Monday, April 30, 2007

Lions Draft Grades: What They're Saying; What I Think

The Detroit Lions may have had the toughest, and most controversial, draft to grade in 2007. Experts either applauded Detroit on taking the draft's best prospect, Calvin Johnson, or criticized them for taking yet another wide receiver with their first round pick. Some thought the Lions got their quarterback of the future in second-round pick Drew Stanton, while others think they'll get the same Stanton who finished the 2006 season with only 12 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. The Lions may have reached on a couple of their later picks, or maybe were just finding some underrated and talented prospects.

As of result of this, the post-draft grades for the Lions were all over the map:

Mel Kiper, ($): C

Dr. Z, B-

John Czarnecki, A-

Pete Prisco, B-

Gregg Rosenthal, B+

Tom Mantzoranis, AOL Fanhouse: B-

You get the point. A mostly lukewarm reception, with a couple people regarding our picks rather highly, and Kiper (who in his own mind is the only opinion that matters; remember, this is all he does) bashing the Stanton selection and questioning the Lions' late-round picks.

My breakdown of the Lions' draft, pick by pick:

Round 1, 2nd overall: Calvin Johnson, WR, Georgia Tech

In my opinion, Detroit had no other option but to draft Johnson. They were in a position to either keep the best player in the draft or trade him for a king's ransom, and the Lions ended up coming away with a potential Hall-of-Fame wideout. Unlike Charles Rogers (violations of the NFL Substance Abuse policy; injury problems) or Mike Williams (lack of top-end speed; weight and effort issues), Detroit's 2 previous busts at WR, Johnson is the complete package of size, speed, durability, and (possibly most importantly) character. The only concerns anybody has voiced about him is a perceived lack of interest at points over his career at GT, but I believe this had more to do with the erratic (and that's putting it kindly) quarterbacking of Reggie Ball than any mental issues on Johnson's part. He will immediately step in and start across from Roy Williams, and should thrive in Mike Martz's pass-happy offense. Many will argue that this pick only compounds the mistakes made by GM Matt Millen in earlier drafts, but I think not addressing these previous draft blunders only makes them worse over time. Johnson is supremely gifted athletically, has fantastic hands, and is both humble and intelligent. Plus, it's tough to pass up a man who can do this:

Round 2, 43rd overall: Drew Stanton, QB, Michigan State

I completely and utterly, with every fiber of my being, disagree with this pick. Drafting a quarterback this high means you expect him to be your franchise starting quarterback for the next 10 years. Does anybody really think Drew Stanton is that quarterback? First of all, he has major durability issues. In 2003, as a redshirt freshman, he injured his knee covering a punt in the Alamo Bowl, and underwent reconstructive surgery. In 2004, he suffered a separated shoulder, and only started 7 games. The next season Stanton was bothered by a nagging hand injury. Finally, he suffered 2 concussions his senior season and had to sit out the season finale. Yes, Stanton is mobile, but he hasn't showed the running awareness to know when the get the hell down and avoid the angry linebacker trying to behead him (LaMarr Woodley certainly can attest to this). Stanton also has shown questionable decision-making, especially when throwing the deep ball, as well as a tendency to collapse after making a big mistake, compounding the problem rather than rectifying it. He also played in a very simple offense at Michigan State, and it will take a while for him to adjust to a pro system and making complex reads. Detroit had more pressing needs at corner and inside linebacker, and Michigan MLB David Harris and UNLV CB Eric Wright were both still on the board at the 43rd pick. With Jon Kitna and Josh McCown (at the time) on the roster, Detroit could have afforded to wait a year and spend their first round pick next year on Louisville's Brian Brohm or Michigan's Chad Henne if they wanted a potential franchise QB.

Drew Stanton, in a familiar position...fetal.

Round 2, 53rd overall: Ikaika Alma-Francis, DE, Hawaii

I'm torn on this pick. DE was certainly a need, and Alma-Francis is a talented end who had decent production his senior year at Hawaii. He has good size (6'5", 280) and speed (4.77 40-yard dash), and his father, Joe Francis, played for Green Bay in the 60's. However, he is the definition of a raw prospect. Alma-Francis didn't play football in high school, and went to Hawaii as a basketball recruit. He didn't start until his redshirt junior season, and only has nine career sacks. If Detroit was going to trade back up into the second round, I would've liked to see them address the more pressing need at cornerback. The Lions need players who can contribute now out of their first day draft picks, and Stanton and Alma-Francis are picks Detroit will have to develop before they can see the field.

Round 2, 61st overall: Gerald Alexander, S, Boise State

I like this pick. Alexander is a good fit in the Tampa 2 system, a versatile safety who plays the run well and is strong for his position. He will compete for a starting safety position with Josh Bullocks and Kenoy Kennedy. He can also play corner, and may see some action as a nickel- or dime-back for Detroit. He may have been a reach in the second round, as he was projected as a middle-round pick, but Millen at least took a player who will immediately see the field.

Round 4, 105th overall: AJ Davis, CB, NC State

The Lions finally addressed their biggest need (besides a new GM) in the fourth round. Davis is a little small for a corner (5'10", 193), but is a solid player who projects to compete for at least the nickel corner job, if not start across from Fernando Bryant. A good value pick in the fourth round.

Round 4, 117th overall: Manuel Ramirez, OG, Texas Tech

Detroit could certainly use depth pretty much everywhere, offensive line included. Ramirez adds a big, strong body (6'3", 326) to the interior of the line. However, he will have a lot to learn at the NFL level, as he played college ball in the wild shotgun attack of Texas Tech. Run blocking may be an issue, as he didn't have to do much in college, as well learning a real NFL offense. He does have potential, and also broke the Texas Tech school record by benching 550 pounds during spring practice in 2005. Will at least be an adequate backup until he learns the offense.

Round 5, 158th overall: Johnny Baldwin, ILB, Alabama A&M

Although he is somewhat undersized for the middle linebacker position right now (6'1", 234), Baldwin is extremely athletic and has good instincts. He did a little bit of everything for Alabama A&M. In 45 career games at the I-AA school, he registered 361 tackles, 13.5 sacks, 9 forced fumbles, 4 blocked kicks and 4 interceptions. He should contribute immediately to special teams and hopefully can develop into the athletic 'mike' linebacker the Lions are looking for.

Round 7, 255 overall: Ramzee Robinson, CB, Alabama

With the last pick in the NFL Draft, the Lions took Robinson, a corner lacking too much size and athleticism to ever develop beyond a backup/special teams player. However, he has a spectacular first name, and, according to his Wikipedia page, was a member of rapper T.I.'s "Pimp Squad Clique" under the name "Hood Doc" before signing to play football at 'Bama. For this reason alone, I am rooting for Ramzee to make the Lions, with the hope that maybe they'll have a more entertaining halftime show sometime down the road.

Overall Lions Draft Grade: C+

The Johnson pick salvages a draft that offers little in terms of immediate help for a team that is desparate for some. He'll be a star for years to come, but the same can't be said for Stanton, who was certainly Millen's worst pick of this draft. There is definitely some raw talent here that should contribute down the road, but Detroit needed help now. Yes, the Johnson pick was great, but I still harbor the same feelings as this little girl (courtesy of

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Pistons Defeat Magic, and I Barely Notice

Lost in the hoopla over the NFL Draft and the excitement of the Red Wings game this afternoon, the Pistons defeated the Orlando Magic 97-93 to complete their first round sweep. Chauncey led the way with 25 points and 6 assists and Rip added in 19 points as Detroit overcame a monster game from Dwight Howard (29 points and 17 rebounds; I guess he was bound to play like that at some point) and a late 5 point deficit to even the series.

Up next for Detroit will most likely be the Chicago Bulls, who hold a 3-0 edge on the Miami Heat in their first round series.

Rasheed embracing Darko after hearing the Lions had drafted Calvin Johnson. Or something like that.

Red Wings vs. Sharks: Game 2 Recap

Detroit overcame an early 2-0 deficit to beat the San Jose Sharks 3-2 on a Pavel Datsyuk goal with 1:24 remaining in the third period. San Jose scored twice in the first 4:17 of the game. Jonathan Cheechoo (bless you!) scored 36 seconds into the game after a Detroit turnover led to a Kyle McLaren point shot, which Cheechoo deflected past Dominik Hasek. Three minutes later, Hasek played a puck behind the net directly to Milan Michalek, and Joe Thornton one-timed Michalek's pass into the open net to give San Jose a 2-0 lead.

However, Detroit controlled the play from that point on. Henrik Zetterburg scored on an innocent looking shot from the side boards that deflected off a Sharks defenseman and past Evgeni Nabokov. Early in the third, with Detroit shorthanded, Dan Cleary forced a turnover in the San Jose zone and beat Nabokov with a slap shot to tie the game at 2. Then, with under 2 minutes remaining, Mikael Samuelsson took a slapshot from the left circle and Nabokov could not control the rebound, allowing Datsyuk to work the puck around the Sharks goalie and send in the winning goal.

Some thoughts:
  • Detroit did a great job of playing physical with the Sharks all game. They may be much bigger than us, but the final hit tally was 23-23. There were very few plays where we were knocked completely off the puck by San Jose (one being the first goal; Joe Thornton shielded Danny Markov from the puck before passing it to McLaren). Datsyuk is doing a great job of neutralizing San Jose's size advantage with his incredible stickwork. He comes out of corners with the puck much more than he should because of his ability to find the puck and maneuver it to himself without getting hit. Detroit also had the two biggest hits of the game, with Andreas Lilja annihilating some pour soul (couldn't see the name, as the crowd was in the way) as he crossed the blue line and Johan Franzen decking Cheechoo in the third (Franzen was called for interference, but he thought Cheechoo was going to have the puck).
  • Hasek is a disaster with the puck. The NBC commentators were openly mocking his puck handling skills, and his lack of awareness led directly to San Jose's second goal. He has been fantastic in the net during the playoffs, but between the flopping and turnovers it seems like he sometimes doesn't have his head in the game. I doubt he's going to change his ways at the age of 42, but hopefully the coaching staff will at least try to get him to be a little more conservative away from the net.
  • All of the Wings have to be more careful with the puck in the defensive zone. Maltby's attempted outlet pass to Cleary led to the Shark's first goal. Lilja had six giveaways on the game. Lidstrom and Chelios both had outlet passes stolen as well, and both led to good scoring chances for San Jose. With the Sharks choosing not to forecheck as much, and try to trap Detroit in the neutral zone, the defense has to be more careful moving the puck up the ice.
  • Cleary has been playing remarkably well all over the ice. On top of the shorthanded goal, he also registered 4 shots, dished out 3 hits, was on both the second power play and penalty kill units, and even won the only faceoff he took. He is quickly becoming a fan favorite because of his effort during these playoffs, and has made a huge difference in both series so far.
The series now moves to San Jose for game 3 on Monday. Detroit needs to steal at least one of the next two games on the road to have a decent shot at taking the series. No word yet on Holmstrom or Lebda's injury status, but getting Homer back at the very least would be a welcome boost to Detroit's offense.

Matt Millen Accidentally Does Something Right...

...and drafts Calvin Johnson with the second pick in the NFL Draft. As the minutes keep ticking by, there is more and more of a chance that the Lions hold on to Johnson instead of dealing him for extra picks and defensive help. Whether Millen drafted him with the intention of trading him or is just so enamored with wide receivers that he couldn't help himself (I can't give Millen credit for actually making a smart move intentionally) this may have actually been the right move. Johnson is clearly the best player in the draft, a can't miss prospect that won't bust even on the Lions. Gaines Adams, the player the Lions were looking to acquire from Tampa Bay in a trade, doesn't have that can't miss feel to him. Adams is small for a DE (6'4", 258 lbs.) and struggles against the run. Looking at Ted Kluck's study of draft busts, for every stud defensive end picked in the first round, there are 5 or 6 mediocre, 6-sack per year type players. Detroit can't afford to give up a possible once-in-a-lifetime prospect for a player who may or may not become a solid contributor. The Lions need the spectacular at this point, someone to build the team around. Consider Calvin Johnson spectacular:

Friday, April 27, 2007

Tigers' Bullpen Woes Contagious

First it was Fernando Rodney and Jose Mesa. Then Todd Jones blew a save. Now, Joel Zumaya has caught the lead-blowing disease. Zumaya picked up the loss against the Twins tonight, giving up 2 earned runs and also allowing 2 runs charged to Nate Robertson in the 8th inning, allowing Minnesota to come from behind for a 5-3 victory.

The bullpen is now 6-8 with a 5.14 ERA, and the slumping Tigers are now a full 2 games behind Cleveland in the AL Central. It's not time to panic quite yet, but if these issues continue Dave Dombrowski may start working the phones for a little help in the pen. Brad Lidge, anyone?

Pistons/Magic Game 3 Recap

The score may have been tied, but it was over after the first quarter. Detroit didn't score in the first 3:38 of the game, going 0-4 from the field and turning the ball over 3 times in that span. Rasheed Wallace picked up 2 early fouls and a technical. Dwight Howard had 3 thunderous slam dunks. Still, thanks to a 6-0 run in the last minute of the quarter, the score stood deadlocked at 23 after one.

After Orlando took a 23-17 lead with 1:19 left in the first, Detroit closed the game on a 76-54 tear, shutting down pretty much everyone on the Magic save for a great shooting night from Jameer Nelson, who finished with 27. Howard only made 2 more baskets after the first, and Grant Hill was held to 8 points on 2-12 shooting.

The officiating was extremely tight the entire game, resulting in four Piston technicals (as well as one on Dwight Howard). Two were for some extra-curricular activity, with Dale Davis and Rip Hamilton getting a little chippy after the play. However, two were for arguing some borderline calls in the first quarter. I hate to say it, but I understood the Rasheed tech. With the reputation he has built, any time he gets animated or says something after a whistle, there's a good chance he's going to pick up a T. McDyess' tech, on the other hand, seemed a little, well, uncalled for. He looked completely bewildered at the technical call, and was seen walking to the bench saying, 'I didn't say nothing' over and over.

The Pistons were able to close out the first three quarters extremely well. After finishing the first quarter on a 6-0 run (including a Chauncey three with time expiring), Detroit went into the half in spectacular fashion. After Tayshaun buried a 20-footer with 2.3 seconds left, he stole a poor inbounds pass from Hedo Turkoglu at midcourt. Tayshaun quickly turned around and passed to Chauncey, who buried a 25-foot 3-pointer while falling out of bounds as the buzzer sounded. In 2.3 seconds, the Pistons turned a one point lead into a more commanding six point lead, and deflated the Magic and their home crowd. To top off the end-of-quarter heroics, Tayshaun buried a three as time expired in the third, putting Detroit up 71-61 heading into the fourth. All in all, Detroit outscored Orlando 17-4 in the final minute of each quarter. Detroit has been criticized for their inability to finish strong, but this game certainly bucked that trend.

Overall, it was a very solid performance from Detroit (save for the first few minutes), who were able to overcome a subpar game from Hamilton (10 points, 2-11 shooting) and little bench production (9 points total) to basically dominate the game. Brooms will certainly be in order on Saturday.


I just realized when I started the blog I only allowed Blogger members to make comments on my posts. I have just rectified that mistake, as I want any and all readers to be able to comment. I am certainly an opinionated amatuer blogger, and I would love to get some feedback from my (small) readership. So please leave comments, suggestions, arguments, raging disagreements, or whatever. I'm trying to take this blog as seriously as I can, and feedback would be wonderful.

Coming tomorrow: Pistons/Magic Game 3 Recap and Red Wings/Sharks Game 1 Recap. Hooray and Ugh, respectively.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Wings/Sharks Preview

Thanks to the NHL's horrendous TV deal, coupled with the fact that I go to school and attempt to have a life, I have yet to see the San Jose Sharks in action this year. This, however, is what the internet is for. After scouring both Wings and Sharks sites and gathering what information I can, here is my impression on the keys to the series:
  • How will the Red Wings match up with San Jose's scoring lines? The Sharks have one of the NHL's best first lines, featuring reigning MVP Joe Thornton (22G-92A-114P), 37-goal scorer Jonathan Cheechoo (who also netted 56 last year) and big Milan Michalek (6'2", 225 lbs.). The Sharks' second line features their franchise all-time leading scorer, Patrick Marleau, alongside Bill Guerin and Joe Pavelski. Detroit will probably counter San Jose's first line with the Draper-Maltby-Clearly line, looking to counter their skill with speed and checking ability. Detroit will probably also use Niklas Lidstrom to shadow Thornton, who sets the table for San Jose's offense with his great passing ability. Detroit will then probably use Datsyuk-Zetterburg-Holmstom (if/when Homer comes back from his eye injury; he is day-to-day right now, and definitely out for game 1) against the Sharks' second line. Datsyuk is known for his offense, but his defensive awareness is very underrated, as illustrated by his goal in game 2 when he pickpocketed Kristian Huselius along the boards before beating Kiprusoff.
  • Who wins the goaltender battle? This is kind of a 'duh' key, since goaltending is pretty much the key to any playoff series. However, this one really could go either way. Dominik Hasek and Evgeni Nabokov posted almost identical save percentages during the season (.913 and .914, respectively), and Hasek posted a slightly better GAA (2.05 to 2.29) thanks to the smaller volume of shots he faced. Hasek has never lost a playoff series as a Red Wing, and pretty much stood on his head to preserve the tie at the end of game 6 against the Flames. If that Dominik Hasek, and not the flopping Dom we saw in game 3, shows up this series, I really like the Wings' chances of advancing.
  • How does Detroit handle the Sharks' size? This key has been brought up a lot, but much like the Flames series, I don't expect San Jose's size advantage to hurt Detroit as much as people expect. Pretty much every Red Wing was throwing his weight around against Calgary, with Franzen and Clearly especially notable for their aggressive forechecking. The Sharks certainly are big, with 11 players weighing over 215 lbs., and the Wings will have to be careful not to let San Jose's size force them into taking unneccessary penalties. San Jose's power play was ice cold against Nashville in the first round (2 for 30, a dismal 6.7%) but was second in the NHL with a 22.4% success rate during the regular season. I don't expect the Sharks' power play to have a repeat performance from the first series, so Detroit needs to stay out of the box as much as possible.
  • Will Todd Bertuzzi play like...Todd Bertuzzi? Big Bert, after sitting out the first two games of the Calgary series, improved with every game he played. He got more aggressive and spent more time in front of the net, which will be key for Detroit in the absense of Holmstrom, especially on the power play. Also, the line of Bertuzzi-Lang-Calder needs to step up their scoring so Detroit can keep up with San Jose's four capable scoring lines (10 Shark forwards have double-digit goals on the year). Detroit needs production out of all four forward lines this series, and the second line hasn't pulled their weight so far in the playoffs.
It should be an exciting series, and San Jose is certainly a tougher opponent than Calgary. Fortunately, they aren't the home-ice juggernaut Calgary was, going 25-12-4 in the Shark Tank. I like Detroit's chances of stealing one in San Jose, and if Hasek stays healthy and focused, I think the Wings can take this one in 6.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Legion Officially Gone (This Time Officially Officially, as of Now)

Rivals is reporting that Alex Legion has signed a letter of intent to play for Kentucky. For those of you still holding out hope that he would somehow commit to Michigan for the third time, you can now go back to your normal daily life waiting for the next big Michigan football commitment.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Pistons vs. Magic: Game 2 Recap

In another game completely controlled by Detroit, the Pistons defeated the Magic 98-90 to take a 2-0 lead in the series. Orlando got no closer than 5 points behind in the second half as Detroit seemed to toy with the Magic, keeping them in the game but never in control. Some observations:
  • The Pistons' D completely shut down Dwight Howard, who finished the game with only 8 points and 11 boards (only 4 offensive) on 3-9 shooting. Howard, who attempted 11 free throws in game 1, only took 3 in game 2. He seemed frustrated by the tight defense of Rasheed Wallace and Antonio McDyess, picking up a couple offensive fouls and rarely looking to attack the basket like he did in game 1. His only offensive success seemed to come against Chris Webber, who was beaten repeatedly by the Magic's big men this game. Look for Detroit to keep guarding Howard with Sheed and Dyess, and let Webber stay with offensively-challenged forward Tony Battie.
  • Orlando is going to have a tough time matching up with Detroit's starters the rest of the series. The Magic tried to make up for their matchup problems in the backcourt by going to a zone defense at times, but the Pistons had great success passing against or just shooting over their 2-3 D. This forced Orlando to go back to a man-to-man defense late, and Chauncey Billups was able to blow right by Jameer Nelson with a minute left for an and-1 layup to put Detroit up 9 and ice the game. Nelson has been abused by both Chauncey and Rip Hamilton in the first two games, and Orlando can't seem to find a place to hide the diminutive PG on D. Combine his woeful defense with his offensive struggles (shooting 3-12 tonight for only 9 points and 3 assists) and we'll see how long the Magic stick with him at point guard.
  • Detroit seems to be able to score at will, but only when they play like they're interested in the game. There were too many stretches where the Pistons didn't move the ball and took deep, contested jumpers or forced shots in the post. If Detroit can play like they care for 48 minutes, they should be able to blow out the Magic and rest their starters for round 2. As they're playing right now, Detroit has had to keep their starters in at the end of the first two games. Billups and Hamilton each played 42+ minutes tonight, and if they keep having to do that every night they may wear down by the end of the playoffs, when Detroit is facing an opponent that will actually give them a challenge.
  • Someone has got to get in Hedo Turkoglu's face on defense. He started the night on a 7-7 tear, and finished with 22 points on 10-14 shooting. He was never forced to drive to the basket, didn't even attempt a free throw on the night, and was allowed to shoot mostly uncontested jumpers all game.
  • TNT showed a montage of Grant Hill playing for Detroit during the second quarter, and I'll only say this: those teal jerseys never happened. NEVER.

Rare photographic evidence of Dwight Howard trying to score. Note who's guarding him.

Flames: Extinguished

The Detroit Red Wings eliminated the Calgary Flames in a 2-1 double overtime thriller tonight, winning on a Johan Franzen slapshot 4:23 into the second OT.

I'm mostly just glad not to see Jarome Iginla happy. The C on his jersey must stand for "Classless".

I'm also too tired to do a game recap right now. The game ended around 12:30 am, and I am in the midst of finals week. However, Hasek played an incredible game tonight, making some key saves even though he didn't see much action (only 21 shots). He was definitely our best player tonight, and stopped some chances that appeared to be certain game-winning goals in the third and overtime.

Robert Lang also had a good game, scoring the first Red Wing goal in the second period and rushing the net on Franzen's overtime goal, clearing enough space for him to get off a decent shot.

Tomas Holmstrom was taken to a Calgary hospital in the first overtime after taking a Craig Conroy high stick to the forehead. Hopefully it will be nothing more serious than a few stitches, and it didn't appear that the cut affected Homer's eye at all, but that is certainly a concern heading into the second round.

Detroit's next opponent will be either Dallas or San Jose, depending on whether or not Dallas can eliminate Vancouver in game 7 tomorrow night. Wings fans should root for the Stars, as Detroit has had great success against Marty Turco (14 wins in 15 regular season games against him) and has a 3-0-1 record vs. Dallas this year, as opposed to a 1-3-0 record vs. San Jose.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Game 5 Video

If this doesn't get your blood boiling for Game must be a Flames fan.

Puck drops at 9 ET.

A Welcome Plot Twist

It looked like the same game the Tigers have played far too often this season. The Detroit bats fell silent after a 3-run first inning, wasting another quality start from Justin Verlander. The bullpen gave up a home run to give the Chicago White Sox a late 2-run lead. With two outs in the bottom of the ninth, the Tigers had nobody on and looked like they'd be swept by the White Sox at home.

Then Carlos Guillen blooped a single to center, and Mighty Marcus Thames stepped into the batters box. With a 1-1 count, David Aardsma tried to blow a belt-high fastball by Thames. 420 feet later, the game was tied and the Tigers had new life.

Wilfredo Ledezma pitched three scoreless innings, and Jason Grilli pitched a perfect 12th, setting the stage for Placido Polanco to knock in the winning run with 2 on in the bottom of the 12th.

For all the Tigers' struggles this year, the victory vaulted them into second place in the AL Central, only a game back of the Minnesota Twins. If Detroit's hitters ever get on track, and the bullpen stops blowing games, the Tigers should be in great shape to win their first division crown since 1987.

I Guess That's One Way to Get Your New Teammates to Like You...

...fighting for their running back's love. Nice sexy face, Jimmy. (Picture from

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Red Wings vs. Flames: Game 5 Recap

Don't expect Detroit to come out flat in Calgary tomorrow night. Not after Calgary backup goalie Jamie McClennan whacked Johan Franzen across the midsection with his goalie paddle. Not after Jarome Iginla used Mathieu Schneider as a target for every stick infraction imaginable. Not after Marcus Nilson cross-checked Kris Draper for, well, being there.

Calgary certainly lost their composure in the waning moments of Game 5. Maybe because they got their asses handed to them by the Red Wings. Coming into the game, the biggest concerns facing Detroit were how they would perform on the power play and the penalty kill. Three power play and two shorthanded goals later, those concerns were put to rest. The Wings won every major statistical category, outshooting Calgary 38-24, outhitting them 34-24, and absolutely dominating the Flames on faceoffs, holding a 51-21 edge.

Henrik Zetterberg looked 100% for the first time since returning from a back injury, netting two power play goals. Niklas Lidstrom tallied four assists, including a beautiful pass on Pavel Datsyuk's power play goal in the third as Lidstrom faked a shot and fired a hard pass to Datsyuk at the side of the Calgary net to give Detroit a 5-1 lead. Daniel Cleary continued his incredibly energetic play, scoring on a penalty shot in the first after being dragged down on a shorthanded breakaway and driving Calgary nuts on the forecheck after returning from a scary fall against the boards in the middle period. Chris Chelios even got in on the act, jumping in to a shorthanded odd-man rush and firing a slap shot by Kiprusoff for his first goal this season.

This was a great victory for Detroit, and Calgary's late-game antics should provide the Wings with all the motivation they need to dispatch the Flames tomorrow night in western Canada.

Friday, April 20, 2007

The Goats Wear Stripes

Game 4 between the Red Wings and the Calgary Flames was ugly, at least from a Detroit fan's perspective. Or anyone who roots for good officiating.

Yes, the Wings did not play well on special teams, going 0-6 on the power play and giving up 2 goals on the penalty kill. The circumstances surrounding Calgary's 2 power play goals, however, were somewhat infuriating. Both came on 5-on-3 power plays, and both calls that gave the Flames the 2-man advantage were, in Mickey Redmond's all-too-kind words, "marginal at best." Yes, Dominik Hasek embellished some contact with Jarome Iginla, but certainly not enough to warrant an unsportmanlike conduct call. Not in a playoff game. Not when Calgary already was on the power play. As for the "hooking" call on Niklas Lidstrom in the second, I don't even know where to begin. There was no hook. He put his stick on Jarome Iginla. This is playoff hockey. That's a call you have to let go.

To be fair, there were marginal calls going against both sides in this game. However, they put the Wings in much worse situations. Two bad calls gave Calgary 5-on-3 power plays for over a minute. That's tough to stop, no matter how good your team is on the penalty kill (and so far, Detroit hasn't been very good). I probably shouldn't be writing my game summary within an hour of it ending, considering I'm still pretty furious, but I believe it's fair to say the officials beat us tonight as much as the Flames did.

On the bright side, Mike Babcock's line shakeup produced very positive results. The second line of Todd Bertuzzi, Robert Lang and Johan Franzen produced both Red Wing goals. Bertuzzi had a goal and an assist, Franzen a goal, and Lang assisted Bertuzzi's goal with a nifty pass from behind the Calgary net. Unfortunately, the first line of Datsyuk, Zetterburg and Holmstrom didn't play nearly as well as they have earlier in the series, and the Detroit power play was listless. Hopefully, the second line will continue their strong play while the rest of the Wings revert to their performance of the first two games.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Pistons Games Mean Something Again!

I haven't done any posting on the Pistons, mostly because they've had the number one seed in the East wrapped up for a couple weeks now. Last night, 19-year old D-League phenom Amir Johnson logged more minutes than all 5 Piston starters combined. This is clearly not a bad thing, as it gives Detroit time to re-energize for the playoffs, but it makes for poor blogging material (although Johnson has been a bit of a revelation; he is a freak athlete with a ton of potential).

Now the playoff seedings are set, and the Pistons begin their bid for the championship against the 8-seed Orlando Magic. The Magic have been a bit of a disappointment this year, finishing with a 40-42 record despite preseason hopes of contending for the Southeast Division title. Historically, 1-seeds dominate 8-seeds, going 44-2 in series since the NBA adopted its current playoff format in 1983-84, and this series should continue that trend.

The Pistons swept their 4-game series with the Orlando this season, and hold a decided edge in four of the five matchups in the starting lineup:

Chauncey Billups vs. Jameer Nelson: Nelson has been one of the prime culprits for Orlando's disappointing season, with declines in points, assists, and FG% from his breakout year in 2005-06. Listed at 6'0", he is 5'11" on a good day, so look for the 6'3" Billups to regularly post up or just shoot right over the diminutive Magic PG. Mr. Big Shot has had great success against Orlando this year, averaging 26 points and 5.5 assists and shooting 63% from the field, including 50% from three. His success should continue in the first round.

Rip Hamilton vs. Grant Hill: Hill has certainly lost a step (or three) since his time in Detroit, and has even insinuated that he could retire after this season. He is still a very crafty player, scoring 14.4 PPG on 51.8% shooting, and has become a very solid mid-range scorer. However, he should have problems matching up with Hamilton on the defensive end. Rip prides himself on his ability to run all game, and Hill will have trouble keeping up with the younger, fitter Hamilton.

Tayshaun Prince vs. Hedo Turkoglu: Turkoglu may be the perfect stereotype of the European forward. He's big (6'10", 220 lbs.), plays on the perimeter and has trouble defending quicker players. About a third of Turkoglu's shots this season came from beyond the arc, where he shot a respectable 38.8%. He could have difficulty finding an open look against Prince, however, whose long arms allow him to play much taller than his 6'9" height. Tayshaun should be able to take Turkoglu off the dribble on the offensive end, and his combination of length and quickness should be difficult for the Magic forward to handle.

Rasheed Wallace vs. Tony Battie: Battie is an above-average defender and a big body, the reason the Magic gave him a 4-year, $22 million extension at the end of last season. However, he does little on the offensive end, averaging only 6.1 points on 46% shooting this season. Orlando had been platooning him with the more offensively competent Darko Milicic (I can't believe I just typed that), but Darko is out with a severe ankle sprain. Battie's lack of offensive prowess should allow Rasheed the freedom to do what he does best: help defense, especially on Dwight Howard. Another possibility is for the Pistons to put Rasheed directly on Howard and have the less-mobile Chris Webber defend Battie. On the offensive end, expect Sheed to take Battie out to the perimeter and out of his comfort zone in the post.

Chris Webber vs. Dwight Howard: This is the only matchup where the Pistons don't have a clear advantage. The 21-year old Howard is a man-child, averaging 17.6 points, 12.3 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game this year. He is a force to be reckoned with on the glass on both ends, and gets most of his points on the fast break or on putback dunks and layups. He still is unpolished in the post game, which means he won't attract as much attention with the ball as one might expect. Detroit has always been averse to doubling in the post, and this series should be no different. Webber has been a welcome addition to the Pistons, and his tremendous passing, as well as his decent mid-range shooting, have allowed the offense to become much more versatile. His defense is suspect, however, so look for Rasheed to guard Howard often.

Pistons Bench vs. Magic Bench: The injury to Milicic throws this matchup firmly in the Pistons' favor. Detroit has a plethora of bigs to throw out against Howard, with Antonio McDyess, Jason Maxiell, Dale Davis and Nazr Mohammed all available to play. McDyess is also an extremely effective scorer, netting 8.1 points on 52.6% shooting this season, and can guard both power forwards and centers. With Darko out, the Magic only have Pat Garrity and Bo Outlaw to back up Battie and Howard. Garrity and Outlaw have both played sparingly (and relatively ineffectively) this season, so expect Battie and Howard to log a lot of minutes up front. In the backcourt, Detroit will bring Lindsey Hunter, Flip Murray and Carlos Delfino off the bench. Hunter is a solid on-the-ball defender, but is a turnover or missed shot waiting to happen on offense. Murray was an early-season disappointment, but has settled in to the Pistons and is a solid scorer who can play either guard position. Delfino is an athletic wing player who can knock down open jumpers or drive to the hoop, and brings a lot of energy off the bench. The Magic rotate Carlos Arroyo, Keyon Dooling and Trevor Ariza off the bench. Dooling and Arroyo can both handle the point guard position, with Dooling also able to play shooting guard. Ariza can play small forward, and will also play some power forward with the absence of Milicic. He is a tremendous athlete who has been Orlando's most efficient player off the bench, scoring 8.9 points in 22.4 minutes per game. The Magic bench can match the Pistons in the backcourt, but the huge discrepancy in front court depth gives Detroit a strong edge off the bench.

Prediction: All signs point to a sweep for this series, but Detroit always seems to have a little trouble escaping the first round unscathed. Pistons in 5.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Are These the New, Patient Tigers?

Last night's game against the Royals signified the reawakening of the Tigers' previously dormant bats, as Detroit cruised to a 12-5 victory behind 10 hits and a Pudge Rodriguez first inning grand slam. But the game also showed off a new facet of the Tigers' game this year: plate discipline.

Detroit drew 8 walks in the game, including 3 by new Tiger Gary Sheffield. Curtis Granderson led off the game with a 9 pitch at-bat against Royals starter Zach Greinke before reaching on an infield single. Sheffield and Guillen drew walks off Greinke later in the inning to set up Pudge's 4-run blast to center. Thanks to the Tigers' ability to lay off pitches and work the count, Greinke threw 49 pitches in 2/3 of an inning before being taken out for reliever Jason Standridge. Overall, the Tigers had 4 runs scored by players who reached via walk during the game.

Although the season is still 13 games young, the Tigers have shown great improvement in their plate discipline this season. They are drawing 3.7 walks per game this year, up from 2.7 last season. Their 48 total bases on balls puts them tied for first in the American League. Last year the Tigers finished a dismal 13th. Much of this improvement can be accredited to the acquisition of Sheffield, who has already drawn 11 walks in 59 plate appearances (and has also been hit by a pitch in 3 of those PAs).

If Detroit can continue this new trend while improving on their .234 batting average, look for the Tigers to be even more productive than last year's AL pennant-winning squad.

Monday, April 16, 2007


Rivals is reporting that Alex Legion, the 4-star Michigan basketball recruit, has asked out of his letter of intent for next year. Also, Reed Baker has reportedly left the team.

Obviously, losing Legion is a big blow. He was rated the #45 player in the country on Rivals, and had a good chance of starting on the wing as a freshman. That leaves Michigan's starting lineup for next year looking like Jerret Smith, Manny Harris, Ron Coleman, DeShawn Sims and Ekpe Udoh, although that is certainly subject to change depending on who takes to Beilein's system.

The loss of Reed Baker may be a much bigger deal than one would've guessed after watching him contribute little last year. He fits perfectly into Beilein's free-gunning offense, and had a chance to contribute with his 3-point marksmanship.

While the losses will certainly affect the team next year, this does open up a couple scholarships for Beilein to use for players that fit his style of play. Legion always seemed to have a foot out the door, and his waffling act was becoming tiresome. You never want to lose a player with top-50 talent, but we still have #23 recruit Manny Harris, who seems much more eager to be a Wolverine.

Still, not the best of days for the Michigan basketball program.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Red Wings vs. Flames: Game 2 Recap

Another dominant performance by the Red Wings in game 2 today, as they beat the Calgary Flames 3-1 while outshooting them 51-15. Pavel Datsyuk, Niklas Lidstrom and Valtteri Filppula all scored their second goal in as many games and Dominik Hasek turned in another solid performance in leading the Wings to a 2-0 series lead. A few thoughts:
  • Miikka Kiprusoff is the only reason Calgary hasn't completely collapsed in this series, saving a number of point-blank chances by the Red Wings and turning in his second consecutive outstanding performance. Unfortunately, when you face 97 shots in two games, those outstanding performances usually come in a losing effort. The only weakness I can see in Kiprusoff's game is his puckhandling, as he turned the puck over a few times in his own zone while trying to move the puck forward. The Wings weren't able to capitalize on his mistakes, but look for them to take advantage of one of his turnovers in the upcoming games.
  • Johan Franzen and Dan Cleary are wreaking havoc on the forecheck. Both have been incredibly aggressive, throwing their bodies around and pressuring the Flames into turning the puck over in their own end. The Wings have been able to play dump-and-chase hockey while protecting their leads in large part because they've been so successful at stealing the puck back behind the Flames' net.
  • Filppula looks like he's cemented his spot in the lineup when Todd Bertuzzi returns from a concussion. His third period goal was the result of out-hustling a Flames defender down the ice and knocking a loose puck past Kiprusoff. His ability to play on both ends of the ice should get him the nod over Jiri Hudler, who notched another assist on Filppula's goal.
  • Kris Draper should get a lot of credit for shutting down Jarome Iginla, who recorded his first two shots on goal for the series but was a non-factor for most of the game. Mike Babcock has successfully matched the Draper-Maltby-Cleary line with Iginla's line, as well as making sure Lidstrom is on the ice for his shifts. It will be interesting to see how the Wings match up with Iginla as the series moves to Calgary and the Flames get the luxury of the last line change.
The series could not have started any better for Detroit, but the going may not be so easy in Calgary, where the Flames posted a 30-9-2 record on the season.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Another Rod Allen Classic Moment

Any fan of the Detroit Tigers knows that part of the joy of watching the team on TV is hearing the goofy color-commentating of Rod Allen. Whether he is calling Jeremy Bonderman's slider "Mr. Snappy" or saying "get down with your bad self" after a Tiger home run, Allen is always entertaining. This afternoon, he had one of his better moments in recent memory. Referencing the shattered bat of Marcus Thames, who had just hit the eventual game-winning, two-run double, Allen deadpanned, "It died a hero." It is rare that an announcer says something that is genuinely laugh-out-loud funny, but Allen regularly elicits laughter from FSN viewers, even during big moments of the game. It is refreshing to hear an announcer who doesn't take himself too seriously, and clearly has a great love for the game of baseball.

Andrew Miller Watch: Day 5

The Tigers pulled off a comeback win this afternoon, overcoming deficits of 4-0, 6-3 and 7-6 to defeat the Toronto Blue Jays 10-7. Detroit took their first lead of the afternoon on a Marcus Thames pinch-hit, broken-bat, two-run double off Jays closer B.J. Ryan in the top of the 9th to make the score 8-7. The Tigers chipped in 2 more insurance runs in the 9th, and Todd Jones closed out the game to bring Detroit's overall record to 7-4.

The reason the Tigers needed a late comeback to pull out the victory? That would be another shaky start by Chad Durbin, who gave up 8 hits and 6 runs in 4 innings. The Jays sat on Durbin's 2-seam fastball, registering 7 of their 8 hits off of Durbin on that pitch, including Alex Rios' 2-run homer in the 4th that threatened to break the game open. The concerning part about Durbin's two lackluster starts is that his struggles don't come from a lack of control, but a lack of effective stuff. Durbin has only walked two batters in 8 2/3 innings pitched this season, but still has been shelled to the tune of 17 hits and 12 earned runs, including three home runs against. The Blue Jays were taking strikes all game, waiting to tee off on Durbin's 2-seamer. It seems like Durbin just doesn't have an effective enough pitching arsenal to succeed at the major league level. We'll see how long Leyland allows him to pitch the Tigers into deep holes before he digs Andrew Miller or Zach Miner out of the minors and takes some of the pressure off of Detroit's hitters.

Get ready, young Andrew. Your time will come soon...

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Red Wings vs. Flames: Game 1 Recap

Now this is what a 1 seed vs. 8 seed matchup is supposed to look like. The Wings dominated the Calgary Flames, winning 4-1, outshooting the Flames 46-20, and holding Calgary superstar Jarome Iginla to zero shots on goal. A few random thoughts on the game:
  • The Wings' forwards really stepped up their play physically. The big concern going into this game was whether the Flames would rough up Detroit's diminuative forwards with Todd Bertuzzi day-to-day with a concussion. Dan Cleary and Johan Franzen stood out to me as a couple guys who got very aggressive on the forecheck, and Franzen had maybe the best hit of the entire game in the second period, laying out a Calgary forward in the open ice. All of the Wings' forwards were very good at initiating contact, instead of allowing the Flames' big defensemen push them around.
  • Consider the playoff monkey firmly off Pavel Datsyuk's back. Coming into this year's playoffs, Datsyuk had not scored a goal since Game 7 of the 2002 Western Conference Finals. Tonight he played like a man possessed, coming out strong from the beginning and nearly scoring a couple times before he took a Tomas Holmstrom pass on a 2-on-1 break and slipped the puck between Mikka Kiprusoff's legs 6:56 into the second period. Datsyuk added an assist on Mathieu Schneider's goal 3 minutes later.
  • The Wings' defensemen did an incredible job of jumping into the play on offense and creating scoring chances. Valtteri Filppula's first period goal was set up by Brett Lebda, who jumped into an odd-man rush before dropping the puck off to Franzen, who found Filppula for a one-timer wrist shot that beat Kiprusoff. Niklas Lidstrom scored a power play goal in the first when he snuck into the slot and knocked in a feed from Jiri Hudler. Schneider's aforementioned goal occurred when he moved into the slot and nailed a slapshot past a Tomas Holmstrom screen. Detroit's D knew when to be aggressive and step into the play, and they created 3 of the 4 Red Wing goals.
  • It is going to be tough to decide which forward to scratch when Bertuzzi returns to the lineup. It appears like it is going to come down to Hudler and Filppula, who both notched points today. I would vouch for scratching Hudler, as Filppula has shown a pretty good scoring touch and also can contribute on the penalty kill and the forecheck. Both played very well tonight, and it is tough to lose with either of them playing on your fourth line.
  • Referee Michael McGeough is a dead ringer for Barney Rubble.
This may have been the best start the Red Wings could have asked for. Hasek looked sharp, the Wings out-hit, out-shot, and out-played the Flames, and Datsyuk netted a goal before his scoreless streak could become a distraction. I doubt the rest of the series will go quite this well, as Calgary plays much better at home than they do on the road, but it was still a great start to what should be a deep run into the playoffs.

Mighty Casey? Why Not Mighty Marcus?

Marcus Thames has been absolutely hammering the ball ever since he joined the Detroit Tigers Organization. Hell, he homered off Randy Johnson on the first Major League pitch he ever faced, as a member of the Yankees in 2002. Unfortunately, much of his power has been wasted either in AAA ball or sitting on the bench, watching lesser players standing in the batters box in his stead.

Take a look at Thames' numbers from last year. In only 348 at-bats, he hit 26 home runs and slugged an impressive .549. Had he gotten enough at-bats, Thames would have finished 10th in the American League in slugging percentage, ahead of such superstars as Alex Rodriguez, Miguel Tejada, and Frank Thomas. He hit a home run every 13.4 at-bats, which would have placed him 8th in the AL, ahead of A-Rod, Paul Konerko, and Vlad Guerrero. Give this guy a full season in the lineup, and he puts up Frank Thomas, circa 2006 numbers. Last season, Thomas finished 4th in the AL MVP voting.

This year, with Thames' DH spot being taken over by Gary Sheffield, he has gotten only 7 plate appearances in one start in left field and one start at first base. Meanwhile, Sean Casey continues to be the Tigers' everyday first baseman. The same Sean Casey who slugged only .364 in his 53 games with Detroit last season, after being acquired from the Pittsburgh Pirates before the trade deadline. Casey thrived in hitters havens like PNC Park in Pittsburgh and the Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati, but he has struggled since moving to cavernous Comerica Park. Casey's defense and baserunning are both subpar, thanks a bad hip that leaves him about as mobile as a Winnebago with a flat tire. Thames may not be a defensive stalwart or a stolen-base threat, but he still has more range than Casey.

First base is supposed to be a position for a big, strong power hitter. It is time the Tigers put that big, strong power hitter where he belongs.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Top 11 Michigan/Detroit Plays: 5 though 1

Before I finish my list, I would just like to point out that walking between my classes and my job at the Union I have been pelted with snow, hail, and rain today. Let the record show it is April 11th. I love Michigan.

But enough complaining...on with the show:

5. I Believe He Can Fly: Woodson Picks Off Schultz, 1997.

Everyone knew Charles Woodson was a fantastic cornerback by the time Michigan went to East Lansing for the seventh game of the 1997 season. This play, however, vaulted him into the race for the Heisman, where he eventually beat out Peyton Manning for the coveted award.

Todd Schultz, Michigan State's quarterback, was overwhelmed by the juggernaut that was the Michigan defense. He threw five of MSU's six interceptions on the day, and none was more spectacular than Woodson's leaping grab along the sideline in the third quarter. The intended receiver? Probably someone in the third row of the stands. Schultz's attempted throw-away could not escape the outstretch right arm of number two in white. Catching the ball was incredible enough in itself, but C-Wood also managed to drag his left foot inbounds, giving Michigan the ball in State territory and turning the tides permanently in Michigan's favor as UM turned a 13-7 third quarter lead into a 23-7 blowout victory.

4. Stick to Threes, Reggie: Tayshaun Blocks Miller Layup, Game 2, Eastern Conference Finals. (Also known in the state of Indiana as "Dunk, Reggie, Dunk!")

With the Pistons clinging to a 69-67 lead against the Indiana Pacers in the final half-minute of Game 2, Reggie Miller took a Jamaal Tinsley outlet pass at the three-point line and drove towards what appeared to be an uncontested layup. Tayshaun Prince, the second-year Piston forward, chased Miller down from halfcourt, knocking away the layup mere centimeters before it would have hit off the backboard. Rip Hamilton chased down the loose ball and was fouled, and the Pistons tied the series at 1-1 before ultimately finishing off the Pacers in six games.

This play sealed my love for Tayshaun, the gangly forward out of Kentucky with an underrated shooting touch and the ability to guard anyone from point guard to power forward. It also helped the Pistons avoid what could have been an insurmountable 2-0 deficit against the talented Pacers, and helped propel them to their first NBA title since 1990.

3. Magglio Writes New Chapter in Tigers' Storybook: Ordonez Walk-Off HR, Game 4, 2006 ALCS.

Because of their craptastic play from the time I moved to Michigan, I was never a huge Tigers fan until 2004, when we acquired Pudge Rodriguez in the offseason and shot some life into a listless club that had lost 119 games the previous year. By 2006, I was watching every game I could on TV, something I had never done in the past. Watching the Tigers make it to the playoffs for the first time in my lifetime and win the American League pennant was one of the most enjoyable sports experiences of my life.

By game 4 of the ALCS, it was almost a given that the Tigers would dispatch the Oakland A's and head to the World Series. However, I had watched the 2003 ALCS, when the Boston Red Sox can back from a 3-0 deficit against the Yankees on their way to their first World Series title since 1918. With the game tied 3-3 in the bottom of the ninth with two on and two out against A's closer Huston Street, Magglio Ordonez hammered a 1-0 fastball into the left field seats, setting off pandemonium at Comerica Park and in my living room in Ann Arbor, MI. The FOX broadcast was dramatic, but the joy captured in the many home videos from the stands far surpasses what any network broadcast could convey:

Chills. Every time.

2. I Disagree, Andre, Roses Smell Pretty Damn Good to Me: Woodson Returns Punt 78 Yards Against Ohio State, 1997.

THE defining moment of the 1997 National Championship season, and I was lucky enough to be in the stands as Charles Woodson took a Brent Bartholomew punt to the house to give Michigan a 13-0 lead before halftime against the hated Ohio State Buckeyes. The play locked up the Heisman Trophy for Woodson and opened up a lead that Michigan would never relinquish, as they finished out the regular season with a 20-14 victory. I have been to many Michigan football games, but none matched the excitement (or volume) of that game. With two impeccably-timed cuts, Woodson left the OSU coverage team in his wake and gave me one of my favorite memories in my time watching Michigan football.

1. Janne Niinimaa is Still Brushing the Ice Off His Knees: McCarty Seals Wings' First Stanley Cup in 42 Years, Game 4, 1997.

I chose this play number one for several reasons. The Red Wings were the team I followed more than any other (on par with Michigan football) in the first few years I lived in Ann Arbor. They also provided me with my first devastating sports moment, when they got swept by the underdog New Jersey Devils in 1995 Cup Finals, robbing me of my first hometown championship experience. My despair over the Wings grew when they were defeated by the hated Avalanche in the Western Conference Finals the following year. In my 10-year-old mind, Detroit was more than overdue for a championship after back-to-back years of coming so close. While I never played the sport myself, I love the game of hockey and its divine mix of beauty and savagery.

Nobody defined this duality more than Darren McCarty. A tough-nosed grinder with decent puck-handling skills and scoring touch, McCarty scored 19 goals in 68 games in the 1996-1997 season while also racking up 128 penalty minutes. He also endeared himself to every Wings fan when he pummelled Claude Lemieux bloody during the Wings-Avs brawl on March 26, 1997, exacting revenge for Lemieux's check from behind that knocked out Kris Draper from the 1996 playoffs.

By Game 4 of the 1997 Stanley Cup Finals, the outcome of the series wasn't really in doubt. The Wings had a 3-0 series lead over the Philadelphia Flyers and their "Legion of Doom" line led by Eric Lindros. In the 3rd period, the Wings were clinging to a 1-0 lead when McCarty took the puck while streaking up the middle of the ice. He preceded to pull one of the greatest inside-outside moves in hockey history, juking Flyers defenseman Janne Niinimaa to the ice and beating goalie Ron Hextall, sealing the game and the series for the Red Wings.

My Top 11 Michigan/Detroit Plays: 11 through 6

EDIT: As pointed out in the post above, I am a mathematically-challenged nincompoop whose "Top 10" plays really were a Top 11. I will now throw out the generic lame excuse that this is the last week of classes and my brain is completely fried. To save myself further embarrassment, I have gone back and changed the numbers. This never happened.

This is one of my favorite times of the year for sports. Baseball season has started up, the NHL and NBA Playoffs both start soon, and the NFL Draft is right around the corner. Throw in spring practice for college football and the ever-moving coaching carousel in college hoops and all the major sports have some newsworthy action right now.

In honor of this flurry of sporting activity, and because I really love perusing YouTube, I decided to compile my top 10 favorite plays from my time following Michigan and Detroit sports (keep in mind I moved to Michigan in the summer of 1993, at the ripe old age of 5). Some criteria:

1. I had to be watching the game as it happened, either in person or on television. This eliminates the Mike Legg goal and the Red Wings/Avalanche brawl from March 26, 1997, which was televised on Pass Sports, a channel which was the bane of my existence until the Wings started televising all their games on Fox Sports.

2. Significance plays a factor, and as you will see, the vast majority of these plays either decided a game or came in the playoffs (or both).

3. To come up with these plays, I literally sat down for 10 minutes and wrote down the plays that came to mind. This way I would be picking the plays that really stuck with me over time. I realized afterwards that I completely omitted Barry Sanders (or any other Lions highlights, shockingly) from this list. My explanation: Barry, above any other player I have ever had the privilege to watch play, awed me with his greatness. I cannot begin to count the number of his runs that made me gasp in amazement, or jump out of my chair, or just stare in disbelief that any human could do what he had just done. However, he was cursed to play on the pitiful Lions, and was rarely put in the position where his runs would have much more significance than affecting the Lions draft position for the upcoming offseason. If his run to break 2000 yards in 1997 was more than a 2-yarder, where most of the fans were unsure if he had actually hit the milestone or not, that play may have made it on the list. Barry is one of my favorite athletes of all time, and I truly believe he is the greatest running back ever, but for these reasons his exploits don't crack my list.

And so without further ado, plays 11 through 6:

11. Mercury Mercs Off, Swerves Off: Mercury Hayes' game-winning touchdown catch as time expires. Michigan vs. Virginia, 1995.

This was my first experience of pure jubilation during a sporting event. My dad started taking me to Michigan football games during the 1994 season, and the excitement of this play has always stuck with me. As I stood on the metal bench in the north end zone of Michigan Stadium, straining to see the final play, I could barely make out the ball floating towards the corner of the opposite end zone before hearing the explosion of 110,000 euphoric fans as Hayes hauled in the Scott Dreisbach pass to give the Wolverines an 18-17 victory. Inexplicably, there is not YouTube video of this play, but the video archive at has the footage. Enjoy.

10. Because We Only Win Titles in Spectacular Fashion, Part 2: Josh Langfeld's overtime national championship-winning goal against Boston College in the 1998 Frozen Four.

If you are familiar with Michigan hockey, you may be wondering why I didn't choose Brendan Morrison's OT winner against Colorado College in the '96 championship game. Yes, I did watch both games, but I was not a Michigan hockey fan until I saw Morrison's goal. By the time 1998 rolled around, I was a much more serious Michigan hockey fan, and any sports fan knows watching a team win the title is much more meaningful when you have been following the players involved through their time on the team. So, in my case, Langfeld's goal is more prominent to me than the Morrison goal.

On a side note, Langfeld also found his way onto the Red Wings this season, which gives me even more reason to like him.

Unfortunately, I cannot find any video of his goal. I promise this will be the last of my favorite plays that goes sans video footage.

9. The Bell Tolls for Thee, Big Aristotle: Big Ben Blocks Shaq, Game 5, 2006 Eastern Conference Finals.

This play sums up every reason why I loved Ben Wallace during his time on the Pistons. He was vastly undersized for a power forward/center, but more than made up for it with his freakish combination of strength and athletic ability. Ben seemingly hangs in the air forever before taking down the 7'1", 350 pound behemoth using only his mighty right hand. We may have ultimately lost the series, but this play by Wallace represented the mentality of the reincarnation of the "Bad Boy" Pistons perfectly.

8. Statue of Liberty Drops the Torch: Shanny Capitalizes on Roy's Boneheaded Play, Game 6, 2002 Western Conference Finals.

Although the Red Wings/Avalanche rivalry has lost much of its luster in recent years, in 2002 the bad blood between the two teams was still at the boiling point it had remained at since 1996, when Claude Lemieux rearranged Kris Draper's face with a brutal hit from behind during the West finals. Patrick Roy, the stellar Avs goalie, had always been one of my least favorite players in the rivaly. This was in part because of his ability to stymie Red Wings scoring chances and his overtaking of Detroit legend Terry Sawchuck in the record books, and also in part because he came off as an arrogant nut. He had the infuriating habit of muttering to himself after saves and victories, and he also had previously tussled with Wings goaltenders Mike Vernon and Chris Osgood on separate occasions prior to 2002.

Needless to say, this play brought me immeasurable joy, as Roy made a glove save on a point-blank Steve Yzerman shot and raised his arm in celebration of his fine work. Unfortunately for Roy and the horrified onlookers at the Pepsi Center, the puck trickled out of Roy's glove, and Brendan Shanahan tapped the puck into the wide-open net to give the Wings a 1-0 lead in Game 6. I remember dancing around my living room as Gary Thorne's call ("The goal counts! The goal counts!") rang joyfully in my ears. The play deflated the crowd and the Avs, and Detroit went on to a 2-0 victory in Game 6 before blowing out Colorado in Game 7 on their way to a third Stanley Cup title in six years.

7. The Legend of Super Mario, Part One: Henne to Manningham Upends Penn State, 2005.

The bright spot in a forgettable 2005 Michigan football season, Chad Henne's game winning pass to Mario Manningham was a classic ending to an epic game against the undefeated Penn State Nittany Lions. It also provided Wolverine fans with their first glimpse at the speedy wideout who would break out in the 2006 season, when he emerged as the number one option for Henne with a 3 touchdown performance in South Bend. The sheer excitement of this play overcomes the mostly negative feelings I have about the disaster that was 2005 Michigan football.

6. He is the One: Braylon Takes Down State, 2004.

Braylon Edwards, wideout extraordinaire, simply took over this football game as Michigan erased a 17-point 4th quarter deficit before beating rival Michigan State in triple-overtime. For this one, I'll simply let the video do the talking.

Coming tomorrow: my top 5 favorite plays...

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

My Two Cents on Beilein

The firing of Tommy Amaker and subsequent hiring of West Virginia coach John Beilein has sparked much discussion among Michigan basketball fans. The response to the hiring of Beilein has been overwhelmingly positive from both the local media and the blogosphere, and I am certainly not going against the general sentiment. Beilein made the NCAA Tournament in 2 of the last 3 years, taking WVU to the Elite Eight in 2005 and the Sweet Sixteen in 2006. Keep in mind this is with players he had to convince to come to Morgantown, West Virginia, where this passes as acceptable timeout entertainment (thanks to Deadspin for uncovering the video):

Under Amaker, the typical offensive possession involved passing the ball around the perimeter until the shot clock dipped below ten (assuming we didn't turn the ball over before then) and ended with the inevitable Dion Harris three-point prayer or off-balance runner while surrounded by three defenders. Beilein's offense, however, is well respected for its constant motion and backdoor cuts designed to find open looks from outside. Take a look at this video of WVU in their upset this year over then-#2 UCLA (via Mgoblog). Especially take note of the two plays starting around the 45-second mark, in which the Mountaineers displayed passing and cutting not seen at Crisler in a long, long time (Warning: music provided by Lil' Jon. Adjust your computer speakers accordingly).

One of my biggest issues with Michigan under Amaker has been the horrendous amount of turnovers we have committed in the years he has coached. To me, this is an issue of player development as well as poor offensive game planning. As players develop under a coach and become more comfortable in his system, turnovers should go down. I decided to compare the assist to turnover ratios of Amaker's Michigan squads to Beilein's WVU teams. A good assist to turnover ratio marks a team that is good at moving the ball around to the open man while avoiding giving the ball to the other team. I compared the Michigan and WVU teams during the four-year period from the 2002-2003 to the 2005-2006 season for a couple of reasons. 2002-2003 was Amaker's second as the head coach at Michigan, and Beileins first at WVU, so they were both working with players who were either unfamiliar or still getting comfortable in their respective offenses. Also, Michigan started three freshmen, a junior, and a senior in 2002-2003, while West Virginia started three freshmen and two sophomores. The next four years gave each coach a chance to develop young talent and turn them into a polished team. Here are the assist/turnover numbers for those four seasons:
2002-3: A/TO: 1.16 A/TO: .86
2003-4: A/TO: 1.14 A/TO: .88
2004-5: A/TO: 1.44 A/TO: .78
2005-6: A/TO: 2.04 A/TO: .99
Even though Beilein had a more efficient product to begin with, his team showed much more improvement over his first four years than Amaker's did over the same period. It is inexcusable for a team featuring a senior point guard (Daniel Horton) and two upperclassmen wing players (Harris and Lester Abram) to have the problems handling the ball that Michigan did in 2006. Michigan even committed 16% MORE turnovers in 2005-6 than they did in 2002-3 (WVU cut their total by 24%).

Beilein will be able to recruit at Michigan. Despite recent lean years, we are still a school with a storied basketball history and a prime location near the recruiting hotbed of Detroit. The key this offseason was to replace Amaker with a coach who can develop players and manage the team well in-game. Beilein was the best coach Michigan could get short of pulling a Pitino/Calipari-type hire, which was a tremendous longshot to begin with. I look forward to him turning around a program that has the potential to be a perennial tournament team and national championship contender in the near future.

A Quick Thanks... Maize n Brew Dave, Brian of Mgoblog, and Matt from On the Wings. I sent out emails to these three blogs in an effort to get my link on their site, and all three reponded promptly and happily put up a link on their respective sites. Maize n Brew even mentioned me in a post, which was more than I ever could have possibly asked for. Anyone who is a fan of Michigan sports or the Red Wings should check them out (if you weren't referred to me through them already).

Monday, April 9, 2007

Tiger Woods: Still Tiger, Still Human

In the aftermath of Zach Johnson's improbable victory at the Masters yesterday, much has been made of Tiger Woods' inability to hold his (brief) lead early in the final round or close the gap on Johnson over the last few holes. I was shocked to see ESPN's SportsNation question of the day, which basically asked whether we thought Tiger had lost his aura of intimidation.

Do we need to go over this every time Tiger doesn't win a major tournament? Tiger is still by far the best golfer in the game today, and the fact that his finishing second at Augusta comes as such a shock speaks volumes about how far ahead of the competition he really is. He has still won 4 of the last 9 major championships, and won seven consecutive PGA Tour events stretching into this year. He remains the number one player in the World Rankings, and is second in the PGA Tour FedEx Cup despite playing six fewer events than leader Vijay Singh.

Tiger clearly was fighting his swing the entire weekend, and it still took the performance of a lifetime from Zach Johnson to beat him. No golfer, not Woods, Nicklaus, Palmer, nor anyone else, is on top of his game every week. Playing his B game on a course specifically redesigned to stop him from dominating the field as he did in 1997, when he shot 18 under par and set course records for score under par and margin of victory (12 strokes), Woods still was in the hunt for the title until his par on the 17th.

Even while struggling, Woods still hit a couple vintage "Tiger shots". His second shot on 13 seemingly hung up on the back of the green forever but, as CBS audio picked up Tiger screaming "bite", rolled back to within 4 feet of the cup for an easy eagle putt. This shot on 11 miraculously landed on the fairway 50 yards from the pin:

Only Tiger even considers hitting that shot, let alone lands it on the fairway and saves par on maybe the toughest course in major championship history.

Tiger has won 12 majors. But he has also lost 30 that he has entered. He is still on pace to surpass Jack Nicklaus for most majors won, and should end his career as the greatest golfer to ever walk the planet. Who knows, if Johnson is paired with Tiger on Sunday, maybe he chokes and Woods wins his 13th major title. Hell, Stuart Appleby sure couldn't seem to handle the pairing, choking away a 54-hole lead with a 3-over 75 in the final round. We'll never know. But I do know this: Tiger hasn't lost anything. He's still Tiger Woods, and that still makes him better at golf than anyone in the history of the game.

UPDATE: Johnson after the Masters:
"I was sitting in the locker room waiting for Tiger to hit his second shot on 18. Before he hit it, I'm like, 'He's done stranger things.' The guy's a phenom. ... It makes it that much more gratifying knowing that I beat Tiger Woods. There's no question about it."
I'm pretty sure Tiger is just as intimidating as he always was. Johnson was just one of the few who didn't buckle under the pressure.

And the Andrew Miller Watch Begins...Now

The Tigers were looking for a fifth starter coming into this season after the news broke that Kenny Rogers would be out until July with a blood clot in his shoulder. Immediately, a couple viable candidates to fill in for Rogers came to my mind. Zach Miner filled in admirably after Mike Maroth went down with an injury last year, goung 7-6 with a 4.84 ERA in his first season in the major leagues. Andrew Miller was widely regarded as the best prospect in the 2006 draft after a stellar collegiate career with North Carolina. A 6'6" lefty with a high-90s fastball and a ton of talent, Miller was promising enough to nearly make the Tigers' playoff roster as an untested rookie last season.

So it came as a bit of a surprise when Jim Leyland announced that Chad Durbin, he of the career 17-30 record and 6.14 ERA, would start the season as Detroit's fifth starter. Sure, he had a decent spring training this year, going 3-0, but I'll trust a career of mediocrity over a few decent games in March. Durbin was cast off in 2002 by the Kansas City Royals after a couple subpar years as a starter, and has seen little action in stints with Cleveland and Arizona since.

Today, Durbin had a chance to prove Leyland made the right decision by choosing him over Miner, Miller, and Wilfredo Ledezma, another Tiger with some starting experience. He responded by giving up 6 earned runs and 9 hits in 4 2/3 uninspiring innings, taking the loss in a 6-2 defeat at the hands of the Baltimore Orioles. I know it is only one early season game, but I feel Leyland needs to keep Durbin on a short leash. The AL Central is shaping up to be the toughest in the MLB this season, and every game, even those in April, all count the same in the race for the playoffs. Pitching the journeyman Durbin over the uber-talented Miller and the solid Miner could cost the Tigers valuable games before Rogers comes back mid-season. Why we aren't taking a look at Miller, who has a bright future in the Tigers rotation, when we have an open spot in the rotation makes no sense to me. Hopefully, Leyland will come to his senses and send Durbin down to the minors, where he and all the other Royals castoffs belong.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

A Tale of Two Dilemmas

For me, like many people, watching and playing sports is an escape from the issues of everyday life. The world of sport is a fantasyland where grown men are paid millions of dollars to play a game, and millions upon millions of people watch and escape. A sports team can be the common thread that starts a friendship, or the loose one that tears a family apart (if my brother ever went to Ohio State, we would no longer be on speaking terms). Yes, people take sports very seriously, and worship the players on their favorite teams. However, two recent acquisitions by my favorite Detroit sports teams have made it harder to revere them as much as I once did.

Todd Bertuzzi is one of those players you love to hate. A forward with a deft scoring touch and a legendary mean streak, Bertuzzi was a part of one of the most shameful incidents in hockey history as a member of the Vancouver Canucks in 2004. In a regular season game against the Colorado Avalance, Bertuzzi attacked Avs forward Steve Moore from behind in retaliation for an earlier hit by Moore on the Canucks Markus Naslund. Bertuzzi punched Moore in the side of the head and then slammed him to the ice, fracturing three vertebrae in Moore's neck and giving him a severe concussion. Moore has not been able to return to the NHL since the incident, while Bertuzzi was suspended the rest of the season and was allowed to return to play after the lockout.

Needless to say, I am not the biggest Bertizzi fan in the world. I love the game of hockey, including the way the players police themselves. Fighting is an integral (not to mention entertaining) part of the game, but Bertuzzi took it way too far. So when I saw that my beloved Red Wings had acquired Bertuzzi for a prospect and a couple of draft picks at the deadline this year, I was less than pleased. On one hand, we need a power forward; someone who can score and also grind on the forecheck and throw his weight around. In this respect, Bertuzzi was a great pickup; the perfect player to acquire heading into the playoffs. On the other hand, I had to actually root for this guy now. What was I going to do when he put the puck in the net for favorite team, and I had to either cheer for him or stew angrily as I watched my favorite players celebrate with the NHL's version of Kermit Washington?

Gary Sheffield may have baseball's most violent swing. He doesn't just hit the ball...he pulverizes it. When the Tigers played the Yankees in last years American League Division Series, I sat frozen in terror every time Sheff stepped to the plate knowing the next pitch could very well be the one that shot off his bat and went head-hunting in the left field bleachers. My fear also mixed with dislike, as Sheffield has been implicated in the BALCO steroids scandal that rocked the baseball world a few years ago. So it figures, then, that the Tigers traded for Sheffield this summer, counting on him to be the final piece in a World Series championship puzzle. How was I going to feel when Sheffield ripped that first inhumanly strong line drive over the fence?

I cheered when Bertuzzi netted his first goal as a Red Wing. When Sheffield hit a 2 out shot to left field off Kansas City's Gil Meche Saturday afternoon, I pumped my fist. Ultimately, my undying love for the Wings and the Tigers surpassed my distaste for these two players. Like they say, there's no 'I' in 'team'. Now they represent the Winged Wheel and the Olde English D, and I hope they deliver a Stanley Cup and a World Series title. But it's difficult to ignore the twinge of guilt that lurks in the back of my mind and surfaces with each Bertuzzi point or Sheffield homer, and I wish it didn't have to be that way.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Can Ken Holland Run the Lions Too?

Do you recognize this man?

He is K
en Holland, GM of the Detroit Red Wings, and he may be the most underrated General Manager in any sport.

He has won two Stanley Cups as the Wings GM, in 1998 and 2002. The 2002 team was his masterpiece, the result of shrewd trades, great drafting and pure big-market free agency dominance. Holland pulled veteran defenseman Fredrik Olausson right out of the Swiss Hockey League, and signed future Hall-of-Famers Luc Robitaille and Brett Hull. He also traded forward Slava Kozlov and a first round draft pick for the slinky-spined Dominik Hasek. Rounding out the new additions to the 2002 team, rookie forward Pavel Datsyuk showed his talent by posting a 35 point season playing alongside Hull and Boyd Devereaux. Drafting Datsyuk may be one of Holland's greatest moves, as he had been passed over in both the 1996 and 1997 NHL Entry Drafts before being picked in the 6th round, 171st overall by Detroit.

The new additions melded seamlessly with an already talented Detroit squad featuring Steve Yzerman, Sergei Federov, Brendan Shanahan, Niklas Lidstrom, and a strong supporting cast, many of whom had been on the 1997 and 1998 Cup winners. The Wings dominated the Western Conference in 2001-2002, notching 51 wins and defeating the Carolina Hurricanes for the Stanley Cup championship.

Perhaps Holland's most impressive accomplishment, however, has been his ability to keep the Red Wings at the top of the NHL despite the new salary cap rules instituted after the 2004-2005 lockout season. The Wings' 2003-2004 payroll was an NHL-high $77.8 million, but the cap for the 2005-2006 season was set at $39 million. Many predicted that the Wings' decade-long reign over the NHL was over, as they had been winning in part because they could outspend most other teams. Many thought wrong, however. Holland reworked deals with Shanahan, Yzerman and Lidstrom; let Hull, Devereaux and embattled goalie Curtis Joseph walk, and brought in Chris Osgood for his second stint as goaltender in Detroit. Holland had stockpiled young talent in Datsyuk, forward Henrik Zetterburg (a 7th round pick in 1999, another of Hollands incredible draft moves), and defensemen Niklas Kronwall and Jiri Fischer.

The Red Wings won the Presidents Trophy in 2005-2006 as the team with the best regular season record. Although they were upset in the first round to the eventual Western Conference Champion Edmonton Oilers, they have bounced back again this year, securing the number one seed in the Western Conference with a second straight 50+ win season. As former powers Colorado, Dallas, and St. Louis struggle to make the playoffs in the "new" NHL, the Red Wings have picked up where they left off before the lockout, and Ken Holland has perhaps been the biggest reason for their continued success. Holland has ensured that Hockeytown will remain at the pinnacle of the NHL for years to come.