Tyler Seguin

I have a friend named Tyler, and he’s a Stanley Cup champion.

One of the most amazing things about Tyler is that number on his sleeve. Nineteen was not only the black and yellow number flying around the ice when the Boston Bruins beat the Vancouver Canucks in Game Seven to win the Stanley Cup, it is also Tyler’s age.

Born on Jan. 31, 1992, this season was his first in the NHL after spending two years with Plymouth in the Ontario Hockey League. Seguin, the second overall pick in the 2010 entry draft, had 22 points in 74 regular season games before being scratched for the first two rounds of the playoffs.

Seguin’s first playoff action came in the Eastern Conference finals against Tampa Bay where he filled in for Patrice Bergeron, who was injured during the Boston-Philadelphia series. Inserted for offense, Seguin provided just that. The third-line center put up six points in his first two playoff games — a goal and an assist in Game One, two of each in Game Two — and was the hero of Game Two’s 6-5 victory when his line scored three second-period goals.

Whatever edge Seguin had on the competition — beginner’s luck, fresh legs, you name it — disappeared after his four-point performance in Game Two. As his scoring dropped off, so did his playing time, and Claude Julien replaced him in the lineup with enforcer Shawn Thornton for Game Three of the Stanley Cup final.

He returned for Game Four after Nathan Horton was crushed by Aaron Rome and had an assist in Boston’s 4-0 victory, his first and only point of the series. Seguin played just over 11 minutes in Game Seven, another 4-0 Boston victory, before taking a victory lap around Rogers Arena with the Stanley Cup.

I have two friends in Boston who were pretty ecstatic for the Bruins’ victory, but here in Buffalo, all it meant was we had to watch the GEICO caveman himself, Zdeno Chara, carry around Lord Stanley’s Cup.

In the days since I’ve been trying to figure out what else Boston’s Stanley Cup victory means, 450 miles away. Because the game itself — Game Seven of the Stanley Cup finals, what this site is named after — was a letdown. There has to be something more. Vancouver came out flat and all the hype for the best single event in all of sports was too much for a team that started the offseason three days too soon.

The more I thought, the more I kept coming back to Tyler Seguin, for one simple reason: He’s the first person younger than me to ever win the Stanley Cup.

Seguin appears to be doing what any 19-year-old hockey player in his position would do: use the Stanley Cup to pick up chicks. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

For every Game Seven I played in my driveway growing up, he lived it; and for every Stanley Cup I won in my dreams, he kissed it.

I remember the first time I was ever on the ice, at a learn-to-skate clinic at the old Sabreland, now Hockey Outlet in Wheatfield. I wanted to go as fast as I could every step I took, and about five minutes into the three-day clinic I decided I was going to win the Stanley Cup someday.

After the garbage man/truck driver/policeman phase of a little boy’s career plans usually comes the professional athlete phase, and if a hockey player was the athlete you chose, winning a Stanley Cup has been your life goal since first grade. It’s funny how fast you realize you don’t want to be a garbage man but how long your next career plan, athlete, stays with you.

For every youth hockey player across the country, what might be the first real reality check of his young life comes when he starts to realize his NHL dreams are, well, just that. More often than not it comes in the form of a teary-eyed ride home from a tryout. When someone tells you to your face (assuming the coach has a pair) that you aren’t good enough, it does a number on your confidence.

As every hockey player gets older and goes through high school and into college, it becomes more and more apparent that the NHL isn’t for you. That makes it slightly easier to deal with, but despite all rationale, every kid still clings to a sliver of optimism that maybe, somehow, there’s still a shot you could win the Stanley Cup.

The one very last excuse there is to hang on to is drawn from the very last piece of logic kids can pull from the situation: Yeah, I know I haven’t made it to the NHL or won the Stanley Cup yet, but that’s because they’re all older than me.

Despite how low your chances are even as a great player on a great high school team (try zero), age is the last thing you have that nobody can deny.

But now that Tyler Seguin has won the Stanley Cup, I’m fresh out of excuses.

He started playing in the OHL at 16 and the NHL at 18. The only team he’s probably ever been cut from in his life was the Canadian squad for the World Junior Championships, but even that is understandable — he was 17 trying out for Canada’s under-20 team. The fact that he could even show his face at that tryout lets you know he’s probably going to the show.

If you haven’t figured it out by now, Tyler and I aren’t really friends, and besides Y chromosomes and a love of hockey we probably don’t have that much in common. Because of him there are no more excuses for why I’ll never be in the NHL, nothing left to hold on to.

Seguin never had any of these problems like the rest of us. I was thinking about that the other day when I rhetorically asked myself where I went wrong. I was half-joking when I said it; but that means I was also half-serious, and that stuck with me.

Truth is there is no one defining moment that me or any of the thousands of kids my age who were better than me can look back on and say I would be in the NHL right now if that did or didn’t happen. Getting injured sure didn’t help, but even with two good knees I probably still end up right here writing about this kid named Tyler who became everything I’m not.

Where did I go wrong? Maybe that’s the beauty of it: I didn’t. This is where I’m supposed to be, Stanley Cup ring or not.

All the marbles

Leaving everything you have on the ice is tiring. Sidney Crosby (left) and Jordan Staal (right) both earned the right to take a little nap with the Stanley Cup. We're going to find out who wants it that bad tonight.

There is a hockey game tonight, and it just may be the finest athletic event you will see on television all year long. Game Seven of the Stanley Cup finals is as good as it gets in sports.

I can’t guarantee there will be a dramatic finish and there almost certainly won’t be a buzzer-beater to win it. Expect a low-scoring game. Tonight there is going to be back checking and shot blocking like you have never seen before. Defense is at a premium and it is universally understood among the players that tonight will require absolutely whatever it takes. Block a shot with your face if you have to. They can give you fake teeth; you can’t fake a Stanley Cup.

Every player on the ice, whether they were born in 1968 (Mark Recchi) or 1992 (Tyler Seguin), has dreamed about playing in this game their entire lives. Sixty minutes stand between each player and a Stanley Cup, 3,600 seconds the difference between immortality and insignificance.

Give only 99 percent for just one of those seconds and you’ll be watching the other team kiss the cup.

If you had offered Claude Julien or Alain Vigneault one game to win it all at the start of the playoffs, they’d take it in a second. Boston wishes it still had Nathan Horton and Vancouver wishes it still had Dan Hamhuis, Aaron Rome and Mason Raymond, but injuries are a part of the game and sometimes it’s the last team left standing that takes home the cup.

Everyone wants the glory. Everyone wants to say they scored the goal that won the Stanley Cup. It’s not enough just to want it. I’ve written about this before — the players are going to have to find some other level inside that they just haven’t been able to get to yet if they want to win this game.

Tim Thomas is one of the only players in this series who has consistently been able to reach that level. I’m not ready to move him up the depth chart on Team USA (ahead of Ryan Miller), but Thomas has been phenomenal. Last season I argued Antti Niemi for the Conn Smythe Trophy and I’m giving my vote to a goalie once again.

Win or lose, I’d give it to Thomas regardless. Last year I wanted it for Niemi, knowing he wouldn’t get it. They were going to give it to a scorer. This season, there are no run-away scorers like Patrick Sharp last season.

David Krejci has been very good for Boston, leading the NHL in points and game-winning goals this postseason, but while Vancouver needs to watch out for him, I don’t feel he strikes fear into the other team every time he touches the puck like Danny Briere did in the Buffalo-Philadelphia series. Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand have been productive as well, and Michael Ryder has snuck into the top-10 in playoff scoring this series.

I’d have a hard time giving the Conn Smythe to anyone on Vancouver barring an epic Game Seven performance. Roberto Luongo has been way too inconsistent. Henrik Sedin is one point off the scoring lead but has only one point in the finals, three goals in the entire postseason and is a minus-7 this postseason, one of the worst rankings in the entire league. Daniel is close behind with 20 points and has scored or assisted on half of Vancouver’s goals this series, but that doesn’t mean as much when you’ve only managed eight goals through six games. Plus, he is a minus-5. The Canucks’ power play has been pitiful this series and that blame has to fall on the Sedins.

I think Alexandre Burrows has been Vancouver’s best player, but there’s no way the NHL is giving chompers an award any time soon. Ryan Kesler has 19 points and a positive plus/minus, but 47 penalty minutes hurt a team too much to be an MVP.

Scott Neidermayer -- now there's a playoff beard

It’s a stretch for a goalie to win the award, and even more so to think a defenseman would win it. I’m very impressed with Kevin Bieksa this series (lack of chin hair and all), Zdeno Chara leads the league at plus-14 and Dennis Seidenberg has played tight defense, but for a blue liner be named playoff MVP, they’d have to be really lighting the lamp on a regular basis. Defensive Conn Smythe winners are an elite class (with the likes of Bobby Orr, Al MacInnis, Brian Leetch, Scott Stevens, Nicklas Lidstrom and Scott Neidermayer), and I’m not sure any of these three are worthy of entry.

I’m very excited to watch tonight’s game, not only as a hockey fan, but as a fan of sport in general. Players are going to go harder than you have ever seen them go and give more of themselves than you have ever seen athletes give. If you’ve been watching the NBA finals, seeing effort like this might be enough to make you come back next season while the other leagues are locked out.

A prediction? I think Luongo bounces back and I know better than to pick a road team in this series. It will be a close, low-scoring game, 1-0 or 2-1. Who other than Burrows puts the dagger in Boston?

This week in sports

You miss a lot when your laptop is broken. Now that it’s finally back from the shop, here’s a rundown of things I wanted to hit but couldn’t get to.

  • U.S. soccer and the Gold Cup

It’s good to be watching U.S. soccer play competitively again in the Gold Cup. It is always good when the States beat Canada. But following it up with a 2-1 loss to Panama was yet another step backwards for the Yanks.

Gabriel Gómez beat Tim Howard on a penalty kick in the 37th minute.

The 2-0 win over Canada was nice, but far short of a convincing performance. The lineup for the States doesn’t get much stronger than it is right now. The Yanks are back on the pitch tonight against Guadeloupe (who?), and nothing short of domination will be acceptable.

It looks like the States will still advance from Group C based on the standings, but that shouldn’t even be a question. Mexico is the second-best team in the tournament by FIFA rankings — despite having the best player, Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez — but it has taken care of business, winning all three games with a goal differential of plus-13.

There is no reason the Gold Cup final shouldn’t be USA vs. Mexico every time. It likely still will be, but this tournament should give us a time to perfect our game against weaker regional opponents, not squeak through on a few lucky bounces.

The USA lineup has started the same for the first two games, in a 4-4-2:

Altidore-Agudelo
Dempsey-Bradley-Jones-Donovan
Cherundolo-Goodson-Ream-Bocanegra
Howard

  • FIFA rankings

The States came into the tournament ranked 22nd in the world by FIFA and first in CONCACAF (Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football — we need a new name). Mexico is second in the zonal ranking and 28th in the world. Canada, USA’s first Group C opponent, is ranked 76th in the world (seventh zonal) and Panama is ranked 67th (sixth), though it will likely move up next month after beating the States.

Guadeloupe, if you notice, is not in the ranking. I wondered why, and got an answer.

  • Griffs drafted

Jamieson was drafted into the Oakland system.

Three Canisius baseball players were drafted in this year’s MLB draft: shortstop Sean Jamieson in the 17th round (526 overall) by the Oakland Athletics, relief pitcher Chris Cox in the 39th round (1,189 overall) by the Toronto Blue Jays, and starting pitcher Shane Davis in the 42nd round (1,279 overall) also by the Jays.

I talked to Sean before the draft, and basically asked him something I will never get to experience — how much fun is it knowing you’re going to get drafted:

“It’s pretty cool. Not too many people get the chance to go off and play in the minor league system. … [I hear from scouts in] emails, over the phone, after games. It’s always fun hearing from a big league scout. You try not to let it get to you and just take it one at bat at a time.”

  • The MLB draft

The Major League draft goes 50 rounds and had 1,530 players selected. Kolya Stephenson, right-handed pitcher from Ocean City High School (N.J.), was the last player selected, if you really want to know. With that many players you might think there’s more than just one “Mr. Irrelevant,” but not necessarily so. Fifty rounds sounds ridiculous, but there are a ton of minor league levels out there, and every organization needs to fill out the roster of every one of its affiliates.

A lot of the draftees are high school kids, many of whom will play college ball instead and re-enter the draft later. For some college draftees, “livin’ out the dream” may take a back seat to a job offer or a girl. Don’t forget about injuries. If you pitched for your high school team that played 25 games this spring, your arm might not be able to take the rest of the season in rookie ball. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of Major League dream die every year due to injuries. Those players need to be replaced with healthy ones.

  • The NBA Finals

Dirk Nowitzki, Mark Cuban and the Dallas Mavericks won the NBA title on Sunday. I watched the second half, which is about the longest I’ve ever watched an NBA game on TV (I went to my first NBA game in Los Angeles earlier this year; Clippers beat the Nuggets, 100-94).

I follow the storylines in the NBA, but I have a hard time watching the games. They are slow and there are way too many whistles. I don’t even see half the fouls when they show the replay. Putting your head down and dribbling into a guy to try to draw a foul and then having putting up an off-balance shot that has no hope of going in because you didn’t get the call is not exactly entertaining.

Part of the reason we love watching sports is because we want to feel like we could be there, too. I’m not Derek Jeter, but there are some ground balls hit to him I’m sure I could field. In the NBA, I’d have to be an outside shooter. There’s no way I could ever go inside or get a rebound. You almost have to be a freak of nature to make it in the NBA, and that idea of “there’s no way I could have ever done that” takes a lot away from the experience.

I enjoy college basketball. I love covering it and I’ll watch even if the teams playing don’t mean anything to me. I don’t really know how to explain it, or maybe how to back it up, but it’s almost like the college kids try harder. There is a lot more hustle in the college game and they certainly go a lot harder on defense. I think the millions have something to do with it, but I don’t know how much I could really do with LeBron James or Dwight Howard coming at me full speed, either. Maybe it’s easier to defend in the college game because they guys aren’t so gargantuan, but that makes up part of the human element that is the reason NCAA round ball is so much easier to follow, and that much easier to love.

  • Playoff format

With the NBA and NHL finals going on at the same time, there is some debate going on about the playoff series format in a best-of-seven — the NHL’s 2-2-1-1-1 versus the NBA’s and MLB’s 2-3-2.

I prefer the 2-2-1-1-1, and not just because I’m biased towards hockey. To me, the 2-3-2 says we are more about the money than the game. It’s about the media travel and the television deals, not the outcome of the series, which the former takes into account.

If you really wanted it to be fair, they would alternate every home game, 1-1-1-1… until a winner was crowned. That’s a little ridiculous on the travel, which is why the 2-2 start is used, plus it rewards to higher seed with two home games at the start. The 2-3-2 really doesn’t reward the home team at all. If they split the first set, then the home team has to go play three times away. Who cares if you have six and seven at home, you might not even get back that far. If the lower seed takes the series in five games, then they would have had more home games than the higher seed. The higher seed should never be at a disadvantage.

Ask the players, they’d travel across the country if it meant getting a home game instead of a road game. The home team has won all six games so far in the Stanley Cup final. I think Roberto Luongo would rather travel across the country to sleep in his own bed and play in front of people who love him. The 2-3-2 makes travel easier, but for who? The players or the media?

  • Sedin twins

Speaking of the Stanley Cup finals, where have the Sedins been? Daniel has one goal and three assists, Henrik has one goal and no assists this series. Vancouver won’t win tomorrow without its best players. The Crimson Chins better give Harry Potter his invisibility cloak back, because this is the biggest game of their lives. If anybody in Vancouver has the Crimson Chin spotlight to shine on the night sky, now would be the time to bring it out.

  • Women’s soccer

I still haven’t seen Marta and the WNY Flash play in person yet, but I watched a few games on TV and I’m trying to figure out what level of competition they are on par with. I’ll hold judgement until I see them live, but from the comfort of my couch, it looks like a Division I men’s team would handle the WPS. I’m against coed sports because it’s hard to go all-out against women, but if there was a way it could happen, it’d be interesting to see FC Buffalo take on the Flash.

  • Chicharito

Chicharito has five of Mexico's 14 goals in the tournament.

Oh, and remember Chicharito from Mexico soccer? His nickname means “little pea” in Spanish. His dad was “Chícharo” — pea — because of his green eyes, so naturally, he became little pea. That’s a fun fact.

Horton got a shoulder, Rome got the shaft

Paul Kariya wasn't expecting to get hit by Scott Stevens in 2003, and we all know what happened to him. You'd think Nathan Horton would have remembered to keep his head up coming over the middle in the Stanley Cup Finals. Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Here’s the dirty little secret about Aaron Rome’s hit on Nathan Horton that no one wants to acknowledge: it wasn’t that bad.

It was a little bit late. That’s all. People need to chill out. Rome didn’t go head hunting and he didn’t hit Horton from his blindside like people keep saying — it was from directly in front of him. Horton makes a pass, takes two steps, and gets rocked. Rome didn’t charge him; he was turned and stood up at the blue line. The hit came 1-2 seconds after he made the pass, which isn’t that late. Pause the video on the pass and the hit and see for yourself. 

I’m thinking people are more concerned with the result of the hit than the hit itself, but that is a horrible way to judge things. You can’t base punishment and accusations of dirty play based on whether or not the guy gets injured. If something is bad, it’s bad no matter what the result.

If Horton maybe looks around him instead of watching his pass, he probably wouldn’t be concussed right now. If he only got knocked off his balance or fell down and got right up, this hit isn’t that big of a deal. It’s maybe two minutes for interference, but who knows in the playoffs.

The form of the check was fine. There was no additional malice, not more than you would use for any other check. You aim for the chest and explode through the man. That’s what Rome did. His elbow was tucked at the time impact and he led with the shoulder. It’s just a little late. That’s all.

There’s a referee in front of the play who doesn’t put his arm up. Even if he turned to watch the pass, he would have looked back for a hit that big. There’s no saying he didn’t see it; it was straight in front of him, and he didn’t have a call.

The referee following the play from behind puts his arm up, three seconds after the check and long after Horton had hit the ice.  There’s some internal debate that runs through your mind as a referee when you see something you think might be a penalty, and the back ref made up his mind in an appropriate amount of time. He did fine, but if you watch him, you can see he went over it in his head before making the call. It wasn’t something he saw and immediately shot his arm up for.

There’s something to be said about Horton expecting a hit, too. Defensemen salivate daydreaming about forwards coming over the line with their head down like that. Some people say a forward deserves anything that happens to him if he has his head down. I’ll give Horton a pass because it was a little late, but he clearly was not expecting to be hit, at all.

That part is inexcusable. This is the Stanley Cup Finals. It’s physical. It’s intense. Your guys are getting in the other team’s face in a not-so-polite manner. They’re going to want a piece of you any chance they get. You better look both ways before you come out of the dressing room, let alone attempt to cross the blue line.

I’m not trying to take all the blame off Rome. His timing was not great, but that doesn’t make it some barbaric act like people are making it out to be, and Horton needs to be held accountable for some of it, too. Rome doesn’t have a history of playing dirty and he shouldn’t get one for this hit. If it came half a second sooner or if Horton braced for it, no one even remembers the play.

Vancouver contends it was a clean hit. I don’t know about that, but I do know it wasn’t as bad as everyone’s making it out to be. I feel bad that someone had to be taken out on a stretcher, even if he does play for Boston. That doesn’t change the facts. You can’t dish out punishment because you feel bad. That’s like saying Nathan Horton is more valuable to the league than Tim Connolly. Even if you believe that, you can’t say that and you certainly can’t rule like that.

You also can’t dole out discipline based on how long the other person is out for. That’s not how the league works. There’s too many other factors that go in to injuries. Identical hits on Connolly and Drew Stafford likely would produce different outcomes. You penalize the action, not the results (game misconducts are slightly different). When we hear that the league took heavily into account the fact that Horton will not come back, that’s a red flag.

I’m going to contend the hit was not that bad. It’s unfortunate Horton was hurt. Rome got a penalty for interference, not roughing or elbowing or a head shot or anything else. You can’t blame someone for hitting hard. You can for hitting late. That’s two minutes. If you want to give him five and a game, that’s within the rules. That’s fine.

A four-game suspension is harsh. You can guarantee Rome is paying for Burrows’ biting incident that the league dropped the ball on. That’s retribution for Bruins fans, but that doesn’t make it fair to Rome. He and his agent are considering appealing the suspension, which makes sense when you consider it is longer than every other suspension in Cup Finals history added together.

There have been three other suspensions, and they were all one game. For a four-gamer that removes him from the rest of the finals, you would have thought Rome murdered someone. Nope, he just stepped up a fraction of a second too late.

Barry Melrose said that Rome “is an easier player to suspend” basically because he’s not a star. It’s true that it’d be harder for the NHL to say Kevin Bieksa is out for the rest of the series, but that’s so wrong to say. The punishment needs to fit the crime, regardless of who it is. If something is worthy of a suspension, it’s equally as worthy, regardless of who the offender is (as long as he has a clean record, like Rome). Go up to Rome and tell him, “too bad you weren’t a Sedin, because then it would only be one game,” and see what he says.

There’s no good way to handle this, besides don’t mess up in the first place. Burrows should have been suspended one game, but the precedent the league is setting is that minor players are going to have to pay for the actions of stars.

No one on either side is ever going to think it’s fair. They need people in the middle to nudge them and say it’s really not that bad. Aaron Rome is getting robbed of what will likely be the greatest memory of his life, and all you can do is hope his replacement plays well.

NHL Playoff picks

The greatest playoffs in all of sports, for the best trophy in all of sports, begin tonight.

I’ve spent most of this week coordinating a full-page preview for this week’s Griffin Newspaper, which can be found here as well as in this week’s issue.

Those picks were done by my sports writing team. Here are my selections:

Eastern Conference

1-Washington Capitals over 8-New York Rangers in five games.
7-Buffalo Sabres over 2-Philadelphia Flyers in seven games.
3-Boston Bruins over 6-Montreal Canadiens in seven games.
4-Pittsburgh Penguins over 5-Tampa Bay Lightning in six games.

Western Conference

1-Vancouver Canucks over 8-Chicago Blackhawks in four games.
2-San Jose Sharks over 7-Los Angeles Kings in five games.
6-Phoenix Coyotes over 3-Detroit Red Wings in seven games.
4-Anaheim Ducks over 5-Nashville Predators in six games.

Two upsets, one sweep. Wanted one lower seed to advance on each side, and I thought Phoenix has the best shot in the West after taking Detroit to Game Seven last year.

Chicago limped into the playoffs, losing win-and-in game number 82 and only getting in because Dallas lost too. If you can’t get up for that game and grind out a W, you deserve to get swept.

I’m really not worried for the Sabres. It’s an interesting feeling that I want to write more about tomorrow, but there’s a weird sense of “we got this” in town. We were a seven-seed when we went to the finals in 1999…..