And just like that, the narrative for UNC basketball changes heading into the season. Late Thursday night, the Tar Heels issued a solemn press release stating that superstar big man Tyler Hansbrough had been diagnosed with a stress reaction in his shin and would be out indefinitely.
Depending upon one's generalized perspective, the news can be inferred as a potentially devastating setback or as a mere blip on the way toward a great season.
Tuomo Ruutu scored the only goal of the game after six fruitless power plays midway through the third period, and the Hurricanes were able to hold on for the win. The ‘Canes took revenge on the St. Louis Blues for a stinging 1-0 loss in January by beating their Central Division opponent by the same score.
The game turned out to be a satisfying win, but it could easily have turned into a particularly miserable loss. The ‘Canes managed to stay out of the penalty box during most of the first two periods (two of the Hurricanes’ four penalties went to Eric Staal, who seems to be taking more undisciplined penalties than usual so far this year…very strange) against the Blues, who carried the league’s best power play. However, as the Blues paraded in and out of the penalty box, the ‘Canes could not find the back of the net. Ray Whitney found the side of it and Joe Corvo discovered the crossbar, but the scoreboard remained empty.
Chris Mason, making his return to the Blues’ roster after missing much of the early season due to an emergency appendectomy, looked no worse for wear, recording 28 saves for St. Louis. Cam Ward was excellent when he needed to be in his first regular-season shutout since March, especially when the game looked to be sinking into a modified shootout early in the third period. Two-on-ones, three-on-twos, and even one-on-one breakaways were all turned away. The Hurricanes also managed to contain Keith Tkachuk, who had tallied eight goals in eight games before his team was shut out tonight.
Dennis Seidenberg played a great game and registered the secondary assist on Ruutu’s goal, and Tim Gleason held his own in a second period fight against former New Jersey tough guy Cam Janssen. Janssen was able to pin Gleason, but not before the ‘Canes defenseman beat the sense out of him, removing his opponent’s headwear and using it in a game of helmet-to-head paddleball.
The Hurricanes finished up their very successful road trip 3-1-2, earning eight points in the standings. This road swing is now tied for the second best road trip in team history.
However, now is not the time to get carried away. The Hurricanes are hovering toward the bottom of the league in power play conversions, and lest we forget, cannot buy a win in the shootout (not that Rutherford hasn’t tried…remember Jeff Hamilton?) They have also not truly been challenged; the ‘Canes have preyed on struggling teams thus far, and the only games they have played against likely Eastern Conferences powerhouses – the Rangers and Penguins, respectively – were both regulation losses. However, Cam Ward has not given up an early goal in two starts and is playing with passion again. As John Forslund said in the telecast, the Hurricanes have found ways to win both the tight defensive matches, such as the one tonight, and the wide-open scoring fests, like the game against Florida on opening night. Most impressive of all, they have managed to maintain a good record with a roster that has, at times, strongly resembled Swiss cheese.
In other excellent news, the Brandon Sutter’s injury may not be as bad as it appeared to be. Sutter is reportedly recovering quickly and could be back in the coming weeks.
Defenseman Anton Babchuk tallied his first of the season and Matt Cullen salvaged the extra point with his fourth, but once more the Hurricanes made it past the extra period and the shifty moves of their high-scoring forwards didn’t translate into shootout success. After managing to kill off an entire Montreal Canadiens power play in overtime after Eric Staal went off for slashing, the ‘Canes limped into the shootout, where they haven’t had much success in the past two years. Ray Whitney and Matt Cullen, Peter Laviolette’s go-to guys, failed to score, and Staal took Erik Cole’s place, (Laviolette will occasionally throw Rod Brind’Amour in there, when he’s feeling particularly frisky) but his wrister was stopped by Montreal’s Carey Price. Saku Koivu’s backhand made it past Cam Ward, and Whitney’s subsequent attempt missed the net.
Although we’ve all seen Staal get creative with the puck on-one-one with goalies on breakaways, he still hasn’t found a move that consistently works in the shootouts. The All-Star center is now two for 10 since the shootout was instated – a 20% conversion rate.
The Hurricanes have made the Bell Centre their “home away from home” in recent years; they haven’t lost there in regulation in nearly five years. However, when the game went to the shootout, not even good Canadian karma could help them out. Although the ‘Canes practice the shootout during almost every practice and have plenty of players that are more than capable of scoring, something isn’t clicking. Ward is now 2-8 in career shootouts.
Ward was given a break tonight, at least in comparison to his 57-save outing on Saturday against the Islanders. He faced twenty-five shots, and for the second time in as many games, one of those was a penalty shot. Ward received some illegal help in the crease when Dennis Seidenberg closed his hand on the puck. Tim Gleason committed the same offense on Saturday, and Ward was able to stop Doug Weight’s attempt. However, Alex Tanguay managed to shove the puck over Ward’s pad and make the score 2-1.
Depressing piece from the Times' Harvey Araton, who calls this Series a "turkey." That's in response to Bud Selig's wan assurance to fans that the Series will be concluded, "even if we have to celebrate Thanksgiving." In a gloomy assessment, Araton bemoans the obvious, that the days of baseball being America's pastime are long gone.
Even before Monday night, the television ratings were indicating that the Fall Classic continues to drift from the nation’s consciousness.
Granted, this is an anomalous year, with the Series being played during the stretch run of what feels like a momentous presidential election.
But if the persistent rain here in Philadelphia and the numbing lateness of the games has severed a visceral connection with the national past-your-bedtime, how about a potential seventh game on Nov. 5 next season, when the season will be delayed by the World Baseball Classic?
(The World Baseball Classic is baseball's effort to create a World Cup-like international championship.) The rest of Araton's piece is here.
The Times reports here that the Series is on track to become the least-watched ever, topping (or bottoming) the 2006 "Fall Classic" between the Detroit Tigers and the St. Louis Cardinals. (Do you remember who won?)
For those who still care about this year's Series, however, the Associated Press' Mike Fitzpatrick has a reassuring piece about Rays manager Joe Maddon and his team's unexpected holiday in a plush Wilmington, Del. hotel.
They found a warm, comfortable hotel and enjoyed an unexpected day off with their families. Whenever the World Series finally resumes, that'll be just fine with them.
"Quite frankly it's one of the nicest hotels we've stayed in all year," Maddon said Tuesday on a conference call. "If you're going to have to have a postponement, you might as well stay here."
Tonight's baseball game was the sort of riveting spectacle that is made just for television. Like the Ice Bowl, it was something to watch from afar, as the Rays and Phillies stumbled through a steady, near-freezing rainfall. Down 2-1 in the 6th inning with the game in danger of being declared over, B.J Upton singled with two outs, somehow stole second through the mud, and scored on Carlos Peña's single.
Immediately after the inning, the grounds crew pulled the tarp over the infield—a pointless act, actually, considering the condition of the field. It was quickly obvious that there would be no more baseball tonight, and the game will be resumed tomorrow, although the weather forecast is even worse.
However, after all that misery, the Rays have a new problem. According to ESPN, the cold, wet Rays have no place to sleep tonight:
The Rays checked out of their hotel in center-city Philadelphia, in anticipation of flying home after the game—and they can't get back in, because the hotel is sold out.
They're scrambling to find rooms—somewhere—as we speak.
The ACC table is crowded these days, with 10 of 12 squads sporting overall winning records (you can count yourselves out, State and Clemson) and three teams with one conference loss and seven with two. There are lots of big games coming up, including some unforeseen ones, like Miami versus Virginia and Duke versus Wake Forest (?!), and some expected ones, like Georgia Tech versus Florida State.
With so many contenders, expected and otherwise, the remaining football schedule is in flux, as far as anticipating the stakes of each contest.
So, it was fitting that the UNC media office announced today that the start time for Tar Heels’ Nov. 8 showdown with with Georgia Tech is still undetermined, as is the basketball team's tuneup against UNC- Pembroke that day. UNC's associate athletic director for communications Steve Kirschner said in an e-mail that the league's television partners "have used one of their six-day options on the selections for games on Nov. 8."
The start times won't be announced until Nov. 1.
North Carolina's 2008-09 edition presented itself to the public for the first time on Friday night, as the annual Late Night with Roy—these days, I guess 8 p.m. is pretty late—spectacle entertained an adoring crowd at the Dean Smith Center.
The event typically marks the opening of practice, but UNC officials pushed this year's event back one week to accommodate students, who were on fall break last weekend. As always, there were skits—the best of which featured senior guard Bobby Frasor impersonating Roy Williams—and player introductions and, finally, a brief scrimmage.
But while the action on the court, basketball and otherwise, revealed little about a highly experienced team that is America's consensus No. 1 heading into the season, the real action was in the stands.
Because in truth, these season-opening exhibitions are designed for fans, and it's the fan turnout and reaction that gives them value. On this night, the crowd emanated two dominant emotions: excitement and fear.
Clearly, the Weight hit has elicited a strong response from hockey fans. Although it has been all but cleared by the league because it was an open-ice hit and Doug Weight was admittedly sorry afterwards, this unfortunate event raises the same old questions: should hits like this be allowed? If a hit is not completed when a player’s back is turned, accompanied by a direct blow to the head, or with noticeable intent to injure, (how one gauges that is anybody’s guess) it gets a stamp of approval. Players such as Scott Stevens thrived on this rule, circling the neutral zone and looking for their next victim.
Of course, everyone remembers this one.
Scott Stevens is now a hall-of-famer, and players continue to be hurt by these legal hits. Many, perhaps even most, around the league believe that when a player is vulnerable – is not looking or has their head down – their opponent should let up, and those who don’t should be punished. Players have suffered serious injuries as a result of these “entertaining” hits, a relic of another NHL era. Last season, Patrice Bergeron was hit by Philadelphia’s Randy Jones and missed the rest of the season due to concussion symptoms. The league suspended Jones for only two games, and Bergeron was criticized for leaving himself in a vulnerable position. The Hurricanes’ own Matt Cullen missed a large chunk of last year’s season with vision problems after receiving an open-ice hit from Colton Orr, who received no backlash from the league. If a player is facing the boards or is watching the puck, he should not have to worry about eating out of a straw for the next two weeks.
Hurricanes coach Peter Laviolette agrees. He had this to say after the Islanders game:
"(Sutter) was in a vulnerable position, and those kind of hits have to be removed from the game,” Laviolette said. “He may not have had his arm up, but those kind of hits are dangerous."
Chad LaRose scored his first of the season and Eric Staal and Rod Brind'Amour tallied goals for Carolina in the team's 4-3 over the New York Islanders Saturday night, but the story of the night was Doug Weight's borderline-dirty hit on Brandon Sutter, who had just helped to give the 'Canes the lead. The 19-year-old rookie was knocked unconscious and had to be helped off the ice.
Weight, who was an invaluable part of the 'Canes 2006 cup run and iconically lifted the cup with one arm after injuring his shoulder in game 5, is by all accounts a classy guy and a beloved part of Hurricanes' history, even though he has played for two other teams since. However, there was nothing classy about leveling the teenage Sutter right in front of the Hurricanes bench with a Scott Stevens-esque blow. Weight clearly went for Sutter, not the puck, and Sutter may have suffered a concussion as a result. Sutter is coming into his own earlier than expected, scoring the 'Canes' only goal against the Penguins on Wednesday and setting up Chad LaRose's go-ahead goal against the Islanders. This injury, depending on how severe it is, could hamper his progress significantly. And it was all because Doug Weight lost his temper.
Eric Staal said in the post-game that would never have expected Weight to make that sort of play, and surely people around the Triangle share in that sentiment. Doug Weight, that smiling, genuine team player took out a rookie in a hit that may not have been dirty, but it was certainly malicious. Upon the review, the league may choose to punish Weight; if not, he has a price on his head when the 'Canes next play the Islanders. The Hurricanes got the win, but all that matters now is that Sutter has a speedy recovery.
As a "sports blogger," I'm not really sure what ethical parameters are supposed to guide me. I guess if a UNC athletic department official offered me $20 to say that Boston College's cheerleaders smell like bourbon, or that I heard that Randy Shannon huffs amyl nitrite and drinks PBR, I wouldn't do it. I might take the money, but I'd never write anything I knew to be false.
I am, however, fairly certain that I don't have to pretend to the same kind of impartiality that news reporters fake. I'm free to be a fan.
At first, this didn't matter much. I like football, I live in North Carolina, I knew I'd enjoy covering the ‘Heels, but I didn't care much whether they won or lost. To be honest, I expected them to be terrible, but I thought that, in some ways, it might be more interesting to cover a bad team than a good one.
But now I'm a convert. These guys don't have the most high-profile players, a media-anointed coach, or the most historic program. They play for a school whose academic standards are high enough to make recruiting tricky. They're not in, or near, a major urban center likely to attract high profile players. They lost starting QB TJ Yates early in the season, and their best offensive player, future NFL starter Brandon Tate, two weeks ago. Neither will return. Coming into Saturday's game, they had two in-conference losses, one to Virginia Tech when Yates went down, and the other to erratic Virginia in their first game without Tate.
But this has been a strange and exciting season for North Carolina under Coach Butch Davis, an old hand brought in to raise the program's reputation. Strange because they keep winning games despite allowing opponents to beat them in total yards and time of possession, and exciting because they make big plays, offensively (usually big passes to Hakeem Nicks or Tate), defensively (the team is intercepting the ball at a record-setting pace), and on special teams (specifically punt blocks).
Last week, against see-saw Virginia, they finally outgained an opponent - and lost.
Saturday, North Carolina faced another ACC foe, 5-1 Boston College. BC has an ace QB, Chris Crane, and is known for scoring in bunches. Having lost two in-conference games, UNC had to win to keep their bowl hopes alive.
However, UNC lost their first Tate-less contest last week, and I was pretty skeptical that they could keep pulling rabbits out of a hat every game.