Here we are, in early June, and the NHL season has just reached the midway point. Just kidding. Actually, the Stanley Cup will be won either Thursday or Saturday, and as the Devils try to repeat their title, they have frequently played below their abilities. As disgusted Devils coach Larry Robinson groused after a desultory Game 3, “If a coach has to light the fire under players when you are in a Stanley Cup Finals, then those players shouldn’t be where they are.”
The occasional poor efforts result from a certain lack of hunger that historically plagues most defending Cup champions. Which is what makes even a two-peat so difficult. So, who was the last team to repeat? The Scotty Bowman-coached Red Wings in 1998. The time before that? The Bowman-coached Penguins in ’92. Before that were the Oilers and four-straight champ Islanders, both in the ’80s, and each coached by former Bowman players, Glen Sather and Al Arbour. Before that, Bowman’s Canadiens won four straight to finish off the ’70s, featuring a star defenseman named Larry Robinson. Sense a pattern here?
We thought we’d ask Bowman (who will be honored by New York’s Canadian Society as Hockey’s Man of the Year on June 18 at the Waldorf-Astoria) why the Devs have struggled. “Before the first game everyone was telling the Devils how good they were,” Scotty says. “And the truth is they are probably equal to the Avalanche—and if Peter Forsberg isn’t hurt, Colorado is probably better. Their defensemen are better than Jersey’s. So the Devils got whipped the first game. Then the Avalanche start reading their own press clippings, got too contented, and played an awful Game 2.” The seesaw series was on.
What’s the secret formula for Cup defense? Another Bowman alumnus, his former assistant coach Pierre McGuire, who’s now Canada’s top TV hockey analyst, says, “It’s imperative to refresh championship teams each year with new, hungry key players.” Scotty agrees, and though impressed with the energy of both new Devs, Bob Corkum and Turner Stevenson, Bowman knows they are not top talents. The key to winning the playoffs is not your role players, but for your stars to play their best. Most of the best Devs, except for Brian Rafalski (who Bowman calls “a terrific defenseman”), have been inconsistent. Still, even though Devs star Jason Arnott‘s Game 4 injury may prove crucial, Scotty believes Jersey’s strong play in that contest might ultimately provide the momentum for another of his scions to be a Cup-repeating coach.
With a hysterical mayor shilling on behalf of every team owner from George Steinbrenner to Chuck Dolan, New Yorkers can be forgiven for thinking there’s no such thing as a sober public dialogue on funding pro sports facilities. But starting June 11, even the most cynical of Gothamites can try their hand at the grassroots democracy thing, thanks to an 11-day electronic forum, “Public Financing of Professional Sports Stadiums,” on the civic issues Web site Politalk.com. Participants need only send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org to join what Politalk founder Tim Erickson hopes will be a lively, informative exchange.
“I can’t think of another issue which has been more oversimplified in public debate than this one,” he says. “There is far more to this discussion than most people seem willing to admit.”
Erickson established Politalk two years ago, aiming to create in-depth, moderated conversations on hot topics. Next week’s discussion will emphasize stadium controversies in Boston, Minneapolis/St. Paul, and Portland, Oregon, but Erickson expects visitors from all over the country to bring up the debates in their locales. “I’ve been wondering if sports teams might lose some of their leverage over communities if there were more communication between those communities,” he says.
Sports economist/Giuliani whipping boy Andrew Zimbalist is part of the forum’s list of experts who will contribute to the discussion. That list also includes Elysian Fields Quarterly editor Tom Goldstein, frequent Voice contributor Neil deMause, Business Journal Portland editor Dan Cook, and journalist-author Jay Weiner.
Shawn McCarthy, who works as Ralph Nader‘s sports industry watchdog, tells Jockbeat that he’s hopeful about Politalk. “My first impression is that this is one of the few opportunities, outside of a referendum, that citizens have to voice their opinions on the topic of taxpayer-financed stadiums and the enormous corporate welfare giveaway to sports franchise owners,” McCarthy says. “Information is the currency of democracy, and up to this point, stadium discussions have been very one-sided.”
• Alan Webb, the amiable and articulate Virginia teen who broke Jim Ryun‘s seemingly invulnerable 36-year-old U.S. high school record in the mile (with a 3:53:43 to the relatively pedestrian old record of 3:55:30), has our best wishes as he strives to emulate the rest of Ryun’s track career, which featured multiple world records and an Olympic silver medal. We just fervently hope Webb doesn’t take the path Ryun has chosen in middle age—as one of the most conservative members of the House of Representatives. In 1998, the Kansas Republican’s voting record earned perfect 100 percent ratings from the American Conservative Union, Chamber of Commerce, and Christian Coalition, and zeroes from Americans for Democratic Action and the League of Conservation Voters. . . . • It’s bad enough that Steve Trachsel pitched himself into a demotion to triple-A. But you’d think he’d have more pride than to tell reporters that he planned to keep the baseball from a no-hitter—a seven-inning no-hitter—that he tossed during his remedial stint at Norfolk. Is his trophy case really that bare? Hey, Steve Phillips, send this guy down to the Rookie League so he can set a new record by striking out 27 guys in a game! . . . • In the aftermath of last week’s Supreme Court ruling allowing Casey Martin to ride around the golf course during PGA events, there has been much hand-wringing about the “integrity” of the game. To those so concerned, we remind them: It is called a golf cart.
Contributors: Stu Hackel, Joanna Cagan, Peter Gambaccini, Paul Lukas, Ramona Debs
Sports Editor: Miles D. Seligman