Nonni was a superhero

Nonni

The following was the eulogy for Adelina DiAdamo:

My Nonni – Adelina DiAdamo – was a super hero.

Not in a traditional sense.

She did make amazing tomato sauce, which in our family is about as important as a super power.

She didn’t have a defining moment that transformed her from a mild-mannered Italian lady into Super Nonni.

She didn’t have a cape or a costume.

And in the end, she wasn’t indestructible.

I think in the back of my mind I always knew that, but she seemed immortal in that she’s looked the exact same to me for the past 35 years. At 93 years old, she was still trying to do everything herself and had the super-human ability to ignore the advice of her daughters with the flick of her wrist.

She wasn’t a super hero in the traditional sense of the word, she was something far greater. She was Nonni.

I don’t know how many of you know the story of how my mother’s family came to New Brunswick, but I think it bears repeating and demonstrates what I’m talking about.

Nonni  had to leave school at a young age to go to work in a small Italian village in the mountains. Times were tough and her family needed her. In that village, she met a man who would become her husband, Adelio, my Nonno.

What these two had to overcome just to be with each other is nothing short of amazing. My grandfather was forced into service during the Second World War. He had to leave Adelina and head south for duty.

He immediately began attempting to return to her. He tried to fake malaria in order to be discharged. He tried to temporarily discolour his eye and fake blindness by rubbing tobacco in it. Both proved unsuccessful.

He survived the war, but despite it being over, those in command would not release the soldiers and allow them to return home. He decided he’d been away from her too long and went AWOL. Over the course of a few weeks, he walked from the south of the country back to his home village. However, the fear of being captured forced him to travel at night, while resting during the day.

With the war over, she watched as the other men returned home but he was nowhere to be found. She waited for him and never gave up hope he would return. She had faith and it was rewarded.

I can’t imagine the feeling they had seeing each other for the first time after the war. They made up for lost time as evidenced by the four women sitting here today. However, they had more tough times to endure. They lost their son Gus and soon had to make the decision to part, once again, without knowing when they would see each other.

Nonno left to begin a new life for his family in Canada, taking a job as a coal miner in Minto. His wife stayed behind with three children under the age of three. She soon received word to travel to Minto.

This is where the super human stuff starts to emerge. With two toddlers and a six-month-old child, she boarded a boat destined for Ellis Island in New York. This wasn’t a one day trip, but a long and arduous three-week journey to a new land where she did not speak the language. She was only armed with a picture of her brother-in-law – a man she had never met – whom she had to find amongst the masses.

As if that wasn’t difficult enough, she had to try and occupy her girls on the voyage and keep my aunt Rina from trying to jump overboard because she wanted to swim.

Somehow, this all worked out.

If we keep with the super hero theme, she vanquished the two super villains she faced – Nazi Germany and the Atlantic Ocean.

Once in New Brunswick, they welcomed a fourth girl into their family and ran a household of six on a coal miner’s salary. Despite a very limited formal education, she was an extremely smart woman, especially when it came to math.

My grandfather would bring home his pay and Nonni would take over from there. Within in a generation, the family prospered producing two teachers, a social worker and an entrepreneur. They did all of this by teaching themselves a new language out of sheer force of will, dealing with a new country and culture and, unfortunately, intolerance.

Then came seven grandchildren and 11 great grandchildren. Again, she was extraordinary in this regard. She had perhaps the softest shoulder any of us have ever slept on. There were battles as to who got to sit next to Nonni on a long car ride so they could have access to that shoulder.

Her skills in the kitchen were nothing short of amazing. I could go on about this at length.

Perhaps the greatest gift she gave us was showing us what love truly is. I can speak for my sister and my cousins when I say Nonni’s love was unconditional. She would have and often did, anything she could for us. It was next to impossible to walk into her house without her sizing you up and asking ‘You eat?’

We also got to see what it meant to really love your partner in life by seeing her and Nonno interact with one another.

I will leave you with the two images that I will forever cherish of my grandmother. The first was seeing her and Nonno share a kiss at the hospital when he fell ill almost 20 years ago. It was a sweet and beautiful moment. The second is on the night he passed away. As he was being taken out of the house she sat on a chair and was composed – almost stoic. I was confused, I thought we would be trying to calm and comfort her. Years later I came to realize it was a look of resolve and determination.

A war and an ocean couldn’t keep them apart.

Death never stood a chance.

She knew they would find each other again, and now they have.

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

When the chase ends

laredo

Andrew McGilligan

One Volek in Time

Every year, the dream of playing professional hockey ends for hundreds, if not thousands, of players across the globe. With several leagues already underway and training camps in progress, it’s this time of year that serves as a reminder of the faded dream. The following is a story on what it’s like to make the transition out of hockey and what lies ahead.

There’s a certain irony in the way Ryan Sparling’s professional hockey dreams came to an end.

Like many young Canadians, he dreamed of one day playing in the National Hockey League. Instead, it was the NHL that helped end the pursuit of his dream.

After a successful year with the Laredo Bucks of the Central Hockey League in 2011-12, he entered training camp the following season with the Wichita Thunder.

“I reported to camp and was probably there for about a week until the NHL lockout came into effect,” Sparling said.

One of the consequences of the lockout was the trickledown effect it had on several leagues. Players from the NHL played in the American Hockey League during the lockout which forced other players to find work in lower leagues such as the East Coast and Central hockey leagues.

“It definitely affected my spot on the team,” he said. “In minor pro leagues they usually only carry 10 forwards.

“When my coach asked me if I wanted him to try and move me somewhere to play I simply said ‘thanks but I’m just going to head home.’”

He spent the remainder of the year playing senior hockey in Newfoundland, but the Bucks jersey would be the last he’d wear as a professional hockey player.

With the 2012-13 training camp set to open, he had a tough decision to make.

“I could continue to live my dream of playing hockey for a living or head to work out west in the oil sands,” Sparling said. “Obviously, hockey was always number one in my heart, but after not playing professionally for a year, I felt it would be tough to land a contract somewhere – especially without an agent.”

He decided to hang up his skates and said the biggest factor in his decision was family and friends. For the better part of a decade, hockey had trumped everything else. Birthdays, anniversaries, holidays and other special events had been missed due to conflicts with his hockey schedule.

“I’ve lived away since I was 16 years old and missed out on a lot of things,” he said. “I wouldn’t change any of that for anything in the world, but as I grew older things happened that made me realize life is short and you never know when you’re going to be able to spend time and share memories with important people again.”

While he’s happy working and getting to spend more time with friends and family, his thoughts never drift too far from the game he gave up. He said not attending a training camp for the first time was a somewhat depressing experience.

“Hockey was my entire life up until this moment,” the Sydney, Nova Scotia native said. “Ask any hockey player in the world, walking into that dressing room with a hockey team full of brothers, there is no better feeling in the world. I have chills right now thinking about it. Not going back to hockey or to a training camp was definitely one of the harder things I’ve had to do.”

Moving on has also brought its fair share of regret. Sparling is honest about wishing he was still playing and has many friends playing and succeeding. Last season, two of his closest friends – Alex Grant and Brett Gallant – made their NHL debuts.

While proud of their accomplishments, watching them made him realize how much he misses the game.

“There isn’t anything in the world that has ever made me feel the way hockey does,” he said. “Hanging out in the dressing room, broken noses, road trips, parties with the boys – nothing will ever compare.”

However, the reality of playing in the NHL with its first-class accommodations and travel is not the reality most players face in the hockey’s minor leagues. Sparling said the longest road trip he took was 26 hours travelling from Arizona back Laredo, Texas. While some would see spending more than a day in a bus as arduous, Sparling said it’s those moments he misses most.

“Travelling for a long time can wear on you, but like I said earlier, I love road trips with the team,” he said. “Nothing compares to them. We travelled to different areas and had the opportunity to see things I might not have ever seen.”

He lists Mount Rushmore and attending a Kansas City Chiefs home game against the Green Bay Packers as two experiences that came solely from the long road trips.

Those hours on the bus have been traded in for work just outside Fort McMurray, Alberta in the oils sands. He still takes long road trips every few weeks, but this time they lead not to another rink, but his family in Cape Breton.

Playing at a professional level is firmly behind him, but the desire still lingers. The want for road trips and broken noses is still there.

“If someone has the decision to continue playing or to work because they aren’t sure of what they want. Trust me, hockey is the right decision,” he said. “I’m just happy I had the opportunity to say I once lived the hockey players’ life and was so lucky to have met amazing people along the way who are still great friends of mine.”

Tagged ,

The Ghosts of Baseball Hill

1976  Team  Cuba Royals Field National Anthen

Andrew McGilligan
One Volek in Time

They don’t exist.

The winning team in perhaps the greatest baseball game ever played in the province has been reduced to a footnote, a minor part of the story.

Their relegation wasn’t out of malice or pettiness. Everyone agrees they won. No controversy or disputed calls. They simply just faded. Each year, the ink of their accomplishment gets a bit fainter like the stats on the back of an old baseball card.

The Cuban national team that played a group of Fredericton All-Stars on a summer night in 1976 might have been the victors, but history has made them the ghosts of Baseball Hill.

While the game in Fredericton is fondly remembered, it was one of a seven-game tour by the Cuban national team of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia organized by the federal government and administered by Baseball NB.

Why the team was playing in July, more than 1,700 kilometres from home is a mystery unto itself, said Cuban baseball historian Peter Bjarkman.

The Cuban squad would typically play international games as a warm up for the Amateur World Series (AWS). The 1976 AWS was being held in Cartagena, Colombia, from Dec. 3-19.

“What were they doing in Canada so far in advance of the Amateur Word Series?” Bjarkman said. “I’ve never seen anything about these [Maritime games].

“This was a period of time where there were guides that came out that detailed the team’s international play. However, for a period of time in the mid to late 70s, they weren’t published.”

Regardless of the reason for their summer sojourn, the team was in mid-season form. In the opening two games of the tour, the Cubans played in Glace Bay against a Nova Scotia squad. The Cubans were as good as advertised, posting wins of 27-3 and 33-2.

Up next was a game in Moncton and another high-scoring affair with the Cubans posting a 22-2 victory. Then it was on to Saint John and another lopsided win of 15-1.

This is where the eraser of history begins to creep in.

Any reporter will tell you, it’s the story that matters. A good one can echo throughout history, while a score is discarded with yesterday’s paper. This is what happened on Baseball Hill more than 30 years ago. The Fredericton team lost a 1-0 decision to the Cubans on July 19, 1976 on the strength of an all-time great pitching performance by local hurler Scott Harvey Jr.

The story has endured and grown in stature with each passing year, but rarely, if ever, does anyone wonder about the players on the winning squad.

FACING GIANTS

Those who wore the red Cuban jerseys at Royals Field in 1976 are worth remembering. The team included a dominant pitcher, a strikeout king, one of the era’s top sluggers and a man who would make history just a few years later.

All told, the team contained five MVPs of the National Series, the premier Cuban league, and one of the assistant coaches won the award twice.

The modern day equivalent of the squad that played on Baseball Hill on that July night in 1976 would feature names such as Miami Marlins’ ace Jose Fernandez, Cincinnati Reds’ closer Aroldis Chapman, Chicago White Sox slugger Jose Abreu and Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig.

The five men on the ’76 team who had won the National Series MVP award were first baseman Antonio Munoz, centerfielder Fernando Sanchez, outfielder Eulogio Osorio and pitchers Omar Carrero and Rogelio Garcia.

“Munoz, at that point in time, was one of the great home run hitters [in Cuba],” said Bjarkman. “Sanchez is still in the top three all-time in hits.

“Osorio was an all-star for a number of years and later won championships as a manager.”

Despite a roster chock full of all-stars and award winners, one player stood out from the rest.

The man on the mound for the Cuban squad –Carrero – was in the midst of a career-defining season. The Fredericton players suffered the same fate as many others who faced him – unable to score a run.

A WORLD-CLASS ARM

Best pitcher outside of Major League Baseball.

That’s a claim Carrero could make in 1976. In fact, his numbers stacked up well with just about any other pitcher on the planet.

He was named the National Series MVP in ’76 with a season for the ages. He won the pitching Triple Crown as he led the league in strikeouts (94), earned run average (0.46) and tied for the league lead in wins with eight.

Perhaps the statistic that best illustrated his dominance is he posted more shutouts – a league-leading five – than he allowed runs all season – four. In addition to his MVP trophy, he was also named the circuit’s top pitcher and led his team – the Ganaderos – to their only title.

The right-hander was not satisfied with simply dominating the Cuban league. He led the Cuban national squad to gold in the ’76 Amateur World Series in December.

Carrero was every bit as masterful on the international stage, posting a 4-0 record and a 0.61 ERA.

His Fredericton start was no different. He scattered four hits to go along with five strikeouts in eight and two-thirds innings.

Fredericton left-fielder Tom Reid said Carrero was a finesse pitcher.

“He wasn’t overpowering, but he had superb control and kept everyone off balance,” Reid said. “He had a curveball, slider and while his fastball was only in the high 80s, he just didn’t give us many good pitches to hit.”

With runners on first and second with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, Cuban head coach Francisco Escaurido decided Carerro had done all he could. However, Escaurido was not going to bring in just any reliever. Instead he brought in one of the greatest pitchers in Cuban history.

THE FINAL OUT

The members of the Fredericton all-stars knew the Cubans were going to be good, but few probably had a better understanding of the competition they faced than Reid.

Having represented Canada in the early 1970s in the Intercontinental Cup, he played against some of the top baseball nations in the world, including the United States, Japan and Puerto Rico. While those teams were great, the Cubans were considered a class above.

After the drubbings handed out to the other Maritime all-star squads at the hands of the Cubans, Reid and his teammates faced a daunting task.

“The mindset going into the game was to play the absolute best you can,” he said. “It’s really all you could do.”

Trailing Cuba 1-0 with two on and two outs in the bottom of the ninth, Reid stepped to the plate against Rogelio Garcia.

A right-handed power pitcher, Garcia was dominant in the mid-to-late 70s. He remains the career leader in strikeouts in Cuban history and in the top 10 in career shutouts, complete games, winning percentage, wins and innings pitched.

In the National Series, he led the league in strikeouts seven times, twice in ERA, twice in shutouts, twice in complete games and once in wins.

The first pitch from Garcia to Reid was a sign of things to come. It was a fastball at the letters, coming in around 95 miles per hour, same as the five that would come after it. Where Carerro dominated with superb control, Garcia was the opposite.

He threw fastballs and dared batters to try and catch up with one.

“I definitely wasn’t used to high 90s pitches,” Reid said. “I was a belt down hitter and he came in throwing 95 at the letters. I worked him to a 3-2 count, but not much more.”

Garcia did exactly what he was supposed to do, what he had staked his career on – striking guys out.

THE HIT

In his book Confessions of a Winning Poker Player, Jack King writes, “Few players recall big pots they have won, strange as it seems, but every player can remember with remarkable accuracy the outstanding tough beats of his career.”

Scott Harvey is no different.

Despite throwing a complete game, allowing just one run on six hits while striking out seven against a team that won six Amateur World Series in the 1970s, Harvey clearly remembers his one mistake.

“It was a curveball,” Harvey said. “It didn’t work out too well.”

With one out in the top of the second inning, he faced designated hitter Jose Cabrera. On a team filled with stars, Cabrera was not among them.

A nine-year veteran of the National Series, his numbers were solid, but not overly impressive. He was a career .272 hitter and averaged three homeruns and 22 RBI per season.

“Needless to say, he was not a major star,” Bjarkman said.

For the purposes of the game on Baseball Hill, he was an unlikely hero for the visitors.

If anyone had been poised to be the star for the Fredericton team, it was Harvey. While Cuba boasted some of the best players in the world, he had faced and played alongside some top Major League Baseball talent.

Harvey spent part of three seasons playing minor league baseball with teams in the Los Angeles Dodgers and St. Louis Cardinals organizations. As a member of the Dodgers’ rookie ball team in Ogden, Utah, he played alongside the 1974 National League MVP and 10-time all-star Steve Garvey as well as former all-star Bill Buckner and major league player and manager Bobby Valentine. With the Cardinals Class A team, he suited up with major league pitcher Bob Forsch.

In three seasons from 1967-68 and 1970, Harvey posted a .255 average with eight homeruns and 43 RBI in 106 games.

It’s why despite having played against the Cubans in the previous game in Saint John – a 15-1 loss – that Harvey was confident heading into the game.

“I had a feeling that if I pitched my game – I knew I had a good defence behind me – that we could win,” Harvey said. “I wasn’t worried about their pitching because we had good hitters. We went to the Nationals [Canadian Senior Baseball Championships] a lot and we always faced the best pitchers in the country.”

Despite the great performance of Harvey’s counterpart on the mound, Fredericton had a few chances to score. Centrefielder Bob English was thrown out at home plate in the eighth inning and catcher Dean Moore nearly hit a home run in the bottom of the ninth inning. Moore’s near miss prompted the Cuban coach to bring in Garcia to face Reid for the final out.

As for the Cabrera home run, it wasn’t a bad pitch, but rather a good piece of hitting.

“I had thrown mostly fastballs all night and some sliders,” he said. “There were a few curveballs and the one he hit; I threw it where I wanted it. He just hit it.”

HISTORY SAT ON THE BENCH

The game between the two teams had connections to some historic moments and some odd ones. The contest has links to the Mariel Freedom Flotilla, a sports gambling scandal, an assault of a fan with a bat in minor league baseball and the first Cuban to play in MLB since Fidel Castro’s became president.

Actually, all of those things are linked to one man – Barbaro Garbey.

No matter what Garbey did, it attracted attention. A star in the National Series, he won a batting title with the Industriales and played for the national team during the mid to late 70s.

Two years after watching the game from a dugout at Royals Field, Garbey’s world began to crumble.

Baseball will tolerate a lot of things, so long as you play at a high level. Off-field indiscretions are brushed aside – for the most part – to keep the talent on the field. However, whether it’s the Cuban league or MLB, gambling is not treated lightly. Garbey received the same sentence that befell baseball legend Pete Rose when he was caught in a gambling scam – an indefinite suspension from the game.

He was implicated in a run-shaving scam. While he denied throwing games, Garbey admitted he took money to keep games close. The suspension meant he would never suit up for a club in Cuba or with the national team. It was his ban from the game that prompted him to be part of history as he fled Cuba in 1980 as one of approximately 125,000 refugees during the Mariel Freedom Flotilla. Cuban President Fidel Castro lifted his temporary no-exit policy in 1980. Many of the deportees were deemed to be undesirable by the Castro. Some had been incarcerated while others were political dissidents.

While not part of either category, Garbey borrowed a friend’s immigration papers and tried to board one of the boats destined for the United States. Being a famous ballplayer did not help him conceal his identity and he was denied access three times. However, on his fourth try, he was allowed to board with just the clothes on his back. He left his wife and two daughters behind.

Garbey arrived in Key West, Florida, with 200 other passengers in May of 1980. He was then taken to a refugee camp at Fort Indiantown Gap in East Hanover, Pennsylvania.

It was in the camp where a scout for the Detroit Tigers, Orlando Pena, found him. He signed with the Tigers in June of 1980 and began to make his way through the minor leagues.

He progressed through the Tigers system and was enjoying a good year at the Triple-A level in 1983 when more trouble set in. He allegedly struck a heckling fan with a bat while playing Louisville and was suspended on June 28. Less than a month later, he was reinstated and fined $500.

He made the Tigers roster for the 1984 season and his major-league debut came in Detroit’s 8-1 win over the Minnesota Twins on April 3, 1984. It marked the first time a Cuban had played in the majors since Castro’s reign began. The Tigers went on to win the World Series that season with a roster that boasted the likes of Lou Whitaker, Alan Trammel, Kirk Gibson and Jack Morris.

He played one more year with the Tigers before being dealt to the Oakland A’s, but couldn’t crack the Athletics’ opening day roster in 1986. He continued his career in Mexico and Venezuela before getting another shot at the majors with the Texas Rangers in 1988. He suited up for 30 games with the Rangers, the last of his major league playing career. After kicking around the minors for a few more years, he retired and began coaching in the minors with the Tigers and Chicago Cubs organizations, among others.

For Cuban players, Garbey is regarded as a trailblazer. Major league pitcher Jose Contreras described him as hero in an interview with USA Today in 2005.

“Everyone knows who he is in Cuba,” Contreras said in 2005. “Everyone knows that he’s the first one.”

THE LEGACY

The Fredericton Royals are a perennial powerhouse in the New Brunswick junior and senior baseball leagues. Each season, those teams add new memories to the minds of players and fans who spend summer evenings at Royals Field on Baseball Hill.

Many can recall watching former major leaguers Matt Stairs, Rheal Cormier and Jason Dickson play on the local diamond and will no doubt tell the next generation of their exploits. However, the game played nearly 40 years ago still holds a special place in the annals of the city’s baseball history.

“It was, without a doubt, the best game I ever played in,” Harvey said. “The crowd, the intensity. I think it was the best game ever played at Royals Field.”

“I think for anyone who played in it or watched it, would rank it as one of the best,” Reid said.

On that July night in 1976, the players from a small city took on and nearly beat a mighty baseball nation. Through the years, that’s the story that has survived, but none of it would have been possible without the forgotten team of Cuban players – the ghosts of Baseball Hill.

Dispelling the big ice myth

Throughout the men’s Olympic hockey tournament, a new theme crushed an old one.

The myth of the bigger ice surface generating more scoring was ushered out as low-scoring games were the norms capped off by the gold-medal winning Canadian squad allowing just three goals in the tournament.

Scores of newspaper writers, TV analysts and hockey fans derided the lack of scoring punch. They were right in that this tournament had the fewest goals scored since NHL players started participating in 1998. Many placed the blame squarely on the larger ice surface and the way teams played because of it as robbing fans of higher scoring affairs. However, despite it being repeated over and over again, it’s not exactly true.

Here’s a breakdown of goals scored per Olympic tournament since the Nagano Winter Games:

1998 – 208 goals scored, average of 5.9 per game

2002 – 213 goals scored, average of 6.0 per game

2006 – 206 goals scored, average of 5.4 per game

2010 – 179 goals scored, average of 5.9 per game*

2014 – 141 goals scored, average of 4.7 per game*

*Only 30 games were played in the 2010, 2014 tournaments compared with 35 or more in the previous three

So scoring was down in this year’s tournament, but the numbers simply don’t bear it out over the course of the NHL’s participation in the Olympics. Goals per game have been relatively steady in all the previous tournaments, be it on the Olympic size ice surface (6.0, 5.9 and 5.4) or NHL regulation ice (5.9).

So the question becomes, is the 2014 tournament a statistical anomaly or the start of a trend in Olympic hockey (which may become moot if the NHL and IIHF don’t come to an agreement before the 2018 in South Korea). Some other numbers, suggest it was an anomaly and goals will tick back to the range from previous tournaments.

The two biggest factors are shots on goal and shooting percentage.

In terms of shots on goal, the best indication was the quarterfinal game between Canada and Latvia. The Canadian squad outshot Latvia 57-16, but produced just two goals. Canada averaged 40 shots on goal in the tournament, but were involved in low scoring games – with one exception – and while the bigger ice can explain some of the reduced scoring, quality goaltending and some bad puck luck played a big factor. Getting 40 shots on goal usually results in more than 1-2 goals per game.

While many shots come from further out on the wings in Olympic hockey (not considered a dangerous shooting position), we witnessed low shooting percentages in a number of games in Sochi. Canada’s shooting percentage was 7.08 in the tournament. Since NHL players began Olympic play, the NHL shooting percentage has been as low as 8.85 and as high 10.09. Once again, the bigger ice factors in, but can’t account for an average of about two percentage points lower on its own.

In the end, the bigger ice surface wasn’t the scapegoat it’s been made out to be. Rather it was one of several factors that kept scoring down in the 2014 Olympic tournament. Should NHL players be part of the 2018 Olympic Games, expect the goals per game to be more in line with previous tournaments.

 

A

You Can’t Spell Defense without VDR

Image

Andrew McGilligan | One Volek In Time

No statistic is perfect.

But some are better than others. On-base percentage is a better gauge of a batters worth than simple batting average.

Some stats are downright terrible such as plus/minus in hockey.

Today’s focus is on football, specifically defense. This season’s ranking of the top defenses in the NFL is surprising, even dumbfounding in a few cases. The total defense ranking on nfl.com has the Houston Texans ranked as the seventh best defense in the league. This is the worst team in the league and it’s sporting a top 10 defense – that simply makes no sense.

The reason for this is due to the NFL’s reliance on total yards allowed per game as its defining metric when it comes to ranking defense. This is flawed because the primary job of the defense is to prevent the other team from scoring points. So a better way to quantify a defense is to come up with a ranking based on a combination of points allowed and takeaways (a surefire way to make sure the other team doesn’t score on a possession). I will call this metric VDR (Volek Defense Ranking).

To calculate VDR, the first 15 games of the season were used, the reason to exclude the final week was due to the fact some teams had nothing to play for and started their backups.

The top two spots remained the same in both the NFL’s total defense and VDR – Seattle Seahawks and Carolina Panthers.

It’s after these two that things get interesting. The flowing is the NFL list on the left and VDR on the right:

NFL                                                                                                        VDR

1. Seattle Seahawks                                                                        1. Seattle Seahawks

2. Carolina Panthers                                                                        2. Carolina Panthers

3. San Francisco 49ers                                                                    3. Kansas City Chiefs

4. New Orleans Saints                                                                    4. Arizona Cardinals

5. Cincinnati Bengals                                                                       5.Cincinnati Bengals

6. Arizona Cardinals                                                                         5. San Francisco 49ers

7. Houston Texans                                                                           7. New England Patriots

8. Buffalo Bills                                                                                 8. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

9. Baltimore Ravens                                                                        9. St. Louis Rams

10. Cleveland Browns                                                                     10. Buffalo Bills

Four different teams found themselves in the VDR top 10 while finishing a collective 13th (TB), 17th (STL), 23rd (KC), 25th (NE).

The biggest gainers in the group are the Chiefs and the Patriots. In the first half of the season, the Chiefs D was the envy of the league and then a couple of tough outings against the all-world offense of the Denver Broncos had them sputtering for a few games. However, the team finished the season behind SF, SEA and CAR in terms of fewest points allowed and second in takeaways with 35. How can a team sporting those numbers rank as the 23rd best defense in the league?

Now for the Patriots, a team that is consistently beaten up for not having a great defense to go with its offense. Pundits like to say the Pats are a bend but don’t break D, but a look at the stats show they allowed the ninth fewest points coupled and tied for the fifth most takeaways with 29. Combine those numbers with the fact the team played with its cornerstones of Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo for much of the season and it gets even more impressive.

The overall record of teams in the top 10 of NFL Total Defense is 89-71 while teams in the VDR top 10 are nine wins better at 98-62 and boast more playoff teams than the traditional metric.

By no means in VDR perfect, but it is an upgrade on total defense and the numbers back it up.

Tagged , , , , ,

Alexander Steen: Statistical Avenger

Image

 

Andrew McGilligan | One Volek in Time

Advanced statistics and the associated acronyms are becoming common place in sports. Many fans can recite WAR numbers in baseball as easily as they can rattle off batting average, RBI and home run totals.

While not as prevalent in basketball and football, advanced metrics in those sports are beginning to take hold and becoming part of the lexicon.

However, hockey seems to be resistant. Terms like Corsi, Fenwick and THoR are more likely to be interpreted as two players’ names and a comic book hero than stats that could help general managers build a team.

Like other sports, the men who run hockey teams have been skeptical of the advanced stats revolution and some (see Burke, Brian) have been outright dismissive of them. In fact, some of the outcomes of advanced stats have seemed a little dubious. For instance, during last year’s Sloan Sports Conference there was some chuckling over the fact that Alexander Steen was ranked as the top forward in THoR (Total Hockey Rating, a stat which encapsulates a player’s overall effectiveness into a single number) based on numbers from the previous two seasons. Sidney Crosby was ranked 15th.

On the surface this seemed ridiculous because no one would rank Steen above Crosby, but the two seasons in questions resulted in a Crosby missing a significant time due to injury – devaluing his play – and the other players in the top 10 are a veritable who’s who of the NHL’s best and brightest including Pavel Datsyuk, Jonathan Toews and Evgeni Malkin.

While many laughed at Steen’s ranking, THoR was clearly onto something given the St. Louis Blues forward’s numbers this season. He’s second in goals only to Alexander Ovechkin (despite being 22nd overall in shots on goal) and sixth in scoring.

The 29-year-old is having a breakout season in 2013-14 that no one could have predicted, except those behind the THoR rating.

So while he’s not better than Crosby, Steen could end up becoming the poster boy for advanced stats in hockey.

It could even lead to a great nickname: Alexander ‘The God of Thunder’ Steen. 

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

A Guide to Recognizing Epic Comebacks

Image

Andrew McGilligan | One Volek in Time

I feel safe in saying I’m amongst the 70 per cent of North Americans who decided to call it a night at halftime of the New England Patriots-Denver Broncos game with the Pats trailing 24-0.

I’m amongst that same 70 per cent who cursed themselves in the morning after waking and seeing the score (side note: I was forced to start Julian Edelman on my fantasy team because Hakeem Nicks was inactive).

The more I’ve thought about the game, the more I realized I should have stayed up because it had all the hallmarks of a potential epic comeback. So here’s some things you can look for – based on the Pats-Broncos game – next time the game appears over early, but you don’t want to miss the next great game:

Mismatches: The prime example in this game was the head coaches. You’ve got one of the best all-time coaches in Bill Belichick versus Broncos interim head coach Jack Del Rio. Nothing against Del Rio, but he’s not the team’s true head coach and with everything going so well, there probably wasn’t a lot of changes or adjustments being made in the Denver locker room.

Conversely, you’ve got Belichick scheming how to limit Peyton Manning – something he’s been able to do effectively with his game plans. Also, the Pats spent much more time on the field offensively in the first half, allowing New England to see what the Broncos D was doing and adjusting at half.

Rivalry: There’s no quit in Manning or Tom Brady. No matter the score they compete. Pit them against one another and they take it to another level. They’ve been compared and measured against one another for most of their careers, so you know neither one was going to concede this game.

This happens when elite players go up against one another. Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin had a great battle during the NHL playoffs a few years back and the way they’re playing now is shaping up well for the Olympics. Need more proof of elite players raising their games when facing other elite players, the Spurs and Heat NBA Finals was a prime example.

Great Players are great for a reason: Brady has never given anyone reason to doubt him. Even in his Super Bowl losses, he had played his team into winning position, only to have Eli Manning do him one better each time.

So to think he couldn’t lead his team back from any deficit is crazy, even if it required him throwing three touchdowns into the howling win in the third quarter. Other guys you can never doubt (who are still playing) include David Ortiz, Derek Jeter, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Calvin Johnson and Crosby (among others).

Sports Gods are harsh: When things go horribly wrong for one team (ie. three turnovers by Pats offence in the first half), something is going very right for the other team. However, the Sports Gods have a way of evening things up and it was apparent in the second half and into overtime as Montee Ball had a key fumble for the Broncos and the winning field goal set up after Pats punt glanced off the leg of a Denver special teamer and was recovered by New England.

You can’t go home again: In the NFL in 2013, on the road facing your former team has been the kiss of death for star players. Ed Reed has lost twice in Baltimore (once with Houston and once with the Jets) after a storied career with the Ravens.

The Broncos suffered their first loss of the season at the hands of the Colts when Peyton returned to Indianapolis for the first time. Same goes for Wes Welker after last night.

So if you see these signs in some combination or another lining up in the weeks to come – have faith, stay tuned and put a pot of coffee on because you might witness history.

 

Tagged , , , , , ,