Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Blame Canada

I knew the USA-Canada hockey game on Sunday night would be big. I just didn't know how big a U.S victory would be.

For obvious reasons, this was Canada's game to win. And after watching both teams play their first few games, I figured the Canadians, with the clear advantage in star power, wouldn't have trouble disposing of a much younger, inexperienced American team by 2-3 goals.

But in my mind there was only one handicap Canada could have given Team USA: Marty Brodeur. They played him in goal, and it cost them big-time.

Don't get me wrong—there's no doubt that Brodeur is one of the best goaltenders to have ever played the game. Here's a brief glimpse of his killer resume:
  • The NHL's all-time leader in regular season wins, shutouts, and games played
  • More than 30 franchise records, including most all-time regular season and playoff wins, shutouts, games, and lowest goals-against average
  • Three Stanley Cup championships
  • Four-time Vezina Trophy winner, four-time Jennings Trophy winner, 10-time NHL All Star, and a Calder Memorial Trophy winner
  • One of only two NHL goaltenders to have scored goals in both the regular season and the playoffs; the only NHL goalie to score a game-winning goal.
Brodeur is known for his hybrid goaltending style by standing up more than butterfly goalies, who drop to their knees often. It's gotten him this far, and even at his veteran age of 38, I'd still take him over half the goalies in the NHL.

But when I've watched Brodeur play periodically in the past few years, he's given up questionable goals, mostly as a result of his unconventional style of play. During this relatively new generation of super-athletic, butterfly-sliding goalies, Brodeur has become outdated. But don't take that as an insult, Marty—you've been incredibly successful as New Jersey's starting netminder for the past 19 seasons.

Canada started Roberto Luongo in net for their opening Olympic game against Norway. Apparently coach Mike Babcock planned on going with the more-experienced Brodeur as his No. 1 for the tournament, but wanted to get Luongo's skates wet in case he needed to call on him later. But instead of anticipating sub-par play from his starting goalie, Babcock should have stuck with Luongo (an All Star in his own right, playing on his home ice), similar to how the Team USA coach Ron Wilson preselected Ryan Miller to play the entire way. Babcock handed the reins over to Brodeur against Switzerland in the second game.

Had Luongo played against Team USA on Sunday night, I'm not so sure so many Americans would have been celebrating. I say this chiefly because the 6'3" butterflyer would have stopped the goals that Brodeur let in. And this goes back to what I was saying before: Brodeur may have been a better goalie five years ago, but Luongo is now.

Brodeur's biggest issue was the same one I've seen in the past few seasons: save selection. Consider the evidence:
  1. Even though the first goal was deflected in by his own teammate, a standard butterfly would have prevented the goal, instead of Brodeur going going paddle-down with his stick.
  2. On the second goal, the butterfly would have been more effective than hesitantly stacking the pads on a low shot through traffic.
  3. On the third goal, Brodeur's lack of stick pressure allowed the puck to seep through the five-hole with his stick between his legs in a rare sideways position only seen from Squirt- and Mite-level goalies.
  4. On the fourth goal (which proved to be the game-winner), Brodeur gambled and dove with a poke check, but didn't connect. Way out of position, he frantically tried to recover, but not before Chris Drury capitalized on a mostly open net.
Overall, Brodeur didn't have a horrible game—he made some big stops at key times. But for Team Canada in the Olympics in Vancouver against the USA, it wasn't acceptable. Babcock later agreed, giving the nod to Luongo for as many more games Canada can play as they head down the path of most resistance to the gold medal.
"We're in the winning business. And to win in any game you need big saves. You need momentum-changing saves, and we're looking at Lou to do that for us. He's a great big butterfly goaltender. If you look at the way pucks went in our net last night with traffic, which is the way the game is now [emphasis added], sometimes just being down in that big butterfly, things hit you and just bump into you. We believe Lou gives us a real good opportunity to win, and so that's why we're going with him."
I don't blame Canada so much for their loss as I do Babcock. His realization about playing the right goalie came a few games too late.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the ice was Ryan Miller, winning goaltender and instant American hero. Even with Brodeur's unsatisfactory performance, the Americans would have lost without Miller, who played the game of his life in stopping 42 of 45 shots and holding the Canadians off until the very end.

But when asked about winning the goaltending battle, he couldn't shake the the impression still held by so many—an impression that may begin to fade in the near future:

"I'm just trying to build my resume. Marty's the best."

Related: Olympic hockey is best showcase for the sport; don't ruin it, Gary

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Area man able to get on pec-fly machine for first time

By Ken Devine

NEW YORK—Manhattan resident Craig Sullivan reported that he used the pec-fly machine at Frank's Fitness on Friday for the first time ever.

Sullivan, 38, said that he'd been trying to get on the popular pectoral machine ever since he joined the Midtown gym almost eight months ago.

"It's been beyond frustrating," admitted the wiry, flat-chested real estate manager. "The 'fly' is the best for building up your chest, but I guess every guy in here knows that. Even when I'm working out during off-hours, some buff jackass is always monopolizing it."

Sullivan said that despite the virtual impossibility of using the LifeFitness-brand machine and his zero-percent success rate, he always held out hope for the off-chance that he'd one day enter the alcove next to the free weights to find the machine unattended.

But after continually being denied and forced to use the standard chest-press machine instead, Sullivan's patience finally paid off. After finishing his workout around 8:50 p.m. on Friday, Sullivan said he was about to hit the showers when he was struck by one of those rare "what if?" moments shortly before Frank's was set to close.

"I walked past the free weights on my way out and then just sort of stopped and turned my head," he recounted. "I can't explain it, but I just had this feeling that for once, the machine might be open. When I rounded the corner and didn't see anyone there, I almost crapped my pants."

Unfortunately, by the time Sullivan overcame his excitement, adjusted the seat, and set the proper weight at 20 pounds, he was only able to squeeze in a few reps before an announcement was made over the loudspeaker that the gym was about to close.

"I stayed on it as long as I could, but eventually one of the trainers came up and told me I had to leave so that the last few employees could go home. Almost got almost a full set in, though."

According to Sullivan, getting on the pec-fly machine this one time is really the only plus in a long list of grievances he’s had with Frank’s Fitness. Among them: perpetually malfunctioning treadmills, tip-hungry locker room attendants, and dripping-wet bathrooms and showers that constantly reek of a distinctive mildewy funk.

But none aggravated him more than the general invasion of personal space in the locker room.

"There's no space in the locker room, or anywhere in this city, really," said the St. Louis native. "Someone is always bumping into you, and there's always naked man ass in my face."

Sullivan elaborated with something he calls "The Law of Locker Room Proximity"—a so-called truth he coined after many locker room tribulations.

"You could be one of two people in the entire gym—the entire gym—and you'll end up picking the locker next to the one other guy who will come in as soon as you sit down," he explained. "Never fails."

"I'm cursed," he muttered with utter defeat.

In describing his overwhelmingly negative experience at Frank's, Sullivan mentioned that he once thought of ending his membership, but hesitated after learning of the hefty early-termination fee.

Plus, he thinks he may be able to get another crack at the pec fly someday.