.

9:07- NIU finally puts together a scoring drive. 10 plays 78 yards in 3:52 makes it a 20-7 game. Ohio has to be careful as there is still 6:19 left in the third.

9:15- A sickly feeling coming over the green-and-white clad at Ford Field. A quick three-and-out gives NIU a chance to really make noise late in the 3rd.

9:21- Ohio defense steps up big time making tackles when needed. Offense trying to put something together before the end of the third quarter.

9:26- END OF THE THIRD QUARTER

Ohio 20
NIU 7

-NIU came out much more focused for the better part of the quarter and it showed.

-Ohio didn’t try anything fancy that quarter. Didn’t hurt them, but it didn’t help them slam the door either. Just 35 yards for the offense in the 3rd.

-NIU averaging just 3.6 yards per carry on the game. Mega props to the Ohio defense for containing Harnish and Co. on the ground.

-LaVon did not see the ball once in the third quarter. The Huskies have taken him out of the game which helps their cause greatly.

9:33- Ohio still can’t finish. A nice drive stalls only to see Ohio come up empty handed when Weller pushes a field goal wide right. It is his first miss from inside 40 yards all year.

9:42- Jelani Wosley doing it big on defense for Ohio, coming up with a huge sack on third down with the Huskies driving. Ohio can really put a dent in this game with another time consuming drive.

9:48- Tettleton makes a really, and I mean really dumb decision throwing a deep ball into double coverage on a first down. No need to try that when running the clock out. NIU gets life yet again. Can they finally convert?

9:54- Personal fouls. Blown coverages. Ohio is coming unglued. Missed PAT keeps it a 7-point game after the NIU touchdown.

10:03- Ohio takes some time off (thanks to another offsides on fourth down) but after a shanked punt, NIU has a short field with 4:36 to work with.

10:08- Tie game. Harnish to Palmer yet again. Tied at 20 with 2:52 to play.

10:13- 1:18 remains with Ohio punting the ball back to NIU. They have a really, and I mean really good chance to win this in regulation.

10:18- NIU gets it down to the OU 19 with 37 seconds to play. Would be a 36-yarder for the win.