Wednesday

3-31-10: 2010 MLB Preview - AL Central

Hello again everybody...

Welcome to Wednesday. Or is it Thursday? Let me explain...

I have Friday off because I've got a ticket to the Twins' exhibition game at Target Field versus the St. Louis Cardinals. So while the calendar says “Wednesday”, it's technically my Thursday.

I mention it because as we get closer to Friday, it appears possible that Mother Nature's not going to cooperate with the Twins' plans. The grounds crew had a Monday press conference where they assured the assembled media that the field would be able to handle anything Mother Nature might throw at it. That's all well and good, but I've never had to wear a poncho to a baseball game before. I'm not complaining mind you. I'm actually kind of curious to see how it's all going to work out. Unless there's a tornado bearing down on that part of Minneapolis, I'm definitely going to be at Target Field on Friday.

I'll have more on that for you on Monday. But today, I've got one more division to look at in my 2010 MLB Preview series. Today I look at the AL Central. The Twins have played in two straight Game 163's. Will they finally be able to win the division in 162 games? Will the Tigers finally win the Central crown? Will the White Sox get back into the hunt? I've got that and plenty more!

Let's do this...

”I myself am made entirely of flaws, stitched together with good intentions.”
- Augusten Burroughs (1965 - ), American writer


Sounds a lot like my picks now that I think about it.

«Read More...»

Monday

3-29-10: 2010 MLB Preview - NL West

Hello again everybody...

We've reached the home stretch!

But Dan... it's Monday?! What “home stretch” can you possibly be referring to?!

If you haven't figured out by now that the count-down to Opening Day is on, I'm not sure what else I have to do to to convince you to pay attention. Yes, there's that silly little basketball tournament going on, and I'm sure some of you are distracted by it. But the single greatest day in sports happens one week from today, and I can't wait.

Last year I wrote about the joys of Opening Day, so I won't rehash it all for you today. (Though if you'd like to relive the wonder of it all, feel free to do so here.) Ah, memories.

Before we get to Opening Day, however, we've got to complete the 2010 MLB Preview columns. Today, we look at the NL West. I wanted to pull the trigger on a new Western champ in Friday's preview of the AL West, but I couldn't bring myself to do it. What about today? Do I think the Dodgers will repeat? Or will another team grab the title? I'll break it down for you...

Off we go!

”The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it.”
- Mary Flannery O'Connor (1925 - 1964), American novelist, short-story writer and essayist.


Four columns in and I've picked four repeat champs. It's not impossible that they'll all repeat, but it's not the norm either. So if you're having trouble stomaching my picks so far, just know that it doesn't change their potential truthfulness. Or is that “truthiness” (copyright Stephen Colbert)?

«Read the rest of the column by clicking on the title»

Friday

3-26-10: 2010 MLB Preview - AL West

Hello again everybody...

It's Friday already? Amazing how quick a 4-day week can go by! Well, technically, it's not a 4-day work week for me, since I'm putting in some OT tomorrow. But it's a brief appearance and shouldn't be too difficult (wait, where's that wood to knock on?!).

Still, I'm looking forward to the weekend, since one week from tonight, I'll get my first chance to partake in the wonder of Target Field. Next Friday night the Twins take on the St. Louis Cardinals in the first of their final two exhibition games. Needless to say, I'm giddy. I've considered doing a RGC for the game, but I have a feeling I'm going to be too busy taking it all in. No worries though, my first regular season game will be April 17th, so I'm sure I'll be taking notes for that one.

But before we can get to the games, we've got to continue the 2010 MLB Preview columns! Today, we take a look at the only 4-team division in baseball, the AL West. Don't be fooled. Just because there are only four teams, doesn't make it any easier to predict. In fact, this might be the toughest division to call this year.

Did I lower your expectations sufficiently? I thought I might have...

Let's do this!

”No man needs a vacation so much as the man who has just had one.”
- Elbert Hubbard (1856 - 1915), American writer, publisher, artist, and philosopher


I'd promise you that this would be the last time I'd mention my recent vacation, but I try my best to lie to you, my fine readers, as little as possible... and that would be a whopper.

«Read the rest of the column by clicking on the title»

Wednesday

3-24-10: 2010 MLB Preview - NL Central

Hello again everybody...

I'm starting to get back into the groove of things, though it was something of a rude awakening to head back to work yesterday. No matter how much you try to mentally prepare yourself for getting back to the grind after a long break, it still manages to catch you a little off-guard. Oh well, I didn't make any major gaffes - at least none that I'm aware of - and near as I can tell, they're going to keep paying me.

It's the little things, right?

I promise that today's preamble won't be the mini-column that Monday's was. Every time I thought I had Monday's column capped, something else popped up that I wanted to mention. So far, that doesn't seem to be the case today (give me a moment while I try to find some wood to knock on).

But there is one thing I want to mention before I get going with today's festivities. One of my closest friends - and frequent Writing for the Cycle commenter - Lon in Forest Lake, has launched his own blog. I'm not sure how regular his postings will be - and it sounds like he's not either - but he's one of the sharpest minds I know, and he's got a unique and interesting view on things. So I very much look forward to seeing what he produces.

If you want to check out his inaugural post, take a look at With a Grain of Salt. If this becomes what I think it might, it'll be well worth your time!

Now on to my own blogging. Today I continue my series of 2010 MLB Preview columns. This time I focus on the NL Central. The only 6-team division in the majors means there's a lot to get to. So let's not dally...

Onward!

”An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is an adventure wrongly considered.”
- G.K. Chesterton (1874 - 1936), English writer


And baseball is only boring to those who fail to understand its intricacies.

«Read the rest of the column by clicking on the title»

Monday

3-22-10: 2010 MLB Preview - NL East

Hello again everybody...

Well... I'm back.

No, not at work. That, fortunately, will wait until tomorrow. But I am back in the Cities after a fantastic week in Arizona.

I have to take a moment to thank my folks for showing me such a great time. Sure, it was mostly a matter of plunking me down in front of as many Spring Training games as they could manage, but that's not cheap, and as usual, they spoiled me rotten.

Thanks Mom and Dad for everything you've done and continue to do for me. I love you guys. You're the best!

As I said, my vacation was fantastic. But as with most trips, there comes a time when you're ready to get back home. And I'll let you know just as soon as that happens.

I'm kidding... mostly.

Ready or not, I'm back and there's writing to be done! But before I get to today's column, I want to mention 3 things.

First of all, I'd like to thank all of you that took the time to drop me a note about the new title and layout. I love getting feedback - good or bad - and I'm thrilled that most of you seem to like the changes. Hopefully the page will keep evolving as time goes along and keep getting better!

Secondly, I've got to offer up a few words on the big Joe Mauer news yesterday. The contract extension is finally done. 8 years, $184 million. $23 million per year. It's an astonishing number, and awfully hard to get one's head around. But given what the baseball market will bear, it's probably the correct number.

8 years means he'll be a Twin until he's 35. That's definitely on the down-side for catchers. But given Mauer's abilities, he'll be able to DH or play infield well into his 30's.

Already I've heard questions about whether it's too much. Have the Twins hamstrung themselves for the future? Is this another Kevin Garnett deal, where the Twins keep their superstar, but aren't able to add pieces around him?

Two critical differences. There's no salary cap in baseball. The Twins can spend as much as they want on players. The Wolves didn't have that luxury. And two, the Wolves didn't have a new, large source of revenue start coming in when they signed KG. Target Field is what made this signing possible. And it's what's going to allow the Twins to stay competitive over the course of Mauer's contract.

The deal took longer than I'd prefer. But I couldn't be more happy that it's finally done. Congratulations to Joe. Congratulations to the Twins. And most importantly (to me), congratulations to Twins fans everywhere. This is a good thing folks. Enjoy it.

Thirdly, I've been asked by a few of you why there wasn't a DFTU on Friday. When I do the MLB Preview columns, there isn't much time/room for the regular features, so I usually skip them. But I'll make a special dispensation for one particular member of the DFT's.

As many of you know, the Maple Grove Crimson bowed out in their opener at the State Tournament. It was a tough loss for the Crimson as they had an early lead, but couldn't hold on in the second half. I know the players and coaches feel like it was an opportunity missed, but for every opportunity you miss, you gain one in return. Learning how to deal with disappointment and adversity is never fun, and it's rarely an opportunity you welcome. But you deal with the path in front of you, not the one you'd prefer to be on.

For the six seniors on the club, it's especially tough, but playing organized sports is as much about learning life-lessons as it is about competing. Sometimes life is going to throw you some chin-music. When it does you can charge the mound and get suspended and fined, or you can pick yourself up, dust yourself off and smoke a line drive back up the middle that forces the pitcher to eat some dirt.

(Can you tell I've been watching a lot of baseball?)

I know my brother. I know how he teaches and coaches. As much as this loss will eat at him for a while, I'm confident that he'll learn and grow from it. And I know he'll pass that example along to his players and students.

It sucks to get so close and lose. But we have to remember that in order to get into a position to experience that heartache, there had to be a whole lot of success that led up to it. It's the journey, not the destination, right?

I couldn't be more proud of you, Mark. Congratulations on an excellent season!

On to today's column. We continue the 2010 MLB Preview columns, this time focusing on the NL East. Last year the Phillies repeated as division champs and made another trip to the World Series. Can they make it three in a row? Are the Marlins or the Braves ready to knock them off their perch? Are the Mets going to rebound from a disastrous 2009?

Let's get to the prognosticating!

”I do not want people to be agreeable, as it saves me the trouble of liking them.”
- Jane Austen (1775 - 1817), English novelist


WftC Translation: I don't like people that much.

Well put, Jane. Well put.

«Read the rest of the column by clicking on the title»

Friday

3-19-10: 2010 MLB Preview - AL East

Hello again everybody...

Hope your week has gone well. I'm still enjoying the sun and warmth of Phoenix, and quite frankly, I don't want to leave. But real life beckons and I'll be back to Minnesota sooner than later.

But while I'm here, there are a couple of matters to attend to.

First of all, welcome to the first ever edition of Writing for the Cycle.

Regular readers know that I'm apt to write about anything and everything related to sports (as well as things sometimes totally un-related to sports), but that the bulk of my writing tends to focus on baseball and college football. So when I started brainstorming new titles, I looked for terms and phrases related to those two sports. After wracking my brain and annoying the bejabbers out of some of my friends, I finally settled on Writing for the Cycle as my new title. Hopefully you get the baseball-related reference.

And as long as I was creating a new title, I decided to create a new look for the blog as well. Most of the changes are simply cosmetic (new page structure, new color scheme, etc.). The picture below the title is a work in progress. Currently, you see a shot of Surprise Stadium in picturesque Surprise, AZ. That'll change as the year goes by, though I'm not entirely sure how regularly.

I've also made some tweaks along the right-hand information column. You're going to start seeing dates included in the titles (makes searching the archives easier). And I've separated my “links” into two groups. One for fellow bloggers/web-artists, and another for professional writers I reference and enjoy. I tried to catch everyone who's linked to me, but if I've missed anybody, please shoot me an email (the address is located along the right-hand column) and I'll get you on that list promptly. I'm always happy to advertise for fellow writers!

One last change I'll point out (though it's one I'm not entirely happy with). The new layout doesn't recognize my old shortcut for truncating posts. So I've begun adding a line that directs you to click on the title of a post in order to see it in its full form once I've truncated it. Not as convenient, but I'm limited by the whims of the fine folks at Google.

If you have any thoughts, comments, questions or suggestions about the new layout, please send me an email and let me know! I'm always looking for ways to make the blog better-looking and more functional, so pass along any thoughts you might have.

As I said on Friday, the content will be much the same, so hopefully you enjoy this new incarnation as much as you did the old one!

Vive le Writing for the Cycle!

The second matter to attend to today is to kick off my 2010 MLB Preview columns. As I did last year, I've separated the Preview into 7 different columns. One for each division, and a seventh for post-season predictions. If you'd care to review last year's columns, they're not hard to find. Scroll down to the archives. Click on “2009” and then “March” and away you go. I'll also link to the equivalent column from last year as I publish each of this year's columns.

Make sense? I thought it might.

We begin this year's edition of the MLB Preview with the division containing the defending champions (those damned Yankees), the AL East. Will the Yankees repeat as Division Champs? Have the Red Sox (whom I hate) done enough in the off-season to catch New York? Should we be sleeping on the Tampa Bay Rays? All that and more is on the way...

Off we go!

”Beware of all enterprises which require new clothes.”
- Henry David Thoreau (1817 - 1862), American author, poet, naturalist, tax resister, development critic, surveyor, historian, philosopher and leading transcendentalist


WftC translation? Never trust a man who wears a suit for a living. Think about it. There's something there.

Also, how do you style yourself a surveyor and yet are critical of “development”? Isn't that what surveyors do? Mark off land for development? Or am I way off here?

«Read the rest of the column by clicking on the title»

3-12-10: DFTU

Hello again everybody...

Well, we've done it. And I mean that in more ways than one...

First off, as usual, we've made it to the end of another work week. For many of you, you're on the brink of 48 hours of work-free goodness. For me, I'm on the verge of 240 hours of work-free vacationing, and I couldn't be more thrilled to get there. As I've said before (far too many times for the tastes of some), tomorrow I wing my way southwestward to visit my folks in Phoenix. There'll be sunshine, warm temperatures, plenty of baseball, and even a hockey game. Hard to top that.

And since I'll be vacationing, that brings me to my second meaning. Today's column is the final Sports Take.

(I'll let that sink in for a moment.)

No, I'm not going to stop blogging. What I mean is I've decided to re-brand the blog a bit. I've considered it in the past, and it was really the "Globe and Mail" article that decided it for me.

See, while the blog got a mention in the article, I wasn't able to maximize the exposure. If someone who'd read that article and saw that the blog was called The Sports Take, and turned around and searched for “www.thesportstake.com”, they'd come up with someone else's blog at the top of their Google search, not mine (though mine would appear fourth). In any case, to maximize the number of hits I could get out of an article like that, I decided that I wanted to purchase a URL that had the blog name in it. And since thesportstake.com was already taken, that meant it was time for a new name.

After bugging the crap out of many friends asking for their suggestions and bouncing various ideas off of them, I finally have my name. And... you'll have to wait til next week to find out what it is!

I've discussed it with several of you, but don't get clever and think you're going to attach a comment to spoil the surprise. I see them all and decide if they get published, so that's a no go.

My plan at this point is to take Monday and Wednesday off (hey, I'm on vacation, cut me some slack!), and then debut the new blog title and look one week from today when I kick off my series of 2010 MLB Preview columns. After all, it was the 2008 MLB Preview that began The Sports Take, so it only seems appropriate that the 2010 version will kick off the new title.

Don't fret. All your favorite segments and features will come along for the ride. And hopefully I'll be able to add some new ideas as well. It'll just be an updated look, and an easier link to remember!

But that's next Friday. And before we get to that, we've got some Updating to do! Especially since we're going to be talking all baseball next Friday.

So let's do this!

”Writing is not necessarily something to be ashamed of, but do it in private and wash your hands afterwards.”
- Robert Heinlein (1907 - 1988), American science fiction writer


An interesting quote from a writer, but depending on the subject, I think I know what he means!

«Read the rest of the column by clicking on the title»

Wednesday

3-10-10: Sorry Joe

Hello again everybody...

The weird world of sports news strikes again. I had a column all planned out in my head for today and then whammo. I get up yesterday morning to find out that it looks like the worst possible outcome of Joe Nathan's MRI has been confirmed.

So bye, bye other column idea. No worries. It'll keep.

But today's going to be my reaction to Nathan's injury. How devastating is the news, really? Who might replace Joe as the team's closer? Are the Twins no longer the favorites in the AL Central?

Lot's to ponder for sure.

Let's do this...

”Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.”
- Mark Twain (1835 - 1910), American author and humorist


Quoting Twain is a little like being one of Tiger's girlfriends. It's been done. It's almost redundant. I'm taking the comparison too far? You're probably right.

In any case, I usually avoid Twain quotes for those reasons. But this one made me chuckle, so there you go.

«Read the rest of the column by clicking on the title»

Monday

3-8-10: Notes

Hello again everybody...

I'll be honest... I don't have much for you today. But they say you should try your best to keep to your writing schedule, even if you have nothing to say.

So don't blame me if you find this column lacking. Blame “them”!

A couple of reasons for the brevity. One, while I'm just about over my cold, I'm not 100% there yet. It's close. And (knock on wood) I'm feeling pretty confident that I'll be A-OK for my vacation next week.

I know you were worried!

Two, I got sucked into the Oscars last night and didn't leave myself much time to write. I don't usually watch the Oscars unless I have a movie to root for... or in this year's case, against. I'll be honest, I'm not a fan of James Cameron or his movies. Some people dig the way he flings money around like a drunken billionaire. I'm not one of them.

So going into last night, I was hoping to see any film not named “Avatar” pick up the big prizes. And thanks to “Hurt Locker”, I was rewarded for watching.

Unfortunately, this hasn't stopped my dear father's campaign to get me to see “Avatar”. In a brilliant reverse-psychological move, he sent me this text: “Maybe now that Cameron didn't win Best Director, I can get you to go see the movie?”

Well played, Dad. But no. I'll remain amongst the silent minority that refrains from viewing.

So apologies and all aside, let's get to the Notes, shall we?

Oh let's do...

”It's so much easier to suggest solutions when you don't know too much about the problem.”
- Malcolm Forbes (1919 - 1990), American publisher


Translation: Those who can't do? Blog.

«Read the rest of the column by clicking on the title»

Friday

3-5-10: DFTU

Hello again everybody...

We've fooled them again! Another work week in the books. Another weekend looms before us. Okay, so the weather isn't slated to be as perfect as it was last weekend, but it's Spring (meteorologically speaking) in the upper Midwest. This is about as good as you could ask for.

Oh, and did I mention that tomorrow marks the beginning of the “one week til Phoenix” countdown? Just thought you'd want to know.

I'm starting to come out of my viral fog. At least I hope that's what all these pretty colors dancing before my eyes mean. It's either that, or somebody slipped some LSD into my orange juice. One of the two. Either way, it's a nice break in the daily routine, right?

Speaking of routine, you're used to your weekly dose of Updating on Friday, and I'm not about to disappoint you today!

Let's get to it!

”Humility is the embarrassment you feel when people tell you how wonderful you are.”
- Laurence J. Peter (1919 - 1988), educator and “hierarchiologist”


Despite the embarrassment, we still can't ever hear those things enough, right?

«Read the rest of the column by clicking on the title»

Wednesday

3-3-10: Notes

Hello again everybody...

Happy Hump Day to you all. It's all downhill from here. Even more so for yours truly, as I now stand a scant 10 days from my vacation. And for once, I'm actually glad that there's some time distancing me from said trip.

My luck in dodging airborne viruses finally ran out on Monday, and I've come down with a head cold. I know, I know, join the club. But I'm doing everything I can to get over it quickly. As those of you who've tried it know, flying with a head cold is NOT a pleasant experience.

So I'm consuming mass quantities of various vitamins, liquids and assorted remedies, and hope that I'll be back up to 100% sooner than later.

Of course, the other hope is that my malady doesn't affect my writing. Although, I'll admit, it's kind of a nice back-up excuse to have!

In an effort not to rant and ramble and test the limits of my cramped cognitive ability, I'll keep today's missive relatively short and bring you some Notes.

Let's do this...

”We are so accustomed to disguise ourselves to others that in the end we become disguised to ourselves.”
- Bernard M. Baruch (1870 - 1965), American financier, stock-market speculator, statesman and political consultant


…and a dead ringer for Woodrow Wilson if you ask me.

In my current haze, I really have no clue what he's talking about. It sounded deep though, so there you go. I'm sure it'll come to me later.

«Read More...»


With that, here are some...

Notes

Tiger's back at home... and "getting into a routine that includes golf".

This has led to some furious speculation that he'll be participating in the Masters. I think folks ought to whoa it up a touch on that kind of talk.

As much as I loathed the nature of his faux-press conference a couple of weeks ago, that didn't sound to me like a guy who's ready to get back into (I can't believe I'm about to write this - damn you Lon) the swing of things.

Tiger reportedly spent the last week at a “family counseling” center in Arizona. There's no word I've seen whether that was just him, or if Elin was with him.

Either way, the guy's got a ton to work on before he can really focus on being the best golfer in the work again.

It sounds to me like he's trying to re-establish something resembling a routine in his life. And if that includes exercise and golfing, more's the better.

But that doesn't mean he'll be ready for the Masters in a month.

I want to give the guy the benefit of the doubt. I want to believe that he's really working hard trying to fix the damage he's done to his family. I just don't see how he can do that while trying to compete at the highest level on the PGA tour.

If he's playing at Augusta in a month, I guess that'll tell us all we need to know about his sincerity.


Erin Andrews is going to be on “Dancing With the Stars”... and though I don't need another reason not to watch, now I have one.

Not that I have anything against the folks that enjoy the show. Some of my best friends dig it. It's just not my cup of tea.

And I'm not saying that Erin shouldn't be allowed on the show if that's what she wants to do. It's a free country. She can do as she likes.

But it seems to me that by doing so, she's propagating the very image that led to the now infamous “peephole photos”.

I don't think I'm understating things when I say that some of the dances and outfits that folks wear on “Dancing With the Stars” can be classified as “risque”. So it doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me for someone who's claimed to be focused on being a professional over a sex symbol to be participating on the show.

I understand that it's something she's wanted to do for a while. She was a dance team member while at the University of Florida. And she said it was something she was interested in on a podcast with ESPN's Bill Simmons a couple of years ago.

But that was before all troubles with hotel peepholes and the internet.

I guess you could argue that not going on the show allows the kinds of slime that would encourage garbage like that to dictate what she will and won't do. Then again, she's chosen to be part of a profession that relies heavily on image.

I think by participating on the show, she's sending mixed messages. And that seems unfortunate.


Spring Training has started... and I couldn't be more happy about it.

Pitchers and Catchers have reported. Position players have joined them. Games got underway yesterday. The season is almost here!

We've already had our first “Manny being Manny” moment. After reporting to Dodgers camp, Manny Ramirez announced that this would be his final year with Los Angeles. Of course, he hasn't actually talked to Dodgers management about it. He's just sure that “if” he comes back, it won't be in L.A. That sound you just heard was his management team collectively banging their heads against a wall.

Ozzie Guillen announced that he's on Twitter. Sort of. I've heard conflicting reports, but it seems that it's his sons that are actually making the posts. And more are in Spanish than are in English. Plus, if you don't have the metro-beard, the frantic hand waving and that stare that makes you wonder if he's carrying a weapon, well, Ozzie-rants just aren't as fun.

No, there still hasn't been a Mauer announcement. And the panic is already starting. I'm not there yet, but I was hoping we'd have a deal done by now. But the kinds of speculation and craziness that I feared are underway. Yesterday, Mauer did an interview with ESPN and he was wearing a Gopher hat instead of his Twins cap. Naturally, this led to all sorts of wild speculation about what kind of image he was trying to craft, and what kind of message this sent to fans back in Minnesota.

You see why I want to get this done? IT WAS A HAT! And people have their undies in a twist. A FREAKING HAT!

Please, (Twins GM) Bill Smith, get this done. End the insanity before it gets out of hand. It's really for the best. Thank you.

But Mauer signing, or no Mauer signing, baseball is officially underway. And for that, I'm going to be thankful.


That's going to do it for today. I said it'd be short and sweet, and I delivered!

I'll be back on Friday with your usual Update including a big signing by one of my favorite teams! (Maybe two if Smith hears my pleas!)

Until then, thanks for reading!

Monday

3-1-10: Running Game Commentary X: USA vs. Canada, the Gold Medal Game

Hello again everybody...

Happy March to you all! Back to the grind on a Monday. Two more work weeks for me before that blissful thing we like to call “vacation”. Not that I'm looking forward to it or anything...

I trust your weekend was restful and relaxing. Mine was for the most part. We had ourselves quite a contest on Sunday. Restful and relaxing it was not. But then, the good ones never are.

I promised you last week that should the US and Canada meet in the Gold Medal Game, that you'd get yourselves a good ol' RGC out of the deal. And today, I deliver.

So enough with the pre-ambling. Let's get to this...

”One of the few good things about modern times: If you die horribly on television, you will not have died in vain. You will have entertained us.”
- Kurt Vonnegut (1922 - 2007), American novelist


Okay, that's a little bleak I know. After all, nobody died during that hockey game (although I do think I describe is as a “slow motion heart attack” at some point). But anyone who watched, came away thoroughly entertained.

«Read More...»


With that, I give you...

Running Game Commentary X: USA vs. Canada, the Gold Medal Game

Pregame:

Well, this is it. The entire two-week build up of the Olympics has led us to this moment. The USA is the top seeded team in the tournament and undefeated. Team Canada ended up seeded 5th, but their only loss was to Team USA. In a way, it's a shame it's not double-elimination, since the teams could go 1-1 with Canada walking away with the ultimate prize. But the rules are the rules, so here we go.

I'll admit, I'm skeptical at best heading into this game. I don't think there's much of an argument over who the most talented team in the tournament is. Both clubs are stocked with NHL players. But when you look at the number of superstars on Team Canada versus those on Team USA it's not really close.

Plus, when you break down the preliminary game from last Sunday, it was a perfect storm for Team USA. They won 5-3, while being out-shot 45-23. Winning while surrendering a 2-to-1 shot advantage is obviously possible, but still rare. The Americans had an amazing amount of puck-luck last weekend - the bounces all went their way. That's not likely to repeat itself today.

So what has to happen for Team USA to win? I think it comes down to three things:

1. Score early - Score first. Last Sunday, Team USA scored the first goal of the game 41 seconds into the first period. That put the hugely pro-Canadian crowd on their heels early. And even when Canada tied the game later in the first, Team USA responded right away. So the crowd never really got a chance to get worked up. The Americans need to take the crowd out of it early today. If Canada scores first, and the crowd gets going, things could snowball.

2. Stay out of the box. Last Sunday Team USA took 3 penalties to Canada's 4, and only surrendered one power-play goal. They need to at least repeat that, if not improve upon it. Canada's greatest advantage comes on the power-play when they can overwhelm you with talent and numbers. So not taking dumb penalties is critical to the Americans' success.

3. Ryan Miller has to be awesome... again. Last Sunday, Ryan Miller saved 42 of the 45 shots he faced. There's no reason to think he won't face a barrage again today, so in order for Team USA to win, he's going to have to be outstanding again. He leads Olympic goaltenders with a 95.37 Save Percentage and a 1.04 Goals Against Average. He's going to need every bit of that quality today to fend off the fast-skating, talented Canadians.

It's not going to be easy. Whatever Canadian coach Mike Babcock says, Team USA is the underdog here. But if you want to win the Gold, then you've got to do it by beating the best when it counts.

So bring it on Canada!

1:50pm... I just got my first Gold Medal Game-related text message. Frank in Maple Grove sends, “Today, if hating Canada is wrong (minus Pam Anderson), I don't want to be right!” How can I argue with that?

I don't know if this game will live up to the hype. I'm not sure if you can have two games as incredible as the first match-up was in the same Games. But the potential is there. All that's left is to sit back, watch, and see what happens!

Al Michaels just said the magic words, “Faceoff next.” Let's do this...

First Period:

The puck is dropped and we're underway. Team USA is in their blue jerseys. Canada is in their whites. I'm a little surprised. I expected the Americans to show up in some sort of replica of the 1980 jersey. Not a big deal. I dig the blues.

19:20... Early on, there's a feeling-out process. Both teams trying to calm their obvious nerves. First shot on goal goes to Canada. Miller easily steers it aside.

17:40... Team USA's forecheck is working hard and has created a couple of chances. So far, the teams look evenly matched. Which is a good sign since my biggest fear was Canada coming out “house a'fire” and steamrolling the Americans.

15:30... Suddenly the pace starts to pick up. Canada gets a couple of odd-man rushes. Miller's up to the test. Then Team USA gets some sustained offense in the Canadian zone. The Canadian D blocks most of the attempted shots, but Luongo has to make a couple of saves.

13:22... It looks like we're going commercial-free in-period again. I like it. They're breaking to give the players a chance to rest, but we stay at the arena and listen to Doc Emerick and Ed Olczyk break it down. Solid.

11:43... Team USA D Brooks Orpik just deposited Dany Heatley in the Americans' bench. What a hit! The physicality is picking up, and that's going to make it even more fun.

10:21... A late whistle creates a scrum in front of Luongo. Dustin Brown makes a nice charge down the left wing and is stymied by the Canadian net-minder, but Luongo is unable to cover it up and in come the sharks poking and digging. The Canadians take exception. Everyone gets separated without incident.

9:30... We're past the half-way mark of the period with no score. Shots are 3-2 USA. Scoring chances are 4-1 USA. It hasn't felt that slanted. And of course all of it's meaningless if Canada lights the lamp first. Another break for no commercials (thank you NBC... you got one thing right anyway), and we're back at it.

7:20... Team USA ices the puck again. Michael Russo of the Strib tweets, “These icings are going to come back to haunt the US.”

7:10... And he's proved prophetic when off the faceoff, Mike Richards gets a shot on goal. Miller makes the initial save, but Jonathan Toews gets the rebound and goes top shelf to break the seal. Toews from Richards makes it 1-0 Canada.

Dammit.

6:42... Sidney Crosby just got upended at neutral ice. How many people outside of Pittsburgh didn't enjoy seeing that? Five? Ten? Can't be more than that.

5:58... Houston, we've got a problem. Already down 1-0, Team USA's Bobby Ryan gets tangled up with Dany Heatley and gets whistled for Tripping. Here comes the Canadian power-play. Yikes.

3:58... Team USA kills the penalty with only a few minor chances for the Canadians. Bullet, dodged.

1:45... I can't confirm this statistically, but I don't think Team USA has had an odd-man rush yet. The Canadians are playing very disciplined hockey. Every time the Americans carry it into Canada's zone, there are two or three Canadians waiting for them. Very few clean shots for Team USA late in the period.

0:07... Team USA chips one out in front of Canada's net, but the puck was rolling and Joe Pavelski wasn't able to get his blade on it.

Some pushy-shovy after the horn, and the teams head back to their rooms. End of the 1st: 1-0 Canada.

First Intermission:

Not a bad first period for Team USA, but my feelings of trepidation haven't lessened a bit. It certainly wasn't as entertaining as the first period from last Sunday, but that could have a lot to do with the lack of scoring early on.

As it always is in hockey, the next goal is critical. If Canada gets up 2-0, then it's going to be really tough for the Americans to get back in it. If Team USA makes it 1-1, it's a brand new hockey game and the momentum will be on their side.

Like I said, I love the lack of commercials during the periods. Unfortunately, NBC makes up for it during the intermissions. But what am I going to do? Turn over to NASCAR? Okay, I did. But only for a minute or two, I swear!

Shots are 10-8 in favor of Canada. Much closer than last weekend.

On we go to the...

Second Period:

Before things get underway, we're informed that the game is being brought to us with limited commercial interruptions by DirecTV. I may have to make a phone call after the game...

18:50... Huge turnover in front of the American net, and Jarome Iginla finds the puck on his backhand with no one between him and the net-minder. Miller makes the save.

17:27... Second penalty of the night on Team USA. Ryan Malone tries to stand up Corey Perry as he exits the zone, but gets his stick up in Perry's face. Off he goes. Two for High Sticking.

15:19... Team USA not only kills the power-play - and wow, what a job blocking shots in front of Miller and not allowing Canada to get tips out in front - but manages to earn a power-play of their own. Canada's Eric Staal gets sent off for Interference.

13:19... And the Americans get exactly one shot with their man-advantage. Nice possession early on, but the power-play fizzled... quickly.

12:47... Another 3-on-2 rush for the Canadians results in the second goal of the game. Ryan Getzlaf (doosh) skates down the left wing. His shot/pass gets deflected out front and Corey Perry who was trailing the play gets a free shot which beats Miller on the stick side. Perry from Getzlaf (doosh) and Keith makes it 2-0 Canada.

That whooshing sound you just heard was Team USA's Gold Medal hopes beginning to deflate...

Coach Cook just sent me a text that read, “This doesn't look good.” He's not a Conference Championship Basketball Coach for nothing folks.

11:35... Team USA gets another chance. Initial goal-scorer Jonathan Toews goes to the box for tripping. Critical power-play here for the Americans.

Canada's doing a masterful job preventing Team USA from getting their power-play set up. It's a hockey clinic from Canada so far. They're not doing anything “spectacular”. They're playing solid, disciplined hockey and taking advantage of Team USA's mistakes.

9:35... Canada successfully kills the man-advantage. Team USA might have gotten 3 shots on net there, but I think I'm being generous.

9:07... Team USA's Jack Johnson makes a brilliant move down the right wing, getting the puck to the net. Luongo can't get it covered, he's down, but Stasny can't lift the puck up over him. That's the best scoring chance the Americans have had all day, and the kind of chance they made good on last Sunday.

7:16... Finally, Team USA dents the twine. Ryan Kesler gets it into the zone, drops it to Patrick Kane on the right wing. Kane flicks a wrister on-net, and Kesler, who had driven the net gets the tip which feathers the puck under Luongo's arm. That's what I'm talkin' about!!! Kesler from Kane makes it 2-1 Canada.

I immediately get two texts. Coach Cook sends, “Huge.” I'm pretty sure he doesn't mean that like Tiger meant it. Pretty sure...

My mom sends, “That's what I'm talkin about.” And yes, I wrote that before I read her text. I told you folks, I'm my Mother's son. Suddenly, I feel an urgent need to use a Post-It Note (perhaps only relatives will get that joke, but it's worth it).

4:23... Oooh-wee. How did Ryan Miller see that shot? Canada's Shea Weber fired one from the blue line which bounced off of two players and somehow made it's way into Miller's glove. I rolled back the DVR (brilliant invention for RGC's by the way) and there were no less than 15 players screening Miller on that play. Okay, that's an exaggeration. But it was close to that.

3:38... The Americans nearly tie it up. A surge in Team USA offense results in three straight shots on goal. Dustin Brown sends a wrister at the net, Ryan Suter was in prime screen/tip position, but deflects it just wide. Soooo close.

2:25... Okay, it's the home country in the finals and all so I was going to let it slide, but do you really have to chant, “Loooouuuu” every time Luongo makes a simple save, Canada? Really?!

1:01... Team USA catches a nice break, that suddenly turns horrible, but then is okay in the end. Kind of like a Robert Zemeckis movie. Their clearing attempt wobbles deep into the Canadian zone, but not deep enough for an icing call. That's a break. Except Dan Boyle is able to play the puck out of the zone to a streaking Eric Staal who ends up with a break-away. That sucks. Staal, however, fires wide of the net as Ryan Suter gives him a poke under the arm that's hard enough to pull the blade of his stick out of the shaft. No penalty, no harm. Whew.

End of the Second Period: 2-1 Canada.

Second Intermission:

A much more entertaining period in the second. Not just because there were twice as many goals, but the pace of play was faster and there were far more scoring chances.

In some ways, we're right where we were at the end of the first. Obviously, the goal-differential remains at one. But more than that, the play has been damned near even, with Canada catching the one extra break for the lead.

Again, the next goal will be critical. Team USA still has to get two to win this thing. They just have 20 fewer minutes to get it done. But the momentum was more with the Americans than the Canadians late in the period. They'll need to carry that over into the third.

Trepidation, nervousness, uncertainty... I'm a jumble right now. If I drank, I'd be uncorking the scotch I tell you.

Instead I'll have to settle for Diet Mt. Dew. Same difference, right? Never mind.

Shots are 25-23 in favor of Canada. Yep, it's a close one all right. Team USA needs a goal early in the third, or Canada will pack it in defensively and simply stop the Americans in the neutral zone.

Oh good lord. Jim Souhan of the Strib just tweeted, “During interview after first period, Kesler says Luongo is fighting the puck and that the Canadians fade as the game goes on.” Thanks Ryan. That's not going fire the other side up!

Souhan follows with an astute observation, “Kesler is the A.J. Pierzynski of hockey. If he's on the other team, you hate him. If he's on your team...you hate him.” Spot on, Jim. Spot on.

After 15,000 more commercials, let's get on with the...

Third Period:

18:25... In the first minute and a half, the Canadians have clanked two shots off of pipes. Rick Nash had the first one, then Brendan Morrow deflects a Chris Pronger shot which also finds iron. Sometimes that sound is sweet, sometimes it's awful, and sometimes you're too nervous to care one way or the other. Guess which one I am... go.

14:28... First break of the third. The surge I wanted to see from Team USA to start the third is non-existent. Instead, it's coming from the Canadians. Not good.

10:30... Horrible turnover by Team USA leads to a couple of brilliant chances for the Canadians. Ryan Miller makes a pair of sprawling saves and picks up his mates. Those kinds of chances are the difference in the game right now. The Americans are making the mistakes, the Canadians aren't.

By the way, if it seems like my notes aren't as frequently timed as they were earlier, that's probably because I'm gnawing my fingers near to the bone at this point. And that makes it a wee bit difficult to type. The "entertainment" level may not be as high as last Sunday, but the nerves are just as frayed, if not worse.

7:45... And now we're getting to the point I feared at intermission. Canada's content to send only one forechecker and leave the other four players to deny Team USA entry into the offensive zone. It's going to be really tough for the Americans to score now. At some point they're going to have to start taking chances, and that's dangerous to do with Canadian snipers on the ice.

5:05... Another chance for the Americans. Once again Kesler gets it in deep. Kane tries a wrap-around, the puck deflects out into the slot where Brian Rafalski gets a wrister on net. Luongo makes the save and holds on. “Tense” doesn't even begin to describe the vibe coming from Vancouver right now.

3:15... Eric Johnson decides he wants to win the game all by himself and leads an end to end rush. Unfortunately, the Canadians are having none of it, and after a couple of deflections, Sidney Crosby ends up with a near break-away. He gets harried from behind by Patrick Kane and can't make the move he wants to, allowing Miller to make the save.

I'm so tense right now, the cracking of my knuckles sounds like somebody's making popcorn!

1:28... Miller's off the ice... 6-on-5 for Team USA. Hail Mary time...

1:17... Luongo holds a save for a face-off. Team USA uses their timeout to draw up a play.

0:54.8... The Canadians get a clear, but can't capitalize on the empty net. Team USA brings it back in and this time, Canada's clearing attempt deflects out of play. Canada calls time out to have their best players rested and on the ice for a critical face-off.

0:24.4... YES!!! YES!!! YES!!! The Americans crash the net again. Patrick Kane fires a shot at Luongo. Roberto makes the save, but Parise and Langenbrunner are the only players in position to get the rebound and Parise knocks it home! Parise from Langenbrunner and Kane makes it 2-2, and we're all even!

Everybody plays it safe for the final 24 seconds and we're tied at the end of 60 minutes of Gold Medal hockey.

End of the third: 2-2 tie.

Third Intermission:

Okay, technically it's not an full-length “intermission”. But I needed a spot to try and collect my thoughts, so here you go.

Unbelievable. How often do you see the “pull the goaltender” move actually work? 10-percent of the time, max? It can't be much higher than that. And to pull it off in the Gold Medal game?! Unreal.

As NBC cuts to their “pre-intermission-post” desk, all three commentators take a spontaneous/simultaneous deep breath. They shouldn't say another word. That just said it all.

We're headed to an extra session. 20-minutes of 4-on-4 hockey. If that doesn't end it, we'll have a shootout. But I'll be shocked if we make it the full 20.

Wow. Just... wow!

Overtime:

Good lord... I don't know if I can handle this. This whole game has been like a slow-motion heart attack. If I could type and pace at the same time, I'd be wearing a hole in my carpet.

18:49... Both teams are playing it carefully early on. When you're 4-on-4 it's much easier to get caught out of position and allow a break to the other team. Team USA just tried for one, but Langenbrunner couldn't handle the pass.

15:47... The Canadians with a brilliant chance as Iginla is left alone in front of Miller, but Ryan makes the save... yeesh.

12:35... Wow... this time it was the Canadians' turn for a brutal turnover. Joe Pavelski gets a gift but can't cash it in.

12:20... F@#$... Mother@#$%... Dammit, dammit, dammit... Sidney Crosby just won it. I'm waiting patiently for the replay, but NBC is letting us “soak up the moment”. It's the right move, but I'm dying right now.

While trying to decide if I should keep waiting for the replay or roll back the DVR, I get the following text from my Mom: “Oh Canada”.

She just did the Hulk Hogan heel turn. I thought she was on my side, but I turned my back, and whammo. Steel chair, leg drop, spray paint. Unbelievable.

Okay... there's the replay. Crosby gets it in deep. Iginla digs it out of the corner and makes a brilliant pass as he's falling to the ice back to Sid, who fires a wrister and beats Miller 5-hole. Ugh. Pretty play. But this sucks.

Postgame:

I really don't want to watch this Medal ceremony, but I'll force myself to.

If you'd told me before the tournament that Team USA would end up with the Silver, I probably would've taken it. But after tying it up like that late in the third, you'll forgive me if I felt like perhaps Lady Destiny was handing the Americans a gift.

What a game. I said or implied several times that this wasn't as “entertaining” as last Sunday's game. I'm not sure that was the best way to put it. It was just a different style of game. Last Sunday's game had more flashy play, with lots of scoring chances and supreme skill on display.

Today's game was tight and tense the whole way through. Nobody wanted to make the big gaffe to lose the game. It wasn't “conventionally” entertaining, but it was gripping, dramatic and compelling throughout. And when you go to Overtime in the Gold Medal Game, how can you not love that?

As they hand out the Silver Medals, Ryan Kesler gets a big pop from the crowd - he plays for Vancouver in the NHL. And in a show of class, the Canadian crowd gives Ryan Miller (named MVP of the tournament) a rousing round of applause.

Now it's time for the Gold Medals... let's see what kind of reaction Crosby gets. Yup, the place goes nuts. Dammit.

And now we've got to listen to the anthem. What I wouldn't give for spontaneous ear-drum numbness right now?!

Indoor fireworks? Really?! Think those go off if Team USA had won? Okay, okay... I shouldn't be bitter.

A Confederate soldier once told a Union officer to whom he was surrendering at Appomatox, “You may forgive us, but we won't be forgiven. There is a rancor in our hearts you can little know. We hate you, sir.”

I can't sum up my feelings much better right now.

But I'll suck it up, take the loss like a man, and offer my congratulations to Canada, her hockey players and all of her fans. Well played.


That's going to do it for today. Not the way I wanted to leave the Vancouver Games, trust me. But hopefully you enjoyed the ride.

I'll be back on Wednesday with... well, hopefully a little more than I had for you last Wednesday.

Until then, thanks for reading!