CHbLog – Inside Edge

Vernal Fever

After much back-n-forth rumoring, Lance is racing the Tour of the Gila. This news after a sort of close call for his participation in the Tour de France. The man is certainly living up to predictions he’d occupy a sizeable portion of the cycling spotlight and drama with his return.

Kristin Armstrong (no relation) won Stage 1 in the Gila. I’m thinking of changing my own middle name to Armstrong. It could make a difference. You never know.

Frickin’ Tyler Hamilton, I swear. Many, many issues on that man’s plate. Get well soon, dude.

Interesting theory about Contador’s experience on Team Astana with Lance. Say – check out that column photo. Really captures the tone of the post. Wonder where they got it. Oh look! That very image appears on this site’s photogallery! What would have been supercool is if Mr. Publisher had asked permission before he posted it. And if it linked back to the original site when you click on the photo.

Someone’s mama didn’t raise him right.

CHL PLAYOFF PREDICTIONS HERE: Adam Minnick, voice of the Scorpions sayz:

I will say TEX over COL in 5 for CHL finals.

From my previous post:

I say Bossier and Rio Grande first advance, Mississippi and Odessa next, and Texas takes it all.

Yeah baby! Bossier indeed advanced, and were put down by Colorado. Mississippi advanced before they, too, were snuffed by the Eagles.

It breaks my heart that Odessa is out. Personal apologies to Adams and Schneekloth but really – how cool would it have been to see  Odessa and Texas in the final round? In contrast to the Eagles and their fans, it’s been what feels like forever since fans of the other two have experienced the thrill. Seriously, a decade?

Let’s have a look-see:

Odessa was the Southwest Division Regular Season Champs in 2005-06, 2002-03 and 2001-02 and the Regular Season Champs (Governor’s Cup) in 2001-02.

Bill McDonald and Aaron Schneekloth - when we were one As far as i can tell, the Brahmas haven’t been a contender (not to mention the flux of the Club, name changes and a season hiatus) since 1997-98 when they won the Governor’s Cup. As the Fort Worth Fire, they earned the Ray Miron Cup (Playoff Champions – WPHL) in 1996-97 under the coaching of a certain Mr. Bill McDonald, former Scorpions coach.

So, in Texas, the NYTEX Sports Centre seating capacity is 2,300 including metal, backless benches. Will it be enough to accommodate its fans and the Eagles Fan Charter Plane Colorado players donated their spare change for, as a token of appreciation? You haven’t heard about that?!

I’m saying TEX over COL in 6.

I guess a lot of it depends on how Colorado handles playing in the Sports Centre….

HOME ADVANTAGE: This past Saturday (April 25), if you were watching the Brahmas vs. Jacks game on the CHL Network, you may have overheard this about NYTEX, presumably when the commentator believed he was off the air (or maybe not): “This building is so disgusting. No one can play in it. The score was 5-0 in the 2nd period because the Brahmas know how to play in it….” He wasn’t referring to cooties, of course. If it’s true, it doesn’t seem like a fair location for a Game 7.

Whadareyagonnado?

A quick scan of the regular season shows Texas winning about 83-percent of its home games. Only four teams won once in Texas, three by a score of 2-1, and only Laredo won twice. Colorado lost 4-1.

Of course, Colorado has similar home-game success and four of the seven possible final-round games are in Colorado.

But they just lost Game 1 at home.

FAT PROPS: to Albuquerque local/Canadian native – there are more of them than you might think – mountain biker Geoff Kabush, who i interviewed last November about his Beijing Olympic experience (look for the article in the June or July issue of Albuquerque The Magazine). For the fourth straight year, Kabush cracked his racing season wide, winning the opening round of USA Cycling’s Pro Cross-country tour in Fontana, CA in March.

And to 12-year-old Mackenzie Brown, the first female in Bayonne Little League history to throw a perfect game, striking out twelve of the 18 total boys she retired. (Get used to it.) Brown is also the only girl on her team. For her accomplishment, she was awarded the ceremonial first pitch at a Mets game.

TIMBITS: Scorpions coach Randy Murphy was carving ice in hot hot hot Dubai UAE with his brother Ronnie (a skilled hockey player himself, and even better golfer) mid-April. Back in ’02, Ron Murphy showed up in a cool documentary, Hockey Nomad, about hockey in the corners of the world and based on the book Tropic of Hockey by Dave Bidini.

Equipment managing... Former New Mexico Scorpion (and Buffalo Sabre, 1994-95) Pete Ambroziak and his lovely wife Maryanne are co-partner/owners of a New Mexico Junior A hockey team. Looks like they’re putting the kids to work, too.

Finally, for players and fans whose teams have been knocked out of the playoffs: if you’re jonesing to hit the greens, or at least watch a little golf while you recupe in the la-z-boy, the 2009 US PGA National Championship will be held June 28 – July 1 at Twin Warriors Golf Club and Santa Ana Golf Club in New Mexico. The competition will be covered by the Golf Channel for a whopping ten live hours and the low 20 scorers of the tourney advance to the PGA Championship in August.

March Madness

Camelback Ranch ballpark

As your small-time source for just off the radar, cool sports info, here’s the…

TIP O’ THE POST: Check out Dhani Tackles the Globe, a weekly (Mondays) special about NFL Bengals linebacker Dhani Jones’ participation in the most popular sports you’ve never heard of because they’re played in faraway places. He also dabbles in local culture and scenery. Fun stuff. Check local listings on the Travel channel. Premiering March 16, viewers caught Dhani training in Thailand to compete in Muay Thai, a sort of MMA-looking sport. The following week he was in Switzerland for Schwingen, essentially wresting in sawdust.

Stereotypical reality show bug-eating aside, this is a great theme. And guess what? Dude writes poetry, too.

SPRING TRAINING BASEBALL: What you need to know about Phoenix 2009, gleaned from a Cactus League weekend itinerary:

Friday – KC Royals vs. LA Dodgers, Surprise Stadium:

Muhammad Ali at Spring Training The “surprise” of the game was an appearance by Muhammad Ali. Ten rows up from the field, we could clearly see Ali rolling up in a golf cart to have his photo taken with the Royals. Super cool to get a close-up look at a legend (though he never took off his shades).

No ManRam in sight for the Dodgers. Dinner was a BBQ chicken sandwich and a Shock Top Belgian White which was, well, heaven. Hate to say an Anheuser-Busch beer is better than Blue Moon. What? Blue Moon is by Coors? Take your pick then.

Saturday – Chicago White Sox vs. Chicago Cubs at the brand spankin’ new Camelback Ranch:

The excitement at Camelback was 13,000+ fans, breaking a Cactus League record. Traffic was madness, backed up along the interstate, down the road and into stadium parking, where we were ushered to Players Parking due to overflow. The $5 fee was waived which was cool, since we missed the first couple innings sitting in traffic.

Not what you’d call a good day at the park for the Sox, who lost 13-2 despite using a starting lineup. My “turkey wrap” turned out to be a TBLT wrap, but who gets enough bacon? Italian Ice was an absolute must as we fried like eggs, sweating out a hangover and facing into the sun on the third base line.

Bonus! Our row was selected from the entire stadium to receive a free PlayStation T-shirt perfect for sitting on. Folks who weren’t so lucky looked like they’d wet their pants when they stood from their sweat-soaked, atypically large seats.

Sunday – Oakland A’s vs. Chicago White Sox at Phoenix Muni:

Chillin' with the boyz of summerSay – ever watch a first baseman warm up? Holy moley, i thought maybe i should look away, but couldn’t. Suffice it to say Daric Barton of the A’s is hella flexible, which makes sense because, as my buddy the former high school ballplayer explained, he needs to catch the ball while keeping his toe on the base, even if the throw is wide. So yeah, he can do the splits. And that Yoga pose called Crow. Freakin’ show-off.

A welcome breeze and the sun at our backs made a downright pleasant day. Crowded bleachers seemed that much smaller after Camelback but sitting in back row, end seats for a mere $10 a pop gave us a little more room.

The Sox didn’t play much better than the day before, but the A’s struggled even more for an entertaining game of the less-clutch kind. When you see a guy easily catch a ball only to have it slip out of his glove, you gotta wonder:

Will i be seeing him in the minors?

The A’s rallied strong in the end, but lost 12-10. Lunch was chicken and whole bean nachos. No pizza at the Muni but giant Jose Cuervo margaritas served in plastic shakers. And our buddy caught a line drive (gave it to the kid).

HOCKEY: Mr. Martin Brodeur is the winningest NHL goaltender of all time (552 wins) as of March 17, 2009. SI’s photo gallery is worth a look.

Props also to CHL Rapid City d-man Mark DeSantis (former Scorpion playing for Rush coach Ferras, also a former Scorpion) who played his 1,000th professional hockey game on March 20. You’d never guess from the look of him.

The CHL Playoffs are under way and Odessa, as predicted, is locked and loaded – dueling it out with Laredo in the first round.

A few predictions? I say Bossier and Corpus Rio Grande first advance, Mississippi and Odessa next, and Texas takes it all. I reserve the right to change my mind before the final round (oh look! I already did!).

TIMBITS: I’m going waaay out on a limb and betting a small amount that Scorps coach Randy Murphy will be with the Eagles next season. It’s a very long shot, very short on supporting evidence and absolutely no inside info. I’m just sayin’ – some itsybitsy, curious signs are there.

clavicle break Breaking news in cycling – while teammate Levi Leipheimer went on to win, Lance Armstrong crashed out of the Vuelta a Castilla y Leon bike race in Spain and fractured his collar bone, meaning his participation in the Giro and Tour is still likely, but his performance could be compromised (a steel plate and 12 screws will do that). Lance claims he’s never had that happen before, making him the only remaining pro cyclist not to have broken his collar bone.

And this is how the world turns.

Cycling and a Bit-O-Hockey

Hincapie chases Nocentini I’m going with the cycling chit-chat first, rehashing memories for fans of the AMGEN Tour of California that was before they’re gone, and because here in New Mexico, the high was in the 70s all week and that means get on your bike.

If you want to read about hockey, skip down to the HOCKEY heading. But wait! If you have a thing for Canadians, check out this first. This dude (appropriately named Tuft) recently competed in the 2009 Tour of Cali, though for some reason he wasn’t at the start for the final Stage 8….

AToC: Other than Alberto Contador and Robbie McEwen (likely recovering from the Tour Down Under), holy cow! The entire professional world of cycling flew to Cali to compete.

I know!

Tyler Hamilton Not only that, but it was a laundry list of returning riders who’ve been away from the scene a year or three, not the least of whom was Lance. Otherwise, there was Tyler Hamilton, god bless him (he’s been accused of doping twice and if i remember right, the first time he attributed the outcome of his test results to a “vanishing twin”) and accused max testosterone man and contested winner of the 2006 Tour de France, Floyd Landis.

I’m gonna stop right here and pay tribute to my mom, who’s frustrated no one ever mentions the name of the guy who technically won the 2006 Tour de France. Props to our boy Oscar Pereiro!

Guess i better mention Levi won the the AToC for the third straight year while DZ came in second and Michael Rogers third. The Best Young Rider was Gesink. No surprise that Cavendish was the top Sprinter. Keep those last two names in mind for your Tour de France fantasy roster.

Tom Boonen shmoozing at the AToC Had to love the mob scene at the team buses following Stage 7, near the Rose Bowl. I was positively smooshed into Tom Boonen. If anyone wants to touch my arm, which touched his arm (never ever shower again!), just ask.

Lastly, don’t be surprised if the ToC moves to April for 2010, following two consecutive years of super crappy weather. Oh, and Bobke got his dome shaved for charity….

HOCKEY: As of March 6, the New Mexico Scorpions have a 9-3-0 road record when playing on Saturdays. Much of that is thanks to Chris Robertson, who’s been en fuego. From League and Team pressers:

Scorpions forward Chris Robertson has been named the CHL Oakley Three Star Player of the Month for February….

Over 12 games, Robertson led the Scorpions with 18 points (7G, 10A), helping the Scorpions to an 8-4 record. Five times during the month he collected multiple point games including three, three-point games.

He has been named the first star of a game seven times this season, second most in the league.

Robertson will receive a pair of Oakley THUMP sunglasses which feature blue tooth technology and a built in MP3 player.

Su-weet! Great for those road trips.

Further props to Neil Trimm, who’s fun to watch if you miss Mitch Stephens, plus Craig Macdonald, Seth Leonard, Tyler Fuller, Michael Beynon on defense, and rookie Torren Delforte. Kyle McNulty was considered for Goaltender of the Month for February (as was former Scorps goalie Andrew Martin).

WHAT TOOK SO LONG?

Colorado’s Greg Pankewicz has 199 career CHL goals and is just one shy of becoming the 16th player in league history to score 200 goals. [CHL 2/27]

Nothing like a little pressure. So far, Panky’s played four games without scoring that 200th goal, with another chance tonight (March 7). Don’t you wonder how much sooner Panky would have reached the mark if he wasn’t a bit lazy and penalty-prone (PIMS = 224, 90 more than Robertson as of March 5)?

HOT OFF THE PRESS: The Central Hockey League has announced the Laredo Bucks will host the 2010 CHL All-Star Game for the second time in their history (first time in 2005).

Personally, i hadn’t realized Bucks President/General Manager and Head Coach Terry Ruskowski was pulling double duties….

These Timbits provided by the CHL:

The Laredo Bucks are currently in their seventh season in the CHL and have annually been one of the top organizations both on and off the ice.  The Bucks have won two Ray Miron President’s Cup Championships (2004 & 2006), one Bud Poile Governors’ Cup as the regular season champs (2003-04 season), four Southern Conference Championships and five straight Southeast Division titles.

And we out.

More Than a Feeling

Downtown Rio Rancho. No, really. (Pre-Event Center) 

What say we mix up the formula and start with…

Paul FariasTIMBITS: Albuquerque local (Chicago native) goaltender Paul Farias has signed a 5-day contract with the Scorpions as of Friday, Feb. 6 (after which Scorps goalie Ryan Gibb should return from personal leave).

And as of Feb. 2, the Scorpions are the only team to not have had a game decided in a shootout. Are these two things unrelated? I think not! C’mon boyz! Give the local kid a thrill! Whaddaya say, Paulie?!

And Coach Murph earns #50.

BIT OF A DOWNER: Last month, the Jan. 8 edition of the Albuquerque Journal reported that

Citadel Broadcasting pulled the plug on Scorpions hockey broadcasts for non-payment of contractual broadcast fees.

And thus the remaining games of the season will not be broadcast on the radio.

Average attendance at a Scorpions game is approximately a third of what it was before the team moved from Albuquerque to middle-of-nowhere, Rio Rancho. A Rio Rancho resident recently described it to me this way: that it doesn’t help that the arena is situated in a pit of sorts, making it impossible to see from surrounding areas. No bright lights beckoning Albuquerque – or even Rio Rancho residents – to check out the excitement.

Rio Rancho built it, but they don’t come.

At the beginning of the season, Scorpions team staff promised that unlike last season, there would be monthly media lunches. There hasn’t been one since. Makes the team easy for Albuquerque media to ignore.

Are these some of the signs of a folding team? I’m guessing they might well be. And while the significant financial burden isn’t as great as it would be with only one owner rather than the Phoenix Five, in the two-and-a-half seasons the team has played in Rio Rancho, there are precious few signs of improvement. Thus the Albuquerque Journal reported Jan. 29,

Scorps co-owner Dave Ellett told the Journal that negotiations have begun to sell the team.

Who’d be crazy enough to part with the kind of money it takes to run a team that can’t fill seats?

Perhaps, as that same article mentions, the team will simply move on:

While a New Mexico move is not out of the question — the current owners have first crack at putting a team in Tempe, Ariz. — it’s not quite that simple. The CHL would have to give its blessing to take a team out of this market (one of the league’s biggest) and relocate it….

When the team moved to Rio Rancho, it left behind a loyal fan base of 3,000 or so. On a good Saturday, the Scorpions could draw about 6,000, occasionally hitting 8,000 at Tingley Coliseum. Rather than phasing out its marketing to the Albuquerque fan while it tried to build a new, Rio Rancho fan base, the team simply stopped marketing to Albuquerque altogether, assuming Rio Rancho would readily adopt the team as its own.

It didn’t. Who knows why. Plenty of kids in Rio Rancho play hockey. Apparently that doesn’t translate into wanting to see the Scorpions play. But believe me, there’s nothing else to do in Rio Rancho, where the sidewalks roll up at 10 PM on weekends.

Now, the team draws under 3,000 on its very, very best Saturday, not including the nights it gives away tickets to kids and causes, when it tends to put on a hellofa show. And the games aren’t on the radio. And there aren’t media lunches to encourage local media outlets to report on the team – maybe generate some interest. And the team is having a losing season.

Duke City Derby - yeah!END OF AN EXPERIMENT: Alas, we might have to get our crash-n-bang fix catching the Duke City Derby travel team, the Munecas Muertas, at the Arena. (If you’re interested, its season begins April 25 and runs through September 19, including seven doubleheaders.)

Either way, this is small beans compared to a flurry of rumors that the entire CHL could be on its last edge. That same Jan. Journal article says:

To be fair, the Scorpions are far from the only team in the CHL seeing a decline at the gate.
       This is a league-wide trend. The CHL was averaging over 4,300 fans in the Scorps’ first season in Rio Rancho, which was 2006-07. It was 3,979 last season and is down to 3,699 through last weekend’s games.

Apparently, the additional arena operation dealio isn’t working out so well. Evidence the Jan. 17 issue of the Rio Rancho Journal, which reported that the Star Center has broken its association with Global Entertainment (the corporation that builds and manages several event centers throughout the CHL and is the parent company of the League) due to mismanagement. They aren’t the only ones frustrated with Global.

THINGS COULD BE WORSE: You wanna be able to say you play for the fun of it and not just to win, particularly if it’s just high school sports, but enough is enough. Still, it did the Academy team owner Mark Cuban‘s suite for a Dallas Mavericks game.

Get Your Ice Cold Hockey… Here?

Chillin' on Lake Pontchartrain Whoa, hey! How long have you been here? Sorry i’m late.

Spent the holidays out of town and now that i’m back, i’m busy purging clutter… as opposed to the break, when i was purging the contents of my stomach with a nasty little stomach virus that reigned over 8 of 19 family members. (I’ll spare you further details except to say that the ladies’ washroom at the House of Blues in New Orleans may never be the same.)

House of Blues, New Orleans Speaking of the HOB, i went to high school with a guy who will be playing there with his band, Sister Hazel, on Jan. 10. Check it out if you’re in the neighborhood. Let me know if they’re any good.

Drove home to ABQ from Florida by way of Bossier on Jan. 2. Caught the radio broadcast of the Mudbugs somewhat surprising 4-0 whupping of Odessa in the second period alone. Passed out of range before the final score, but a birdie told me it ended 5-2 Mudbugs. CHL Best Defensive Defenseman 2007-08, Mudbug Quade Lightbody (not so much – try 215 lbs), joined the broadcast with a little insight, otherwise sitting out a six-game suspension for leaving the bench to punish some IceRays.

Props to these ‘Querques (Rio Ranchoans?)

Albuquerque native (!) Mark Lemelin, selected to ref this season’s All-Star game.

Chris RobertsonChris Robertson for earning Oakley Player of the Week ending Dec. 28. The man does hustle. Got a hat trick against Colorado Dec. 27, boosting his team to win in Loveland for the first time ever in regulation-time, if i heard right. As if that wasn’t enough, he earned another hat trick against the Rage Jan. 7. ‘Nuff said.

Top Ten Notable Sightings you won’t always catch at a game (other than Panky in a tizzy), as seen at the NM vs. CO duo of games Dec. 19/20:

10 – Pankewicz pitching a hissy and kicking snow on his assistant coach before realizing it’s his assistant coach (he was nice enough to brush the snow off).

9 – Billy C. on the catwalk. Shake it, Billy!

8 – Colorado held scoreless in the first period.

7 – Three former Scorpions playing for the opposition (Schneekloth, Adams, and yeah, Reeder).

6 – An Eagle skating in to check a Scorpion, realizing the linesman is there and awkwardly pulling up – but hooking the linesman to the ice.

5 – Stanley the Mascot whooping and hollering at players. (Not really. Mascots don’t talk, silly.)

4 – Eagles playing to the Kiss-Cam. (You know i give big props to teams that do it. Makes people laugh and endears players to the fans.)

3 – A man named Hogg.

2 – Santa

Hmmm – i guess there were only nine things (and that Turtle Mountain Steam Ale is damn good stuff).

Timbits

You don’t need me to tell you this, but as of Jan. 8, the Eagles lead the League in goals-for with 138 (Odessa has 137. Man, i’m really getting excited about the playoffs). New Mexico leads in goals-against, with 139. Corpus leads in PIMS, with 1,105 followed by Arizona with 1,002. The Lady Byng goes to Texas, with 624. They’re also tied for 2nd in the league in points – evidence teams that play nice can be successful.

Speaking of the Eagles, don’t you wonder which cities have AHL teams? They include:

Albany NY; Binghamton NY; Bridgeport CT; Glenview IL; Grand Rapids MI; Hamilton ON; Hartford CT; Hershey PA; Houston TX; Des Moines IA; Cleveland OH; Lowell MA; Manchester NH; Winnipeg MB; Milwaukee WI; Norfolk VA; Peoria IL; Philadelphia PA; Portland ME; Providence RI; Moline IL; Rochester NY; Rockford IL; San Antonio TX; Springfield MA; Syracuse NY; Toronto ON; Wilkes-Barre PA; and Worcester MA.

Bit O’ Cycling

Warms my heart to see this kind of news – pro sports folks recognizing the significant, environmentally taxing impact they have, and doing something about it.

Q: Where’s Lance?

A: Hawaii, resting up for the Tour de Lance – er, Tour Down Under.

H-O-hockey stick-idays

Before December 6, when the New Mexico Scorpions lost 6-3 to Amarillo,  I was going to say something about how the Scorps had miraculously yanked that renegade bus back onto the freeway, evidenced by their 8-2 whuppin’ of the Gorillas the previous night.

Sure, Amarillo is squatting in last place in the Central Hockey League, but the win was significant because it occurred on New Mexico home ice, giving its fans a droplet of hope that perhaps the team was recovering from what i’m calling the “home sickness” that has stumped them to lose all but three home games. (Two were against Amarillo – the third against Arizona.)

Before the 6-3 embarrassment served by the Gorillas, the Scorps blanked the OKC Blazers on November 29 giving their goaltender, Doug Groenestege, his first season loss. Hence, my original point about the yanking.

But before that, i was thinking New Mexico is skidding towards the winter holiday in a wheelless team bus with no brakes and a narrow bridge up ahead. It’s time for some fierce mojo, a grande sage burning, maybe even a deal with the Prince of Darkness.

And that’s where we are today.Lyon Messier

Who ya gonna call?

We’ll see if the latest boost to New Mexico’s defensive lineup makes a consistent difference. Michael Beynon is back after missing a few games, adding significant size on the blue line. But consistency still seems to be the issue front to back.

Otherwise, toss into the mix another (in addition to MacInnis) new D-man with crazy-famous lineage, in Messier. Not that Messier, silly (who sees the resemblance?). Mark’s son, Lyon is giving the CHL a try. Amarillo didn’t score either of its two goals in the aforementioned whupping until Messier had to leave the ice late in the 3rd period, after a fight that left him with a small cut and a beauty of a shiner.

John Mazzei with the hat trickIn the same game, John Mazzei (pronounced MAY-zee) got a hat trick but way cooler is his name ’cause it’s forever. You see, he was born with a last name that doesn’t require adding “zee” or “er” to the end  to become a bonafide hockey name. Suweet!

Leaf Blowers

Let’s toss around theories of why New Mexico is struggling. Here’s mine:

Scorpions head coach Randy Murphy’s favorite NHL team is the Leafs; he grew up just outside Toronto. I don’t keep too close an eye on the Leafs but for several years since former coach Quinn whined about everything (mostly officiating), when i do hear of them, the news is bad. This season is no exception. What’s eerie, though, is this November excerpt from the Toronto Star:

Equally glaring, though, is the mixed effort the Leafs seem to produce too often.

On the one hand, Toronto continues to show a tremendous will to rally in games in which they have fallen behind.

On the other hand, there are those deficits, which begs the question: Why does it take a period or more for the team to play the way it did in the third period last night?

The Leafs have now fallen behind two goals or more in nine of their 19 games, and comebacks are much harder to come by now that teams are hitting mid-season form.

Chris Robertson does the pornstache When i first read that, it sounded like something New Mexico radio announcer Adam Minnick might say about the Scorps. I’m saying if the recent roster moves and/or the team’s rash of pornstaches don’t help, perhaps Murph should consider a new NHL favorite (traitor!).Tyler Fuller does the pornstache

Jacks update

As my pick to win it all this season (presuming the unlikelihood that New Mexico will streak to the finish after the new year), i thought i’d point out that the Jacks suffer from home sickness as well, having just one more home win than the Scorpions. On the other hand, Odessa’s road record is nothing but skillz to hold them in a 3-way tie for second best in the League as of December 8.

Timbits

The New York Times had this amusing treatment about Reggie Dunlop’s passing (aka Paul Newman).

The chase for CHL Rookie of the Year should be fun to track.  As of December 8, Laredo’s Darryl Smith has hurdled to the top, nearly doubling the next in goals with 16. Second in total points is New Mexico’s Torren Delforte. With 25 (8g 17a), he’s ranked in the league’s top 20 overall.

Did any of y’all catch the Phoenix vs. Columbus game on Nov. 26? Former Dallas coach Ken Hitchcock, coaching the Blue Jackets these days, was quoted as saying about American (as opposed to Canadian) Thanksgiving:

There’s too much drama… but i like the turkey.

Amen, brother. Gotta love a guy with a self-deprecating sense of humor. Seems to have put on more weight – and knows it.

Self-loathing at its finest

Cycling Notes

Sadly, the Tour de Georgia is taking a hiatus.

Yippie! Lance has confirmed his participation in the 2009 Tour de France. (Note the teensy bit of sarcasm.)

Well frick. I wanted to link to information about the 2008 Tour du Faso in western Africa back in October or November, but i’m not finding anything worth linking. Definitely a good one to watch on Versus for the sake of variety. The road conditions were insane, unless you get your kicks harassing your mechanic as he changes the ninth flat tire of the day. Pretty exotic scenery and overall conditions. Aside from the winner in time, it proved who had the mental and physical fortitude to persist in the face of complete unpredictability…. Wait! Found this.

Ch-ch-Changes

Jack in the House

So much for my brilliant, insightful prediction. The NM vs. Amarillo season opener wasn’t a barn-burner after all (no worries – i’m not discouraged). Still, it was pretty exciting, with a successful penaltyScorpions Mitch Stephens' penalty shot success shot and all. Lucky for the Scorps, it didn’t include any ice time by the 6’5″ 265 lb player on the Gorillas roster that night.

The key evidence for my prediction turns out to be a trend for the Scorps. Seems the team is struggling to conform to the rules this season. In its 9-2 loss to Odessa, New Mexico spent over half the game on the PK (which needs fine-tuning. Might be time to find another good D-man).

But it seems the officiating philosophy regarding the 5-on-3 has changed. I’ve seen more 5-on-3s this season than i’d seen much further into the season last year.

Jackalopes Mike Ramsay Speaking of Odessa, when Scorpions radio announcer Adam Minnick said the Jacks are shaping up to be a powerhouse of the Southwest Division, i said i’d have to see it to believe it.

I believe it. In its second year under new ownership and coaching, Odessa has apparently decided they’re not going to sit at the bottom of the former WPHL barrel. Indeed, they’re looking like a traditional Colorado, Laredo or maybe Arizona (though the Sundogs can be wishy-washy). While in the past several years it’s been frustrating to see a small handful of teams show such discrepancy in player size, skill caliber, and Cup victories over the rest, i’d route for Odessa to win it all any ol’ day – for variety’s sake.

After spanking New Mexico Friday, Oct. 24, Odessa got a dose of their own medicine from Texas, which slapped them with a 7-2 loss Saturday – an indication that Texas is building on a last year’s success. And Rio Grande is off and running strong. What the heck – props to OKC and Bossier-Shreveport (what’s holding back the Rage?).

This might shape up to be the most interesting season in years.

Sophomore Surge and Reeder

Remember how i said Scorpion Mitch Stephen’s was destined (scroll down to 4/1) for greatness? He scored two goals, including that penalty shot, in the season opener and another one the following night in Amarillo. As of Nov. 6, he was second in team points with 12. The man is on fa-ya!

Something’s amiss with the pre-season, Konrad Reeder story…. Last season, Reeder spoke of how much he loved New Mexico and how it was better to be here than Colorado. Of course he was appealing to New Mexico folks, and he was likely miffed to have been released by the Eagles after only a couple games in ’06. Anyhoo, negotiating for the 2008-09 season, he couldn’t get the money he wanted from the Scorps, so he decided to play in Europe.

Right?

Coach Murph said in an interview on 101.7FM The Team that he’d tried to at least hold onto Reeder’s rights to have him in the wings for the playoffs, but since there was no way Reeder would be stateside in time, he had to let him go – to Colorado? Wait a minute. He’s playing in Colorado? What about Europe? Curious to see how New Mexico fans react when Reeder visits with the Eagles.

Timbits

It’s the Eagles’ turn to host the All-Star Game this year on Wednesday, January 14th in Loveland, CO. Ft. Collins, next to Loveland, is a great little town if you can make the trip.

Wow. Does this statement imply to you what it implies to me?

“The format for this year’s [All-Star] game features a team of CHL All-Stars taking on the Colorado Eagles.” [CHL presser]

Cycling Goodies

Contador says he’ll ride with Lance after all. That makes their team, Astana, the Yankees of professional cycling (or BoSox, as i accidentally said recently, but which actually works better, since the Yankees ain’t producing and Astana is). Before we make any assumptions though, a couple things are left to be confirmed:

1. That Lance will ride in the Tour de France. So far, he’s only committing to the Giro d’Italia for the first time ever (Contador won’t).Giro logo Talk about a bonus for the Giro, whose organizers must be giddy as school girls about some additional, much-deserved publicity and tourism while the French squirm uncomfortably at the prospect of the American rising from the past to once again dominate their race.

Astana rides Trek 2. That Astana will be invited to the Tour de France. It’d be a real shocker if they weren’t invited for a second year-in-a-row and everyone’s talking like it’s all but a given, so perhaps it’s safe to presume it’ll happen. But i haven’t read that it’s a done deal yet.

Crap crap crap. Rumor has it Lance pressured Astana Team Manager Johan Bruyneel to hold training camp in Cali rather than Albuquerque, where they trained last February. Yet another reason to be miffed at Lance coming out of retirement, mucking things up and all.

Check out this 17-minute or so series of clips, including Lance’s announcement of coming out of retirement, a little conversation about what that means for the new season, the unveiling of the 2009 Tour de France route, and a really well-produced, dramatic recap of the 2008 Tour. Well-worth the time.

Finally, here’s what cyclists do during their off-season. Not much time though, eh? Not like baseball or anything.

Spooky Spice

Back in Black

The New Mexico Scorpions played two exhibition games against Amarillo and lost both 4-3, the first of which had 40 penalties. The second, a shoot-out, included 32 penalties – not the highest tally that night, but high. (Tulsa vs. OKC had the highest, with 42). The Scorpions season-opener is at home vs. the Gorillas, and then they play each other for the fourth straight time, in Amarillo.

Bets? I predict the animosity festered in the exhibition games explodes for a barn-burner of a home opener in Rio Rancho Friday, with a lot of pressure on New Mexico to get the W. Unfortunately for the more rowdy fans in Amarillo, Saturday’s game will be tame because the players will have exhausted their aggressions and the rosters will be short from game misconducts. Maybe.

If so, you heard it here first.

State of the Union

Not that it was quite cause for panic, but in case you hadn’t heard, the Professional Hockey Players Association (that now represents CHL players) went on strike just before the start of training camp. No worries – things are resolved for now. But I’ve been perusing the training camp rosters to see if i agree with the last sentence of this quote (i don’t):

PHPA executive director Larry Landon sayz:

“In the end, this is going to be good for the league, it’s going to be good for the owners, it’s going to be good for the players and the fans will embrace the fact that we have worked hard to create somewhat of a parity situation, where there’s not always three or four teams running away with the crown.”

Of course, time will tell.

Arrowood Vineyards & Winery, CaliforniaStrange… Fermentation?

Way back when, i promised to talk about Canadian wine with new Scorpions President/GM Gary Gelinas, who claims British Columbia has similar growing conditions to Napa Valley.

IE: Are you pulling my leg? Do they really grow grapes and make wine in BC?

Gelinas: There’re two microclimates in North America. One in Napa Valley and one in the Okanagan Valley, where it’s very dry and hot in the summer and cooler in the winter. There’s very little wind compared to most of Canada and very little snow compared to the northern part of Canada. The conditions are good soil and good moisture because of the Okanagan lake, so it’s ideal growing conditions.

It’s partly that and partly that in the summer it’s considered high dessert, similar to New Mexico. The weather patterns are almost identical, except BC doesn’t get the wind and storms. It’s also a very wealthy, very heavily-influenced European community. A lot of Europeans have come over and reside there. There are probably 80-100 wineries in a 40-mile radius, so it means there’s some good drinking and good vineyards to visit.

IE:  What specific cities are we talking about?

Gelinas: The Okanagan Valley consists of three major cities: Vernon, Kelowna and Penticton.  Kelowna is the major metropolis. But the Valley runs from the border of the US, at Osoyoos, to an hour north of Vernon. That’s the growing region and where you find the majority of wines.

IE: Do they export?

Gelinas: They export but I’m not sure where in the US, but you can definitely buy online. Summerhill Estate and Mission Hill wineries are a couple of the bigger, more popular ones. Most wines are sold during the tours in the summer and there’s a great wine festival going on right now. People from all over the world attend.

IE: Have they won awards?

Gelinas: Three or four wineries consistently win awards. Summerhill Wineries is world-renowned for ice wines, meaning when it gets below minus-10 Celsius [~14 Fahrenheit] they pick the grapes and crush them. It’s a very sugary, dessert wine. Mission Hill Wineries is world-renowned as well. There are a couple to the south i can’t remember the names of, that win year in and year out. The region is becoming very popular from a wine connoisseur’s perspective.

IE: Which are your favorites?

Gelinas: In that region, i like the white wines and the sparkling wine from Summerhill. There’re probably four wineries that i really, really like and a variety of different wines from all those areas. Summerhill Wineries is a very good wine for the sparkling and I love the Missionhill reds. Down south near Madeira, there are two wineries that continually produce very good wines.

IE: Did you celebrate the Canadian Thanksgiving Day (October 13) with wine?

Gelinas: I totally forgot until my brother in Denver wrote to me and said, “Hey, It’s Canada Day!” Because we’re so close to the home-opener with the Scorpions, we’re always busy. Maybe I’ll make it up on the US Thanksgiving and i will certainly celebrate with some wine. If i can’t find Canadian wine, I’ve been over to St Clair’s four or five times and really like that establishment and a couple of their wines.

Keep it rollin’ 

Despite the near season end, it’s hard not to keep an ear to the cycling world, with the soap opera that professional cycling continues to be….

Gossip gossip: Contador made history by winning the Vuelta (winning all three Grand Tours in a span of 14 months); stating he was somewhat misquoted about being miffed at teammate Levi Leipheimer for challenging him (only finishing 46 seconds back); and being none too eager to work with Lance. But not riding with Lance isn’t a simple option. Someone has to pony-up Contador’s salary for him to switch teams, and only certain teams could afford him.

Can you blame him? Why the hell would Contador want to work with Lance, when he could very likely be the next “Lance?”

I say Contador and Basso team up on Liquigas (which, it’s fair to say,Ivan Basso has a history of hosting accused dopers including Beltran and Hamilton, now Basso) and work together for Basso to win the Giro (he’s Italian) and Contador to challenge for the top spot at the Tour de France.

My buddy William says Contador should go to US-based team Garmin-Chipotle, which could certainly benefit from a super-duper star on an already very strong team.

It would certainly make for a thrilling 2009 Tour de France (and Giro d’Italia, now that Lance says he’ll finally take a stab at something other than the TdF).

Whadoyathink?! 

Timbits

Ever heard of an athlete named Breaux Greer? Obviously, his parents are those type parents. If Breaux is pronounced anything like Geaux, as in “Geaux Cajuns!” then his name is Bro. As in yo Bro! Duuuuude! Like, duuuuude! Yo Bra!

Anyway, he’s a javelin thrower who failed to qualify in Beijing due to recent surgery. (Nice manicure, though.)

A Time of Transition

The days are getting shorter (less light anyway) and the leaves are starting to turn red, orange or yellow. There’s a hint of cool in the breeze. Alas, summer is gone and winter is lurking around the corner.Autumn in the Sandia Mountains

Soon we’ll wrap up the cycling season and bring on training camp news for the hockey season. If you’re a fan of the New Mexico Scorpions, thank goodness head coach Randy Murphy says he’s excited about the team he’s put together. After Craig Macdonald, Andrew Smale is the latest returning player to sign, and the two ‘tenders are inked.

Scorpions Home opener (and first night the CHL is back in action): Friday, October 17 vs. Amarillo.

Wait wait – hold on a minute. What a silly oversight, not to have ended my notes on the Olympics with this piece about sex.

Oh yeah, and am i the only one who was wondering what happened to Cavendish in the Olympics? He was kicking the arse of everything in his path at the Tour de France, quit early to train for the Olympics track cycling event, but came away empty handed.

Apparently, Cavendish wasn’t quite up to his usual speed and teammate Bradley Wiggins was simply pooped.

That task fulfilled, it’s back to Current Events:

In cycling, holy crap – Lance is back.  Even for professional athletes, “old” is being redefined. And that’s cool. I’m thrilled to think i might be barely young enough to consider a career as a professional athlete (not in this lifetime, silly).

One of my cycling buddies says, “I hate to say it, but I kind of hope he loses.” I didn’t ask why but myself included, it seems like a lot of us lose respect for these guys when they come out of retirement. Maybe it seems too selfish, like they’ve had their time (seven times, in Lance’s case) and it just muddles things to throw them back into the mix with continuing and newer talent.

Maybe i’m somehow offended that they obviously didn’t really know what they wanted at the time – or changed their mind. Maybe i’m frustrated for the changes everyone has to make to adjust to their leaving, and that more changes will be kicked into motion by coming back.

Hmmm. I can’t seem to make up my mind….

So, Mr. Tom Boonen sorta made up for missing the Tour de France by winning stage three in the Vuelta a Espana. (I’m sure it’s real, but that hat looks like some crafty photoshopping to me.) Looks like Levi’s outta luck again, and one of two Spaniards will win overall. Either one could make history.Levi Leipheimer, Tour de Georgia

Man, you shoulda seen this wreck in the 2nd Annual Tour of Ireland:

The road was slick with rain and the rider hit a weird patch of pavement or something, went down hard and slid several feet while still attached to his bike. But he didn’t slide skin-to-pavement. No siree. He used his head – literally. He did this little move, popping up over the top of his helmet so that only it stayed in contact with the road and lost some paint, rather than the rider losing layers of skin.

In other hockey news, Tim Robbins, you da man! I know that’s not what i said the time i approached you in line at the In-N-Out in Vegas, but it’s true! (If i remember correctly, back then my exact words as i touched his arm while he towered over my sub-5′ frame with his 6’5″ frame were, “You’re the best!”)

Congrats to Cammi Granato for leaping the gender barrier as the first woman inducted into the US Hockey Hall of Fame.

Parting (Two) Words

Chess Boxing. For reals! Check it out!

Olympic Fever

After Phelps won medal No. 8, his teammate, Brendan Hansen said Phelps is “one of the best athletes of sports in general…. What he did today and what he did this entire week…beats the Tour de France, beats the pressure at the US Open, it beats every part of what sport is.”

cycling vs. swimming

Oh, snap! We’re gonna give the guy a break for speaking in the passion of the moment, but I gotta ask, when was the last time Hansen sat on a bike for 5 hours a day, 19 days in three weeks, riding up both the Alps and Pyrenees?

That’s what i thought. Geez – at least admit the two accomplishments are comparable.

Don’t get me wrong. What Phelps’ mind and body did was no less than a magnificent feet – er, feat. Can the Dude’s heart really pump 8 gallons of blood a minute? And his body process 12,000 calories a day? Not burn, but process all that food? I did a little swimming for a sprint triathlon (since then, i’m exhausted just watching Olympic swimming), and 20-30 minutes in the pool makes this writer hella hungry, but consuming twelve thousand calories? Hungry? How do you have time to sleep and swim between knocking back several pizzas, a pound of pasta, a half-dozen ham and friend egg sandwiches and a batch of chocolate chip pancakes?

Biggest props ever to 41-year-old swimmer Dara Torres, who won silver in the 50m freestyle and earned the Lady Byng.

Way to go Canada! While it took until Day 8 and withstanding a lot of smack for our neighbors to the north to hit the tally sheet, the first Canadian medal at these Olympics, a silver, went to  the Men’s Rowing team. Ya, and a silver for the trampoline. Then two medals in wrestling (women) including the first gold, plus jumping, triathlon, diving, hurdles, canoe, taekwondo, and kayaking to bring the total to 18.

In Cycling…

Kristin Armstrong kicked it, winning gold in the women’s road time trial.

Canadian mountain biker Geoff Kabush, who trains in Albuquerque, placed 20th.

Here’s Bush (not a bush, silly) on the Laoshan mountain bike trail.

My buddy William called it: Spain is still on a roll, with Sammy Sanchez winning the men’s road race. And Nadal winning gold in tennis.

Right up until they lost a lotta class. Sure, it all seems harmless at the time, but it isn’t. Particularly if you’re building a reputation for disrespect….

And then they get busted for doping.

Extra

As we say goodbye to the Olympics, here’s a great quote from US Hockey Hall of Fame, class of 08 inductee, Mike Richter:

“Sports, in its best light, is about challenging yourself and improving yourself as a person. It’s not about looking for a medal at the end of an event; it’s about a journey in which your physical and mental well-being improves through physical activity.” [NYTimes]

And a link for you ladies of ice hockey. The season is just around the corner….