Sunday, October 12, 2014

Hockey excitement is back in Denver, but did the Avs overachieve last year?

Between periods of last night's Colorado Avalanche home opener the team picked a lucky fan who would win a car if the Avs scored in the first 30 seconds after the intermission.  The fan never had a chance!  The Avalanche not only failed to score in the first 30 seconds for this fan, they haven't scored a goal in their opening two games.

It was good to see excitement about hockey and the Avs back in the Mile Hi city.  I took the above picture at the opening faceoff.  As you can see the game featured a sell out crowd with everyone in their seats for the drop of the first puck.  The Avalanche' excellent video department had another good pregame production last night:

Unfortunately the game did not match the pregame hype.  The Wild again outplayed the Avalanche, winning 3-0.  While I don't consider myself as knowledgeable about hockey as I am about football, here's what I noticed last night:

  •  If Tyson Barrie doesn't get hurt in last season's first round matchup against the Wild , the Avs win the series.  I thought Barrie was the best player on the ice for the Avs.  For a franchise who has had trouble finding a good "offensive" defenseman in the past, the Avs now have a good one in Barrie.
  • The new additions didn't impress me.  jarome iginla seemed a step slow.  At one power play he was playing the point - what's up with that?  He needs to be in front of the net on power plays.  Iginla is a notorious slow starter so there's still hope he can return to the 30 goal level he was at last year with the Boston Bruins.
  • Minnesota had a power play in the first period where they had 9 shots on goal and the puck never left the zone.  It was the most dominant power play I've ever seen without a team scoring.  The Wild are very good and if they continue to get good goaltending, like they did last night from Darcy Kuemper, they will be tough to beat.
  • Goalie Sergei Varlamov was solid in net, showing the same form as last season when he was a Vezina trophy finalist (given to the NHL's top goalie)
The Avalanche now go on the road for four games, including matchups with eastern powerhouses Boston and Montreal.  A key to the surprise season last year was the Avs fast start (winning their first 6 games and 12 out of their first 13).  This year could be the opposite, as I see the Avs could be 1-5 or worse after this tough road trip.

It's too early to give up on this team yet.  The Avs still have a good base of young talent (MacKinnon, Landeskog, Duchene, and more).  But I think they are more of a borderline playoff team this season, which was the expectation going into last season before the team's surprise division title.

Friday, September 5, 2014

A Good Year, but the Broncos won't get as far as they did in 2013

Every year I post my prediction on this blog before the first game for the Denver Broncos season. Here are my thoughts for 2014:

The Broncos will again have a successful season, winning the AFC West with a record of 11-5.  They will not make it to the Super Bowl, however,  losing on the road in the playoffs at New England.  Reasons?:

1.  The Broncos have a difficult schedule this year, being matched with the NFC West for their out of conference games.  Playing the defending Super Bowl champ Seahawks on the road in addition to the 49'ers and Cardinals are tougher matchups than the NFC East teams the Broncos played last season.

2.  The Broncos again draw New England on the road in the regular season, where they have lost the past two seasons.  New England figures to be stronger this year with Rob Gronkowski back at tight end and a full off season to address their depleted defense (adding Darrelle Revis at cornerback).  While Denver overcame the Patriot loss to still claim the AFC West #1 seed in each of the past two seasons, I don't see that happening in 2014.  The home field advantage will be key in the playoffs, allowing the Patriots to beat the Broncos on their home turf in the AFC Championship game.

3.  The Broncos ARE improved in 2014, provided they stay healthy.  The defensive additions of Demarcus Ware, Aqib Talib, and TJ Ward will give the team a better defense.  However Ware and Talib have been injury prone the last two seasons and I wonder if they can stay on the field for the full 16 game schedule.

4.  Peyton Manning will again have a stellar season.  The Broncos will miss Knowshon Moreno, though, with Montee Ball not matching Knowshon's 2013 production.

5.  Seattle looks awesome.  They remind me of the young 1993 Dallas Cowboy team that won their first Super Bowl the previous season, and were even better the next year in winning the championship again.  Having Percy Harvin for a full season, the continued maturation of quarterback Russell Wilson, and the best defense in the NFL will lead the Seahawks to a second straight Super Bowl title.

Playing Seattle on the road in game 4 will be the litmus test for this 2014 Broncos team.  Will the improvements on defense, a beefed up offensive line (with Ryan Clady back), and a full offseason for offensive mastermind Adam Gase to figure out how to attack the Seahawks D lead to a different result than Super XLVIII?  The Broncos don't have to win this game, but if they can play the Seattle close and neutralize Seahawk's pass rush, that'll be a good sign that Denver can exceed my predictions above.  That's what I'm hoping for.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

PGA Tour Comes To Denver

This Wednesday I had the opportunity to attend a practice round for the BMW Championship at Cherry Hills Country Club in Denver - the first PGA tour event in the Denver area since the International at nearby Castle Pines closed shop in 2006.  Cherry Hills is a storied course that has hosted three US Opens, including the 1960 US Open - considered by golf historians one of the greatest tournaments ever.  That championship featured Arnold Palmer coming back from seven strokes behind on the final day to win, edging out golf legend Ben Hogan and a young Jack Nicklaus.

Arnold Palmer's 1960 victory is still remembered fondly around the course, including this plaque at tee box #1.  Palmer was to drive the green and make a birdie on this 345 yard par 4 hole.  Could today's golfers perform the same feat?

We were fortunate to find a viewing balcony immediately behind the first tee.  The format this day was a "pro-am", with a PGA tour pro playing 18 holes with three amateur partners.  The amateurs paid $12,000 each for this privilege!  Here PGA Pro Henrik Stenson meets his playing companions.

What I liked best about our position behind the first tee was how close we could get to each golfer - we had an unobstructed view.

The best drive we saw this day was from Sergio Garcia, who hit a powerful shot to the green, 345 yards away.  "Best shot of the day," said a Cherry Hills official monitoring the first tee.


Sergio's Spanish heritage was evident from his choice of golf club covers on his bag!

The highlight of the day was the opportunity to follow the number one golfer in the World around the course for a few holes - Ireland's Rory Mcilroy!

 We could get very close to Rory during his round.  Though small in stature compared to some of the other players we saw, no one can hit a golf ball farther than Rory.

It was fun to see Rory's long tee shots from behind.

I also enjoyed seeing some of the legendary holes at Cherry Hills.  Here is the island green on hole 17.  Ben Hogan hit into the water on this hole ending his hopes of winning the 1960 Open.

I hope the BMW Tournament will lead to the PGA Tour returning to the Denver area for future tournaments.  I have a feeling Cherry Hills will host another US Open or PGA Championship some day, now that the course has been modified for today's big hitters.  

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Three incredible Avalanche home games (Minnesota series 2014)

Avalanche/Wild Game 5, 4/26/14

I've been to all the Avs home playoff games so far and they've been incredible.  Game 1 had the end of game drama (with the Avs avoiding a loss in the last seconds then winning in OT), Game 2 showed the amazing skills of Avs rookie Nate MacKinnon with some of the prettiest goals you'll ever see, Game 3 was a combination of games 1 and 2 (late game drama and Mackinnon stars again)

Watching Nate MacKinnon reminds me of the feelings I had as a Denver Broncos fan in 1983 during John Elway's rookie season.  I could tell Elway had the tools to be a future Hall of Famer, and I looked forward to many fun seasons of watching the Broncos with Elway under center.  MacKinnon's reign as one of the top players in the NHL has just started (he's only 18 years old!)  Barring injury Nate will give Avalanche fans many years of thrills ahead, just has he has done in the playoffs so far.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Playoff hockey is back!

The Pepsi Center was rockin last night! I took this picture from the cheap seats at the opening faceoff. I've been to most Av playoff games since the 90's (I was even at the only Colorado Rockies playoff game in 1978 vs the Flyers) - there is nothing like playoff hockey!

Last night's thrilling, come from behind 5-4 Avalanche win in overtime will go down as one of the best playoff games ever in Denver. 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Rooftop At Coors Field

Wednesday afternoon my wife Anne and I took in an afternoon Rockies game at Coors Field - the first Rockies game we've attending in three years.  I have always been a Rockies fan, and once I had season tickets in the 90's, but in recent years I have found it more difficult to attend games in person.

On this sunny April day, though, I wanted to once again see the Rockies with my own eyes to check out this season's team and see the changes to Coors Field.  The most prominent change is the new Rooftop section (shown above) high above the right field wall.

The Rooftop draws quite a crowd, even for this game on a weekday afternoon where the overall attendance at 20,000 was less than what the Rockies typically draw on the weekends.  For most games rooftop tickets are $14 which includes a $6 concession credit.  Ticket buyers can choose to stand in the rooftop area or sit in the general admission section of Coors.  If you choose to stand, arrive early to get a spot on the rail for a view of the field!

Here's a picture I took before the game from the rail on the Rooftop.  As you can see, you are far from home plate, and balls hit to the wall in right field are not within view.  Still this section allows fans to be part of the action for a bargain price.

Also featured as part of the Rooftop are a variety of food and drink options.

Away from the action fans can relax on these comfy couches and watch the game on the hi-def monitors.

Not needed on this sunny day, but for those cold early season night games fans can warm up next to this fire pit behind the concession area.

Here's the view from the general admission section that rooftop ticket holders have access to.  Our seats were in another section, but after the second inning we chose to sit in general admission for the shade and cool breeze at the top of the stands.

Would I purchase Rooftop tickets for a future game?  Probably not, as I had trouble picking up the flight of the baseball from this far away.  I prefer the upper deck behind home plate, where I used to have my season tickets, if I don't want to pay the higher prices of the lower level or club level.

Still I think the Rooftop is a good addition to Coors Field.  It drew a younger crowd this day, most of whom seemed more interested in socializing than watching the game itself.  But that's OK - part of the beauty of baseball with its slower pace is enjoying the sunshine and the company of the people you are with.

For more information on the Rooftop check out this FAQ from the Rockies.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Cure for the Super Bowl Blues - Listen to Cecil Lammey!

Last night I attended a talk by ESPN's Cecil Lammey, one of my favorite NFL analysts, at a Denver Broncos Quarterback Club meeting.  Bronco fans have been in a general state of depression after the blowout Super Bowl loss to Seattle in February.  Not to worry, according to Cecil, the future looks bright.  "John Elway has always turned negatives into positives," Cecil says.

Cecil reviewed John Elway's history, going back to when Elway was originally drafted by Baltimore.  The Elways did not want John to play for the Colts owner, Robert Irsay, or the Baltimore coach, Frank Kush.  John worked his way out of this by forcing a trade to the Broncos.  Turning a negative into a positive.

Then once with the Broncos, Elway played for a coach who stunted Elway's growth with very conservative game plans.   Run-Run-Pass was a common 1st-2nd-3rd down play strategy under Reeves.  Did John get depressed?  No!  Instead he used his time under Reeves to work on his touch passing, a skill that served Elway and the Broncos well with the Bronco Super Bowl teams later in his career.  Again John turned a negative to a positive.

Cecil mentioned other disappointments in Elway's career as a player and GM.  The Jacksonville playoff loss in 1996, the Baltimore playoff game in 2012, losing Mike McCoy as offensive coordinator last year - with each negative Elway turned the situation to a positive.  Fans can have hope he'll do it again after the Seattle Super Bowl loss this year.

Cecil had other "insider" nuggets he shared with the 60+ club members in attendance:

1.  In the 2012 draft the Broncos liked 3 quarterbacks: Russell Wilson, Brock Osweiler, and Nick Foles.  Wilson and Foles have already had success early in their NFL careers, and according to Cecil Osweiler will, too, when he gets his shot after Manning retires.  Osweiler has improved his footwork and throwing motion greatly while serving as Manning's backup the last two years, and Peyton's mentoring has helped, too.  "Don't believe xxx who says Osweiler won't be the next Bronco quarterback after Peyton retires," said Cecil.  "Brock can be the starter.  He would have been the first qb taken in the 2013 draft had he stayed in school."

2.  The Broncos would have drafted Russell Wilson had Peyton Manning not signed with the Broncos, according to Cecil.  When Cecil asked Wilson how he'd like being a backup to Tebow at the 2012 NFL Combine, Wilson was confident he'd be the starter.  "I want to be known as a passer, not a runner," Wilson told Cecil at the time.

3.  The Broncos have their own tradition of success to build on.  They are not trying to be a copycat of Seattle.  New free agent signee TJ Ward is a strong safety in the Steve Atwater mode - a hitter and trash talker.  He could provide a swagger to the defense that has been missing since Al Wilson retired.  Champ Bailey was a great player, but he didn't talk much.  Ward is different; he can be a vocal inspiring leader for the team.  Free agent cornerback signee Aqib Talib has a great attitude now, according to Cecil's sources, after having some discipline problems in his younger years.  Talib adds toughness to the secondary - a quality the player he replaces, Dominique Rodgers Cromartie, did not have. The 3rd free agent signee, Demarcus Ware, was so excited to be a Bronco he was shaking the podium at his initial press conference.  Cecil thinks Ware, in addition to his pass rush skills, will be a good mentor to Von Miller, filling the leadership role Elvis Dumervil had two seasons ago with the team.  Ware was playing out of position with a bad elbow last year.  In watching film Cecil thinks Ware still has it and can get double digit sacks next season.  Ware is an upgrade over Shawn Phillips.

4.  The Broncos still need a middle linebacker.  The best in this draft class is CJ Mosely of Alabama, a MLB who can cover and thus can play all three downs.  The Chicago Bears, though, love Mosely so the Broncos would have to move up 17 spots in the first round to have a shot at Mosely.  Unlikely?  Probably, but Elway has a way of getting things done. 

5.  Eric Decker did not want to leave the team.  Decker was one of the most upset players after the Super Bowl loss.  This was Decker's one shot to get big money in free agency.  Cecil thought he'd get a contract in the 5 years for 50 million range but Decker signed for less than that.  Cecil was surprised Decker signed for less than what the Dolphins Brian Hartline got - Decker is the better player.  Still the Broncos were not going to pay him that much - Denver never made an offer.

6.  He doesn't expect the broncos to sign an offensive lineman in free agency.  An unknown who is still on the team is 2013 6th round draft choice Vinston Painter, a tackle, who could help.  He doesn't think Orlando Franklin will be successful if he moves inside to play guard.

7.  Adam Gase is a future head coach - a rising young star.  Cecil likes John Fox but Gase could be the next great Bronco coach.  Gase and Manning yell at each other in practice, Gase as a young coach was not intimidated by Manning and got the best out of Peyton this season.

I asked Cecil what he would recommend for the Broncos to draft.  He threw out some names of his favorites:

Round 1: You never have enough pass rushers.  Dee Ford Auburn defensive end. "He has a great 1st step and loves the game."

Round 2: Very deep draft for wide receivers.  Broncos should be able to get a good one in this round -
Jordan Matthews Vanderbilt - a "decker clone".  Clutch, great hands.  Jerry Rice's cousin.
Jarvis Landry LSU - not an athletic freak but knows how to get open
Paul Richardson Colorado - in combine workouts Cecil couldn't tell much difference between Richardson and the clear #1 choice at wr this year (Sammy Watkins).  Richardson should be a top 15 pick based on ability, this year's Desean Jackson, but he'll slip due to his injury history and slight build.  Cecil thinks Richardson will be this year's Keenan Allen (the Chargers prize 2013 rookie who went in the 3rd round last year). 
Cecil hopes the Broncos do not draft Kelvin Benjamin of Florida State who Cecil thinks is overrated.

Round 3: Middle linebacker such as Chris Borland of Wisconsin or Stanford's Shayne Skov.  Skov plays with an attitude and could appeal to Elway who wants a tougher defense

Round 4: Chris Davis Auburn.  Can play nickel corner and be the return man to replace Trindon Holliday.  Davis was the hero of the Alabama/Auburn game with his missed field goal return to win the game.

Late round sleeper: Isaiah Crowell alabama state.  He was a freshman phenom, Adrian Peterson like.  He was kicked out of Georgia on a weapons charge.  He's a good kid according to the Alabama State coaches but will slip because of his checkered past.  "He could be the best back in the draft," says Cecil.  Will he be willing to accept a backup role and play special teams? That's a question mark with Crowell.

The running backs are better in this draft class than in 2013.  25 draftable backs.

Zac Dysert is not the answer as 3rd string Broncos QB, in Cecil's opinion.  The Broncos had a private workout with Wyoming's Brett Smith who the team likes.  Smith wasn't invited to the combine yet was better than most of the combine qb's.  Bryn Renner of North Carolina is another late round possibility - Renner has the endorsement of Peyton Manning.


Overall it was a great evening of football talk from Cecil.  I could have listened to him for another hour.  It got this Bronco fan excited about the 2014 season, rather than thinking back to that disappointing Super Bowl loss.