Chicago Blackhawks Season Preview

The 2013 season for the Chicago Blackhawks would have been considered quite a success for at least 25 teams in the NHL. The Blackhawks won 46 games, racked up 107 points and made it to Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals. All that stood between them and the Stanley Cup Finals was won OT goal from the eventual champion LA Kings. The Blackhawks are at such an elite level however, it’s championship or bust every season which means they’ll come into the 2014 NHL season with something to prove.

The good news is they bring back almost all of the key pieces from last year’s deep playoff run. Most importantly they locked both Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews up for the next 8 years with contract extensions ensuring they’ll be competitive for a long time. The Blackhawks did make one major addition in the form of Brad Richards who should help sure up the forward lines after losing some depth there to free agency this offseason.

Jonathan Toews (Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

Jonathan Toews (Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

The bad news is they have two young, upstart teams in their division looking to build on last year’s success. The Avalanche were a worst to first story so it’ll be interesting to see if they can repeat last year’s division championship. The Blues should be the Blackhawks toughest competition however. The two teams squared off in the first round of last year’s playoffs with St. Louis winning the first two games. A questionable hit knocked the Blues’best player, David Backes, out for the rest of the series. The Blackhawks won the next four so I think it’s safe to say the Blues might be looking to even the score.

The Blues aren’t the only team who’ll bring their A game when they travel to Chicago. If you want Chicago Blackhawks ticket, here are a few games that should be on your short list.

Key Games

October 28th vs. the Anaheim Ducks

The Ducks finished last season with the most points in the Western Conference and lost out on the Presidents’Trophy by one point to Boston. They lost in seven games to the LA Kings and will be looking to make an early statement against another power of the Western Conference. They also have a dynamic duo of Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry to match the firepower of the Blackhawks. The Ducks have also acquired Ryan Kesler this offseason which just adds more firepower to this arms race. These might be the two most skilled teams in the league and they should go at it in this early season clash.

December 3rd vs. the ST. Louis Blues

I’ve already talked about the bad blood between these two teams. Expect a hard hitting game between the young Blues trying to make a statement and the Blackhawks trying to keep their place atop the conference.

February 22nd vs. the Boston Bruins

The East is generally considered to be the weaker division but the Bruins are as good as anyone in the league. This is the only chance Chicago will get to see the Stanley Cup favorite Bruins in action. And watching 6 ft 8 in Zdeno Chara is worth the ticket price alone. This is also a rematch of the 2013 cup finals and could be a preview of 2015.

March 30th vs. the LA Kings

This is going to be the game everyone will be waiting for. After getting knocked out of the playoffs by an Alec Martinez OT goal the Blackhawks will have had 8 months to stew over that loss. These two teams will have played twice already but both times in LA. This will be the first chance the Hawks fans will have to boo the champions and hope for a little bit of revenge. The atmosphere will be electric inside the United Center.

Where to go for MLB Playoffs

And down the stretch they come! With less than two weeks left in August, the Major League Baseball playoff races are quickly heating up. There are tons of teams still alive and several newcomers looking to make it to the postseason. As the season begins to dwindle there will be some great match ups in the first round of the playoffs and some even better viewing to be had. If you’re looking for a great place to watch playoff baseball here’s where you should go.

Camden Yards – Baltimore Orioles

The Orioles have been an afterthought in the AL East to the Yankees and Red Sox for the last two decades. The only memorable moments their franchise has had in that time span have been associated with Cal Ripken Jr. This season looks like they’ll finally get to change that. As of writing, they sit 9 games up in the division and Baltimore couldn’t be happier. Camden Yards is nestled into the heart of Baltimore which gives it a classic feel. It’s not an oversized super stadium that’s used for multiple sports on the outskirts of a city in a giant sports complex. This is what a baseball stadium should look like and the patio in right field is one of the best places in the entire country to watch a baseball game. With the division lead right now their first round series will be rocking. They’ll have a few days to watch the Wild Card game play out which will just let the excitement around the team build. A great team, a raucous fan base and a beautiful stadium will make for one of the best atmospheres in sports when the first pitch in the American League Divisional series is thrown in Camden Yards.

Busch Stadium – St. Louis Cardinals

Busch Stadium (Michael Heiman/Getty Images)

Busch Stadium (Michael Heiman/Getty Images)

Is there any better place to watch a baseball game than in the St. Louis Cardinals’Busch Stadium? You’ve got the St. Louis skyline serving as the backdrop for the stadium with the St. Louis Arch rising up out of the distance. No park in the country is as connected with its city as Busch. The Cardinals are currently sitting in the first NL Wild Card spot and have a 2 1/2 game lead over second. This means they’ll be hosting the winner take all wild card play in game. The Cardinals have and a rough season so it’s hard for me seeing them overtaking division leading Milwaukee. With this being a winner take all game the Cards will definitely send ace and CY Young candidate Adam Wainwright to the mound. If you’re venturing to the ball park for this game you’ll get the electric atmosphere of a single elimination game with both teams pulling out all the stops to survive and advance. If you’re looking for the epitome of playoff baseball it will be found in St. Louis.

Kaufman Stadium – Kansas City Royals

While the Royals have a very nice stadium the reason to go see them will be because they will have made the playoffs in 28 years. With that kind of weight lifted off the shoulders of Royals fans, I expect them to have the time of their lives for the first game of the post season. They lead the high priced Detroit Tigers for the division by 1 1/2 games and if they can keep this hot streak going they’ll secure at least two home games. While the fans there will make for a great atmosphere the stadium is no slouch either. Kauffman stadium has a bowl shape design that puts the fans right up against the field. It was originally opened in 1973 but the Royals just finished a $250 million renovation in 2009 to bring the stadium into the modern era. Combined the fans with that stadium and the freewheeling brand of baseball the Royals are playing at the moment and you’ll have one of the best post season experiences of the year.

Beginners Guide to the Coke Zero 400

We’ve finally made it to the 4th of July! Happy birthday America! And three day weekend! Why hasn’t someone handed me a hotdog yet? Besides fireworks and watching Joey Chestnut eat an insane amount of hot dogs, this weekend also has the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona. What’s more American than NASCAR at Daytona on 4th of July weekend? Maybe this picture of George Washington dunking on Kim Jong Eun but that’s about it.

If you are new to NASCAR and were trying to pick a great track to visit for your first race odds are you’d choose Daytona.  It’s the most famous track and has the most prestigious race, the Daytona 500, but maybe you wanted a little less fan fare around your first NASCAR race yet still get the history. That is exactly what you’ll get at the Coke Zero 400 this weekend. So far you’ve made a great race choice for your first one but the thought of going to your first NASCAR race can be a daunting one. Luckily I’m here to help. There’s a lot going on at race weekend and you’re going to want to take advantage of as much as possible with as few hiccups as possible. When it comes to large events like these I tend to overthink most scenarios so you can trust that I’ve worked through most situations.

Take NASCAR up on their offer to tour the garages. (Photo: Patrick Smith)

Take NASCAR up on their offer to tour the garages. (Photo: Patrick Smith)

First and most important is to wear comfortable shoes. It always surprises me how massive these venues are. Having to walk around the grounds from where you park and tailgate to the Sprint FANZONE to your seats is going to require a lot of steps. Comfort is definitely going to beat out any need for fashion this weekend. Crocs maybe?

If you are the type who would like to cut out most of that walking, just park close to the track. Easier said than done, so if you are targeting prime tailgating real estate you better plan to get there early. No matter how dedicated of a fan you are, you still have hundreds of counterparts who plan on getting that same great tailgating space. The earlier you can get there, the less walking you’ll have to do to get to the track. And that means more tailgating time! Let’s cook something else, preferably wrapped in bacon!

If you really want to take your tailgating to another level consider camping at the race track. You can cut out the worry of traffic getting there on Saturday morning and you’ve got a much longer time to prep and set up your tailgating area. You’ll also be in a mobile community of like minded NASCAR fans which will make the experience even better.

Once you’ve had your fill of bacon and other grilled meats, I would definitely suggested checking out the Sprint FANZONE. There are going to be tons of pre-race events including a concert by country music artist Lee Brice, driver appearances and introductions, auto graph sessions and even guided tour of the garage areas. There’s more to a race weekend than the 400 laps and NASCAR has done a great job of giving their fans access to more than just seats. If they’re letting you go see the garages you should probably take them up on their offer. It would almost be rude not to.

The final tip I have for you is to bring your own cooler into the race. Yes, you heard me correctly: they will let you bring in your own drink of choice as long as it all fits into a cooler no bigger than 14x14x14 inches. And don’t be too worried about that size of cooler, that size supposedly holds between 24-36 cans. Having gone to dozens of NFL and MLB games where they take away any form of liquid, this blew my mind when I heard it. At Yankee stadium a beer can cost as much as $12, and if my friends and I were to have 24 of them it would cost $288! Besides having your preferred drink of choice, you’re going to save huge amounts of cash not buying beer or soda. A cooler is a must.

Well, It’s the 4th of July weekend and you’ve made the great choice to spend it watching the Coke Zero 400. I’ve given you all the tips I’ve got and you should now be well prepared to get the most out of your first NASCAR race. Remember, don’t forget the cooler.

British Eagle Mania: The British Open heads to Liverpool

It’s been almost two weeks since Martin Kaymer’s demolition of the US Open field and for the casual golf fan their attention may have been drawn elsewhere. We had one of the deepest NBA drafts ever, Lebron James opting for free agency and causing a frenzy (again), there seems to be a never ending stream of cliffhanger World Cup games (RIP team USA) and Wimbledon to name a few. Oh and let’s not forget Michelle Wie cashing in on that prodigy status and winning the Women’s US Open at Pinehurst.

With all of that going on how is the 2014 British Open going to compete? Oh what’s that? Tiger Woods is healthy and playing golf again? Problem solved.

Photo: David Cannon

Photo: David Cannon

As I’ve talked about before, large amounts of people just don’t care about golf unless Tiger Woods is playing. Ludicrous I know, but not everyone can appreciate the art of the game. It’s probably because they have never listened to Will Smith talk about golf. There is something to be said for seeing history made before your eyes. It’s a badge of honor to say you saw Derek Jeter play his last game in Yankee Stadium. Sure the moment may be fleeting and after a few hours or days the game or round will be over but the memory of being there is a mark of pride that thousands of people will envy. A lot of people can say they saw Kobe score 81 in person but only 18,000 or so actually did.

So they may not love the art of golf but they definitely can appreciate the gravity of a major when Tiger Woods plays. The Tiger effect happens without even knowing it. I have spent half my time writing about Tiger and not one word about the course, the major or the other golfers. Despite the history Tiger could reel a little bit closer, his outlook for winning at the Royal Liverpool in two weeks isn’t looking great. He’s just returned from injury and missed the cut at the Quicken Loans National last weekend. Before the injury he had three straight top 10 finishes so a return to the last group on Sunday wouldn’t be a surprise however. He also won here back in 2006 almost entirely without a driver so he knows what it’ll take.

If you are considering attending the British Open you’re going to find the course to be very flat and open. You’ll also notice a lack of trees which means great sight-lines for those walking in the gallery. For those of you who want to go with the grand stand option, you’ll get a wider view of the whole course and may be able to watch play on a neighboring hole. You should also be able to see the vintage, red roofed homes the surround the course. If that doesn’t make you feel dignified watching golf I don’t know what will. If you’re just looking for a hole with a view, I’d say plant yourself on the 13th green. It’s a short hole at only 198 yards which means an ace is always in play. In between shots you’ll get a chance to look over at Hilbre Island sitting out in the River Dee.

While the view may be spectacular, one thing you are going to have to be aware of is the weather. This course is planted on the coastline so expect for some windy conditions. It could be a pleasant summer breeze or something heavier but it’s always windy in England so be ready. With this being a coastal golf course, weather can change rapidly make sure to keep an eye on the reports.

We’ve seen some pretty amazing and historic golf courses host Major championships over the last few months but they might all be outdone by the Royal Liverpool. The Royal is the second oldest seaside golf course in England having been built in 1869 which is a staggeringly long time ago. When it was built things like cars, planes, light bulbs and the telephone hadn’t been invented yet. The civil war had only ended four years prior. If you’re looking for a reason to go watch the British Open in person, the history might just be it. The Royal hosted the first amateur championship, several first international friendlies and was involved in Bobby Jones’ famous 1930 grand slam.

Regardless of the event this course is going to be a fantastic venue to visit. Add in the British Open, Tiger’s return, Kaymer’s opportunity to rule golf with an iron fist, and Rickie Fowler’s attempt to bring back some color to England, you have a great Major championship to be in attendance for.

Austrian Grand Prix: Red Bull Hope To Give You More Than Wings

Another week and another race on the Formula 1 circuit. This time the teams flock to Austria’s Red Bull ring looking to add to their win totals. Red Bull has revived an old staple of the Formula 1 circuit which hasn’t had an official circuit race on the course since legendary driver Michael Schumacher claimed victory way back in 2003.

Despite the drama on the Mercedes team, they are still tops in the standings. Team driver Nico Rosberg took some momentum from four consecutive 2nd place finishes to win the famed Monaco Grand Prix. Apparently Rosberg had had enough of the “always a bridesmaid, never a bride”talk and went out and proved he he was still capable of crossing the finish line first. The only problem was that he edged out teammate Lewis Hamilton, who was on the a four race winning streak. Having his teammate and friend, who had previously played the Robin to Hamilton’s Batman, beat him had an adverse affect as he failed to finish the next race in Montreal. Rosberg didn’t seem to mind the potential rift he may have caused and subsequently went out and grabbed second place pulling him further ahead of Hamilton in the overall standings. Rosberg also doesn’t seem to think he’ll be going back to second fiddle any time soon either. For most teams having your drivers sitting first and second in the standing is a dream scenario but they both drivers seem more determined to beat each other than other teams which doesn’t bode well for long term success.

Mark Thompson/Getty Images

Mark Thompson/Getty Images

While the Mercedes team is focused on internal relations, the Red Bull team is starting to get on the podium and gain some momentum. They’ve had drivers finish in the points for the last six races which has them second in the overall team standings. Yes they have less than half the points Mercedes does but it’s a long season. That streak of consistency culminated with Daniel Ricciardo’s victory in Canada. Ricciardo ended Mercedes’strangle hold on the winner’s circle which has lasted six races. He also was on the podium in both Monaco and at the Spanish Grand Prix so I wouldn’t be surprised if Red Bull was about to make their move. The upcoming race is at their new home for the Formula 1 circuit and what better place to show to the racing world that this season doesn’t belong to Mercedes just yet?

Not to be overlooked is the other Red Bull team driver, Sebastian Vettel. He placed third in Canada but what might be more concerning for his fellow drivers is that he may finally be rounding into form. Vettel was easily the most dominant driver on the circuit last year winning thirteen out of twenty one races, including nine straight to close out the year. Ricciardo has done a great job to keep the ship on course but if Vettel can regain his form from last year, which saw Red Bull dominate the standings in points, that gap Red Bull sees between themselves and first place could rapidly disappear.

Home cooking tends to help in sports and with the next race on Red Bull’s home track, the outlook for the rest of the Formula 1 circuit season may be about to change.