Honky-Tonks and Hockey Pucks: Change is Good

 (Photo Credit: John Russell,NHLI via Getty Images)

(Photo Credit: John Russell,NHLI via Getty Images)

The last couple seasons were not too enjoyable for the few but fiercely loyal Nashville hockey fans out there. After back to back trips to the second round of the playoffs in 2010/11 and 2011/12, the Preds missed the playoffs during the partial lockout season of 2012/13, and again failed to bounce back in 2013/14 even after clawing their way back to a winning record, finishing 38-32-12. This turned out to be not only disappointing for fans, but a seminal moment for the franchise, as the team decided to part ways with the only head coach they have ever known during their entire 16 year history, Barry Trotz.

barry-trotz.2

No that is not Danny Devito, but it might be his cousin. I’ve never confirmed, but we have our suspicions…

Trotz was as much a part of this franchise as anyone, and seeing him go was definitely a sad moment. However, Trotz’s tenure in Nashville was anything but typical. In the NHL coaches have been known to get fired less than a month after they were hired. The career of NHL head coach is anything but stable so for Trotz to spend a decade and a half in one spot could not have been less normal.

However, its not as if Trotz’s long tenure wasn’t deserved. Trotz kept the Predators competitive in spite of innumerable disadvantages felt by inherently cash strapped hockey clubs in the south with limited fanbases and the added struggle of finding it difficult to draw in free agents. Gary Bettman’s grand plan for Hockey in the South is no longer an unmitigated disaster, but it is still a struggle. Just look at the turmoil with the Phoenix Coyotes from a few years ago or the fact that the Atlanta Thrashers are now the Winnipeg Jets. Moreover, after the 2007 scare of a move to Hamilton Ontario for the Preds, we’re just lucky that they still play in Nashville. However, a big reason they stayed is Trotz.

(Photo Credit: Getty Images)

(Photo Credit: Getty Images)

During the nearly 2 decades when Trotz and GM David Poile led the Preds there was a unified philosophy to keep the team competitive and in the playoff hunt (in order to ensure that less dedicated fans do not lose interest in a region where so few fans are available to the sport of hockey)  while also keeping costs low enough that they would stay within the team’s own more modest financial restrictions. The strategy devised to enact this plan for the new expansion club Preds was to build stout defensive teams with solid Goalkeeping as the franchise backbone, then make occasional mid season trades for added offensive firepower if it became obvious that more goal scoring was needed (which it almost always was).

Mike Fisher is one of the many trade deadline moves the Preds made to add late season offense during Trotz's tenure, but let's be honest... we all know they just traded for him cuz he's married to Carrie Underwood (Fisher) (Photo Credit:  Steve Granitz, WireImage)

Mike Fisher is one of the many trade deadline moves the Preds made to add late season offense during Trotz’s tenure, but let’s be honest… we all know they just traded for him cuz he’s married to Carrie Underwood (Fisher) (Photo Credit: Steve Granitz, WireImage)

Now, this strategy is in some ways defeatist from the start. It is a plan built to consistently pursue the 7th or 8th seed in the playoffs, rather than swinging for the fences and pursuing championships. However, it is also perhaps the best strategy the Predators could have pursued given their limitations. They aren’t sitting on piles of cash to use to lure in free agents, and Nashville isn’t exactly a destination city for NHL players the way New York, Toronto, or LA might be. But you know what? It worked.

 

Part of the success involved Poile. The Predators drafted spectacularly in building the defensive core of their team drafting guys such as Shea Weber (best defenseman in the NHL for the last 6 years) and Ryan Suter and they even continued with this strategy in the 2013 draft when the best defenseman in the draft, Seth Jones, fell to them with the #4 pick. All this fit very well with Poile’s tough nosed, grind it out, defensive style. It kept Nashville competitive in a League absolutely littered with teams that had more money and more talent than Nashville.

From left to right Shea Weber (Defenseman) Pekka Rinne (Goalkeeper) and Ryan Suter (Defensemen)  formed the backbone of multiple playoff runs for the Predators, and kept the small market team competitive even when they had to play big market and big money clubs like Detroit and Chicago week in and week out. (Photo Credit: predators.nhl.com)

From left to right Shea Weber (Defenseman) Pekka Rinne (Goalkeeper) and Ryan Suter (Defensemen) formed the backbone of multiple playoff runs for the Predators, and kept the small market team competitive even when they had to play big market and big money clubs like Detroit and Chicago week in and week out. (Photo Credit: predators.nhl.com)

But all good things must come to an end, and the Predators decided to say goodbye to Trotz this offseason. Happily, Trotz landed with the Washington Nationals, a team known for their offensive firepower, that collapses defensively when games get tough. Trotz seems to be the perfect coach there to make an already skilled offensive team play defense and put the whole picture together for a deep playoff run in the East.

Unfortunately Ovechkin hasn't been able to put his team in Washington on his back and carry them through the playoffs quite as easily has he carries young ladies around the ice. (Photo Via: http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com/2010/12/31/alex-ovechkin-gives-wedgie-plays-football-winter-classic/)

Unfortunately Ovechkin hasn’t been able to put his team in Washington on his back and carry them through the playoffs quite as easily has he carries young ladies around the ice. (Photo Via: http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com/2010/12/31/alex-ovechkin-gives-wedgie-plays-football-winter-classic/)

The Predators, moreover, appear to be enacting an identical plan but in reverse in Nashville. They brought in Peter Laviolette to take over the reigns in Nashville. Laviolette is veteran NHL coach so there is zero fear that discipline would collapse on the team after Trotz’s departure. Moreover, whereas Trotz is a grind it out Defensive coach, Laviolette’s teams play a more fluid offensive style, especially his 2004/05 Carolina Hurricanes team which won the Stanley cup after scoring nearly 300 regular season goals.  (Also, as an aside I feel its relevant to note that Laviolette’s teams outscored the Predators in nearly every season that Laviolette was a head coach).

(Photo Credit: Paul Chiasson, AP)

(Photo Credit: Paul Chiasson, AP)

This leaves the Predators at the crossroads of what could be a golden opportunity for the franchise. For the next couple years the defensive players and mindset Trotz imbued the club with are still present. However, the team has the chance to add much improved offensive play to this receipe. That, unlike the old Predators way of gutty defense and solid Goaltending alone, is the full picture of what it takes to make a Stanley Cup run. You can’t win a hockey game if you hold your  opponents to 0 but can’t score yourself. For the next couple years then we should be able to maintain Trotz’s defensive mindset while also bringing the added offense that comes with Laviolette’s own style.

shea-weber

The first part of this goal should be easy to keep around if only considering the fact that Shea Weber, the best defenseman in the NHL, still anchors Nashville’s blueline while key guys like Ryan Ellis are still around and the next generation is in the pipes with Seth Jones. And the second part of that goal appears to be succeeding in flying colors at the moment. The Predators flew out of the gates to a 7-3-2 record at the time of my writing this and look to be every bit the team I want them to be.

Weber is an absolute beast with perhaps the most deadly (literally) slapshot in the NHL. Not only has he been known to shoot so hard he tears through the back of the net, he has also shot so hard it tears the net AND knocks a hole in the wall behind…

Image via Seth Jones' twitter https://twitter.com/seth_jones3

Image via Seth Jones’ twitter https://twitter.com/seth_jones3

The most important cog to the new Preds offense is James Neal, acquired in June via a trade with the Penguins. This guy is an absolute stud of a goal scorer and is still only 27 years old. The Predators have never had an offensive player this good, this young, and still in his prime. They have had plently of good offensive players. Steve Sullivan, Paul Kariya, Jason Arnott. But most of the time this guys have been brought in near the tail end of their prime. Still good players, but there was always a reason Nashville was able to pry them away from their old club. Neal is different. Neal is going to be a special player in Nashville, and he can be every bit the franchise cornerstone that Weber is. We now have both a defensive and offensive star on the team which I can only imagine means bright things.

(Photo Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel, USA TODAY Sports)

(Photo Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel, USA TODAY Sports)

Neal wasn’t the only new acquisition to the new Laviolette era, however. They also brought in Derek Roy who is a skilled scorer and helps overhaul the Preds offense with veterans who know how to score and know what a top offense looks like. They took a flier on Olli Jokinen who has been disappointing thus far, (perhaps not surprising considering how he has bounced around the league since being traded from the Florida Panthers in 2008, but I still think the guy can play.).

Jokinen may be in an extended rough patch in his once brightl career, but ... I mean... look at that hair! that face! that big, square, Finnish Jaw! Who wouldn't want this big lug on their team?! (Image via Wikipedia)

Jokinen may be in an extended rough patch in his once brightl career, but … I mean… look at that hair! that face! that big, square, Finnish Jaw! Who wouldn’t want this big lug on their team?! (Image via Wikipedia)

Perhaps more importantly however would be the addition of troubled center Mike Ribeiro who was cut from the Phoenix Coyotes. Hopefully Ribeiro can put his troubled past behind him with the Preds, but on the ice the man is a stellar player, the the combination of him and James Neal on the same line this year has proved devastating thus far. Moreover, to contribute to the winning mentality Laviolette has Matt Cullen, one of the stars of his Stanley Cup winning Hurricanes team on this Preds roster.

It can never hurt to have Stanley Cup winners on your roster (Photo via http://www.stcloudstate.edu/news/success/story.aspx?storyid=33415&SIimageID=1811 )

It can never hurt to have Stanley Cup winners on your roster (Photo via http://www.stcloudstate.edu/news/success/story.aspx?storyid=33415&SIimageID=1811 )

All these factors combined mean that the Preds have added a solid core of players who know what an elite, winning offense looks like. They will be able to help coach up the already talented players in the Preds system (such as Colin Wilson, Craig Smith, and Filip Forsberg) who have been coached to play with a defense first mentality in the past, and help them develop into full out offensive threats (which Forsberg already is… kid is a baby-faced stud out there on the first line with Neal and Ribeiro).

He may not have the most intimidating face... and its entirely possible he is currently incapable of growing a beard... but regardless, Filip Forsberg is going to a huge star in the NHL sooner rather than later (Photo Credit: Frederick Breedon, Getty Images)

He may not have the most intimidating face… and its entirely possible he is currently incapable of growing a beard… but regardless, Filip Forsberg is going to a huge star in the NHL sooner rather than later (Photo Credit: Frederick Breedon, Getty Images)

All things considered then it seems to me like the Preds have a real opportunity to make a legitimate playoff run here. As much as I love Trotz, the team may have cut ties with him at exactly the right time. The Defensive menace Trotz built is still largely intact with Weber, Ellis, and Jones and Pekka Rinne is still good in net. Moreover, bringing Laviolette in brought an almost instantaneous offensive makeover of the franchise with all the new influx of veteran, skilled talent. Not to mention the fact that the cupboards weren’t exactly bare on the offensive or defensive end.

This first season may be too early to ask for a deep playoff run, and indeed the Preds have cooled off of late following their blistering 5-2-0 start to the season, but this new group of Predators comes bearing a lot more hope and excitement than the teams of past seasons. The Predators were always competitive with Trotz’s style, but never flashy. That was the point. That was what they were built to do. Now, however, the team is exciting and ready to make some real noise come playoff time. I don’t know how far they’ll go, but a boy can certainly dream.

StanleyCup

There is no Jazz in Utah

So as I’ve mentioned before I’m big into sports nicknames and branding. I love when the identity of the team, the identity of the fans and the region, and the nicknames and uniform all come together in one big happy amalgamation of marketing love. That’s why I love the St. Louis Blues so much.

6097_st_louis_blues-alternate-1999

 

St. Louis may lose out to Memphis on the oldest appearance of the “blues” as a music genre on the American cultural scene, but the piano based blues of St. Louis, Missouri has its own vaunted place in music. Moreover, “blue” accurately describes the collective emotions of their fanbase and players over the teams 5 decades of existence, as they have repeatedly been denied postseason success (all the more painful this year after being upset by hated rival Chicago) and have never won Lord Stanley’s Cup. Plus, music based nicknames are just really cool. And I love that thing they all do with the music note in the logo. ANYWAY.

Let’s bring this back to the NBA. Relocation of teams sucks, but it happens. Fanbases give up on teams, scumbag owners steal teams, whatever. However, I think that whenever you steal a team, you shouldn’t be allowed to steal their name and their history too. I constantly root against the Thunder because those criminal owners stole that team from Seattle. I understand relocation as a sometimes necessary evil. If fans aren’t supporting a team, and another fanbase would, then fine… move them… However, in Seattle the fans DID support their team. Howard Schultz, Clay Bennett, and David Stern conspired to rip off the city of Seattle over a bullshit public funding hangup with a proposed new arena and shipped the Sonics to Oklahoma City. Now, at least they had the decency to change the team name, but whats more disgusting is that they stole the Sonics history as well. The Thunder claim to have won the 1979 NBA championship. Which is curious because they didn’t exist until 2008.

OKC... its bad enough that you stole their team AND stole Kevin Durant [2nd best player in the NBA] from them, but to ask for their memories too? No sir. (Photo Credit - Grant M. Haller)

OKC… its bad enough that you stole their team AND stole Kevin Durant [2nd best player in the NBA] from them, but to ask for their memories too? No sir. (Photo Credit – Grant M. Haller)

So theres a couple problems with this. The first is that I personally believe once a pro sports franchise has won a title in its current city it should never be allowed to leave. If a team is able to reach the pinnacle of its league, they stay put. This is why I had to give up my dreams of moving the Tampa Bay Lighting to Quebec City to bring hockey back to Quebec. The 2004 Stanley Cup makes the Lightning a permanent fixture in the NHL. So ok… OKC broke a golden rule of franchise movement… but then to steal the team’s history as well??? Come on… If you’re going to steal a team you should start from scratch.

Martin St. Louis earned the Lighting the right to hang out in Florida for the rest of their existence... in spite of the fact that hockey in the south is preposterous... and the fact that Florida already has another team... (Photo credit - Dirk Shadd)

Martin St. Louis earned the Lighting the right to hang out in Florida for the rest of their existence… in spite of the fact that hockey in the south is preposterous… and the fact that Florida already has another team… (Photo credit – Dirk Shadd)

The books should be wiped clean. As it stands now, even if Seattle managed to get a new team (something the other 29 owners refuse to do. Chris Hansen has offered double for both the Kings and the Bucks when they recently went up for sale AND offered to pay the league a relocation fee, but was turned down both times in favor of owners who would keep the teams where they were) they would not be free to name the team the Sonics (the scumbag Clay Bennett and his Thunder still own the rights to the name and any Sonics branding and merchandise) and they would not even be allowed to hang a banner for the 1979 title that that city won (because dontcha know… the THUNDER not the SONICS won that title).

In short it is absolutely despicable for teams to steal names and history from another city in addition to stealing their team. Its also terrible when guys like Vincent Tan come out of the blue and buy a 120 year old football club and unilaterally decide to change the team colors from blue to red which have been the same for those 120 years (and promptly drive the team into the ground as well).

Damn you Vincent Tan!!!

Damn you Vincent Tan!!!

Anyway, to return to the Seattle point I can’t be totally mad when Hansen gets blocked by other fanbases trying to save their teams. I like the idea of the NBA allowing Vivek Ranadive but the Kings instead of moving them to Seattle. Ranadive doesn’t care if he’s at a permanent economic disadvantage because as the NBA’s first Indian owner he things his real market will be back home in India, the same way Yao Ming made China Rockets fans. I for one am skeptical as a big reason basketball took off in China was their general orientation toward America (vs. an orientation toward England and the Commonwealth nations in general for India) and the presence of a legitimate superstar Chinese national (Yao) in the NBA. If Vivek can create enough interest now to get Indian kids to start picking up basketballs instead of cricket bats and push for an Indian NBA player in the next 10 years, then I think he’ll really have something, but for now I’m skeptical. The other owners don’t care if his franchise succeeds, however, because they’re just desperate for another massive marketplace to peddle their goods like they now have in China. Globalization in sports is huge now.

I for one am excited about the possibility of the NBA making strides in India, and I really like having Vivek as an owner, but I'm cautiously optimistic that the sport will actually take off in India. (Photo Credit - Jonathan Santiago)

I for one am excited about the possibility of the NBA making strides in India, and I really like having Vivek as an owner, but I’m cautiously optimistic that the sport will actually take off in India. (Photo Credit – Jonathan Santiago)

ALSO I’m not mad that the Bucks stayed in Milwaukee cuz, again, they’ve won a title in Milwaukee and I think that earns them to right to keep their team. They’re building a new arena so the Seattle excuse can’t be used against them. And Wisconsin is secretly a state that loves basketball. Marquette University and Wisconsin play top level college basketball, and the Bucks are honestly a fixture in the state.

The fan support behind the Bucks felt great, and I'm glad they don't have to lose their team. (Image via https://twitter.com/brewcitypaul/status/413752662140542976/photo/1 )

The fan support behind the Bucks felt great, and I’m glad they don’t have to lose their team. (Image via https://twitter.com/brewcitypaul/status/413752662140542976/photo/1 )

So Seattle will need to wait for their team. But thats not the real issue here. To turn back the clock to 5 sidetracks ago, lets talk about New Orleans Basketball. The Jazz was one of the best fitting nicknames in sports. It was so perfect. And then the Mardi Gras colors on the logos and jerseys? It was a beautiful site to behold. Look at it!

nojazz

Just perfect. However, things began to go south after the teams first 5 seasons in existence. New Orleans is honestly too small for 2 professional sports team, and if forced to choose, 80% of New Orleans residents would pick the Saints (another perfect nickname by the way) over the Jazz/Hornets/Pelicans/FightingAnthonyDavises.

So long story short it didn’t work out and the team moved to Utah. HOWEVER a cardinal sin was committed! Utah kept the name Jazz! Now, the nickname is still awesome. I still love the jerseys. But this is a terrible match! Jazz has nothing to do with Mormon Mountain Country! Over time the issue has become somewhat complicated I suppose by the fact that the Malone – Stockton – Sloan Jazz had some real success and now the name has become attached to Salt Lake City for a lot of guys 40 and under. But they haven’t hit that golden threshold of winning a title yet so I think changing the name is still fair game.I’d much rather root for Anthony Davis of the New Orleans Jazz than the freaking horrorshow pelicans…

This is the stuff nightmares are made of... not a mascot... (Photo Credit - Derick E. Hingle)

This is the stuff nightmares are made of… not a mascot… (Photo Credit – Derick E. Hingle)

However, I think there is one excellent solution to this whole issue. Jabari Parker.

(Photo Credit - Deanne Fitzmaurice, Sports Illustrated)

(Photo Credit – Deanne Fitzmaurice, Sports Illustrated)

 

As a Kentucky basketball fan I pay way too much attention to basketball recruiting. As such I’ve been following Jabari since his days dominating Chicago high school basketball at Simeon High. This guy is a stud and even though he chose Duke over Kentucky, I still enjoy following him. I wasn’t the only one though. The entire state of Utah, including the Jazz front office, has been following this kid. Why? Because Jabari Parker is a Mormon. Moreover, he, along with Julius Randle and Andrew Wiggins, was in the top three battle to be the #1 overall selection in this years draft from the preseason onward. Moreover, I think its no coincidence that this year of all years is the season Utah chose to tank. Utah has been a contender for the playoffs or [more often than not] a playoff team. I think its no surprise then that they chose to blow up their team (letting both Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap go this offseason for nothing) tank, and rebuild this season of all seasons. They’re in this for Jabari, and they’re almost there.

So … heres what I propose we do… to the rest of the NBA I would like to say… don’t you dare draft Jabari Parker… and to Utah once we give you Jabari Parker you better freaking do the right thing and become the Utah Mormons, the Utes, the Mountains, the Rockies, or whatever the heck you want you’ll have a superstar in the making to build around and one who matches your city and state better than any other …but whatever you do, just give New Orleans back their name, and let’s set at least one Franchise history wrong, right.

Do it for Pistol Pete Maravich, Utah. Do it for decency. Do it to prove you're not jerks.

Do it for Pistol Pete Maravich, Utah. Do it for decency. Do it to prove you’re not jerks.

Fear the Jersey cuz the Rest is History

james-young-rihanna_zps0e998b26

Soooo James Young was at game 3 of the Brooklyn Nets vs. Toronto Rapters game with Rihanna. Which is curious and slightly ridiculous. The dude was in High School 10 months ago and now he’s watching NBA playoff games with a pop star wearing absurd floral pants that nobody noticed because of how ridiculous Rihanna’s popcorn munching friend looks in her leopard print jumper. Now, presumably Drake (known Kentucky fanboy, rapper, and Canadian) got him the tickets to see Canada’s great white hope attempt to win a playoff series, but thats not really what I’m interested in here. What I’m more interested in is James Young’s hat. Whats that? You hadn’t noticed? Here let me grab you a closer look.

Young Hat

Still need a closer look? Distracted by the fact that Rihanna is not wearing a bra for unknown reasons and probably shouldn’t have worn such a sheer white shirt to the game unless of course she was incredibly desperate for attention? Oh… wait a minute… BUT ANYWAY

hat alone

That, my friends, is a Chicago Blackhawks hat. Now, this wouldn’t be a problem except for the fact that James Young is from Flint, Michigan, just an hour north of Detroit. Moreover he recently claimed Detroit as his “home town,” during his April 24th interview on the KSR Radio show. He even went as far as to say he would love to get drafted this year by the Detroit Pistons (a distinct possibility as they’re on track to land the #8 overall pick in this year’s draft which is right about where James should land) whom he considers his hometown team. Now I realize you might not be a hockey fan, but if you were you’d know that this is an issue because Detroit happens to have its own hockey team. Moreover, this team ALSO happens to be one of the Original Six hockey teams of the NHL (just like Chicago) and in the last 30 years they’ve been one of the winningest teams in the NHL. And to top it all off, their biggest rival throughout history has been the Chicago Blackhawks. (Moreover, the cities of Detroit and Chicago consider themselves rivals in all 4 major sports and even play in the same divisions more often than not… so theres that Jimmy Buckets…)

Dear Mr. Young, this is approximately how Chicago and Detroit sports fans are supposed to treat each other. Yes? Yes. (Photo Credit - Dave Sandford)

Dear Mr. Young, this is approximately how Chicago and Detroit sports fans are supposed to treat each other. Yes? Yes. (Photo Credit – Dave Sandford)

Now, I don’t think any of this matters to James Young. I highly doubt this kid is a hockey fan, but then why would he wear a hat for ANY hockey team? The reason being, of course, that the Chicago Blackhawks are cool. Particularly this specific cast of Blackhawks. The Jonathon Toews / Patrick Kane Hawks are the perfect storm of cool, which lets them jump from hockey fans to casual fans and even non-hockey fans like Mr. Young there. They’re young, they’re exciting (their shootout antics are honestly spectacular, even to someone who hates them… also it helps that casual fans love shootouts and Chicago seems to find themselves in a lot of them) and they win (two Stanley Cups in the last 7 years with a chance to add another one this year and neither of those guys have hit their 27th birthday yet).

Patrick Kane is fairly successful at shootout fakeouts... dammit... (gif credit - SBNation.com)

Patrick Kane is fairly successful at shootout fakeouts… dammit… (gif credit – SBNation.com)

Now, this isn’t an uncommon occurrence in sports. Winners get popular and they attract bandwagoners like bears to honey. Whats particularly interesting about this situation to me, as a Detroit sports fan and a hockey fan, however, is that this bandwagon team used to be Detroit. Kids my age and a little older think of Detroit as the perpetual superpower of the NHL. Everyone remembers the rivalry with the Colorado Avalanche, Scotty Bownman behind the bench and the seamless transition to Mike Babcock, the Russian Five and Steve Yzerman the golden boy. They remember the “Old Guard versus New Generation” battles between the Datsyuk and Zetterberg Wings versus Sydney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin’s Penguins. But there are two issues with this line of thinking. The first, is the fact that Detroit WASN’T always a winner. In fact the Wings had one of the most tortured droughts of any Original Six team, lasting 4 decades from the 50s to the 90s. Nobody remembers that before drafting Steve Yzerman the Red Wings were derisively called (even by their own fans) the Dead Wings. They were terrible. Everything changed once Yzerman and the Russians showed up, and the legend of the Red Wings as perpetual juggernauts began. That’s the first issue anyway. The second issue, is that this era is of dominance has been dead on gone for 5 years.

That 2008 Stanley Cup ride was the end of an era for the Detroit Red Wings (Photo Credit - Romain Blanquart)

That 2008 Stanley Cup ride was the end of an era for the Detroit Red Wings (Photo Credit – Romain Blanquart)

In both 2008 and 2009 the Detroit Red Wings (the Old Guard) met the Pittsburgh Penguins (the new face of the NHL) in the Stanley Cup finals. In 2008 Detroit won in six, getting Mike Babcock his first championship as coach and allowing him to step out of Bowman’s shadow at last. In 2009, Detroit got robbed in 7 after leading the series 3-2. The Old Guard had finally fallen and the much awaited era of Sydney Crosby had finally begun. And Detroit’s last great shot at a title ended.

Sid the Kid was primed for a decade of dominance unseen since the reign of Gretsky, until concussions and Blackhawks got in his way (Photo Credit - Shaun Best)

Sid the Kid was primed for a decade of dominance unseen since the reign of Gretsky, until concussions and Blackhawks got in his way (Photo Credit – Shaun Best)

That was supposed to be Pittsburgh’s chance to finally come out as the league’s new superpower. They had the best player in the league, he was young, they had torrents of young talent surrounding him and enough veteran pieces to make them title contenders moving into the future. The Penguins would be the new Red Wings. They would be the team bandwagoners and casual fans hopped on to. Right? Wrong. The Blackhawks cut them off too. Crosby had a couple concussions and the Kane / Toews Blackhawks flew out of left field to become the new face of the NHL.

Ladies and gentlemen the new, prepubescent face of the NHL! (Photo Credit - Gregg Segal)

Ladies and gentlemen the new, prepubescent face of the NHL! (Photo Credit – Gregg Segal)

Everyone seems to consider the Red Wings immortals, but they’re not. They’re old. Moreover, the “team on the rise” that was supposed to dethrone them even found themselves toppled by a newer, younger, more exciting model. Detroit is two hockey generations removed from their days of dominance. They’re not the Old Guard anymore, they’re just old. Last year in the playoffs, however, those old guys led those “next generation” “dominant” Blackhawks 3-1 after losing game one of their second round series. They had 3 shots to knock their rivals out of the playoffs. What happend? The Blackhawks won three straight and booted Detroit. Jimmy Howard (Detroit’s Goalkeeper) played the best playoff series of his entire life from game 1 to game 7, and it still wasn’t enough (in fact he was man of the match for Detroit in every game except game 6 when Damien Brunner, another young Detroit up and comer, took the honors.). There was a fleeting glimpse of hope that the old dogs had one last run in them, but they were snuffed out by the new generation. Moreover, the following offseason brought more roster turnover which, rather than making Detroit younger, cost them one of their up and coming youngsters, and they got even older.

(Photo Credit - Tony Ding)

I do good?! I score goal puck?! Yes Hodor… yes you scored… good job… (Photo Credit – Tony Ding)

Damien Brunner was a lone bright spot in terms of future Detroit stars for me last season, but salary cap woes sent him packing for New Jersey (Photo Credit - Bruce Bennett)

Damien Brunner was a lone bright spot in terms of future Detroit stars for me last season, but salary cap woes sent him packing for New Jersey (Photo Credit – Bruce Bennett)

Letting Damein Brunner leave for New Jersey was a bad sign. Back in the old days it was DETROIT who pirated other teams stars. They even stole Chris Chelios, Chicago native and lifelong Blackhawks player and fan, from Chicago (their biggest rival historically and at the time). Chelios couldn’t get a cup with his hometown Blackhawks but he sure as hell got one in Detroit. That was the mystic of Detroit. Like the Miami Heat of today stars would flock in to grab a title on their way out the door. No more. Its not all bad though.

(Photo Credit - Bruce Bennett)

Chelios never got to hoist the cup until he threw on that beautiful red and white sweater. (Photo Credit – Bruce Bennett)

I was born in March of 1990. In April of 1990 the Detroit Red Wings missed the playoffs. That is the only time in my entire lifetime that Detroit has missed the playoffs. I was 2 months old. This year looked like it would finally end the streak, but in an April 5th shootout loss to their ephemeral rivals the Crosby-led Penguins, Detroit clinched its 23rd consecutive trip to the playoffs. Then, astoundingly they won game one IN Boston against perhaps the best team in hockey right now. Fear the jersey, right? The old dogs still have something left! Wrong. They lost the next 4 games including two in Joe Louis Arena in Detroit.

(Photo Credit - Michael Dwyer)

(Photo Credit – Michael Dwyer)

All things considered though I’m happy. This team wasn’t even supposed to make the playoffs. That would have been the first time I can remember (obviously… 2 months old last time) that they weren’t in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Instead they gritted it out and forced their way in, and even gave us one last taste of victory before bowing out. Sure I get frustrated every year when Detroit let’s a young player like Brunner go and replaces him with an old former great like Alfredsson. I loved having Alfredsson on the team. He’s always been one of my favorites to watch in Ottawa and I was sincerly sympathetic to the way his team pushed him out the door, but I just don’t like bringing these guys in at the expense of our youth. The door, in my opinion, has closed, but its not that far from reopening. Guys like Tomas Tatar, Justin Abdelkader, and Brendan Smith are young, talented, and could form the core of the next great Detroit team. Hell, Jimmy Howard is only 30 and Goalies play till their 40. Moreover, while guys like Bertuzzi and Alfredsson are closer to the end, Datsyuk and Zetterberg, Franzen, and Kronwall still have 3-4 great seasons of hockey left in them to bridge the gap. Detroit will be fine, and if everything goes well that playoff streak will keep on ticking.

Tomas Tatar not only has a badass name, but he can skate and score, and I can't wait to watch him develop into a centerpiece player for the Wings. (Photo Credit - Paul Sancya)

Tomas Tatar not only has a badass name, but he can skate and score, and I can’t wait to watch him develop into a centerpiece player for the Wings. (Photo Credit – Paul Sancya)

However, noone should be fooled by that streak. The Detroit Leviathan has been gone since Sydney Crosby put an arrow through its heart in 2009. Detroit isn’t dominant on the ice and they’re not cool off of it anymore. The new monster is Chicago. St. Louis (another up and coming young team) found that out the hard way in their first round series when, in spite of being the superior team all season, they got stomped in 6 games by Chicago. And if you don’t believe me, or the trail of bodies the Blackhawks leave in their wake every April and May, just ask James Young and Rihanna. They’re clearly the go to sources here. When in doubt, follow the bandwagon. It worked for those 90s Red Wing fans.

rihanna and james after game

Little Brother and the Frozen Four

(Photo credit, Elsa - Getty Images)

(Photo credit, Elsa – Getty Images)

So, over the weekend Union College of New York won their first men’s hockey championship and I presume their first championship in any sport since their colonial founding in 1795. Moreover, the Dutchmen did so by manhandling #1 overall seed and America’s hockey homeland Minnesota [much to my chagrin]. Minnesota looked sluggish and almost uninvested (save for a few moments of adrenaline fueled desperation where they showcased their superior skating and physicality) as Union punched them in the mouth time and time again. However, as is always the case for me personally at the Frozen Four, the real storyline was NDSU’s little brother, the UND [redacted]’s, and the national holiday that is their annual exit from the tournament.

(Photo credit Getty Images)

(Photo credit Getty Images)

This isn’t necessarily interesting. Rivals should hate each other. NDSU fans SHOULD be happy to see UND lose. However, the NDSU / UND relationship is a bit more unique than, say, the Kentucky – Louisville or UNC – Duke rivalries. NDSU is undeniably the Alpha to UND’s Beta in this relationship. Football, Basketball, Volleyball, Wrestling, Curling, Cup Stacking… you name it and NDSU has been and is better at it than UND. However, until the dawn of this Bison Sports renaissance that we’ve been living in since the Bison made the leap from D2 to D1, UND had the larger national profile in the region’s second biggest (behind football who is America’s sporting leviathan) sport. UND dominates on a national level in hockey. They have won 7 national titles since the 50s and are by all means a blue-blood of college hockey. They contend for titles every year and the NHL is littered with their former stars. This, in turn, inflates UND fans’ egos to Wonkan-blueberry esque levels.

"...You can't silence me! 7 national titles! Everyone knows hockey is the national sport! Our arena puts yours to shame!..."

“…You can’t silence me! 7 national titles! Everyone knows hockey is the national sport! Our arena puts yours to shame!…”

".. hey WAIT!!! WHAT ARE YOU DOING?! YOU CAN'T SILENCE ME!!! PAY ATTENTION TO MEEEEeeee~~~"

“.. hey WAIT!!! WHAT ARE YOU DOING?! YOU CAN’T SILENCE ME!!! PAY ATTENTION TO MEEEEeeee~~~”

Moreover, while I think UND fans can be incredibly insufferable, hating them isn’t as easy as it should be. Because North Dakota is such a small state and is generally off the national radar (unless the Cohen Brothers are churning out a new screenplay or someone is hoping to make a nobody lives here joke) I really want to band together and carry the State banner whenever  possible. UND has made this impossible though. And I’m not just talking about the fans, but the administartion. When NDSU went D1 they naturally needed a partner to make the move up with them. No conference would agree to travel to Fargo, North Dakota as a one of trip. NDSU needed a nearby partner to make in conference foes’ road trips more economically viable. Naturally, NDSU used logic and set aside animosity to ask UND to move up with them. UND refused, simply because they couldn’t stomach the idea of helping big brother NDSU do anything. They hoped to submarine NDSU’s efforts to help themselves, actively hurting their own school in process (we know it was a mistake to not go up with NDSU because UND DID go up to D1 a few years later on their own…) In any event NDSU ultimately paired with SDSU and USD, meaning UND’s attempt to cut off their nose to spite their face blew up in their now maimed face anyway. Well done guys…

But in any event the hatred goes really deep, and really prevents the state from banding together. Moreover, UND has always loved to cling to their hockey success, not just out of school pride, but as a way to anger NDSU fans. (Important to note here that NDSU hasn’t even had a hockey team for decades, presumably because they can’t compete with UND on this front… which ought to make UND fan’s giddy. However, that doesn’t stop NDSU from dominating them in every other sport of any consequence… I’m not bitter or anything though… wait a minute I need to cheer myself up quick)

Ohhhh yes... nothing makes me happier than sad UND hockey players (Photo credit Eric Hartline - USA Today Sports)

Ohhhh yes… nothing makes me happier than sad UND hockey players (Photo credit Eric Hartline – USA Today Sports)

Alrighty. So to wrap it up, UND has a much higher profile at the pinnacle of a major sport and has an immense presence in that sport. However, as much as I love it, hockey really isn’t a national sport in the United States.  Its huge in New England and the Upper Midwest, as well as many other pockets throughout the country, and despite Gary Bettman and the NHL’s best efforts its growing in popularity. But in large parts of the country its a running joke (Kentucky, for instance, where watching hockey is grounds for ridicule). And even though North Dakota is one of the states where hockey is loved, football is still bigger and NDSU’s recent three-peat puts UND’s embarrassment of a football team to shame. And heres where we come to the real heart of the matter. NDSU, the true big brother in this relationship, has finally established itself as such in my opinion. In the same year where NDSU capped off its Football 3-peat, hosted ESPN’s College gameday, and pulled off its first NCAA men’s basketball tournament run, UND got punched in the gut by their biggest (hockey) rival, losing on a miracle goal with 0.6 seconds on the clock (WHILE UND WAS ON THE POWERPLAY) which I will revel in for at least a decade… probably longer

NDSU’s renaissance continued with a flourish while UND’s counterpunch fell hilariously flat. Its good to have you back little brother. I hope you’re comfy where you are, because with a little luck you’ll stay there forever. But no matter what, we’ll always have this beautiful moment.

(credit gifsection.com)

(credit gifsection.com)