The Ryder Cup: Why This Could Be USA’s Year

September 19, 2008

by Willie Gannon…

The Ryder Cup is upon us once more. Over the last decade the competition has really captured the public imagination, and is now firmly entrenched as one of the greatest team competitions in the world.

What makes the Ryder Cup so special?

Golf is an individual sport and the golfers are reliant on themselves and maybe their caddie for a few sage words of advice. Their psychology is built around having no one else to rely on, pitting their game against the elements and facing and overcoming your greatest enemy, your own mind.

The Ryder Cup takes this individual approach and for two days it’s thrown out the window. Even on the last day, you are not playing for yourself as your result will impact on the team.

The competition is split into three separate sections.

Foursomes is a competition between two teams of two golfers. The golfers on the same team only use one ball and take alternative shots. The hole is won by the team with the lowest score.

Fourballs is where four golfers, two from each team, play their own ball. The golfer who comes in with the lowest score wins the hole for his team.

The last day sees the Singles, where each golfer plays off against an opponent from the other team.

America had dominated the Cup until recently.In 1927 the first Ryder Cup took place in Worchester County Club, Massachusetts, with Team America running out as victors. The great Walter Hagen became the first captain to hold the trophy aloft.

When the now famous tournament first originated it was competed between America and Great Britain. The competition was very one sided, with Team USA winning 16 and Britain only winning three.

So, in 1973 Ireland joined the UK to play against America. America’s domination of the Cup wasn’t even dented so, after losing the next three in a row, Great Britain and Ireland gave way to Team Europe.

Team USA continued their domination winning the next three competitions against Team Europe, and it wasn’t until 1983, in a fantastic competition where Team USA won on a dramatic last day by one point (14.5-13.5), that their domination was truly tested.

Since that fateful day in 1983, Europe have won eight Ryder Cups, including five in the last six, to America’s three.

Europe head to Valhalla after winning the last three-in-a-row. And they have really dominated the Cup winning by massive margins. Much has been made of Team Europe’s team ethic, and the fact that Tiger Woods seems not to be a team player and that Team USA are not a “team”.

There is a camaraderie in Europe as many of the players travel together to tournaments around the world, often staying with each other in hotels.The players also come from similar social backgrounds which also helps the players bond.

While in America the players don’t seem to have the same level of friendship, they don’t fraternise outside the actual tournament, travel individually, and come from a variety of backgrounds. Basically, they don’t mix with each other.

But things could be changing for Team USA in this years Ryder Cup.

Tiger is injured. And his presence won’t leave any of his team mates in awe. Perhaps this is one of the reasons that team Captain Paul Azinger has chosen four rookies this year. And with Kenny Perry and J.B. Holmes, two good ‘ol boys from Kentucky in the team, Azinger is hoping that the “raucous Nascar type fan will get behind them”.

This boisterous, beer swilling fan is actually Europe’s biggest fear going into the Ryder Cup. In the controversial 1999 Ryder Cup the American fans cheered every shot. Traditional etiquette decrees fans should stay silent during the swing—well at Brookline they did for Team USA, they didn’t for Team Europe.

To add insult to injury the singles match between Justin Leonard and Jose Maria Olazabal went to the last hole. Both needed to putt for par but Leonard had a simple 4ft putt compared to Olazabal’s 22ft. Leonard putted home and Team USA, their wives and fans all ran onto the green to celebrate. But if Olazabal putted his shot the hole would be shared and Europe would win. After five or six long minutes the green was eventually vacated and after Olazabal composed himself he putted for home. He missed, Team America ran back on to celebrate and the rest is history.

This upset many European players and commentators, Sam Torrance described the Americans behaviour as “disgusting” and Team Captain Mark James referred to it as “like playing in a bear-pit.”

In Ireland in 2006, quite unconventionally the Irish crowd cheered every player’s shot. But it wasn’t until Darren Clarke took to the course that the Irish crowd responded in really tearing the roof off. The reception and good will that Clarke received left the Irishman in a tearful state, and he went on to repay his faithful fans by helping Europe retain the title. Clarke’s wife had died six months prior to the Cup.

However, the reception he received left some of the junior American players overwhelmed and they failed to live up to their expectations as the tournament progressed.

All is not well in the Team Europe camp this time out, as Captain Nick Faldo has controversially left both Colin “Monty” Montgomerie and fan favourite Clarke out of the team. Both of these players are well known for their forthright opinions and in Europe it is felt that Faldo removed the two players from the equation to make himself the focal point.

But this move could yet backfire on Faldo, as these two players were the father figures of the team, and were a huge influence off the course. Clarke is a renowned facilitator and goes out of way to make himself available to the younger players. Padraig Harrington could hardly be described as a rookie, yet the triple major winner often used Clarke as a sounding board during the competition.

Monty, like Clarke, is one of the old hands in the European side and has vast experience. Monty is usually the one that players turn to for golfing advice and was the ying to Clarke’s yang. How the team will cope without it’s two biggest influences is anybody’s guess, but Harrington and Garcia are both privately upset at having to step forward as the sounding boards for the other team members. Harrington in particular shys away from publicity and does not like to be the centre of attention.

And with turmoil in the Team Europe camp, Azinger has brought the team together earlier than expected. Team USA have had many bonding sessions, most recently the team were at a museum in Louisville, Kentucky dedicated to Muhammad Ali. In bringing the team out to public places like this Azinger is rightly hoping that the Kentucky public will get right behind the team.

Azinger has also brought the battle against Europe to Valhalla. At The K-Club last year the fairway’s width was narrowed and the length of the holes shortened, while in Valhalla Azinger has insisted on widening most of the fairways and lengthening the holes. Thus setting the course up to suit the long-hitting American team.

One other aspect Azinger has paid acute attention to is the green speed. During the last three Ryder Cups the greens have all played slow. In Valhalla, Azinger wants the greens to play as fast as the greenkeepers can make them.

A stimp meter measures the speed of the green, or how fast the ball will travel on the green. A usual stimp reading for championship golf would be around 10. Azinger is hoping to have it around 11 or 12. To put that into perspective, the stimp reading at the K-Club was at 8. This is the usual setting for members golf, and it caused the American team and Tiger Woods in particular all kinds of problems.

Nine years ago in Brookline, Ben Crenshaw insisted on the greens playing slow. After the first two days Europe had a commanding lead so for the final day Crenshaw instructed the green keepers to speed up the greens. On the final day America won 14.5 to 13.5.

But Europe learnt from this too. And for the next Ryder Cup in England the greens were slowed down. Europe won. Again in Ireland two years ago Ian Woosnam gave the order to slow the greens.

Again Europe won.

In European golf the golfers play across a variety of courses in a variety of conditions. In America, the golf scene is reminiscent of American horse racing. The tracks are the same, and the conditions are usually the same too. The same can be said of American golf courses.

So, in adjusting the Valhalla course Azinger has set up a course his players are already acclimatised to. With Holmes and Perry having intimate knowledge of the course as locals, Azinger is hoping for America’s first win since 1999.

Valhalla Golf Course was designed by the legendary Jack Nicklaus, and he feels the Ryder Cup will be won and lost on five particular holes.

The 1st hole was a straight forward hole until bunkers were added on the front right of the green and to the rear of the green. The tees were also pushed back to make the hole a long 446 yards par 4. The set up suits the long hitting American team, as any player who drives less than 300 yards will have a tricky approach shot.

Huge changes have been made to the 6th as the former 420 yard par 4 has been lengthened to a staggering 500 yard par 4. There is a stream (Floyd’s Fork) that meanders through the course but it’s effect could be brutal on this hole. Players will have to take a long drive to the left of the stream but that will still leave an approach shot of around 220 yards to the green, around a right handed dog leg. This will be one of the toughest tests the players will have to face.

The 13th is one of the most famous holes in golfdom. At 350 yards it is the shortest par 4 on the course, but the short length is matched by savage trickery. Five bunkers surround the small driving zone, making it a minefield for the inaccurate. But the real beauty is on the green. The green—one of the most spectacular you’ll see anywhere—is raised 20 ft and is on an island in a lake. Only accurate golfers need apply.

A renovation to the 17th has created a tough uphill hole. The tee was lowered by 8ft and the fairways have been complimented by new bunkers on the right hand side, making the preferred landing area a very difficult target. This hole has also been lengthened by 50 yards, making it a very tough 425 yard par 4.

The monstrous par 5 18th is one of the best finishing holes in world golf. The hole was tough enough already, but the added placement of a bunker to the left of the green has made a tough hole even tougher.

Bookmakers have Europe at 10/11 and America at Evens, while you can get the draw at 10-1. But with America at home and the Europeans seemingly in disarray, you could be forgiven for betting on America to win.

Wake Up with Donna D’Errico

September 19, 2008

by The Captain… I’ve been getting tons of emails, everyone wants to know where we’re holding the secret T.O. Sports Magazine, Front Page Photo Shoot with the Cinnamon Girls, all I can say is, “Life’s a Beach” and you’ll have to bribe me big time to get this information. Our Girls are hot and there’s like 12 of them or maybe more! Yes that’s a WOW factor! In the mean time I’ll entertain you with Donna, who’s nowhere near the hotness of our girls… Really, I wouldn’t lie to you, I don’t even know you! Some insiders are pissed off I haven’t divulged any information. All I can say boys, “It’s Better to be Pissed Off than pissed on”! NOME, SAME? Keep reading TOsports.ca, and thanks for coming!

MONEY MAKERS WEEK 3

September 19, 2008

by Mike De Marco… The image “http://www.jcatdesign.com/sfwebpage/y2k_go1.jpg” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.

OVERALL RECORD 11-2-1    POWER PICKS 2-0

San Francisco – 4 vs. Detroit: (Power Selection)
Are you kidding me? On one hand you have a team that looks just downright dreadful and on the other you have an exciting young talented team with loads of talent. These teams are definitely heading in opposite directions. The problem here is not too many people are convinced that the 49ers are an above average team. Hey I will be the first to admit that I am not sold on quarterback J.T O’Sullivan yet either, but I am sold on that defense, and running back Frank Gore. The Lions can’t stop anybody on defense and just because 49ers offensive coordinator Mike Martz coached in Detroit the previous few seasons does not mean that the Lions will know what’s coming on offense, and even if they did they still wouldn’t stop them. That goes to show you how poor I think the lions defense is. This game is as easy as they come.

Denver – 5.5 vs. New Orleans
This game is simple arithmetic really. Week one the Redskins offense looked terrible. Week two that same offense rolls up over 450 yards against…..the Saints. Week one Denver piles up over 400 yards and 40 points on offense….week two the same Denver team compiles an additional 450 plus yards and 39 points….week three Denver plays New Orleans = a big win for the Broncos. Sure the Saints are a very good team but for the concerns that they had on defense entering the season it looks like they still have a long way to go. Jay Cutler will have a field day picking apart one of the leagues worst back seven’s and even the Saints offense has concerns as their receiving core is banged up. The only team that can beat Denver this week is Denver themselves.

Atlanta – 6 vs. Kansas City
It’s funny how one week I can go against a team, and love them just seven days later, but such is life in the National Football League. I really think Kansas City is in a world of trouble this season. They have holes everywhere, and I mean everywhere. Their only star player Larry Johnson wants out, and when your best player gives up it doesn’t set a great tone in the locker room. The Falcons only need to put forth the effort they have in the first two weeks and they will have no trouble here. Atlanta will get back to pounding the football in the run game and having Matt Ryan go up top when the run game softens up the defense. I think this game isn’t even close.

NY Giants/Cincinnati over 41
Chicago - 3 vs. Tampa Bay
Philadelphia - 3 vs. Pittsburgh
San Diego - 9 vs. NY Jets

BT’s 2008/09 NHL Season Preview: The Phoenix Coyotes

September 19, 2008

by Bryan Thiel…

The Phoenix Coyotes were never “we’re going to challenge for the Cup” good.

They were “we’re going to sneak into the first round” good, but they’ve always been ousted once they made it to the playoffs, losing two series in five games, one series in six games, and two in seven.

The day may be arriving though, that the Phoenix Coyotes may actually see second round hockey.


Roster Additions

Oli Jokinen-F (Trade), David Hale-D (F.A.), Brian McGratton-F (Trade), Kurt Sauer-D (F.A.), Todd Fedoruk-F (F.A.)

Roster Subtractions

Keith Ballard-D (Trade), Nick Boynton-D (Trade),  David Aebischer-G (F.A.), Mike York-F (F.A.), Pavel Brendl-F (F.A.), Niko Kapanen-F (Europe), Radim Vrbata-F (F.A.), Marcel Hossa-F (F.A.)

How did 2007/08 go?

38-37-7, 83 points, 12th in Conference, fourth in Pacific division

2008/09 Goal

Top ten in Conference, make the playoffs.

Let’s break’er down…

Now throughout this series, I’ve tried to say something inspirational about the team, or a little speech about how they “aren’t all bad” if they’ve been terrible in recent memory, or how “dominance is enviable” if they’re good.

I just miss the Winnipeg Jets. Leave the ‘Yotes in Phoenix because I kind of like them there, but I miss the Jets. These are things that I think you should know (It’s been FOREVER since I’ve used that line….I missed it….look for it to make a comeback!).

Feel that Bryz(galov) blowing between your ears?

I almost went with legs instead of ears, as a goalie joke. Then I thought about the children who read this column. Then my girlfriend called and said “kids don’t read your column but maybe one day they will”. I don’t know what prompted her to call and say that but she did.

Now I’m worried.

Anyways, as some always thought, Ilya Bryzgalov is a good goalie, maybe even a great goalie, who was able to prove coming out of Anaheim, that he could handle the load once he left J.S. Giguere’s shadow. Overcoming a slow start (2-3, 2.55 GAA, .909 save percentage with Anaheim), Bryzgalov won 26 games for the Coyotes, posting a .921 save percentage and a 2.43 GAA.

He’s never had a season below .500, and he’s only ever posted a GAA over 2.50 in the NHL once (2005 with a 2.51) and with an improving Coyotes team, Bryzgalov could be good for 30 wins, and a surprise Vezina candidate.

For a while, Leafs fans were treating Mikael Tellqvist as the next starter, and we were happy to have the future set. Then, he seemed to erode a bit, and all of the sudden he was worth little more than Tyson Nash.

Tyson Nash never played a game for the Leafs. At least I don’t think so. If he did, then there’s a reason I never payed attention to him.

Anyways, since then, Tellqvist has provided Phoenix with little more than an admirable backup presence, and a fill-in until Al Montoya is ready to take some minutes at the NHL level. Once Bryzgalov’s contract is up though, Montoya will have hopefully developed the consistency to be a starter at the NHL level—because he has established that he has some of the skills to get him there.

Doan’t stop believ’in….sometimes it just takes a little time….

For a couple of seasons, Shane Doan was the best player the Coyotes had. Although he had the tools (The size, grit, and two-way ability) he didn’t have the talent surrounding him, or the playmaking consistency to be “the guy” in Phoenix. Following the signing of Doan’s five-year extension though, the worry for years that Doan’s time in Phoenix would be put to bed was put to rest, and Doan found himself in a scenario where a young, exciting team was being built around him.

Following seven straight 20-goal seasons (and one 30 goal season following the lockout), Doan will be looking to pair up with one of Phoenix’s young stars to further improve his production.

Peter Mueller is one of those players, and although the Minnesota native isn’t the biggest, strongest, or fastest skater in the league, Mueller has the goal scoring ability to help improve Doan’s assist totals. Following a debut 20-goal season, I wouldn’t be surprised if Mueller put up 25-30 this season now that he’s got his legs under him.

Martin Hanzal meanwhile, has the ability to be a great playmaker for the Young ‘Yotes. At 6′5 he’s got a very long reach, and great hockey senses, which allow him to exploit holes in the opposition’s ranks, and find the open man. While he’ll have the skills in a few years to turn almost any linemate into an almost 20-goal scorer, Hanzal may struggle this year as he gets accustomed to his size at the NHL level.

Then you’ve got Kyle Turris—the highly touted BCHL product who forwent his time in College to join the Coyotes late last season. Although he had one assist in his first three games, Turris is making a big jump in levels of hockey, and although he has the instincts and skills to get by on, it’ll be a few years before his body grows into itself, and Turris is used to taking the consistent abuse at the NHL level.

Three of the biggest acquisitions though this offseason for the Coyotes were Brian McGratton, Todd Fedoruk, and Oli Jokinen. While Jokinen will provide a big body and adept scoring presence (Three straight 30-goal seasons with Florida, and two 80+ point seasons in the past three years), it’s Fedoruk and McGratton that will help the most.

With their addition, Daniel Carcillo is now free from his league-leading 300+ penalty minute status, and is now expected to use his hands to score a few more goals, rather than rough the opposition up so often. Remember, he had five goals in his last two games last season, and he’s scored in the 20-30 range before. If he can stay out of the box, he’s going to surprise a lot of people.

Steven Reinprecht will be able to provide some slight scoring depth, but he’ll also be expected to play a strong two-way game on an offensive-minded Phoenix team. With an increase in the talent around him though, Steve Reinprecht may flourish a little more than he has, and he may reach 20-goal, 50-point potential once again.

Meanwhile, Viktor Tikhonov may surprise this season, especially with some of the talent surrounding him, while Enver Lisin will definitely benefit from being surrounded from so many playmakers this year, and for years to come.

At least it’s not as bad as the opening scene from ‘JovoCop’

Ed Jovanovski will once again lead a very underrated defense. Jovanovski has turned one of the most questionable decisions of his career in signing with Phoenix, to one of the best for his future, as his tough nature and natural ability make him the perfect choice to lead this corps.

With all of the potential he could be paired with, Jovanovski could shatter his career-high 17 goals (along with some extended power play time) and could eclipse last year’s 50 points.

Over the past few seasons, Derek Morris’ point production has fallen off a bit, but he’s still a solid defender and number two option. Like Jovo, Morris’ shot and play, will benefit from the talent surrounding him.

Kurt Sauer was the main shut-down guy in Colorado last season, and he came $2 million cheaper than Jeff Finger. Zbynek Michalek turned in a solid season after breaking his hand early, and his offensive numbers should bounce back, while his defense should improve from last year.

With a few more seasons, Keith Yandle should also be a great offensive defenseman, but his defensive fine tuning—like most young d-men—will take a little work.

So what’s it all mean?

To be honest, I have a very difficult time believing that the Coyotes won’t take the Pacific division by storm.

The young, growing defense will be dangerous, the forwards are deadly, and Bryzgalov may be one of the more underrated netminders in the game. Or he could just be unproven.

Because it can still be considered a year of flux, and some of them are still untested though, I still need to see the ‘Yotes in action to believe it.

But I really can’t wait to see it.

4th in Pacific Division

College Football Preview: Week Four Brings SEC to Center Stage

September 19, 2008

by Hollis Warren…

As we enter Week Four of the season, I notice that ESPN has started the Tuesday/Wednesday games early this year.  Don’t get me wrong—I love football as much as everyone else here.  But I think it has gotten to the point of overexposure when there are games on every night of the week, especially during the baseball pennant races.
I never have minded the Thursday game because that is kind of an appetizer for the weekend to come, and it helps you realize just how close the weekend truly is.
The Friday night games made me mad to begin with.  That is the night to go out and support your local high school team.
But this Tuesday and Wednesday business is just a cherry on top.  Tonight’s game features Kansas State and Louisville, two middling BCS programs who are struggling in their efforts to regain past glory.
Interesting, yes, but will I watch it?  Probably not.
If these Tuesday/Wednesday night games do have one positive, it has to be the fact that it gives the non-BCS conferences (outside of the MWC, which has its own television network and no deal with ESPN) some much needed exposure without having to fight for air time with the BCS powers.
On to this week’s schedule and previews of the week’s premier games.

WEDNESDAY 9/17

Kansas State at Louisville, 8 (ESPN 2)
THURSDAY 9/18
West Virginia at Colorado, 8:30 (ESPN)
FRIDAY 9/19
Baylor at Connecticut, 8 (ESPN 2)
SATURDAY 9/20
East Carolina at NC State, 12 (ESPN)
Iowa at Pittsburgh, 12 (ESPN 2)
Temple at Penn State, 12 (BTN)
Troy at Ohio State, 12 (BTN)
Ohio at Northwestern, 12 (BTN)
Florida Atlantic at Minnesota, 12 (BTN)
Central Michigan at Purdue, 12 (BTN)
UCF at Boston College, 1 (ESPN U)
Akron at Army, 1 (ESPN Classic)
Arizona at UCLA, 3 (FSN)
Florida at Tennessee, 3:30 (CBS)
Notre Dame at Michigan State, 3:30 (ABC/ESPN)
Virginia Tech at North Carolina, 3:30 (ABC/ESPN)
Miami (FL) at Texas A&M, 3:30 (ABC)
Rutgers at Navy, 3:30 (CBS College Sports)
Utah at Air Force, 4 (Versus)
South Florida at Florida International, 5 (ESPN U)
Wake Forest at Florida State, 7 (ESPN 2)
Ball State at Indiana, 7 (BTN)
Rice at Texas, 7 (FSN)
LSU at Auburn, 7:45 (ESPN)
Georgia at Arizona State, 8 (ABC)
TCU at SMU, 8 (CBS College Sports)
Fresno State at Toledo, 8:15 (ESPN U)
Games of the Week
LSU at Auburn
As usual, the Tiger Bowl will go a long way in determining who has the upper hand in the SEC West race, although I am sure Alabama would like to have a say in determining the division winner (I am going to hold off considering them a contender until I see how they play against Georgia next Saturday).
Both LSU and Auburn possess strong defenses, which is nothing out of the ordinary for a couple of annual SEC powers.  But what will decide this game is quarterback play.
Neither team has a signal caller with much experience, let alone against a team as good as what they will be facing Saturday night (although Chris Todd did lead the Auburn Tigers to a high-octane 3-2 win at Mississippi State this past week).  LSU will feature a platoon of Andrew Hatch and Jarrett Lee, while the home Tigers counter with Chris Todd.
Ultimately, whichever quarterback makes the fewest mistakes and manages the game the best will lead his team to victory.
I have to give the edge to Auburn seeing how this game is in Auburn, but I did pick LSU to win the West at the beginning of the season, so I am kind of torn on who will actually take home the victory.
Florida at Tennessee
It wouldn’t be the third Saturday in September without the Vols and Gators squaring off, although this rivalry isn’t quite as intense as it was back in the Spurrier days, seeing how the Ol’ Ball Coach and Phillip Fulmer didn’t exactly see eye-to-eye.  But this game is still huge in the SEC East landscape each and every season.

Adding fuel to the fire this year is a former Gators player who claimed the Vols gave up late in last year’s 59-20 Florida win at The Swamp.  If that doesn’t motivate Tennessee, I am sure the fact that they were upset at UCLA and weren’t overly impressive against UAB will.

The Vols need to come out and play inspired football on Saturday at Neyland, and after reading about their lack of desire late in last year’s contest, I am sure they will be pissed off.

But if they want to upset Florida, they need to neutralize Tim Tebow, a healthy Percy Harvin, and Florida’s other big playmakers.  It won’t be easy.

However, I expect UT to stick around and make this an interesting game behind the rabid fan base in Knoxville.

Georgia at Arizona State
While the SEC East and West both feature early season showdowns, another conference player will partake in the rare non-conference SEC showcase by traveling to Tempe on Saturday night.
This game probably has lost some luster on the national landscape, seeing how the Sun Devils somehow managed to lose at home to UNLV in Week Three.  But UGA needs a convincing win to prove the voters shouldn’t have dropped them from No. 1 in favor of USC after the first week of the season.
Arizona State could use a win to keep their at-large BCS berth hopes alive down the road, assuming they do not upend the Trojans in the Pac-10 race.
The Dawgs can’t go marching into what will be an extremely hot game and play uninspired football.  No looking ahead to the ‘Bama game.  This is almost like a fifth SEC road game, and the Sun Devil Stadium faithful will make it feel that way.
Expect a close battle for four quarters, but Matt Stafford, Knowshon Moreno, and the Georgia defense will be too much for Arizona State.  Hopefully they do win because I am tired of hearing the Pac-10 Kool-Aid drinkers claim their conference is better than the SEC just because Tennessee has lost to Cal and UCLA the past two years.
Wake Forest at Florida State
The fun is over for the Seminoles as they finally get a team with a pulse visiting Tallahassee after two easy wins over FCS opponents.  Many of the suspended ‘Noles players return this week, but probably not enough.
Wake Forest is a very good football team, and at this point in the season, they can claim to be the best the meager ACC has to offer.  At the end of the season, this may turn out to be the game that determines who wins the ACC Atlantic, because favorite Clemson has been largely uninspiring this year.
This will be a litmus test game for Florida State as they try to determine how much they have improved since last season.  The offense looks to be clicking on all cylinders, but I’ll reassess that claim after a game or two against real competition.
West Virginia at Colorado
The Mountaineers have already lost one non-conference game, and for the struggling Big East, they really can’t afford another.
Colorado struggled with Eastern Washington two weeks ago, but I think it is still safe to say Dan Hawkins’ team is on the rise and will give their Big 12 foes plenty of fits in 2008.
Last season, a huge home win over Oklahoma catapulted them to a bowl game, and I am sure they’d love to move to 3-0 on the year and position themselves well before conference play commences.
Bill Stewart seems to have Pat White throwing a lot more than he did under Rich Rodriguez, and it didn’t seem to work too well against ECU.  I really think for the Mountaineers to win this game two-thirds of the way across the country, they need to rediscover the dual threat Pat White that made them so dangerous to begin with. 
Other games that you may want to keep an eye on
Iowa at Pittsburgh
A couple years back, many people were pegging Iowa and Pittsburgh to be programs on the rise.  That may still end up being the case, but Kirk Ferentz and Dave Wannstedt’s teams have resorted to mediocrity and could use a solid non-conference win before attacking conference play.
Iowa is 3-0, but their biggest win is over Iowa State, while Big East member Pitt is 1-1 in MAC play after losing to Bowling Green and holding off Buffalo.
Arizona at UCLA

At the beginning of the season, everyone was saying it was now or never for Mike Stoops in Tucson.  Losing to New Mexico, who lost to Texas A&M, who lost to Arkansas State, won’t help matters.  But now the “real” season begins as they visit Westwood to kick off Pac-10 play.

Everyone jumped on the Bruin bandwagon after their upset of Tennessee but quickly jumped off after the 59-0 clubbing at the hands of BYU.

Boise State at Oregon
This game won’t be televised outside of the Northwest but is intriguing nonetheless.  Boise State is not getting a whole lot attention in the, as Tim Brando puts it, “flies in the ointment” department in 2008, but this is still a very dangerous team.
Oregon’s QB situation took another turn for the worse when Justin Roper sprained his MCL against Purdue (an injury that looked a lot worse than it actually was), so the Ducks have a lot of questions entering this game that need to be answered.  Expect a high-scoring affair.

Notre Dame at Michigan State
For Irish faithful, manhandling Michigan to move to 2-0 was certainly fulfilling.  For us Irish detractors, seeing Charlie Weis fall and go boom was more than enough to keep us entertained (although I’d never wish harm on anybody, even Weis, this was just too funny not to laugh at).
Their assignment this week will likely be more difficult as they travel to East Lansing and will have to slow down Javon Ringer.  Notre Dame should find a lot out about where they stand, seeing how the Spartans are a dark horse to many in this year’s Big Ten race.
Virginia Tech at North Carolina
Believe it or not, this could be the battle for supremacy in the Coastal Division of the beleaguered ACC.  As proven in their shellacking of Rutgers last Thursday, the Tar Heels have an abundance of big playmakers, led by wideout Brandon Tate, that should end a bowl-less streak that stretches back to 2001.
Going up against a Frank Beamer defense will not be a stroll in the park by any stretch of the imagination, but I like UNC to pull off the upset, considering VT’s ongoing offensive issues.
Utah at Air Force
If the Utes want to crash the BCS festivities, they obviously have to beat mighty rival BYU.  But first things first, as they visit Colorado Springs and a dangerous Falcons team on Saturday.  This may be Utah’s toughest road game of 2008, and that’s considering the fact they went to Ann Arbor.
The Air Force Academy has never had an overwhelming amount of talent, but Troy Calhoun has continued the tradition of winning started by the now-retired Fisher DeBerry.  They are dangerous.
Vanderbilt at Ole Miss
For the past several seasons—or in the case of Vandy, 25—these two have been pretty much automatic wins for the powers that be in the SEC (as close as you can get to automatic Ws in the SEC anyways).  Not any longer.
The Rebels and Commodores enter at a combined 5-1, although the schedule makers have been a huge help in getting there.  The only loss was Ole Miss’ heartbreaking defeat at the hands of Wake Forest (my game of the year thus far).
If one or both of these teams wants to go bowling this year, they need this one desperately.

BT’s Top 50 NHL Players: Let the Argument Begin!

September 19, 2008

by Bryan Thiel…

Who are the top fifty players in the NHL?

Well…that definitely depends on who you ask. In an argument that has as many answers as who the best player in the NHL (alright….there’s only two, maybe three answers to that question but still) it’s always interesting to see where fans agree and disagree.

Who’s overrated? Who’s under-rated? Who’s never been rated before but should be rated? Is there any other coherent sentence that we can insert the word ‘rated’ into and still have it make sense?

Probably not.

But coherent or not, we’re taking a break from my season previews, and taking a look at the top fifty players in the NHL.

It could be worse…you could be Jason Muzzatti

50. Zach Parise, New Jersey Devils—Parise is kind of pigeon-holed in New Jersey. Although it gives him an opportunity to show case a good two-way game, one has to believe that Parise’s 65 points and 30 goals would be even better if he weren’t in such a stiffling system. We’ll see if he can overcome those troubles this season.

49. Peter Mueller, Phoenix Coyotes—It seems strange to have Mueller at 49 instead of Elias, but he is. Mueller is an exciting young player, and his rookie season was a solid one with 22 goals and 54 points. He’s a solid building block for Phoenix going forward, and there’s no telling how high he could climb on this list one day.

48. Duncan Keith, Chicago Blackhawks—Keith is a very exciting young defenseman, who is going to have an outstanding career. He was a first-time All Star last season, and if his offense picks up, there’s no telling how high Keith’s star could climb.

47. Sam Gagner, Edmonton Oilers—Gagner was a big surprise for the Edmonton Oilers last season, and a dynamo in the shootout. He’s got a talent package that’ll help him rise in the NHL for years to come, and could bridge the 20 goal mark this season.

46. Thomas Vanek, Buffalo Sabres—That big contract he received during last year’s restricted free agency season doesn’t help, but even in an off-year, Vanek is a 36 goal-scorer. The more he teams with Derek Roy in the future, the better the Sabres, and Vanek are going to get.

45. J.P. Dumont, Nashville Predators—Since his move from Buffalo to Nashville, Dumont has fallen away from the pubic eye a bit, but he’s also increased his production. Because he isn’t overshadowed by the the Drury’s, Vanek’s or Briere’s, Dumont’s broached the 30 goal plateau this past season, and will be an integral part of any success the Predators have.

44. Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Minnesota Wild—He’s 24, and he was able to net 60 points in a defense-first Minnesota system. If Marian Gaborik decides to stick around, then these two could be a dynamic combination. Great vision, great passer.

43. Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks—There’s probably a great deal of argument to having Kane higher on this list. The reigning Calder trophy winner had a great season, topping 70 points. His defensive play is still coming along, but Kane will help lead the ‘Hawks to a Stanley Cup one day.

42. Ryan Suter, Nashville Predators—Another underrated player from Nashville who’ll one day ascend to superstar status. The more he uses that point shot, the more he’ll score (duh), and once his game in his own end rounds out, he’l be one tough defenseman.

41. Jeff Carter, Philadelphia Flyers—Carter is an exceptional goal scorer, who could pot 35 this season. He’s spent his time in Philly’s system, so with that added comfort, he could also break 70 points this year for the first time in his NHL career.

40. Paul Statsny, Colordao Avalanche—A 70-point producer from last season, he’s learned from some of the best in Colorado, including Joe Sakic and even Peter Forsberg for a bit. As he matures with the rest of the Colorado core, Statsny’s playmaking ability will get even better, and Colorado could once again climb to the top of the standings in a few years under his leadership.

Some work to achieve greatness…

39. Miikka Kiprusoff, Calgary Flames—It seems a little strange to have a goalie who was a win away from a third-straight 40 win season this low, but his goals-against average and save percentage have gone up and down respectively over the past few seasons, so Kipper may be starting to show his age.

38. Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks—This kid could be top fifteen by next season, but this will be his big year in determining that. Sergei Samsonov taught us not to count our chickens before they hatch, but Toews displays great leadership, hands, and smarts at such a young age, that he was a no-brainer as the ‘Hawks captain.

*Disclaimer: I only used Sergei Samsonov as a reference to how things can go down hill; in no way am I comparing the two. He’s just a prime example of what CAN happen ok?

37a. Daniel Sedin, Vancouver Canucks

37b. Henrik Sedin, Vancouver Canucks— They go together everywhere else, so why not here too? Together, the Sedin’s provide the Canucks with a great goal-scoring and playmaking combination. That, and they gave Anson Carter the ride of his life a few seasons ago. Imagine if they had a real linemate (will Steve Bernier please stand up?).

35. Derek Roy, Buffalo Sabres—This guy was probably the quietest 30-goal, 80-point man in the NHL last season. While everyone talks about Thomas Vanek, Derek Roy will be right there along with him when the Sabres return to prominence in the Eastern Conference.

34. Alex Kovalev, Montreal Canadiens—At his age, it was surprising to see Kovalev bounce back after a very disappointing 2006/07 (47 points). With a huge season in 2007/08 though (84 points), Kovalev endeared himself a little longer to Canadiens’ faithful, although his production may fall somewhere in the 70-80 point neighbourhood this season. At least the Rangers got Jozef Balej in return.

33. Marty Turco, Dallas Stars—A solid starting goalie for the Stars, working on five straight 30 win seasons. Turco is very athletic, and has proven that he has the ability to win when it counts. Although he’s getting older, Turco is still eyeing that elusive Cup ring, and has the drive to carry the Stars.

32. Martin St Louis, Tampa Bay Lightning—His production dropped a lot last season (Almost 20 points) but he can still be that startling little winger when he lines up on the side. With the added depth on Tampa’s forwards, his production may go up a bit from last year, but St. Louis can still open up some space with his quick feet.

31. Mike Richards, Philadelphia Flyers—Has great vision, and can use his hockey smarts and skating ability to get himself to the open ice. He’s one of the most dynamic two-way players entering the NHL, and his leadership is a highly coveted commodity in Philly.

30. Brad Richards, Dallas Stars—Richards had a bit of an off year last season, but with a talented group of Dallas forwards around him, he’ll make them better, and his numbers will reflect that. Although Richards shot a little less in Dallas last season (2 goals in 11 games), Richards has some great playmaking ability that will flourish over the course of a full season.

Here’s where it gets jumbled…

29. Marc Savard, Boston Bruins—After a bit of an off-year, Savard looks primed to return to his 90-point presence for the Boston Bruins. Once thought that he couldn’t perform without a winger the caliber of Ilya Kovalchuk, Savard has shown off his deft passing ability, along with a little bit of goal scoring ability.

28. Jay Bouwmeester, Florida Panthers—Is the real deal on the back end for the Florida Panthers. Bouwmeester is starting to come into his own as a goal-scoring threat on the back end, and will work with Bryan McCabe to make the Florida powerplay a real monster.

27. Daniel Alfredsson, Ottawa Senators—Alfie has started to watch his body catch up with him over the past few seasons. He’ll be 36 this season, and even with injuries mounting, he’ll still be able to put up a solid season atop the heap in Ottawa. He’ll also have the drive to get Ottawa back to the playoffs, and really make some noise this season.

26. Mike Green, Washington Capitals—Coming off of a huge year (18 goals, 56 points) for the Capitals, Green is poised to become the leader of the Caps defense. He’s an exciting player to watch, and will only get better as time goes on.

25. Dany Heatley, Ottawa Senators—Because of a shoulder injury, Heatley’s offense suffered a little, netting only 41 goals and just over 80 points, but when he’s healthy, Heatley can offer Ottawa a dynamic 100-point winger that can do it all.

24. Daniel Briere, Philadelphia Flyers—Although he was a big letdown during the regular season following a 90-point campaign with the Sabres the previous year, Briere turned it on when it mattered in the playoffs. He really dropped off in his assist totals last year, but as he gains confidence and becomes comfortable in Philadelphia, his chemistry with his teammates will improve, and so will those assist totals.

23. Marian Gaborik, Minnesota Wild—It’ll really be interesting to see what Gaborik does this season. Does he flourish in a contract year, or does he suffer because of the on-going drama between himself and the Minnesota Wild. One thing is for sure though, Gaborik, like Parise and Bouchard, is a prime offensive talent, trapped in the system of the offensively-stunted step-sisters within the NHL, whether it’s assisted his two-way game or not.

22. Brian Campbell, Chicago Blackhawks—Campbell is an excellent puck-moving defenseman, but he still has some work to do in the defensive zone. If everything had worked out, and Campbell had stayed in San Jose (and Ron Wilson wasn’t fired) you’d probably see Campbell develop into a more well-rounded talent. Be that as it may, Campbell will still give Chicago everything they paid him for this season.

21. Zdeno Chara, Boston Bruins—Isn’t the flashiest offensive defenseman, but still can get his huge frame behind a huge shot. Chara has the ability to dominate almost anyone in the NHL (See: Bryan McCabe, rag doll for more proof). Chara is a beast. ‘Nuff said.

20. Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings—In the first few drafts of this list, I had Kopitar ranked in the top 18 each time, while some may not even believe he’s top 20, let alone to 35. Kopitar has the tools though, and he’s going to produce like a fiend in L.A. this season. Watch out for him.

Sure these guys aren’t Mario Lemieux…but who is?

19. Dion Phaneuf, Calgary Flames—Um….so he hits. So he has a big shot. So he’s already been a Norris Trophy candidate and if it wasn’t for Nick Lidstrom he may have won one already. So he’s only 23.

So what?

18. Brendan Morrow, Dallas Stars—Morrow really had a coming out party last year. His first 30-goal season, a solid 70-point campaign, and a riveting playoff run. Now I’m not biased like Ken Armer is, but I think Morrow is one of the premier leaders in the game. He’s in for a big year.

17. Ilya Kovalchuk, Atlanta Thrashers—Here’s something scary: Ilya held out in 2005, missed the first four games of the season, and still scored 98 points in the NHL (and 13 in the Russian League). Here’s something else scary: He consistently scores between 40-50 goals, and would surpass a 100 point season fairly quickly if he was surrounded with some of the NHL’s top talent.

16.5 Marian Hossa, Detroit Red Wings—Alright, I admit, there’s 51 players on the list. To be honest though, I had a lot of trouble placing Hossa as he’s kind of a question mark. He’s still a great regular season producer (excellent even), but he’s going to have to prove that his playoff production last season wasn’t just a direct result of playing with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

16. Jason Spezza, Ottawa Senators—Of the three Sens in the top thirty, I’d take Spezza over Heatley and Alfie—and that’s saying something. Spezza has the offensive tools to do almost anything he wants in this league, and word out of Ottawa is that he’s even more committed to defense this year than ever. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the season Spezza bursts through the 10-point dam.

15. Rick Nash, Columbus Blue Jackets—Like a few other players on this list, Nash has been stuck in a dire situation in Columbus. However, with an improved supporting cast, Nash could bust through with another 40 goal season this year, and may be even better in the assist category, with a higher quality of player to dish to.

14. Eric Staal, Carolina Hurricanes—If it wasn’t for Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, Eric might be joined by brother Jordan, but here’s the lone rep for the Staal family. He’s another one of those guys you can’t say enough about: He’s just plain dominant in the goal-scoring and playmaking departments. There’s a reason he’s worth that 7-year extension.

13. Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers—Lundqvist is a stellar NHL talent. He’s coming off of back-to-back 37 win seasons, and posted a 10-shutout season last year. Once Martin Brodeur retires, Lundqvist could finally earn his first Vezina trophy.

12. Jarome Iginla, Calgary Flames—Much like Morrow, Iginla is one of the few guys in the NHL I’d let lead my team. He leads by example, he’s hard-working every shift, and if he’s having trouble scoring, he makes up for it by doing so many other things well. Oh, that and he’s also coming off two consecutive 90-point seasons.

11. Vincent Lecavalier, Tampa Bay Lighting—After a tough start to his career, Vinny has come on strong in recent years. There’s no doubting that this 40 goal scoring (or 50 in 2006/07), 90-100 point totaling Quebec native is precisely what makes the Lightning tick.

It’s about time we got to the top ten…

10. Martin Brodeur, New Jersey Devils—Being a backup goalie in New Jersey is probably the easiest job in the NHL. You play five, six games tops, and back up one of the all-time greats.

Although Brodeur is a beast during the regular season, his age (36) may play a factor now in the fact he runs out of gas a little bit during playoff time. Either way, he’s got three-straight 40-win seasons, and is the reigning Vezina winner of two seasons. Methinks he’s good.

9. Evgeni Nabokov, San Jose Sharks—It’s always hard to rank the top netminders in the game. Once Martin Brodeur retires, Nabokov will be at the forefront of the battle for the seat of “premier netminder” in the NHL. Last season was his largest margin of work (77 games) in the NHL by far (He played 67 games in 2001), but if he can stay as dominant as he was, Nabokov will one day get the Sharks over the hump.

8. Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit Red Wings

7. Henrik Zetterberg, Detroit Red Wings—These two are just more examples of the proficiency of the Detroit Red Wings in the late rounds of the draft.

It really says a lot about your team when you can have two 30-goal (Big Z had 40), 90-point players, and they’re both receiving consideration for the Selke trophy.

It says even more when one of them wins it.

It says even MORE when you win the Stanley cup, and that success leads to the acquisition of Marian Hossa.

I hate the Red Wings.

6. Roberto Luongo, Vancouver Canucks—Roberto Luongo is a special goalie.

Granted Brodeur, Lundqvist and Nabokov are great, but Luongo was able to remain competitive in the race for “premier goalie in the league” on a mediocre Florida Panthers team.

He’s also carried the Vancouver Canucks with a 47-win season, and suffered through a disappointing 35-win season last year.

A disappointing 35-win season. What a strange sentence.

5. Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins—I tried to keep him out of the top five, I really did.

Granted, putting him at number seven in a few drafts isn’t exactly “slighting” him. Or maybe it is.

Either way, Malkin is…well…Evgeni Malkin. He burst out this past season with Sidney Crosby’s injury, and demolished a lot of the competition.

If Crosby goes down again this season, then none of the experts will be wondering if Pittsburgh can keep going. They know who’ll pick up the slack.

4. Joe Thornton, San Jose Sharks—The Boston Bruins look smarter and smarter for trading Joe Thornton don’t they? I mean yes they signed Marc Savard, but who’d need two playmaking centers, especially one that’s as big as a baby hippo.

Alright, Thornton isn’t the size of a hippo, but much like one, Thornton has begun to wallow in San Jose—that is to say he’s settled into a comfortable environment where he can transform is wingers into threats with his crisp, sparkling passes.

That, and he could post a 100-point season without scoring a single goal (Two 90 assist seasons in the past two years). Doesn’t that scare anyone else?

3. Nicklas Lidstrom, Detroit Red Wings—If Bobby Orr and Ray Bourque didn’t exist, then  I’d believe that we’re witnessing the only reincarnation of a holy deity (I don’t want to descriminate here) to ever play defense in the National Hockey League.

Screw Scott Niedermayer, Nick Lidstrom should retire—it’s not fair to the rest of the NHL.

I could never know the name of any three other defenseman, and I’d still feel like the most priveleged fan in the NHL to have been able to see two of the three play.

Once time machines are invented, I’m going back to watch Bobby Orr play. That, and maybe convince Pat Quinn not to clean his clock.

Sidenote: I just thought of this, and I’m curious to hear everyone’s response: Who’s your All-Time defense from your hockey watching career. Of all time I’d have the aforementioned Orr, Lidstrom, and Bourque, but of people I’ve been alive to see play?

Maybe…

Lidstrom, Bourque, Niedermayer, Scott Stevens, Phil Housely, and Paul Coffey, with Al MacInnis as a sub. What worries me, is that I didn’t even give that any thought. Between 1988 and today has there been any better defensemen than those six? Better yet, who would want to play against that lineup?

My head hurts…I need to sit down.

Let’s play a game of would you rather…

This one is straight personal preference to whomever is choosing. You knew it would come down to these two, and you know that whomever is chose as number one, the other side is going to argue why “their boy” is the real number one.

So here we go…


2. Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins—
I won’t like. Despite my not-liking Sidney Crosby, I had him ranked number one on other drafts of this list.

The fact is, Crosby doesn’t just make his line inevitably better…he makes his entire team better. His playmaking ability forces teams to double-shift some of their best players in an effort to shut down Sidney Crosby. He’s unstoppable: His passing, his accurate shot, and his hilariously ludicrous vision.

In history, I’ve only ever witness two teams that could shut Crosby down entirely. The 2005 Memorial Cup London Knights, and the 2007/08 Stanley Cup Champion Detroit Red Wings—and those teams were ridiculously talented in their own respects.

This debate is going to go on for years though, and it may come down to a year-to-year thing, based on whomever does better the year before.

To be honest, I don’t really care. I may not like Crosby, but I feel privileged to be able to see him, and the number one contender on this list in the NHL at the same time.

So without further ado…

1. Alexander Ovechkin, Washington Capitals—One of the reasons I had Crosby number one for a few times, was because I didn’t want to be accused of my “not liking Crosby” bias.

As I talked to a few other fans though, I found that most of them, given the option, would take Ovechkin over Crosby.

While Crosby can lead with offensive flair, Ovechkin has done it all for longer. While Crosby will slide on one knee, punching his fist after a goal, we’re more attracted to Ovie tossing himself through the glass after scoring. While most of us enjoy Crosby dangling on the end boards, we like Ovechkin crunching the opposition all the more.

There’s just something about Alexander Ovechkin that attracts people to him, and it’s probably the same reason for Crosby and his supporters.

Neither player is really comparable, as they’re both different. That’s why number one’s on these lists will differ.

But again, who really cares who gets the number one spot on so-and-so’s list—just feel lucky that we’re gifted with two dynamic talents that only come along once in a lifetime, and 48 other players who would have the league in pretty good shape if those two weren’t there.