06/06/06. Ooh. Scary. I'm sure it's going to be a hell of a party in Hell, Michigan, tonight. And someone will falsely claim that the world is going to end. And if ESPN lets John Kruk be on Baseball Tonight, he will probably say something stupid about baseball. Really, it's going to be a normal day for most of us.
Ty Who? Conklin. And now he's Edmonton's only hope for a Stanley Cup.
Sorry, Oilers fans. Luckily for you, there are already a goodly number of Stanley Cup Champion banners hanging in Rexall Place, because you're probably not adding another one.
Counterpoint...This has been a weird year for goalies. There's been virtually no rhyme or reason to anything. Carolina is living proof of this, as their established starter, Martin Gerber, flopped badly in the first two games of the conference quarterfinals. Whoda thunk that Gerber would give way to Cam Ward after two games, and Carolina would find themselves in the Finals? Whoda thunk that Ilya Bryzgalov would take over for Jean-Sebastien Giguere and lead the Mighty Ducks to the conference finals? How about Ray Emery (!) leading Ottawa to the conference semis?
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In a year where unknowns like Bryzgalov and Ward, along with young goaltenders like Ryan Miller, Vesa Toskala, Cristobal Huet, and Tomas Vokoun became stars, and a journeyman like Dwayne Roloson can find his way to the spotlight, all while established studs like Martin Brodeur, Marty Turco, Nikolai Khabibulin, and Ed Belfour busted out the golf clubs early, who's to say that Ty Conklin can't get hot and help his team win four more games?
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Congrats to Carolina on a stirring comeback win in Game One, but here's hoping they take Conklin (or Jussi Markanen) lightly, because I don't think Edmonton is dead. And they'll respond to any life they can get at this point.
Congrats to ESPN. The "Worldwide Leader in Hype" has again shown their true colors. I'm not an ESPN hater, but there is little doubt that the powers-that-be refuse to acknowledge the existence of anything they don't have a working relationship with. The NHL isn't on a level with the NFL, MLB, or the NBA, but they certainly deserve better treatment than they got last night on SportsCenter, when it was 45 minutes into the show before there was any mention of the Stanley Cup Finals starting. Some 16-year-old brat trying to play in a tournament she shouldn't be allowed to play in, the 1000th Yankees-Red Sox game of the season, a recap of Sunday's NASCAR race, highlights of the spelling bee from last Thursday, and a rerun of a piece with Dwyane Wade that aired Sunday were all more important than Game One of a major professional sports championship series.
I will give credit where it is due. ESPNEWS aired some good coverage during the day on Monday, with analysis from MulletMan and some stories from the teams' morning skates. That was cool. Too bad that I was probably the only person watching.
How does this happen? How do two teams play a match without anyone knowing what happened? Furthermore, how does this happen on the eve of the world's biggest sporting event, the World Cup? The US and Angola played a friendly match yesterday in final preparation for the World Cup, which starts on Friday. Despite the fact that numerous media types are assembled to cover the event, and fans are making their way to Germany from points across the planet, NO ONE KNOWS WHAT HAPPENED, except that our boys won 1-0 on a goal by Brian McBride. An Angolan spokesperson says that Claudio Reyna, who has been hurt, was impressive, but a US spokesperson wouldn't even confirm that Reyna played, and the Americans played without jersey numbers or names.
Seriously, in this era of information, how does this happen? I'm impressed!
The World Cup is more wide-open than people think. Everyone thinks that Brazil is a heavy favorite, or so it seems. While I don't think it would be smart to place a monetary wager on anyone else, I also don't think that Brazil is a slam-dunk to win.
I think that, like in other sports, international soccer is gaining some parity. I think it's a result of a few things.
Defensive schemes are more elaborate. Like in hockey, but without all the clutching and grabbing and stick-holding. Teams are finding more ways to slow down more skilled opponents.
Federations are becoming more committed to the sport. US Soccer is a prime example. They got serious about being competitive after the embarrassment that was France 1998. They started reaping the benefits of that seriousness when Bruce Arena led them to the quarterfinals in 2002, and hope to take another positive step this year, though it will be tough for them in this group.
There's more skill out there. I think this is true of many sports. It's not meant as a knock on past eras. I just feel that you have a greater number of skill players, and they're more spread out than they used to be. Combine this with the increased ability of teams to play good, sound defense, and you are bound to have more teams that can be competitive at the international level.
That said, soccer isn't at an NFL level of parity yet. Brazil, England, and Germany are the top dogs, and it would be a great surprise if at least two of them don't make the semifinals.
More World Cup picks coming later this week.