Blue Jackets Win Streak Catches Attention

•January 7, 2017 • Leave a Comment

The Columbus Blue Jackets had a 16-game win streak from late November until early January.

Yes, you read that sentence correctly and yes, it was the Columbus Blue Jackets that had that win streak.

Just one year ago, Blue Jackets and win streaks were words that would not have appeared in the same sentence. The Blue Jackets, who have only made the playoffs twice in team history, have not had many winning seasons and win streaks have been rare.

Over the years in Columbus, the following stories would flood the local sports media during the winter months:

  • Ohio State’s football recruits
  • Ohio State basketball
  • The Columbus Blue Jackets
  • Will the Blue Jackets leave Columbus?

There is no doubt Ohio State sports rule most of the sports stories in Columbus and it was often wondered if the Blue Jackets would stay in the state’s capital. Issues with money and the lease with Nationwide Arena would make the rumors of the Blue Jackets leaving town appear on a yearly basis.

Last season, when previous head coach Todd Richards was fired after a disastrous start to the season, John Tortorella was brought in to turn the club around. Torts, as they call him, didn’t bring another playoff run to Columbus last season but the impact of his coaching is making a difference so far during the 2016-2017 season.

With a great farm system to work with and having time to implement Torts’s system, the Blue Jackets started a winning streak at the end of November and it lasted until early January. The Blue Jackets found ways to win and kept winning. Attendance at Nationwide Arena started to rise and the club became one of the top stories and the hockey world.

For the longest time, the national media wouldn’t necessarily cover the Blue Jackets. National television appearances for the Blue Jackets are rare. Once the streak began to take shape, national media in both the United States and Canada began to take notice.

Had the Jackets tied the current record of 17 wins in a row, NBC Sports would have covered the January 7th game to see if they could break the record. National media from Canada and the United States flocked to Washington on January 5th to see if the Jackets could tie the record against the Capitals. The streak ended that night but the impact remained the same. The winning streak took a team that was known for losing and made it a serious contender in the eyes of the fans and the media.

Advertisements

Solon Football – Always a Fun Ride

•November 13, 2016 • Leave a Comment

I lost track years ago how many Solon Comets football games I have covered from the pressbox at Stewart Field off Inwood Road next to Solon High School. I am sure I can estimate but doubt I can come up with an accurate number.

The same can be said for the number of Solon football games I have photographed when the team has played on the road. Traveling to follow the team has opened up opportunities and I enjoy traveling to the different stadiums throughout the season. I lost track long ago how many different visiting stadiums I have parked at and stepped into.

No matter where the games take place, following and covering the team is always a fun ride for me. My age is 31 and I still get the same elated feelings I had when I was 16 when I step into the stadium to cover the team. As I have grown older, the faces on the roster have changed numerous times but the fun I have covering the team remains the same and I am grateful to be part of the experience.

Doing play-by-play for Solon Educational Television has added more work for me during the week leading up to the broadcast, however, I find it enjoyable. The research has helped the broadcasts become more professional and it is fun learning the ins and outs of the team. I can have the busiest and tiring week leading up to the broadcast but stepping in that broadcast to call the game helps me wind down and relax. Being focused on calling the game is my favorite way to spend Friday nights in the fall and always a fun way to start my weekends.

On the road, taking my camera with me and tweeting highlights for the Friday Night Huddle show has added another fun dimension to covering the team. Photography is a passion I developed during my college years and relaxes me after a busy week. Being asked to contribute to the Friday Night Huddle on Time Warner Cable and Cleveland.com is an honor and tweeting video highlights as the game goes on has made me feel more connected to the team. It has forced me to keep up with the team in a positive way and has added another enjoyable element to covering the team week in and week out.

The Solon season ended this past Friday with a loss to St. Ignatius, however, I am not going to dive into the details of that game. The purpose of this piece is to share my gratitude to those who have helped make the experience of covering Solon football a great one.

To Coach Jim McQuaide, his family, and the entire coaching staff, your support during the season has always been appreciated. It helps knowing I have a great support staff from all of you each and every time I step foot into the pressbox or on the gridiron. The support you provide is one of the main reasons I keep coming back. Thanks to all of you for being in my corner.

To the players and their parents, your support means a lot as well. It makes me feel appreciated when all of you take the time to thank me for announcing the games, getting highlights on to Friday Night Huddle, or mentioning you saw my photos online. It is an incredible feeling for me to know there are those out there who know of my work and follow it. Thanks to all of you for being there for me.

To the Solon Band, thanks to all of you for putting on incredible performances throughout the season. Nothing beats a great halftime show and it helps knowing some great music will be played at halftime. Thanks for all of your hard work.

To Solon Educational Television, calling the games all these years means the world to me. It helps walking into Stewart Field on Friday Nights knowing a fun and enthusiastic crew is waiting for me. It makes a difference knowing the crew will be working hard throughout the broadcast. Thanks for letting me get behind the microphone and for all the hard work.

To Classic TeleProductions, the phone call to ask me to be on the Friday Night Huddle was one of the best surprises I ever received. Being on the show and contributing has made the experience of covering high school football more enjoyable than before. Thanks to those who helped make this opportunity happen.

Thanks to all of you for making this past season another fun ride.

Heaven is Where Dreams Do Come True

•October 26, 2016 • Leave a Comment

Growing up a baseball fan during the fantastic run the Cleveland Indians had from 1994 to 2001, the World Series is always an exciting event for me. I had lost count long ago how many World Series games I had watched on television over the years. No matter who was playing, my dream was to eventually make it to the Fall Classic in person.

Witnessing the 1995 and 1997 World Series runs by the Cleveland Indians made me a Tribe fan for life. With the excitement both teams brought every night, it was my first glimpse in life at a Cleveland team trying to win a championship. It was the closest my parents had seen since the Cleveland Browns teams of the 1980s and both trips were exciting for my family and the entire city of Cleveland.

Being the age I was, I also took these trips to the Fall Classic for granted. With how the Indians always put a strong team on the field each and every season from 1994-2001, I always assumed the Indians would get back and eventually win the World Series.

Little did I know how the entire team would change once the late Dick Jacobs sold the team to the Dolan family. Payroll was cut, a new approach was taken to building the team, and it would not be until 2007 that the Indians would make another late October run for the World Series. The 2007 team fell short by losing in the American League Championship Series and it made me appreciate the 1995 and 1997 teams even more.

When my sister was in medical school in St. Louis, she had the opportunity to witness the Cardinals win two World Series championships and attended one of the games during the 2006 World Series. I gained a greater appreciation for how big an event the World Series is when discussing the games with her. My dream of going to a World Series game in person intensified after these discussions.

My opportunity came when the Cleveland Indians clinched the 2016 American League Championship over the Toronto Blue Jays. I knew it would cost a lot of money to go but I didn’t want to wait another 19 years or longer to have that chance to attend a World Series game. I wanted to make my dream come true.

The tickets were for standing room but I didn’t care. I was inside Progressive Field for the 2016 World Series. As I watched the Chicago Cubs warm up, it really dawned on me what was happening. The Cubs, the National League Champions, were right in front of me playing in Game One against my hometown Cleveland Indians for a chance at a World Series title. I had seen the American and National League champions square off in the World Series on television numerous times but this time, it was live in person.

I brought with me to the game pictures of my maternal grandfather and great grandfather. I was very young in both pictures and don’t have any memory of them being taken. My mom has recalled my great grandfather being a huge Indians fan, which is something he passed on to my grandfather.

During the later years of his life, my grandfather had Parkinson’s and watching the games on television made him feel the most comfortable. Arthritis in his back prevented him from being able to go down to Progressive Field for games after a certain point and I never had an opportunity to take him to one myself. He and my great grandfather would have been thrilled to see the Indians and the Cubs face off in the World Series. My way of getting both of them to the game were these two pictures I packed with me. I finally was able to get both of the to a World Series game.

My friend Anthony and I kept commenting to ourselves how being in the stadium for the World Series felt like a heavenly experience. I kept thinking how that notion was one of the themes in the film Field of Dreams. One of the lines in the film discusses how heaven is a place where dreams come true. Last night, watching that came from me was where a dream had just come true.

 

Focus on The Good and Not the Past

•June 22, 2016 • Leave a Comment

Growing like I did with Cleveland sports, you learn to be passionate.

The first time I stepped inside old Cleveland Municipal Stadium for a Browns game, I didn’t see the passion there, I felt it. The roar of the crowd, the heart the players showed that day, and the feeling of excitement helped me feel the passion.

I recall stepping into the Coliseum the first time to watch the Cavaliers. They were the old blue jerseys with the orange Cavs logo at the time and the passion was felt for those in blue.

Years later, I stepped into Progressive (then Jacobs) Field and felt that same passion when cheering on the Indians. A dynasty was about to begin as the Indians of the 90s would capture the American League Central Division title several times and make two trips to the World Series.

Across the street, I felt the passion hockey fans had with the old Cleveland Lumberjacks. The fire that burned inside me the first time I saw a game lives with me today and that passion is felt each time I watch the current team, the Lake Erie Monsters.

The passion also comes from family members who grew up watching the great Cleveland Barons teams of the 40s, 50s, and 60s. It comes from grandparents old enough to remember watching the Indians take the World Series in 1948 and the Browns winning championships in the 50s and 60s.

With this passion also came unfriendly reminders of the past. Even if you got out of Cleveland, you couldn’t escape hearing about The Shot, The Drive, The Fumble, The Move, The Decision, and Jose Mesa losing the 1997 World Series on a blown save.

As fans and citizens of this city, we are also reminded of the Cuyahoga River catching on fire, the city going bankrupt, Jimmy Dimora, and Ariel Castro. These along with the city’s sports woes were dark points in history. Like any moment in history, these remain in the past and cannot be changed.

Within the past two weeks, less focus has been put on these bad moments when the Lake Erie Monsters and the Cleveland Cavaliers won championships in their respective leagues. The Monsters won the Calder Cup for the American Hockey League and the Cavs won the first ever NBA title in franchise history.

Both championships brought tears and joy to sports fans in Cleveland. In a city where not many believed a championship could be won, two teams came home with league championship trophies in two weeks.

As Monsters captain Ryan Craig lifted the Calder Cup in the air inside Quicken Loans Arena, part of the boulder on the shoulder of Cleveland sports had been lifted.

When Lebron James celebrated with his teammates after winning an NBA title, the boulder was completely gone.

Also gone were the jokes and the belief the city would never see a title. After so much focus on a negative past, the focus was now on two positive feats.

Both championships proved critics wrong about Cleveland not being able to win a championship. Both also proved it was time to tell the story how Cleveland fans finally rejoiced in championships they deserved. It is also the story of how a city that was down and out rebounded for the best.

 

Time for a Different Story To Tell

•June 20, 2016 • Leave a Comment

Growing up a Cleveland sports fan, jokes and stories were abundant on how the city was “cursed” and couldn’t win a championship. The Drive, The Fumble, The Shot, Jose Mesa, and The Decision all created heartache for Cleveland sports fans. No matter how much time had passed, the same sad stories would often get repeated throughout the media.

Time has passed since some of the worst moments in Cleveland history. Time often can heal and Cleveland fans never gave up hope a championship would come home. Time and time again, Cleveland fans remained dedicated and hopeful the so called “curse” would end. The burden of no championship often felt like a boulder on the shoulder of the fans that couldn’t be lifted.

In a two week span, two teams who call Quicken Loans Arena home, the Lake Erie Monsters and the Cleveland Cavaliers, would remove that boulder.

The Lake Erie Monsters, who were formed nine seasons ago after the previous version of the Cleveland Barons failed to capture a fan base, won the Calder Cup in the American Hockey League finals. Some of the fans had been waiting since 1964, when the original Cleveland Barons last won the Calder Cup, for a championship; some wanted to simply see a championship. Others who had been hockey fans since the days of the Cleveland Lumberjacks in the mid-90s were starving for a title as well.

The Monsters had built a following and it showed when the largest crowd to watch a professional hockey game in Cleveland watched Monsters forward Oliver Bjorkstrand score a game winning goal in overtime to claim the Calder Cup. The six-ounce puck crossing the line brought joy to so many who had waited for a championship.

With that goal, part of the boulder had been removed.

On June 19th, the other part of the boulder would go with it.

Having been down 3-1 in the NBA Finals, the Cleveland Cavaliers took a Game 7 victory against the heavily favored Golden State Warriors. Like many times before, Cleveland was “cursed”, not supposed to win, or be thought of as a championship city.

Lebron James, who had ripped the hearts out of Cleveland fans with the Decision, came back and was determined to end the championship drought. With a blocked shot by James late in the fourth quarter and a three-point shot by Kyrie Irving, the Cavaliers became champions.

The boulder was now gone.

The Cavaliers celebrated and the city rejoiced with the team. It had been 52 years and the city was more than ready to celebrate. There was no more reasons to believe the city was “cursed” and couldn’t win. There was now reason to believe good things happen to those who wait and continue to give hope.

Instead of telling the story of how Cleveland is “cursed”, it is now time to tell the story how the “curse” was lifted in two weeks.

Calder Cup Returns to Cleveland as Lake Erie Monsters Win. Team Has Won On and Off the Ice

•June 12, 2016 • Leave a Comment

The Lake Erie Monsters are a minor-league professional hockey team. They are the top developmental team for the NHL’s Columbus Blue Jackets. The Monsters job is to develop the players in the minor leagues before they get to the next level.

By being a professional team, the Monsters are also a business. Hockey is a sport enjoyed by many and it is also business. For the business to succeed, the Monsters have to find different methods to build their brand, sell tickets and merchandise, and win on the ice as well.

For the first few years of existence, the Monsters management focused heavily on building the team’s brand name and the in-game experience. To succeed in business, you have to have a brand and an experience to go with it. Apple has a top brand with the iPod, iTunes, and iPad lines. Starbucks built their brand with a line of coffees in the Seattle market and created in-store experiences with friendly baristas and calming atmospheres. Building the brand was going to be key to the Monsters success at the gate and in the merchandise store.

Starting practically from scratch, the Monsters had to pick a name, design a logo, and market the team to build a brand name. Rather than recycling an old name like Lumberjacks, Barons, or Crusaders (which was considered at one point), the team opted to build its brand by naming the team the Lake Erie Monsters. The team spent lots of money marketing and advertising the team through local outlets and slowly built awareness and recognition.

To succeed at the minor-league level, the game can’t always be what sells the tickets or gets fans to come back. It is the experience and ambiance inside the arena. If the team doesn’t win on the ice or field, fans who paid tickets will still need an experience to get them asking for more.

The Monsters created that atmosphere with loud music, energetic in-game hosts, entertaining skits during the game, and an overall good time. Even if the Monsters didn’t always win, it was hard not to feel like you had a good time when walking back to the car afterwards.

In the first eight years of existence, the Monsters management won with the fans with ticket sales and merchandise. The Monsters are one of the top drawing teams in the league and usually rank high in merchandise sales.

Like any business, you play to win. For the Monsters organization to keep winning with fans, they had to bring something the city had not seen since the 1964 Cleveland Barons; a Calder Cup.

Part of that strategy came from changing affiliations from the Colorado Avalanche to the Columbus Blue Jackets. With the parent club two hours down Route 71, it made sense business wise to help build the brand name by aligning with an NHL club that was closer. Research had shown fans in Cleveland do travel to Columbus for Blue Jackets games and the partnership could help both clubs.

The move was not initially embraced by all. Some of the fans had a deep loyalty to the Avalanche and other NHL organizations. The Blue Jackets did have some financial issues and the team doesn’t always draw well when Ohio State Football is in season. Having lived down in Columbus for four years during my undergraduate years at Otterbein, it was apparent the Blue Jackets had a fan base that was dwindling with mediocre to poor teams. Coverage for the team was nowhere near at the level of Ohio State and rumors circulated that the team was going to move.

With the new affiliation in place, the Monsters started winning more and they qualified for the Calder Cup playoffs for the second time in team history. Fans were happy to see the team make it to the postseason but in business and in sport, you play to win.

The Monsters continued to win on the ice throughout the playoffs. By eliminating every opponent they had faced in the first three rounds, the Monsters reached the Calder Cup Finals. The team was still winning at the gate as fans poured in for the playoff games. It was now time to win on the ice.

With a 3-0 lead in the series, the Monsters had a victory at the gate as over 19,663 fans poured into Quicken Loans Arena to see if the Calder Cup would call Cleveland home again. The Lumberjacks had come close to that attendance several times during their existence, however, it was the Monsters that would shatter the record. It was the largest crowd to ever witness a professional hockey game in Cleveland.

As Oliver Bjorkstand’s shot with 1.9 seconds left in overtime trickled into the back of the net, the Monsters officially won the Calder Cup as a team and an organization. As the team celebrated, the fans cheered loudly as a championship returned to Cleveland.

Success in business is usually shared by owners, business partners, equity partners, and shareholders. In this case, the Calder Cup was won not only by the players and management; it was also won by the fans who started packing Quicken Loans to cheer on the Monsters nine seasons ago. The management built the brand and brought everything the fans wanted with the team; it was now time for both sides to celebrate victory.

Thoughts on David Blatt’s Firing

•January 23, 2016 • Leave a Comment

Not many expected former Cleveland Cavaliers head coach David Blatt to get fired. After taking the team to the NBA Finals in his first season, Blatt continued his winning ways by keeping the Cavaliers in first place of the Eastern Conference this season.

Even though the Cavs were in first place, other issues seemed to be looming. After an embarrassing loss to the Golden State Warriors on Monday (and second time losing to the Warriors this season), a lot of information regarding the inner workings of the locker room started to be revealed. Players were pointing fingers at one another, there was a somber mood, and a feeling of hope that was lost.

A coaching change would not be expected for a team doing well, however, it must have become apparent to General Manager David Griffin that the team needed to alter its approach.

Below are thoughts on what occurred prior to Blattt’s firing:

1) The team has the best chance to win a championship with Lebron James

With how the Cavs have struggled against strong Western Conference teams, some could question whether Blatt as effective as a head coach. In games against the Warriors and the TrailBlazers, the Cavs played luckluster and as individuals. Blatt never could get it turned around in that aspect. Griffin may have realized Blatt was not the coach for the long run.

2) Somber moods in the locker room are a virus

In any organization, a somber mood can spread through the workplace like a nasty virus. Whether you are in sports, business, or any profession, a negative attitude and mood can downturn any organization.

The mood after the embarrassing loss to the Warriors Monday was both somber and toxic. Players felt down on themselves and pointing fingers creates a toxic work atmosphere. Whether Blatt could handle this effectively had yet to be seen, however, it was apparent the team was down on themselves after losing to a tough Warriors team for the second time this season. The somber mood was causing players to lose faith in themselves and possibly Blatt.

3) Tyronn Lue as an assistant coach was no accident

Lue was the Cavs second choice for head coach had Blatt not accepted the job. Lue was quickly offered an assistant coaching position with the Cavs not too longer after Blatt was hired.

Could Griffin have known Blatt may not have been able to get along with Lebron ahead of time? Why would Griffin hire Blatt if he didn’t feel like he couldn’t get the job done? Was this already in the works last season?

No matter how you look it at, Griffin respects Lue a lot and his second choice was close by should Blatt get the hook. Now that Blatt is gone, Lue will have his opportunity.

4) Griffin complained there was lack of connectivity between the players

Having a cohesive team is needed in any organization. Whether you are in business or a sports team, playing as a team gets you further than having a collection of individuals. There were times the Cavs played as individuals and not a team. This became apparent both times they played Golden State. Blatt’s lack of ability to connect the team and make it as one seemed to have come to the forefront after the loss on Monday.