Monday, April 29, 2013

Jason Collins Comes Out; Chris Broussard Causes Kerfluffle

I don't have any words of wisdom on what NBA player Jason Collins did Monday. It's far above and beyond anything I'm qualified to offer much comment about. In a piece on, Collins came out. He is the first active player in a major pro sport to do so, and there probably isn't a better person out there to do something like this, based on the story Collins told SI.

 Now I'm a free agent, literally and figuratively. I've reached that enviable state in life in which I can do pretty much what I want. And what I want is to continue to play basketball. I still love the game, and I still have something to offer. My coaches and teammates recognize that. At the same time, I want to be genuine and authentic and truthful.

... When I was younger I dated women. I even got engaged. I thought I had to live a certain way. I thought I needed to marry a woman and raise kids with her. I kept telling myself the sky was red, but I always knew it was blue.

I realized I needed to go public when Joe Kennedy, my old roommate at Stanford and now a Massachusetts congressman, told me he had just marched in Boston's 2012 Gay Pride Parade. I'm seldom jealous of others, but hearing what Joe had done filled me with envy. I was proud of him for participating but angry that as a closeted gay man I couldn't even cheer my straight friend on as a spectator. If I'd been questioned, I would have concocted half truths. What a shame to have to lie at a celebration of pride. I want to do the right thing and not hide anymore. I want to march for tolerance, acceptance and understanding. I want to take a stand and say, "Me, too."

It's a great piece from Collins and Franz Lidz. Collins tells a story that is likely shared by (probably) dozens of pro athletes, many of whom will now have the courage and drive to tell their own story, inspired by Collins.

Naturally, Collins' announcement set the internet on fire. I don't know that I want to give the time of day to what Dolphins receiver Mike Wallace tweeted. It's probably a good thing he didn't end up with the Vikings in the offseason, because Chris Kluwe wouldn't have enjoyed that teammate.

National radio host Tim Brando actually compared Collins coming out to him (Brando) potentially releasing a sex tape. It was a poor way of going about ripping people who are calling Collins a hero. It was also one of the more extreme reactions we saw on this day.

On ESPN, once Tebowmania died down (in the 12pm hour, ESPN mentioned Tebow 25 times before Collins' name came up, even though the Collins story had been out for more than two hours), Outside The Lines explored the Collins news and reacted. Enter ESPN's Chris Broussard.

    "I'm a Christian. I don't agree with homosexuality. I think it's a sin, as I think all sex outside of marriage between a man and a woman is. [ESPN's] L.Z. [Granderson] knows that. He and I have played on basketball teams together for several years. We've gone out, had lunch together, we've had good conversations, good laughs together. He knows where I stand and I know where he stands. I don't criticize him, he doesn't criticize me, and call me a bigot, call me ignorant, call me intolerant.

    "In talking to some people around the league, there's a lot Christians in the NBA and just because they disagree with that lifestyle, they don't want to be called bigoted and intolerant and things like that. That's what LZ was getting at. Just like I may tolerate someone whose lifestyle I disagree with, he can tolerate my beliefs. He disagrees with my beliefs and my lifestyle but true tolerance and acceptance is being able to handle that as mature adults and not criticize each other and call each other names.

    "... Personally, I don't believe that you can live an openly homosexual lifestyle or an openly premarital sex between heterosexuals, if you're openly living that type of lifestyle, then the Bible says you know them by their fruits, it says that's a sin. If you're openly living in unrepentant sin, whatever it may be, not just homosexuality, adultery, fornication, premarital sex between heterosexuals, whatever it may be, I believe that's walking in open rebellion to God and to Jesus Christ. I would not characterize that person as a Christian because I do not think the Bible would characterize them as a Christian."

No judging here, but this is another controversial viewpoint. In Broussard's defense, he doesn't say anything bigoted (in my view), and he goes about it an interesting way by invoking the name of gay sportswriter LZ Granderson. The fact those two can share a respectful relationship should tell you something about how Broussard is able to conduct himself.

Naturally, the internet was awash with criticism of Broussard, but I don't see anything disrespectful here. It's a viewpoint. Is it a popular one? No, but Broussard isn't ripping anyone for feeling differently, and he isn't ripping Collins for doing what he did. There's no judging going on.

Reality is that we are all going to be judged at some point. It's not our place to do so. But we all have feelings about how we should lead our lives, and we do the best we can to uphold our own beliefs. Those who are overly pushy about their feelings and philosophies can be quite annoying, but simply expressing those views is not pushy or annoying, especially when someone is asking you for said views.

If Broussard starts leading protests outside of arenas Jason Collins is playing in going forward, or if he openly advocates for NBA teams to avoid signing the free-agent-to-be this summer because he's a "sinner," then he will have gone too far. But simply telling an interviewer -- when asked -- how feels about something doesn't make Chris Broussard a bad person.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

NFL Draft Horribly Overhyped, Still Interesting

I used to be a junkie.

Well, for the NFL Draft. Couldn't get enough of names scrolling across a TV screen for two straight days. Trade drama, curveballs, Mel Kiper. It was all great theater.

Things aren't the same. Three months of draft hype on ESPN and sports radio and the internet have robbed the event of much of its intrigue. I get it, because the NFL sells and the NFL wins, but it becomes a bit much, and I think it takes away from the bit.

I used to take it all in. Wrote a lot of words about college prospects and spent plenty of cash on the draft guides and online stuff.

I've stopped. The hype is just too much, and I don't know that I can count the number of times that guys listed in draft guides as third round picks ended up going in the top 20, or vice versa. There was a year where a guy listed as a potential first-round pick in the draft guide I bought ended up going undrafted, and I'm pretty sure he never made a roster out of training camp.

Not only that, but as I got more and more into hockey, the draft prep became much less of a priority.

This year is no different. The NHL playoffs start next week, and the draft begins Thursday night.

(That's another thing. I think the new format of the draft has hurt my interest. Part of it is the fact that evenings are family time, and my wife and kid have less than zero interest in watching the first round of the draft. Oh, and I'm a morning guy, so I don't feel like staying up late to watch it all unfold. It isn't that intriguing.)

The draft this year could be interesting. There isn't really a consensus No. 1 pick, like there was last year with Andrew Luck, and like there's been in the past with players like Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck, and Reggie Bush. Oh, wait.

There also isn't really the potential for a story like Aaron Rodgers to unfold, where a guy sits in the green room for entirely too long before getting picked. Even if Rodgers didn't turn himself into one of the best players in the NFL, the 2005 draft would have been a hell of a story.

Because the Packers and Vikings chose to not suck last year, both pick in the latter stages of the first round, barring unlikely trades.

(I don't see either team moving up, though if there is a market for those late first-round picks Thursday, one or both could move down or out of the first round. Ted Thompson in Green Bay and Rick Spielman of the Vikings seem similar, in that they would rather have more picks than fewer. Thompson even talked about that last week, likening it to a baseball player getting more swings for a better chance at hits.)

Looking through a draft guide and some awesome notes from the great Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (I linked to the linebackers rankings, but you can check everything out from that page if you look in the left-hand column -- remember there is a pay wall once you hit 20 articles for a month), I've gotten a bit of a clue who the highly-coveted players are. It strikes as a depth draft and not a star draft, as last year was with Luck and RGIII going with the first two picks.

The Vikings have two first-round picks. Many are looking at Minnesota as a likely destination for Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o. The Vikings have a hole at middle linebacker -- they've actually had a hole there for a few years now -- and could use a starter-type player there. Te'o is a good fit for 4-3 defenses, so there could be something to the steam.

Despite the Greg Jennings signing, the Vikings should also be looking for a top-tier wide receiver in the first round.

While Tavon Austin -- who would make a great replacement for Percy Harvin -- is likely to be off the board, guys like Keenan Allen (Cal), Cordarrelle Patterson (Tennessee), and Robert Woods (USC) could be intriguing choices. From the college football I watch, I really like Patterson, who is featured in these highlights.

A scout in McGinn's notes says Patterson is "not very smart," but they seem to like his athleticism. He projects as a better downfield threat than Jennings, and it would be a great addition for the Vikings when you throw in Jarius Wright as the slot guy.

The Packers pick late in the first round, and while a trade is always a possibility, let's pretend they are using the pick. Honestly, with Jennings gone, it's arguable the Packers could take Patterson if he falls to them, but it's more likely they go defense or offensive line with that first selection. Cheesehead TV does a good job outlining some potential candidates. I want to zero in on one, and that's Florida International safety Jonathan Cyprien.

Dude can play the run and pass, and has plenty of size and speed for his position. I really hate to use hockey terminology, but the Packers simply have to be a harder team to play against. A guy like Cyprien would help immensely. Florida's Matt Elam would be a nice consolation prize.

I wouldn't mind seeing the Packers upgrade on the defensive line, but I think safety is a huge spot for them right now and really want to see Thompson get a top-notch starting safety out of this draft if he can.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Alaska Anchorage Coaching Search Draws Criticism

Not unexpectedly, Alaska Anchorage let men's hockey coach Dave Shyiak go after another last-place finish in the WCHA. The Seawolves were plucky and competitive at times, but largely not good enough to make any real noise in the league.

Shyiak's a good dude, but this move was coming for a while, and it couldn't have been a real shock to him or anyone else connected to the UAA program. Probably was a necessary move, too, as things weren't improving.

Attendance has dropped like a rock. The photo to the right was taken before a UMD game at Sullivan Arena a couple seasons ago. No tricks, kids. It was legitimately that empty after the pregame warmup. And it was more the norm than any kind of exception there as of late.

When I was there in December, it was pretty clear that Shyiak would be out, barring a miraculous turnaround in the second half of the season. The team wasn't drawing, wasn't playing well, and recruiting was taking a serious hit. UMD players talked about the substandard facilities, and while a pack of us were waiting for the locker room to be cleared out and the bus loaded for the next day's trip back to Minnesota, we saw UAA players hauling their bags out of the building.

Why? Because there isn't a locker room at Sullivan Arena that UAA can use full-time. They have to take their stuff to campus after home series. That's how bad Sullivan is for this program.

UAA has announced four candidates to take over the program. None of them seem to have grabbed the attention of the locals.

Evidently, the Anchorage hockey community is blowing up the in-box of UAA Chancellor Tom Case in regards to the school's search for a new hockey coach.

And judging from many emails that have been forwarded this way, the authors -- alumni and UAA hockey supporters among them -- are not sending attaboys.

Instead, a number of them are very critical of the four-man committee UAA assembled to winnow candidates to four finalists announced this week, and very critical of athletic director Steve Cobb..

The problem people appear to have with the committee is that it does not include a member of the hockey program's alumni or the hockey community, two groups severely alienated from UAA hockey.

The whole process at UAA is driven by human resources, which according to Cobb requires members of the search committee to be university employees.

Doyle Woody of the Anchorage Daily News seems to have a good idea what's going on. And the fans don't like it. Neither does the Alaska State Hockey Association.

The Alaska State Hockey Association, a group that represents thousands of the state's hockey players, coaches and officials, "resoundingly, quickly and unanimously" approved a vote of no-confidence in UAA athletic director Steve Cobb, its president said Saturday.

In a resolution sent to a range of university and state leaders, the association cited the steady decline of UAA hockey and claimed repeated efforts to reach out to the university's athletic department and hockey coaches have been "systematically met with callous indifference."

The resolution wields no power, but AHSA president Darryl Thompson said it sends a long overdue message at a time when the school is looking for a new coach.

There's an interesting twist on this story, according to Woody. I'll let him cover the bases.

Former UAA hockey head coach John Hill wants the job again.

Hill, the Anchorage native who coached the Seawolves for four seasons (2001-05) and currently scouts hockey's amateur ranks for the NHL's Columbus Blue Jackets, said he seeks the job that became open when UAA fired eight-year head coach Dave Shyiak two weeks ago.

... Hill, 52, a former UAA captain and assistant coach, presided over the worst season in UAA history and followed it the next season with the deepest Western Collegiate Hockey Association playoff run in the program's history.

After going 1-28-7 in 2002-03 -- the Seawolves won their season-opening nonconference game, but never won again -- UAA in 2004 beat host Wisconsin twice in a best-of-3, first-round series to advance to the WCHA Final Five for the first time in school history. At the Final Five in St. Paul, UAA beat Colorado College in the play-in game, which remains the deepest the Seawolves have gone in the WCHA playoffs in 21 seasons of postseason play in the conference.

As the article notes, Hill resigned after the 2003-2004 season, citing issues that showed a clear lack of commitment from the university. He coached at Minnesota under Don Lucia, and has been working as a scout since leaving the U.

Hill is not one of the four finalists.

I don't know that he's the best fit out there, but it seems this program -- more than any other -- needs a local guy. There is virtually no connection between the Anchorage community and the program. It's not just about the losing, because the program up north in Fairbanks has such a connection, even though it isn't the most wonderfully-successful hockey program in Division I, either.

I'm not saying none of the finalists will be automatically incapable of restoring that connection. But Hill has played and coached there and knows what is needed. That puts him a step ahead of any newcomer.

Of course, until the university is fully committed to the program, none of the other stuff matters. Anchorage is a great town with good youth hockey and great support for the sport. The fact UAA hasn't experienced any of that support recently is on UAA, not on Anchorage.

UMD Announces 2013-14 Recruiting Class

The UMD men's hockey program has announced a seven-member recruiting class for this fall. Here is the release from the school about the three players to ink letters of intent during the spring signing period.

Two talented prospects from the Alberta Junior Hockey League's Spruce Grove Saints -- defenseman Carson Soucy and forward Sammy Spurrell --- and Shattuck-St. Mary standout blueliner Willie Raskob have all signed National Letters of Intent to attend and play hockey for the University of Minnesota Duluth in 2013-14.

That trio joins four early signees -- forward Alex Iafallo (Fargo Force of the United States Hockey League), defenseman Dan Molenaar (Sioux City Musketeers of the USHL), forward Kyle Osterberg (Omaha Lancers of the USHL) and forward Dominic Toninato (Fargo Force) -- as the 2013-14 Bulldog signees.

Willie Raskob (Defenseman • 5-9 • 190 • Hastings, Minn.) - Becomes the third Shattuck-St. Mary’s product to enlist his services with the Bulldogs (senior-to-be right winger Joe Basaraba and Michael Gergen are the other two) … took a back seat to no Shattuck-St. Mary’s defenseman in scoring (47 points) and assists (38) while skating in 57 games this past winter ... helped lead SSM to a berth in the 2013 USA Hockey Tier I national tournament … participated in the 2012 USA Hockey Select 17 Player Development Camp … struck for 15 goals – tops among all of his blueline colleagues -- for a 2011-12 SSM club captured the USA Hockey Tier I national championship … also finished second among that group in both assists (24) and points (39) … left his scoring mark on the Shattuck U16 team one year, amassing 15 goals, 57 assists and 72 points – the best stats by any other defenseman on the team in each category … has never missed a game with Shattuck-St. Mary’s – at any level.

Carson Soucy (Defenseman • 6-4 • 195 • Irma, Alberta) - Certainly made his presence felt during one-plus seasons of blueline work in the Alberta Junior Hockey League  … accumulated 15 points (five goals and 10 assists) in 35 regular season games with the Spruce Grove Saints this season ... missed a healthy portion of the team's schedule while nursing a knee injury and also representing Canada at the 2012 International Softball Federation World Junior Championship (outfielder) ... still played an instrumental role in the Saints' conquest of both the 2013 AJHL North Division regular season and playoff titles … went pointless over the course of a seven-game spell in Spruce Grove in 2011-12 ... maintained a near point-per-game scoring average as a Lloydminster Bobcat Midget AAA combatant that same season.

Sammy Spurrell (Forward • 5-11 • 180 • Sheerwood, Alberta) - Set up shot the past three winters in Spruce Grove, Alberta, and flexed plenty of offensive muscle in the process ... his 1.12 points per game average (28 points in 25 outings) during an injury-plagued (shoulder) 2012-13 regular season topped all Spruce Grove Saints and was the eighth best figure in the Alberta Junior Hockey League ... has pumped in the second-most goals (21) of any Saint thus far despite only suiting up in 40 of the team's 75 games … currently shares the Saint lead in playoff scoring with 13 points ...  also paces Spruce Grove in overall game-winning goals (four) and is third in power-play tallies (eight) … took part in all 60 Saint regular season games and 10 playoff assignments one ago and had 47 points to show for it ... resided atop the AJHL rookie scoring charts in 2010-11 ... finished with 15 goals and 50 points in 70 overall games that year en route to being selected as a  finalist for the Dick White Trophy, which is given to the AJHL’s top newcomer.

The complete list of the 2013-14 UMD signees is as follows:

Player               Pos     Hgt    Wgt   Birthdate   Hometown                 Current Team (League)
Alex Iafallo           F        5-11   165    12/21/93    Eden, N.Y.                   Fargo (USHL)
Dan Molenaar      D       5-11   185      7/5/93       Eden Prairie, Minn.     Sioux City (USHL)
Kyle Osterberg     F       5-8     170     9/5/94        Lakeville, Minn.           Omaha (USHL)
Willie Raskob       D       5-9     190     3/14/95      Hastings, Minn.           Shattuck-St. Mary's
Carson Soucy      D       6-4     195     7/74/94      Irma, Alberta               Spruce Grove (AJHL)  
Sammy Spurrell    F      5-11    180     10/5/92      Sheerwood, Alberta    Spruce Grove (AJHL)
Dominic Toninato  F       6-1     170     3/9/94        Duluth, Minn.              Fargo (USHL)

It seems Raskob is a late add to this year's group. He was scheduled as a 2014 arrival, but the early departure of Chris Casto to the pro ranks might have necessitated his signing for this fall.

Casto has played in four games for the AHL's Providence Bruins, registering no points. Defenseman Drew Olson, on an amateur tryout with the AHL's Peoria Rivermen, has one assist in five games.