Thursday, February 20, 2014

Gold Not Silver

I have written before that in sports there is nothing more exciting than playoff hockey.  I do not watch the NHL during the regular season, but in the playoffs the game just takes my breath away.

I felt similarly today when I watched the Gold medal game between Team USA and Team Canada. With less than four minutes to play Team USA was up 2 goals to 0.  Tip of the hat to our neighbors north of the border as they rallied to tie the contest in regulation, and then win in overtime on a power play goal.

It is probably impossible to overestimate the disappointment of the American women. Since Northeastern has a player on the team, a bunch of us gathered in a room to watch the contest.  It looked for sure as if the USA would win.  The team had practiced for months for this moment and until there were ten minutes left in the game, had outplayed Team Canada.

But they lost.  They did not choke, they lost. Canada came up with some brilliant plays and one bit of stunning good fortune.  Down by one goal and with the goalie pulled, Team USA shot a puck at the empty net which hit the post and instead of banging in, banged out. One inch to the right and the USA has a two goal lead with a minute to play.  When that puck bounced away, I sensed that there was trouble ahead.

Still, the women who worked for months for this moment deserve nothing but praise. They are not losers. They left it all on the ice for over 60 minutes. Someone has to lose this game. It may seem trite, but there were no losers in this one.  Congratulations to both teams, and I hope that no player or coach on Team USA allows this game to define them in any negative way.

Syracuse Again-Not

It had to happen.  Three teams in a row played the exact same type of game against the Orange. First it was Pittsburgh and they were set to win, until a miraculous shot went in for Syracuse at the buzzer. Then North Carolina State played the same patient way, but became sloppy with the ball at the end of the contest and pulled defeat from a likely victory.

Last night, Boston College with only two wins in the conference, played the identical style. Pass the ball around the perimeter, occasionally throw it to the foul line, exhaust the 35 second clock and then take a three.  I saw the first half when BC managed to have more turnovers than a bakery yet still find themselves in the game.  I turned on the set at the end of the second half and saw that BC was within a basket.  The Eagles tied the game in regulation and hit a couple of threes in the OT.  There was no miracle for Syracuse. The undefeated season is history.

In a way this is good news for the Orange.  Better to lose now than in the first round of the tournament against the 2014 edition of Florida Gulf Coast.  Syracuse will probably be more aggressive on defense now extending their zone and trapping more.  On offense, they will just need to wake up and not expect a miracle.

We will see a different Syracuse team this weekend against Duke.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Book Review--The Kept

Sometimes I get in a groove of reading and I can't get enough.  I might read three books a week, maybe more and as soon as I put one down, I look for the next like someone who has had a piece of cake might check out the refrigerator to see if there is another sliver available. And then there are other times when reading becomes a chore and I have to force myself to pick up a book, forcing myself because I know how much I get out of reading. Kind of like forcing yourself to go to the gym because you know how much better you will feel after an hour on the elliptical. When I get into one of the latter modes--where I am right now--the best way to jumpstart myself to get on the voracious reading path is to read a very good book. The Kept, a novel by James Scott, a book I just finished this morning did not do the trick.

I had read a review of the book a few weeks back and what intrigued me is that it is set on the shores of Lake Erie in New York State. I lived all over the shores of Lake Erie in New York with stints in Buffalo, Angola, Dunkirk and Fredonia.  For a stretch I commuted from Angola to Fredonia and went through tiny burghs like Silver Creek en route. And then would drive to Erie along route 5 which hugs the Lake passing through other communities until you arrive in Pennsylvania. So, I thought the book might intrigue me from that vantage point.  The book takes place over a hundred years ago so it is tough to get a handle on where it might be as the fictitious town set then has and would have few helpful landmarks. It seems too rural for Buffalo, my guess is Dunkirk--but where it is, is all besides the point.  It is set where it is to give one a sense of the cold and snowy winters in this town.  It is snowing constantly throughout the book.

The story is bizarre.  A wife returns from a journey to her remote country home with gifts for her kids only to discover that her brood including her husband have been murdered. One boy is not accounted for.  When she finds that boy--and the circumstances are very unusual and horrific-- the two set off to find the murderers.  They travel by foot to the nearest town which sits on Lake Erie and the two spend a month there sort of trying to find the murderers and, the mother also attempting to dodge demons. The demons she is dodging are very strange, yet central to every part of the story.

It is tough to believe much of any part of this novel.  So, I try to think of it as some kind of symbolic tale. Maybe the message is that home and family are where the heart is and not a function of how one found oneself in the family. This seems cryptic and would only make sense if you read the book.  However, I would not recommend reading the book and therefore, if you take my advice, my cryptic message will remain so.

Well written at parts, but I was able to put it down for long periods.  Some characters blurred into one another.  The relationship with Charles is odd. And Caleb's encounters with a young prostitute also seem meaningless.

So, this did not jump start me.  But maybe I just did not get it.  A lot of people trumpeted this book.

Syracuse Again

For the second time in a week the Orange came up as winners when all bets would have had them as losers.  On Wednesday, down by one, Tyler Ennis heaved in a 35 foot desperate shot to beat Pittsburgh. On Saturday night against North Carolina State, Syracuse dug themselves in deeper, but managed to prevail.

With less than a minute to go North Carolina State, leading nearly the entire game, held a one point advantage and had the ball.  Syracuse extended its zone and a member of the Wolfpack bounced the ball off his sneaker and it careened out of bounds. This gave the Orange a chance to again be victorious when defeat seemed to be likely. This time, however, it appeared as if Syracuse would not take advantage of the opportunity. Tyler Ennis drove to the basket but while doing so, swung his arm to ward off the defender. The official called a foul on Ennis giving the ball back to North Carolina State with seconds to go.  Streak over, undefeated season over?

Not yet.

The Orange forced a bad pass, grabbed the ball, and C.J. Fair made a layup in the final seconds to give Syracuse the cardiac victory.

I wrote in my last blog that despite the Syracuse perfect record to date, the Orange will not win the national championship. I stand by that. And now,  I'm not sure that Syracuse will even advance very far in the tournament.  It seems to me that opponents have figured out how to beat the Orange. Be patient, work the ball around the zone until there are less than ten seconds left on the shot clock and then find your shooter for a three. Make a decent percentage of the threes, play good man to man defense, and you are in the contest.

In both the Pitt game and the NCState game, the opponents became sloppy with the ball at the very end of the contest. Otherwise both teams defeat Syracuse. North Carolina State is not even ranked. Other teams will have better shooters. And other teams will have "bigs" who when they get the ball down low will not be shy about taking the ball to the basket.

The Orange are not deep.  Last night each starter played at least 35 minutes out of 40. C.J. Fair played all 40.  Against tougher teams the key players may get fatigued or foul out.

Syracuse may not get to the final four, and I would not be startled if they don't make it to the Elite eight or Sweet Sixteen.

On a peripheral note, the game last night was not televised. I saw it on my computer as it streamed across the screen. The technology is such now that the quality of the picture on my screen was as good, if not better, than the quality of the picture on either of the two very good sets I have in the house.  Pretty soon you won't even have to find the url to watch the game. You will just be able to say aloud in the vicinity of the laptop: "Syracuse Game" and grab your beer.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Orange

Another enjoyable evening watching the Syracuse Orangemen.  And another example of why sports are so engaging.

Undefeated Syracuse visited Pittsburgh last night. Pittsburgh was ahead the entire contest playing a very smart patient game.  Syracuse stayed with its zone as it always does.  Pittsburgh waited it out and toward the end of each 35 second clock launched a three and, until the end, made a high percentage of them.

Down by 8 with only a few minutes left, the Orange came back shaving the lead until they were down by only one. Pittsburgh's methodical offense had begun to break down unable to penetrate the impenetrable zone of Syracuse. Up by one, Pittsburgh passed the ball around the perimeter and then lost it.  A freshman named Tyler Ennis drove to the hoop with the lost ball and was fouled as he attempted to score the go-ahead basket.  With ten seconds to go the freshman hit both foul shots and Syracuse was ahead.

Pittsburgh had ten seconds to remedy the deficit.  With 4.4 seconds to go a Panther was fouled.  He, too, cool as the other side of your pillow went to the line and hit both foul shots putting Pittsburgh up by one. It looked as if Syracuse's 23 game winning streak and undefeated season were going to end.  However, the Orange gave the ball to the freshmen Ennis who drove past mid court and heaved up a desperation shot.

It went in. And Syracuse announcers went bonkers, the players joyfully erupted, the Pittsburgh coach remained in a crouched position staring ahead in stunned disbelief, and the Panther players stood frozen like inanimate statues on an obstacle course.

Earlier this year Syracuse beat Duke in an overtime contest that also was the stuff of excellent theatre and sport.

Syracuse will not win the national championship. They just do not have the horses. They play a great zone, have the fearless freshman, have a shooter who if left open is a guaranteed three, and a senior in C.J. Fair who seems to make clutch baskets in each game that is close.  All this said, they do not have the athletes to compare with some teams.

If you don't think that sport generates excitement, take a trip to Marshall Street in Syracuse some day after the Orange have played.  Then talk to me.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Kendall Coyne--Women's Olympic Hockey

I may be biased because she is a student at Northeastern University, but to my eyes Kendall Coyne, a member of our Women's Olympic team now playing at Sochi, is the most effective player on the ice in these games.

She is so quick to the puck and always appears to know where to put the puck once it gets on her stick. Frequently she puts her teammates in position to score because of her passes and intelligence.

I am not a hockey fan particularly.  Yet this morning when the Canada-USA game came on at 730 or so I was riveted and was considering retirement when the time came for me to depart and get to work. It was zero-zero when I decided to remain employed and left the house.  I arrived at work and the second period had concluded with the US up 1-0.

At work, I was able to get the game to stream across my computer screen.  At the start of the third period, the Canadians scored two goals. Then, alas, I had to go and participate in a meeting. At the meeting's end two members of the group (who are Canadians) told me that they had stolen a peak at their smartphones during the meeting and knew that Canada had prevailed, 3-2.

The US and Canada are likely to meet again in the medal round.  My prediction--and I feel very good about it.  The US will prevail and win the gold. Kendall Coyne will score at least one goal and will have an assist in the gold medal game.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

mystery tour

A fellow I see in the gym pointed out to me that the Beatles remarkable productivity took place in a mere six years.  Today, as all those of my vintage are aware, is the 50th anniversary of the Beatles appearance on Ed Sullivan.  The Ed Sullivan show for those who are not of my vintage was a staple of Sunday night viewing. It was a variety show where singers, comedians, acrobats, illusionists, mimics,--all sorts of acts would strut their stuff for a few minutes. Fifty years ago tonight, the Beatles did two sets on the show. They opened with "All My Loving" "'Til there was you" and "She Loves You" and came back at the end to sing "I Want to Hold Your Hand."  My parents returned from some excursion while my brother and I were watching. When I excitedly told them the Beatles were on, my dad sarcastically quipped, "Great. Can't wait."

His was a minority opinion.  The next day in school was chaos.  I heard that in the girls lav, lipstick scrawls reading, "I Love the Beatles" were found on the walls and stall doors.  It seemed like even the most sedate of my female classmates wore a button that read, "I Love Paul" or George, or Ringo, or even John despite that he was, taken.  A serious young woman who, previously, had given no indication that she was out of her mind, spewed volcanically disparaging George Harrison's girlfriend calling her "nothing but a whore."  I wouldn't have guessed she had ever uttered that word previously or even knew what it meant.

That was February 1964.  The Beatles broke up in 1970.  In between Ed Sullivan and their break-up there was Rubber Soul, Revolver, Sergeant Pepper, Magical Mystery Tour, the White Album, Abbey Road, and Let it Be.  And this doesn't count Meet the Beatles, or the movies, Help, Hard Days Night, and Yellow Submarine.

The Beatles' achievements are just staggering. Their songs are part of the consciousness of all of us who are about to collect social security.  I've Just Seen a Face, Here, There, and Everywhere, Day Tripper, Norwegian Wood, For No One, She's Leaving Home, A Day in the Life, Penny Lane, Here Comes the Sun, Let it Be, Long and Winding Road, We Can Work it Out, In My Life, For the Benefit of Mr. Kite.  If you were born when Truman was at the helm, you know, I guarantee it, every single one of these songs and dozens more.

The Beatles' music was the backdrop for our teenage and college years.  And the central message to their songs is nearly as applicable now as it was then.  We are on a magical mystery tour. Obladi, oblada.  Love is all you need.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Efrem Dlugacz

When I first went to Junior High School which was then 7th, 8th, and 9th grade, I was told that it would be different from elementary school in that instead of being in one class all day, we would move from class to class with different classmates each hour.  Well, this proved to be mostly true.  We did move from class to class at the sound of a bell, but, in my school anyway, the same kids moved from one class to another.  I was in section 2, 7-2, it was called. And all of us in 7-2 moved from English with Mrs. Gitlitz to Math with Mrs. Merry to Science with Mr. Napolitano etc.  Occasionally someone from one class would have a different math or science, but mostly it was the same crew from 7-2 wherever I went.

One of my classmates was Efrem Dlugacz.  Ours was a section with serious students in it.  I was clearly an exception. I remember on day one in Math a fellow asked the teacher if we would be studying something or other because other matters would be too "trivial."  Had a good sense from context what trivial meant, but the question alone made me wonder about the pedigree of my classmates and how the hell I would survive with this cohort.  Efrem was like the majority in section 2--Sharp, asked intelligent questions, and wanted to do his best at every assignment.

Efrem and I were together for many classes beyond 7th grade throughout Junior High. In Social Studies in 9th grade each student "got" two countries in Africa to research and report on.  I pulled Mozambique and the Malagasy Republic.  Efrem got Rwanda and Burundi.  I remember this because he was upset at the draw since at that time, very little was known about Rwanda and Burundi and he feared that his report would not be as robust as it needed to be.  For some reason I don't remember being with Efrem much in high school. Probably because I got booted out of the smart kid section, but I did notice today that he was active in the school paper and in various clubs. No surprise to see that.

A few years back I discovered Efrem on facebook and we exchanged some notes. He had, again to no surprise, become a very successful executive with Johnson and Johnson.  He had graduated from Cornell for both his Bachelors and Masters and looked, from the smiling photos posted, at peace with himself. I never saw him at any of the reunions, but that could be said for nearly half our class. Maybe he came to our 20th which was enormous, and I didn't see him.

So yesterday there is a video posting on Facebook with Efrem being interviewed.  He sounds intelligent as always and is speaking about his two sons, two daughters, and grandkids.  There are some social and philosophical comments in the 17 minute piece, and it is--in and of itself--if not upbeat, not downbeat either.  However, a careful reading of comments beneath the video indicated that he is gone.

I read today that he died of cancer at 64 on Wednesday.  Sad news.  Except for the few facebook exchanges, I did not see or talk to Efrem in nearly fifty years. But his passing is saddening and is lingering in my head.  Sure, some of the sadness is because he is a contemporary and you wonder how long you have if contemporaries are dying.  But I think it is more than that. I can see the guy working feverishly on math problems, reviewing his notes on the day of an exam, asking relevant questions in class, laughing, and ...very much alive. It is tough to imagine him not being with us. I can't recall it, but I bet the presentation on Rwanda and Burundi was brilliant.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

super bowl

Just saying, that if you read my blog, Seattle, I had this one predicted well.

I did not think the Broncos would fail so awfully, but I knew Manning could not repeat what he did against the Patriots. That was the game of his life, played in perfect conditions. I heard an analyst on the radio say that Manning, tonight, was just pedestrian.  Brilliant last game, ordinary tonight.

Another analyst commented that the kicker for the Broncos typically does not allow for runbacks on kickoffs because of the thin air in Denver. Tonight the kickoff to start the second half was returned for a touchdown and the kickoff team looked like the keystone cops.

 The Broncos thought that their win against the Patriots (by only ten points, at home, with Manning playing the game of his life,  and with some questionable officiating) meant that they would repeat.

If the Patriots played the AFC game at home, they win. We might have lost the game tonight, but we would not have been completely outclassed.