Sunday, December 6, 2009

It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia

Well, not this time, not really.

Alex Ovechkin was serving the second of his two-game suspension. The weather was cold, snowy/rainy/generally icky, and the Flyers had just fired John Stevens and replaced him with former Hurricanes coach, Peter Laviolette.
it's half past noon, and the Camaro has a half-inch of snow on it

We had tickets through the Caps Road Crew, who were schedule to leave Greenbelt around 3:15 to arrive at Wachovia Center around 5:30, so with the weather looking bleak and a mildly ESP-prepped Camaro Z28 as the sole transportation available, we left at 12:30. The original plan to go to see BodyWorlds2 at the Franklin Institute or the Mutter Museum at the College of Physicians got scrapped when I forgot to set an alarm to get up on Saturday. I didn't wake up until 11:30AM, as usual for me on a weekend without an autocross. So, we were going straight to check in at the hotel, chill there for a short period, then to the arena. We were also considering going to see Sloan after the game, as they were playing at Kung Fu Necktie that night.
The roads were fine. I tested the brakes on the way out to the main drag, and even though the Green Terror's on 3+ year old Kumho Ecsta 711 performance tires, there were no traction problems at all. The roads were wet, and fortunately, the people in Baltimore and north are not nearly as idiotic as DC area drivers are. We arrived at the hotel by 2:30, even after running errands before actually "leaving."

Pat was weirdly sleepy, so I let him nap for a while and I played on my still-pretty-new-to-me Nokia Surge, checking email, Twitter and Facebook. We headed over to the arena to arrive around 5:30, and were the first Capitals fans in the suite. Turns out the bus was running late.
view from the suite

We grabbed a bite to eat and a drink, then headed down to the glass for warmups. The bus arrived just before the warmups started, and the rest of the Caps Road Crew filtered in at the corner, while we were next to the tunnel. I started off taking some random pictures, but once the players came out, I took some cell phone pics to post to Facebook Mobile, while Pat took some camera photos. Most of them turned out pretty good.





We headed back up to the suite after warmups, and it was packed. Talking to only guy wearing a Laing jersey, I found out that the bus had a late departure, then an unexpected stop with delayed their arrival. At least they didn't have traffic issues.

The game started off with a quick goal from Tomas Fleischmann, less than a minute into the game. It was so unexpected, we all had a delayed reaction when it came to cheering. Things were relatively subdued after that -- a lot of back and forth, no clear domination -- until the Flyers fourth liners managed to get a rebound stuff on Jose Theodore. It was all tied up, and the Flyers faithful were getting geared up for a loud game.

Then Matt Bradley put a hit on Daniel Carcillo, who'd just had an assist on the goal. Carcillo took exception to the clean hit, and hit Bradley with a cross-check, followed by a shove, and inexplicably cold-cocked him. Brads went down in a heap and was so woozy, he needed help off the ice. As for Carcillo, like Mike Duco on Thursday night, the refs threw the book at him. Two minutes for cross-checking (the ref's arm was in the air for that when the rest happened), two minutes for instigating (the shove), five minutes for fighting, a ten minute misconduct and a game misconduct. All told, the Capitals would end up with a nine minute power play, even better than the seven minutes they had against the Panthers on Thursday night.

The major penalty is run first, so for the next five minutes the Caps would have an all-you-can-score opportunity. After a shaky two minutes, where Richards and Carter snaked into the Caps' zone on a short-handed attempt, the Caps settled down and got to business. Fleischmann tipped one by Ray Emery, and twenty-seconds afterwards, Mike Green slapped one through. The Flyers faithful went silent, and the period drew to a close.
Dan Carcillo was generous this holiday season

The second period starts off with a brief period of intensity on the part of the Flyers' penalty killers, but again, less than a minute into the period, the Capitals score. This time it's Brooks Laich, and it knocks the rest of the penalty kill down to a mere two minutes, as the major penalty had now expired.

After last December's game that Pat and I had attended, we had never dreamed that the score would be similar, but on the opposite end. Less than a minute into the second period, and it's 4-1. And the bleeding would continue.

Karl Alzner was called for a penalty for the second game in a row -- very uncharacteristic for him -- and the Caps PK unit went out and methodically killed off what would be the only Flyers power play on the night. Then the Flyers made the critical mistake of letting the puck slide up the boards by the penalty boxes, just as the penalty expired. Alzner erupted from the box, grabbed the puck and sent it over to a streaming Chris Clark, who stuff it past a reeling Ray Emery. Within seconds, Emery (12 saves on 17 shots) was replaced by Brian Boucher.

Boucher barely had time to be settled in the crease when the puck was dropped and he was tested. Before the end of the period, Boucher would let in two more goals, and the teams would retire to the locker room for the second intermission with the score 7-1.

The third period, the Capitals went for, as Mike Green put it during the intermission interview with Craig Laughlin, "keeping it simple." Basically, they tried to avoid the all-too-common third period meltdown, and while they weren't driving as hard to the net, they were also trying to avoid neutral zone turnovers and odd-man rushes. While Scott Hartnell did eek one past Jose Theodore to make it 7-2, he also took a poor slashing penalty (or was it his medusa-like hair that actually took the penalty?), leaving the Capitals the chance to help goal-deprived David Steckel get the elusive first marker of his season.

Yeah, so maybe with Backstrom and Green out there to help him, it was cheating a little bit. But why should Laich, Fleischmann and Fehr get all the fun on the power play unit? ;)

The scoring was over then, sadly. However, for the first time I can remember, an opposing team's players called as stars of the game actually came out to salute the crowd. Tomas Fleischmann -- with two goals and two assists -- was the third star, and he came out and waved at the meager crowd that was left (mostly Caps fans at this point, as a vast majority of Flyers fans had left before the second period was over). Mike Green was the second star, also with two goals and two assists, and he actually saluted towards our section. Nicklas Backstrom was the top star, and I'd like to think the only reason he didn't make it out was because he was being interviewed.
Mike Green waves at the Caps Road Crew when he's deemed second star of the game

The ride back to the hotel was uneventful -- fortunately -- as it was a quick jog to the car, and the parking lot was basically empty at that point.

The most pathetic parts of the game, besides the goaltending? Referee Stephane Auger took a puck to the ear during play in the second period, and fell to the ice. The classless Philly fans cheered his injury and booed as he skated, with help, to the locker rooms. :( He did return at the beginning of the third period, but I can imagine it was with a heavy dose of painkillers.

The other pathetic display was the fight in the stands, over near section 100. We heard someone say, "Fight!" but we didn't see anything happening on ice. The scuffle in the stands was actually between two Flyers fans! Both were escorted out by Wachovia Center security, needless to say.

So, in all, we're glad we went. While Matt Bradley was out for the majority of the game, it looks like he just needed ten or so stitches to patch his cheek up, and he'll be in the lineup for Monday night. Carcillo ended up with a four-game suspension for his trouble -- and a lot of criticism for his post-game lies and half-truths. So, after a seven-minute power play against the Panthers and a nine-minute power play against the Flyers, the question remains -- who on the Tampa Bay Lightning will go full retard and let the Capitals now-number-one-ranked power play have its way with their goaltenders?

And, no, we didn't go get to see Sloan at Kung Fu Necktie. By the time we got out of the Wachovia Center, Pat figured we would have missed most of the set. We did get to see them in Vienna, Virginia, on Tuesday night, so it was okay to miss them this time around.

Grounded!

I just got home from Philadelphia, and I don't think my voice has recovered yet. Pat and I went up to see the Caps play the Flyers, and it was the complete opposite of the lop-sided 7-1 blasting they gave the Caps last year (December 20th).

I'm gonna go have lunch with my Dad, but when I come back, I'll post up some pictures and give an account of the game. We sat with the Caps Road Crew in club suite 16, and it was just awesome.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Question of the Day

The Caps won last night on an inspired five goal surge in the third period to come back from being down, 3-2 and win 7-4.

Question of the Day : Will Danny Snyder's Redskins score more points today than the Capitals did last night?

Sunday, November 1, 2009

What If...?

The brightest and hottest stars burn out the fastest. Is there a lesson here?

Marvel Comics has an on-again-off-again series of comics called "What If...?" which explores various momentous decisions and occurances in the Marvel Universe. What if Spider-Man had joined the Fantastic Four? What if Jean Grey had submitted to a psychic lobotomy by Professor Xavier at the end of the Dark Phoenix saga?

This weekend marks the ten-year anniversary of the tragic accident that killed Greg Moore, a rising star in the open wheel racing series that was, at the time, called CART (Championship Auto Racing Teams). While Moore only had an official five wins in his four years of racing in the CART series, he was a force to be reckoned with on the track, and a bright soul off of it, according to his friends, teammates and even his competition.
photo from speedcenter.com

John Oreovicz explores some of the "what if?" in this poignant article marking the dark day that may have been the beginning of the end of CART and possibly of US open wheel racing. Greg Moore's infectious enthusiasm for life helped vitalize those he raced with, as well as drawing in fans to a sport that has always had a tenuous American existence, amongst the grittier NASCAR and circle track crowds. As Dario Franchitti put it in Oreovicz's article, "[Greg] was such a bright light. It's kind of a cliché, that he lived every day, but he did. From the time he got up, he was flat out. Right away the phone was ringing. You're still coming to, but there's Greg saying, 'Right! What are we doing? We're going mountain biking! We're doing this, we're doing that! We're going skiing!' There was never a dull moment."

Too many parallels exist between how Greg Moore sparked a renewed American interest in open wheel racing and how Alex Ovechkin has sparked a renewed Washington -- and American -- interest in hockey. Ovechkin is a larger-than-life personality, enjoying each and every day to the fullest.
Ovechkin and Semin goofing off at Six Flags during the STH party

What if the Capitals had chosen Malkin instead of Ovechkin in the 2004 draft? Would a Crosby-Ovechkin line be any more or less dominant than a Malkin-Backstrom line? Would Malkin be able to captivate the fickle Washington fan base the way Ovechkin has?
can you imagine the jerseys reversed? photo by Getty Images

More importantly, with Ovechkin as a larger than life personality, enjoying every moment to the fullest in a life that most of us can only dream about, how long until he burns himself out? Fans have already been "treated" to some close calls that are considered "goofing off" only because nothing happened in the end. Greg Moore's end was foreshadowed from the beginning with his exuberant driving on the track; it seemed only a matter of time before he had a terrible -- but not necessarily fatal -- accident. Ovechkin publicly admits to putting himself in danger on the street, and while Moore was a professional driver in a car with top-of-the-line safety equipment, Ovechkin is in a very fast street car without a roll bar (much less a cage), and hasn't (to my knowledge) taken any kind of performance driving lessons beyond his own "playing around" on the ragged edge.

And this doesn't even address Ovechkin's 110% play on the ice. The running joke is "Russian Machine never break." But how long before the wear-and-tear on his twenty-something body adds up?

It's worth noting how often the best and brightest human stars, like their cosmic counterparts, use themselves up long before what we'd consider to be "their time." Can the Capitals brightest star continue living his life his way?

Here's to hoping that Alex Ovechkin learns the meaning of the word moderation before he joins Greg Moore and myriad other stars who went supernova too early.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Unconventional


The Inaugural Capitals Convention was today at the Gaylord Resort at the National Harbor. It was supposed to be modeled after events held by the Chicago Cubs and the Chicago Blackhawks, and the announcement of this event had a lot of long-time season ticket holders worried that it would supplant the now annual season ticket holder party. The Capitals organization constantly stated that the Convention and the season ticket holder party were not connected at all, and in fact, an email was sent out two weeks ago announcing the date of the party. And the Convention was today.

Season ticket holders were given an extra hour in the exhibit hall to purchase used equipment, buy souvenirs and otherwise take in the exhibits, before the rest of the "general admission" tickets were admitted. Pat and I arrived around 9:30, mainly because I didn't feel like getting up this morning after a very long week at work. We'd parked in the Gaylord parking garage, and knowing we'd be there most of the day, I wasn't particularly happy about being slapped with a $19 parking fee. Even the $11 that others reported paying off site wasn't really a "bargain," though I should have known that at a "resort hotel," everything would be overpriced and underwhelming. At least the spaces in the garage were "normal sized," plus we managed to get a parking space next to Clyde and his new Miata top.

The first thing we noticed was that the line to sign up for the autograph sessions was long, really long. We opted to just go into the exhibit hall (bypassing all the general admission people who were grumbling about waiting) to see what it looked like. The "History Lesson" session was taking place on the main stage when we entered, but the sound was pretty bad if you were standing against the skills "rink," and we decided to go look at what was available at the jersey shop. The equipment sale line was crazy long and the interactives were dominated by kids, so there wasn't much else to do at this point.

I saw a couple of shirts I was interested in, but Pat was fixated on the jerseys. Since Brashear signed with the Rangers, Pat had decided that Brashear was "dead to him." He wanted another jersey, but he wanted an American-born player, and preferably one who would stay with the team for at least a few years. We'd been discussing this (along with Clyde) for the last couple of weeks, and even on the way down to the Convention, Pat had mentioned sadly that new Capital Mike Knuble was from Toronto and had only signed a one year contract. So, it was no surprise that he was glancing between the Poti and Steckel jerseys hanging along the back wall. He tried on the L/G Steckel jersey, and I knew his decision had been made. He took his claim to the first line of the day, and I went to check in for autographs.

I picked a 4-5PM timeslot at first, and when I came back to Pat (still in line to pay for the jersey), I told him I knew it was during one of the panel sessions he wanted to go to, but I was going back with his (the other) ticket, and I'd get a different session then. I was just about at the actual window to get the second wristband when Pat showed up with his new jersey in hand, and I gave him the 1:30-2:30 band, telling him that I hoped he'd get Tyler Sloan to sign the Sloan CD he'd brought with him.
Pat didn't really steal the jersey from Steckel's locker... but the locker room area made for a good background!

Pat headed upstairs to sit in on a panel discussion about the media coverage of the Capitals. That was really no surprise, since Pat's a photojournalist by trade and while he was trained by the Air Force and he currently works for an Army affiliated group, I'm sure he wouldn't mind covering the Capitals (or Nebraska football... and I think Nebraska would win if it came down to those two!). I told him I might come up to join him, but I wanted to wander around some more in the exhibit hall.

I took some pictures of the various trophies on display -- it was very much like the Hockey Hall of Fame set up with these -- but I was sorely disappointed that the Stanley Cup wasn't present. Was this a ploy by the Penguins to irritate the Capitals fans? I'm not sure what the "rules" are when it comes to public showing of the Stanley Cup, but every other trophy was there except for the Calder Trophy (for the top rookie). The Kelly Cup for the ECHL Champion (South Carolina Stingrays) was there, and I think the Calder Cup for the AHL Champion (Hershey Bears) was there too. Why not Lord Stanley, unless someone couldn't part with it for a night?





I ended up joining Pat in the panel discussion, which was very good. Frank Brown, the NHL Director of Media Relations, was the moderator, and Jon Press, Lindsay Czarniak, Corey Masisak, Joe Beninati, Craig Laughlin and Steve Kolbe were on the panel. It was a real show of camaraderie, as it was evident how much the broadcasters as a whole enjoyed working with each other, especially Kolbe, Beninati and Laughlin. Press, a blogger, and Masisak, a beat writer, seemed a bit out of their element in front of an audience, but when handed the microphone, they could still hold their own.

Afterwards, Pat and I looked around a bit for food, and we weren't impressed with the options on site. Instead, we meandered back toward the exhibit hall so that Pat could get in line for the autograph session. He was in group B, and I had chosen correctly for Tyler Sloan... except Sloan was in group C, along with Tom Poti. Group B was Shaone Morrisonn and Chris Bourque. I suggested to Pat that he try to switch wrist bands with someone from group C, since we are SCCA experts at removing wristbands. He considered it, but ultimately decided to just get in the "B" line. I guess he's hoping that Sloan makes the big team this time, and that he can meet him at Kettler.
Pat talks to Chris Bourque

We looked at the trophies some more and waited in the line to see the mock locker room setup, which was cool in some respects (the real Jose Theodore mask and the real Semyon Varlamov pads, albeit from Hershey, for instance), and completely lame in other respects (the wrong jerseys hanging (logo forward) in some "lockers").
Does the Chris Clark jersey in the Semin stall count as a jersey foul?

The real Theodore mask was cool...even if some assclown thought it was cool to try to put it on :|

We had some downtime after the autographs, and so we hit the hotel's atrium for lunch. We opted for the buffet place, at a mere $23.50 apiece, and while there, Steve Kolbe stopped by and chatted with me for a few minutes, which was very cool. Pat was kind of astonished when he came back from getting a second helping to see Kolbe talking to me about attending games in Philadelpha. One of the most interesting things he said to me was that he really wanted to place a bid on the Eastern Conference Champions banner that was available in the silent auction, but he also thought a fan should get it. His desire for the banner was due to the fact that he'd first announced for the Capitals in that season. I asked him, "But aren't you a huge fan of the team too?" I have to wonder if he did end up bidding on it.

Heather was at the Convention too (along with Julie -- one of our skating friends -- and Kelly -- who has season tickets next to us), and while we were trying to eat that late lunch, she was spazzing that she wasn't going to get Semyon Varlamov's autograph. Like me choosing Pat's session, she'd chosen the correct time, but didn't get the right stage (B vs. C, just like Pat). So, she wanted me to snap a few shots of Varlamov for her while she languished in the other line.
poor Heather

I got in line for my autograph session soon after, because I wanted to go to a panel session at 4:30, so I wasted a good 40 minutes of my time just standing around so that I could be one of the first to get an autograph. I didn't even know who would be in my session until about 3:40 when Pat came over with his newly purchased Steckel jersey.

Alexandre Giroux and David Steckel were the two players I would get autographs from. Not being a psycho about getting autographs, I hadn't really brought anything to get signed, so it was a good thing Pat had brought some ticket stubs and given me the jersey. Otherwise, I would have felt like a total fool. At least the stub he gave me was from a game where Giroux had played (the preseason game again the Blackhawks last Wednesday). As I presented it to him, I remarked that he had been robbed several times in that game, and he completely agreed. While he may have set a new record in the AHL for goals scored, he has still struggled to get the puck past the goal line in the NHL.
Giroux signed the preseason game stub, while Shaone Morrisonn signed the playoffs game stub

I told Steckel that the jersey belonged to my boyfriend, who'd bought it because he was an American born player, and Steckel responded, "I like his style." I amended that Pat hoped he'd stay for more than just one more year, and Steckel replied, "I'll work on that." I hope he does. I think that game six against the Pens in the playoffs really upped his fan approval, considering the number of Steckel jerseys I saw today, and his faceoff ability is only matched by Boyd Gordon's.
Steckel comments to Giroux about something before autographs begin

I headed upstairs immediately so that I could hit the "Dropping the Gloves" breakout, and on the way, I saw Eric Fehr heading downstairs. I asked him, "Aren't you late?" as I was pretty sure he was supposed to be with Jose Theodore in the group B autograph signing, and his reply was, "I'm on time!" with a big grin, as if he knew he was going to be reamed for being late.

The "Dropping the Gloves" panel was moderated by Steve Kolbe, and the panelists were John Erskine, Alan May, Gary Rissling and Ken Sabourin. Seeing Sabourin at the back of the room before the session began, I asked him why he was there, since I didn't remember him getting into that many fights when he played. He remarked that he used to be "worse" when he played for Calgary. This was another good panel, as the stories told about the penalty box and the opposing players fought were very good. The most awkward moment came when someone asked about how incidents like the Patrick Kane idiocy were breakdowns of "turning off the fighter," but all of the (former) players agreed that what happened with Kane wasn't normal, and that any professional player can turn off the fighter off ice.

Heather and her friend Dennis were ready to leave after the session, so while Pat went to get my skates and jacket from the car (since I'd left them with her after our skating class on Wednesday, instead of trying to carry a duffel with hockey skates into the Verizon Center), I waited to ask Alan May a question I'd been dying to know the answer to for over fifteen years.

"A guy I went to college with swore up and down that he was close personal friends with you, to the point of 'calling you' during our chemistry lab one day. I just have to know... do you know Craig Fitch?"

May immediately responded with, "Do you mean Fitchette?" and I confirmed that (Fitch was his nickname). Then he asked, "Where did you go to school?" I told him, "Western Maryland, but I think Craig was working on his second bachelor degree then." May nodded, "Yeah, I knew him from when he was at Princeton..." After over fifteen years, I finally had my skepticism erased about Fitch's association with Alan May. So, that phone call during lab was for real after all...

My other question was about his propensity towards instigation via goaltender interference. I asked him if he feared certain goaltenders, like Ron Hextall. He said that Hextall was a lot less scary when he faced him than if it had been a few years earlier. He also pointed out how small Hextall was outside the pads, which I know, since I'd met Hextall at one of the Flyers' fan club activities.

So, it was cool talking to Alan May for a few moments at the end of the panel. I then went to the room next door for the athletic trainer's panel, and texted Heather to tell Pat where I was (since I knew he didn't have a phone). He popped in shortly thereafter, then went next door to watch the "'Bear' Facts" breakout session.

Not many people were at the session I attended, but I guess since no players were there, there was a lot less interest in the discussion from the general populace. Ken Sabourin was the moderator for this group, and I was chosen to ask my question, which was in reference to my teaching. I asked how high school students interested in being athletic trainers should prepare themselves, and the head trainer (Greg Smith) said that they should consider if they want to go the sports medicine or the physical therapy route (he's evidently done both!), then choose the school appropriate to their decision. The strength training coach, Mark Nemish, also suggested networking as an important tool to getting into the "big leagues."

Pat gave some funny stories from the session he went to, including a question asked of Karl Alzner about the craziest thing a female fan has done. :o

We went downstairs again to scan around the exhibit hall one last time. The line to get into the Capitals Shop was gone. The equipment sale was essentially done. Even the late autograph sessions were poorly subscribed, likely because everyone knew there was zero chance of Ovechkin being in the last session (since he was signed up to do photographs then).
Karl Alzner and Nicklas Backstrom sign autographs in the final session

Besides Heather, Clyde had also already left, when his autograph session included Ovechkin... at another line (gee, sounds familiar). His line was Milan Jurcina and Tomas Fleischmann. I wish he'd told me, because I would have gotten Jurcina's autograph. Oh well.

We surveyed surroundings, then decided we could wait until next Saturday to see the opening night video. Before leaving entirely, we did the "hard shot" interactive (the only one that didn't seem to be dominated by children under twelve).
Pat whiffed on more than one shot

I never got a good time, but I didn't whiff on any, so I win.

We waited in one last line (to prepay for the parking), then came home.

Knowing it was the first attempt at this sort of thing, and knowing there are 4998 other people with opinions (me and Pat being the other two of the 5K passes sold), I'll just sum up our pros and cons here.

Pros :
* Season ticket holders had extra time (over the general admission ticket) to survey the souvenirs and the game/used equipment
* Breakout sessions that we attended were fun AND informative
* Interactive sessions with puck shooting, etc. were interesting
* Availibility of players and others was good
* Some of the "players" were very polite and accessible -- including Ted Leonsis, Bruce Boudreau, Steve Kolbe, Al Koken, and Gary Bettman

* Honest attempt to include children in the Convention.
* All players -- current and possibly-current were available for autographs.
* Very inexpensive ticket costs.
* Most of the NHL trophies available to look at.

Cons :
* One hour extra was not nearly enough extra time for the season ticket holders
* Breakout sessions did not have enough room for the number of attendees, and there were a lot of people being disruptive via opening snack bags and talking to each other during the sessions
* I saw the various skills clinics on the schedule, and wanted to do one or more of them. But the overwhelming majority of participants in the interactives were children, and I felt like I shouldn't participate if it was meant for children. But I'm not sure it was meant that way.
* Lines for various things -- including getting souvenirs -- were out of control. I might have gotten a souvenir T-shirt if the line for such hadn't been ridiculously long from the moment of arrival. Pat waited a good 20+ minutes in the line to buy his Steckel jersey. I wanted some alumni autographs, but upon monitoring how quickly the line was moving, I realized that by the time I got to the table for signatures, chances were that the current players would have been replaced by other alumni by the time I got there.
* Some of the players were there for as short of a time as possible.
* There was no order to the alumni table autographs, and the line was inexcusably long. Of all the autographs I would have liked to get today, the alumni autographs were at the top of my list. I was very disappointed that the alumni line was the most sluggish, and the least predictable when it came to who would be seated upon arrival.
* Too few seats and very poor acoustics for the main stage.
* Too many children in then interactive sessions made it impossible (or at the very least, awkward) for adults who wanted to participate in stick skills or other clinics.
* The autograph sessions ran into breakout sessions too much. Too many people in some sessions with hardly as many in other groups.
* No photo-postcards or anything for the players to sign for people who didn't bring/buy something to get signed. The alumni table had an "autograph sheet" for signatures, but the regular player tables didn't even have that.
* Parking and food costs not disclosed until too late. Captive audience doesn't equal people who will pay anything -- I know some people just left the convention early to avoid paying the hotel $25 (or more for lunch), and they didn't come back.
* No Stanley Cup.

Other thoughts :
* Have a second room available. This would allow for a larger main stage, and more space for the autographs. The equipment sale and the preseason sale could also be expanded (meaning no line to get into the souvenirs). A second room where the interactives could be the primary thing would be cool, and could allow for kids and adults to compete but not against each other.
* let people know costs (parking, food, etc), ahead of time so they don't get slammed with ATM surcharges. $19 for parking is a bit exorbitant. On the other hand, the $175 Pat paid for the Steckel jersey is less than I paid for his Brashear jersey at Verizon Center.

After seeing Boyd Gordon and Michal Neuvirth at the A stage, we decided to call it a night. Something about needing to be up in time for a noon event on Sunday. At least I don't have to work on Monday!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Good Life

Nebraska is the home of Arbor Day.
Welcome to Nebraska, from the Wyoming side

And, for the foreseeable future, Nebraska is also the home to the SCCA Solo Nationals, which is where I spent most of the second week of September.

The car arrived on site on Monday, and Shawn turned it over to the capable hands of Billy Brooks and Greg McCance to figure out why there was a persistent drip from the front passenger side axle. The Mfactory front differential had been a difficult install, and I suspected that there may have been a resulting issue with the axle seal. However, the two of them could not get the axle out in order to see what was going on. Since there hadn't been enough of a loss of diff oil to register on the dipstick, it was decided to just drive the car as it was.

Wednesday morning came way too early for my liking, as I'd spent most of the previous evening getting ready. My suitcase had been packed with the car, so I didn't need to do laundry and the like, but I still had to decide what I was bringing with me as my carry-on. Ninety minutes of sleep also wasn't a good idea, but I was too anxious over the whole trip to go to sleep. I left the house around 4:20, and after some side trips, parking, the shuttle bus ride and "re"printing my boarding passes, I got to security around 5:00. I was through security around 5:02. Gotta love BWI at god-awful hours.

I spent a miserable hour or so at St. Louis waiting for the second leg of my flight. I was pretty much bored out of my skull the entire time, to the point that I paid $5 for an hour of WiFi time, just so I could at least do something. Oh, and on both flights, I found myself unable to fall asleep until the descent had begun. Major suckage, which continued with the rental car pickup -- bright yellow Aveo with a bent rim. Joy.

An hour drive to the site, and all was well through MM399. Between MM399 and MM395, it started misting, then a light rain, and by the time I'd driven down 48th to the turnoff for the site, it was a downpour. WTF? It had been sunny in Omaha! The rain stopped shortly after I arrived, even as I parked the rental near the WRX and started looking for people. It wasn't hard to find anyone; it was actually hard to walk more than five feet and not get hailed by someone asking, "Did you just get here?" Why, yes, I just arrived 3 minutes ago.

I got through registration (thanks, Connie, for the rulebook!), and said hello to John Thomas (who was driving his FP Datsun) and Steve Mieritz (who was driving, of all things, an SS Z06), the latter whom I hadn't seen in years! I puttered around for a while then was told in no uncertain terms that the car "needed to be teched." When I deigned to ask why it hadn't been teched in the 2+ days it had been on the site, I got yelled at. I grabbed the keys and took the damned thing to the tech area before they closed. Don't know why I bothered, since it was Corey Ridgick and Jon Krolewicz on the job.... I'm not sure they really looked at it. ;)
photo by Danny Kao

So, once competition was done for the day on the West course, we waited (impatiently, I might add) for the abomination known as the CP parade to finish (some people didn't know to avert their eyes.... I hear their sight is just now returning! :o ), then I did a quick course walk so I had an idea of what I was going to be driving the next day. I was still too tired to really process it much, but I also needed to get over to the awards ceremony to help Rupert Berrington with photographs. I figured I was clean enough to be presentable, and jetted off to downtown Lincoln.

I was dying of hunger by the end of it all, and ended up getting to the hotel with nothing to eat until the next morning when I grabbed some disgusting roller-grill things at the local convenience store. I really wanted to walk the course at least twice in the morning, now that I had a few hours of sleep, but I was still in pseudozombie mode, and I didn't really pick up on important stuff during my walks.

Chris Cline had jumped into my car for Nationals, since his other ride offers consisted of FWD, FWD and more FWD. Considering he's been driving an STX E36 BMW the last two years, he wasn't exactly looking for a FWD Civic or CRX. He'd called me on Monday to discuss driving the WRX, and we come to an amenable agreement for the ride. He didn't get a chance to drive it besides taking it up the road for a fill-up with 100 octane, so his first real experience was the first run. Pat followed up with a decent run that would have had him deep in the trophies, except as is too normal for him, he'd coned.

The next run, Chris was a bit faster, and Pat tried to tone things down just to get a clean run in. I don't know what he did, but the resulting time was slow. It was clean though, and that was a start.

Then third runs.... Chris went a bit faster -- good. Pat started off great, then about two-thirds of the way through the course, through the showcase turn...
I just turned around and started to walk away, then I remembered I should warn Chris not to even think about going to the grid spot. Sure enough, Pat needed.... "time" to decompress. I felt bad, but I couldn't dwell on it. I needed to start thinking about my runs.

I got one walkthrough during the break between heats two and three, and then I waited through the slightly-less-than-a-billion STS first drivers before I got to run. There were merely three of us in ESPL -- me, defending ESPL champion Lorien Feighner, and Hilary Anderson in McCance's car -- which meant it was "win or go home" in terms of trophies and tire contingency. Just a tiny bit of pressure.
photo by GotCone.com

My first run was all over the place. I don't think having my last autocross attempt be an RX8 on A3S03s was a good idea. Still, it was a tick faster than Feighner's first run (less than a tenth), even if it was a lot slower than I would have liked. My second run, I pushed it a bit harder through the opening offsets, and up into the showcase. I thought I might have coned coming out of the big sweeper, but nothing was called, and I'm glad I resisted the urge to glance in the mirrors.

The run was minutely quicker than my first, and it would ultimately stand as my best, as I coned my third run in the opening offsets. Lorien slowed down on her second run, and coned her third as well. I would have a 0.295 lead going into day 2.
photo by GotCone.com

Some alcohol and foursquare with the Atlanta Region would ensue in the evening hours, and finally, I decided that sleep would be good. I think we might have made a run to Taco Bell for some kind of snackery, but OMG was I tired. I realized quickly that I had to spend pretty much all day in my grid, with Pat and Chris running first heat, me covering AS and GSL for SportsCar in the second heat, running third heat, sitting around for an hour in impound waiting for results during fourth heat, and then announcing during fifth heat. It made for a long day, but when I was done, I did get a walkthrough on the East Course before the foursquare began.

I started off the second day in a similar manner to the first, except one of my course walks was with Anthony Savini, a local who drives a supercharged Mini Cooper S in GS. He was leading GS by a scant 0.09 going into the second day, but he's also an Evolution instructor, and he went into instructor mode while we were walking. It was something I needed, with my addled sleep-deprived brain needing something to focus on during my driving.

Pat and Chris were well out of the trophies going into the second day, so they were both trying to salvage their respective prides with some decent times on the Feldpusch-designed course. Pat's third run was 0.4 behind local driver (and trophy winner) Brian Burdette, so I think he felt better about how he did. Chris didn't improve every run like he did on the first day, but he was driving the car harder, to the point that he actually coned his final run (which had his fastest raw time, unfortunately).

I got one walkthrough during the break, like before, and as Pat and I approached the start line, I asked Billy Brooks to join us. Pat decided to take offense at this, and walked away. So, even as Billy and I are walking, and Billy is telling me what he was doing in any particular area, I'm worried about how Pat is mad at me, so ultimately, I don't think my attempt at getting input from two people really helped. I would end up falling back on the advice Savini had given me during the morning walk.

My first run, I had a front row seat for Lorien's first cone of two. Seeing her cone made me relax -- probably a bit too much -- since I knew she wouldn't catch me on that run. Her time was a mid 60 second run, while mine was about 1.5 second slower, raw. It was a wake up call, but I was still hitting snooze, since with one look at the course and a driving pattern "set," I wasn't sure what I should do in order to rectify my sluggishness.
photo by Aaron Boltman

It didn't help that we had a huge delay before our next runs, due to two GP cars breaking, then an STS car breaking. Yikes. Multi-car breakage when you're driving an *SP WRX is a bit unnerving.

Fortunately, Lorien slowed down on her second run -- by a lot. She went almost a second slower on raw time, while I dropped 0.7. I was still in the lead, though I wouldn't say "comfortably." If she was even 0.3 off her initial raw time, she would be beating me -- that's how slow I was running.
photo by Aaron Boltman

The last run, I really don't know what I was doing to prepare. The lack of sleep and the anxiety of not having much in the way of downtime was starting to wear on me. I really couldn't think of a plan to go faster; this was the same situation I found myself in for the previous day. I knew I could go much faster, since Pat had run in the 59s. Hell, even Cline had a raw time in the mid-60s. Yet, I was sitting on a 61.2. I just was at a loss of what to do, and I felt it all slipping away when I pulled up to the line.

You can hear me cursing through the "wall-lom" about two thirds of the way through the course. I am so late on those elements, it's disgusting, and I know it. The funny thing is that in my mind, what I said was a lot louder, and a lot faster. Weird. The run was marginally faster than the second run, but either one was good enough for the win, as Lorien went even slower on her third run. More than an hour later, results were finally handed to us in impound (after having to fix an issue with Hilary's times), and I was declared the new champion.

Now for the "but" part. Pat ran 1.5 seconds faster than me on the East Course. 1.5. I can't remember the last time he legitimately drove 1.5 seconds faster than me when we were in the same car (I'm not counting the abortion called the WDCR Practice Event with me in his SE-R). Generally, we're pretty close, at least on raw time, and I was pretty flustered that he was so much quicker than me on both courses (raw time -- he had to sit on a run 0.2 slower than me on the West Course due to his conage).
photo by Aaron Boltman

I'm not sure if the issue is me still driving the car like a DS car, or what. I just know it's got to stop. I drove like crap at Toledo, and I drove like crap at Nationals. I didn't feel nearly as bad about my driving at the DC Pro, but I'm sure it could have been better there too.

So, I'm the newly crowned ESPL National Champion, thanks in huge part to IAG Performance, Vorshlag Motorsports, and Billy Brooks with MODERacing. As for next year, we'll see where the WRX goes from here.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Pick Up The White Courtesy Phone...

My cell phone rang at 4:15 today, while I was frantically trying to prepare the first test of the semester for the college anatomy class I teach. As I was wracking my brain over how to phrase a question dealing with Tomas Fleischmann's recently diagnosed deep vein thrombosis, I heard the dulcet tones of Modest Mouse's "Dashboard," then suddenly remembered that there was a season ticket holder teleconference today.

The guests of the hour? Brooks Laich and Matt Bradley!
Brooks Laich during practice

So, even though I had work to get done before I left for the 7:30 class, and despite the spotty cell reception at my desk, I answered the phone to listen in.

What's the season ticket holder teleconference, you might ask?

It's yet another perk of being a Capitals season ticket holder. Along with the three ice skating "parties" held at Kettler Capitals Iceplex over the summer, this is the second of the season ticket holder exclusive teleconferences, where you can just listen to others talk to the guests, or you can dial *3 and ask your own question. The first teleconference was with Bruce Boudreau and George McPhee, and I just listened in to that one. This second one had Matt Bradley and Brooks Laich as the guests, and while I listened to a variety of questions, I decided I was going to ask them what they thought about the thrombosis diagnosis.

About two minutes after I pressed *3, "Kirk" with guest services popped in and asked me what I wanted to ask. He entered my question in the queue, then told me that when I heard the facilitator (Steve Kolbe) introduce me, I should just ask my question again to Laich and Bradley. I waited through questions such as, "If you were to have a child, who is the teammate you would least want to babysit?" and "Brooks, do you think you're going need to step up to fill Fedorov's place?" as well as "Matt, with Brashear leaving, does this mean you're the number one enforcer?"

Bradley and Laich were awesome, obviously taking their time to thoughtfully answer each and every question posed to them, no matter how serious or inane the question. Bradley would interject some humor into the answers as well, which isn't a surprise, considering he is known as the team jokester (remember Red Line, and Professor Bradley?).

After about 5-10 minutes, Steve Kolbe came to my question. I asked them if the blood clot being linked to a blocked shot and subsequent plane ride would maybe have them rethinking how they block shots, especially during penalty killing. Laich remarked that it shouldn't change anything, since that's their "job, and it's what [they] are paid to do." As he explained it, if he's supposed to stop the puck, he's going to do it however he can, and if he gets injured, so be it. Bradley lamented that he doesn't usually get the chance to block shots, but when he is out there during a penalty kill, he's usually "behind the shot" (maybe alluding to his awesome shorthanded goal during the playoffs).

I didn't listen much after I asked my question, as I really needed to finish writing the test so I could print it off and make copies before leaving. But, I do know the entire teleconference will be posted on the Capitals website, as the first one with Boudreau and McPhee already is.

The fact that the team involves the stakeholders with small things like the teleconference and the skating parties is just part of the reason I love this team. I have my tickets to the Convention later this month, and my season tickets arrived while I was in Nebraska. Plus, I already got notification that the season ticket holder "appreciation party" will be at Six Flags America on October 13th, and I already got my sub for the college class that night. It's just awesome how the season ticket holders are treated here, and it makes the cost of the tickets just that much more of a deal to me.

Training camp is three days in. Our appetites have been whetted. Let's go Caps! :)

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Short Story

It was a tough battle, but me and my WRX came out on top. More when I get home from Lincoln.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Lock and Load

I picked up the WRX from IAG on Wednesday night, forgoing a Capitals season ticket holder event and another chance to skate for free at Kettler to do so. I wasn't particularly happy about having to do so, but it was either then, or wait until Friday, and I wanted the chance to put some miles on the new differentials before leaving the car with Shawn, the B-stock driver who was going to take the car out to Lincoln for me.

The Mfactory front differential is evidently not completely "plug-and-play" for the 2006 WRX. While Greg McCance had no issues with his 2002 car (which requires "axle stubs"), my car was a bit of a challenge. The guys are IAG were evidently having issues with getting the axles and the new front diff to cooperate. The rear Cusco diff was no problem at all.

Saturday morning, I dropped off Pat at BWI for his flight to Omaha, or, as he calls it, "The Homeland." His dad still lives in Omaha, and he is going to visit for a few days before heading to Lincoln. I came home, and started to clean and load the WRX for it's trip.
loading the WRX

I need a better vacuum. Between the vacuum at the local car wash and the attachments to the vacuum at home, I still couldn't get as much grime out of the car as I would like. It was a lot better than it was when I was done, in any case. I also washed the Rotas before putting them in.

I started all this around 9AM and by noon, I was grabbing a quick lunch and getting ready to head out the door. I touched base with Gabe, who would be picking me up at Potomac Mills, and with Shawn, the driver, and then I was on the road. 1:45, I was at Shawn's house, and then he took me over to the mall where I got to ride back to Gabe's apartment in the ghetto-fabulous DSP Maxima. Mary must really like him if she puts up with riding in the back of that car instead of insisting that he drive the M3!
tires in the car, and ass-kicking boots ready to be packed

Three hours later, I'd successfully navigated the Metro and Amtrak mazes, and had finished the 40 minute walk home from the BWI rental car building.

Shawn and his codriver/car owner Chike were leaving Sunday morning around 7AM, and I got a phone call about five hours into their trip. "Did you have any issues with the transmission leaking?"

I couldn't lie, especially considering how worried I am about my vehicles when others are driving them. "When I picked the car up on Wednesday, I was smelling gear oil after driving it. It didn't really leave any spots in the driveway, and I took it to a car wash to get the undercarriage cleaned off because I knew they'd had issues with the axles and there was likely gear oil spilt."

He told me that he'd looked underneath and there was a "steady drip." I clarified that it was a drip and not a flow and then told him I'd call JJ and find out what he thought. Shawn asked if he should wait for an answer, and I told him, "I didn't smell gear oil when I dropped it off, and if it's just dripping and there wasn't anything in your driveway after last night, I'm not going to worry about it. I will let you know what he says."
the larger of the spots in the driveway is visible here. it didn't seem significant until the phone call

JJ thought it might be the axle seal, possibly slightly damaged from the issues with getting the axles and the front diff to play nicely. I also called Billy Brooks, and conferred with him about what to do with the car once it got to Lincoln, as there were a couple of days before competition and even before Pat would want to drive it at the Evolution School Test-and-tune. I relayed the information to Shawn, and five-and-a-half hours after the initial call, he just checked in and said that the transmission dipstick is showing that the level is okay.

The car should be in Lincoln tomorrow morning. Billy and Greg (McCance) will look at it for me, and everything should be good to go.

In the meantime, @WDCRSoloNats is reporting via Twitter that Ian Baker won the Finale Hawk Super Challenge over Sam Strano, but Strano took the year-end Challenge win. Annie Bauer took the L2 win and therefore the L2 year-end win, as expected, despite some shifter linkage issues on the FSP car. Leslie Cohen won the Ladies Challenge for the event and for the year.

Maybe next year I'll revisit the ProSolo Finale. In the meantime, I've got some work to do in order to be prepared for the days I'll be gone.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

One Week

In one week, the ProSolo Finale will be 2/3rds of the way over. In one week, my WRX will likely be starting the trek out to the newest home of the SCCA Solo Nationals, Lincoln, Nebraska. In one week, the first five days of the new school year will be over, and I'll have a three day weekend to recover.

One week. So much to get done. So much time, yet so little.

The rear Cusco diff showed up at IAG on Thursday. Pete and I had dropped the car off on Wednesday, as that was the only day I really had the time to do so. The work to install the front and rear diffs commenced on Friday, and I'd hoped that the install would go smoothly enough that I could pick the car up Friday night.

No such luck. Pete came over around 5PM, and I called to see if the car was ready. JJ said, no, and it probably wouldn't be, but he'd call me back around 7 to update me on what was going on. True to his word, he called back around 7, and the work to install the diffs hadn't gone nearly as well as it could have. The front diff was needing to be shimmed in order to get acceptable backlash, and they didn't have enough shims to do the job in house. They couldn't get any more until Monday. :(

Since I wasn't going to be driving the car on Sunday at all, I decided to drop the rims off today to get the sticker Hoosier A6s mounted up. The next event would be Nationals, so they were needed. My poor car was stranded on a lift, with the transmission cracked open in the clean room. Boris is sure it'll be done on Monday.

I do want to drive it around a bit on the street just to get somewhat acclimated to the car. I also would like to get the diffs broken in before Nationals.

Oh, yeah, getting the car to Nationals. Eesh.... When I got home from dropping the car off Wednesday evening, there was an email message from Gabe, starting off with :
"I have to miss nationals..."

I had to reread that part a couple of times before it sank in. My initial thought was simply, "Shit." I continued to read.
"I crashed my bike last night and landed on my chin."

Okay, all selfish thoughts out the window. Mark Bettin, a longtime member of Corner-Carvers, recently passed away due to a bicycling accident, so the dangers of biking are very fresh in my mind. Even as I finish reading the email, I'm hitting dial on the cell.

He's okay, just really banged up, and buzzing nicely on Percocet. He was wearing a helmet, but landed squarely on his chin when the chain on his bike "jumped" as he was switching gears during a ride with his girlfriend. Thankfully Mary was there with him, as he said a couple of riders not too far behind them just rode on by without offering assistance. :( He tore up his chin bad enough to need around twenty stitches (he says it looks like a goatee right now), and one tooth was cracked badly enough that it needed extraction on Wednesday afternoon. Five or six others will need to be fixed with screws and/or crowns over the next month. Between the multiple dental surgeries and the fact that he used up all of his accumulated leave for the "sick time" instead of hanging onto it for the trip to Nebraska, he just can't afford to go to Nationals right now. The real kicker is that he hasn't been at his new job long enough for the dental plan to kick in. :(

So, I did put out a plea to see if anyone else in the area might be able to take the car out for me. Billy Brooks offered to fly out to Maryland and drive the car to Lincoln, but local RX8 driver Shawn Roberts has also offered to take it out. Thankfully, I wasn't planning to do the ProSolo Finale this year (thanks to skewed index numbers, I couldn't justify the wear and tear on the car and tires when I figured my chances of making the Challenge were between slim and none, not to mention how impossible it would be for me to win L2). I shouldn't have to drive it myself.

So, in one week... the latest chapter in Nationals autocross will begin. The action will be broadcast all over the web -- Twitter updates will be available on @CamaroWRX (me), @patred48 (Pat), @AutocrossersInc (AI), @AtlRegionSCCA (Atlanta Region), @WDCRSoloNats (DC Region at Nationals), and @WDCR (DC Region), among others. WDCRSoloNats also will have a blog page to follow, and I'm sure the amusing aspect will be documented at SoloLOL too.

It's a new venue, I'm in a new car with new diffs that I haven't even competed on yet.... and it's all in one week.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Kill Bill

Autocrossers, Inc. is supposed to be running the fifth event of the Yokohama/Radial Tire series tomorrow at Regency Furniture Stadium in Waldorf. It's pouring down rain outside right now. Pat is snug on the sofa, watching Formula One practice, and I'm thinking I might not drive anything tomorrow.

The Subaru is laid up for the week with a leaky strut. Brian Hanchey at Vorshlag feels it's a loss of nitrogen pressure resulting in an improper oil seal.


It was okay before the last event, and it's not leaking bad enough to leave a puddle or anything, so I'm going to wait for JJ at IAG to get their shop's nitrogen tank fixed, and then let him refill the nitrogen charge. If it's still leaking... then we have a problem. But Vorshlag is supposed to have their repair stuff on site at Nationals, so I'm not too concerned.

Pat will actually be in his SE-R tomorrow, codriving with Pete, and Gabe might be driving a DS WRX Limited. We'll see how it works out.

Oh, me?

I might be driving a blast from the past..... we'll see.