The first day of summer officially happened, today, June 21. For some, it continues beyond the date and, unofficially, starts with the end of school. For sports fans, it may have happened June 13; the day the NBA season ended with the NHL wrapping up one day earlier.
On to MLB, the CFL, pro soccer action (MLS, CPL).
The seasons ended with two first-time champions. Much to the delight of many Canadian hoop fans, the Toronto Raptors captured the NBA crown by knocking off two-time defending champion (and three out of the last five years) the Golden State Warriors in six games; while in the NHL, the St. Louis Blues did a little knocking of their own - a 50-year weight off their shoulder by downing my beloved Boston Bruins in the maximum seven.
Here are a few of my takeaways from both.
The road advantage
The Raptors won all three games in Oakland in the final while losing two in Toronto. The Blues also won three games on the road in the final while losing a couple at home rather badly (7-2, 5-1). And for St. Louis, their road-record overall in the playoffs was much stronger than at home (10-4 versus 6-6).
There are other examples in both playoffs which mock the old concept of a home-field/court/ice advantage
Long gone are the days when the arena itself actually provided an advantage because of its uniqueness, its idiosyncrasies (we really could have used the old Garden in Boston). And the Warriors arena – Oracle – was the oldest in the NBA. It certainly didn’t intimidate the Raptors. Maybe, a healthy Kevin Durant …
Long gone too is the idea of travel and unfamiliar accommodations as negative factors. Of course in these billion dollars industries, it’s all first-class and the leagues have even added extra travel days in for the finals.
I think a more subtle aspect in the anxiousness home teams feel. Pretty much all sports now demand patience; a disciplined approach to remain structured, execute systems and wait to capitalize on the other team’s miscues. That can be a lot easier in the opposition’s building. Playing at home, players can start to feel the anxiousness from their fans and press the action at the wrong time. A missed power-play; a seven or eight point run by the visitors … fans naturally get anxious and even the most veteran player can let it seep into their consciousness.
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Stop the crush
Is it me, or are there more-and-more people being let on the playing surface immediately after a victory?
One of the best aspects on the NHL playoffs is the hand-shake line after each series, including the finals, and, at least, St. Louis and Boston players had the opportunity to do that, somewhat, uninterrupted.
A night later, the camera is on Raptor star and Finals MVP Kwahi Leonard as different Warriors look to congratulate him after a great series, and they have to do so by pushing through throngs of people already on the court. I get that it’s mostly media looking for that immediate reaction quote or photo, but how about giving these guys five minutes to exchange respect – is that too much to ask?
I think too about the Super Bowl where a national TV reporter was trying to get a soundbite or two from Tom Brady while Ram players kept coming up to him, and she was quickly engulfed by her fellow journalists. Brady turns back to answer a question and there is 100 reporters around, but not the one he started speaking to.
As they do every year, the NBA and NHL playoffs provided plenty of drama and great stories, and even the dyed-in-the-wool Bruins fan in me was touched by a great one coming out of St. Louis with super-fan, 11-year-old Laila Anderson, getting to celebrate a Cup win.
It started with video of Laila, who suffers from a rare immune disease called hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis (HLH), crying as her mom told her she was being given permission by her doctors to leave the house to attend an event, as she recuperated from chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant. With tears of joy rolling down her face, she can barely get out asking her mom if that means they’re going to a Blues’ playoff game. You can just imagine her mom’s joy when getting to say ‘yes’ to her little girl.
As Laila followed the Blues through their magical run, and the media more-and-more her story, we learn players Colton Parayko, Alex Steen and St. Louis native Pat Marron have developed a special bond with the brave girl through hospital visits, and the image of hulking-defenseman Parayko sharing the Cup with her, as the Blues celebrated, is perfect.
What can sports be about – there it is.
And another example…
Ollie Bots featured
It was also very heart-warming to see Antigonish’s own brave youngster and avid hockey fan Oliver Smith, and his Ollie Bots, featured on a segment of Coach’s Corner with Don Cherry and Ron MacLean, during the finals (game six).
Along with talking about the Ollie Bots Oliver and his family have created, which have raised a lot of money for the fight against Ewing Sarcoma, the segment included video of Oliver giving a rousing pep talk to the St. F.X. X-Men during this past nationals in Lethbridge … inspiring one of his favourite teams to a hard-fought bronze medal in an adversity-filled year.