Sunday, February 28, 2010

Congratulations Canada, and thoughts on a great hockey tournament

I had a bad feeling about today's gold medal game from the start.  I knew Team USA couldn't surprise Canada the way they did last week, and I didn't expect a total collapse like we saw from Finland in the semifinal game on Friday.  Canada played some incredible hockey in their quarterfinal against Russia and survived a late threat from Slovakia to get to the championship.  They were on a mission.  From the start, Canada knocked us off their game.  Their defense reminded me of the Detroit Red Wings against the Penguins last year (and the year before).  We couldn't get clear shots.  We couldn't control the puck.  Dump-and-chase wasn't working.  But a goal in the 2nd period gave Team USA some life, and we looked better in the 3rd.  When we tied the game I was incoherent for a good five minutes.  And things started out well in the extra period.  But overtime games are often won on quirky goals from defensive mistakes, and this game was no different.  Sidney Crosby, captain of the Pittsburgh Penguins, scored the game-winner for Canada and set off a riotous celebration in the arena.  The crowd's rendition of "O Canada" was as rousing as I've ever heard it.  The members of Team USA looked as if someone had shot their dogs. 

But no one on our team should be upset for too long.  I'm disappointed Team USA couldn't pull off the upset.  And make no mistake: throughout this tournament and in this game, we were the underdogs.  Today, in front of a raucous home crowd, facing a superior team, it's a small miracle we stayed in the game at all.  Canada's 2-0 lead could easily have become a rout.  Canada played an excellent game and deserves all the credit for winning the gold.  But before the Olympics few hockey experts thought Team USA had a chance to go this far, let alone come within a OT goal of winning it all.  Ryan Miller played out of his mind for two weeks and for that alone he shouldn't ever have to pay for a beer again.  (H/T Amanda Rykoff)  We played our hearts out today.  And with some luck, we'll get them back in 2014.

In the immediate future, I hope this tournament will be a boost for hockey and the NHL here.  For the past two weeks we've seen some incredible games from the best players in the world.  We have the best professional hockey league in the world right here in North America.  The teams play for the greatest trophy in sports.  Casual hockey fans who got into the game over the past two weeks owe it to themselves to check out a NHL game on TV, if not in person.  The biggest problem, of course, is the TV exposure.  So many of the NHL's games are buried on Versus.  I watch as many Penguins games as I can on Versus, and I have no idea where that channel is on my cable box.  I have to look for it each time I tune in.  If the NHL's games are too difficult to find, people will move on to March Madness and baseball and hockey will continue to languish.  But there is no postseason better than the NHL playoffs.  It's two months of games just like what we've seen in Vancouver.  I'd love to see more people become fans of the game, and now is the perfect time.

In the not-so-immediate future, the NHL has to commit to sending its players to Sochi, Russia, for 2014.  They're going to face a revolt from the players' union if they don't.  Many of the Russian players plan to go home and play for their national team even if it means violating their NHL contracts.  And I'd be shocked if Sidney Crosby, Eric Staal, and Roberto Luongo didn't want to defend their gold medals in four years.  The PR hit would be devastating for a league that is still trying to recover from the 2004 lockout.  The NHL is in enough trouble.  And this tournament was so much fun to watch.  Send the players to Russia.  It's the right thing to do.

Congratulations again, Canada.  You were the best team today and you earned a great victory.  Enjoy those gold medals.  We'll see you in Russia.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

One thousand posts and counting

My post last Sunday about the first USA-Canada Olympic hockey game appears to have been my 1000th blog post, according to Blogger's dashboard counter.  I'm not surprised I reached 1000 posts, but I am a little troubled that it took me eight years.  In my defense, I have a job and a semblance of a social life, and often not much to say that I can't put in a tweet (now at 3008 and counting!).

I have been thinking lately about switching from Blogger to Wordpress, though I'm not quite ready to risk losing all 1000 posts in a migration.  But I'm tired of looking at this theme, and there aren't many better choices available through Blogger.  Perhaps the time has come to spend real money on this blog?  I'm not about to give it up; that much is certain.  The blogging will continue until the writing quality improves.

Monday, February 22, 2010

A better way to cover the Olympics

Many sports bloggers and friends have taken up the cause of "NBC FAIL" this past week as it pertains to the Winter Olympics.  (The greater cause of "NBC FAIL" as it pertains to the rest of the network is a subject for another time.)  NBC has run nearly all of its events tape delayed in prime time, diced up with commercial breaks and fluff pieces, and then held the entire package an additional three hours for the Pacific and Mountain time zones.  Let's not forget that the Olympic Games are being held in the Pacific time zone.  It doesn't matter to the network.  By the time the Games air at 8 PM on the East Coast, anyone with an Internet connection or even cable TV can and likely does know the results of the events they're about to watch on the NBC broadcast channel.  And if you're in LA or Seattle, you've known the results for almost an entire day.  The network has run hockey and curling live on CNBC and MSNBC and on all week long, and as a hockey fan I applaud this decision.  But the fact remains that NBC's coverage of these Games (and the Games in years past) is built on a model that assumes the average viewer turns on the TV when they get home and leaves it on the same channel all night long.  They pick and choose what to show in prime time based on advertising revenue targets for the audience they want to reach.  But people don't watch TV like that any more.

Network coverage of the Olympics has to change.  As people in my generation get older and have more buying power, we're going to demand that the network cater to what we want and not accept the bite-sized chunks that get laid out for us.  Some of us want to see the entire mens' downhill ski event, not just a few skiers and the winners.  Some people want to see all the figure skating they can have and then some.  And there are people who like cross-country, biathlon, speed skating, and other events that would love to see those events in their entirety, but they have to take what NBC gives them.  We know that NBC has cameras at all of these events.  And we know that the network can put events online all day long and they will find an audience.  Why not go the whole way?

What I imagine is a hybrid of what CBS does with the NCAA tournament and what Versus does with the Tour de France.  First, show all the events live, no matter what the time of day.  Even if the Olympics are being held 12 time zones away, people will watch them live.  Use all the networks (CNBC and MSNBC in NBC's case) and show as many events live as possible.  The Olympics only come around once every four years for sixteen days.  If NBC is going to lose money on the Games, why not go all in and preempt Rachel Maddow and Keith Olbermann for two weeks?  And show the Games online and elsewhere with the same ads that will run when the events are shown in prime time later that night.  While the events are running online, run a crawl or an ad every few minutes that tells the online viewer when the same event will be on in prime time that night. People who watch during the day while they're at work might want to see the same event in glorious HD later that evening.  Or they might call their parents/grandparents/friends who can't watch online and tell them "you have to see this downhill race later tonight. It's on at 9:30 PM."

Which leads me to the second part of my suggestion (the Versus part).  Keep the tape-delayed pre-packaged prime time coverage model that has worked for thirty years.  While there is a large audience of geeks and bored workers who will watch events online, there are many, many other viewers who will still want to tune in at 8 PM and watch all evening long.  So cater to them as well.  Even though the events have already aired on other networks and online, people like the fluff segments and the studio interviews.  It works for Versus.  They run the Tour de France live in the morning straight up, with play-by-play and instant commentary.  And they advertise during the broadcast for viewers to tune in at 8 PM for expanded coverage of the same stage.  Then they repeat the broadcast at 8 PM, but with more interviews, more studio analysis, and more pre-taped segments.  It's almost exactly the prime-time Olympics model.  And people will tune in.

What's it going to take to make these changes?  We'll need a young sports division head who knows the online viewing habits of 18-34 year-olds.  They'll be the ones calling their parents and telling them to watch the Games that night.  And this sports division head will need to do their homework and be ready to stand up to network executives and show them that there's a better way to cover these Games.  And we'll need a network president that understands that old models don't work any longer. 

The networks have to change to fit the times.  They can't force us to watch their outdated prime-time package and only that.  We want sports when we want them, and we'll find ways to get the sports elsewhere if we have to.  Why make us go to those lengths?  Give us what we want, and we'll sing your praises to anyone who will listen.

If that was a preliminary game I can't wait for the medal round

I was as excited about Team USA vs. Team Canada as I was for game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final last year.  Well, maybe not quite as much, but it was close.  I've enjoyed every game of this tournament so far, even the blowouts, and I couldn't wait to see how Canada's superstar lineup fared against the USA's young squad.  The game didn't disappoint.  There were beautiful goals, frenetic breakaways and an absolutely clutch performance by Team USA's goalie, Ryan Miller.  With the win, Team USA earned a bye into the quarterfinals and will play again on Wednesday afternoon.  Canada has to face Germany on Tuesday afternoon for a quarterfinals slot of their own.

I watched most of the game in the same position I'd had for game 7 last year: on the edge of the couch, leaning over the laptop on the coffee table and screaming "get it out of there!" every time the puck entered the USA end.  I nearly forgot to breathe a couple of times.  It might not have been for a medal, but anyone watching that game would agree that the intensity on both teams was at championship levels.  And the crowd!  They hurled chants and insults at Miller and cheered their hearts out for the home team.  If you saw that game and didn't come away thinking that hockey could be fun to watch again, I don't want to know you.

I may have watched the game by myself, but I wasn't alone.  I tweeted throughout the game and kept a close eye on my Twitter feed for my friends' reactions.  I've been watching games this way for several years.  Before Twitter, it was the Deadspin commenter community.  But the forum doesn't matter.  I can share the experience of an event like an Olympic hockey game with hundreds of other people from the comfort of my couch and not feel at all isolated or lonely.  The online community can't replace the fun of watching a game with your friends in the same room or actually going to the game.  But it's a viable alternative when you can't be there in person.   

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Friday, February 19 in Olympic hockey

Sweden looked good against Belarus in the afternoon game.  Belarus goalie Andrei Mezin kept his team in the game late into the 3rd period.  The Swedes took an early 3-0 lead, then Belarus fought back with goals in the 2nd and 3rd periods to keep the game close.  Sweden needed a late goal from Daniel Alfredsson to seal the victory.  Sweden faces Finland on Sunday in one of three "Rivalry Sunday" matchups.

The Czech Republic had a 4-0 lead on Latvia in the 2nd period when Latvia scored two quick goals to cut the deficit in half.  Up until that point I had declared Latvia the "punching bag of Group B" but I had to revise my statement to "the punching bag is hitting back!"  I'm not sure the metaphor holds up.  The Czechs held on to win the game 5-2.

The late game pitted Finland against Germany, and it wasn't much of a match.  Finland won 5-0.  I'd say they're ready for Sweden on Sunday.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Thursday, February 18 in Olympic mens' hockey

Team USA looked great against Norway, but Norway isn't that good this time around.  Still, a win is a win, and if you're going to succeed in this tournament you have to win the games you know you can win.  We'll call this game a confidence builder for Team USA and hope that it helps them to bigger wins in the medal round, or better play against Canada on Sunday.  More on that below.

Canada and Switzerland went to a shootout to settle their game Thursday night.  I was at rehearsal and then at the bar so I didn't get to see any of the game until I got home, but the Swiss put up a fight against a superior-on-paper Canadian team.  It took a  sudden-death shootout goal from Sidney Crosby and a monster save from Martin Brodeur to seal the victory for Canada.  I still like Canada's chances at the gold, but a game like this one shows that there are no guarantees.

For more evidence that there are no guarantees in this tournament, look no further than last night's late game, Slovakia vs. Russia.  Slovakia had to play 24 hours after losing to the Czech Republic and faced a dominating Russian squad coming off a lopsided win over Latvia two days ago.  I switched over to CNBC-HD for the start of the game only to find that the channel was horribly pixelated.  It was nearly impossible for me to tell what was going on for much of the game.  Russia took a 1-0 lead in the 2nd period on a goal from Alexei Morozov and survived a 2-man advantage power play by Slovakia to start the 3rd.  But Slovakia stayed with the Russians and despite the terrible picture I didn't see the kind of passing and puck-handling from Russia that I saw on Tuesday.  Late in the 3rd period Marian Hossa put a shot past goalie Ilya Bryzgalov to even the game at 1-1.  A five-minute overtime period settled nothing, so for the second time in a day the fans got to see a shootout.  Alex Ovechkin went 1-for-3 as the shootout went into sudden death and it took a sweet, patient goal from Slovakia's Pavol Demitra to win the game.

Slovakia surprised Team Russia, and Canada survived a scare against Switzerland.  On today's show, On The DL Podcast's Dan Levy wondered if the teams with fewer NHL players have had more time to practice and get to know each other.  The loaded NHL all-star squads from the USA, Canada, and Russia have played well but they've only had a few days working as a team, since the NHL had games scheduled through last Sunday.  I agree with Dan: the big teams are going to play better as the tournament goes on, but the performances by Slovakia and Switzerland show that the medal round seedings aren't set in stone.

One correction: I didn't know until last night that all 12 teams in the tournament will make the medal round.  However, the top four teams from the round-robin receive byes into the quarterfinals and have one less game to play.  The other eight teams have to play elimination games to make the quarterfinals.  With a scant two weeks to play all the games, having that bye could be crucial to getting through to the gold-medal game.  Given the stakes and the goal differential right now, Sunday's USA (+7)-Canada(+9) game looms even larger than it did before the Olympics started.  Time Warner Brooklyn had better fix CNBC-HD before Sunday or there will be angry tweets coming from my apartment.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Wednesday in Olympic hockey

Today's games have already started, with Team USA in control early with a 2-0 lead over Norway at the 1st intermission.  I had plans last night so I only saw Finland's victory over Belarus and the end of the Czech Republic-Slovakia game this morning on my DVR.  Finland showed some of the dominance we've seen from them in past Olympics.  But what I really enjoyed was seeing Jaromir Jagr back on the ice for the Czech team.  He's 38, a fact of which the announcers continually reminded the viewers.  And Jagr didn't skate as many minutes as he did on past Olympic teams, at least not at the end of the game where the Czechs were playing keep-away with Slovakia.  But he scored the game-winning goal and assisted on another.  He has a reach like no one else I've seen, carrying the puck far out in front yet keeping it in control the entire time.  Watching him handle the puck while sweeping around behind the goal brought back memories of his years with the Penguins.  He can still do astounding tricks with the puck.  The Czechs are in a tough group with the Russians, but with a win in hand over Slovakia and a likely win against Latvia they stand a good chance to make the medal round if Jagr can continue to produce like he did last night.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

It's the most wonderful time... of the quadrennial

The Winter Olympics are on and that means Olympic hockey.  I love that the NHL shuts down its season for three weeks to allow its players to compete for their national teams in the Olympic hockey tournament.  In 1998 I stayed up all night watching the games from Japan.  Four years ago I recorded as much of the tournament as my DVR would allow and watched hours of hockey each night.  This time, the games are on during the afternoon and evening, threatening my productivity at work and my sleep schedule.  Somehow I'll muddle through. 

Yesterday's action featured Team USA's 3-1 win over Switzerland, in which our team looked good but not dominant.  Canada crushed Norway 8-0, and in the late game Russia rolled over Latvia 8-2 as if it was still the Cold War.  I went to bed last night with the score 4-0 at the end of the second period and watched the rest of the game this morning.  I needn't have bothered.  The Russian team looks especially strong.  Alex Ovechkin is already nearly impossible to stop, and with crisp passing and fluid movement the team has an old Red Army feeling to it.  Vladimir Tretiak, Team Russia's manager, watched the game from a skybox wearing an old-school dark blazer with a red collar.  It was like Darth Vader observing stormtroopers on parade.  I'd like to see Team USA play well in this tournament, but I can't help wishing for a Canada-Russia gold medal game.  How exciting would that be?  Team Canada trying to win on home ice vs. possibly the greatest Russian team in 20 years?  I'm getting chills.  But it's a long way off.  We're only one day in and some of the teams haven't taken the ice yet.  There's plenty of great hockey ahead.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Pittsburgh Symphony comes to New York

Tuesday evening was "NYRO Goes to Carnegie Hall" as a small group of us ventured north of our usual Times Square neighborhood to the city's most famous concert venue for a performance by the Pittsburgh Symphony and Anne-Sophie Mutter.  I hadn't seen the Pittsburgh Symphony in about eight years so it was a treat for me to have my "hometown" orchestra here in my adopted hometown.  And I was glad to see familiar faces like Andres Cardenes (concertmaster), Anne Martindale Williams (principal cellist) and Randolph Kelly (principal violist) in the orchestra.  For a few moments the experience took me back to my childhood, when my mother took me and my brother to concerts at Heinz Hall and I would be fascinated by everything: the musicians, the conductor, the program, and the sheer size of the hall.  Carnegie Hall is no less impressive, though I forgot how steep the upper balcony is.

The first work on the program was Johannes Brahms' dazzling Violin Concerto, with Anne-Sophie Mutter as soloist.  I've been a fan of Ms. Mutter's work for many years.  I could listen to her play all day long.  She attacked the double-stops with a vengeance and handled the lighter melodic sections delicately and with ease.  I thought the orchestra balanced well against the solo violin, as music director Manfred Honeck kept his players in check and allowed Ms. Mutter's virtuosity to show.  The third movement was especially spirited, and Honeck practically danced on the podium.

After intermission the concert resumed with Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 1.  Frequent readers know that I love Mahler almost above all other composers, and that his Symphony No. 1 is one of my all-time favorite works.  As fond as I am of the Pittsburgh Symphony, I couldn't help but measure their performance of the symphony against my favorite: Alan Gilbert's performance with the New York Philharmonic last May.  At first I was slightly disappointed as some of the strings seemed unable to find the right harmonic for the ethereal opening of the piece.  Honeck took some liberties with the tempos, which my friends found excessive but I didn't mind as much.  It was a crisp performance but not as energetic as I would have liked.  I didn't think the musicians or the audience got into the music until the climax of the first movement, which gave me chills despite my earlier misgivings.  As the concert went on the orchestra improved.  The brass, especially the horns, were outstanding.  But the brass and winds also overpowered the strings in a few places, upsetting the delicate balance Mahler indicates in his score.  The finale was appropriately bombastic and I couldn't help grinning when the horns stood up near the end (always my favorite part of any performance).  The audience erupted with applause and Honeck and the orchestra took several curtain calls.  They played Josef Strauss' "Die Libelle": Polka Mazur, Op. 204 for an encore.  At the time we couldn't hear Honeck when he announced the name of the piece so we had to play "name that tune" until my friend Susanna tipped me to the title this afternoon.

Based on last night's concert I think the Pittsburgh Symphony is in good hands with Honeck at the helm.  I'll have to try to hear them again the next time I'm in Pittsburgh.  I love the New York Philharmonic but I'll always have affection for the group that defined orchestral music for my childhood.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

I am a not a brand, I am a man!

But I'm also a brand, or at least my name is.

I've spent the better part of a year becoming more active on Twitter.  When I first joined it seemed logical to use @catelinp as my username since it's the same as my e-mail address.  CATELINP was the first login name I had at Georgetown when I first gained Internet access on the GUVAX system (wow, that takes me back).  It's stuck with me ever since.  But in 2010 it's archaic and it doesn't say anything about who I am.  So late last night I switched Twitter account names and I am now @PhilCatelinet.  I've still got the same avatar and you'll still get the same witty commentary you've always enjoyed but now with a proper name.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Don't panic: your last-minute Super Bowl recipes are here!

I've tweeted about this series all week, but if you don't follow me elsewhere you might have missed it. My friend Sarah is working on 14 Days of Super Bowl recipes on her blog Black and Gold Tchotchkes. She's also written a series of football recipes on Ladies..., several of which I've tried and thoroughly enjoyed.  Pizza Dip, Buffalo Chicken Dip, and Pizza Loaf are among my favorites and are popular with my friends.  I'd love to make one of her latest creations for the Super Bowl party this weekend.  But I've already committed to muffalettas and I don't think we have enough people coming to justify making something like chicharrones de pollo, tasty as it looks.  But f you're still wondering what to make for your own Super Bowl party this weekend, look no further.  You're in good hands with Sarah.