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TOWER-SOUDAN This past weekend the sporting world and its fans had a chance to catch two phenomenal events. First off was the Little League World Series. Each and every year for a long time I have watched as many games of this event as I could, and this year was no different. I saw the majority of the Championship bracket games and once again this tourney did not disappoint. The very first game in the International bracket featuring the Asia-Pacific (South Korea) entry versus the Caribbean (Puerto Rico) team went into extras and wasn’t settled until SK notched two in the top of the 9th to eke out a 4-2 victory. On a side note one of the broadcast team mentioned that it had been 17 years since a team that lost it’s first game had rallied to win the LLWS title. I guess you can make that 18 now because Team PR didn’t make it.
Then on the 2nd day of the tourney in the United States bracket the Southeast team (Peach Tree City GA) lost an epic 11 inning tilt to the West team (Honolulu, HI) by a 2-0 walk off final. Not to be outdone, Team Canada (Surrey, British Columbia) and the Europe-Africa entrant (Barcelona, Spain) took it to 10 innings when Canada was able to squeak out a 2-1 walk off victory and this tourney was off to a cliff hanger of a start. On the first Sunday of the tourney the little leaguers got their games completed early in the afternoon to make way for the New York Mets and the Philadelphia Phillies to play in the 2nd annual Little League Classic MLB game to be held at the LLWS. The ceremony, celebration and general all-around camaraderie of the event between the young players and the pro’s is emotionally touching. That it is an international event as well (with translators provided) whereby all participants from the world over are celebrated equally and where sportsmanship is encouraged is great. The boys got the best seats in the house for the game and the pro’s, ala LLWS “style” even had a handshake line at the conclusion of this game won by the Mets 8-2.
The South Korea team eventually won the International group, beating Japan in a nail biter of a game 2-1 in 6 innings. The boys from Honolulu won the US bracket by beating the team from Georgia by a 3-0 shutout. This setup the World Championship on Sunday afternoon which would be won by Hawaii in a second consecutive 3-0 shutout and the Honolulan’s took home the crown and were undefeated as a team for the entire summer as well. This tourney is usually a feel-good fest for all involved but this year I noticed the first chink in the armor of the event and it was basically in a journalist’s repudiation of the TV coverage of the event. In the NY Post story titled “ESPN reaches a new low in its Little League coverage” by writer Phil Muchnick, he pretty much empties both barrels. Now, I have read some of Phil’s stuff over the years and when I’m out there I always grab a Post and a Times. Many would view him as curmudgeonly or crusty in some of his assessments of current sports matters. I’ve got to state here though that on this one, Phil just may have hit the nail on the head. Give it a look…
ON A DAY MADE to honor the life and legacy of the late USA Hockey Exec Jim Johannson and to create a college fund for his surviving 2-year-old daughter Eleanor amongst other charitable endeavors, some of the biggest stars from the USA Hockey group convened at the USA facility in Plymouth, MI on Sunday afternoon to pay respect and play a charity game in his honor. It was billed as the “Stars and Stripes Showdown” and was totally sold out and according to all in attendance was a huge success. Johannson passed away in January due to a heart ailment right before the PyeongChang Olympics. To say that Johannson was a driving force behind all things related to TEAM USA would be a vast understatement. The list of top level NHL players who, in the final stages of their offseason preparations, took the time out from their schedules and covered their own expenses to attend and play was impressive. Names like Kane, Matthews, Parise, Suter, Larkin, Howard, Anderson, Lee, Skjei, Trouba and more said they would not miss it as a way to pay back the man that was USA Hockey to them.
It was a no-intentional contact game ala’ Da Beauty League and as expected defensive play was a bit light as the Blue team beat the White by a 14-9 final. The Minnesota Wilds Ryan Suter, who seems to be tracking ahead of schedule in his injury recovery from late last season, was going there fully expecting to play until Wild GM Paul Fenton got wind of it and “ka-botched” it right then and there as being too risky this close to training camp. Suter went but ended up on the bench “coaching” his fellow players. As far as the experience went all Suter would say after the game was that he now knew what he wouldn’t be doing when his playing days conclude. The event was successful beyond its original hopes and the players stuck around for fan interaction afterward….
I BRIEFLY MENTIONED not too long ago that as smoothly as the National Hockey League appears to be functioning now, there are some currents of discontent beginning to form beneath the surface. Sure enough, in some recent media commentary related to looming future CBA issues, my suspicions are coming to light. NHLPA Head Don Fehr has been quoted in the recent past as saying that the PA had made “significant” concessions during the last CBA negotiations/lockout. He went on to add that “Escrow”, paid by the players to ensure that the 50/50 hockey related revenue split is protected continues to irritate the players, although he also qualified that by stating that those payments went down last season, and that there are other issues such as Olympic participation that need to be ironed out as well.
Fehr said he didn’t have any hard stances on what may occur moving forward and it should be noted that the 10-year expiration on the CBA is on Sept. 15, 2022. There is an opt-out window in place for next fall that is set for Sept. 1st, 2019 for the league, and Sept. 19, 2019 for the PA. So, once again the league has the players in a corner. If they calculate that the PA is going to opt-out next fall, they could pre-emptively lock them out, and then here we go all over again. What will happen? Stay tuned…. PEACE