A couple weeks after the Olympic craziness has ended, the NHL is back into full throttle. Coming into the home stretch of the season, the games are becoming more and more important for playoff hungry teams across the country. March is arguably the most important month pre-playoffs, because it’s when the playoff teams are finalized—making every single point incredibly important. Therefore, it is vital for players to be well rested. However, the games are packed together over the next month and a half to meet the required number played before the playoffs start. With the Bruins playing almost every other day for the next month and a half it will be interesting to see how the scores will play out. Granted, these are all professionally athletes and so I have no doubt that the team will meet expectations in performance.

The reason for a more rigorous March and April schedule is due to the Sochi Winter Olympics that caused a two-week break in February. Due to the high number of NHL players competing in the Olympics, the league chose to put a temporary pause on NHL play.

I am a lover of the Olympics, and I think that it is wonderful that many NHL players had the opportunity to compete for a medal and wear their country’s colors. However, I also think that with so many NHL players on various Olympic hockey teams, it took something away from the games. To me, part of the reason why the Olympics are so wonderful is that athletes previously unknown to the (casual watcher) world get a chance to prove their selves. With so many NHL players participating, it made the hockey part of the games seem less special—almost ordinary.

Watching US play Canada is an amazing experience and guaranteed good hockey. But this year it was a Quick versus Price matchup, which we have all seen many times previously. Even though the teams consisted of players from different NHL teams, the majority of the teams were made of the NHL’s players—dream teams. It made the hockey games seem similar to all-star games, not in the actual level of play but in that the players were simply hand picked all stars from each NHL team. I think that hockey in the Olympics should go back to when the players were not already famous in the hockey world, making the games more special.

To prove my point further, about a week after the Olympics, March 3, we saw another Price versus Quick matchup when the Habs played the Kings. This is a whole different concept then US versus Canada, but at the same time it has a lot of parallels. I think that the Olympics would be better without these parallels.

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With the Super Bowl Weekend festivities getting closer and closer, the cringe-inducing thought of football season ending impends upon the average sports fan. Fall means football, and football means tailgating and lazy Sunday afternoons sitting on the couch watching the old pigskin get thrown around. It’s a lifestyle. And quite frankly, life without football always seems a little bit lacking. It’s like being sidelined for an inconvenient injury—you want to play, you can’t stop thinking about playing, but you aren’t allowed to play until the doctor gives the “OK” (that seems to never come fast enough). In this case, the offseason is the waiting period, where all a fan can do is sit on the sideline and pray that the “playing time” will come soon.

Now you might be thinking, “Hold up, you’re talking about the off-season and the season hasn’t even ended yet.” This is true. But, it’s also true that this year’s Super Bowl is against the Seahawks and the Broncos. A die-hard football fanatic might chastise me for saying this, but I really don’t care about the outcome because I really don’t care about either of the teams. My hatred for Peyton Manning aside, I don’t have anything major against either team except for the fact that the Broncos beat the Patriots (realistically, however, Denver played the better game). And anyway, Super Bowl weekend is always infinitely better when New England is playing in it (I’m a little biased though).

So, even with an exciting Sunday coming up, football season is basically over. I don’t know if it’s a good thing or a bad thing that it always seems to fly by. I do know, however, that the thought of next season always seems to be even more exciting than it was the year before. So my advice to those who share a similar mindset as I do is to enjoy Super Bowl XL-whatever (I never really got the whole roman numeral thing), but to keep in mind that we’ve got an entirely new season coming up (if you consider seven months ‘coming up’). And on a side note, it’s never too early to start thinking about fantasy draft picks.

But for now, enjoy Sunday’s game, and embrace the small bit of football season that we still have left.

And hey, we’ve still got hockey.

From a young age, athletes are often brainwashed into believing that the sole purpose of playing the game is to win. Because of aggressive parents screaming vulgarities during sporting events, competitive club team coaches, or even the sports media, kids can forget that they play a sport because of the sheer simplicity of loving it. In an age where it’s common for coaches to get ejected, and for players to get suspended, the messages young athletes learn from their everyday game play quickly shift from encouraging to critical. Example A: When is the last time a coach told players to, “Just go out there and have fun!” instead of a harsher, “Win, and you won’t have to do as many sprints tomorrow”? The latter may be acceptable at a higher level, like high school, but it shouldn’t have a place for the youth hockey organizations where the majority of the players are still wearing their neighbors poorly fitting hand-me-down equipment, and too-big jerseys.

Granted, players may find motivation to up their game play when a Coach gets angry. But there is a time and a place for negativity, and a fine line between constructive criticism, and flat out spite from coaches, teammates, or even parents. While it is important for high school level competitive teams to be focused and productive, the younger players, aging anywhere from four to fourteen, should be able to enjoy their youth sports days without memories of shouting coaches and disappointed parents.

A few weeks ago, in a pre-season hockey game, my team played another that was down the majority of its players. While we had three solid lines, our opponent had a single sub. Midway through the second period, they requested that some of our players don a darker jersey, and play for them for the next twenty minutes. I was selected as one of the players to switch benches for the last period, and the resulting lesson was eye opening.

Suddenly, I was skating with players whom I had just been checking into the boards, and chirping at. I was stopping shots from my own teammates, and then helping to score on my goalie—all because I had switched my jersey color. I was skating harder, breathing heavier, and putting in an all around greater effort (which resulted in some comments from my coach after, but that’s an entirely different life lesson). I was now on the smaller team, and every other shift, I was on the ice.

The experience of playing with my opponents made the game increasingly more enjoyable, because all of a sudden, it was about having fun. I had changed teams, an event that never happens in sports, and so the legitimacy of the game was much lower than its normal intensity. I was playing hockey because I wanted to be playing hockey, not because I knew that I had to skate more before the dreaded week of tryouts. The game reminded me of pond hockey pickup, summer street hockey, and it called to mind all of the reasons why I stick with hockey despite it’s five AM practices, and two hour car rides to dumpy rinks in Saugus or Springfield or Shrewsbury. I enjoy the sport, the rush of my skates against the ice, and the feeling of sinking a puck (top shelf, left corner, off the crossbar) into the back of the net.

It was nice to have a reminder that there’s more to hockey than angry coaches, and sprints that make your legs fall off. It’s a game that I love, and a game that you truly have to love in order to participate in it. On that rainy Sunday evening when I switched my jersey color halfway through the second period, I learned that kids are brainwashed into believing things that simply aren’t true. Yes, the goal of the game may be to win, but the purpose of it is so much more.

Live Update from the Garden

Some observations about warm ups:
-Chara is even bigger in person
-My 14 year old brother is taller than Krug
-Lucic’s nose is Gross (with a capital G)
-Soupy jams out hard to warm up music but Looch sings
-Marchand doesn’t shoot until all his teammates are off the ice (asserting his authority perhaps?…)

Go Boston

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I probably shouldn’t be writing this.

It’s not that it’s necessarily a bad thing (it is what it is), but its that as a sports writer I am, by default, supposed to avidly follow all sports. Confession: I don’t. I can name every player that’s been on the Bruins for the past five years, and their line partners or D pair (but please don’t ask me to). I know the difference between a QB and TD, which, believe it or not, not everybody can say. Every Sunday I faithfully turn on the television to CBS and watch the Pats game.

I don’t, however, regularly watch the Red Sox. I own the hat, I wear my Pedroia shirt fishing in the summer, and I know the significance of 2004. But, it’s possible to make the argument that none of that matters if I don’t actually follow the sport.

Now, it’s important to realize that I used to be an avid fan (but then again, doesn’t everyone use that excuse?). Pre 2004, back in the Bambino days, I watched every game, knew every player, and who we should trade for who. Notice that I said ‘we’, because I was such a dedicated fan that I earned the privilege to call the Sox my team.  (That’s an important distinction to make, example A: I use ‘they’ with the Celtics, because quite frankly, I don’t give a damn about basketball). Then we broke the curse, and I became even a bigger baseball fan. Schilling, Manny, Papelbon—the crowd favorites. Mike Lowell, Varitek, Coco Crisp. My favorite was J.D. Drew. In 2007 we won it again, and life was pretty good at Fenway. But then, one night in late September, after my brother started playing mites for the local youth team (hockey starts in August), I turned on the television, but instead of watching baseball, I watched the Bruins. And the rest is history.

For a while, I watched both sports. But eventually I stopped watching baseball. And each spring I tell myself that this’ll be the year that I’ll get back into it, and I mean it, but it never happens.

The Boston Red Sox are in the World Series. It’s a sentence that changes meaning depending on the emotion that you use with it. And if this were five years ago, I would be shouting it at the top of my voice, talking about it with anyone who would listen. But it’s 2013, and the leading cause for me watching baseball is because there’s a commercial break for the Bruins game. And I hate to admit that.

For this baseball season, I will only be watching the World Series, because I didn’t watch any of the regular season. And that means that I won’t get the same experience, the same thrill, as the fans that have been watching since spring training. In addition, I feel a sort of guilt cheering for the Sox. If I didn’t stick with them throughout their ups and downs all season, why should I get to root for them now? I hated when people were suddenly fans when the Bruins had their cup run, and yet I am doing the same thing to the thousands of fans of baseball. Anyone can be a fan, but it is a privilege to be a true part of Red Sox nation.

With that said, I figure it’s three strikes and you’re out. I’ve neglected the Sox once previously, and so hopefully I can have a second chance to know and love our team, and be a true part of the Fenway Faithful.

Bring on the Cardinals. If this team is anything like the ones I used to so faithfully love (and I know that it is), then Dirty Water will be playing a lot over the next weeks at Fenway.

Go Sox!

–ACE

As a side note, If you go to the Sox homepage, they have a nice video playing, that’s worth checking out.

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