Tag Archive | Championship

Evan Gattis’s Winding Championship Road

It took the Houston Astros 55 years to win the World Series for the first time. With the win over the Dodgers, they take their place as the best team in the sport. Theirs is a remarkable story of organizational perseverance through many failures, recent natural disasters, and rising from the ashes of one of the worst records ever in 2013.

There’s plenty of individual stories that make this team special. Jose Altuve rose from poverty in Venezuela to the MVP of the American League after being signed for $15K in an Astros camp as an unproven 5’6″ infielder from Venezuela after multiple failed tryouts. George Springer came from the relative baseball no man’s land of the University of Connecticut to win the MVP of the World Series. Alex Cora becomes the manager of the Red Sox on the heels of winning this series with the Astros, and now looks to win World Series as a player, coach, and manager. Justin Verlander and Carlos Beltran are both certain Hall of Famers and both finally won World Series rings. Beltran has been playing since 1998 and barely missed playing in the Fall Classic with Houston in 2004, with the Mets in 2006, and lost in the World Series in 2013 with the Cardinals. Verlander was the MVP of the ALCS and experienced a rebirth in Houston after a decorated career in Detroit.

All these men have compelling stories that merit recounting. All these men have lessons to teach to onlookers and fans. However, of the Astros players and coaches, no one is more worthy of admiration for his perseverance and painful ride to the show than Evan Gattis. Gattis is a 31 year old catcher/designated hitter from Dallas, Texas. He’s a .252 career hitter over five seasons split between the Atlanta Braves and the Astros. He split time this season with Brian McCann behind the plate and hit .300 in only ten at-bats in the World Series this year. He was a good contributor to the team and a clubhouse glue guy, but not a star on his team or in the sport. But the fact that he was even able to play in the World Series, let alone in Major League Baseball at all, is nothing short of a miracle.

James Evan Gattis grew up in Forney, the Antique Capital of Texas, just north and west of Dallas. At eight years old, his parents divorced. At 12, he moved from his mother’s house to live with his father, who had remarried and started a new family. Gattis didn’t process this well, as he was too busy playing baseball. Fortunately for young Evan, he was a talented player and Dallas was a hotbed of baseball talent. He played on travel teams with Clayton Kershaw, Corey Kluber, and Yovani Gallardo. As he got older, he played on a travel all-star team with Austin Jackson and later in the Junior Olympics with Billy Butler, Homer Bailey, and Justin Upton. All the mentioned teammates made the Majors and had some sustained success at various levels. Gattis proved himself among his peers on the travel teams and in high school, bouncing between R.L. Turner, Forney, and Bishop Lynch high schools so he could play for his favorite coaches.

He was viewed as a good draft pick in the 2004 draft, but he decided against playing professional baseball. Rice University and Texas A&M both offered scholarships for Gattis to play college baseball for them. He accepted A&M’s offer so he could play catcher. But he never played an inning for the Aggies. Before he ever suited up, Gattis had some demons to deal with. His parent’s divorce fed an in-built sense of anxiety and stress that he bottled up for years playing baseball. He started doubting he could succeed in the college game when he left home for College Station and practiced with his new teammates.

These stresses led him to abuse alcohol and marijuana. His mother grew concerned and personally drove him to a drug rehabilitation facility for a 30 day inpatient stay when she found out how Evan was doing. The counselors determined he did not have a drug issue, but he had major anger issues. Gattis was sent to outpatient therapy in a halfway house in Prescott, Arizona, for three months. After his therapy months, Gattis left A&M and enrolled at Seminole State College, a junior college in Seminole, Oklahoma, after the coach recruited him. He redshirted his freshman season and played half of the 2006 season before injuring his knee. After the injury, he burned out and quit baseball. Telling his father he never wanted to play the sport again after doing nothing but baseball to cope with his parent’s divorce. Gattis moved back to Dallas and worked as a parking valet.

Shortly after, he visited his sister in Boulder, Colorado. He liked the area, so he decided to move there, selling his truck and starting work in a pizza parlor and as a ski-lift operator at the Eldora Mountain Resort. That summer, in 2007, Gattis went into a tailspin. He was depressed, unable to sleep, and contemplating suicide. Eventually, he couldn’t take it anymore and checked into an inpatient psychiatric ward. There, he was diagnosed with clinical depression and an anxiety disorder. Gattis was then released into the care of his father. He moved to Dallas with his brother, with whom he found work as a janitor for Datamatic Global Services, then as a cart boy at a local golf course.

Years past and Gattis went on even more absurd adventures. He was homeless in New York City for a bit, worked at Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, and in 2009, Gattis met a New Age spiritual advisor who convinced him to leave his possessions behind and go to Taos, New Mexico. Gattis lived in a hostel and worked at a ski resort while there.

Three months later, Gattis went to California to find a particularly famous New Age Guru. The starter in his 1995 Dodge pick-up truck, so he had to push start his truck to get Los Angeles and then to Santa Barbra without stopping the engine once. He went from there to Santa Cruz where he found the Guru and started to talk to him about the meaning of life and the trials of life. All the Guru said to Gattis was “Evan, maybe you need to chill out.” The disgruntled Gattis thought he had wasted his time and went to San Francisco the next day.

Eventually, after being woken up by a cop tapping on his window while sleeping him his truck, Gattis had some time to reflect on the Guru’s words and the ride he had been on. Here he was, 1,752 miles from his home, close to four years removed from his knee injury, and no longer an athlete. He was not in a psych ward or driven by crippling depression. He had sought direction from famed spiritual gurus and was still wandering. He was still searching for the key to his happiness. He still wanted to close the door on his anger but did not know how to move on. That day, miles from home, it clicked. Evan Gattis was happiest playing baseball.

The now 22 year old Gattis decided that he wanted back on the diamond. Not to bury his anger or be away from his family, but to find solice and peace within himself and in the union of a team again. He pointed his car towards Texas and push started his car with some help from a homeless man in exchange for a six pack of beer. Once moving, Gattis called his father and told him “I’m coming home.” There was only one problem: Gattis had no idea how to get back to playing organized baseball after so long away.

He made one more call, to his step brother, Drew Kendrick. Kendrick was also a baseball player; pitching for the University of Texas-Permain Basin Falcons, a Division II program in far western Odessa, Texas. Kendrick told his head coach, Brian Reinke, about his step brother and Reinke remembered the powerful hitter from his high school days. The Falcons Head Coach offered Gattis a spot on the team with the words “Play a year here and we’ll get you drafted.”

In his first season playing organized baseball in four years, Gattis dazzled, hitting .403 in 57 games, belting 19 doubles, two triples, 12 home runs, and taking 35 walks, 19 of which were intentional. He was named to the All Conference team for the regular season and tournament in the Heartland Conference. True to Reinke’s word, Gattis was drafted after one year in Odessa. Atlanta selected the wandering catcher in the 23rd round of the 2010 MLB Draft, with the 704th pick.

After years of meandering, hospital stays, rehab, New Age guidance, homelessness, and personal discovery, Evan Gattis was a professional baseball player. His journey to get to the pros was more complicated than many’s lives ever get. That made the transition to professional baseball shockingly easy. He rose through the ranks with the Braves quickly. The first stop was a successful summer with the Danville Braves of the Rookie level Appalachian League right after being drafted in 2010. The next year, he went to extended spring training after not making any opening day roster for a minor league team in the Braves’ system. He was later added to the Rome Braves, a Class A team, and won the league’s batting title. Gattis continued to rise, reaching Double A in 2012 and impressing in the Venezuelan Winter League, where he earned the nickname “El Oso Blanco”, Spanish for “The White Bear”.

The grind that normally swallows minor leaguers was a welcome change of lifestyle for Gattis. The man had lived four lifetimes in his late teens and early twenties and was already a grown man mentally. He was invited to Spring Training in 2013 and with regular starter Brian McCann starting the year on the disabled list, Gattis was named to the opening day roster. He made his major league debut on April 3rd, 2013, three years after returning to the diamond at any level and only after two and a half years in minor league baseball. He hit a home run in his first major league game against future Hall of Famer Roy Halladay. His contributions helped the Braves to the NL East Division Title that season.

Gattis became the primary catcher for the Braves the next season, but was traded the following offseason to the Houston Astros. Despite growing up a Rangers fan and not liking the Astros in his youth, the move back to Texas paid off. In three seasons as an Astro, Gattis has been a catcher and designated hitter for an Astros squad that reached the 2015 Playoffs as a Wild Card, won 101 games in 2017, and claim the American League West crown that season. In the American League Championship Series against the Yankees, Gattis hit a solo home run in Game 7 to break a scoreless tie in the fourth. The Yankees never scored, so Gattis effectively drove in and scored the Series winning run on his homer. Eleven days later, the Astros beat the Dodgers for their first World Series.

Ten years prior, Gattis was on the verge of committing suicide. Now, he is happily married and at the top of his profession. No athlete I’ve ever watched has the winding road of Evan Gattis. If a writer pitched Gattis’s life to a studio as a movie script, it would be laughed out of the room for being too absurd. But it’s real. Gattis has lived a crazy life and is an inspiration to anyone struggling with mental illness, personal doubt, substance abuse, or troubled family life. I hope people read his story and walk away smiling. If he can live through what he did, keep going. You can make it through your trials. Just keep going. Gattis did and made it through. You can too.

Why Houston Reigns

The Houston Astros and the Los Angeles Dodgers gave us a classic World Series. These were the two best teams all year and they played like it in the Fall Classic. All baseball fans should be grateful for the series we got. It seems like they are, if the TV ratings are anything to go by. Ultimately, the Astros edged out the Dodgers in one of the best series we’ve ever had. How did they do it? Let’s take a look. 

Who are Yu?

Yu Darvish is one of the most talented pitchers in baseball. He’s been an All-Star, a Cy Young Award runner up, and a dominating force for the Texas Rangers. When he got traded to the Dodgers this summer, it signaled that LA was locking and loading for a postseason run. He started one game each in the NLDS against the Diamondbacks and the NLCS against the Cubs and won both. He looked good as the Dodgers lost only one game en route to the Fall Classic. So. Who wore his uniform in Games 3 and 7 of the World Series? 

Darvish looked AWFUL in his two starts against the Astros. He only went 1 & 2/3 innings in each start, for a total of 3 & 1/3 innings across two games. His ERA for the series was 21.60. He gave up nine runs, eight of them earned, nine hits, two home runs, walked two men, and struck out no one. Darvish did not show up on the biggest stage of his career. I hope the man gets another chance to pitch on a playoff team so he can turn this around. Because, sadly, Darvish deserves to be at the top of the list for blame for this series going poorly for LA. 

Dave Roberts’ Over-Managing

I love Dave Roberts. The man made the biggest play in Red Sox history, stealing 2nd base on Mariano Rivera in Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS. He helped to spark the greatest comeback in baseball history. He has also been a great manager since he took up the job with the Dodgers last season. He won the NL Manager of the Year award last year and led the Dodgers to the NLCS against the Cubs. After a slight retooling, the Dodgers won 104 games, the second most in franchise history and most in baseball. They won the division by 11 games over the Diamondbacks and lost only one game in the playoffs. Then the Fall Classic arrived and Roberts meddled a little too much. 

Game 2 is the worst example of this. Rich Hill started the game for LA and was dealing through four innings. He had only given up one run, three hits, struck out 7, and had only thrown 60 pitches. He had at least two more innings in his left arm. Yet for some reason, Roberts turned the game over to his bullpen from the 5th inning on. Hill responded appropriately. 

That decision to pull Hill put more stress on the bullpen to deliver against one of the best lineups in the game. And the gamble backfired. The Astros turned the game from a duel between Hill and Justin Verlander into an extra inning slugfest. That extra work Roberts put on his bullpen came back to haunt the Dodgers, as their relievers were not that sharp in Games 3 or 5 in Houston. I can’t look at that outcome and not think Roberts made a mistake with managing his staff. 

Houston Learned Clutch Play

The history of the Houston Astros is riddled with playoff disappointments. The 1980 and 1986 NLCS saw painful defeats to the Phillies and Mets respectively.

The late 90’s and early 2000’s saw the Astros reach the playoffs four out of five seasons and never make it out of the Division Series. They lost to the Braves and Padres in that those series.

2004 and 2005 were the glory years of the Stros. They played the NL Central rival St. Louis Cardinals in consecutive years for the Pennant. 2004 went a memorable seven games with the Cardinals edging out the Astros.

2005 was also an excellent series and the Astros finally broke through, winning the Pennant and reaching the World Series for the first time. They also closed out Busch Stadium in the process. Their first World Series trip went badly, as the Astros were swept by the Chicago White Sox. 

After that run, Houston fell on hard times. They did not make the playoffs for the rest of the decade. And after 2012, the Astros became the 2nd team to switch leagues, joining the American League’s West Division, to balance out the leagues at 15 teams a piece. In the AL, Houston struggled. They lost 111 games in their first year in the AL West, one of the worst records in the history of baseball. And yet, there were some positives to take. They picked up draft picks, drafted Carlos Correa and George Springer, picked up Jose Altuve, and built a title contender. They made the playoffs again in 2015 and held a 2 games to 1 lead over the Kansas City Royals and a 6-2 lead in the 8th inning of Game 4 in Minute Maid Park. They then choked the game away, giving up 7 runs over the final two innings and losing 9-6. The Stros then lost 7-2 in the final game of that series on the road. 

Going into the 2017 playoffs, the Astros had a franchise history of failure and recent slip ups. They had to stare down the best starter in the AL in Fenway in the ALDS and won in 4 games. They dueled the Yankees in a 7 game ALCS and won. And they had a legendary 7 game bout with the best team in baseball and made the defensive plays needed to win. They got the big hits, the timely pitching, and the playoff magic that has been absent from their franchise’s entire history. The Astros finally learned how to win. 

LA’s Game 7 Whimper

After all the mismanagement, Darvish disappointments, and Astros making big plays, the LA Dodgers had their fair share of offensive chances in Game 7. Clayton Kershaw pitched like his Hall of Fame self in relief, and the Dodgers had some chances to cut into the lead. Except they blew their chances. They left 10 men on base throughout the game and wasted prime offensive chances. After offensive outbursts throughout the series, Houston pitchers dodged bullets through the final game of the season and the Dodgers uncharictaristically went out quietly in the biggest game of the season. Give the Astros credit. They pitched their way into a Game 7 victory and earned the win. It was just surprising to see LA go so quietly after that series. 

All things considered, Baseball had a marvelous series. LA and Houston both had some goofs, but the teams entertained fans and I hope people become fans of this sport as a result of this series. Congratulations to the World Champion Houston Astros. Now begins the long offseason wait for pitchers and catchers to report to Spring Training. Only 103 days until February 13th! 

Game 7 Excitement

The calender now reads November. And we have even more baseball! Thank God the play has been outstanding and other people are joining me in my excitement. This is the last baseball day of the season and despite not really having a dog in the race, I am pumped for this game! 

The 2017 World Series has been among the best played in the history of the sport. It has surpassed all expectations and has given fans plenty to cheer about. It’s in part because no game has been the same. Games 1 and 6 were narrow pitching duel wins for LA with game 1 punctuating Clayton Kershaw’s hall of fame credentials and game 6 flaunting Kenley Jansen for the final six outs. Game 2 was an extra inning home run derby barely won by the Astros. Game 3 saw Houston blow up Yu Darvish and hold on for dear life late. Houston’s bullpen disintegrated in the 9th inning of Game 4. And Game 5 was a slugfest for the ages. We have been blessed with a masterful series between the two best teams in the sport. Best World Series ever? I’ll let you know after Game 7. 

As for that final game, we should be in for a classic. Last season’s Game 7 was one of the greatest games ever played. In part, the Cubs and Indians had their own demons to deal with and historical weight makes a game better. Also, the game was just plain wacky. 

Neither the Astros or Dodgers have that level of historical pain to wipe clean, but there are droughts to be addressed. Houston has never won a World Series. In fact, the Astros would only be the first championship team in America’s oil capital since Hakeem Olajuwon led the Rockets to consecutive NBA Titles in 1994 and 1995. Their only trip to the Classic before this was a forgettable sweep by the Chicago White Sox in 2005. They would be the first Texas team to win the Fall Classic and they’d wipe their history of mediocrity off the board with a win. Also, they’d prove Sports Illustrated as clairvoyant with this 2014 cover. 

The Dodgers are one of the winningest teams in baseball, with 22 National League Pennants and 6 World Series crowns. Sadly, the Dodgers went cold after Kirk Gibson hit the most famous home run in baseball’s history in the 1988 World Series. They’ve not won a pennant since, let alone a World Series. They went through the Frank McCourt saga, failed in the late 2000’s with repurposed pieces like Joe Torre and Manny Ramirez, and spent the GDP of Granada to lose to the Cubs and Cardinals in the NLCS this decade. Now, they’re one win away from validating Magic Johnson’s investment in the team. 

The drought ending is there, but not the main draw. The caliber of play is the reason to watch. These teams are the best in baseball. Both won over 100 games, both are loaded with ace pitchers, and both have dynamic lineups. Clayton Kershaw and Justin Verlander are future Hall of Famers who have validated those credentials this postseason. Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Corey Seager, and Justin Turner are all legitimate MVP candidates and have given great offensive shows. It’s nice to see the ratings for this series have been higher than recent World Series. It deserves what we’ve been giving it. I hope people become baseball fans as a result of this series. 

It is also completely possible to get a wacky end to the year that might even surpass last year’s closing act. The teams are ready to go and the sport is ready for its fine display. 

So who wins? Beats me. I’ve just been along for the ride and have gotten an outstanding Fall Classic. I will watch this game tonight at a sports bar with another baseball addicted friend with baited breath and incredible anticipation. 

2017 World Series Preview

I’ve certainly had my share of baseball this year. I’m an avid Red Sox fan and went to many games at Fenway, most notably David Ortiz’s retirement game against the Angels in June. I called games at MIT and followed the North Carolina baseball team for my friends on the team. And I hosted baseball players for a championship season in Brewster for the Whitecaps. You’d think that’d be enough baseball, right? Not for me! 

I am excited for this year’s World Series! Not because of rooting interests, like last year for the Cubs, or any loyalty I have in a team, like with the Red Sox. No, I’m excited because this is a series between the two best teams in baseball. 

Houston led the AL for most of the year until Cleveland went on their crazy run of 22 straight wins. Even with that record, I thought Houston was a better team than Cleveland. Turns out they had enough to get by the Red Sox in 4 games and the Yankees in a strong 7 game series. Carlos Correa, George Springer, Evan Gattis, and MVP Candidate Jose Altuve lead one of the best lineups you’ll ever see. Altuve is also 5’6″ and has big home run power. He is awesome to watch and is enough to power a team on his own. The pitching is also deep, with 2015 Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel, Charlie Morton, Brad Peacock, and newly acquired Justin Verlander headline the starters. Verlander may be the most important. The former Cy Young winner and MVP of the league was the easy choice for MVP of the ALCS and looks like a new man after leaving Detroit. The bullpen is anchored by Ken Giles, Chris Devenski, Luke Gregorsom, and Will Harris. It’s a good bullpen that can do the job, but the pitching strength is the rotation. If the lineup is clicking and the rotation is strong, Houston won’t need to push their pen and will win the series. If they have to depend on their bullepen, they are in trouble. The lineup is strong from top to bottom and the starters look amazing. They deserve to be in the World Series. Their opponent does too, though. 

The Los Angeles Dodgers had a summer like no other. They went on a 52-9 stretch in the middle of the summer and looked like they’d set the record for most the season. Then they lost 11 in a row and panic set in. Then the Dodgers righted the ship and have dominated the playoffs. Neither Arizona or Chicago were close to LA in their playoff series. The Diamond backs were swept and the defending champion Cubs were outed in a rather easy five game victory. Justin Turner, Yadira Puig, Cody Bellinger, and Corey Seager have been bashing baseballs all season and leaving the dominant Dodger lineup. Their starting staff is anchored by certain Hall of Famer Clayton Kershaw, Alex Wood, Rich Hill, and newly acquired star Yu Darvish. Yu hasn’t looked as good for his new team as Berlander has, but the former Ranger is still a big piece. Kenley Jansen is the best reliever in these playoffs. Ross Stripling, Pedro Baez, and Josh Fields are no slouches, but this bullpen revolves around how great Kenley Janesn is. If he’s on, LA has a far superior bullpen. And I expect him to be on for the series. 

This is the most evenly matched series I’ve followed in my life. On paper at least. I know the sport has to be played to be understood, but I think we are in for a classic series this year. These are the best teams. They have awesome stories with Puig and Altuve, Verlander and Darvish, Hurricane Harvey and the Wildfires all surrounding this series. 

Who will win? I have no idea. This will be tightly contested and too close to predict. Who do I want to win? I don’t know. I like both teams and have no ill will towards either. I guess I am an American League guy, so I would like to see Houston win. But I’d be fine with either team winning. If I had to pick a team to win, I’d say it’s the Astros on account of their starting staff being hotter right now. But we have a series to sort out. Let’s go! 

Why Pittsburgh Won Again

The Stanley Cup Finals are over a game too early! This postseason was one of the best ever. Overtimes were plentiful, heartbreak was everywhere, and the sport put on a show that no other league can. There’s just one issue: It ended before we got to Game 7 of the Finals! Aside from that disappointment, the Pittsburgh Penguins and Nashville Predators provided fans with a well played and exciting cap to the 2017 NHL playoffs. At the start of the series, I predicted a Penguins victory with the provision that it was a toss up decision. With the series over, let’s take a look at what led to Pittsburgh hoisting their second consecutive Stanley Cup. 

1. Predator’s Lack of Offensive Potence

The chatter before the series was about Nashville’s defensive unit going up against Pittsburgh’s hall of fame forwards. Both teams were injured in critical ways and tried to play to their strengths with their cores. Nashville won when their defensive unit could keep Pittsburgh off the puck. Unfortunately, the Predators did not have the forwards to keep pace with the Penguins lines. Nashville was short on the offensive end, which makes some sense as Pittsburgh sports two guaranteed Hall of Famers in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and one borderline Hall of Famer in Phil Kessel. But there were two major pieces that could’ve lifted the Preds offense. 

24 year old Ryan Johansen was one of the best centers in the league this season. This postseason, he played in 14 games and collected 13 points. He was a major piece of the Predators attack. And he was not able to play in the Finals. In Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals against the Anaheim Ducks, Johansen took a hit and felt unusual pain in his leg. He played the whole game, which went into overtime, showered, realized just how bad his leg was, and got himself to the hospital. He was diagnosed with Acute Compartment Syndrome in his left thigh and was shut down for the remainder of the playoffs. So Nashville was without a top center. 


There’s one other personnel issue that undercut Nashville’s chances for success. In 2012, Nashville selected Jimmy Vesey, a left winger from Harvard, with the 66th pick in the draft. Vesey played all four years inn Cambridge, winning the Hobey Baker Award as the best collegiate player in 2016 and laying the foundation for Harvard’s hockey renaissance. Near the end of his time in college, the Crimson star was guaranteed a spot on the Predators regular season and postseason roster in 2016. However, Vesey informed Nashville that he was not interested in signing with them. He did not want to play in Tennessee and wanted to choose his own destination. He ended up signing with the New York Rangers. He helped the team to a playoff series upset over the Montreal Canadiens, but they lost in the second round to the Ottawa Senators. While Vesey watched, the team he spurned had a legitimate chance at the Stanley Cup. The Boston native wanted to determine his own landing spot. He got what he wanted, but for now, Vesey screwed up royally. He could have been competing alongside PK Subban and Mike Fisher for the Stanley Cup in his second year in the pros. 


Without two major potential pieces, Nashville was behind the eightball against the Pittsburgh forwards and they failed to overcome the deficit. Their defensive corps was good, just not the forwards. 

2. Controversial Stripes

Let’s deal with this now: Nashville got absolutely screwed by one of the worst officiating calls I’ve ever seen. To be fair, the Predators had plenty of opportunities after the blown call to score, including a 5 on 3 power play in the third period. But proceeding opportunities do not change the fact that the game should have been 1-0 Nashville in the second period. Early in the frame, Nashville had momentum, energy, and the crowd. Filip Forsberg fired the puck on net and it got through Matt Murray for Colton Sissons to put it home. Except the official thought Murray had controlled the puck and whistled the play dead, wiping the goal off the board. To repeat myself and ensure my position, the Preds had opportunities to score and take the lead later in the game, but those later chances do not excuse abysmal officiating. 


3. Pekka’s Poor Play

In the first three rounds of the postseason, 34 year old Pekka Rinne played the best hockey of his career. He totaled a 1.71 Goals Against Average and a .943 save percentage, both among the best in the history of the NHL for a postseason. Against Pittsburgh though, Rinne was a mere mortal. He was pulled twice in the series, in games 2 and 5, and his GAA went up to 2.33 while his save percentage dropped to .888 for the series. The Predators needed exceptional play from Rinne to beat Pittsburgh and they did not get it, especially in Pittsburgh. His counterpart, Matt Murray, lived up to the pressure and performed admirably all series, with a shutout in the final game of the series. Pekka turned into a pumpkin before midnight while Murray got to dance at the ball the whole night. 


4. Steady Sullivan

Ever since getting the job as head coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Mike Sullivan has been the most steady coach in the league. His team was outplayed by Washington for most of their second round series, and got destroyed by Ottawa in multiple games of that series. Sullivan saw the team through both of those roadblocks and led the Penguins to their second consecutive championship. He joins Toe Blake as the second head coach to win Stanley Cups in their first two seasons. Enjoy the stability of a BU Terrier favorite Pittsburgh!


5. Perseverant Penguins

The calling card for Pittsburgh all postseason was their ability to persevere and fight. They went the length of the hardest postseason in sports without their top defenseman, Kris LeTang, and lost Nick Bonino in the Finals. They used both goaltenders in the playoffs. Marc-Andre Fleury almost singlehandedly beat Columbus and Washington after Murray injured himself during warmups in Game 1 of the postseason. Then Murray replaced Fleury in the Conference Finals against Ottawa when Fleury gave up 4 goals on nine shots in Game 3. And they went on to topple the Senators in Overtime. They then struggled to find a way to beat Nashville on the road in Games 3 and 4 of the finals. They outlasted Nashville, and created the opportunities to win. They killed a 5 on 3 late power play, scored off Rinne’s back, and escaped with the franchise’s fifth Stanley Cup. 


One last thing, Crosby should not be a 2 time Conn Smythe Trophey winner. Phil Kessel was robbed of that trophey last year and this year’s award should’ve gone to either Evgeni Malkin or Jake Guentzel. 

All that said, congratulations to the Pittsburgh Penguins on their second consecutive Stanley Cup. They fought through an incredible series of battles and deserve the win. Crosby has secured his position in the upper eschilon of hockey’s elite, and the Penguins earned the title in a sport not built for repeat champions. I feel for the Predators. They went on a deep run and established themselves as a bonafide hockey destination. They have a great team and will be a competitor in the West. I just hope they can rebound from the pain to start next season strong. And now we have to wait until autumn to get the glories of hockey again. 

Why Watch the 2017 NBA Finals?

Oh boy, another match up between the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers. We’ve never seen this match up before… OK we could see this coming from a mile away. The NBA postseason has been wickedly boring and predictable. From the standpoint of a general NBA fan, it was one of the worst postseasons in recent memory. Golden State swept their way to the finals while Cleveland dominated almost every single game they played, losing only one in the Eastern Connference Finals to the Boston Celtics. I’m honestly a little bored with this matchup and discussion surrounding it after the last year. So why watch the NBA Finals this year?

1. Rivalry

These teams don’t like each other. They’ve shown remarkable contempt for each other through the last year with remarkable acts of trolling and subversion. They’ve also stage memorable battles in each of the last two NBA Finals.  This Golden State team is built to defeat LeBron and the Cavs. If there is any series with anticipation energy and height in the last few years, this is it. There is bad blood, and these teams are designed to beat the other. Yay passion and desire still existing! 


2. Style of Play

Since breaking out in 2015, the Golden State Warriors have rewritten in the style of play in the NBA. They took Mike D’Antoni’s fast paced style  of play and took it to its logical next progression. Golden State was the first team to win a championship by predominately shooting three-pointers at a high clip. However the 2015 championship is looked at with a little bit of contempt. They never faced a fully healthy team in the postseason and yet still ran into trouble with highly to please units in Memphis and Cleveland. The next year when facing fully healthy teams in Oklahoma City and Cleveland, The Warriors barely scraped by OKC and were edged by Cleveland. If the Warriors lose this series to Cleveland, I think the NBA will move away from three point shooting as your dominant method of winning basketball games. Teams will start going to size and rebounding more with players like Tristan Thompson and Kevin Love becoming much more desirable than players like Klay Thompson.

3. Are Curry and Durant that good?

The last three MVPs of the NBA are the stars for the Warriors, Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant. Both have had exceptional success personally and team wise, seeing many playoff roster their careers.  However both have faced sharp criticism in recent years and rightly so.

Curry has won the last two MVPs , the last one unanimously, and has become the NBA’s most marketable player after LeBron.He’s a charming, kind, and respectable individual and not an athletic freak like Durant or James. Despite his personal success though, Curry has seen his image chipped at. He did not win the MVP of the 2015 files and was not a leading contender for that award. Andre Iguodala, the teams sixth man won the award and Klay Thompson was a more likely winner than Curry. The next year, after winning the MVP unanimously in the regular season, Curry was one of the reasons the Warriors lost in the Finals. Outside of game 4, his performance was painfully pedestrian and his game 7 effort, particularly his 4th quarter, were awful and gave the Cavaliers a chance to win their first title. If the Warriors lose the championship this year, Steph takes a major hit to his legacy. 


His one time rival and current team and it has more to lose though. Since entering the league in 2007, Kevin Durant has proven to be one of the most dynamic scorers the league has ever seen. He’s a 7 foot tall forward who can handle and shoot like a guard, block shots like a center, and lead a high-quality team in rebounding. He can do everything on a basketball court, except when the biggest games. With the Oklahoma City Thunder, Durrant went to the NBA Finals one time and the Western Conference Finals  and additional three times. Durant never win a title, with notable losses coming to the Spurs in 2014, the Heat in Durant’s only trip to the Finals in 2012, and blowing a 3-1 lead in 2016 to Golden State with a damning game 6 effort highlighting the lost title chance. To make matters more complicated, Durrant left a talented OKC team to play with the team that just knocked him out in order to take the path of least resistance to the Finals. Durrant look to join a super team to win the Title he desires. Durant has a poor postseason reputation and if the Warriors win with him being a no show or lose, Durant’s legacy gets torpedoed. 


4. Is LeBron the greatest?

I can’t avoid this. I absolutely hate the comparison between Michael Jordan and LeBron James for many reasons. However, it is one of the most compelling reasons to watch the series. Since entering the NBA, LeBron has Reed written in the record book. He’s already put himself in the conversation with Larry Bird, Magic, Michael Jordan, Julius Erving, Bill Russell, and Shaq as one of the greatest players ever. If he wins the series against a team that was designed to stop him, LeBron seals his place as a top three player in the history of the league. I won’t say who is the better player until LeBron’s career is done. I want to see the full scope of LeBron’s career before I can rank him historically. That said, LeBron’s performance in this series will dictate his historical ranking. 


Prediction

This series had better make up for such a disappointing postseason. I will be very happy if it does is a basketball fan. Much like my prediction for the Stanley Cup finals, I’m not sure who to choose. Golden State is more talented from top to bottom but the Cavaliers have the best player in the world on the floor. I think this will go six or seven games and if I were forced to choose a winner today, I would pick Golden State. LeBron definitely has the talent to lead his team to victory and the Cavs are a great team. I could just more easily see Golden State winning the series. PLEASE BE A GOOD MATCHUP!!!

Why Watch the 2017 Stanley Cup Finals?

This hockey postseason has been exciting, entertaining, and miles better than the disappointing NBA postseason. Pre-playoff favorites Washington and Chicago were beaten shockingly early, underdogs like Ottawa and Nashville thrilled their rabbid fanbases with deep runs, and the NHL has another example of their postseason as the best in the sports world. It’s been exciting, maddening, and worth every second! 

Tonight, the Stanley Cup Finals begin! We get a matchup between a perennial powerhouse and a new arrival. The Pittsburgh Penguins are looking for their fifth Stanley Cup and second consecutive cup. The Nashville Predators have only been in existence since 1998 and are making their first trip to hockey’s grandest stage. Both teams have rabbid fanbases, smart head coaches, and loaded talent. They will combine for an outstanding Finals series. So what are the things to watch the series for?

1. Repeat?    

The NHL has had regular competitors in the postseason recently, but no repeat winners. Chicago has three Stanley Cups this decade, LA has two, Boston has been to two Finals, and Pittsburgh is in their fourth Finals since 2008. However, there has not been a back-to-back champion since the Detroit Red Wings in 1997 and 1998. In fact, there has not been consecutive conference champions since 2008 and 2009 when the Red Wings and Penguins split the Cups. It is fitting then that Pittsburgh has a chance to be the first repeat champions in close to 20 years. Parity is the rule in the NHL, which makes what the Penguins are doing so remarkable. Pittsburgh will be remembered as one of the best teams of the modern age if they win the series. They will do what Chicago, LA, Boston, and every other great team recently has failed to do: win consecutive Cups. 

2.  Goaltending

The goalie is the most important position in hockey by far. Games have been decided by the net minders as far back as people have skated with vulcanized rubber. This postseason has been no different. Nashville had ridden Pekka Rinne to their first Finals appearance. The 34 year old Fin has played the best hockey of his career this postseason, with a 1.71 Goals Against Average and a .943 save percentage. Rinne has given Nashville their best season and will have to be big time against the powerful Penguins offense.


Pittsburgh, meanwhile, has had quite the adventure in net. Matt Murray won the Stanley Cup last year as the starter and was slated to open the postseason this year. Instead, he got injured and Marc-Andre Fleury was summoned to start. Turns out it worked. Fleury dominated Columbus and stole the second round series from the Washington Capitals, including a Game 7 shutout on the road. In the Conference Finals against Ottawa, Fleury got shelled in game 3, giving up four goals on nine shots in the first period. They replaced him with a now healthy Matt Murray, who has played superb hockey since getting back in, getting Pittsburgh back to the Finals. 


Ultimately, Rinne is the most consistent goalie in the playoffs. Pittsburgh has used both of their goalies, which normally doesn’t work out, but has for the Penguins. Nashville has the stronger individual net minder, but Pittsburgh is no slouch with both goalies. 

3. Contrasting Styles

These teams might have similar color schemes, but they do not play similar games. Nashville’s strength is from their blue line. PK Subban, acquired from the Montreal Canadiens in an offseason trade for stalwart Shea Weber, can direct a power play better than most defensemen in the league. Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, and Mattias Ekholm round out a strong unit that can control the blue line, limit shot totals, block shots, and create offense. The forwards can create offense, but Mike Fisher and Filip Forsberg are not dominating offensive stars. 


Pittsburgh, on the other hand is  a glass cannon. They led the NHL in goals per game this season and feature two sure fire hall of famers and one guy who’s got a more borderline case. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin have won two Cups and have four Art Ross Trophies as the league’s leading scorer between them. The addition of Phil Kessel to their lineup last year had the same effect as adding Ron Francis to the 1991 Penguins, making them a Stanley Cup winner. The problem for Pittsburgh is that their defensive corps is limited. Kris LeTang is gone for the entire postseason, Olli Maatta, Justin Schultz, and Trevor Daley are not on par with Nashville’s defensive unit. Their respective personnel require different styles of play, which makes for an intriguing clash of play this series. 


4. Securing Legacy

This year is the 100th anniversary of the NHL and the 50th for the Pittsburgh Penguins. The NHL has featured a few star players that transcend the regular descriptions of excellence. Sidney Crosby is one of those players. Pittsburgh lucked into him when they won the lottery in 2005 for the top pick in the draft. Since then, Crosby has led the league in scoring, won MVPs, and led the Penguins to multiple Stanley Cups. If he wins another Stanley Cup, he climbs higher up the ranking of all time greats. Same thing for Evgeni Malkin. Phil Kessel also secures himself a spot in the hall of fame if he helps Pittsburgh to a championship. 


Nashville also has some legacy to fight for. PK Subban wants to secure his spot as one of the best defensemen in the game, Pekka Rinne wants his reputation as a top goalie to be solidified, and the Predators want Nashville to be a secure hockey market. That third one is the most important. Hockey has grown in popularity internationally, but still is struggling to keep up with basketball and football in the United States. The sport needs some cities in untraditional places to take to it for development. Nashville’s success in developing a rabbid fan base is already reason for being happy, but if they win the Stanley Cup, they would bring hockey in the south to the forefront. 


Prediction

I cannot tell you how excited I am for this series to start! I also cannot tell you what’s gonna happen. These teams play differently enough that the question must be who can dictate the rhythm of the game? If Pittsburgh can skate and shoot as fast as they’re capable of, this is a Pittsburgh exercise in domination. If Pittsburgh goes cold and Nashville can dictate a defensive and hard hitting game, Nashville’s got their first Stanley Cup. If I were forced to pick who will win, I’d guess Pittsburgh. They have the experience, the scoring, and the capable goaltender play. This postseason has reminded us to not take chalk on the predictions. I will watch this series with baited breath and see what happens. I hope you will too.