By: Matt Goss
Jordan Spieth: his name has been spread like wildfire over the course of the last week. Why shouldn’t it be? This young, 21 year old kid has just won the most prestigious tournament in all of golf. The 2015 Masters seemed to be taken easily, and not to mention impressively, by one of the youngest competitors in the field. This win puts him in the like of the games great like Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, and Jack Nicklaus. The Masters is golf’s featured tournament, and although not the hardest course played by the pros on tour, only the true champions of golf seem to withstand its trials and arise at the top. Spieth at 21 did this, competing against many seasoned veterans of Augusta. Is this just a fluke, or is there something truly remarkable in this young man’s game?
Augusta National was designed by Bobby Jones to be forgiving and fair to those who play the course correctly. Taking chances and swinging out of your shoes historically do not yield good results on a course like this. Being a 19 year old kid myself (scarily two years younger than Jordan Spieth) I play golf in just this manner. My lack of playing smart costs me countless strokes, and it tends to with many younger golfers. I am amazed, more than anything else, at Spieth’s poise at Augusta. His way of playing, his accuracy, his tendency to miss in the right places, and his patience are not characteristic of a typical 21 year old golfer. Spieth’s game is mature and wise beyond its years and that is why he won. Sure he played good golf but the key to his victory was his ability to miss in the right places, and that separated him from the pack and separates him from most golfers on the tour.
Augusta was designed to highlight the best of the best. The better players always contend at the Masters and it is a good determinant of who is the best in the game. For example, Tiger has not played good golf this year but he still managed to be in the mix in this year’s Masters. This can be explained simply because he is a top caliber golfer, nothing more. Spieth’s performance illustrates the same principle. There are not many flukes at Augusta, and if there are they do not tie the record for lowest round shot in the Masters. Spieth did just this by shooting a record-tying 18 under. No matter how good you are playing coming into the Masters, you do not shoot a score like that unless you possess raw, natural talent just as Tiger does. I argue Spieth does too and his performance illustrated clearly this.
I think the most important aspect to look at in considering if Spieth is a fluke lies in his first trip to Augusta. Only the best of the best have a game that suits Augusta well, to all non-elite players it is a ridiculous test. For the best, Augusta comes easy. It is effortless to play there, and their game just seems to fit. You see this often in the likes of Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, and evidently Jordan Spieth. Many of these tour professionals have played Augusta for years and know the course like the back of their hand, yet it is still very difficult for them. Spieth did not have this luxury of knowing the course, however, it came easy to him. Spieth, in his first appearance in the Masters got 2nd place. That is uncanny unless you are an elite golfer, and especially to go and win it in the fashion he did this year proves one thing. Spieth’s game fits Augusta, and therefore is a special caliber of player. He seems to fit in so well with the golf course and I believe that is the sign that he possesses more raw, natural skill than many anticipated from him.
Spieth’s victory was not a fluke. If anything it was the opening of the floodgates for this upcoming star. I do not mean to say he will break any records or live up to the likes of Tiger and Jack but I do contend that he is an elite player that has many more victories in his belt. Watch out because Spieth will be a competitor for a long, long time.
By: Cullen Raidna
The Senators have by far been the best team down the stretch to the playoffs. This due to the superb play of rookie goaltender Andrew Hammond. Hammond (popularly known as the Hamburglar), finished the season with an astonishing 20-1-2 record, setting numerous records along the way. Hammond has also posted a 1.79 goals against average and .941 save percentage, not to mention 3 shut outs. Not to be out done, his two fellow rookies, Mark Stone and Mike Hoffman had incredible seasons of their own. Hoffman finished with the most goals among rookies with 28 and Stone finished the season tied for the lead of points among rookies with 68. Ottawa comes into the playoffs on a hot streak, knocking off Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and Detroit, all this while on the brink of being knocked out of contention. The one thing that the Senators lack is experience. Hammond spent the majority of the season playing for the Sens AHL affiliate in Binghamton. While they do have some veteran leadership in Mark Methot, David Legwand, and Chris Neil, not many on the roster have had experience in deep playoff runs, which could pose a huge problem playing against an experienced Montreal team, who will be hungry following a loss in the Eastern Conference Finals last year to the New York Rangers. That being said, watch for the Sens to give the Habs a run for their money, they are coming in hot and hope to continue their winning ways.
The Chicago Blackhawks got great news on Monday when they learned that winger Patrick Kane would return for Game One against the Nashville Predators. Kane is a huge part in the power play for the Chicago Blackhawks, and has been out since February with a broken Clavicle. Kane has won two Stanley Cups, both with Chicago, and even scored the Cup-winner in 2010. Another team dealing with significant injuries is the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Penguins have been snake-bitten by injuries this season, starting with Pascal Dupuis getting a blood clot diagnosis in mid-November. The Pens battled through a mumps epidemic, and have not been able to put out a full roster very often this season. The Pens have been without Christian Ehroff, who is recovering from an upper-body injury, and while he may return for the first round he may not be one-hundred percent. The Penguins suffered a big blow 2 weeks ago when defenseman Kris Letang went out with a concussion. Letang was considered by many to be a Norris Trophy candidate, and is the Pens second most experienced defenseman, behind Rob Scuderi. He is arguably the Penguin’s best defenseman, and is key factor in their power play and have struggled since. The Montreal Canadians may be without Mac Pacciorety for the beginning of their first round series against the Ottawa Senators. Pacciorety went down earlier this month with an upper-body injury and while he is making good progress it is unclear whether he will be able to return for game one. He finished 5th in league in goals and 1st in the league in plus/minus. It will be a huge loss if he ends up being out for more than the first couple of games.
In a year where scoring was down, goaltending is going to be a huge factor going into this year’s playoffs. One team that definitely has no worries is the Montreal Canadians, backed stopped by Vezina shoe-in Carey Price. Price leads all goaltending categories, besides shut-outs, which he is tied for 2nd with 9. He finished the season with 44 wins, 1.96 goals against average, and .933 save percentage. He has been nearly impossible to beat this year and has been clutch for the Canadians in past playoff runs. Devan Dubnyk is another goaltender to keep your eyes this post season. Since coming to Minnesota he has gone 27-9-0 and posted a .936 save percentage and a 1.78 GAA. Dubnyk started 37 straight games for Minnesota and almost single handily brought them back from the brink of an epic collapse. If he stays hot, Minnesota could be looking at a deep playoff run.
With solid goaltending also calls for goaltending questions. The two biggest places are St. Louis and Vancouver. Vancouver will start Eddie Lack over the veteran and Olympic silver-medalist in Ryan Miller. Lack has minimal playoff experience, and while Miller has been out with injury, it is a tough call to make giving Miller’s experience. A similar situation is occurring in St. Louis where the Blues are forced to pick between Jake Allen, and the all-star Brian Elliot. Elliot finished the season with a 26-14-3 record amassing 5 shut outs and a 2.26 GAA. Jake Allen posted a 22-7-4 record, 3 shut outs and a 2.28 GAA. While Elliot has had Stanley Cup playoff experience, Allen received the crucial starts down the stretch, so it will be interesting to see who Coach Ken Hitchcock gives the nod to. The Penguins too may have goaltending trouble this postseason. While goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury posted a league leading 10 shut outs this season, he has had his fair share of woes come playoff time in recent years. Just two years ago he was pulled in a series against Ottawa in favor of Thomas Vokun, who lead the Pens to the eastern conference finals. Fleury has always been a rock in the regular season, and was the lone bright spot for the pens down the rough stretch, this is a make or break series for “the flower”. Finally, there is Andrew Hammond of the Ottawa Senators. He has brought the Sens into playoff contention with his stellar play of late. However, Hammond is a rookie, and he is going against the best goaltender in the league, Carey Price. A rookie goalie in the madhouse that is the Bell Centre in Montreal. Hammond’s lack of experience and Price’s experience could play a huge part in the series.
First Playoff Series in Winnipeg
Since moving to Winnipeg from Atlanta in 2011 the Jets have failed to make the playoffs. That changed this year however as Winnipeg managed to secure a playoff spot in the highly competitive western conference. The Jets posted a franchise high 99 points and amassed a home record of 23-13-5. The Jets since moving have perhaps the best home ice advantage in the league, as their fans have not had a team since the original franchise relocated to Arizona. Winnipeg fans are hungry for their team to make a deep run. While the Jets will only have 2 guaranteed home games the crowd will be rocking. Winnipeg is the home of the original white out, and Winnipeg faithful will be out in full force come Wednesday. The Jets however need to be careful about being caught up in moment. They have two Stanley Cup winners in Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien, but besides those two, they lack playoff experience. Ondrej Pavelic has been rock solid for the Jets this year, and has held the Jets in games that they had no business being in. If they can feed off the inspired crowd, and don’t let the adrenaline rush get the best of them, the Jets could be looking at a deep playoff run.
Last Season at Nassau Coliseum
The storied home of the New York Islanders will be shutting its doors at the end of this post season. The Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum has been home since 1972 and has witnessed the Islanders win four Stanley Cups, however none since the 1983 season. The Coliseum has seen many great players don the Islanders jersey such as Mike Bossy, Brian Trottier, Denis Potvin, Pat LaFontaine, and Garth Snow. The Islanders are now lead by number one overall pick in 2009, Johnathan Tavares, Kyle Okposo, and all-star goaltender Jaroslav Halak. The islanders and their faithful fans want to give the Coliseum a memorable farewell and what better way to do that than for the Isles to take home a Stanley Cup. Expect a passionate Islanders team and fan base as they enter their first round series with the Washington Capitals, led by NHL Rocket Richard Trophy winner Alex Ovechkin.
If rules are created, why disregard them?
In the 2014 playoffs, Memphis Grizzlies power forward Zach Randolph did not play in Game Seven of the Western Conference Semifinals after punching Oklahoma City Thunder center Steven Adams in the face in Game Six. While it may not have been a significant punch, the National Basketball Association made the right call by taking action against Randolph. Whether a one game suspension was more necessary than a fine is debatable, but the point is that Randolph was punished for his actions.
On April 12, 2015 Russell Westbrook committed his 16th technical foul of the season. Per Section VII of the NBA rules, players that commit 16 technical fouls in a season will be suspended a single game and fined $5,000. However, it was announced on the morning of April 13 that Westbrook would be allowed to play against the Portland Trail Blazers.
The NBA’s decision to rescind Westbrook’s suspension shows that they are willing to bend the rules in order to keep ratings intact.
Before NBA game action on April 13, the Thunder were tied for the eighth seed with the New Orleans Pelicans. Despite reigning-MVP Kevin Durant only playing in 27 games this season, the Thunder have been a compelling team to follow because Westbrook has stepped up. The seventh year point guard has posted eleven triple doubles and is averaging career highs in points per game (27.9), assists per game (8.6) and rebounds per game (7.2). Westbrook’s incredible season has him in serious contention for MVP and is keeping Oklahoma City’s playoff hopes afloat.
Without Westbrook against the Blazers, the Thunder would almost certainly be blown out. With him, they stand a chance at upsetting a team that has already clinched a playoff spot.
Clearly, the NBA wants Westbrook on the court to create late-season drama whether Oklahoma City gets into the playoffs or not. That’s ok, but not when the NBA has to disregard rules in order to. If Westbrook is supposed to be suspended after 16 technicals, he should be suspended. Period. Commissioner Adam Silver had the gut to suspend Donald Sterling, why not suspend Westbrook?