HFA Stanley Cup Preview

Before I get knee-deep in Stanley Cup Finals analysis, I must be forthcoming with you guys about something. I care more about the Calder Cup Finals than I do about these Stanley Cup Finals. At least in the Calder Cup, I get a good look at the Ottawa Senators’ future, as their AHL affiliate Binghamton Senators take on the Houston Aeros. In the Stanley Cup I get a Northeast division rival playing against a Canucks team that really evokes no emotions in me whatsoever.

What to Expect: Low scoring games. Tim Thomas of Boston and Roberto Luongo of Vancouver are not Vezina finalists for nothing. They are probably two of the top three goalies that you would want on your side in a game that decided your life. Vancouver has more Defensemen to like (Bieksa, Edler, etc.) but Boston has the one D-Man that intimidates every player on the other team. His name is Zdeno Chara, and he will, in all probability, kill you, if you get under his skin. However, beyond him, there really isn’t much to love about Boston’s defense, and that has become evident through a series of situations that has led to him getting hung out to dry on odd-man rushes. I give Vancouver the defensive edge. On offense, Vancouver has way more firepower than Boston, with the Sedin twins, Mayson Raymond, Ryan Kesler, and company. Boston has a lot of talent, with guys like Nathan Horton, Tyler Seguin, and Michael “Easy” Ryder, but it is a matter of them being able to break the goalie who won Canada the 2010 Gold Medal in hockey.

The key for Boston is going to be winning the battles on the boards. Guys like Milan Lucic, Chara, and Johnny Boychuk are going to have to take advantage of the fact that Boston is a much better checking squad than Vancouver. Gritty players cause turnovers, rough people up, and keep the other team’s offense in check. No pun intended. Maybe a little.

The Verdict: Vancouver in 6. I just don’t see Boston generating enough offense against Luongo, much less to counteract what the high-octane Canucks offense will likely produce. The Cup will finally return to Canada.

Fun Fact: Did you know the Sedins were planning to refuse to play unless they were on the same team? For example: If Daniel was drafted by one team, Henrik would refuse to play for whoever drafted him, until he hit free agency, and signed with the team that drafted Daniel. They’ve always been creepy, Stranz-and-Fairchild van Waldenberg close (Blades of Glory reference, don’t judge me) and this just makes people like them less. However, without their petty antics, the city of Vancouver would have been robbed of a lot of offensive magic on the ice. All good things come at some cost.

Steve Sabato is a staff writer for Home Field Advantage

Big 3 vs. Big D- 2011 NBA Finals

Starting tonight at 9:00 EST, is the culmination of a wild season for the Big 3 of the Miami Heat, and a quietly productive season for Dirk and the Dallas Mavericks. In the offseason, LeBron James and Chris Bosh joined Dwyane Wade to create a super team, and the hype hasn’t died since. Dirk Nowitzki has been his usual gawky, ferocious self, manhandling teams throughout the playoffs. Tonight in Miami is Game 1 of the NBA Finals, the journey for Dirk or Bron’s first ring.

Mark Cuban’s Mavericks fought their way over the hump, into the NBA Finals after finishing the regular season 57-25, 2nd in the Southwest Division, and 3rd in the Western Conference. The Portland Trailblazers were the first round match for the Mavericks, and so far, gave them the most trouble. Portland continued to cut away at late leads, but Dirk, Jason Kidd and Jason Terry were able to hit shots when it mattered. Jason Terry scored at least 20 points in three of the last four games of the series. Dallas moved on 4-2 behind Nowitzki’s 27.3 PPG.

The Conference Semi’s was a shock when the Mavericks Swept the Los Angeles Lakers in 4 games, putting them away easily. The Mavericks were unforgiving, constantly one-upping LA, building frustration in one of the better teams in the league:

Yet again, Dallas had little trouble putting away its Western Conference foe in the Conference Finals, defeating the Oklahoma City Thunder 4 games to 1. Dallas had lost more games in the first round than it had in the Semi’s and Conference Finals. Dallas had taken what it had learned in the first round against Portland and used it to crush the hopes of the Thunder, constantly making 4th quarter comebacks on the shoulders of Dirk, and even the likes of Shawn Marion. “The Mavs made a historic comeback in Game 4, finishing regulation with a 17-2 run to force overtime en route to becoming the only team in the past 15 years to win a playoff game after trailing by 15 or more points with five minutes remaining.” (from ESPN’s Tim MacMahon)

“They’re a helluva a team, they’re Hollywood as hell, but they’re still very good.” From the brilliant mind of Joakim Noah, this one is actual true of the Miami Heat. A roller coaster season ended at 58-24, Southeastern Division champs, and 2nd in the Eastern Conference behind the Bulls. Round 1 the Heat tested the playoff waters with the Philadelphia 76ers, and came out relatively unscathed in a 4-1 series win.

The Conference Semifinals was a battle of two big 3’s, Miami versus Boston. Wade, James and Bosh against Allen, Pierce and Garnett. Many believed Miami would falter here and get the boot, but LeBron and Wade stepped up, alternating each game as the leading scorer, and playing excellent defense. Boston was certainly limited, never gaining a strong foothold, and Miami took advantage winning the series in, surprise, 4 games to 1.

Chicago was the regular season conference champions, and had little trouble in the playoffs, then the Miami Heat came to town. The Bulls had been dominant in 4th quarters during the regular season with a +187 point differential, but Miami outscored Chicago by 24 in the final quarter and overtime in the series. Finally someone for the Heat was stepping up and hitting clutch shots at the end of games. This series LeBron and Bosh took the position of leading scorer every-other-game, while Wade had big contributions late in games. After losing game one, Miami never looked back and took the series from Chicago, you guessed it, 4-1.

Of the two teams, Miami has the only NBA Finals Championship, from 2006, when they beat the Dallas Mavericks.
NBA Finals Appearances (*won)
Dallas- 2 (2006, 2011) Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry on the team for both appearances
Miami- 2 (2006*, 2011) Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem on the team for both appearances

Dirk and DWade in '06 Finals

Last Season
Dallas- Lost in Western Conference first round
Miami- Lost in Eastern Conference first round

Regular Season Leaders
Points: Dallas- D. Nowitzki, 23.0 PPG
Miami- L. James, 26.7 PPG
Assists: Dallas- J. Kidd, 8.2 APG
Miami- L. James, 7.0 APG
Rebounds: Dallas- T. Chandler, 9.4 RPG
Miami- C. Bosh, 8.3 RPG

Playoff Leaders
Points: Dallas- D. Nowitzki, 28.4 PPG
Miami- L. James, 26.0 PPG
Assists: Dallas- J. Kidd, 7.7 APG
Miami- L. James, 5.5 APG
Rebounds: Dallas- T. Chandler, 9.3 RPG
Miami- C. Bosh & L. James, 8.9 RPG

Game One Starting Lineups
Dallas
PG: Jason Kidd
SG: DeShawn Stevenson
SF: Shawn Marion
PF: Dirk Nowitzki
C: Tyson Chandler
Miami
PG: Mike Bibby
SG: Dwyane Wade
SF: LeBron James
PF: Chris Bosh
C: Joel Anthony

Regular Season Match Results
November 27th, Dallas 106 Miami 95 (Caron Butler and LeBron James leading scorers with 23 apiece)
December 20th, Dallas 98 Miami 96 (Dirk with 26, and Wade with 22 to lead scoring for their respective teams, Dallas win ended 12 game regular season win streak for Miami)

From Elias: Dallas has won its last 14 regular-season games against Miami, the 2nd-longest winning streak teams to meet in the NBA Finals. The other 4 teams to enter the Finals with at least a 5-game winning streak against their opponent have gone on to win the title.

The Heat, as their name suggests have begun to heat up in the playoffs, winning fairly easily against good teams. Dallas has also shown that they can cruise through the playoffs. The Mavericks have the regular season head-to-head advantage, but this is a whole different situation, the past should not have a factor on either team. This will be a hard fought battle, two extremely good, well-rounded team, one brash and flashy, the other with substance and hard work. This Finals will be very Dirk vs. LeBron, with a lot help from all of the regulars in defense and scoring, with a lot of close games.
Game 1: Tues, May 31, 9:00 p.m. EST in Miami
Game 2: Thurs, June 2, 9:00 p.m. EST in Miami
Game 3: Sun, June 5, 8:00 p.m EST in Dallas
Game 4: Tues, June 7, 9:00 p.m. EST in Dallas
Game 5*: Thurs, June 9, 9:00 p.m. EST in Dallas
Game 6*: Sun, June 12, 8:00 p.m. EST in Miami
Game 7*: Tues, June 14, 9:00 p.m. EST in Miami
*if necessary, All games on ABC
My Prediction: Miami Heat in 7

Michael Schwartz is a staff writer for Home Field Advantage

‘The Kid’ and The Battle

Growing up as a die-hard Mets fan, there are very few memories that you get to hold onto and cherish. I remember vividly where I was when Robin Venture hit his grand-slam single against the Atlanta Braves in the 1999 National League Championship series (the answer: I skipped out on my sister’s bat mitzvah to watch the game in my cousin’s hotel room). Or how about Todd Pratt’s helicopter swing home run to end the 1999 National League Division Series against the Diamondbacks and anxiously waiting for Steve Finley to pull up his pants and realize a ball wasn’t in his glove.

I remember jumping up and down like a lunatic around 9:25 EST at Shea Stadium when Benny Agbayani hit his 13th-inning, walk-off home run to win Game 3 against the San Francisco Giants in the 2000 National League Division series. In 2006, the Mets were swept in Pittsburgh by the Pirates, while the Phillies swept the Nationals at home to set up a potential National League East clinching game at home. My good friend Ted and I left school early (2 PM) to drive the 45 minutes to Shea and wait in line for tickets to that nights game (first pitch, 7:10). Staying with 2006, I remember pulling Ted off of a baseball field mid-warm ups to tell him we had two tickets to Game 1 against the Dodgers (a Cliff Floyd and Carlos Delgado home runs later, Mets won). Or smoking a victory cigar after Shawn Green caught the final out to complete the Mets three-game sweep in L.A.

The NLCS that year was the same story. I had a calculus test pushed back three separate times because of Mets games that week. I forbid people to tell me the score of Game 5 in that series because I was at a Red Hot Chili Peppers concert and wanted to watch it on tape delay (I cracked in the 4th inning). Being at Game 6 with my dad, watching John Maine pitch for the second time that post-season and nearly crapping myself when So Taguchi (TAGUCHI!) hit a double off Billy Wagner to make it interesting in the ninth.

I will never, in my entire life, forget the feeling of euphoria when Endy Chavez somehow dislocated his right arm to catch Scott Rolen’s two-run homer to preserve the 1-1 tie. The only time in my Met-fandome did I feel unbeatable was right then and there in my friend Greg Fass’ living room. I also remember the incredible low I felt when Beltran kept his bat on his shoulder sending the St. Louis Cardinals, not the Mets, to the World Series (the Cardinals swept the Detroit Tigers that year).

So, what am I trying to say exactly? Going back to my young childhood, the first VHS my dad ever bought solely for me was the 1986 New York Mets Year in Review tape. Though I wasn’t even born yet (hell, the sister who I ducked out of the bat mitzvah for to watch Ventura’s single wasn’t even born yet), the 1986 Mets quickly became a huge part of me. I felt like I grew up with Mookie, Nails, El Sid, Doc, Straw, HoJo, Wally and Keith. However, one player above all else stood out to me, a young, aspiring catcher:

Gary Carter. The Kid.

He did everything on the field with so much energy and enthusiasm. Even when he was upset at somebody, it appeared that he was smiling and joking around with the guy at the same time. Not to mention, he was the final piece to Frank Cashen’s championship puzzle. He put the Mets over the edge from good team in the early 80’s to dominate powerhouse from 1985-1989. His first year with the team (1985), Carter hit .281 with 32 home runs and 100 runs batted in, good enough for sixth in the NL Most Valuable Player voting. The following year, he hit 24 home runs and drove in 105 runners and despite his .255 average, he placed third in the MVP balloting.

Since Carter, I’ve always loved Mets catchers throughout my lifetime. The only time I was allowed in the Mets dugout (I was three, Dallas Green yelled at me), it was back-up catcher Charlie O’Brien who greeted me and rubbed my head. Todd Hundley will always have a special place in my heart. Mike Piazza was the first superstar to dawn a Mets jersey in my lifetime. Even the back-up catchers have always been fun for me, from Todd Pratt and Vance Wilson to Jason Phillips and Ramon Castro (or, as Fran Healy loved to call him, “Cadillac”).

When he retired, he truly became the first player I followed the five years after hoping he’d get into the Hall of Fame. I would talk every year with my dad about his chances and each year he didn’t get elected, I became increasingly more frustrated. Six years after he became eligible, Carter was finally inducted and to my chagrin, he went in with the Montreal Expos (due to a lack of my childhood knowledge that he played 12 years with the Expos before his five with the Mets). To my knowledge, coaches aside, no active Met has worn Carter’s #8 since his retirement and there is a strong sentiment among the fan base that the number should be formally retired.

The guys that played on that 1986 team are quick to say that the team captain and leader was first baseman Keith Hernandez, but ‘The Kid’ was the heart and soul. In fact, in a recent broadcast, Ron Darling mentioned how the team would actually get a little tired of how much love Carter would spread in the clubhouse.

Now, Gary Carter is in the battle for his life. It has been revealed that Carter has four tumors located on his brain that appear to be cancerous. Doctors said they believe Carter is suffering from Grade 4 glioblastoma, which directly effects your central nervous system and your brain. The tumors are inoperable, but doctors feel they can shrink the size of the tumors through treatment. Carter himself has said he will do everything he can to battle the disease and doesn’t plan to go down without a fight.

As a human being, you hate to hear bad news happen to the best of people. As a Mets fan, it hits directly in your heart that one of your heroes, one of your immortals, is battling such a tragic disease.

Without that 1986 Year in Review Mets tape I wouldn’t know fully who Gary Carter was, who he still is.

Without Gary Carter, I am not a Mets fan.

Greg Kaplan is a writer and co-founder for Home Field Advantage

Giants’ catcher Buster Posey out for the season

After an ugly home-plate collision with Florida Marlins outfielder Scott Cousins, Buster Posey’s season is over before it fully got started. Posey break a bone in his left leg and tore multiple tendons in his ankle that required season-ending surgery, though the catcher is expected to make a full recovery in time for the 2012 season (ESPN Link).

With the score tied at six in the top of the 12th inning, Cousins tagged up from third on a shallow fly ball to right centerfield. With the speed of Cousins, he was able to reach home a little before the ball had and collided with Posey to make sure that he would be ruled safe on the play. The collision knocked the ball loose from Posey’s grasp, Cousins was ruled safe and the Marlins would go on to win the game by the score of 7-6.

Though collisions at home in baseball these days are uncommon, especially to the extent in which Cousins charged into Posey. However, the play was absolutely clean even though the result of the play was an unfortunate injury to one of the game’s rising stars. Since the play at the plate, there has been plenty of conversation in the media in regards to if baseball needs to institute a rule to prohibit these kind of plays. Posey’s agent was one of the many voices trumpeting the need for a rule change. It is uncertain if baseball would undertake such a rule change, with many of those who play the game and scouting the game stating that no change to the rule is necessary and that if a lesser-known catcher had received the injuries Posey had, nobody would think of it as anything more than somebody playing the game hard.

For the season, Posey was hitting .284 with four home runs and 21 runs batted in with a .368 on-base percentage. The 2010 National League Rookie of the Year posted a .305 average with 18 home runs and 67 runs batted in 108 games after being summoned from the minor leagues. The already soft-hitting San Francisco Giants will miss his bat in the middle of the line-up. But, the Giants have always been built on pitching and will continue to either succeed or fail behind the likes of Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain.

Entering play today, the Giants were 28-24, a half-game behind the scorching hot Arizona Diamondbacks for first place in the National League West and were two-and-a-half games back of the Wild Card leading Florida Marlins.

Greg Kaplan is a writer and co-founder of Home Field Advantage

Jim Tressel out as Ohio State Head Coach

Earlier today, Jim Tressel, head coach at Ohio State, tendered his resignation to the athletic director and school president (ESPN Link). Tressel had been previously suspended five games by the school in relation to player misconduct with a local tattoo parlor owner and a car dealership, and was under investigation by the NCAA for further violations.

In March, Tressel had issued an apology for not being forthcoming with all the evidence he had against some of his players, including the team’s starting quarterback Tyrelle Pryor. In 10 seasons as the Buckeyes head coach, Tressel posted a 106-22 record that included seven Big Ten championships, the 2002 National Championship and a 9-1 record against arch-rival Michigan. Prior to Ohio State, Tressel was a four-time Division 1-AA champion at Youngstown State.

The announcement this sudden was indeed a surprise, but the storms had been picking up in the direction of Tressel eventually getting fired. Tressel failed to report on any of his players misconducts and reportedly went as far to warn the handler for Pryor about a potential NCAA investigation and how to handle it. The five-game suspension for a head coach was enormous, especially considering the sanctions the NCAA had placed on another huge national program, University of Southern California, a year ago. But, it didn’t seem that the NCAA was going to stop with the sanctions there. They were prepared and, as we saw with USC, will probably continue to pile on the penalties regardless of who is the head coach next year.

For now, the head coaching duties will go to assistant coach Luke Fickell, who was going to coach Ohio State through the first five games this year anyway. As for who will be the long-term answer in Columbus, that is yet to be known. Regardless of the penalties that will be dulled out, Ohio State remains one of the premier coaching positions in the country. The long list of names is bound to include the likes of former NFL coach Jon Gruden and former Florida head coach Urban Meyer, among others.

However, as far as this year’s team goes, it’s going to be hard to predict. Ohio State is the six-time defending Big Ten regular season champion. Coming into this year, the conference has already added Nebraska to bring the total number of teams in the conference to 12, allowing them to host a championship game. With Pryor and five other starting players suspended for the first five games, another conference title seemed to be unlikely. Now with the coaching situation and the looming NCAA investigation hovering overhead like a dark, ominous cloud, it’s anyone’s guess to how well the Buckeyes will do this year.

Personally speaking, I figured Wisconsin to be the conference favorite entering the season. This news further backs up that assumption. Ohio State is in for a world of mess, a mess that I wouldn’t be surprised to be bigger than what transpired at USC. There, the school was given strict recruiting sanctions along with a two-year post-season ban. Ohio State, a school that appeared in eight BCS games in Jim Tressel’s 10 years as coach, is in a lot of trouble.

Unfortunately for them, this is only the beginning.

Greg Kaplan is a writer and co-founder of Home Field Advantage

This Week…

Happy Memorial Day everybody! Hope the weather is beautiful in whichever part of the country you find yourself!

This week, we mark our first week of covering general sports. No city, no fancy breakdowns and no individual analysis. We’ll cover any and all stories we see necessary and will do our best to keep you up to date!

Make sure to keep checking in to see what we have to say!

Banhammer Looms Over Columbus

“After meeting with university officials, we agreed that it is in the best interest of Ohio State that I resign as head football coach,” It’s over Ohio.

Jim Tressel has announced his resignation today, amid allegations of improper player benefits, and future NCAA violations. In that statement, one important word is “resign”; Tressel was not forced out. Tressel did not face a university board, or fight the Athletic Director for the chance to stay. He stepped away at his own discretion, and the university let him.

The Ohio State University has a mess to clean up, and within the next 24 hours, could have an apocalyptic mess on their hands. Kirk Herbstreit (former OSU quarterback) says Sports Illustrated has a big-time new report coming out later, and ongoing investigations by the NCAA could find more infractions. 5 players were already suspended for the first five games with more to possibly come. Now there’s no head coach and an ominous feeling of an actual judgement day in Columbus.

Jim Tressel’s resignation is the next sign in things to come for Ohio State football. Abandoning ship is a possible indication that, yes, more violations are to surface, and they are not good. Tressel has not bounced for another job elsewhere, as Dennis Erickson did in 1994, but because of the current infractions, and the possibility of more–who would have hired him yesterday, and who will hire him now? Him leaving in his own decision hurts the university, because now, the NCAA will show no mercy and come in swinging with the banhammer and take care of business. In investigations such as these, universities that self-report and self-enforce violations see some grace from the NCAA, but OSU has stepped way beyond that.

E-mails have been reported documenting Jim Tressel’s knowledge of player wrongdoing months before the allegations were even public. 5 Ohio State football players traded gear for tattoo’s and money, and to be revealed later, possibly a whole slew of more illegal activities. “Tat5”, as they are affectionately called, includes star quarterback Terrell Pryor, running back Noah Herron, wide receiver DeVier Posey, starting left tackle Mike Adams and backup defensive end Soloman Thomas. Tressel has also coached problems such as Maurice Clarett, Ray Small and Troy Smith. And that is only what has been uncovered in investigations so far. Tressel dug his own grave by not taking action after receiving those e-mail reports–evidence that he had knowledge of players receiving improper benefits. He took no action, and now the school will suffer from it.

So what’s in store for Ohio State now? The most intense, mind-numbing waiting game, as more and more reports will come out of violations, with serious penalties awaiting the program. Will OSU see the death penalty? There’s a chance; the penalties could be similar to USC’s two year postseason ban, vacated wins and one Heisman Trophy, and a loss of 30 scholarships, 10 per year over 3 years. But USC reported its infractions to the NCAA and put an initial ban on itself; the NCAA set a new sanction, and as harsh as it is, that was bestowed upon USC with mercy. The NCAA should not show any mercy to The Ohio State University.

This is also a chance for the NCAA to redeem themselves, after they suspended the Tat5 for only five games, yet suspended Dez Bryant for an entire season. Bryant spent a day with a non-Oklahoma State alumni, Deion Sanders. They worked out and talked, and nothing more came of it; only because Bryant didn’t report it, was it a violation. The Tat5 sold and traded championship rings, game used gear and even awards for tattoo’s. This has been clearly documented and is illegal in the fact that these players are receiving improper benefits, such as goods and services at a reduced price, against NCAA law. Wha-? How? C’mon NCAA. Terrell Pryor, the star Buckeye quarterback, elected to stay in school for his senior year by request of Tressel. Sweatervest is now gone, and Pryor has to spend the next year in Columbus in a suspension riddled disaster zone in Ohio. There is the NFL Supplemental Draft, but it’s not like there’s a season to be played there–but that’s a whole different topic. The fallout in Columbus should be extreme as some current players will transfer out, recent high school signings will opt out of their letters of intent. Were the tattoos worth it?

News coverage of Tressel’s resignation has shown there are plenty of supporters of Tressel and what he has done; albeit most are Ohio State people. Praise is dumped on the coach and people are acting shocked. But news of possible scandal has been out for a while. One could not ignore the fact that Tressel was soon to be on his way out. Newsflash: Jim Tressel is not squeaky clean. He isn’t very clean at all. Desmond Howard had a good point suggesting Tressel was not acting in the best interest of the school, he was out to protect his winning percentage. If he had done what was expected, what was right, what was logical to his job, he’d still be employed. Instead he’s hurting players, the university and himself. His ass-backward way of protecting himself with cover-ups and secrecy ended his reign at Ohio State.

For those calling Urban Meyer or any other successful coach to Columbus, Ohio, keep dreaming. Meyer likes to lay and spread the dirt, and the filth has already consumed the Buckeyes. But in the next 3-5 Meyer will be a coaching candidate, and start a brand new mess. Other coaches will laugh at the offer once NCAA sanctions come out. Luke Fickell was slated to be the acting head coach while Tressel served his five game ban, but looks like Fickell will be on top of a dying program as interim for a year. Good luck Luke. Bo Pelini of Nebraska is building something special in Lincoln, in Ohio State’s conference. Gary Patterson’s been running train on the country with TCU and his move was with his team–to the Big East, an automatic-qualifying BCS conference. His departure from Fort Worth is unlikely. And for these three, purely hypothetical candidates, NCAA sanctions are not a situation they want to be moving into; they’re doing quiet well at their own schools, and Meyer, well he’s already got one university wallowing in his wake as he praises Timmy Tebow on TV. If the penalties are as severe as predicted, it will be a few years before Ohio State can win again. Will Ohio State ever recover? Will their stuck up fans realize the Sweatervest has ruined their program?

Michael Schwartz is a staff writer for Home Field Advantage