2016 Campaign Opens vs. the Rangers with #boomstick…and some early-season dugout clearing?


Welcome back to baseball, Major League style. Spring training is over, the games that matter (all 162 of them) have begun, and the Mariners find themselves at .500 going into today’s series finale with the Rangers.

Starting the season in Arlington Monday, the Mariners had a nine-year Opening Day win streak on the line. Unfortunately, despite a one-hitter from Felix Hernandez, the Ms lost 3-2. The King issued an uncharacteristic five walks in six innings, and was hurt by two Mariners errors, both in the fifth, which led to the Rangers’ three runs. This was the first time since 1913 when a team lost a one-hitter on Opening Day. Sometimes it feels like the Mariners are apt at being first in categories where one really would rather not lead.

Fortunately, the middle game of the season-opening series with the Rangers had a much better outcome. FOUR Mariner home runs (following two on Opening Day), including a Nelson Cruz #boomstick shot in the fourth, and three (that’s right, three) in the eighth inning off former Mariner Tom Wilhelmsen.

The eighth also featured the Mariners, including new manager Scott Servais, coming out of the dugout after Wilhelmsen appeared to intentionally hit new Mariner catcher Chris Iannetta. Wilhemsen wound up giving up five runs to as many batters in that inning, so he must have been frustrated. But the real story here was the quick response from Mariners players and Servais, who were quickly out of the dugout and yelling at the Rangers. Sure, baseball isn’t hockey, and no punches were thrown, but the passion and fire on display were a welcome contrast to some previous Mariners teams.

Other good stuff: Luis Sardinas hit his first home run yesterday. Robinson Cano now has two home runs, including a monster first-pitch solo shot off Wilhelmsen yesterday.  And the Mariners bullpen threw four innings of one-hit ball, holding the Rangers scoreless after Iwakuma’s exit at the end of the fifth inning.

I told some guy who keeps nagging me about writing Mariners articles here that I think two keys to the season are how 1) Cano comes back from his injuries last year, and 2) how the bullpen performs. It’s very very early going, but so far both of those things look good.

Mariners FanFest 2016: Ziplines, Whitesnake, Kyle Seager…and more!

[Author’s note: yeah, this is what happens when I put a post into draft and then forget about it. Without further ado, we take you back to January…]

This weekend Safeco Field hosted the latest edition of the annual FanFest event, a way for season ticket holder wannabes to take a look at their prospective seats…and for all of the rest of us to have some fan hanging out at the ballpark.

Although the line was longer than I wanted to wait through, the zipline in right field proved quite popular (Yogi’s “no one goes there anymore, it’s too crowded” is rather apropos). The kids enjoyed walking around the basepaths, snapping photos in the dugout, and knocking whiffleballs over the fence in left field.

The Q&A and autograph sessions with Mariners past and present were popular as always. Jay Buhner and Dave Valle enjoyed some time with Mariners broadcaster Rick Rizzs, but the highlight today had to be Charlie Furbush, who donned an epic hairpiece and shared some of his best karaoke moves with the fans. Whitesnake’s “Here I Go Again” was good, but Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” really stole the show, despite some technical difficulties. A brief Kyle Seager appearance (Seager: “Who’s your favorite Mariner?”, Furbush: “You!”) generated a lot of applause as well. Furbush definitely seems one of those guys it would be fun to have a beer with; not sure I could keep up with his singing talents, though.

Every year, as we get close to the start of spring training, fans find themselves searching for signs of hope. Will this be the year the catching improves, the starting rotation holds together, the bullpen solidifies, the infield and outfield defense is where it needs to be, and the hitting is timely? We’ll have more on those subjects soon, but at least from the players at FanFest today, there appears to be some of that impossible-to-quantify team chemistry brewing at Safeco Field this year.

Monday Night Heists

Whitecaps Wednesday

Usually, Whitecaps Wednesday is a time of celebration and mirth and, given the recent results of this town’s MLS squads, one would tend to assume that this week would be no different. However, after an introduction like that, one would need be on their sixth pint not to grasp that this week will indeed be different. Ladies and gentlemen of this fine city: we have a thief in our midst.

News (officially) broke yesterday that a large number of boots had been pilfered from the Whitecaps training facility overnight Monday. Head coach Carl Robinson is none too pleased about it, as relayed to us in the tweet below by the gracious and assiduous @Harjournalist.

32. Thirty-two. THIRTY-TWO! PAIRS! 64 boots in total. You could dress a starting lineup three times over with a different pair of cleats each time, especially if you have that weird goalkeeper on your team who insists on wearing one boot. One could presumably use that number of cleats in place of sandbags in case of a flood.

Continue reading Monday Night Heists

Giants drop three straight; LEC just a tactic

For the all the talk of what if and if only, there hasn’t been much hope of post-season hockey in Vancouver for some time now; high profile injuries and fair to middling rosters have plagued both the Giants and Canucks all season. At the Coliseum, the G-Men put up a generous fight during the middle part of the season, but a disastrous start has been mirrored by a terrible stretch run to put them a dozen points out of a playoff spot with only a handful of games remaining.

Brodan Salmon makes a save during his fourth WHL start.
Brodan Salmond makes a save during 2nd period WHL action. The first-place Kelowna Rockets held on for a 4-3 win over last-place Vancouver Giants at the Pacific Coliseum. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

At these high levels of sport, it’s hard to get in the right mindset to compete when the playoffs are off the table. That said, the Giants had given the Western Conference leading Kelowna Rockets all they could handle in back-to-back games just a week prior to Friday’s game. They led early and often in Kelowna before succumbing 6-5 to a late comeback, and were full marks for a 4-2 win over those same Rockets just 24 hours later here in Vancouver. Somehow, they rode Jake Morrissey to a shootout win over the Kamloops Blazers in their third game in three nights last Sunday.

Still, even after picking up four out of a possible six points on the weekend, the Giants sat a full nine points out of that final playoff spot.

Continue reading Giants drop three straight; LEC just a tactic

Giants get the win for Jake’s sake

It’s an all-too familiar story this season: the Vancouver Giants jump out to an early lead, only to see plucky opposition teams chip away and eventually win the game.

Tyler Benson of the Vancouver Giants.
Tyler Benson made a welcome return to the Vancouver Giants lineup in a 4-3 shootout win over the Kamloops Blazers. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

On Sunday, however, playing their third game in as many nights, Vancouver seemed determined to get Jake Morrissey his first win in Giants colours. It was Morrissey’s first start at the Pacific Coliseum; he’d made it into seven games in one form or another earlier in the season, but only been credited with three losses and had that big fat zero looming in the W column for some time.

Continue reading Giants get the win for Jake’s sake

Fare Thee Well Gershon Koffie

As the Vancouver Whitecaps arrive at the midpoint of their preseason, fans were once again brought face to face with the realities of a salary capped league on Thursday when fan favourite midfielder Gershon Koffie was shipped off to the New England Revolution for an undisclosed sum.

It was a somewhat muted reaction from Caps supporters, perhaps tempered by persistent rumours over the off-season that the Ghanaian was on his way overseas. He’s certainly made no secret over the years of his desire to test himself in Europe. There was also a sense that something had to give with Vancouver’s roster. The math didn’t appear to add up, and the club looked to be transitioning to a more attacking mentality that would, depending on the formation, leave Koffie struggling to find minutes alongside Russell Teibert, Ben McKendry and Deybi Flores. Continue reading Fare Thee Well Gershon Koffie

The Top 5 of 2015 – The West Coast Voyage

Whitecaps Wednesday

The Vancouver Whitecaps are in Tucson, Arizona as they continue their preparations for the 2016 MLS regular season. I, on the other hand, have decided to keep my mind firmly static in 2015 – the days when I had a job, a robust hairline and a life with purpose. You, dear reader, will have to drag me, whining and defecating, into the present. Or, just wait another week when I’m forced to produce a Whitecaps Wednesday piece not beginning with “The Top 5 of 2015”, as the following represents the final entry into said endeavour.

That’s right, we have officially reached the gold medal winner on this completely arbitrary list composed by myself in conjunction with nothing and no one. I recognize that this may not be the best method in which to compose a list, but somehow, I always manage to justify my writing and I’ll be damned if I don’t. So then, with that out of the way, I hereby present to you the top game of 2015 for the Vancouver Whitecaps.

Continue reading The Top 5 of 2015 – The West Coast Voyage

So you’re saying there’s a chance?

The Vancouver Giants took three of a possible four points during WHL action this weekend, keeping their slender playoff hopes alive.  Sitting tenth and last in the Western Conference, the G-Men are nonetheless within an unconverted touchdown of the 8th and final post-season berth at the moment held by the dirty, rotten, stinkin’ Portland Winterhawks. That said, the Hawks have two games in hand, and have put daggers in Vancouver hearts just too many times to think they’ll roll over and die for us in the final 20 games.

Ryan Kubic under a spotlight during player introductions. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.
Ryan Kubic has been one of the bright spots for the Vancouver Giants this season. His team dropped a 3-2 decision to the Calgary Hitmen in overtime at the Pacific Coliseum. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

They’ll need a run of strong play and serious puck luck, but the Giants are more likely to catch the equally slimy, smarmy, lecherous Kamloops Blazers, who currently sit in seventh place. Not only are Loops on a horrid run at the moment — having won just two of their last ten games — but the Giants play them head-to-head five times in the final few weeks of the season. That’s ten points up for grabs. Sweep that series, and the Giants are almost guaranteed a playoff spot.

The Vancouver Giants dropped a 3-2 decision to the Calgary Hitmen in overtime at the Pacific Coliseum. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.
The Vancouver Giants dropped a 3-2 decision to the Calgary Hitmen in overtime at the Pacific Coliseum. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

The thing is, much like their NHL cousins up the road at Rogers Arena, the Giants just haven’t shown any kind of consistency to inspire hope for this season. Sure, injuries have played a part — a projected first-round pick in the NHL draft this summer, Tyler Benson has missed most of the season with lower body injuries — but there are games when entire platoons of Giants seem to take the night off.

After a dismal 5-16-4 start to the season, General Manager Scott Bonner started making some roster moves to change the vibe in the dressing room. It seemed to work, as Vancouver put together a remarkable run. They won 12 of the next 18 games. Buzz started circulating about goaltender Ryan Kubic, who rose as one of the team’s more solid pieces. Recent addition Chase Lang has provided timely offence, and a skilful grit around the end boards that the team hasn’t seen since Milan Lucic wore Vancouver colours.

Defenseman Brennan Menell has been wonderful through most of the year — let’s not count his -4 performance against Victoria two weekends ago, because everyone on the team took a nap that night — and has chipped in a respectable 38 points in 52 games from the blueline.

Ty Ronning at the CHL Top Prospects Game. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.
Ty Ronning scored early, and raised a few eyebrows with his gutsy play, at the CHL Top Prospects Game at the Pacific Coliseum. Team Orr took a 3-2 decision over Team Cherry in an entertaining, skill-filled game. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

Forward Ty Ronning has also scored at a wicked pace, earning a place at the CHL Top Prospects game held here a couple of weeks ago. He scored even in that heady arena, with Don Cherry, Bobby Orr and countless hockey pundits in the building, and raised his stock in the June draft immeasurably.

But something clicked off mid-January. Momentum shifted, somehow, and gone are the three- and four-game win streaks. Instead, it’s been .500 hockey for the past dozen or so games. When you’re trying to catch teams in the standings, you need to string together a few Ws. Unfortunately for Vancouver, there’s just been too much reliance upon Ronning and Lang up front, and Kubic at the back end. Without a legitimate second line to help outscore their mistakes, the Giants pretty much have to play perfect hockey to have a hope of extending their season.

Centre Carter Popoff had 64 points two seasons ago, but dropped off to 50 last year and has just 29 this season. Behind him, Alec Baer has a career best 33 points, but he’s a bit of a defensive adventure; Baer is -15 through 52 games, and has a tendency to wander away from his check through the rear two zones of the ice. Slovak winger Radovan Bondra has shown flashes of promise, but only has 18 points in 42 games and an abysmal -18 plus/minus rating.

Owen Hardy punching Bryce Platt. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.
I’m not a fan of fisticuffs, but holy hand grenade did Owen Hardy ever pop Bryce Platt in the kisser in this bout. The Vancouver Giants dropped a 3-2 decision to the Calgary Hitmen in overtime at the Pacific Coliseum. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

Overall, let’s be honest, this is a team that probably should be on the bubble. With the man-games they’ve lost to injury, it’s no surprise Vancouver is on the outside looking in again this year. It’s a long shot, but if they put together a few strong outings, especially in those five games against the Blazers, there might just be some post-season play to come.

Chase Lang and Jackson Houck face off at the Pacific Coliseum. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.
Chase Lang and Jackson Houck were traded for each other earlier this season. The Vancouver Giants dropped a 3-2 decision to the Calgary Hitmen in overtime at the Pacific Coliseum. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

The Top 5 of 2015 – Escape From L.A.

Whitecaps Wednesday

With lots of Whitecaps rumours and news this week surrounding the acquisition of Blas Pérez and departure of Mauro Rosales, I briefly considered suspending the Top 5 of 2015 series for one week. But then my pal and yours, Jason, tossed up his own review of said happenings and generously added in my own take as a footnote to boot. Perfect. Perhaps, at a later date, I will expunge my feelings on that subject further, but for now, let us forge ahead with the Top 5 countdown and review the Silver medal match of 2015.

Entries five, four and three were certainly delicious, but the top two spots are rich in nutritional value and high in fibre while being even scrummier and more fulfilling than the previous three. On June 6, 2015, the Whitecaps sailed into the most hostile of territories and managed to achieve a remarkable feat on both a micro and macro level.

Continue reading The Top 5 of 2015 – Escape From L.A.