Sportsetera
Jack Shea's weekly column looking outside the white lines, on-Island and further afield.

Stanley Cup to visit the Island again soon? The trophy made several stops on the Island after the Bruins' last victory, in 2011.
Jack Shea with Pal.

courtesy Jack Shea

Jack Shea with Pal.

Times correspondent Jack Shea shares his thoughts on sports on-Island and further afield in this weekly look outside the white lines. This week he reports on the Bruins claim to the Stanley Cup.

They play 82 games to determine the best team in the NHL. Then they play up to 28 more to confirm it. Often doesn’t work out that way because the puck is maddenly unpredictable.|.

The numbers are clear. The Bruins will win the Stanley Cup this year.

The numbers say that the Western Division has four teams that can take it, the East has only two, the B’s and Pittsburgh. San Jose and Anaheim are contenders in the West but Chicago and St. Louis are the iron. At the conclusion of the regular season. The best news is that most of the better teams are in the West and only one of them will survive to play for the Stanley Cup.

Metrics work best for insurance companies. Reality is predictable. Metrics don’t work so well as an aid to figuring out sports results in advance. If they did, the 2004 Red Sox would have been playing golf, not the World Series, and Mercer would not have beaten Duke in the 2014 Big Dance.

Boston hockey fans suffer from an unhealthy fear of the Montreal Canadiens that is not based on reality – they give up as many as they score. Our fear is based on generations of heartbreak inflicted by Les Habitants on the Hub.

But numbers are good indicators and they do offer the “binkie effect” to nervous fans like me.

The B’s have finished the regular season as the “best” team in the NHL. They gave up the fewest goals in their 82-game season history and will have scored more than all but the Blackhawks. Vegas has decided it likes St. Louis (5-1) slightly better than the B’s (11-2), with Chicago, Pittsburgh, Anaheim and San Jose close behind. Metrics.

I don’t bet on sports. If I did, I’d leave the NHL alone. Hockey variables are the metrician’s nightmare. Hot goaltending, injuries, strength of character and the bounce of the puck are all real, though unmeasurable.

The bounce of the puck is huge. Bad bounces, and lucky ones, happen in other sports rarely enough to be noteworthy. The luck of the bounce happens countless times in every hockey game. For a painful example, watch NHL on Youtube of the play in the corner four or five seconds before the Blackhawks’ Cup winner against the Bruins last year.

Here is why the B’s cop the Cup this year:

– Jarome Iginla is the wicked crafty elder statesman/scorer the B’s hoped Jaromir Jagr would be last year. (BTW: Jagr will likely get 25 goals this year at age 41 for the Jersey Devils, a really lousy offensive team. Go figure.)

– The Bruins have three honest-to-god lines this year. You cruise against forwards 4 through 9 at your own peril.

– Patrice Bergeron is healthy. Bergeron is the best defensive forward in the league and it all started to go south in the finals against the Blackhawks last year when the beating he was taking created rib, shoulder, etc. injuries that limited him in games 5 and 6.

I gotta say this: key players are targeted in the NHL more than in any other pro sport these days. It used to be even worse. Ever wonder why Bobby Orr was essentially done at age 26? Defenders constantly put the lumber to his knees and destroyed them. Orr fought his own fights but cheap tactics like these are why enforcers live on in the NHL. Well, that and too many fans love hockey fights.

And the Number One reasons the B’s will win: They get consistently good to great goaltending, every night, from Tuukka Rask and Chad Johnon, the backup who has not lost a  game in regulation time this season..

So I feel good, though I gotta admit I was freaking when the Canadiens took the B’s down recently. But they bounced back and haloed the Blackhawks a few days later.

I’m cool now. Bring it on.

Longtime Islander Ron Kasmuski was afraid of heights.
Jack Shea with Pal.

courtesy Jack Shea

Jack Shea with Pal.

Times correspondent Jack Shea shares his thoughts on sports on-Island and further afield in this weekly look outside the white lines. This week he reports on the 70th birthday ritual of a former Islander.

Ronald J. Kasmouski turned 70 a few weeks back and jumped out of an airplane.

You remember “Kaz”. He was the Trustees of Reservations Ranger Supervisor who hauled more than a few sorry out of state Range Rovers off the beach on Chappy after drivers had resolutely refused to drop the air in their tires — then got stuck with the tide coming up.

No? How ‘bout the generally genial guy who made you a Turkey Gobbler, the house specialty at Darlene’s Kitchen (now Humphrey’s) on Winter Street in Edgartown? His rule: you want a Gobbler? Shut off the cell phone.

Ron is a man of firmly-held beliefs, one of which is that you must confront your fears. He is afraid of heights. I’ve known him, man and boy, my whole life and I’m telling you that stepping up on that high curbstone by Leslie’s Drugstore in Vineyard Haven gave him pause.

He’s manned up to life’s tight spots. He’s not afraid of them, but heights? Different story. So when the Facebook drums said he’d gone skydiving  near his Ft. Myers home for his 70th birthday, I thought it was a typo. They probably meant ‘sunbathing.”

A phone call later, my happy and relieved pal said that, yes, he had voluntarily left an airplane at 10,000 feet, albeit with a guide at his back. “It was on the bucket list and now it’s not. Scared? I was too terrified to be scared,” he said.

I watched the video at skydiveswflorida.com. You can too. Or on Facebook. Go to “watch your tandem video,” “March, third week”, “Ronald 3/19.” My personal favorite moment is when he’s sitting in the plane looking like a guy whose lawyer just told him the prosecution witness IS going to testify. A few minutes later, he’s outside the plane, smiling. That’s his favorite moment.

“OK,” you are maybe saying, “that’s nice for him but it’s not such a big deal.” Here’s why it is. Four or five years back, several years after Roadway took his truck away (he had a back from hell but fought disability), Ron’s ticker went south. He had plumbing done and did the rehab. More than two years ago, he got Parkinson’s Disease, got the meds, does the workouts, and is fitter today than he’s been since all that started. Unfortunately for me, his golf game is also better than it was before he went all Code Red.

The point being that his skydive is an extension of his approach to life. Why life is fun for him. “You are in control of your own life. You have choices and you can choose not to be ruled by fear,” he says on the video before he jumps. My thought was, “Hey, you’re already playing with house money, buddy. You’re lucky to be upright. Why push it?”

Ron has never read Wayne Dyer. To him, self-help means moving your own self… an approach to life that’s not always apparent to others. I ran into Megan Farrell of Oak Bluffs a couple weekends ago and asked: “What do you think Ron did on his 70th birthday?” Without hesitation, she said, “I bet he went skydiving.” I got slack-jawed. “Of course he went skydiving. What else would he do on his 70th?” she said.

I just hope it isn’t infectious. I’m afraid of heights.

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Ahhh....Fenway. Oil painting by Anne Grandin. Anne's work is shown at PIKNIK Art & Apparel in Edgartown.
Jack Shea with Pal.

courtesy Jack Shea

Jack Shea with Pal.

Times correspondent Jack Shea shares his thoughts on sports on-Island and further afield in this weekly look outside the white lines. This week, he celebrates Opening Day at Fenway on Friday, April 4.

Not to go all John Updike here, but it is Opening Day at The Ballyard next week and lyric thoughts are in order.

The MLB millionaires are done playing catch in Florida. They’ve picked their game music (hoping Nava goes with “Chariots of Fire.”) They got game faces on and they’re velcro-ing ’em up for real. Showtime.

Opening Day is like Inauguration Day to me. Better, now that I think about it. Before Obama, the last time I had real, genuine rooting interest was JFK.

I  worked at Fenway as a kid, selling appropriately-priced food and souvenirs. “Peanuts he-ah. Getcha scoahcahd! Red hot peanuts!” The mantra said a thousand times a day. Climbing miles of stairs for short money. Best job I ever had.

As an Opening Day fan, you didn’t mind that the peanuts were neither red nor hot, nor that the 25-cent hot dog was a potential prelude for ptomaine. Neither did I. Later on in the season you would mind, when the Sox were 15 games out and falling fast, but not on Opening Day. ‘Cuz before Shem Feller tolled the lineups and a pol threw out the first pitch, the Red Sox were in first place and would remain there for at least two hours. Maybe longer if Teddy Ballgame crushed one.

Opening Day creates an ascendancy in our spirit. It overcomes all the changes in the game and in the stadia. It survives the crappy PR from PEDs; it’s even overcome Red Sox success. Three Boston Red Sox World Series rings in ten years and still the butterflies are busy while we’re waiting for Lester and hoping Papi’s .050 spring average is a blip.

There will be a shadow on this opening day. The reality of the Jennifer Martel-Jared Remy story will be with us. Reality trumps baseball and this case is unlikely to present the healing effect that Big Papi’s post-Marathon speech last year had on the entire community and nation.

Papi’s angry f-bomb remarks resonated with a politically-correct populace because we wished we were screaming it…For me, they can extend Papi’s contract til he’s 50. He earned it that day.

Papi got a PC pass because baseball players are more like us than are athletes in other sports. They go to work every day for six months, they work in all four seasons with rare days off, the only outdoor sport that does that. Success in baseball requires first a willingness to show up and do the job every day, just like we do. I’ve always gotten that.

I knew some of the oldtimers — Williams, Jensen and Jimmy Piersall — enough to recognize them as working men. When athletes were stars but not icons. A favorite story: summer resident John Lopat recalls his father packing a lunch at home in The Bronx before walking to Yankee Stadium and turning into “Steady Eddie” Lopat, Yankee ace.

The money athletes make used to bother me until the Justice department finally got busy and busted a few CEOs. Call it The Madoff Effect. And let’s be honest, billionaire CEOs, even the honest ones, aren’t as entertaining as a utility guy making $5 million a year. At least he can hit the breaking ball a little.

So it’s baseball for me. Golf and tennis are artistry that shakes my head. Basketball can be like that too. Hockey, lacs and football are visceral, fast and violent. They fire us up.

Baseball is where we live.

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Jack's got a bracket system.
Jack Shea with Pal.

courtesy Jack Shea

Jack Shea with Pal.

Times correspondent Jack Shea shares his thoughts on sports on-Island and further afield in this weekly look outside the white lines. This week, the brackets are causing a racket in his brain.

As Dairy Queen flings open its seasonal doors and the tinkle-tinks begin their annoying chirping, we believe that Spring, finally, has come to the Island.

Those are good signs but spring is here for me when the brackets bloom. When NCAA hoops begins its second season — 64 games to determine the national championship of college basketball.

Because after four months of whining and cravening through a wintry butt-kicking, I am struck with the notion that I am bulletproof again. Heady stuff, a wonderful feeling. Never mind that, in my case, picking the March Madness winners has no basis in reality. I have a better chance of being struck by lightning four days in a row.

I am sitting here with my brackets, resolutely confident. The appearance of the brackets has rejuvenated my spirit from its winter coma. I am undeterred that a fair portion of the team name acronyms are completely unfamiliar to me. Who are CCSU and MSM? No idea, but I toss them aside. They will lose because I’ve never heard of them.

There’s a giddiness, a friskiness about my picking process that clears that dark night of the soul that winter brings to us. I am able to be silly and love it.

I try to develop a new system every year. Past systems that have failed include:

— Selecting only Catholic school teams. I’ve never understood why Catholic schools can play basketball well but can’t play football worth a damn – except for Notre Dame which has an unfair advantage. If you’ve ever sat in South Bend and felt the presence of Touchdown Jesus looking on, you know what I mean. Creighton is a 2014 powerhouse. Creighton. Has an enrollment of 37, mostly pre-law and English majors. But they’re dancin’, baby.

— Selecting only schools, including Catholic schools, within 100 miles of Martha’s Vineyard. A chancy system at best that’s led me to pit BC against Holy Cross for the national title. That won’t be an issue this year. Holy Cross actually had a shot if they had won their Patriot League conference. They didn’t. The B.C. Eagles swept out the ACC cellar.

— Selecting schools in nice climates. The corollary is a nice climate and an agreeable town. The idea being that athletes at these schools don’t have to contend with winter’s corrosive effect on their spirit. For example, this rubric portends that San Diego State could win and that first seed Wichita State is doomed. You’re laughing? Go ahead, laugh, but this  system has some legs this year. San Diego State  is highly-ranked. Schools like Wichita and Kansas are even higher ranked than SDS (an acronym with great history).

Had there been a March Madness in 1899, the University of Kansas team might have been a good bet in 1899, depending on how lame their nickname was. But not if you make your bracket picks based on climate.

University of Kansas

Had there been a March Madness in 1899, the University of Kansas team might have been a good bet in 1899, depending on how lame their nickname was. But not if you make your bracket picks based on climate.

— Avoiding teams with terrible nicknames. Another nail in the coffin for top-seeded Wichita State. The “Shockers.” I know it has something to do with gathering wheat but lacks the elan of the Arizona State Sun Devils or the quirkiness of the UMass Minutemen, don’t you think? All handicapping schemes are imperfect and the nickname system presents some problems. For example. Gonzaga is actually a good team that meets the religious and climate criteria but its hoop name, the  “Zags,” hardly rolls off the tongue

Your official MVTimes 2014 bracket-beating system is an amalgam of all three systems. Why not? This is the worst winter in 40 years. I’m goin’ for it.

Here’s your Elite Eight: Stanford, Mt. Saint Mary’s, Harvard, Providence, Gonzaga, Creighton, Cal Poly and Umass.

Providence beats the Zags in a nail-biter for the national championship.

Take it to the bank, baby.