Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Gordon Bradley: 1934-2008

The Washington DC area lost a sports icon yesterday as Gordon Bradley passed away after battling Alzheimer's disease. He was a player, coach, executive, broadcaster and ambassador for the sport of soccer here in the United States. He played and coached in the old North American Soccer League in New York and Washington (Remember the Diplomats?)

After the NASL folded, he coached at George Mason University for a number of years, leading them to six NCAA tournament appearances and was a broadcaster for D.C. United telecasts. He also conducted a number of youth soccer camps in Northern Virginia. He was elected into the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 1996 and George Mason's Soccer Hall of Fame in 2006.

IMO he's just as much of a DC sports icon as Riggo and the Hogs are. I never knew or met Gordon but for over 30 years he was a presence here and one of the reasons I started following soccer. I used to take Metro to go to see his Diplomats play at RFK Stadium when I was in high school. John Feinstein talks about Gordon and the NASL here.

Behind the Badge has a nice tribute as well.

He will be missed.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Benjamin Goes To Wood Acres Park

Saturday is Daddy and Benjamin's park day. Instead of going to the usual place, I decided to take Benjamin to the park in the neighborhood I grew up in. First we drove past the house our family lived in on Cromwell Drive. We looked at it for awhile and I explained all the fun things we used to do as kids there.

We proceeded to Wood Acres Park and Benjamin loved it because he could just run all over the place.

Here he is studying some ants on a picnic table.

Benjamin standing on a rock near the tennis courts

Conductor Benjamin says "All Aboard!"

Benjamin at an old tree near the parking lot.
I think I even climbed in here when I was his age.

We hung out there over an hour and a half and plan to go back again soon. It was neat having Benjamin play in the same park I did when I grew up.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Caps Game 7

I got to Verizon Center ten minutes before the game. Outside the arena was bedlam as there were tons of people looking for tickets. I heard that a single seat in the upper area where I was sitting was going for $250. No chance was I parting with my ticket though. Once inside, the place was a sea of red as the above photo from On Frozen Blog shows.

I quickly called home to let Weena know I got there ok and to speak to Benjamin, who yelled in the phone "Let's go Caps!" During the anthem I was anxious, tense and nervous. Like everyone else in the building I just wanted the puck to drop and the game to begin.

It was a classic game and a great series. For the first two periods, the two teams traded goals. Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin for the Caps, Scottie Upshall and Sami Kapanen for the Flyers.

Check out the live blog of game 7 from Dave

The Caps threw everything at the Flyers in the third period. They had sixteen shots on goal but couldn't get that third goal. Like 1988, when the Caps rallied from 1-3 down, this series would be decided in overtime. There's nothing better in sports than a Stanley Cup playoff game seven in overtime.

The record shows that the Flyers Joffrey Lupul scored a power play goal six minutes into overtime, giving the game to the Flyers 3-2 and the series to the Flyers, 4 games to 3. As saddened as I was with the outcome, the future looks bright for the Capitals and they can use this playoff experience as a building block to greater things in the future.

Except for a ten game hiccup late in the year where they didn't register a point in the standings, this Flyers team was among the top teams in the league all season. To take them to overtime in game seven was a remarkable accomplishment considering where the Caps were on 1/1/08, which was last place in their division. I would have liked to have seen them move farther along and gain more playoff experience but as Craig Laughlin, the Caps announcer pointed out, to learn to win you need to experience losing and the Caps learned a hell of a lot this round vs the Flyers.

Coach Bruce Boudreau, who I've had the pleasure of meeting after the practice I attended back in January, told the team afterwards "Thanks for the best year of my life". I'll agree, it really was a lot of fun following this team this year once he took over. Sadly, I heard on the radio while driving home that long time goalie Olie Kolzig removed his nameplate from his locker and left without speaking to reporters. I believe his time here in Washington is done. He's 38 and if he's done here, I hope he retires. I don't want to see him as a back up goalie for the Los Angeles Kings or Minnesota Wild. He's a class act on and off the ice. If this was his last game as a Capital, thank you Olie for the great memories!

Caps Owner Ted Leonsis comments were played on the Caps post game radio show last night. Leonsis stated he's going to let his emotions of the season play out and he and General Manager George McPhee will sit down and address team issues in a month. Signing Cristobal Huet, Matt Cooke and Sergei Federov are top priorities as is adding some defensive depth.

The Caps have the best player in the world playing for them in Alex Ovechkin and will be serious threats next year. I can't wait!

Monday, April 21, 2008

The Caps: Game 7

The Capitals won game six in Philadelphia tonight 4-2 to even the best of seven series three games apiece. Game seven is tomorrow night at Verizon Center. Yours truly bought a ticket after the Flyers won game three last Tuesday. There is nothing in sports comparable to a Stanley Cup playoff series game seven. I have been to three prior--1988 vs Flyers (win), 1988 vs Devils and 1992 vs Penguins (losses).

Tonight started badly for the Caps. With their season on the line, they were down 2-0 early in the second period thanks to goals from Mike Richards and Danny Briere. But these Caps, who thrive when their backs are against the wall, would not quit. First Nicklas Backstrom scored, then Alexander Semin tied the score 2-2!

We go to the third period and likely NHL MVP Alex Ovechkin came alive. Held without a goal for four straight games and frustrated, Ovechkin put the Caps ahead 3-2 scoring on a breakaway off a sweet feed from Viktor Koslov. Ovechkin then put the Caps ahead by two goals after slamming home a power-play goal. No lead is safe in the Stanley Cup playoffs so it was nail biting, edge of your seat time as the clock wound down. With less than a minute left, I started to get goose bumps knowing this team is playing in a game seven.

So it's a short turnaround for the Caps and Flyers as game seven is tomorrow night 7:00 PM at Verizon Center

In closing, 2008 Caps-Flyers is so much like 1988 Caps-Flyers:

April 10, 1988 Game 4 at Philadelphia. Flyers win in OT to take a 3 games to 1 series lead.

April 17, 2008 Game 4 at Philadelphia. Flyers win in OT to take a 3 games to 1 series lead.

The Caps would win games 5, 6 and 7 back then to win the series 4 games to 3. They've won games 5 and 6 now. This game won't be easy but for this old fan, it will be a lot of fun!

Friday, April 18, 2008

Growing Pains: Flyers 4, Capitals 3 (2 OT)

The Caps and Flyers played a great game last night. Unfortunately the Caps lost and are now trailing the best of seven series, 3 games to 1 with game five here in Washington tomorrow afternoon.

Before this playoff series started, this young Caps team has twelve players and their head coach who've never been in the NHL playoffs before. The Flyers are playing dirty, tough playoff hockey much like the old '70's version of the Broad Street Bullies as the Flyers were known then. It's been very effective so far and a great introduction to playoff hockey for this Caps team. Nothing like a rough and tumble series with an old rival from the old Patrick Division.

It's good Alex Ovechkin and the Caps get exposed to this this early on. It would be much harder to adjust if they faced a finesse team early, got accustomed to it as standard playoff hockey, then get hammered by a physical, dirty team.

If this is their education hopefully us fans can expect a similarly fiery response in any future series. Win or lose, I'm glad this is the type of series the Caps are learning from. Sometimes the best lessons are the most painful.

That said, I thought the Caps played a whole lot better in game four tonight. They didn't let the Flyers intimidate them, they skated hard and played with the same intensity that they did when they were fighting for a post season berth. It was a classic, edge of your seat playoff game. I loved every minute of it.

For the record, I know I called this a new era in Caps hockey in an earlier post. After the game ended I couldn't stop thinking about how this franchise seems to be cursed when it comes to multiple overtime playoff games. The following is a list of the games they have been involved in with multiple overtimes. Home team in bold.

4/11/85 Capitals 2, Islanders 1 (Game two: 2 OT)
4/18/87 Islanders 3, Capitals 2 (Game seven: 4 OT)
4/20/93 Islanders 5, Capitals 4 (Game two: 2 OT)
4/24/93 Islanders 4, Capitals 3 (Game four: 2 OT)
4/24/96 Penguins 3, Capitals 2 (Game four: 4 OT)
4/24/98 Bruins 4, Capitals 3 (Game two: 2 OT)
4/26/98 Capitals 3, Bruins 2 (Game three: 2 OT)
4/20/03 Lightning 2, Capitals 1 (Game six: 2 OT)
4/17/08 Flyers 4, Capitals 3 (Game four, 2 OT)

This current series with the Flyers isn't over just yet but each year with the exception of 1998, the Caps lost the series. Each series was best of seven except 1985, which the Caps lost 3 games to 2 after being up 2 games to 0.

One of the Caps announcers pointed out in discussing Alex Ovechkin and his first playoff series, that in learning to win in the post season, you need to experience the losing. I scratched my head and thought about it and remembered it took Michael Jordan awhile before they got past the Pistons in the NBA playoffs in the early '90's and post season success in the NHL didn't come easy for Wayne Gretzky and the Edmonton Oilers. Jordan and the Bulls would go on to win six NBA titles and Gretzky and the Oilers won four Stanley Cups together. A part of me that still thinks the Caps can come back though and I won't stop believing in them until the Flyers win that fourth game.

So in closing, the majority of the Caps roster as well as head coach Bruce Boudreau are getting a great education during their first series in the NHL playoffs. If the season should end against the Flyers, hopefully they can review what went wrong and build on it. For Caps owner Ted Leonsis and his General Manager George McPhee, this series will give them an idea on what they need to do to upgrade to roster to go further next year. As much as this 2 OT playoff loss stings me, it doesn't really bother me the way both 4 OT losses did years ago because this is a very young team with a bright future and I'm confident they will learn and improve.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Weekend Recap

Not going to say much about the Caps-Flyers game two that occurred earlier today. The Flyers won 2-0 and outplayed the Caps in every part of this game. Game three is in Philadelphia Tuesday night. Series tied 1-1.

Also another event I love, The Masters, laid an egg today. There wasn't any drama, no Tiger Woods charge from the six shot hole he dug himself in. The result was a snoozer and the champion is Trevor Immelman, an up and coming player from South Africa. The Masters was just his second win on U.S. soil and he has four European wins as well. At one point he had a six shot lead with four holes and he won by three shots over Tiger Woods.

So here are a couple pics from our day at the park yesterday. Benjamin loved getting out of the house and he got some running around time in. Can't wait until Spring arrives. On April 21, Benjamin gets acquainted with the pool as we've signed him up for a beginners ducklings class at the recreation center.

On the way back from the park, my 2001 Honda Civic EX hit the 100,000 mile mark. I had the camera out and shot this picture at a stop light. For what its worth, Benjamin was asleep in his car seat. Chuck Mangione's Feels So Good was playing on XM '70's channel and we were roughly one mile from home. The Civic's been a good, solid reliable car to me since I bought it in May 2001. I said when I got it I would keep it at least ten years. When Benjamin was born, friends were saying I needed to trade it in for an SUV or a caravan. I do not like SUV's and the only Caravan I like is a song by Van Morrison which is one of my all time favorite songs.

While the Civic's been great, it's also been hit a total of three times. Two times in the rear (2004 & 2007) and once in the front left (2006, see below) when a person ran a red light and hit me. It held up well from that accident, the other car took the majority of the beating. Once I had my car repaired, it looked good as new. It's in great shape. It's been my trusty cruiser and since I've kept up on the maintenance, I expect to have it around awhile longer. Not having a 60 mile to and from daily commute to work helps too as my job is now just eight miles away.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Amazing Comeback By The Caps!

Capitals 5, Flyers 4

This was one of the most incredible Caps playoff games I have been to. The atmosphere at Verizon Center was loud, fans were pumped up and the place was rocking as the Caps took a 1-0 lead on Donald Brashear's goal a little over three minutes into the game.

The Flyers tied things up at 1-1 five minutes later on a Vaclav Prospal goal in which Caps goalie Cristobal Huet was screened. David Steckel gave the Caps a 2-1 lead four minutes into the second period. Then the Flyers took control of the game, getting three goals in a four minute stretch, to go up 4-2 at the end of two periods.

I said to my friend Paul that if the Flyers can get three goals in the second period, why can't the Caps? This team is on such an incredible roll, I just had a good feeling about this game and the third period. I then took a long walk around the concourse during the intermission to try to relax myself.

I don't know what Caps head coach Bruce Boudreau said in the locker room during the intermission but he should bottle it up as the Caps came out playing hard and with a vengence. The Flyer lead was cut to one as Mike Green scored a couple minutes into the period. Five minutes later it was Green scoring again, this time on the power play and the game was tied 4-4.

Great players rise to the occasion and while the Flyers were throwing everything at Alex Ovechkin, knocking him all around the ice in efforts to stop him, Ovechkin just kept working hard. True he did not have a shot on goal for the first two periods. In the third period, he picked up an assist on Green's tying goal. Then with a little less than five minutes remaining, Ovechkin's moment came and he took full advantage of it.

He worked the puck loose from a Flyer defenseman by lifting his stick, stealing the puck and shooting it past Flyer goalie Martin Biron to give the Caps a 5-4 lead! It was just an unbelievable individual effort goal. The place went nuts!

Then it was four and a half minutes of nail biting time as the Flyers tried to get the tying goal. The Caps would have none of that and when the final buzzer sounded, Verizon Center was a sea of happy red. People were hugging and high fiving one another in celebration.

Alex Ovechkin, in his third NHL season, is the most dynamic, can-do-it-all player. He plays with passion, he hits, he assists, he scores. He plays like a grizzled ten year veteran and the Caps have never, ever had a player of his caliber in their history. It is a pleasure watching him lead this team.

So the Caps are up 1 game to 0 in this best of seven series. It's far from over but they showed a lot of guts and teamwork coming back from two goals down in the third period and winning. It was the first time the Caps have ever rallied from a two goal defecit in the third period of a Stanley Cup playoff game.

My voice is shot. I had fun and the Caps won. Game two Sunday at Verizon Center at 2:00 PM. Lets Go Caps!

Friday, April 11, 2008

New Era in Caps Hockey Begins Tonight

The Caps are back in the Stanley Cup playoffs after a five year absence. Tonight is game one between the Caps and Flyers. This will be a great series. I will be in attendance tonight. I am excited, I feel like a little kid again and I cannot wait.

This is a new era with Alex Ovechkin. For me, the past Caps playoff history is filed away for good. It's a much different feeling now. On, writers Scott Burnside and E.J. Hradek plus ESPN analyst Barry Melrose talk about which arena will have the most electricity in the first round and they all mentioned Verizon Center. In years past no one thought twice about the Caps arena being loud and now with the red out, fans getting mohawks and the excitement Ovechkin brings, the atmosphere has changed. Look out NHL, here come the Caps!

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Sometimes I Wonder...

...Is this really my kid?

True story, I swear. Last night I'm driving Benjamin home from his day care. On the radio was a song by Eddie Money called Two Tickets To Paradise on XM's Top Tracks channel. It's a good tune but Benjamin says "I don't like this". I explain it's a tune from Daddy's high school days. Again he says "I don't like this".

So I hit Channel 6, the '60's channel and The Byrds 1967 version of Bob Dylan's My Back Pages is on and I don't hear anything so I ask him if this this ok.

His reply: "I like it!"

I continued to drive home and just shook my head and laughed thinking I have a two and a half year old back seat music critic.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Capitals Win Southeast Division Title

My friend Mike had an extra ticket for me to the Caps-Panthers game last night. It was the last regular season game. Win or get the game to over time and the Caps would win the Southeast Division title and complete one of the more amazing comebacks ever in NHL history.

At one point they were the worst team in the NHL. Late November after coach Glen Hanlon was fired and Bruce Boudreau took over, the Caps were already 14 points behind the Carolina Hurricanes for the Southeast Division lead.

The team responded to Boudreau and even though they were still last in the division on December 30th, you could see improvement in the team. One of those players who responded was certain league MVP Alex Ovechkin, who ended up scoring an NHL record 65 goals for left wings. I went to the Caps-Ottawa game to start 2008 with friends and they hammered the Senators 6-3. Nice way to start the new year. The wins kept coming and then there was talk about possibly making the playoffs. "Impossible. Too many teams to climb over" and "No chance, the bad start doomed them" were the replies heard on sports radio and seen in print and message boards. However, the team kept playing hard and didn't give up.

Caps General Manager George McPhee was active at the trade deadline, making trades for additional depth for the stretch run. He acquired goaltender Cristobal Huet from Montreal, center Sergei Federov from Columbus and left wing Matt Cooke from Vancouver. All three would play key roles down the stretch with Huet becoming the number one goalie, Federov (Three time Stanley Cup Champion) providing valuable leadership and Cooke coming through with a couple multiple point games.

After back to back losses to Boston and Pittsburgh on March 8-9, the Caps won 11 of 12. The loss (5-0 in Chicago) came over two weeks ago and it was the Caps last loss of the season. After that loss they ran the table and won seven in a row to close out the season. Let me recap this: December 30, 2007 last place in the division. April 5, 2008 division champions and third seed in the playoffs. Incredible.

So sitting in Section 210 before the game, we were confident but nervous. The Caps started off slow but got the job done thanks to goals from Tomas Fleischmann, Fedorov and Alexander Semin and they got another solid night in goal from Huet. Result: The Caps win 3-1.

So while we were celebrating in the stands and high fiving other fans, the scoreboard flashed Caps Owner Ted Leonsis smiling and waving to the fans and just enjoying the moment. He caught a lot of grief from Caps fans prior to the NHL lockout in 2004 by stripping away the talent on the roster but he believed in rebuilding from the draft and not overspending on free agents. He's been patient through three straight last place finishes in the division. Tonight it was nice to see him enjoy the moment along with us.

Overall, a great time at the good ol' hockey game and to top it off, I was able to get Benjamin an Alex Ovechkin bobblehead that they were giving away prior to the game.

Celebrating Alexander Semin's goal to put the Caps up 3-1.

Here are the final seconds ticking down.

Scoreboard says it all.

My fan of the game. He sat behind us.

This was the Caps first Southeast Division championship since 2001 and first playoff berth since 2003.

The Caps remind me of the 1983 North Carolina State Wolfpack basketball team. That team had to win the ACC tournament to make the NCAA tournament field and that's what they did. Then with momentum on their side, they ran the table in the NCAA tournament becoming unlikely champions. Can the Caps feed off this momentum and win the Stanley Cup? Absolutely! You have the league MVP in Ovechkin, solid goaltending, good veteran leadership and a bunch of young players who understand their role on the team. And throw in a coach happy as hell to be where he is after several years toiling in the minor leagues, well anything is possible and I like the Caps chances.

Caps vs Flyers
Friday, April 11 7 p.m. Philadelphia at Washington
Sunday, April 13 2 p.m. Philadelphia at Washington
Tuesday, April 15 7 p.m. Washington at Philadelphia
Thursday, April 17 7 p.m. Washington at Philadelphia
Saturday, April 19 1 p.m. Philadelphia at Washington
Monday, April 21 TBD Washington at Philadelphia
Tuesday, April 22 TBD Philadelphia at Washington

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Couple Benjamin Pics Taken By Grandma

Here's Benjamin last Saturday after he returned from his friend Kjell's birthday party. It was a morning party and we got home in time for Grandma and Aunt Kim's visit. This was taken before we went to lunch.

Here's Benjamin at lunch. He got up very early at 6:30 that day, went to a two hour birthday party where he played with his pals from day care, then went to lunch with us. You can tell he is about to fall asleep and that's what he did the moment we got in the car and tucked him in his car seat.