Monday, May 30, 2016

Memorial Day

Today, back porches across America will be filled with the scent of grilled burgers and sight of beer-filled coolers as we gather to celebrate Memorial Day.

In the process, we should remember that Memorial Day is much more than an excuse to get together and toss horseshoes while the kids swim in the pool. It is set aside for the solemn purpose of honoring our servicemen who died while defending America's citizens from armed enemies who sought to drive freedom from our shores.

From the first person who perished on Lexington’s village green in 1775, up to the most recent fatality in the Middle East, the list of the fallen is long. We should never forget that each person on that list made a sacrifice that was ultimate in its finality. We should resolve to do everything in our power to defend America's founding principles against all foes -- domestic in addition to foreign, orators in addition to terrorists -- to ensure that those men did not die in vain.

To observe past Memorial Days, I have published letters that were written by soldiers during wartime. Here they are again.

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This first one was from Sullivan Ballou, a major in the U.S. Army during the Civil War, to his wife. He was killed in the Battle of First Bull Run one week after writing it:

July 14, 1861

Camp ClarkWashington

My very dear Sarah:

The indications are very strong that we shall move in a few days – perhaps tomorrow. Lest I should not be able to write again, I feel impelled to write a few lines that may fall under your eye when I shall be no more.

I have no misgivings about, or lack of confidence in the cause in which I am engaged, and my courage does not halt or falter. I know how strongly American Civilization now leans on the triumph of the government and how great a debt we owe to those who went before us through the blood and sufferings of the Revolution. And I am willing – perfectly willing – to lay down all my joys in this life, to help maintain this government, and to pay that debt.

Sarah, my love for you is deathless, it seems to bind me with mighty cables that nothing but Omnipotence could break; and yet my love of Country comes over me like a strong wind and bears me unresistibly on with all these chains to the battlefield. The memories of the blissful moments I have spent with you come creeping over me, and I feel most gratified to God and to you that I have enjoyed them so long. And it is hard for me to give them up and burn to ashes the hopes of future years, when, God willing, we might still have lived and loved together, and seen our sons grow up to honorable manhood around us.

I have, I know, but few and small claims upon Divine Providence, but something whispers to me – perhaps it is the wafted prayer of my little Edgar, that I shall return to my loved ones unharmed. If I do not my dear Sarah, never forget how much I love you, and when my last breath escapes me on the battle field, it will whisper your name. Forgive my many faults, and the many pains I have caused you. How thoughtless and foolish I have often times been! How gladly I would wash out with my tears every little spot upon your happiness.

But, O Sarah, if the dead can come back to this earth and flit unseen around those they love, I shall always be near you, in the gladdest days and in the darkest nights…always, always, and if there be a soft breeze upon your cheek, it shall be my breath, as the cool air fans your throbbing temple, it shall be my spirit passing by.

Sarah do not mourn me dead; think I am gone and wait for thee, for we shall meet again.

Sullivan Ballou

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This next letter was written by Arnold Rahe, a sergeant in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II, with instructions that it be delivered to his parents if he did not survive. He was killed in action shortly thereafter:

Dear Mom and Dad,

Strange thing about this letter; if I am alive a month from now you will not receive it, for its coming to you will mean that after my twenty-sixth birthday God has decided I’ve been on earth long enough and He wants me to come up and take the examination for permanent service with Him. It’s hard to write a letter like this; there are a million and one things I want to say; there are so many I ought to say if this is the last letter I ever write to you. I’m telling you that I love you two so very much; not one better than the other but absolutely equally. Some things a man can never thank his parents enough for; they come to be taken for granted through the years; care when you are a child, and countless favors as he grows up. I am recalling now all your prayers, your watchfulness -- all the sacrifices that were made for me when sacrifice was a real thing and not just a word to be used in speeches.

For any and all grief I caused you in this 26 years, I’m most heartily sorry. I know that I can never make up for those little hurts and real wounds, but maybe if God permits me to be with Him above, I can help out there. It’s a funny thing about this mission, but I don’t think I’ll come back alive. Call it an Irishman’s hunch or a pre-sentiment or whatever you will. I believe it is Our Lord and His Blessed Mother giving me a tip to be prepared. In the event that I am killed you can have the consolation of knowing that it was in the “line of duty” to my country. I am saddened because I shall not be with you in your life’s later years, but until we meet I want you to know that I die as I tried to live, the way you taught me. Life has turned out different from the way we planned it, and at 26 I die with many things to live for, but the loss of the few remaining years unlived together is as nothing compared to the eternity to which we go.

As I prepare for this last mission, I am a bit homesick. I have been at other times when I thought of you, when I lost a friend, when I wondered when and how this war would end. But, the whole world is homesick! I have never written like this before, even though I have been through the “valley of the shadows” many times, but this night, Mother and Dad, you are so very close to me and I long so to talk to you. I think of you and of home. America has asked much of our generation, but I am glad to give her all I have because she has given me so much.

Goodnight, dear Mother and Dad. God love you.

Your loving son,
(Bud) Arnold Rahe

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God bless them all, and may they never be forgotten.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Three Rounds In

Now that the conference champions are known, here are some of my brain droppings about the Stanley Cup Finals that lie ahead.

Actually, the first two brain droppings are not, technically speaking, even about hockey, but when two teams square off for a championship it makes sense to say some things about where they come from. In this case, both cities are very underappreciated slices of America's great big apple pie.

San Jose
Ask people to name cities in California and many names will roll off their tongues: LA, San Francisco, San Diego, Sacramento, maybe Oakland, plus small but famous municipalities like Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Berekely, Napa, and Palo Alto.

For some reason San Jose almost never gets mentioned. Despite being the largest city in the San Francisco Bay Area and tenth most populous in the whole country. Despite the fact that it has lots of colorful Victorian architecture, especially when it comes to Queen Anne rowhouses.

San Jose's topography ranges from 13 feet below sea level to more than 2,000 feet above, for it sits on the shore of San Francisco Bay while stretching out and up into the mountains, framed by the Santa Cruz and Diablo ranges and even bisected by the former. As the epicenter of what is colloquially known as Silicon Valley, it has an especially prosperous economy that counts eBay, IBM, and Adobe among its top employers.

Basically, San Jose is San Francisco minus the endemic panhandling and homelessness -- which is a damn good thing to be. And its hockey fans are a loyal and passionate bunch that has resolutely supported the Sharks through thick and thin ever since their first game in 1991.

Pittsburgh fans have a reputation for obnoxiousness. That is based, in no small part, on the Steelers' six Super Bowl rings and the Penguins' eternal reputation as a "pure" hockey team whose shit don't stink.

But if you ever spend time with fans from the Steel City, you will quickly realize that their reputation is unearned. They would rather imbibe an Iron City or Stoney's with you than talk shit to you, and their city is just as misunderstood as they are.

When a place is known for steel mills and its name begins with "pitt," there is a built-in PR problem from the beginning. It's hard to hear the word "Pittsburgh" and not think of pollution and grease... unless, that is, you have been there and seen it with your own eyes.

In reality, this city is filled with leafy neighborhoods and dormer-windowed homes... It is pleasantly hilly, backs up to the Allegheny Mountains, and is home to several elite universities... Right across from downtown, the Monongahela and Allegheny Rivers converge at the base of Mount Washington and turn west to form the mighty Ohio River, hence the "three rivers" nickname... And although Pittsburgh is historically known as a steel town, its current economy is driven by high tech, robotics, and medicine, and counts Google as one of its major employers.

Why to cheer for the Sharks
Their "seasoned" players. Key contributors Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Joel Ward, Paul Martin, and Joe Pavelski are all over 30, and only one of those five (Pavelski) is under the age of 35.

Dainius Zubras. At 37, he too is "seasoned." Arguably the best player ever from Lithuania, he is no longer logging enough minutes to be called a "key" contributor, but he is contributing and busting his hump in pursuit of his first ever Cup.

Their players deserve to win it all. They deserve to hoist the Cup in the faces of every person (I'm probably one of them) who has suggested in recent years that they just weren't strong-willed enough to win it all.

Their fans deserve it too, for the reason I mentioned above.

Why to cheer for the Pens
Several paragraphs above I mentioned their "eternal reputation as a 'pure' hockey team." I also talked about it here. The thing is, that reputation is legit. The Penguins don't stoop to gooning it up. They play it straight and aim to beat you on merit, not goonery.

Sidney Crosby is the best player of his generation but so far has only one Cup to his name. He deserves another to notch into his belt, especially since his first came in his personal "pre-concussion era."

Evgeni Malkin is one of the best Russian players of the last 20 years. For him to return from injury during the post-season and help guide the team to the championship would be a story worthy of his stature.

There might be some fan bases that are as loyal as Pittsburgh's, but there is no fan base more loyal. Pittsburgh's partisans will both embrace and appreciate a fourth Cup victory for their team.

Why not to cheer for the Sharks
Who wants to spend a whole other year listening to semi-literate blowhards talking like the Western Conference is so superior to the Eastern Conference, talking as if they are comparing a conference full of teams that are on par with the 1970's Habs to a conference which might as well be the ECHL? Not me.

Why not to cheer for the Pens
Kris Letang. Athough the Pens as a team play about the cleanest brand of hockey out there, Letang himself is a cheap-shotting, dive-taking piece of shit who disgraces the game.

San Jose human interest story
Joel Ward's regular season performances have always been above average, but his playoff performances have always been stellar, as his post-season numbers (per game) tend to be almost 50% better than his regular season numbers. He is one of the NHL's best clutch players this decade, and it counts that he holds that title while being black. For him to get his name engraved on the Cup would be a cake-topping cherry  that he richly deserves.

Pittsburgh human interest story
Matt Murray. For a 21-year-old rookie goalie to come off the bench late in the season when the starter goes down -- and proceed to author a down-the-stretch surge up the standings followed by a playoff march to the Promised Land -- would be worth telling for years. And make no mistake, Murray has not just been along for the ride, for he has been outstanding during the playoffs with a .924 save percentage and 2.21 goals-against average.

Bring it on...

Third One Done & Lost

My Tampa Bay Lightning saw their season come to a disappointing end Thursday night, in large part because they failed to capitalize on the fact that Pittsburgh was down to just one good defenseman in Games Six and Seven of the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Penguins are good, maybe the best team in the league given their depth of skill at forward, and they played extremely well and deserved to win. The Lightning did not just "hand it to them."

Nonetheless, Tampa Bay had a 3-2 series lead, after which Pittsburgh found themselves down to one strong defenseman because of Trevor Daley's broken ankle. With the Bolts' much vaunted speed and skill at forward (and with their often-quarterbacking defenseman Victor Hedman) this was a golden, gift-wrapped opportunity for them to exploit to close out the series... But instead, they performed obviously worse than in the two games prior and they got badly outplayed, dropping Games Six and Seven to blow the opportunity that was before them.

In other words, they proved they do not -- at least not yet -- have what it takes to be a champion, despite being built specifically to win the Cup and acting like that was their lone raison d'etre this season. That led me to post a Facebook rant which generated some thumbs-up and some vociferous thumbs-down.

My rant was harsh and critical and I will not hide from my words. I said that ending the season the way they did made it a failure, and that it would have been better to miss the playoffs than go out like they did.

What I was getting at, but may not have been clear about, is that these Bolts are so talented and determined that merely having a good season is beneath them. Having a good season but only winning half of the possible playoff rounds -- and getting horribly outplayed to end the third round, even though they had a clear lane to win it and were talented enough to win it -- means they did not maximize their potential.

It was too negative of me to say it would have been better to not make the playoffs. But as anyone who has ever been around me when I am playing a sport or doing something I care about can attest, I am fiercely competitive, and witheringly critical of my own performance, and would rather finish last than second. In my brain, last place means you just weren't good enough, while second place means you were good enough but didn't get it done. The former suggests no fault of your own, the latter does.

Call that a psychological defect or character flaw if you want. You are probably right to a certain extent.

But do not, as some have done, suggest that me ranting means I am not a true or worthy fan of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

I have watched and rooted for this team since Day One, which was in the autumn of 1992 when I was still matriculating at Auburn University. I remember being up in my college town, sitting at a table in Touchdowns Pub & Eatery, the night the Lightning won their inaugural game 7-3 over the Chicago Blackhawks.

I remember the date of the first game I attended in person: January 26, 1994. They outplayed and outchanced the stinkin' Florida Panthers, but John Vanbiesbrouck turned almost everything away and the game ended in a 1-1 tie (there were no shootouts back then, kiddos).

In 1998, sitting in Florida, I wrote a page and a half letter to the editor of the Edmonton Sun because one of its sportswriters had, in my opinion, slandered Tampa Bay hockey fans. I remember the writer's name (Robert Tychkowski) and his exact words that most set me off (he said we "wouldn't know snow unless it was shipped in from Colombia").

16 years ago, when the Lightning were floundering in their darkest days, I sat at a table in Port Angeles, Washington -- within sight of Victoria, British Columbia -- and defended the team's history and fan base while talking to a Canadian couple (a perfectly delightful couple, I hasten to add).

This little blog o' mine is a pure labor of love on which I make not a penny. But for years now I have spent many late night and early morning hours writing posts about the Lightning after Erika and the kids have gone to bed. Some of the posts have been glowing, some have been critical, and some have been "down the middle," but they have all been an honest and objective appraisal of what my eyes and brain tell me. I would not have carved such time out of my life and sacrificed so much sleep (sometimes at the expense of my liver) if I did not love this team.

Being a fan does not mean oblige a person to refrain from criticizing his team when criticism is warranted. In my view, withholding criticism simply makes you a yes man.

I complimented the Bolts after they lost in last year's Stanley Cup Finals, and was generally positive about them after they got swept in the first round the year before that. I did not flip out when they lost the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals in a Game Seven.

In each of those years, with their experience level taken into account, the Bolts made the most of their ability and maxed out their potential. This season was different, and was also the last year of this roster's window of opportunity before looming salary cap issues (and the specter of having to leave players exposed in a possible expansion draft) start to impose gut-wrenching personnel losses. This was their shot, and they may not have won the Cup regardless, but the way they went down in Games Six and Seven was beneath them -- and if I am going to opine, I am going to be true to my opinion.

I challenge anyone to read not just the above posts, but the one I wrote when Martin St. Louis retired, or my one about the Lightning's first playoff team (which lost in the first round after having a series lead, by the way), or my one acknowledging the tenth anniversary of their Stanley Cup, and tell me they weren't written by a true and worthy fan.

I do have good memories of this season. I do appreciate Victor Hedman taking up the slack by playing seemingly infinite minutes when Anton Stralman was out. I enjoyed the clutch scoring of Nikita Kucherov, the dazzling emergence of Jonathan Drouin, the elimination game shutouts by Ben Bishop, and the determined goaltending of Andrei Vasilevskiy after Bishop got injured.

But none of that changes the fact that the season was a failure by the team's own criteria. The team had one goal; and not only did it not attain that goal, it finished farther away from it than it did the year before. That is a fact, and a significant one. I am not going to refrain from saying it.

And I am not going to refrain from being a fan of this team. There is not a player on our roster I would swap for any player on another team's roster. There is a not a coach in the NHL who I would rather have behind our bench than Jon Cooper. There is not a GM in the world I would rather have in our front office than Steve Yzerman, and not an owner in the world I would rather have than Jeffrey Vinik.

Forever shall I say Go Bolts!

PS: In the interest of full disclosure, below is that Facebook rant I was talking about. I took the liberty of underlining the words that I think some people might not have paid attention to when they read it that night:

I could say well you had a good season Ligthtning, thanks for some good memories... But that would be a lie about the way I feel, and would be the kind of thing that is said by losers like the Dallas Stars... The Bolts had a 3-2 series lead, with the Penguins down to one good defenseman, and they failed to close out the series... Last year they made it to the finals and this year they returned the entire roster except for their worst player, yet they went backwards instead of forwards... Their backup goalie played his ass off and his teammates gave him no support, while Pittsburgh's backup played his ass off and his teammates did give him support... It would have been better to not make the playoffs than go out like this. This team failed. It is extremely unfair for me to say that from my couch, but it is true. Gotta call it like I see it.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Like a shooting star

Goran Per-Eric Lindbergh, better known as Pelle Lindbergh, was born 57 years ago today.

I have a thing about not wanting people and events to get forgotten with the passage of time, so here I am hammering out this post more than three decades after his untimely and unpretty death. And I'm doing it even though my general policy is to root against all things Philadelphia where sports are concerned.

Because he was neither a statesman nor philosopher nor artist, Pelle Lindbergh did not impact the world in the ways that usually inspire journalists and poets to sing a man's praises, but no matter. He was an athlete of the first order, which means he spent his time plying an endeavor that inspires legions across the planet and is ruled by merit and results.

Lindbergh was a hockey goaltender who hailed from Stockholm, Sweden, and moved across the Atlantic to play in the best hockey league in the world. He was one of the last to wear the cageless white mask immortalized by Friday the 13th:

But there was of course a man behind the mask, if you don't mind me borrowing from the title of this biography; and when it comes to the man himself, his story is often overlooked.


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Lindbergh was born in 1959 and in his youth played for the legendary Hammarby IF Ishockeyforening hockey club. In 1979 he joined the Swedish National Team and was drafted by the NHL's Philadelphia Flyers.

He was only 20 years old when he suited up for Team Sweden in the 1980 Winter Olympics and backstopped it to a 2-2 tie against Team USA. That game was each team's first of the tournament, and it ultimately earned him the distinction of being the only goalie not to lose to that Team USA -- a distinction which is extremely significant when you consider that the USSR's Vladislav Tretiak, widely considered the best goalie to ever play the game, got yanked from the net after Team USA peppered him in the first period of the Miracle on Ice.

Lindbergh began his North American career later that year by reporting to the Flyers' AHL affiliate, the Maine Mariners, for whom he would play a season and a half. He saw his first action for the Flyers themselves during the 1981-82 season, appearing in eight games; and became their starter in 1982-83, when he posted a record of 23-13-3 while paying in 40 games.

As the calendar flipped forward, he became a stalwart and started drawing comparisons to Flyers legend Bernie Parent, who had backstopped them to back-to-back Stanley Cups in 1974 and 1975.

Because he had a history of dehydration problems, he chose to keep a water bottle sitting atop the goal cage to drink from during stoppages in play. Nobody else had ever done that, yet in his wake, every goalie now does it and has for the last 30 or so years.

Lindbergh won 40 games in the 1984-85 season, more than any other goaltender in the league, which resulted in him being the first European to ever win the Vezina Trophy as the NHL's best goaltender. He led his team all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals before they got bested by the dynastic Edmonton Oilers of Gretzky, Messier, et al.

When the next season began four months later, Lindbergh -- 26 years old and with just three complete seasons under his belt -- was an NHL star and all the rage in the City of Brotherly Love.

33 days and 14 games after that, he was dead.

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On November 7, 1985, Lindbergh stopped 90 percent of Chicago's shots in a 6-2 Philadelphia victory.

Two nights later, he got the night off and backup Bob Froese played in the Flyers' 5-3 win over Boston while Lindbergh watched from the bench. It was the team's tenth consecutive victory.

A post-game party was held at their practice facility across the Delaware River in Voorhees Township, NJ -- and of course, parties in general are about alcohol, especially those filled with high-testosterone, well-paid men in their twenties.

At some point in the wee hours of the following morning, November 10, 1985, Lindbergh departed driving his Porsche 930. With him were two passengers: Edward Parvin, a realtor who had sold homes to several Flyers players, and mutual friend Kathyleen McNeal.

At 5:41 a.m., with Lindbergh at the wheel, the Porsche crashed into a wall near a school in Somerdale, NJ. He was pronounced brain dead within hours. Parvin and McNeal survived, but only after sustaining serious injuries and being confined in a hospital. Parvin spent nine days in a coma before coming to.

Lindbergh was kept on life support until his family could arrive from Sweden to say goodbye. Then, following a five-hour operation to remove his harvestable organs, the plug was pulled and he was pronounced dead on November 11th.

Nine days later he was buried at a heavily attended funeral at the Skogskyrkogarden (Woodland) Cemetery in southern Stockholm.

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There is little doubt that alcohol played a role in Lindbergh's death and the suffering that fell upon Edward Parvin and Kathyleen McNeal. However, there is room for debate about whether it played the lead role.

His blood alcohol level was originally reported to be 0.24, more than twice the legal limit at the time and thrice the legal limit under today's laws. Subsequent reports said his level was 0.17, a number still easily against the law -- but also one at which a considerable number of people exhibit few symptoms of intoxication, and in some cases very few.

Another factor very much in play that night, but talked about much less, was that Pelle Lindbergh had something in common with Maverick Mitchell. Mitchell was the fictitious F-14 pilot played by Tom Cruise in Top Gun, released six months later. What the fictitious pilot and authentic goalie shared was "the need, the need for speed."

Bobby Clarke -- the former Flyers star who was then the team's GM and is now its Senior VP -- said of Lindbergh: "He had a fast car. He enjoyed driving fast. He scared me."

It was mentioned in the New York Times that Lindbergh's teammates knew he "often drove his red Porsche too fast, especially on the small roads of the small towns of southern New Jersey where most of the Flyers live." It was also mentioned that Clarke had had discussions with him about his driving.

Mixing driving and alcohol is a risk that can be deadly... Driving on narrow winding roads while indulging a lust for speed is a risk that can be deadly... Combining those risks in the wrapping of a young man, who is possessed by a young man's illusion of invincibility, makes a toxic stew indeed.

Don't get me wrong. Pelle Lindbergh was young, but he was grown, and therefore it makes no difference whether it was alcohol or speed that played the lead role in his death. Most likely one played the lead and the other the supporting role, but it hardly matters. Either way he was the author of his demise. But still...

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...the shit of all is that the memory of his existence has been compromised -- to say the least -- in ways it needn't and shouldn't have been.

Those of us who were alive and paying attention in the 1980's remember how transitional a time it was for public attitudes about drinking and driving. The decade began with it being socially acceptable to literally drink a beer while driving home, and ended with most jurisdictions in this country being able to arrest the driver of a vehicle for one of his passengers sipping a beer, even if he the driver was not.

MADD was ascendant in the 1980's and rightfully so, but its fervor obliterated the very concept of context. Even murder was (and still is) graded out into first and second and third degrees, yet not drunk driving. A person who can walk a straight line and recite the alphabet backwards, only to blow 0.001 over the legal limit, became (and remains) a person that the law regards no differently than someone who stumbles around while blowing 0.200 over.

It was in the hype stage of that confused environment that Pelle Lindbergh, a man not even from this country, exited the stage of life. The confusion of that environment is illustrated by the fact that his existence has been largely flushed down the public memory hole. Say "Flyers goalie" and most people think either of Bernie Parent or Lindbergh's successor, Ron Hextall. Most think not at all about Lindbergh, and that is wrong.

Although there is no denying that he authored his own demise, there is also no denying that his actions that night were not abnormal for his demographic. Young men drive fast, young men drink. Put the keys to a $90,000+ customized German sports car in the hands of a young man whose profession has him in the fast lane, and you are playing with fire.

Lindbergh's death had a definite "there but for the grace of God go I" aspect to it. For example, go back to Bobby Clarke, the ex-star and then-GM who had warned him about his driving habits. Less than two days after the accident, Clarke told the press that "Pelle didn't do anything I didn't do. I probably didn't have a teammate who didn't do what he did."

And it is worth noting that more than one person in a position to know has claimed that drinking to excess was out of character for Lindbergh.

One of them is Edward Parvin, the afore-mentioned passenger who spent nine days in a coma following the accident. He insists that "Pelle was not drunk. I was in a freak accident...nobody was to blame."

Another is Lindbergh's fiancee at the time, Kerstin Pietzsch-Somnell, who was awakened in the early morning hours by police officers bearing the horrible news. Recalling the night that ended in his death, she said "he wasn't even going to go out, but he decided he should go out to meet the guys."

Then there is Bernie Parent, who became a goaltending coach after his playing days and was working with Lindbergh in that capacity when he died. Parent said Lindbergh "never had any problem" with alcohol and "I never had to talk to him about that."

Yet, among those who today know the name Pelle Lindbergh, the main thought that comes to their mind when you ask about him is "he died driving drunk."

*     *     *     *     *

During a 2011 interview, Pietzsch-Somnell gave the following insight about the character and personality of her long dead fiance: "He was so curious about everything. He wanted to learn about everything, especially in the United States, he wanted to learn it from you."

The odds are that if Pelle Lindbergh had not died on that autumn morning, he would have gone on to live a happy and accomplished life that inspired many for years to come. While we should not look back at his abbreviated life and career with rose-colored glasses, we should look back at it.

And we should do so while withholding judgment -- not only because there but for the grace of God go we, but because God's judgment has already been rendered in this case, and thus ours is meaningless.

When we remember a man we should remember both the good and bad, and we should not allow the latter to obscure the former.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

RIP, Mr. Foley

For three decades now, I have steadfastly recalled that I owe the fact I speak English to an event called the Battle of Hastings that took place in the year 1066 A.D. (or C.E. if you prefer). That is something I will not forget until my dying day.

I remember it because on the first day of tenth grade, a man named Ed Foley looked across his classroom and said: "If you remember only one thing from the three years we are about to spend together, remember the year 1066." Then he went on to explain that year's significance.

The bottom line is that when Mr. Foley told you to remember something, you remembered it -- not just because you didn't want to let him down, but because it (whatever it was) truly was important and he always illustrated why.

Toiling away at St. Petersburg High School, the oldest public high school in Florida, Mr. Foley taught Honors World History to sophomores, AP American History to juniors, and AP European History to seniors. That is why he talked about "the three years we are about to spend together" on the first day of sophomore year: The expectation was that if you had the acumen to make it into the class he taught sophomores, you either had or would develop the wherewithal to remain his pupil through graduation.

*     *     *     *     *

He continually referred to the teacher-student arrangement between him and his charges as "a three-year intellectual marriage," and he meant it.

Neither arrogant nor a control freak, he treated you and your intelligence with respect, which is something all teachers should do.

But he also made it clear he was in control, and did so without raising his voice or losing his temper, which is something else all teachers should emulate. In that respect, Mr. Foley set the tone on that first day of tenth grade when a bunch of smart teenagers sat before him for the first time, swelling with a bit of swagger now that they were no longer in the youngest class on campus. Minutes into his introductory talk to every batch of tenth-graders who ever sat before him, he would scan the room through his spectacles and unleash one of his classic Foleyisms by remarking: "You may be sophomores, but you are still sophomoric."

It was in his class on that hot day in 1986 that I learned the definition of sophomoric, which brings me to something else: Although he was a history teacher, I learned many things from him that had nothing to do with history. His knowledge and passion for teaching were so expansive that they had a spillover effect; you gleaned things from him that you would normally expect to pick up from other teachers in other subjects.

I am surprised it took me until high school to learn what pseduo means, and somewhat less surprised it took me until then to learn what quasi means, but when I did acquire the knowledge, it was not in English class but in Mr. Foley's history class; and I acquired it in the best of ways, for he liked to mash the words together and poke fun at snobs and charlatans by referring to them as "pseudo-quasi intellectuals."

*     *     *     *     *

Since I just mentioned a classic Foleyism, allow me to point out another one: His penchant to talk about an upcoming test by saying it was "going to be Mickey Mouse." The obvious implication was that it would be easy.

Of course, none of his tests were easy. They were all challenging. But his point was clear: If you applied yourself by paying attention in class and studying after school, it wouldn't matter that it was hard. You would do well regardless.

One of my favorite of his quotes was not a Foleyism because he only said it once, but it displayed his panache. One day he left his glasses at home and wound up borrowing a colleague's extra pair. The colleague was a she, and the frames were distinctly feminine. Mr. Foley began class by explaining why he was wearing those particular glasses and quipping: "Just so you don't think I'm going to Stockholm for an operation."

*     *     *     *     *

He was born in Queens back when Herbert Hoover was president, when the Great Depression was happening but still new enough that it had not yet "earned" the word "great."

His arrival at adulthood saw him serving in the Army during the Korean War, after which he attended and graduated college and answered his true calling by making his way into the teaching profession.

His first 13 years as an educator were spent in Newport, Rhode Island, but the bulk of his time in the profession was spent, much to the benefit of me and many other St. Pete teens, in sun-kissed Pinellas County, Florida.

Mr. Foley was what I would call a classic educator, born for the classroom rather than the staff room, existing for the students rather than the administrators. When I think of him I think of chalk dust and seriousness.

The gravity he brought to the subject he taught was acknowledged and repaid by his students, as evidenced by the fact that no one brought senioritis into his classroom. Having started the "three-year intellectual marriage" when we were 15, there was no way we were gonna cause it to end in divorce as we lazed off to college.

*     *     *     *     *

I was born a history buff and have always loved the topic. I have often been appalled at how so many teachers/professors take this naturally fascinating subject and make it seem boring, how they take the epic story of humankind and reduce it to nothing more than a regurgitation of dates and names. Fortunately, Mr. Foley was not guilty of that academic crime.

When he talked about the Tatars running roughshod in mid-millennium Eurasia, their brutality was palpable... When he talked about Caesar declaring "the die is cast" on the banks of the Rubicon, you sensed the indelibility of his decision to lead his army across its waters... When he talked about John Brown's raid at Harper's Ferry, he did not hesitate to say Brown was "insane" but also on the right side of the slavery-abolition divide; and in so doing, he brought to light the fact that contradiction and dichotomy are very much a part of human progress.

And always, always, Mr. Foley connected the dots from past to present. He pointed out how the decisions made and actions taken at certain points in history impacted succeeding generations; how the steps then taken by each succeeding generation affected the ones that came next; how so many of the blessings we enjoy (or curses we despise) in our own time would not exist if not for the events of the past; and how we should therefore heed the past when deciding what steps to take in the present.

*     *     *     *     *

At the end of it all, this is the thing about Mr. Foley: When those who were taught by him think about our high school years, he is always at the forefront of our memories. Without him, there would be no our own wonderful St. Pete High! as we knew it.

Mr. Foley passed away last Thursday at the age of 84.  Every single memory I just shared is mine, but not mine alone. In the days since he passed, I have seen some of them shared, in one form or another, by others on Facebook.

I have an extremely good friend from high school who I have not seen since Charles Barkley was still playing in the NBA. He now lives in Mark Twain's home town half a continent away. When I learned of Mr. Foley's death (thanks to another one of our St. Pete High Class of 89'ers) I shuffled the news to him via his wife on Messenger, and he proved my point by including these precise words in his response: "Will always remember 1066 because of him."

I hope Mr. Foley knew how much of an imprint he left on his students. I hope he knew that so many of them really did remember the year 1066.

I graduated from St. Pete High 27 years ago and did see him a couple times after I graduated, but I was still in college at the time. What I remember most about our final discussion -- in 1991, a mere two years later -- is that he treated me as an equal, not a subordinate. When the discussion turned to college football, he didn't have to think long to find an adjective to describe Auburn's players based on their weak late-season performance; he simply looked me in the eye and likened the Tigers to a particular anatomical vulgarity.

With one gutter word, he signaled that we were now peers, or at least nearly so. It felt more like we were Army pals in Korea than teacher-student in Florida.

There were many times over the last quarter-century that I wanted to track him down and shoot the breeze. But I never made the effort, and the reason was fear. After a certain number of years had passed since graduation, a worry started snaking its way into my mind every time I thought of him, for he was older than most of the teachers I had at St. Pete High.

Knowing that Father Time is undefeated and offers few bargains, I feared I might see Mr. Foley and find that age had stripped him of his mental faculties. It was a sight I didn't want to see, so I never tried to track him down even though he could have still been sharp as a tack for all I knew.

Because of that fear -- which seems pathetic in hindsight -- I denied myself, and him, the opportunity to have another engaged conversation. It is an inaction I regret.

*     *     *     *     *

Ed Foley's contributions as an educator were immense, but tell just part of his story.

While those of us who are his former students remember him in the wake of his death, we should be cognizant of the fact that he left behind his wife, five children, eight grandchildren, and three siblings. We should keep them in our thoughts and prayers.

And did I mention he was also the school's tennis coach? Because he was.

Mr. Foley, fare thee well behind those pearly gates...

Friday, May 13, 2016

Two Rounds In

I already opined about my Bolts when they advanced past the second round by ousting the Islanders. They start the Eastern Conference Final tonight against the Penguins; but first, now that the rest of the second round series have ended, here are more of my overall brain droppings about this year's Stanley Cup Playoffs:

Old Time Hockey
One of the ironies about Slap Shot is that so many people believe its signature phrase -- "old time hockey" -- refers to bare-knuckled fisticuffs. But in reality, when Paul Newman's character Reggie Dunlop called for "old time hockey" before leading the Charlestown Chiefs onto the ice for their final game, he was imploring them to abandon such tactics and "play it straight."

Why am I talking about a movie from 1977? Because the ECF between Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh provides a golden opportunity to see the kind of old time hockey Dunlop was talking about, the kind based overwhelmingly on speed and skill -- and this is true despite the fact that Steven Stamkos, the only NHL player to have recorded a 60-goal season in the last nine years, remains sidelined by blood clots.

I do not mean to sound pompous, or self-righteous about my team. Hockey is and should be a rugged sport in which you can't win without checking hard and fighting through checks, and the Lightning and Penguins both have players who exploit the gray area to get under a foe's skin (see: Callahan, Ryan; Letang, Kris).

But both teams play it clean, not dirty, and are about excellence rather than corner-cutting. Thanks to their abundance of talent, they succeed while living up to the ideal.

Pittsburgh's virtuosi include Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, and Matt Cullen... Tampa Bay's include Nikita Kucherov, Tyler Johnson, Victor Hedman, and the suddenly cresting Jonathan Drouin... And as if to put the lie to the word "old" being in the phrase "old time hockey," seven of those eight players are in their 20's and all four of Tampa Bay's are 25 or younger.

Get ready for playmaking, shooting, and entertainment galore. The Pens are favored, and should be given their down-roster points production, but it will not be a big surprise if the Bolts knock 'em off.

They can be a blessing or a bitch. Some are deserved and some are not.

It would be hard to argue that the Washington Capitals haven't earned their reputation as post-season underachievers. Despite always being loaded with talent and often fielding teams that look like legit Cup contenders, they haven't even made it to a conference final over the last 18 years... Five years ago they were the top seed in the East, but got swept in the second round by Tampa Bay... This season they had far and away the best record in the NHL and many observers were expecting them to win it all; yet they just got eliminated in the second round by the Penguins, a franchise which has now prevailed in eight of the nine playoff series between the two.

So the Caps as an organization deserve their rap, but how fair is it to extend that rap to some of their individual players?

Lots of people hate Alexander Ovechkin (not without reason) and every one of them enjoys calling him a playoff choker because the Caps never get past the second round.

But take a look at the numbers and you will see that Ovechkin himself plays extremely well in the post-season, as evidenced by him notching 82 points (on a perfectly even 41 goals and 41 assists) in 84 career playoff games. That puts him at a playoff PPG average of .976, which is better than Jaromir Jagr (.966) and Brett Hull (.941) and way better than Pavel Datsyuk (.720). Nobody has ever accused those other three players of disappearing in the playoffs, have they?

The dude can't play on all four lines, nor can he stop something from happening in the right circle when he's jockeying for position in the left circle. Perhaps people should look somewhere else to find blame for Washington's post-season defeats. Just sayin'.

Speaking of reputations, boy did the San Jose Sharks and St. Louis Blues put to rest the long-standing and widely-held belief that they lack the character to succeed in the post-season. Their upcoming battle in the Western Conference Final will not be as old-time-hockeyish as the Bolts-Pens battle in the East, but it won't be far behind on that meter and it will be ahead on the hard-hitting meter.

It should be a joy to watch and I think the Sharks will pull it out. They have the edge on the ice, for as good as Tarasenko and Stastny are for St. Louis, having them is just not the same as having Thornton, Pavelski, Couture, and Burns. Plus, the Sharks have the edge behind the bench.

It goes without saying that goaltender is the most important position in hockey, but has there ever been a more vivid illustration of that truth than this year's Dallas Stars?

They were a high-flying scoring machine, finishing with more goals than any other team and 17 more than the next-closest team in that metric. They had the best record in the Western Conference. Their roster included the league's second-leading points-scorer in Jamie Benn and one of its most respected defensemen in Johnny Oduya.

And despite all that, everybody knew their chances of winning the Cup were no more than a snowball's chance of not melting after floating across the River Styx -- all because the Stars' two-headed goaltending platoon was not up to snuff.

Antti Niemi logged time in 48 regular season games, Kari Lehtoen in 43, and they managed unintimidating save percentages of .905 and .906. In the playoffs those numbers did what they absolutely could not be permitted to do -- get worse, with Lehtonen's save percentage slipping to .899 and Niemi's plummeting to .865. Their combined goals-against average went up by .45 per game even though their shots faced went down by 1.5.

Two of Dallas's four losses to St. Louis were by the score of 6-1. In Wednesday's series- and season-ending defeat, Lehtonen surrendered three goals on the first eight shots, including one with 3.5 seconds left in the first period.

Dallas's roster is stacked and will continue to generate strong winning seasons for the team. But until something major changes in goal, they will remain DOA for every post-season and that will prove a major frustration for their fans.

Conn Smythe
Since we're all the way to the conference finals, it's not too early to talk about which players are in the running for the Conn Smythe from each team. As I did last year, I am not going to mention goalies for the simple reason that they already have the inside track.

Tampa Bay Lightning:  Victor Hedman. As much as I want to give my hypothetical vote to Nikita Kucherov for his impeccably clutch goal-scoring, there is no getting around the fact that Hedman, a defenseman, has carried an insanely disproportionate load of work due to the absence of Anton Stralman. He just got done making John Tavares a non-facor in the second round and is playing superb on offense as well as defense, having produced nine points (versus only eight penalty minutes) in ten games.

Pittsburgh Penguins:  Phil Kessel. For once I have something in common with Leafs fans, which is that I don't understand how Kessel -- a rotund, cholesterol-soaked dead ringer for John Kruk -- can possibly be a skilled sharphooting NHL forward. But he is, and so far he and his line are the straw that is stirring Pittsburgh's drink this post-season. He has 12 points in 11 games, including the first two goals in Tuesday's series-clincher against Washington.

St. Louis Blues:  Vladimir Tarasenko. 7 goals and 6 assists for a total of 13 points in 14 games, despite being underutilized and played for too few minutes by Captain Kangaroo Ken Hitchcock. Just imagine what he would be doing if he had a ballsier coach like Joel Quenneville or Jon Cooper calling the shots.

San Jose Sharks:  Joe Pavelski. The old mountain man in me wants to nominate Joe Thornton and his crazy ass beard, but I gotta be honest: No matter how incredibly Thornton passes the puck and sees the ice, my eyeballs tell me that it's Pavelski, the 31-year-old spark plug from Plover, Wisconsin, who is making the Sharks' engine run. He is always doing something good with the puck, always buzzing his opponents, always making things happen.

And now...
...bring on the games!

Monday, May 9, 2016

Second One Won & Done

By disposing of Detroit on April 21st, the Tampa Bay Lightning became the first team to advance past the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

And now, having disposed of the NY Islanders yesterday afternoon, they are also the first team to advance past the second round.

They won both series 4-1, which means they are 8-2 so far this post-season. And they have accomplished that despite being depleted by injuries, as Steven Stamkos has missed the entire post-season due to blood clots; and indispensable top-pairing defenseman Anton Stralman has missed it all with a broken fibula; and J.T. Brown, a hard-grinding character guy who makes things happen by doing the dirty work, has missed most of it after sustaining an undisclosed lower body injury  in Game Two against Detroit.

The Bolts are 2-0 in overtime and notched shutouts in both series-clinching games. Although they have played fewer games than all the other other teams that are still alive, Nikita Kucherov has more goals these playoffs (nine) than anyone else in the league while he and Tyler Johnson rank third and second in total points production, with 12 and 13, respectively. And they are both +11, which makes them tied for first in plus/minus followed immediately by Alex Killorn at +10.

In other words, this Lightning squad's playoff performance is starting to seem spookily strong.

However, the playoffs are only halfway over and a sickeningly strong opponent awaits them in the Eastern Conference Final, regardless of whether that opponent is the Pens or Caps.

Before the ECF begins, here are some thoughts about the round that just ended and what lies ahead.

Goaltender Ben Bishop missed the 2014 playoffs because of injuries, so last year's run to the Stanley Cup Final marked his first ever playoff appearance.

Combining that run with this year's, he has won five of the six series in which he has played, and has clinched four of those five with shutouts: 2-0 over Detroit in Game Seven of the first round in 2015; 2-0 over the NY Rangers in Game Seven of the 2015 ECF; 1-0 over Detroit in Game Five of the first round this year; and 4-0 over the Islanders in Game Five of the second round this year.

Plus, he is 5-0 in overtime.

So far this post-season he has racked up a .938 save percentage and 1.89 goals-against average.

In the recently ended series against the Isles, Bishop kept the Bolts alive in Games Three and Four by withstanding Blitzkrieg-style first-period assaults in which they were outshot 17-9 and 15-6. In both instances, they came back to force OT and then won in OT.

That, mes amies, is championship caliber goaltending.

Nikita Kucherov is an elite sniper with one of the quickest releases I've ever seen. But whereas most snipers are streaky, he is every bit as reliable as Old Faithful, that famed Yellowstone geyser that erupts every 35 to 120 minutes, day-in, day-out.

In the Lightning's ten playoff games, Kucherov's goal output has been as follows: two, one, zero, two, zero, one, zero, one, one, and one. In four of those games he scored the team's first goal. In two of them (Games Three and Four versus the Isles) he scored in the third period to force OT in games the team ultimately won.

And heres's the thing: Despite being a sniper who is known almost exclusively for his scoring, and despite being scratched for most of the 2014 playoffs because his defensive play was lacking, Nikita Kucherov has developed into an all-around player who digs pucks out of the corners and battles like a gladiator at the top of the crease.

That, mes amies, is superstar material.

With the first pick of the 2009 NHL draft, the Islanders opted for John Tavares, an uber talented centerman from Mississauga, Ontario.

With the second pick of that same draft, the Lightning opted for Victor Hedman, an uber talented defenseman from Ornskoldsvik, Sweden. With a home town like that and visage like this, surely you'll understand why some people call him Thor.

In any event, this year's second round matched Tavares and Thor head to head and Thor vanquished Tavares as though wielding Mjolnir tself.

Tavares dazzled the hockey world in the Isles' first round win over Florida. He accounted for nine points in six games capped by an exquisite, series-clinching, wrap-around goal in overtime in Game Six. His performance caused some to anoint him the present king of New York hockey, above King Henrik Lundqvist Himself.

But against the Lightning, forced to face Thor shift after shift, Tavares was defanged and dethroned and registered neither a goal nor an assist after the 8:59 mark of the second period of Game One. Across the course of five games, he managed to get off only ten shots on net.

Thor, on the the other hand, accounted for eight points in the series (four goals and four assists), including the series-winning goal, despite being a defenseman. I don't think I need to say more.

Signs they can go deep
Bishop. See above.

Also as noted above, they have made it this far, in so few games, despite being plagued by the injury bug.

They have won eight of ten playoff games despite having played only one complete game, and that game happens to have been the most recent, which shows they are going in the right direction.

Resilience and outstanding coaching. No matter how hard against the wall their backs may be, the Bolts keep an even keel and remain cool as a cucumber. They rise to and above the moment, rather than allowing the moment to overwhelm them. In this, they take the lead from Coach Jon Cooper and crash the net with it. There is no one else I would rather have leading my team.

Like I already said back on April 22nd, their penalty kill is to penalty killing what Prince was to music.

Signs they can't go deep
They have played ten playoff games and managed only one, perhaps two, complete games. That ain't gonna cut it if grasping the Holy Grail is your goal.

They always start slow.

They are always in the penalty box multiple times in the first period.

Their passes are seldom crisp until the third period rolls around.

...we are in the ECF for the second year in a row and third in the past six; and while there are many logical reasons that either the Pens or Caps will be favored over us in the ECF, there are a few logical reasons to tab us the favorite.

Bring it on. I am temporarily satisfied.

Go Bolts!

Friday, May 6, 2016


There's nothing like the NHL playoffs when it comes to making people lose their perspective and overboil with emotion.

And there's nobody like New York Islanders coach Jack Capuano when it comes to a person behaving like a jackass because of that lost perspective and overboiled emotion. Like I said on Facebook, he is making a fool (or should I say walking female body part?) of himself. The epicenter of his hissy fit is the perfectly clean, perfectly legal check that Tampa Bay's Brian Boyle laid on New York's Thomas Hickey on Tuesday night in Game Three.

With puck possession at stake a couple minutes into overtime, Boyle lowered his shoulder and used it to hit Hickey hard in his shoulder near the Islander blue line. Hickey fell to the ice, and Boyle took possession of the puck and carried it into the Islanders' zone to start what would prove to be the game-deciding possession.

Hickey was, shall we say, slow to get to his feet, which left Boyle undefended. Seconds later, Victor Hedman fired a shot that went wide of the net and caromed off the end boards to Boyle. Standing alone beside the crease on the open side of the net, he calmly stopped the lively puck and snapped it in to win the game.

At the time, nobody griped about the hit (because there was nothing to gripe about)... The players skated off the ice without protest (because there was nothing to protest) while Islanders fans sulked and Lightning fans whooped... The TV and radio announcers talked about the goal and mentioned the hit, but did not claim there was anything wrong with it (because there wasn't)... The official who was watching it specifically for illegality did not call a penalty (because there was no penalty).

But soon after, Jack Capuano bellied up to the mike for his post-game press conference and proceeded to make a mockery of the game he supposedly loves.

*     *     *     *     *

It's not only understandable, but acceptable, that The Head Isle would feel driven to stand up for one of his players (and stew about opposing players) while the vapors of an intense loss had not yet had time to dissipate.

But he did way more than that, and to make matters worse, he actually claimed that the words tumbling out of his mouth were formed after repeatedly reviewing replays of the hit.

Capuano's face was heated but very much straight when he told reporters that Boyle delivered "a direct shot to the head" and was "probably going to get suspended a game." And the kicker is that he had the temerity to say, in the very next sentence, that he "watched it numerous times" before coming to his opinion.

Then he doubled down even more: "...I've watched it four or five times, maybe more, and it's just frustrating it had to end in that particular way with a head shot."

And: " was a great hockey game. Unfortunately a blow to the head, a head shot, had to end the game."

And because a New York figure had spoken, many people in the media reacted by parroting the BS like Pavlov's dog salivating at the sound of a bell... Next thing you knew, headlines were popping up online that said the Lightning won on a "controversial" call... And the AP's article recapping the game, published in countless newspapers and other outlets across the US and Canada, dutifully included this falsehood as if it were a fact: "Seconds before the Lightning's rush on their winning goal, Boyle delivered a hard shoulder hit to the head of Thomas Hickey..."

But he didn't!

Inevitably, Tuesday night gave way to Wednesday morning, and just as inevitably, the NHL declared the hit so obviously legal that it declined to even hold a hearing about it... Yet Head Isle Capuano, despite the ruling and despite having had even more hours to review the video, responded not by admitting he was wrong but by insisting he was the only guy on the planet whose eyes work, quothing: "...I'm going to stand by what I said."

It is worth noting that, now that we are three days after the clean hit, even many in the New York press concede it was clean. Larry Brooks of the New York Post penned a piece in which he said the check did not appear suspension-worthy "at first, second or third glance." He added that without such hits hockey would become "two-hand touch." And the headline to Brooks's article was this: "Brian Boyle Unfairly Cast As Villain For Normal NHL-Playoff Hit."

And yet Capuano still calls the hit dirty and illegal. He was born in Rhode Island but is behaving like an inverted doppelganger of Muhammad Saeed al-Saffaf, that Iraq-born Saddam apologist better known as Baghdad Bob.

*     *     *     *     *

There are a number of ironies here.

One is that early in the second period of the same game, Hickey himself doled out a hit that was much more brutal and dangerous than the one he took from Boyle. It happened when he lowered his shoulder and drilled Tampa Bay's Jonathan Drouin in the head (actually in the head, as confirmed by video) with such velocity that Drouin's noggin and body instantly flipped back in the opposite direction, off his skates, and he crashed flat on his back. It looked like whiplash and he went to the locker room with what everyone thought was a concussion.

And here's the thing: Although Hickey's hit on Drouin was to the head in a harsh kind of way, it too was clean and legal. Hickey lowered his shoulder as he surged to make contact, which makes it clear he was not targeting the head. It just so happened that in the instant before contact, Drouin turned toward him and lowered his head into the path of the hit he didn't see coming. Thus it was Drouin's action that inadvertently turned Hickey's copacetic check into a head shot, and thus the check was clean and legal.

Which brings me to something else, since I'm talking about intent. Brian Boyle is seven inches taller than Hickey. Which means that for him to lead with his shoulder and not hit Hickey in the head, he has to not only be "not targeting" the head but intentionally avoiding it.

Yet another irony is that Hickey, playing in only his fourth NHL season, already has a bit of a reputation for playing dirty, whereas Boyle, now in his ninth NHL season, does not.

As a Lightning fan, I find it more than interesting to see the Isles coach falsely allege that Hickey was the victim of a head shot (and more than that, allege he was the victim of an intentional head shot) when it was Hickey himself who freight-trained his elbow into the head of Victor Hedman on April 4th, causing him to miss the remainder of the regular season. While the Bolts never disclosed what the injury was, 'tis quite obvious it was a concussion.

*     *     *     *     *

Something that really sticks in my craw is that there is ample reason to suspect Hickey took a dive when Boyle hit him.

Boyle hit him in the front of the shoulder, which would usually cause the head to, if anything, nudge a wee bit forward. But Hickey's head, after a fraction-of-a-second delay, snapped backwards like JFK's in the Zapruder film; and then he crumpled to the ice and acted like a dying animal, obviously trying to draw expecting to hear a whistle from the refs that would give his team a power play.

The last time I checked, embellishment is a penalty in the game of hockey, and checking a puck-handler in the shoulder is not.

I do not know if Hickey was exagerrating his pain -- the hit was hard -- but there are rational reasons to think he embellished the hit. What we do know is that it was clean and legal and Boyle scored seconds later.

Wouldn't the irony be delicious if Hickey abandoned his duties by embellishing, with the end result being that Boyle, one of the hardest-working blue collar players in the league, scored the game-winner because of it?

*     *     *     *     *

But what sticks in my craw more than anything else is the slander Capuano is perpetrating.

And yes, it is slander.

Capuano is not making a broad statement like "the Lightning are getting away with a lot of questionable hits" or "the refs are letting a lot of things go out there." Neither of those statements would be true, but at least they would be the normal kind of emotional hyperbole that's not unusual in any sport come playoff time.

But no. What Capuano is doing (and some of his players are following his lead) is to name a specific player and accuse him of doing something he manifestly did not do. And it's not like Capuano is erroneously accusing Boyle of tripping or being offsides. He's deliberately accusing him of cheap, violent head shots that would be worthy of him being suspended by the league.

To put it mildly, Jack Capuano is accusing Brian Boyle of doing something dishonorable.

But from where I sit, it's Jack Capuano who is being dishonorable.