by J.R. Lind
This Week In The 'Drome: Those fabulous Finns, the North and West Ends, baseball begins and more ...
Snarks vs. Finns : There are transcendent figures in sport — players and personalities so beloved even the most vehement homers of their fiercest rivals will, after gazing at pictures of them, volunteer to describe rainbows to blind children after giving all their worldly possessions away to worthy causes.
Such is the Anaheim Ducks' Teemu Selanne. The Ducks and Predators developed a nasty rivalry as a result of their 2011 playoff series, and the name of each player on their roster is slurred out with venom by gold-clad fans, each expression of revilement more vituperative than the last.
But then comes the addendum: "Well, except Teemu. I love Teemu."
Everybody loves Teemu. At 42, The Finnish Flash is still as Finnish and flashy as ever, still scoring at a great clip, still playing the game like the kid he was his rookie year for Winnipeg during the lockout season. No not this one. And not 2004 either. The other one. In 1994. When he played for the actual Winnipeg Jets, not the Jets the good people of Manitoba are finally realizing are just repackaged Thrashers.
Teemu is the grand old man of hockey, eternally that friend's cool older brother. Not the one who bought you booze but the one who told you how to talk to girls and how to treat them right (he'd buy you beer too, but only a couple and only on the weekends and he'd stay sober and drive you home after even if you didn't feel buzzed because he's a nice guy and he sort of feels guilty for giving you booze and you know what? If your parents find out, he'll take the heat for it).
This is likely Selanne's last season, so Saturday's visit is (barring the playoffs), the last chance to see him at Bridgestone Arena. Tickets are almost gone — as they should be — but if you have some cash, go down to Broadway and try to score something off the secondary market.
And when you get inside — even though it's fun and it's tradition to tell the opponents they suck — give Teemu a clap and a cheer. He'll smile at you and the smile will say "Turn that frown upside down" and you will. And you'll feel better for it, like when Teemu told you that maybe she just wasn't ready to commit to something long-term, not with you going to college and everything and it's the summer after your senior year, go hangout with your buddies because they're the best friends you got and make sure in the fall you go to class no matter how hungover you are, because attendance goes a long way with a professor, even if your grades are only OK, and call your mom every now and again, don't just email her.
You wouldn't want to disappoint Teemu. He's never disappointed you.
The Week Behind
The Streets : This certainly may be true in other cities, but it's always seemed that Nashville's colleges are inexorably associated with the streets on which they sit. Things that happen at Vandy happen "down on West End," as if the school stretches from Lake Palmer to 440.
It's true as well for Belmont on its eponymous boulevard — The Boulevard, as if there are no others — and TSU on Jefferson Street. The name of a TSU athletics blog — 28th & Jefferson — is perfect, for it's that intersection that says TSU to us.
If the TSU-Belmont rivalry grows apace, there will be great discussions about The Meaning of it all. Of the juxtaposition of The Boulevard and Jefferson Street, of a proud black college tradition and an emerging mid-major power stretching from its roots as a finishing school for the daughters of the city's white elite.
And all of those factors mix and merge to prime the pump for a fantastic sporting rivalry, but only if the games themselves match the narrative.
Fortunately, the Tigers and Bruins are game. TSU snapped a 25-year losing streak against their newly-minted conference foes Thursday, with an 80-69 win against the OVC's best team.
Sharpshooting Bruin Ian Clark was 0-for-7 from three-point range, where he normally shoots north of 50 percent. The game was tied with five minutes to go, but the home-standing Tigers finished on a 21-10 run.
This one's going to be fun.
It Ain't Easy : Apparently, it's easy to be hard to beat.
But before they demonstrated that lesson, they had to go out in the country. Up in Minnesota, the team turned to back up Chris Mason and fought to a 1-1 tie, but a Shambala-ic penalty call in OT leading to a power play cost them the extra point.
Then Sunday, they may have wished Mama told them not to come back home. Chicago — the class of the NHL — dropped three on Nashville, whose offensive struggles were manifested in the most obvious of ways: with a big goose egg.
But, as they say, the show must go on. Back home Tuesday — after a deserved rest — against San Jose and Pekka Rinne was locked in, turning away shot after shot of the dangerous Sharks, though his opposite number (and countryman) Antti Niemi was perfect through 60 minutes too. In part, this was due to the Predators not heeding the calls of "Patea!" (if you've never been to Spain, that means "Shoot!"). Given the offensive struggles, OT — and the shootout to follow — seems to fill Preds fans with a sense of doom, as if Eli's coming (if Eli is some kind of demon). But, joy to the world, Colin Wilson found an opening and the winner.
And then Thursday's game against Phoenix was black-and-white in comparison, especially the third period. The Preds tallied three in the third — including a much-needed snipe from Mike Fisher — to celebrate their second straight win — and Rinne's second straight shutout.
One would expect Rinne, beloved by all sorts, to cool off — his save percentage in this recent run is something like .967 — and the offense will have to score goals, but leaning on a hot goalie until the scoring comes is comfortable for this team, like an old-fashioned love song.
Garbage Time : Brandt Snedeker is maybe the hottest golfer in all of the golf world, golfing his way to a win at Pebble Beach ... Coveted recruit Corn Elder picked Miami. ... In one of the most weakly attended games in the rivalry's history, UT bested Vandy at Memorial. ... In front of a record crowd for women's soccer, the U.S. team beat Scotland 3-1 at LP Field.
Get Soaked : You know you've always wanted to play baseball as they did in days of yore.
The Tennessee Association of Vintage Base Ball is holding an organizational meeting this weekend so you can learn the old rules and weird terminology and not once will someone ask you to bowl Chinamen (I know it's not the preferred nomenclature, dude, but that's what they call it).
An Enemy of My Enemy : Apparently, James Franklin, knowing Vandy only had an outside chance, told highly-touted recruit Vonn Bell to go to Ohio State instead of Tennessee. Savvy.
Hero Of the Week : Down at the state wrestling tournament, a Heritage High grappler used his summer lifeguard training to give CPR to a 68-year-old fan.
Tweet Of The Week : Nice to see CJ back with the belt for this inexplicable follow request.
Video of the Week : Current Minnesota — and former Kentucky — basketball coach dancing to Ke$ha? Current Minnesota — and former Kentucky — basketball coach dancing to Ke$ha.
The Week Ahead
The Boys Of It's Not Even Spring Yet : There's a long-running complaint from the Big 10 and other northern-tiered conferences that college baseball's mid-February start provides an unfair advantage to teams situated in warmer climes.
Looking at Vanderbilt's schedule it's hard to argue that. The 'Dores don't play away from Nashville until March 8. Their only trip away from Hawkins Field in that span is the tortuous roadie to Belmont.
They open this weekend with a three-game set against Long Beach State — which calls themselves the Dirtbags, so one can only assume they are huge Wheatus fans. Come to think of it, LBSU is one of the few of Vandy's February opponents the 'Dores could have visited and been OK climatologically (no one wants to go to Monmouth, N.J. ... ever).
Tim Corbin has another top notch squad, the class of the SEC, it seems and an early favorite for a deep run at the College World Series. Bundle up and check em out now. They'll have to hit the road at some point.
For Comparison's Sake : By the standards of this tightened, compressed NHL season, a three-game week is leisurely.
Now, included in that is a Monday trip to Colorado for a President's Day special start time of 2 PM before returning to Nashville Tuesday for the Red Wings and the return of Jordin Tootoo.
Tootoo's return will be interesting to see. Thursday, the Predators put together a lovely tribute video for beloved alum Steve Sullivan who received a nice ovation and even stood up on the bench — a little teary-eyed — to acknowledge the applause (taking the curtain call, as it were, by standing, is fairly rare in hockey; usually a raise of the stick does the trick). When Ryan Suter returns March 9, there's almost no chance he'll get a video. Tootoo sort of falls in the middle. A fan favorite who'd worn out his welcome a bit, he chased the money and no one can blame him, but Detroit of all places? A little odd. He won't be fighting Brian McGrattan, in part because Big Ern outclasses Tootoo as a fighter and because the former has agreed to two weeks in Milwaukee. Maybe Rich Clune will have a go.
Of course, the week starts tomorrow with Teemu and his team of lesser lights (NB: The Ducks are actually playing pretty well; presumably, this is all because of Teemu. Hugs, Teemu.). If you can't make it to the game, by the way, the Rollergirls have a preseason bout at their old stomping grounds.
Worthless Prediction : Colorado is a garbage fire and Detroit is struggling. No reason why the Preds couldn't get points in all three games, especially if Rinne continues to be made out of magical puck-erasing unicorn magic.
Wrestling With Ghosts : I make no secret about my affection for The Olympics.
In part, it's because every fourth summer, it provides a pleasant two weeks of sports distraction long after the Royals have been eliminated from contention. And in part, it's because America winning things is one of my favorite things about America.
But it's also because it's an opportunity to watch sports that don't get a lot of play. And, if this isn't exceedingly obvious by the hours of rugby 7s I watched last weekend and all these cricket videos, if someone is keeping score at something and it's on TV, chances are I'll watch it.
So yeah, I take in hours of whitewater canoe and team handball and badminton and archery.
Going way back to the original Olympics, back before they sold out and got all corporate, when the athletes were naked and spoke proto-Greek, wrestling has been part of the program, but now it's in mortal danger.
There's lots of reasons for this. Foremost is that the IOC operates its Olympic programming the same way a doorman at a club I never hope to be forced to go to does: one in, one out. In short, there are 26 sport categories which offer events. Track and field, for example, is a category, while javelin is an event within that category. Rowing is a category, but canoeing is a separate category and so on. The Olympics like this number.
For something to be added — and the IOC is looking at baseball/softball, roller sports (which, presumably, could include roller derby), karate, wushu (exactly) and wakeboarding (BROLYMPICS) — something has to go.
For whatever reason, they chose wrestling. This has raised important questions like, "Why is table tennis an Olympic sport?" and, "What even is modern pentathlon?"
Modern pentathlon is extraordinarily silly, but it was invented by Baron de Coubertin who, ya know, revived the Olympics. So it's here to stay.
In any case, were I an idealist, I'd suggest the Olympics is putting wrestling on ice and eying things like wushu and karate in an effort to seem less Eurocentric. Wrestling of the Olympic variety is a Western discipline. And perhaps they want wakeboarding and roller derby to appeal to younger demographics.
And were I cynical, I'd say the IOC is trying to extort as much money as they can from supporters of these various sports.
And I can understand both of those motivations, frankly. But some sports feel like the Olympics and wrestling is one of them. Heck, so is modern pentathlon. Perhaps what the IOC needs to do instead is consider expanding its program beyond the strictures of its 26-sport limit.
But maybe there's not enough money in that.
Words on electronic paper to jrlind[at]nashvillescene[dot]com. My words in the audible form at 6 p.m. Tuesdays on 102.5 The Game.