Notre Dame had its best season in 24 years in 2012. That season doesn't seem like it only ended about six months ago.
The Irish got embarrassed in the Discover BCS National Championship Game against Alabama back on January 7,. For Notre Dame, the blowout loss was already horrible enough. All they could do at that time was reflect back on a 12-0 season and realize they would learn from their loss.
Less than two weeks after Te'o's worst game of the season, the Deadspin article was released showing that his dead girlfriend was a fake, leaving many to wonder how naive, clever or just how stupid he was. The media storm that descended upon South Bend blazed its way through and went away after a while and an interview with Katie Couric included.
Spring practice could not have come any sooner for Brian Kelly and his team. The Blue-Gold game seemed to be a sign that things could return to normal at Notre Dame. When Kelly let defensive lineman Louis Nix quarterback the blue team and ran a draw into the endzone for a two-point conversion, it was a fun moment where even Brian Kelly, a man who most of the time is shown on camera barking at his players on the sideline, had his hands in the air and a big smile on his face.
That good feeling lasted a little over a month.
Over the holiday weekend, everyone found out Everett Golson, the quarterback that Brian Kelly has been hoping for since his arrival at Notre Dame, was suspended for the fall term for an academic violation. So much for that long-term plan Irish fans saw.
Golson could come back in 2014, but a return to the national championship game will be harder. Tommy Rees will be option number one.
Rees has had his ups and downs in his time at Notre Dame. Off the field incidents and having to take a backseat to Golson in 2012 could've shaken Rees' confidence and frustrated him last year. But a young quarterback will falter, and that is what Golson did. Like a closing pitcher in baseball, Rees came to rescue against Purdue and Stanford, leading his team on game winning drives.
For the private, Catholic university in northwest Indiana with a football obsession, Notre Dame and it's droves of alumni and those fans who visit and walk the campus as if they went there (subway alumni, domers) had a restored sense of pride. Pulling the old #1 sign out of storage after beating Wake Forest and then seeing Oregon and Kansas State fall hours after the game seemed to be the icing on the cake.
Like all good things, they must come to an end. For Notre Dame, the good times were brought to a halt in South Beach. With the off the field stories in the offseason, some fans are not feeling the luck of the Irish. A one year wonder followed by another two decades of disappointment and other "so close" moments is too much for some Domers to handle.
But like all tough times, they pass. The sun will hopefully come out in South Bend on the day of Notre Dame's opener, and will reflect off those gold helmets as the Irish play Temple. Regardless of who is starting behind center, life goes on. Like the spring game, getting on the field and playing provides an escape from everything off of it.
The Penguins and Bruins will play for the Eastern Conference championship and the story that made Beantown a hot mess will come into play once the series begins.
The late night trade of Jarome Iginla that started with him in Boston and finished with him actually had him landing in Pittsburgh back in late March. The trade sent Bruins fans and the sports media into a whirlwind. For the city of Boston, they are getting what they want. A chance to get back at Iginla and stop him from getting back to the Stanley Cup Final for a second crack at winning the whole thing.
Both teams have had different paths to this point.
The Bruins almost blew a 3-1 series lead against the Toronto Maple Leafs and while they were 11 minutes away from choking, the Leafs blew a 4-1 lead in Game 7 and lost the game in overtime. The New York Rangers didn't stand much of a chance as the Bruins took them out in five games.
The Penguins played an Islanders team that was young, fast and inexperienced in the postseason, that gave the Stanley Cup favorite a run for their money. Pittsburgh benched Fleury after Game 4 and started veteran Tomas Vokoun, who has been 6-1 since he got the nod for Game 5 of the quarterfinals. Ottawa was 1:27 away from poissbily being swept, but lived another day with a Daniel Alfredsson short-handed goal and a Greening winner in overtime in Game 3 gave the Senators a pulse that flat-lined in the third period in Game 4. The Penguins wrapped it up with a Game 5 winner at home.
Here are few other things to watch for during the Eastern Conference Finals:
Hockey's narrow minded analyst played and coached for the Bruins back in the day. From climbing into the stands and beating a Ranger fan with their own shoe, to complaining about the Penguins during the 1992 Wales Conference Final, and his comments about this current group of Penguins should make for some good entertainment in this series. Especially if the Penguins gain a large lead in the series or if an events escalates quickly.
If Chicago comes back to beat Detroit and both the Blackhawks and Penguins were to make the Final, we could add Jeremy Roenick to this list.
Just when you think he's gone, he's back. Jarimor Jagr and the Penguins seem to always meet up, especially in the playoffs.
Jagr was acquired by the Bruins back in April. It seems like Boston is like the jealous ex of the Penguins and is dating Jagr to make Pittsburgh jealous, especially after Ray Shero grabbed Iginla in that late night trade.
There is no doubt that the 41 year-old Jagr has had a good season. He had 14 goals, 12 assists in 34 games with the Dallas Stars before going to Boston. He has nine points in 11 games with the Bruins and has been quiet during the playoffs. With only four assists, it's not like Jagr has been the focal point of his teams success in the first two rounds.
His presence has a bigger impact on the fans than on the Penguins. Just the thought of seeing 68 on the ice still bothers some Pittsburgh fans. I think most are at the point where Jagr is the ex-girlfriend you can learn to be around without that awkward moment.
Ignina, Milbury and Jagr. The trifecta of interest stories you'll hear about during the series. Why? Because it's the Cup, and they need readers and viewers as well.
OK, so it's not a sports post. But still, worth reading guys and girls.
Everyone who followed The Office for nine seasons watched as America said goodbye to their favorite paper company. For me, it reassured one of the reasons I became addicted to the show many years ago: Jim and Pam.
In life, we all need something to root for. Whether it is real or not, it gives us a feeling that people are genuinely good and that the good will outweigh the bad in the end. The Jim and Pam character storyline is one I found myself rooting for, almost as though they were real people working in an office five hours away from me.
The story was compelling. Pam was engaged to Roy, and Jim liked Pam. The typical, awkward situation you'll find in a sitcom. Just watching the two characters interact, with Jim at his desk and Pam the receptionist, you were pulling for the two to somehow come together, interested to see how the writers would do it.
The writers took us through the gauntlet. Jim telling Pam how he felt, then leaving for Samford, coming back with a new love interest and Pam realizing she had feelings for Jim, leading up to Jim not getting the corporate job and driving back to Scranton to ask Pam out.
Jim and Pam kept viewers wondering what would happen. They created a big fan in me. Every Thursday night, I became more obsessed with the show. When Jim finally proposed to Pam at a rest stop between Scranton and New York City, I was excited. Finally, Jim and Pam are engaged! It was like two of my friends were getting married.
As the show continued, you had Pam getting pregnant before her and Jim tied the knot, the interesting wedding at Niagara Falls, and half the office getting Pam to the hospital when she went into labor, the two were following the stages of a relationship. For me, it seemed to be all too much, too quick.
As the show neared Steve Carell's final season, and Jim and Pam became parents and out of the blue, Pam is pregnant with another kid, I began to dislike the two characters that made the show (next to the awkward antics of Michael Scott) worth watching.
Maybe I was just cynical, especially since it was hard to watch them go through a few seasons as boring, often unbearable parents.
Jim and Pam's relationship to a lot offered a glimmer of hope. We all deal with the sometimes harsh, cruel world around us. It's human nature to want to find someone who would love and care about you, no matter what.
These two characters did that throughout the series. But the biggest challenge came in this final season, and in the end, reminded me why I cheered for these two along with millions of other viewers.
With Jim moving back and forth between Philadelphia and Scranton with the upstart sports agency, it tested their marriage. Some viewers fearing that divorce papers would be written up by the end of the series. In the end, Jim gave up his dream for Pam and went back to Scranton full time at Dunder Mifflin.
All is right with the world, right? Well, no. Pam feels like Jim isn't truly happy with his choice. Jim, with the help of the documentary crew, puts together a montage of his love for Pam. In that scene, you're shown as a viewer of what you've watched for eight years and liked about the two.
But it gets better. It's Pam's move to show how much she cares about Jim. In tonight's finale (Spoiler Alert), she shows her belief in Jim's dream and sells their home and plans on starting a new chapter of their life in Austin. Cheesy? Maybe. Predictable? That's a toss up.
In the end, I take this lesson from the show. In eight years, the show's writers took us through the stages of what we want to call the perfect relationship. But even the "perfect" relationship isn't always such.
It was like every romantic comedy in the beginning. Instead of taking viewers through the steps easily, like every movie with that genre you see these days, the two were taken through every emotional and unpredictable stage of a relationship, and we were on for the ride, and while that ride seemed to come to a halt after the honeymoon was over and the kids came, you try to understand that Jim and Pam aren't two young adults anymore. But even a married couple with two kids will have obstacles.
The final season showed us those obstacles. In the end, the two were happy and so were we as viewers.
I think we're all looking for our Jim or Pam in life. Television makes it look so simple, but it's not. Some people search for the right person for years. Others get lucky and follow every detail. Even in our darkest moments in life, we could see John Krasinski and Jenna Fischer portray these two characters for 30 minutes a week over eight years and remind us that there is hope. Even when cynicism arises, like it did for me watching the last few season of The Office, I learn that it will not always be perfect and that plateau eventually ends and a new mountain of obstacles await you in life, much like it did for these two in the end.
So thank you writers of The Office, who restored my faith in what made me a big fan of the show for all these years.
Well, that was a fun first round, wasn't it?
Not what many in Pittsburgh and the NHL thought they would see much of a series after the Penguins welcomed the young Islanders to the playoffs with a 5-0 shellacking in game one. It seemed like every beat writer, radio host and average Joe hockey fan was ready to change their prediction from Penguins in five to Penguins in a sweep. Those predictions held true for about 48 hours.
The Pittsburgh Penguins and the New York Islanders was a one versus eight matchup. If we have learned from the 2012 Los Angeles Kings, seeding at times doesn't mean anything. There were points in the series when you couldn't tell the Penguins were the one seed.
Respect was lacking for the Islanders coming into the playoffs. New York has been tarnished by poor ownership/management and it's own community in Nassau County saying no to a new arena on Long Island while they will flee the asbestos filled Nassau County Coliseum for an arena in Brooklyn not designed initially for hockey. You might have had sympathy for the Islanders, but you probably didn't respect them coming in.
A young, fast New York Islanders team that made the slightly older, but highly talented Penguins look a step or two behind in four of the six games in this series. They were gritty. They crashed the net, took advantage of mistakes by Pittsburgh and capitalized. They won game four and almost game six by making the Penguins pay for bad turnovers.
In the end, Pittsburgh found a way to win game six, despite being out shot, out hit and outplayed for the first 45 minutes of Saturday's game. Finding ways to win while being dominated. Good teams can do it. Pittsburgh did.
The Islanders have a bright future as a division contender and a playoff team. Penguins captain Sidney Crosby even said it after the game. Of course, there might be a change in goal for the Islanders, but everything else has fallen into place for the young faces in Uniondale.
A lot of people after game one compared this Islanders squad to the 2007 Penguins that made their first playoff appearance in six years at the time. They were humbled by the Ottawa Senators, and eliminated in five games. The Senators went on to win the Eastern Conference and lost to Anaheim in the Final.
This Islanders team, is in some ways, like the '07 Penguins. Only the Islanders took the Pens to six and almost sent the series back to Consol Energy Center for a game seven. Also, the Penguins may not be the clear favorite in the East anymore.
They were one of the hotter teams coming into the playoffs, and the Islanders did not play like an eight seed. Games one and five? Yeah, they kind of did. But the other four games saw momentum swing in the way of New York. Their ability to break into the offensive zone, interrupt the Penguins entrance into their zone made it a tougher series on the conferences top seed.
The Penguins were able to break out of the first round for the first time since 2010, which for Dan Bylsma and the rest of the organization calls for a sigh of relief. They won't see the same team in Ottawa in round two, but playing dumb hockey will catch up to them and hurt them as they go forward against teams with playoff experience.
Hats off to the Islanders. A worthy adversary for the Penguins and the rest of the new division next season. They have earned a lot of respect. Much like how Penguins fans felt after 2007, there must be a good feeling for the future of Islanders hockey.
Making a Case For Tyler Kennedy
There are some players in the NHL that have a love/hate relationship with their fans. Tyler Kennedy is a good example in Pittsburgh.
The number of people I know who have cursed Tyler Kennedy's name this season has grown. Kennedy has gone from making $525,000 his rookie year to $2 million a year the past two seasons. For some, a fourth line center making that money is unthinkable, and based on his play, too much.
Kenendy's play hasn't been the best in 2013 either. Making mistakes and the "point and shoot" mentality irritates a lot of fans. His 11 points ( 5 goals, 6 assists) and a +/- of -6 is not what many would say is worth paying him $2 million and seeing a veteran player on this squad underachieve.
Despite the criticism, the number 48 has often been an unsung hero in the Pens postseason runs since 2008.
Tyler Kennedy is not a player that fans expect to score many goals like a Crosby or Malkin. His presence comes at very convenient moments for the Penguins. In his first appearance in this series, Kennedy's goal helped a tense Consol Energy Center crowd and his teammates loosen up after being outplayed and outshot 14-7 in the first period. A long lead pass, lead to a breakaway goal that made the difference, and proved to be the game winner in a 4-0 rout of the Islanders.
An interesting stat that you have probably heard in the past 24 hours. Tyler Kennedy has seven game winning goals in the playoffs in his career. That's more than Sidney Crosby. A stat that seems unthinkable, right?
Speaking of key moments, let's take a trip back to the year 2009. The place: Mellon Arena. The setting: Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals. The Penguins needed a win to force Game 7 back in Detroit. A 1-0 lead going into the third, Kennedy scored a goal from the right side of the Red Wings net and gave Pittsburgh insurance, which proved to be important as the Penguins held on to win 2-1.
Kennedy's role in any game can vary from useless body to big playmaker. It's his poor play that makes fans go crazy. But the moments like his goal last night or the winning goal in the 2009 Stanley Cup Final makes some of us forget all the negative things fans say about him and go crazy in another way.
Has he played like a $2 million player this year? No, not really. But Dan Bylsma knows he has a guy with playoff experience who offers a spark at key moments. Hard to believe Kennedy has that many game winners in the playoffs. Less than Malkin, but more than Crosby.
The effort is there from Kennedy, the mentality at times isn't. He's a player that you love one minute and can easily turn on when he doesn't play well.
Just remember, at the end of the day, when Kennedy is on his game and lights the lamp, that's a goal from...
A week after the Penguins welcomed the young, inexperienced New York Islanders to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the attitudes of Pittsburgh fans sure has changed since that night at Consol Energy Center.
The day after the game one bashing by the Penguins, many were saying the Islanders were down for the count. Many saying the series would end in a four game sweep. Others giving New York the benefit of a doubt and saying Pittsburgh would wrap it up in five.
Fast forward a week later. That confidence is long gone. The Penguins play over the past four games have both teams on even ground, tied up at 2-2 coming back to Consol Energy Center for game five. A scenario some did not see coming last Thursday.
The top seeded Penguins, the team with two of the best players in the game, went out and brought in four veteran players, two who were captains on their previous teams, were geared up and ready for a long playoff run. The rest of the hockey world has the Penguins as one of the heavy favorites to bring home the franchises fourth Stanley Cup. If you're on Twitter, #CuporDie is the slogan.
The Penguins have everything to lose in this series and in the entire Stanley Cup playoffs. A top seed with talent that many general mangers would kill to have, who will receive the most criticism from the media, analysts and doubters if they fall to this Islanders squad.
This is a team that has also exited the playoffs in the first round two out of three years since winning it all in 2009. Don't tell me there's no pressure on Pittsburgh.
The New York Islanders are a squad of fast, young players with little to no playoff experience, who realize that nobody expects them to make waves in the postseason. They, unlike the Penguins, have absolutely nothing to lose in these playoffs. They'll take any goals, whether they are lucky bounces are not, as long as they come out on the winning side.
The Penguins are not the only one seed to deal with a tied series after four games. But the Penguins are haunted by two straight first round exits and don't want to make it three with the team general manager Ray Shero assembled this spring.
The worst case scenario has happened. Starting goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury will be riding the pine Thursday, and Tomas Vokoun will get the start after Fleury's poor performance in game four. Vokoun is playing the role that Shero expected him to be in if the Penguins saw Fleury struggle in the playoffs once again.
For the New York Islanders, they are right where they want to be. For the Penguins, a series that seemed to be in the bag after a shellacking of the Islanders in game one, has turned on them, and all the pressure that comes with being the number one seed has begun to push down on them a lot harder after game four.
There are a lot of people you can point fingers at in the Penguins locker room after the Penguins were outplayed for the third straight game and saw the Islanders tie the series last night at Nassau County Coliseum. Marc-Andre Fleury is the first casualty of criticism after a lackluster performance in Game 5.
While everyone sees another inadequate performance from Fleury in the playoffs, which for many seems to be turning into a trend, another player had a bad game. One that has underperformed during the season and while he does try to create scoring chances, he ended up being another reason why the Penguins lost last night.
Evgeni Malkin is a talented athlete. There is no denying that he is the Penguins best player next to Sidney Crosby. If there is anyone on that squad that can score a big goal at the most convenient time, it's him. He is also that kind of player that can be aggressive, try to make too many big plays and can find himself playing stupid hockey.
This has not been Malkin's best season. For many fans, they try to make every excuse for the seven year veteran. Geno can make magic in the offensive zone, but he can also create nightmares on the defensive side of the Penguins game.
Bad passes, and taking dumb penalties during the game (we all know the officials will always see the retaliation hit during the play) are a few of the downfalls of his play during the 48 game season and four games into this series.
This is where Malkin apologists would start making excuses for him. The best one we've heard is that his bad, blind passes are due to him not being used to a smaller NHL rink after playing on Olympic-sized rinks in the KHL during the lockout.
You can't use the language barrier as an excuse anymore. It's 2013. The 2006 Malkin who barely talked to the media and couldn't speak English doesn't fly. It may not be great English Malkin speaks, but he's been in the league long enough.
Once in a while, there will be the "what if" question when it come to Malkin and Crosby. Who would you keep if you had to trade one away?
For those who choose Malkin, they'll make the argument that Crosby is more injury prone and Malkin is the better goal scorer, often bypassing the reality that Crosby is a better leader on and off the ice for this squad. Crosby has taken blows to the head, a puck to the jaw and had a high ankle sprain years back, but has always come back as a leader and a difference maker in the lineup.
It's time for Malkin to start taking accountability for his actions. He wants to be a leader? Great. Start acting like one. Take responsibility like 87 does. Geno's not a 20 year-old rookie anymore. It's time he started acting like an assistant captain, not just because he has the most points on the team, but taking on a role like Crosby does.
Maturity goes a long way. It can go hand-in-hand with the strong effort Malkin gives on the ice.