Tuesday, March 8, 2011

A Hockey Rivalry Is like Lightning in a Bottle


"We don't like the way they dive every two seconds and they lead the league in power play attempts because they've got guys like [Steve] Downie -- even though he might not be playing tonight -- who if I was a referee I would never make a call on him ever because he dives every two seconds," … "[Steven] Stamkos, dives every two seconds. You start to get a hatred on for guys like that. So, it will be interesting." — Bruce Boudreau

I know that conventional wisdom — and history — says that rivalries are born in the playoffs, but I think two coaches are trying to get a head start. Really one coach, Bruce Boudreau. Whether we play Tampa Bay in the playoffs remains to be seen, but at the end of our 6-game series it seemed clear that we weren’t just two division teams playing each other. We also weren’t just protecting our newly won 1 point lead in the Southeast. Nor were we just playing a team that had bested us in 2 of our 4 outings with shutouts. We were playing a team of “divers” and dangerous goal scorers.

Bruce Boudreau made as much clear in a very public way before the game. In a way that Capitals fans everywhere would hear and process. The normally magnanimous coach trash talked the other team so that his fans — and his team — could ratchet up the feelings. If this had been a home game, he might have been trying to sell seats though that’s not been an issue for more than a season. It was a road game for a team who was playing the 2nd night of a back-to-back and it was an opportunity to take a 4 game winning streak to 5 games. When your own fans are booing you in your own barn, you have to do something about it. Winning isn’t enough, because we were 5th in the East — in the middle of the play-off pack — and Capitals fans still booed the team at home. Bruce Boudreau is planting the seeds to grow another Penguin-like rivalry partly for business, but also to emphasize to fans who the object of scorn should be.

Boudreau has plenty of experience generating the hype required to grow rivalries. His long stints as coach in the ECHL taught him, at a grassroots level, how to quickly go on the offensive off the ice to develop rivalries and market his team. As coach of the Mississippi Sea Wolves, he said the team "hated the people of Louisiana" — Mississippi's rival state — and sold out every game that year. Normally, Bruce Boudreau can be heard praising a team’s strength or acting baffled by a team’s recent weaknesses always saying that we know they’re better than their record reflects. Yesterday, I think he took a page out of his past play book when he'd put on his marketing hat and talk trash to fill seats.

The initial, and partly on target, analysis of the Boudreau’s statement determined that he was working the refs. That by pointing out this tendency in some of Tampa Bay’s players, the referees would perhaps call penalties in the Capitals’ favor. I’m sure that this was partly the goal, not unlike a political campaign complaining about bad news coverage. But it seems to me that Boudreau already has success in games when he can point to lopsided officiating. By claiming publicly that officials buy what Tampa Bay is selling just seems like a way to set the refs against you. Clearly, it didn’t stop them from calling more penalties against the Capitals than against Tampa. Then again, perhaps the most important call of the game was the one that resulted in no penalty, but rather a called-back goal.

Reacting to the disallowed goal is where — and Boudreau could not have seen this coming — Guy Boucher begins to plant the seeds in Tampa for the rivalry that Boudreau started. Washington knows a thing or two about the psychological effect of a disallowed goal. We ended our play-off run largely on the dispiriting effect of one late in the game and we skidded for head-splitting 8 games after one in Dallas in December. They are nasty and hurtful. And, now, perhaps our biggest rival outside of Pennsylvania has had one at our hands. It’s clear from Boucher’s terse response to media today regarding the disallowed goal that he kind of blames Boudreau a little. Not just for his team, which he thinks manufactured the incidental contact, but also for his comments. The same comments that he had no comment for before the game. Perhaps Guy Boucher was trying be the nice guy, but there are no nice guys in rivalries.

Both teams could use a division rivalry, especially Tampa Bay. The Lightning rank 23rd in attendance capacity and 20th in average attendance. People salivate at the thought that we might one day be in the same division as Pittsburgh, but we have the makings of a rivalry right in our own division. Once again, it's megastar vs. megastar. Ovi vs. Stamkos. By the way, everyone who is scandalized by the way Bruce Boudreau spoke of Stamkos just might want to think about 2 things. 1. Stamkos is an adult and a professional and competitive athlete — I don't think he cares. 2. Do they observe the same religious reverence when discussing Ovechkin with his hard hitting play?

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Sweater Equity: How 3 New Faces Rekindled My Love for the Capitals' Sweater Design

Credit: Ikeastan 2011

Along with the rest of the world last night, I had my first chance to see our new Capitals in their red home sweaters. Three players who I could picture, but in different sweaters. Two I remembered as Bruins in the classic black and gold, and one I remembered as the Devil he was much of his career. Even though Denis Wideman and Marco Sturm played for different teams this season, they were still ex-Bruins to me. Jason Arnott looked the most familiar in red as I was used to his red, white and black.

But last night, when if felt like the first game of the season, they all wore the red, white and blue of the Washington Capitals. I looked closer at the insignias that adorn the uniforms as I mentally fixed each new player in the roster. Everyone looked great. At key moments in the game, the new Caps were resplendent in their new sweaters. They exuded power. Whether it was Sturm's exciting break away and near goal. Or Arnott's near goal in front of the Isles' net minder. Or Wideman's physical play against Tavares. The red home jerseys made it all more spectacular.

The name and the eagle
The Caps sweaters certainly stand out because of the red, but they also have wonderful insignias that enhance them. The main logo that dominates the front is a hybrid of the original, hand-drawn sans serif logo and a contemporary display font that exudes dynamism and pure action. Three stars above the word "Washington" refer in a clever way to the DC flag, both a pleasing motif and a wink at the home town. The secondary mark, which is under-used in my opinion, is the spread bald eagle (as in the seal of the United States) with the negative space shaped like the Capitol dome where it's tail and legs would be. It appears on the shoulders. The body is mostly blue with red wing accents that give the appearance of it being on fire — the bald eagle turned phoenix. Though this eagle is not the screaming eagle of the previous Capitals sweaters, it has a power and majesty that makes it a durable image for a hockey team. In a later blog post, I'll discuss my idea of a third jersey that would involve the eagle mark in a big way.

The colors
So red is certainly a powerful color for a sports team, let alone a hockey team. For the Capitals, though, red is only part — albeit a major part — of the story. Other teams use a lot of red — the Red Wings and Hurricanes among them — but often they use red from head to toe. The Capitals entire home uniform — from head to toe — consists of layers of color that contrast with each other, enhancing the overall effect. The blue helmet next to the red sweater next to the blue pants next the red socks. It's a scheme that forces you to pay attention to the players upper bodies. It's powerful. It's also able to tap into our cultural association with a classic palette of colors like the one in our flag and numerous European ones.

I'm a sucker for the red, white and blue. I tend to favor the designs of teams that use this color scheme, except for Columbus' main sweaters as their insignia is indecipherable without much knowledge. I'm also a sucker for a modern/classic mash up in insignias. I'm lucky to be a Caps fan because they have it all. I'll try to feature other teams on this blog, because there are some new designs — Tampa Bay I'm glaring at you — that are on the horizon and classic ones that deserve a review.