March 8 in sports history: Ali goes down!

In 1971: Joe Frazier handed Muhammed Ali his first professional defeat in a 15 round decision at Madison Square Garden. It was the first of three classic matches between the rivals, and it was the first time in history that a fight featured two undefeated champs (Ali was stripped of his title for refusing to go to Vietnam). It was simply dubbed “The Fight of the Century.” It lived up to its billing, as the two battled into the fifteenth round. Referee Al Mercante later claimed that Ali (who predicted he would knock Frazier out in the sixth) gave away many rounds. Most who watched, however, found that it was hard for Ali to “give away” rounds when he was being mercilessly pounded in the corner by Frazier, who sent Ali to the canvas in the fifteenth. Ali survived the knockout, but Frazier won comfortably on all three cards. The fight was one of the most hyped events in sports history, with over 700 press credentials awarded (and another 500 turned down). There were even some celebrities who couldn’t get good seats, but Frank Sinatra smartly got the best seat in the house, snapping pictures on the ringside apron as a photographer for Life Magazine.

In 2004: The National Hockey League officially erased any doubts about its “The U.S. media only talks about hockey when something bad happens” status with one of its ugliest incidents in years. Wanting revenge for a hit by the Colorado Avalanche’s Steve Moore which knocked out star player Markus Naslund three weeks before, Vancouver Canucks forward Todd Bertuzzi came up to Moore from behind and punched him on the side of the head. Moore was knocked out immediately, and he fell face first to the ice. It didn’t help that all 245 lbs. of Bertuzzi fell right on top of him. It didn’t help any more when three other players piled on top of them. Moore suffered a broken neck, a concussion and severe lacerations on his face. Three days later, Bertuzzi was suspended for the rest of the season (including the playoffs) and would not be reinstated until after the lockout in 2005. The atmosphere in Vancouver’s GM Place was ugly that night, as the Canucks vowed to get even with Moore (who did fight earlier in the game). But, as Rogers Sportsnet announcer Jim Hughson said, “the score settling has gone too far.” Bertuzzi later plead guilty to assault and received probation. Moore has also attempted to sue Bertuzzi for over $15 million in lost wages and damages and has still not played a game since.

NHL General

Crashing the Zamboni: The E-Train is still running

1. Stars Stymie Avs
In a crazy see-saw battle on Monday night in Dallas, the Stars defeated a stuttering Avalanche club, 5-4. Brenden Morrow scored two early goals for the Stars before leaving with an injury, setting up Dallas for what would be a satisfying comeback victory. After Marty Turco gave up two first period goals, he was unexpectedly pulled and replaced by backup Mike Smith, who stopped 16 of 18 shots on the night. An early 3rd period goal by John-Michael Liles gave Colorado a 4-3 lead, but it would not last long. Halfway through the frame, Colorado (back then Quebec) draft pick Eric Lindros tied it up with his fifth goal of the year. Less than three minutes afterward, Antti Miettinen got the puck by Peter Budaj to give the Stars the eventual 5-4 victory. For Colorado, it was their fifth loss in the last seven games.

2. Sabres’ Spectacular 2nd
Last night, Buffalo hosted another dominant Sabres victory as the guys with the ugly logo downed the Tampa Bay Lightning, 7-2. The night was highlighted by a bananas 7 goal 2nd for Buffalo, who received a nice 24 save performance from goaltender Ryan Miller on the other side of the ice. Offensively, Paul Gaustad and Thomas Vanek were hot, scoring two goals each (Gaustad also added an assist). Ales Kotalik also had a good night tallying a hat trick for assists with three. This was Buffalo’s fifth game in which they’ve scored six or more goals, so they certainly have everything covered on offense. If there was no such thing as the second period, Tampa’s Marc Denis would have had an awesome game between the pipes. Unfortunately, 22 saves was not enough to beat the Sabres, who still have not lost back-to-back games this season.

3. He knows it’s the Flyers, right?
One month after being booted up to the position of head coach for the Philadelphia Flyers, John Stevens has signed a two-year deal to remain in that spot (what was he thinking?). He replaced Ken Hitchcock as head-honcho 12 games ago, and has posted a 4-7-1 record. A coach cannot win the games for the Flyers– they have to get it done on the ice, and that’s what this team is missing. Their offense is defunct, and the defense couldn’t keep the other team away from the net if it were two states over. In goal, Antero Niittymaki has been anything but impressive since taking over the #1 spot, posting a 3-10-2 record this season.

Check It Out
Kevin Allen of USA Today takes a look at the youth of today’s NHL, and how it is impacting the game. It is clear that the kids have taken over… just take one look at the trio on the Pens (Staal, Crasby, and Malkin)–those youngsters are the new image of the NHL.

Game of the Night: San Jose at Anaheim
Sharks have won six of last seven games

The Last Shot
Pittsburgh defeated Philadelphia 5-3 last night, improving the Penguins’ record against Philly this year to 4-0.

NHL General

Crashing the Zamboni: A Star Is Born

1. Malkin: A Part of History
We said it a couple of days ago — but after another amazing game, it bears repeating again: This kid is good. Last night against the Los Angeles Kings, Evgeni Malkin became the first player in 89 years to score a goal in his first six games, beating Dan Cloutier with a pinpoint wrist shot. Three other NHL players accomplished this feat, but they did it all the way back in the inaugural 1917-’18 NHL season. Malkin is still less than halfway to the all-time record of first 14 games with a goal, but talk about finding your groove… Malkin is just tearing up the ice.

He was not content with just one goal, however. In overtime, he hit the twine for the seventh time to give the Penguins the 4-3 victory. It will be interesting to see if Evgeni can keep it up – if he can, the NHL will have something very, very good on its hands.

2. Bringing Him Back
Less than two weeks after giving him the boot as head coach, interim GM Paul Holmgren is welcoming Ken Hitchcock back to the Philadelphia Flyers. His role with the organization, however, will be quite different – he was hired this time to work as a pro scout instead of working behind the bench. Our thoughts? Hitchcock better be pretty darn good at scouting, because the Flyers need the best that they can get at this point. People within that franchise must firmly believe in Ken to bring him back aboard this mess so easily, which prompts the question – why would they have fired him in the first place? Keep him within the organization, and protect yourselves from all the drama of his firing. With all of the shenanigans, the only thing we truly know is this: the Flyers are not that good, and they need quite a miracle to help right the ship.

3. On Todd Bertuzzi
Florida’s veteran winger made some headlines this week, announcing that he’s considering surgery on his lower back. This isn’t the first time folks in Colorado have heard about Todd, because here, everyone believes that his back isn’t the only thing that needs fixing.

It seems nobody who is a fan of the Avalanche has decided to forgive Bertuzzi – in 2003, he put a blatant hit on Colorado’s Steve Moore, cracking his vertebrae and giving him a severe concussion. The check from behind was shown over and over here in the Rocky Mountain area, and was extremely hard to watch. Moore’s head hit the ice hard, and fell in an awkward position. What ensued was a long period of silence, as Moore lay motionless on the ice, simply unable to move. Bertuzzi was suspended for an extended period of time, but then reinstated at the beginning of the 2005 season. The common consensus here is that Bertuzzi should not be allowed to play for as long as Moore is out, which probably means that Todd’s career would be over. Moore has not been able to get back out on the ice, and is now a schoolteacher.

It is also interesting to note Todd Bertuzzi’s Wikipedia entry. For a guy who happens to be a really good hockey player, it is sad to see that this incident covers the entire page.

Check It Out
NBC Sports’ “The Bellowing Moose” investigates the recent effect of fights in the NHL.

Game of the Night: Vancouver at Minnesota
Wild: 7-0-0 at home this season.

The Last Shot
Nashville defeated Edmonton 5-3 Wednesday night, giving the Oilers their first home loss while notching their sixth straight road win.

MLB General

Oct 17 in Sports History: an earthquake hits the World Series

In 1989: The third game of the 1989 World Series between the San Francisco Giants and Oakland A’s was postponed due to the biggest earthquake to hit the Bay Area since 1906. ABC-TV had just taken the air with the game about 30 minutes away when the 7.1 magnitude Loma Prieta quake hit, causing minor structural damage to Candlestick park and major damage to the surrounding area. Over 60 people were killed, but it could have been much worse as a 60-foot section of the Bay Bridge between San Francisco and Oakland collapsed; but fans getting to the ballpark or home to catch the early start time of the World Series had the bridge and many other roads which suffered damage uncharacteristically quiet at rush hour. The Series would resume 10 days later with the A’s completing a sweep of the Giants.

In 1971 and 1979: The Pittsburgh Pirates clinched their last two World Series in Baltimore on the same day by taking a pair of Game 7‘s from the Orioles. In Game 7 of the ‘71 Fall Classic, Steve Blass threw a 4-hit gem and Roberto Clemente homered as the Pirates won 2-1. In Game 7 of the ‘79 Series, Willie Stargell hit a three-run homer in the top of the sixth inning to help push the Pirates past Baltimore 4-1. 1979 was the last time a team had overcome a three games to one deficit to win a World Series.

In 2000: Patrick Roy of the Colorado Avalanche cemented his place as the game’s greatest goaltender when he passed Terry Sawchuk on the all-time wins list with 448. Roy defeated the Washington Capitals 4-3 in overtime to take first-place all time. Roy, who was only the third goalie and 51st player taken overall in the 1984 draft, won three Vezina Trophies as the league’s outstanding goalie and three Conn Smythe Trophies as playoff MVP.