Friday, June 30, 2006

Of A.J's, Draft Days and Blue Jays

The NHL and NBA recently held their rookie drafts, and because the Toronto Raptors had the first overall pick (!!!!), we'll start with them.

Now, leave it to the Raptors to land the first pick in a year when there was no consensus number one. But this was a happy day, so none of that.

Three or four players could have gone first, and the Raptors went with an Italian kid, Andrea Bargnani, dubbed Il Mago and Nowitzki Jr. We can only hope, after watching the Italians flop and dive their way into the semi-finals of the World Cup, that this guy can stay on his two feet long enough to put the ball in the basket.

The Raps' pick was overshadowed by a raft of draft day trades. Portland ended the day with (give or take) eleven of the top ten picks. Seriously, everybody and their grandmother got in a trade with the Blazers. They were like the drunk chick at a frosh party, except that Portland probably came out on top by the end of it...and without the syphilis.

Moving to hockey, the Leafs, believe it or not, actually did something right.

Yeah, we needed a moment too. They shipped a Finnish goaltending prospect (Tuuka Rask) to the Boston Bruins for former Calder Trophy (that's the one for top rookies) winner Andrew Raycroft. And just today, the Leafs made it official that they will not be employing Eddie Belfour next year. So the Leafs have, in a word, solved their goaltending problems, for cheap too. And quickly. The usual antithesis of the Leafs, quick and cheap.

They also signed defenseman Bryan McCabe to the kind of contract that will ensure his family never goes hungry. Ever.

So the Leafs have decided that that their top two defense men for the next five years will be McCabe and Tomas Kaberle. We hope the big brass knows what they're doing here.

Other minor stuff: Vancouver now has a legitimate numero uno goalie in Roberto Luongo, and Roberto Luongo now has a legitimate numero uno team in Vancouver, so both parties have now officially run out of excuses for their failure.

Vancouver missed the playoffs last year despite being overstuffed with talent. They blamed their goaltending, or lack there of for their shortcomings.

In Luongo's five years in Florida, despite putting up solid numbers for a crappy team, he never once made the playoffs.

So now the two are together, for better or for worse. No more excuses.

For the Blue Jays, A.J. Burnett is (finally!) back, giving the Blue Birds an almost legitimate starting rotation. With Roy Halladay, Ted Lilly and now Burnett, the Jays can start making some noise. The other two pitchers who were projected as starters all those months ago, Gustavo Chacin and Josh Towers aren't going to be doing anything soon. Chacin is still two months away from playability, and Towers is in the minors, trying to forget about his 1-9 record.

The Jays have also (finally!) started to take advantage of their interleague games, sweeping both the Nationals (Note to MLB: The Nats no longer play in Montreal) and the Braves.

The recent sweep of the Nats is important, because it saw Burnett, Lilly and Halladay all pitch in succession, letting the Jays flex some of their pitching muscle. Burnett won 6-0, followed by Lilly's 6-1 smadackering and capped off by Halladay's 8-4 piece. For those scoring at home, that's an aggregate score of 20-5 over three days.

It hasn't meant diddly in their quest for top spot in the AL East though, due to Boston's twelve game win streak, largely greased by crappy NL teams.

The Jays are going to have to win the division if they want any post-season pie; the wild card is most assuredly going to either the Tigers or White Sox.

That's all for now,


Wednesday, June 21, 2006

A Triumphant Return

Now, we were going to apologize to our faithful readers for the severe lack of recent updates, but then we realised that that would first require actually having, you know, faithful readers.

So with that out of the way, we can get to the plethora (that's a nice word, plethora) of sports stories that have had the audacity to occur during our impromptu sabbatical.

Firstly, the Stanley Cup. As we predicted, Carolina took it, waiting until game seven to do it against a plucky Edmonton team. Despite our Canadian citizenship, we here at 63 Years couldn't help but cheer for the Canes. They were the better team, let's face it, and they were stacked with a bunch of vets who were quickly running out of time on their Stanley Cup clocks. Guys like Rod Brind'Amour, (former Maple Leaf) Glen Wesley, Aaron Ward, and Doug Weight.

So good job Carolina. Keep on proving all those haters wrong. Keep on showing them that hockey can be played in cities where snow is as rare as the sun is hot.

And it was a hell of a game seven too. The score may have only been 3-1, but it was chock full of end to end rushes and chances galore. And how perfect was it that Edmonton scored at the beginning of the third? It injected a much needed dose of kick ass into the final period, and sent a nervous buzz through the whole thing.

So Carolina, a team no one picked to win it all at the outset of this season, went on to win the cup. I don't think we need to tell you how uplifting this is for fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Secondly, Miami won the NBA title. Whoop-de-doo? We choose Dallas to win, and we have to admit, we watched all of twenty seconds of the entire championship series. So we'll just say that, as Raptors fans, we will always have a special corner of Hell for Alonso Mourning, and that we really, really don't like Shaq. That is all.

Nextly, the Jays are on the interleague swing from hell. With their recent sweep at the hands of the Marlins (the Marlins!) that puts them winless in six tries in NL ball parks.

Well, actually, they beat the Braves yesterday, and barring some mishap by B.J Ryan (Mishap? B.J Ryan? Hah) will beat them tonight as well. So things aren't so bad. And A.J Burnett (remember him?) is back tomorrow, giving the Jays something that resembles a pitching rotation. That's a welcome change from the combination of rookies and closers that have made up Toronto's five starters over the past month.

The Jays are ready to make some noise.

Briefly, we would like to mention the Chicago White Sox's manager Ozzie Guillen. Now, we used to think Ozzie was cool. Please note the use of the past tense.

Baseball has its traditions, or so we're told. One of them appears to be retribution. Ozzie sent some poor kid out onto the mound with explicit instructions bean the batter in the head. Instead, the rookie struck him out. That...bastard? Well, Ozzie chewed the guy out for doing his job, and handed him a one way ticket to triple-A.

Afterwards, they made something else up as justification; obviously, you can't tell the media that you sent him down because he refused to try to kill another man, but it was obvious what had really transpired.

But Ozzie couldn't let the issue just die like that. During a press conference, he insulted one member of the press who had been particularly harsh on him, calling the guy an, ahem, "fag".

We could have sworn that Ozzie was once cool, but that memory is quickly fading.

Lastly, we have the World Cup. We here at the 63 Years' offices (saying "offices" beats calling it our living room) have been glued to the TV, and have logged a seriously unhealthy amount of time in front of it's comforting green glow.

The group stage is almost complete, and things are more or less going as we predicted. There have been some hiccups, Ecuador got in over Poland, Trinidad achieved everything without scoring a goal, Ghana is now the real deal, but otherwise, it's been smooth sailing.

It's also been great soccer. We have officially fallen in love with Argentina. They play soccer the right way. The ball is always moving, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, shoot, score. Lionel Messi, Tevez, and Riquelme make them our picks for the World Cup.

That's all for now,


Thursday, June 08, 2006

You Can Stop Worrying Now, World Cup Predictions Are Here!

Before we get underway with 63 Years' Official World Cup Primer, we feel we should at least mention the tragic situation currently occurring in Edmonton.

A fine hockey team, once a serious contender to hoist the coveted Stanley Cup, has been hobbled by a serious injury to their starting goaltender. What once promised to be a fine hockey series between the Edmonton Oilers and the Carolina Hurricanes has now degenerated into a lopsided smack around on the part of Carolina.

Unless Edmonton can pull off a serious series comeback and erase the current two game deficit, we find it hard to imagine Carolina not winning the cup. We did pick them to win it, so we can't complain, but they weren't supposed to win like this... no, never like this.

Now to switch cups, we turn our attention to soccer's premier event, the World Cup, this year to be held by the always capable Deutchlanders (the link between the World Cup and Toronto's futility is tenuous, we'll admit, but it's there. Trust us.). Brazil is, as always, the favourites to win their sixth trophy, though don't count out the Czechs or the Dutch.

Anyway, here's the group breakdown:

Group A
(4)Costa Rica

The first group finds the home team on easy street, as they land in a cream puff of a group to start things off. No matter, home side advantage and all that. The Germans are good enough to qualify for the next round no matter which group they were placed in. We're not so convinced about this team's cup potential though. Even if with their fans cheering them on, we don't see them making it past the semi's, tops.

As for the rest of the canon fodder that makes up Group A, we flipped a coin on Poland versus Ecuador, and Poland won out. Seriously though, those two are interchangeable. Costa Rica however, is nailed to that number four.

Group B

(4)Trinidad & Tobago

Not quite the dream group Germany found themselves in, but England shouldn't have too much trouble moving on, even with Wayne Rooney hobbling around on one leg. Is this their year though? We admit, we have a bit of a soft spot for the Anglos. You see, their streak of futility at World Cups closely mirrors that of a certain Toronto hockey team, neither team having touched their respective cups in more than forty years, so we would be more than happy to see David Beckham hoisting the hallowed trophy. However, we remain skeptical; this is England we're talking about after all.

Sweden is good enough that their advancement is all but locked. But for whatever reason though, we also have a rather large soft spot for the Paraguayans, and we would not be remiss to see them leapfrog over the Swedes. Don't count on it, but Paraguay could pull a fast one over everyone.

Much like Costa Rica, T&T is just here for the ride.

Group C

(3)Serbia & Montenegro
(4)Ivory Coast

The quote, unquote, group of death, group C could go a few ways. The Dutch should qualify either way, no need to worry about them. Then we have Argentina and Serbia. Serbia has become the popular dark horse team, and could quite easily move on. However, we're sticking with the tried and true here and picking the Argentines to come through.

The Ivory Coast is another popular dark horse pick, and in any other group, might have had a chance of moving on. However, group C is not any other group, and as such, the Africans will be hard pressed to advance.

Group D


We would be willing to place large sums of money on this outcome, because we feel it is one of the easier groups to predict. On top, you have Portugal, runners up from Euro 2004 (and with no team Greece in sight, they should be breathing easier) and Mexico, perennial North American entrants. Portugal wins out by virtue of being the better team, despite Mexico's high FIFA rankings (by virtue of playing sub-par Central American teams).

Then there's Iran and Angola. Iran will probably have few of the more follicly-challenged Germans cheering for them, though for all the wrong reasons. Other than that, Iran's presence at the Cup will be largely perfunctory. Ditto that Angola, a country we admittedly know little about, other than that their soccer team, while good enough to make it this far, is not good enough to advance.

Group E

(1)Czech Republic

Our emotional picks to win the tournament, the Czechs, lead the group. However, this is a very close group, and one of three very good teams is going home early. We doubt that will be the Czech Republic, but nothing is sacred at this point (see France In '02, Zero Goals Scored By). Of the three very talented teams to call group E home, we think the most likely to buckle are the Italians. They have refined choking to an art, and where better to display it than the first round?

We also think that the Americans are better than most people are willing to give them credit for, and are good for at least the quarter-finals, if not the semi's.

Ghana, is well, Ghana. Another tiny African country that is too excited about the prospect of being in the World Cup to worry about such silly things as winning.

Group F

Group F, consisting of Brazil and three other teams is actually surprisingly wide open, once you look past Brazil. The Brazilians will advance, of course, but after that?

We're picking the Aussies, if only because they're a decent team, and the closest thing to Canada being in the Cup as we're ever going to see.

But don't count out Croatia, they have just as good a chance as well. Japan is just too bland for us to see them advancing, and 2002 was definitely helped by the fans.

Group G

(3)South Korea

Picking France to advance is a risk, we know. But the Les Bleus are back baby, and if not in championship form, at least in enough form to advance easily.

Then it's down to Switzerland and South Korea. We here are highly skeptical of the Koreans, and are eager to see how they perform on somewhere other than home soil. The Swiss are a solid team, which should see them to at least the knockout stage.

Togo will have succeeded if they can score more than a goal or two.

Group H
(4)Saudi Arabia

Spain may be the prototypical over-rated European power, but they're still good enough to escape this powder puff group. After that...?

Ukraine powered through the qualification stages (knocking out Greece in the process...bastards) thanks almost entirely due to one Andriy Shevchenko. As long as he's good to go, so is the Ukraine. He should see them through to at least the knockout stage.

Tunisia could leap frog the Ukraine, and they carry the distinction of being the best African county in the tournament.

Saudi Arabia, despite all the oil money that has flowed into the team, will just be looking not to get embarrassed 8-0, like the last time around.

And those are our picks for the first round. As with most of 63 Years' predictions, we advise not putting to much money on them, as we have a bad track record when it comes to this sort of thing.

Until tomorrow,


Saturday, June 03, 2006

Take that, Maggie the Monkey

Being right feels so good.

The Stanley Cup Finals are set, and the two teams, Edmonton and Carolina, were both picked by yours truly to get there (Though, my picks at the out set of the playoffs were slightly different *cough*Detroit vs. New Jersey*cough*). After going 0 for four in the second round, 63 Years has correctly picked the Stanley Cup finalists.

We have a bit of a dilemma though. How can we pick a winner from those two when we want both to win?

On the one hand, you have Edmonton, a once great franchise picking up where it left off 16 years ago, the team carrying all of Canada's Stanley Cup hopes, the team that exemplifies the new NHL. On the other hand you have Carolina, a hard luck team that suffered for years in Hartford before being tossed from the frying pan of Connecticut into the fire of North Carolina, a team stocked with ageing veterans desperate for a chamionship.

Guys like Rod Brind'Amour, Brett Hedican, Glen Wesley and Doug Weight are all players I'd like to see hoist the cup.

Edmonton is a much younger team. True, my heart would warm seeing Captain Canada, Ryan Smyth drink from Stanley's mug, but he still has time left on his clock.

And, let's face it, Carolina is the better team here. Edmonton squeeked into the playoffs ranked eighth in the West, while Carolina won their division in style. Carolina has all the pieces and a great young goalie, Edmonton gets by with charm and an aging journeyman goaltender playing way above his normal level.

In light of all that, 63 Years and Counting is picking Carolina to win the series, not that we would have any problem whatsoever with the opposite outcome.

In other news, the Jays kicked the Tampa Bay Devil Rays while they were on the ground, and then spat on them for good measure. Final score: 13-3, nine of the Jays' runs coming in the ninth inning, all the more remarkable in that the Jays' offensive catalyst, Vernon Wells sat the game out (coincidently, his replacement in centre field, Reed Johnson, had two homers on the night)

That's the kind of ruthless play the Jays need if they're ever going to topple the Yankees-Red Sox monopoly on first place.

In other news, the Toronto Argonauts lost their first preseason exhibition game, and Ricky Williams was barely seen on the field. I think it's now safe for us to go back to not caring about the CFL.

In other news, the World Cup (you know which one) begins on Friday, less than a week away. Because we here at 63 Years and Counting are not on crack, we are going with the tried an true Brazilians to win the most prestigious trophy in all of sports.

We will also be cheering for the Czechs and Dutch, and maybe even the Serbians (sans Montenegro now), if only because they have achieved official "Dark Horse" status.

We will try to get some sort of group stage prediction thing up here before Friday, but then again, don't hold your breath.