Sunday, September 19, 2010

Rockin' in the Land of Red

It's been three weeks now since I've returned from the 2010 SCCA TireRack Solo Nationals, bitterly disappointed in my tenth place finish in ESP. The car is back at IAG Performance to fix its current ills, and I contemplate what I want to do going forth.

The trek began five weeks ago when Eric Kriemelmeyer, Josh Luster and Shane Chinonn-Rhoden showed up to caravan out. Eric and Pat were trailering the BS Solstice GXP, Josh and Shane were trailering the STU STi, and I was driving the ESP WRX. Yeah, the Street Prepared car was being driven to the event, while the Street Touring and the Stock classed cars were being trailered. Since Eric needed to replace a steering stabilizer on his truck, we didn't leave until close to 2PM instead of the noon we'd originally been striving for.

Twenty-three hours later, we pulled into the paddock area for the Nationals and carved out our spaces; Pat, Eric, Josh and Shane in the WDCR paddock, and myself hanging with the ATL crowd by "the tent."

For the rest of the story, I'm just going to post what I did on NASIOC. I'm still quite bummed about the experience this year, and I will likely expand on my journey later, when I'm not quite so bitter about how I did.

from a post on NASIOC

Hard to believe that the SCCA Solo Nationals were three weeks ago, and we're now in the unofficial "off season" of autocross.

I ran ESP open this year, after winning the ESPL National Championship in 2009. I'd done well enough the week before at a local event in Toledo (8/29) and at a local DC event (8/15) that I figured I'd have a good chance at my long-sought goal of an open class trophy at Nationals. I'd hoped to have a co-driver, even though we were running fourth heat, but the stars didn't align for that. I almost ended up with Sam Krauss in my car after Charles Moss's Talon blew a turbo on the practice course on Monday, but they did a banzai run to Omaha to pick up a junkyard turbo and managed to get the car in grid just seconds before Tuesday runs started.

My first run on Tuesday was on sticker Hoosiers, and I managed to nearly miss second gear when I shifted. It ended up being my fastest run after I completely boned my second run and then got all tentative on my third.

After the first day, I'd be 0.019s out of trophies in 9th spot. Mark Madarash was leading by a good bit, over Sam Krauss in the Talon. McCance and Brooks would be in solid trophy spots, though Madarash's lead was certainly intimidating.

I was upset with myself though. I'd left a lot of time out there on my first run, only to throw it all away on the subsequent two. Hearing the hated, "You'll do it tomorrow," only made me feel worse. I always heard that when I ran FS, and I never did do it the next day.

I walked the West Course in the dark on Tuesday night. I needed to be alone to think about driving.

Tentatively hopeful on Wednesday, I started off with a moderate run to feel the course out (much like I did on the East Course). Like the day before, the car felt good, even on cold tires. I actually remembered to put the tire covers Terry Baker had lent to me on the tires right after my run (unlike the day before), and I sat in the car and thought about where to improve.

Getting ready to head out for my second run, the car decides to throw a misfire code just as the grid worker gestures to me to pull up to the staging line. I call for a mechanical time out, pull out the Cobb AP and look at the codes. Misfire on cylinders 2 and 4. :huh: I clear them, wait about 30 seconds and then start the car up again. It's running like crap, obviously misfiring. I pull codes again -- misfires on 2 and 3 this time. Billy's taken his second run at this point, so he comes over and looks at some stuff with the AP. His unofficial diagnosis is a coil pack going bad. I'm just mad at the car at this point, and I really don't have any options since most of the cars in the class are two-driver cars. I decide to go out and take my run anyway.

The motor didn't let go, and I dropped about 0.6s on the run. The car is still running terribly at this point, and pulling codes a third time gives misfires on cylinders 1 and 2.

I go and take my third run, dropping a little more (about a half second), and sitting in the eighth spot at that moment. It was short lived. Despite Drew Little also having issues with his car (starter, codes, etc.), he managed to get past me on his last run, and Jason Kolk got by us both. Kolk took the last trophy while Drew finished 0.019s back (yep, the same margin I had the day before). I was another 0.27 behind Drew, in tenth.

I was bitterly disappointed with my finish, and despite the fact that I know they mean well by it, hearing people tell me, "You'll get it next year" actually brought me to tears before I even left impound. I've heard that so many times -- just as many times as I've heard "You'll do it tomorrow" after the first day -- that I just don't believe it any more.

Of course, the car had one last little surprise for me later that day, as Pat and I headed over to the awards ceremony that neither of us really wanted to attend, but had to go to since he was one of the announcers. As I merged onto I-80 towards downtown Lincoln, the clutch slipped. By the time we were ready to head home on Friday, it was almost insufferable to drive in the higher gears. Two years of ProSolos and regular autocrosses was always the limit with the stock Camaro clutches, so I guess I shouldn't be too surprised.

So, the car's back at the shop, getting the clutch replaced and the misfires diagnosed. Where do I go from here? Good question. If the 2011 National Championships are indeed the week before Labor Day, I don't think I can go, as it'll be the first week of school. If I do go, I'll have to fly out and likely back, and that means I need a more reliable codriver who isn't going to leave me wondering how to get the car out there. Maybe I just need to drive something else and not worry about my own car. I don't know right now. :(

It's still early in the off-season.

At least it's almost the NHL season, so I can take my mind off things.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Cool Down Laps

The 2010 SCCA ProSolo series visited the Washington, DC area this past weekend, and as usual, I was there. My not-so-trusty WRX and my codriver Gabe decided to take on ESP as a cohesive team this year, instead of me running ladies class.

I'll post a full writeup later -- obviously, I've been lacking in the "make a blog post" bit lately -- but to make a long story short, it was a carnage-filled weekend for too many folks. Starting with Jay Storm's FSP Impreza during the practice starts on Friday, through McCance's scare with some blown hoses on his WRX on Saturday and then the Kozlak's Solstice GXP going into limp mode on Sunday, I could only pray I might get through the weekend unscathed.

No such luck. As Gabe came off his final run of the heat on Sunday, he found the car stuck in second gear. :(

In the end, I finished in the third and final trophy spot in ESP. The car's at IAG right now for diagnosis, and hopefully repair.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Falling Down The Mountain...

...end up kissing dirt.

So goes a song by one of my favorite bands of all time.

Being good or even dominating during the regular season means nothing when it comes to taking the big prize home. What's worse is being told over and over again, "You'll do it this year," after having been unsuccessful the previous one, and after failing, "Next year it'll be yours."

I know. I've been there. And I, for one, got sick of the set up.

People who engage in a sport are, by nature, competitive as hell. That's half the reason to participate, to work out that competitive nature. My sport is autocross, a time trial involving driving a temporary course as fast as I can, without knocking over the course markers. Cars are classed based on modifications and perceived handling/horsepower advantages.

For many years, I ran that green Camaro Z28 in FS at the National Championships, which were held in Topeka, Kansas until this past September. I started off running ladies class, with tons of expectations to win, and when I didn't even earn a trophy those first two years at Nationals, I started running open class, against the guys. Seems odd, yeah, but my mentality was that I'd push myself even harder, and wouldn't choke at Nationals as I'd done my first two attempts. Plus, to me, it would mean more to earn an open class trophy than to win a ladies-only championship.

From 1999 to 2002, I improved steadily each and every year, coming closer to my goal of an open class National Championships trophy. In 2002, I even finally managed to earn some trophies during the season in open class, starting with the Ft. Myers ProSolo where I snagged the final trophy in FS, driving my trusty green Z28. I held that medal the entire fifteen hour ride home to Maryland. I also earned a trophy driving a stock-classed Corvette in a street-prepared class, pissing off a fellow competitor along the way when he told me that I "couldn't" drive a stock car in a street prepared class (which you can) and I responded, "Do you have a problem getting beat by a stock car or by a girl?"
the AS Corvette being run in BSP; I got the third and final trophy spot

Finally, in 2003, after a solid year in ProSolo and at a few National Tours, I found myself within the trophies after the first day of the National Championships. Alas, I fell to two out on the second day, finishing 0.149 behind the final trophy spot. My friends told me, "Next year, you'll do it," and I believed them.

Come 2004, after another solid year of competition, I again was in the trophies after the first day, though this time, I was running someone else's Camaro Z28 1LE. However, after staying out a bit too late, and not really getting a chance to walk the north course as well as I should have, I again fell out of the trophies -- a heartbreaking 0.068 out of trophies, to finish 8th in F Stock. "You will do it next year," everyone told me. I sucked it up, and nodded.

The rain of 2005 made a bad situation worse. I'd allegedly coned my first run, then it started to rain. This wasn't the first time this had happened to me during the 2005 season, and it hurt like hell to have it happen again. The only reason I even showed up for the second day of competition is because I had a codriver and he was in the trophies. He finished in the final trophy spot, while I languished in the bottom third that year. However, I did beat him over four events to win the 2005 Southeast Division championship. Did it ease the pain? No.

I didn't consciously realize it, but 2006 would be my final attempt at an open class trophy in F Stock. The 2005 Mustang was thought to be a dominant chassis to the established third and fourth generation Camaros, and an even better version -- the Shelby GT -- was coming for 2007. The 2006 Solo National Championships would be the final hurrah for my 1996 Camaro Z28 1LE that was my darling, my baby, my little green terror. As had been the case for two of the past three years, I was right there heading into the second day of competition. On my last run on the second day, I distinctly remember getting the time slip from the course worker at the end of the course, and her saying, "Awesome run!! 52s?!" And I just stared at the 52.9 that I'd just run, realized it wasn't enough for a trophy, and burst into tears.

I drove back to my grid spot, and sat in the car, crying. Everyone knew why. No one dared approach me until I'd let it all come out. Did I drive my best? I thought so at the time. Did I do everything I could? Again, I thought so at the time. We'd put my front sway bar on Jerry's car and did back-to-back testing. His car was set up exactly like my green one, and we codrove for maximum tire warmth, since Heartland Park was a terrible site for cold tires. But I just didn't drive fast enough.

Why do I bring this pain up? Because I'm tired of seeing so many people who have no competitive background whatsoever rag on the Washington Capitals for their first round playoff loss. If anyone thinks that those guys aren't being their own harshest critics, that they aren't feeling like they've let down themselves as well as their fans, then those people don't know the meaning of the word "competitive".

Did the players play their hardest? They thought so. There was cases where it didn't exactly look like much effort was being put forth, yes. Where a player wasn't making his presence exactly known, yes. But, as an amateur athlete, even I know that my best may not actually be the best I could have done, and I am damned sure that those professional athletes have done that kind of self-reflection on what happened during those seven games and don't need a ton of couch-jockeys telling them what they allegedly did wrong.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Time Is Now

I've been a Capitals fan for a very long time... a die hard since 1988. In all that time, the Caps have only ever visited the Conference Finals twice (the first time being swept), and the Stanley Cup Finals once.

The 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs start today, Wednesday, April 14. The Capitals have their first playoff game tomorrow against the Montreal Canadiens, on Thursday, at Verizon Center.

Here's hoping they can do what no other Capitals team could do since 1974. :)

Thursday, April 8, 2010

I'm a Loser, Baby...

So, this morning, the Washington Capitals Club Scarlet posted the winner of their "How I Became a Caps Fan" contest, in which the winner gets a game worn jersey after the team takes on the Boston Bruins on April 11.

Read the winning entry and tell me how this woman is a Caps fan?

I didn't expect to win, but I also didn't expect to lose to someone who isn't even a fan of the team. :( For contrast, my entry is posted below.

Title : You Never Forget Your First

The year was 1986 and I was a high school sophomore when my mom won a set of four tickets to a Washington Capitals game during the Montgomery County Fair. Mike Ridley would be acquired from the New York Rangers in a deal that sent Bobby Carpenter to the Big Apple in return. Larry Murphy and Scott Stevens would be two of the top three scorers for the team.

And I would still not see my first Caps game live.

For some odd reason, my mom never redeemed the voucher for the tickets that year. My family – myself included – wasn’t that much into hockey at the time. We were passing fans in that we’d watch it on TV, but it wasn’t a passion for my parents, myself or my younger brother.

Yet, my mom still didn’t forget about the tickets, and at the onset of the 1987-88 season, she wrote a letter to then-owner Abe Pollin, asking if she would still be able to use them. Mr. Pollin himself wrote back, asking what game she would like to go to. After looking over the schedule, we settled on the February 14th game, as it was the closest game to my birthday. They’d be playing the Calgary Flames, which, coincidentally, was the team pennant hanging in my bedroom at the time.

Our seats were excellent, just four or so rows from the ice. In retrospect, it was amazing what we got to see – future Hall of Famers, including Mike Gartner, who scored the game-winning goal in overtime, and Brett Hull, who was a tenacious rookie on the Flames, mucking it up in the corners and blasting pucks towards the net with that wicked shot of his.

Seeing Gartner hustle down the boards in overtime to clinch the 5-4 win over the Flames sealed it for me. After watching my first NHL game live, I was hooked, and by my senior year in high school, I was skipping out early on Fridays in order to get to the Capital Centre for games. The year after I graduated, I was working full-time and had the spare cash to get a single season ticket for myself, and was able to see the Capitals make it to the Wales (Eastern) Conference finals for the first time in franchise history, even though they were swept by the Boston Bruins. It was heart-breaking, but I was thoroughly hooked by this time, it didn’t matter. I would be back for more.

I was a season ticket holder at the Capital Centre for all of two years before I went to college full-time and had to come to my senses. I never forget Mr. Pollin’s kindness in letting my family use those tickets after the fact, and the excitement of that first game being won in overtime. Over twenty years later, I am a full season ticket holder, and again, I am witnessing franchise records and history being made. It’s an exciting time to be a Capitals fan, but then again, when isn’t it?

Sunday, April 4, 2010

I'm Bad... I'm Nationwide...

Pat and I, along with friends Heather and Dennis, ventured out to Columbus, Ohio this past weekend to take in a Capitals game in a town I've only driven through (many, many, many times on my way out to Indiana, Kansas, Nebraska or further west, for autocrosses). After the March 12th game against the Lightning, we came to an inebriated decision to drive to Tampa Bay for the March 20th rematch, but fortunately, we all sobered up and scrapped that before our credit cards were charged. Instead, Heather and I individually decided that driving the six hours to Ohio would be "smarter" than the fifteen hours to Tampa, and so the idea to go to Nationwide Arena on April 3rd was born. Some discussion, some emails, and voila, we were all set to meet up with an autocrossing friend of mine from Cleveland at the arena on Saturday night.

Heather and Dennis left about thirty minutes ahead of Pat and me, and it took us about the same amount of time to get to the hotel. Monitoring our whereabouts via Twitter and Foursquare, we managed to confuse each other with late and duplicate "check-ins," plus Dennis thought Pat and I had left closer to 11 (instead of the 9:30AM we actually did leave). Needless to say, he was shocked when I tweeted that I was 45 minutes from Columbus, despite the fact that I was driving the famed 400K mile Camaro Z28 1LE that's been affectionately nicknamed the Green Terror for my alma mater's mascot. Pat and I arrived at the hotel about thirty minutes behind Heather and Dennis, and Sean was done autocrossing at National Trail for the day, so he was getting ready to head over as well.

A quick jaunt from the hotel to the Tip Top Kitchen (on a recommendation from contributor and former Washington Times sports writer Corey Masisak) saw all four of us ordering the delicious pot roast sandwich (on a pretzel roll, some of us getting the sweet potato fries as a side, and other getting fried green beans or regular fries). The savory meal would last us through the game until further exploits at the Horn-Guy-recommended "R" Bar after the game.

Nationwide Arena evidently has issues with "printing" tickets ordered via Ticketmaster, and Dennis couldn't retrieve the tickets until after 6PM. Sean arrived while we were waiting for the tickets to be "printed" and we immediately took up spots for warmups while Pat went for refreshments.

We would need the alcohol. Greg Wyshynski, of Yahoo Puck Daddy, had clearly called Columbus the "Central U.S. command center of Jersey Fouls" and he wasn't kidding. From the general foul of wearing a jersey of a team that wasn't playing, to the "Hockey Town" Red Wings #97 jersey, we saw quite a plethora of eye-numbing fouls. However, coupled with the fact that the bunny was wearing a powder-blue Crosby jersey, this chick was the "winn4r" of the pathetic sites we witnessed.

We did get a good view of the warmups, as well as of the game, however. We ended up being near both of the Caps clubs that were in attendance (the Road Crew and the Fan Club), on the end where the Caps were shooting twice.

The theme for the Blue Jackets is "Carry the Flag." It doesn't seem very threatening, especially when coupled with a weak video introduction that was a parody of the "needs more cowbell" SNL skit (here's an old version of it from 2007). This one was a play on the AC/DC "For Those About to Rock" video, and the line was "needs more cannon." This led into a "Live from Columbus, it's Saturday night!" with some of their top players (not the opening lineup, which I think would have been more appropriate) mentioned.

The Caps started off very strongly in the first, with crisp passing and a dominant presence in the Blue Jackets' zone. Mathieu Garon was tested early and failed often, letting through two of the first four shots on net. Semin started the scoring, and Flash continued it. However, things were about to change for the worse.

Jason Chimera, coming into Nationwide Arena for the first time since the late December trade that sent Chris Clark to Ohio (along with Milan Jurcina, temporarily), was coming into the BJ's zone at, as he put it, "full speed," and got caught up with defenseman Anton Stralman as he entered the crease. Garon was the unfortunate braking point. While he tried to shake off, Garon would end up being replaced by Caps killer Steve Mason.

A few miscues on the part of the Blue Jackets minutes later would find Mason facing down the league's best power play on a 5-3. Mike Green, after whiffing on a perfectly open net moments previous, would take a sweet setup and send the puck straight in for his 19th of the season. However, the Caps would not score again, and, in fact, the defensive breakdowns would begin almost immediately. With the rest of the second penalty still on the board, Rick Nash and Antoine Vermette would take the puck to Jose Theodore and slide one by to "fire the cannon" (which is damned loud, by the way) and narrow the lead to 2 before the end of the first period.

The cannon was mercifully silent during the second period, and most of the way through the third, not for lack of BJ attempts though. Theo would face 36 shots versus the 23 taken on Mason (and 4 on Garon), and he'd stop all but two, including a flurry of shots during a 5-on-3 situation caused by a Chimera cross-check followed closely by a Shaone Morrisonn tripping call.

Vermette would score even strength on another Nash feed late in the third period, but Theo would hold off the rest of the onslaught and as a result, take the first star of the game. It was a too-exciting finish to what should have been a routine win for the league-leading Capitals. Yet, another mediocre game -- and -2 finish! -- for Alex Ovechkin and more disinterested play for countryman Alex Semin would be part of the problem. With Brooks Laich back in the lineup, albeit with a college-style cage, some of the weak points of the penalty kill and the power play units have been shored up -- let's face it, Jason Chimera was not a good replacement for the Iron Man -- but even Laich wasn't up to the task of cracking Mason beyond that one Green tally.

RJ Umberger would make some disparaging remarks about the Capitals' post-season chances in the press conference after the game, saying that Washington doesn't "play right" and that no Western Conference team would be outmatched by them. However, no other Eastern Conference team has a better record against the West than Washington, so if not the Capitals, then who should face the best of the West for the Stanley Cup? Maybe Umberger is a bit bothered by his team being out of the playoff picture in the West, though teams with worse records in the East are still in contention, and if so, that's a valid concern. Yet, to call out the Capitals -- who would still be in the playoffs even if the wins over supposedly weaker division opponents were left out -- is just being a poor loser on his part. He later tried to backpedal on his comments, but honestly, I'm not surprised about his initial remarks, considering he's a former Flyer.

After the game, we all headed over to the R Bar, which was touted as "the most awesome hockey bar ever" by Sam "The Horn Guy." Sure enough, the place was a mecca of hockey souvenirs, including a Baltimore Skipjacks pennant! Turns out that one of the owners is from the Baltimore area, hence the Skipjacks, Baltimore Colts and Orioles pennants being tucked away in the entrance area. Other cool touches included the penalty box/boards booths, hockey sticks and pucks everywhere, and the 100oz beer towers of Molson Canadian for $18. Well, the $3 PBR 24oz cans weren't bad either.

After chatting with some Pens fans from Waterloo, Ontario (may your French-speaking, Habs-fan children be the bane of your existence!), and Todd, who told us he was one of the guys responsible for the boards at Nationwide, we called it a night. Sean went back to Cleveland (with his own interesting story of the drunk-driver-in-a-mirror-image-car), and the rest of us staggered back to our hotel. All-in-all, it was a great time to be had. Nationwide Arena is a very nice site, and the Columbus fans were very gracious hosts! If the Caps are in Ohio again next year, I think I'm going to have to make the trek again.

Monday, February 8, 2010

March of the Penguins

I'm glad I was able to make it to the game yesterday -- oddly enough, I made it because my Subaru WRX was "snowed out" of my neighborhood since I went to the game on Friday night and stayed overnight in DC. It turned out to be an excellent battle between the two teams. I'm also glad the Caps won, because the trials and tribulations of getting to and from the game were, in a word, unacceptable.

My brother came from Hagerstown in his own Subaru. I-270 was, in his words, "a disaster." He had to drive all the way to Bethesda to the closest Metro station, Medical Center, where he then waited 30 minutes because he'd *just* missed the departing train. Metro neglected to post anything about only running trains every 30 minutes on their website, otherwise, he would have just tried to drive into DC and park in a garage. It took him nearly three hours to arrive. Meanwhile, because I had his tickets in my hand, I, too, missed the entire first period because I waited in the Green Turtle for him.

And Mr. Leonsis, while all of "your" employees may have shown up for the game, not all of the Verizon Center staff was present. That much was clear when I entered during the opening minutes of the second period, even if I hadn't already received a text message telling me that the concession lines were ridiculously long because more than half of the stands were not open. My brother and I sprinted to our seats, and respectfully waited for a stop in play to enter the actual seating area despite no usher being present (not sure if the usher was taking a quick break or if they, too, couldn't make it due to the weather). One of the season ticket holders next to me missed the *entire* second period waiting in the concession lines. There may have been enough staff present to "run" Verizon Center, but it was very obvious to anyone there that not "all" of the arena staff was present.

I understand the need to hold the game, Mr. Leonsis, and if both teams were there and the officials were there, I would have been sorely disappointed to not be able to see it. What does disappoint me is that part of the justification for hold it (from a previous blog entry) was that the NBC crew was there, and then telling people who were there that the ends (the win and a majority of seats being filled) justified the means (Pittsburgh's players on busses for 5+ hours in conditions that were, at best, treacherous; thousands of people -- including "super fans" such as Sam "The Horn Guy" and the announcer Wes Johnson -- making borderline insane trips to get to the arena). Please don't tell us things that we could see with our own eyes weren't true either (that "all employees" were there). You may not have had a vastly different game experience than you usually do, but many of the rest of us definitely did. To belittle our journeys and our experiences by dismissing them out of hand is insulting to those of us (Caps and Pens fans both) who went to, literally, fanatical lengths to see this team play.

For the record, my brother sent me a text at 8:14PM last night. We'd departed the Irish Channel after a late lunch at 4:15PM. Four hours for him to get home, and he said that I-270 was even worse going northbound. But, as a true, diehard Caps fan, he said it was all worth it.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Containing the Rabble

Well, I spent all day at the Washington Auto Show on Thursday, which was the second day it was open to the public. I was helping out at the WDCR-SCCA area, and was supposed to be answering questions and generally trying to "sell" SCCA events as a great legal alternative to playing on the street.
the autocross cars

The first thing I noticed after about noon was how light the crowds were, even for a week day. I didn't get a chance to venture much out of the area (I did talk to some of the National Capital Region Mustang owners, but that was about it), so I don't know if the light crowds were due to the area we were in, but what a difference from last year. The other thing I noticed, and this was immediately, was that as soon as the doors were open to the public (10AM), there were people gathing in line to see some WWE wrestler (I looked it up later -- his name is Randy Orton). The wrestler wasn't due to be on stage until 6PM.

Well, the wrestling crowd that was gathering for this game was unfortunately of the stereotypical wrestling fan type -- very white trash. They were also completely ignorant of the chains that Ian and Carrie set up around the autocross cars, and I found myself constantly telling them to not push past the chains or move the chain holders. At one point, I had Mike Collins, the floor manager over to help move the chains back in position, hoping that his "officialdom" would make an impression. I should have known that if my suit and name badge didn't convey authority, neither would his.

I was very disappointed, because Ian had told me on Sunday, when I dropped the car off, that the Capitals would be signing at the stage that was about 100-150 feet from my car. Nick Backstrom, Mike Green and Bruce Boudreau were due for signings, but they turned out to be upstairs by the Ford exhibit. I asked Mike was the chances were that he could get one of them to come and pose by my WRX before they left, and he said he'd see what he could do.

Brooks Laich was also present, though he was there for Potomac Garage Solutions, who'd done a garage makeover for him. He wasn't very far away from our area, and in fact, Carrie went over to get his autograph on two hats (we all know they are both yours, Carrie!), and then since the wrestling crowd was dying down and we had enough coverage of our area to keep the rabble in check, I caved in and got my hat signed. I told him I figured I'd get his autograph on it, since I'd pledged to throw it the other week when it looked like he might get a hat trick. He laughed and said that he'd try to get one against the Panthers on Friday night, to which I said, "But now I don't want to throw this one! I'll have to get another to throw."

I felt like a moron for being up there in my suit and with my exhibitor's badge, so I didn't get a picture or anything. Carrie was needling me about that when Mike came back over to see if things were still okay. I asked him about the other players, and he said that they actually left early, so he didn't get a chance. I told him that Laich was still there, and so he went over there and told me that the "handler" said once the line died down, he'd call Mike on the radio.
the 'diorama' with rescue1 and obadia's spec miata was in front of my wrx

Well, it was approaching 9PM, which was the close of the show, and the line was pretty much gone. But suddenly, there was some drama going on with the wrestler's fans, and Mike was called away to deal with that fallout. So, I asked Carrie to come with me (for moral support, of course), and we went back over to where Laich was. I waited until the rest of the autograph seekers were done, then asked the "handler" about if I could get a picture of Laich with my car. He acted unsure, and deferred to a younger guy behind him, who introduced himself as "Brooks' cousin." I asked him about getting the picture, and he asked where my car was again, what kind and color the car was, and then said, "I'll make sure he walks that way on the way out." I thanked him, and then Carrie and I went back to the SCCA area, realizing how many Subarus there were right there and I was very thankful he'd asked about the color!

I wasn't completely convinced that it would still happen, but a minute later, Carrie says, "Oh my god, they're coming!" and sure enough, Brooks, his cousin and the manager walked over the the car. Brooks noticed the weagle magnet on the car right away, then asked where he should stand. I hadn't even thought that far ahead, and so said, "Just anywhere." His cousin was telling him to smile for the camera, "No, really smile, Brooks!" and then after Carrie had taken one picture, he told her to "take another, keep shooting!" I couldn't stop laughing.
brooks laich graciously allows me to get a couple of pictures in front of my wrx

We thanked them for taking the time to come over, and they headed out. But how cool was that? :)

So tonight is an attempt to prolong the winning streak, taking it to what would no longer be a tie for the second-longest streak in franchise history. The Florida Panthers are coming to town, and Brooks Laich said he was going to get a hat-trick, while Tomas Fleischmann said he needed to get started on scoring 45 goals for the season ASAP. It's a good time to be a Caps fan is all I can say.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Auto Show : Change Happens Here

The 2010 Washington Auto Show is open to the the public starting January 27 and runs through January 31, at the DC Convention Center. The theme this year is "Change Happens Here," and the highlights will be alternative energy, such as hybrids, biofuels and the like.

And, my Subaru Impreza WRX will be part of the WDCR SCCA exhibit again this year. :)
the WRX at FedEx Field for a regional WDCR autocross, photo by Danny Kao

Monday, January 18, 2010

No Such Thing as a Free Lunch?

ovechkin gets ready for his sixth career penalty shot

"We just want to give fans free chicken wings and give them free food, you know?" said Ovechkin after the Washington Capitals put away the Philadelphia Flyers for the third time this season. He made it sound simple, despite the fact that it was his first career goal via penalty shot, after five previous attempts. His shootout percentage is marginally better (1 for 5 this year), but the decision to award a penalty shot for Coburn's actions during Ovechkin's late breakaway had some in the stands wishing for a traditional two-minute power play.

Ovechkin's 30th goal wasn't the story of the game however; that distinction belonged to Brooks Laich who snapped an eighteen game scoring drought after a one-on-one video session with Coach Boudreau.

"We went through the shifts from the Toronto game and at the end of it we discussed what we saw. And the term he used was 'You’re kind of just existing out there.' And the term I used was that 'It kind of looked uninspired' – the way I was playing," Laich told the media after being named first star of the game. He scored twice, once short-handed and once even strength, and added an assist in the 5-3 undressing of a Philly team that is trying desperately to climb into a playoff position before April.

Laich certainly wasn't just existing on the ice during the matinee matchup. After his first goal, which tied the game at two, he played his position solidly and relentless, resulting in the short-hander against a Flyers squad that has allowed six other SHG this season.

knuble in his office

Since coming back from a broken pinky finger, Mike Knuble had been slow to get back into form. But, in the last week, "Noobs" has netted five goals in five games, working to a +2 overall, and virtually none of those goals were from more than five feet away from the net.

Since switching Tomas Fleischmann to a center position and pairing him with Brooks Laich and Alexander Semin, Coach Boudreau seems to have finally found a happy medium with his lines. As much as he's known for switching things up every game, and oftentimes during a game, the 8-19-22, 28-14-21 and 16-9-25 lines seem to have clicked and as such, have persisted for over five games (which is likely a record for Boudreau's Capitals). The only line that has seen change is the fourth line, as Boyd Gordon and Quintin Laing have been in and out of the lineup.
backstrom waits patiently for the flyers to begin a breakout

Maybe not coincidentally, the Capitals have won four of the last five games, and scored an average of 5.6 goals per game. The last time the Capitals scored fewer than four goals? Their loss to the Los Angeles Kings on January 2nd. In that span, Capitals faithful at Verizon Center have netted free wings in the Glory Days promotion three times of a possible four (only four goals were scored on the Canadiens on January 5th).

It's been said that there is no such thing as a free lunch. Looks like the exception to that rule is if you're a Caps fan!

The real test for the team is coming up in the next week. The Stanley Cup finalist Detroit Red Wings come to town tomorrow night, and then the Capitals visit the Cup winning Penguins on Thursday. The week wraps up back at home with the Phoenix Coyotes -- a surprise of the season with 61 points as of this writing -- coming to DC. If the Capitals are going to contend for the Cup in a serious fashion, these next three games will illuminate strengths and weaknesses for sure. And the Coyotes game is the next Caps on Tap bar crawl, so it will be entertaining in more ways than one! :)

For some other enlightening reading on the Flyers/Capitals matchup, check out : The Examiner, Japers Rink, Rock The Red, Washington Post and Russian Machine Never Breaks.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Raindrops Keep Falling...

Last time the Capitals played Philadelphia, it was snowing. This time, it's pouring rain. It would be nice to have a sunny day during the Caps vs. Flyers contest, but I digress.

In the last week, we've seen the extreme side of the Capitals' offensive ability; they currently lead the league in goals-for, with 177. Chicago is the next closest at 161. Going back to the January 5th game against the Canadiens, the Caps have scored an average of 5.1 goals per game!
just another celebration of a Semin shot in Atlanta

The defensive work is what is still troubling. Despite the overwhelming ability to score goals, the team still lost one game and had another go to shootout in the last week. Those two games also saw rookie netminder Michal Neuvirth give up a total of 8 goals over the span of about 50 minutes, and get replaced by veteran Jose Theodore. In the first of those two matches, against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Theodore unfortunately lived up to the derisive nickname of "ThreeOrMore" by allowing another 3 goals to slip by even as the front line juggernaut tied the game at 4-4. In the second game, however, "Contract Year" Theodore came in to stone the Florida Panthers for the final period and a half plus overtime, and then held on during the shootout. "Contract Year" Theo also played against the Maple Leafs this past Friday night, where he stood on his head to keep Toronto to a single power play goal even as six were scored against Vesa "For All Your Backup Needs" Toskala.

Just before the Canadiens game, Brooks Laich told the media that the team has a hard time buying into defensive work, even though, as he put it, it's when they play good defense that they get the opportunities to score four, five goals. Sure enough, that night against Montreal, they played well defensively, and they scored four goals. Two nights later, again, the defensive effort was decently solid, and they scored five. Those two games however, may have led to the shoddy first period in Atlanta, where it was only due to Neuvirth that they weren't chasing the Thrashers after one, considering the 18-7 shots-on-goal differential. However, Johan Hedberg's and Ondrej Pavelec's sieve-like qualities likely led to the disaster against the Lightning; the Capitals got lucky in Atlanta, knew they got lucky, and still didn't adjust their defensive game in Tampa until it was too late. And when things got "chippy" in the third period, they'd expended too much energy in the second just to pull into a 4-4 tie, and they had nothing left.
neuvirth works up a sweat against the thrashers

Did they learn their lesson? No. The next night in Sunrise, the exact same thing happened, almost to a tee. There was no Matt Bradley-coming-to-Ovechkin's "rescue" this time, though.

capitaLOLs hits the nail on the head

A quick first period goal on Friday night took some of the fight out of the Maple Leafs, and the defensive work was fairly solid, despite John Carlson not arriving at Verizon Center until 6:10 (literally minutes before warmups) and Brian Pothier's late scratch.

So what is to be expected against the Flyers? The last game was a rout, partially due to Daniel Carcillo's ill-advised "fight" with Matt Bradley and the resultant nine minutes of power play that netted a couple of goals. It's almost inevitable that the Flyers will try to punish the Capitals, as it's widely thought that Boudreau was just running up the score at the end (when he put Semin, Backstrom and Green out on a late power play... even though the point was to help David Steckel get that elusive first goal of the season). However, if the Capitals play like they did Friday night -- solid defense, cutting back on the cross-ice and cutesy passing, and unrelenting on the shots on goal -- they should improve their Eastern Conference leading home record to 16-3-3 easily.