Greatest Hockey Fight Ever?

I came across this video on the sports humor site Sports Pickle the other day.

This took place in Kazakhstan between two 10U teams and literally looks like the TV show South Park in real life.

I must admit, I’m not a huge fan of fighting in hockey. Every other sport’s athletes have found ways to swing momentum in games by not throwing punches, so it is about time that hockey gets out of that prehistoric notion.

But, I’m a huge fan of kids doing funny things on camera and this ranks with the best. Plus everyone had full-screen helmets and no one got hurt, so we can all laugh about it.

Let’s break it down.

0:00-0:06- Ah, the old post-game handshake. There was that one kid that always thought he was so cool for saying something other than ‘good game’. I never got mad when that kid said ‘we won’ or ‘you suck’ while shaking hands because well, as a nine-year-old there were much more important things than indoor soccer such as Pokemon Gold/Silver or the post-game snack run.

0:07- After spitting some Kazakhastani trash talk, the child in the green jersey looks up to see a kid in the white jersey who is charging toward him. NOTE: the two kids no proper hockey ediquette. No cheap blows off the bat. Eye contact, a nod letting the opponent know a challenge has been made and….

0:08- The gloves are off. You can tell the kids have been practicing for this moment for a long time. Flawless execution.

0:09-0:17- Anyone that knows hockey will tell you that you need to stick up for your teammates. Kid in green gets tangled up, teammate goes to help. Kids in white see they are outnumbered now and they all go to help. Brawl on.

0:18- If you look to the right third of the screen, you’ll see #21 for the white team lay a beauty of a body check.

0:23- Parents now enter to help the poor refs break it up. Notice their calm demeanor. U.S. parents could learn a thing or two from them: Let the kids play. As an umpire in the Little League ranks for many years, I absolutely hated how much parents felt like they could control things. No need to run out onto the field/court/ice whenever your teenage child got hit by a haywire 20 MPH curveball. If this were happening in the States, the parents would be fighting more than the kids and lawsuits would be involved.

0:25- On the left third of the screen, you’ll see a coach dressed in black carry a kid off. Hopefully he was heard from again.

0:30- In the center, you’ll see goalies from both teams just standing around watching. Obviously these kids haven’t learned from Brent Johnson. Weak.

0:35- Order seems to be coming back, but #75 for the green team wants the last say. The coach in a red jacket makes a game-saving tackle from letting him do so.

0:46- Now comes the awkward part of trying to find your right equipment. That kid you were just punching might have taken your glove and you need it back. Kind of weird to start using your ‘please and thank you’s’.

0:49- This is probably the best part of the video. Every good hockey fan knows you have to let their players know you appreciate thier dropping the gloves. So, the parents and spectators have a loud ovation for the kids. Again, go go Kazakhistanian parents.

Think you can top that brawl? Shoot me a hockey fight video in the comments or on my Twitter page.

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EA Trax: A Tribute

The wonderful six-week winter vacation has come to an end.

As I return to Athens, Ohio, 20 credit hours plus high school and college basketball beats will severely limit my time on here. Since it is Syllabus Day, I thought I would take a break from the doom and gloom of the current sports world to give credit to one of the greatest video game enhancements of all time.

No, it’s not the one-timer on NHL ’93, nor the infamous Playmaker controls on Madden 2004.

I’m writing this to heap praise upon EA Trax.

While deep in-game soundtracks got their start with action sports games such as Tony Hawk Pro Skater, EA Trax kicked the door down on in-game music when it debuted in Madden NFL 2003.

When navigating menus of our franchises, dynasties, career modes and everything in-between, gamers no longer had to reach for the mute button when the lone menu song drove them insane. It also was a hit with musicians who benefited from the free advertising of their songs. Some acts that were virtual unknowns have used sports video games to propel their careers.

Now a look back at some of my favorite in-game soundtracks of all time.

Madden NFL 2003

A great place to start would be the beginning. The first-ever EA Trax game got off to a good start with the invigorating “Party Hard” by Andrew W.K. upon start. The soundtrack focused on alternative rock that featured artists such as Seether, Bon Jovi and Nappy Roots. Throw in a then relatively unknown O.K. Go with “Get Over It” and the middle school dance staple “Anthem” by Good Charlotte and this 12-year-old was sold.

NBA Live 2004

In the mid-2000’s, hip hop culture was taking over and NBA Live captured it perfectly with the emerging artists. Start with OutKast’s “Ghetto Musik” off of the Grammy winning Speakerboxxx/The Love Below and “Hands Up” by The Black Eyed Peas along with offerings from Jermaine Dupri, Sean Paul, Da Brat and Dilated Peoples. The cherry on top? Has to be the “NBA Live Remix” of “Right Thurr” by Chingy.

NCAA March Madness 2005

One thing that makes college sports unique is the bands that play music at the stadiums and arenas. March Madness covered this with pep bands performing a wide range of songs from  the moderns “Hey Mama” by the Black Eyed Peas and “Hanging by Moment” by Lifehouse to older hits such as “Disco Inferno” by The Tramps and “A Little Less Conversation” by Elvis. The only original recording on the game was Luther Vandross’s famous “One Shining Moment”. If I could find mp3’s of the other songs, they would still be a part of my running rotation.

NCAA Football ’06

Another change-up by the folks of EA Sports, the usual rotation of fight songs were replaced with a variety of college radio hits from both yesteryear (The Clash, The Pixies) and of today (Lagwagon, The Pietasters). It added a very dorm room-esque sound to the game. EA Sports scrapped it however and went back to the fight songs the next year. Boo.

FIFA Soccer ’12

With the underground music movement bigger than ever, no game has been able to capture this more than the FIFA Soccer series. The global soundtrack features a bevy of international songs and enough indie rock to have the most mainstream players channeling their inner hipster. I have no idea who Portugal, The Man, The Vaccines, or The Chain Gang of 1974 were before playing, but I now have plenty of their songs on my iPod. At 39 songs, it is also the largest soundtrack found on any game.

As games continue to advance, so have the music capabilities. All games now feature custom music features that allow songs from hard drives to be uploaded. The ability to customize songs to venues and teams have added a new dimension of realism.

So next time you’re jamming in a gaming lobby, think of the Tecmo Bowl theme and see how far we’ve come.

 

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.

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.

The War on Fans

As much as I hate anything pertaining to West Virginia University, I have to admit their fan loyalty can be matched by few in collegiate sports. They live and die with their Mountaineers, and while I think it can be over the top at times, they would be the last to have their devotion questioned.

But Mountaineer Football Head Coach Dana Holgorsen did just that last weekend following their 55-10 victory over Bowling Green. 46,603 fans showed up on a day featuring temperatures in the 50s and cold rain to see a low-end MAC team play. This apparently wasn’t good enough for Holgorsen, who was expecting sell outs similar to the LSU game every week. One comment he made at his weekly press conference really upset me.

 What’s so hard about it? Is it too cold? It wasn’t too cold for our players. It wasn’t too cold for our coaches or managers or trainers. They were out there. So why did we have 20,000 people less at this one than we did last week?

Well Dana, If I were a coach such as your self making hundreds or thousand or even millions of dollars to coach a team, well yes I would show up regardless of the weather. The same would go if I were a player receiving a free education to play a game.

The nerve Holgorsen has to attack fans who spend their hard earned money to attend games, in this economic climate no less, in which the money goes toward his and his staff’s salary is ridiculous. He fails to realize that West Virginia consistently is the top school for attendance in the Big East. Which leads me to this point.

Teams should never “call out” fans. Ever. Period.

Frank Coonelly did so in March, claiming that the Pirates would not be able to spend money until the fans show up in greater numbers. He was rightfully chastised for doing so by Pittsburgh media. People like this are much like those in government, out of touch with the “common citizen”.

Not all season ticket holders are able to make every game. Not everyone has the money for tickets in the locations that you mistakenly overpriced (ahem Yankees). As long as you aren’t in the red there isn’t really that much that you should be worried about. You do your job running the teams and let the fans do as they please.

As long as you guys are turning a profit, why should you even care who comes?

(Here is the press conference where Holgorsen goes off. You’d think the team is going to relocate because of it.)

Quality Websites Worth Bookmarking

This summer was very different for me. I spent it interning with The Almanac, the weekly newspaper of the South Hills of Pittsburgh. Being that I had to be in the office for 32 hours a week, and not always having 32 hours worth of work to do, it became important that I find some web sites to pass the time waiting for people to call me back on interviews and things of that nature. Tired of the back-and-forth between Twitter and Facebook, I was able to find some gems that you should check out too.

Uni-Watch (www.uni-watch.com)

Headed by Paul Lukas of ESPN.com’s Page 2, this site is billed as “The Obsessive Study of Athletics Aesthetics.” Paul and his staff have jersey news for all sports on lockdown and have plenty of entertaining features and interviews as well. The always-informative ticker points out nuances in uniforms from the previous night’s action. If you have an eye for details and love sports, you could kill a lot of time here.

Stadium Journey (www.stadiumjourney.com)

Planning a road trip to a sports venue? Just return from a place and want to share your opinions with others? Look no further. Stadium Journey provides a great resource for those making a trip to a ballpark, stadium or arena. Its staff gives good tips and reviews to make sure your trip will go as smoothly as possible. It also allows fans to post their own reviews and lend advice. If you’re thinking about traveling to see the Pittsburgh Steelers, Stetson Hatters, or any team in-between, make sure you stop here first.

Grantland (www.grantland.com)

I’m sure most of you have heard of this website, but I really didn’t get into checking it regularly until those drab days in the office. Bill Simmons of ESPN (one of the few associated with the network that I can actually stand) and his all-star team of writers share their thoughts on sports in addition to pop-culture happenings (in a section cleverly called “Hollywood Prospectus”). This “super blog” so to speak can be very entertaining and features a ton of talent. Simmons’ weekly mailbag can put a smile on your face even on your worst of days.

Sports Pickle (www.sportspickle.com)

This satirical sports site is very similar to The Onion, providing humorous fake sports stories.

If my readers have any other sites to add, feel free to comment below.

2010 Topps Chrome: Impulsive Card Buying

Trips to Wal-Mart can no longer be made with making a stop at the sports card display at the front of the store.

Since I’m basically done with the Topps set for 2011, I strafed around looking for a good deal.

Those $20 value boxes with a bunch of packs from different years and brands looked good at first, until this caught my eye.

8 packs of a quality product on sale for just $12. I’ll take that.

If you are unfamiliar with Topps Chrome, it is basically a condensed version of the regular Topps (only 220 cards as compared to 660) that is printed on fancy holographic “chrome” stock. When the yearly design is good, the images pop off the cards and look amazing.

My box contained 7 packs plus one bonus pack, which really was just 8 regular packs (stupid I know). Each one has four cards. Since it’s retail, odds of getting something nice are low. This product is heavy on rookies and hobby boxes (24 packs 4 cards per pack) guarantee two on card rookie autographs. Given that this year’s class was loaded with young guns such as Stephen Strasburg, Jason Heyward and Starlin Castro to name a few the results could be nice.

I pulled some good rookies in mine.

Unlike the regular version of Topps, there aren’t many inserts in Chrome, but rather refractor parallels that add some extra life to the cards with a rainbow sheen in the light.

X-fractor cards look cool too.

The scans don’t do them justice. They have a kaleidoscope type stock that looks great on display.

Another gimmick is Chrome parallels of other products. I got this Carl Crawford reprint of a 2010 Topps Heritage.

The odds of getting one was 1 in 86 packs so I was happy to pull one here.

I do have a couple gripes though. For whatever reason a lot of the cards are warped.

Kind of makes them look bad, though keeping them in binder pages will fix that. The cards are not centered well either, which kind of takes away from their look.

Another thing I don’t like is how when the checklist gets cut down, a lot of teams get left in the dust. Take the Pirates for example. Only four players made the cut: Andrew McCutchen, Aki Iwamura (????), Zach Duke, and Daniel McCutchen. This came out in October of 2010. You would have thought guys like Pedro Alvarez, Jose Tabata, or Neil Walker would have been included instead of bums like Duke and Iwamura. Plenty of great rookies make up for it however.

All in all, I can’t complain about this product. Since it got left in the dust thanks to the Strasburg-mania stir caused by Bowman it can be had on the cheap online, though it offers many of the same great young players. The cards are great for keeping in display, especially if you can get them autographed by players (my signed 2009 Andrew McCutchen rookie from this product will forever be my favorite). Some technical flaws keep it from getting my highest marks. I really hope Topps can straighten that out for the 2011 version.

Grade: B+