Friday, December 16, 2005

A few Atlanta Winter Sports Notes

The last two nights I have been fortuitous in my sports viewing. I'd call myself a fan of the Hawks and Thrashers, but I make no effort to watch any of their games or even follow what's going on aside from the information I can get via osmosis and without looking for anything. But if the Lady has fallen asleep and I'm channel surfing (or really guide searching on TiVo), I'll usually drop by a live Hawks or Thrashers game to see if there's any reason to watch (and then leave the channel on so I can hear the announcers while I continue to look through the guide).

Two nights ago I turned on the Hawks game to see the score and I knew the game would be about over. In fact, the Hawks had the ball and the chance to take the lead with around a minute to go. After a Tyronn Lue miss, Kyle Korver absolutely shoved the shit out of Josh Smith (who had boxed him out perfectly) to get into better position for a board. No call. Childress gets the ball, and takes it to the rack for a basic layup but Korver again smacks the shit out of Childress' arm, completely redirecting the ball. No call. Sixers get the ball and someone gets fouled (I think it was Webber). Two hilariously clear and obvious fouls which directly affected both plays go uncalled with the game on the line. I was just blown away at how terrible the calls were. The Smith gets a T for taking off his headband, Webber makes 4 FTs and it's a two possession game. Then before the Hawks inbound the ball, Woodson gets tossed and the Sixers go up by 5 on another made FT (the first one was missed because the PA announcer announced the ejection of Woodson at the exact moment the shooter took aim and the crowd reacted naturally). I was stunned to see the way the refs took the game out of the hands of the teams. Just pathetic officiating. But what really surprised me was the reaction of the pro-Hawks announcers. They weren't even all that mad. I was outraged, and I'm not even that big a fan. But the announcers were extremely nonchalant and basically said, well that's how it's gone this year. Then they rattled off 3 or 4 games with calls worse than this one (which I find hard to belive, since this was so bad). Have the Hawks been jobbed on 4 games this year already? If so, there's a huge difference in the perception of this team in the city. Most sports fans around Atlanta I think are like me, in that they'll root for the Hawks, but the last 5 or 6 years has given them no incentive to make an effort to follow the Hawks. And once the team looks like it's on the way to a similar season, they tune the Hawks out. I know that's how most of the guys I know think about them. I know you might think there's no real difference between 4-17 and 8-13, but look in the standings. The Eastern Conference is sucking ass. 8-13 puts you 1 1/2 games out of the playoffs. At least it'd give the city a reason to pay a little more attention. Plus, a win against the Sixers would have given them a 3 game streak, which might create a little buzz, considering how flatlined the public sentiment on this team has been for years. Basically, those awful awful no-calls on Korver had far-reaching repercussions. And it's a little unfortunate, because this city will get behind the Hawks if they made a little noise themselves. In any event, I was glad I saw that little bit, even if it wasn't good for the city.

Then last night I happened to flip on the Thrashers game (something I've done, like 4 times in the history of the franchise). Perfect timing for me, since I flipped it on right as the game was going into overtime. About 10-15 years ago, I actually followed hockey relatively closely, even though Atlanta didn't have an NHL franchise (which is probably why I followed it, to be contrarian). When the lockout ended, and the NHL announced the new rules changes, I didn't really like it. Mainly because I don't have a problem with ties in regular season games. I think sometimes teams don't deserve to lose or win, and a draw is a proper result. So I have to say I was skeptical about the new OT rules and the shootout. Having watched last night's OT, however, I'm a little convinced. 4 on 4 in OT is a great idea to go along with the expanded passing rules. The couple of 4/4 minutes last night were exciting, up and down hockey. It reminded me of the wider rinks and open passing in Olympic hockey (which I think is a superior product). Then after a properly called high stick on the Thrashers, the game went 4 on 3 for a while, which led to a few good shots and a couple of shorthanded breakaways. I really like the risk/reward of the OT power play. If you can hold the puck in the zone, you'll get off good, open shots, but if you give up the puck, you'll give up open lanes the other way. And that's what happened last night. Hossa has a breakaway and has a clear lane to the goal, but then he gets pulled down right on top of Brodeur. Incredibly exciting moment, followed by a tense moment when Brodeur looked like he was out cold. So Hossa was awarded a penalty shot, the guy who pulled him down is sent to the box, and Brodeur had to come out of his fog and try to stop the penalty, which he does. All in all a pretty intense moment. The there's 10 seconds or so of 3 on 3 hockey, and then the rest of the OT period is a power play for the Thrashers. Same scenario with risks and rewards. The Devils have one breakaway, and then the Thrashers set up several good shots. Finally, Kovalchuk draws two defenders, dishes to Savard, who fits the puck in through a tiny crease to score the game winner with 5 seconds to go.

So basically just by luck, I flip on the game (which I never do) and I see 5 minutes of incredibly exciting hockey, topped off by a last second goal for my home team to win. Doesn't get much better than that. Also, watch out for the Thrashers. I think Hartley's a good coach and the major offseason changes are just starting to gell. This team could make a run for the playoffs. And having something to follow in the wintertime around here will make the wait for baseball season go by a bit faster.


Anonymous said...

I like winter sports...I have seen at Dick's Sporting Goods store many coupons on sporting goods from CouponAlbum site....