All posts by Jason Kurylo

Manneh saves Whitecaps from pointlessness

The Vancouver Whitecaps made out like they’d been gutted by last week’s 1-nil loss at StubHub Center in Los Angeles, but let’s face it: after snatching a tie from the jaws of defeat this weekend, they were lucky to get a single point out of the possible six. A home-and-home against the most successful team in MLS history, still stacked with names like Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane, is a good recipe for an oh-fer.

Storylines begged for moral victories: case in point, the Caps managed to keep Donovan off the scoresheet for two consecutive weeks, and by doing so avoided having David Ousted’s name go down in infamy as the keeper who allowed the 135th and thus record-breaking goal of the diminutive star’s storied MLS career. Largely thanks to the defensive work of Russell Tiebert in LA and Matías Laba in Vancouver, Donovan was rendered inert; the little man had a few shots from distance, but never really threatened Ousted directly.

Also in the plus column: stretches of play in the Galaxy half of the pitch. The Caps were unlucky to score when a Pedro Morales shot ricocheted toward the far corner in the first half; Jaime Penedo made a wonderful reaction save that has rightly been tapped as an MLS Save of the Week nominee. But it was the second half, with subs Kekuta Manneh and Erik Hurtado, that saw extended forays goalward for the (mostly) young Caps squad.

Sadly, with their focus on Landovan, the blue & white were not able to shut Keane down — including the winner in LA and another at BC Place this past Saturday, the Irish forward now has goals in four straight games and “is partially made of magnesium.” (It says so on Wikipedia, so it must be true.)

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Heat forward Sven Baertschi chases OKC Barons defenseman Darnell Nurse during the last regular season AHL game to be held in Abbotsford. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

Abbotsford, we barely knew ya

Just as a handful of west coast NHL teams are making noise about establishing a Pacific Division with their respective AHL affiliates, the city of Abbotsford has elected to terminate their relationship with the Calgary Flames. April 13 saw the final regular season game at the AESC on King Road, a 5–4 overtime loss to the Oklahoma City Barons.

With the exception of four games during the NHL lockout, the Battle of Alberta had never managed to inspire box office success in the Fraser Valley. Last weekend saw a minor uptick, with the official attendance landing just north of 5,000. Sadly, the team’s average this year was nearly two grand fewer than that, which puts the City of Abbotsford on the hook for millions of dollars of guaranteed revenue support to the team. So yeah, instead of paying an uncertain sum at the end of each season for the next five years, Abbotsford will fork over $5.5 million here and now to have the team just… go away.

Defenseman Brett Kulak scored his first professional goal in a 5-4 OT loss to the OKC Barons. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

Defenseman Brett Kulak scored his first professional goal in the Abbotsford Heat’s final regular season game at the AESC, but it wasn’t enough. They went down swinging in a 5-4 OT loss to the OKC Barons. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

Does it matter that the Heat are on their way to the post-season? Is it important that blame can be thrown at everything from poor marketing to even worse public relations, from to smalltown politics to a bizarre, small-minded Canucks-or-nothing mindset in the Vancovuer area? No, nope, and nuh-uh. Sayonara, American Hockey League. Abbotsford City Council has homeless people to shame over here — they don’t have time for you any longer.

On the ice, the Heat have won eight of their last eleven, and hqve now tied their best-ever point total (92). With a tie or a win on Saturday, they’ll be saying adios after a franchise record under their belts. This despite sending record numbers of prospects up to the big club during a rash of injuries in the Calgary Flames locker room for extended periods this season.

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Playoff bracket

Playoff predictions – Eastern Conference

Using techniques developed by my wife’s Mayan ancestors, including sacrificing several bulls under this week’s blood moon, I have determined beyond a reasonable doubt who will win the 2014 Stanley Cup. Unless the sun implodes and Stephen Harper finally reveals that he is now, and always has been, an Amway representative, the San Jose Sharks will leave greasy playoff beard residue on Lord Stanley’s mug.

Playoff bracket

Western Conference predictions – click here.

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Playoff bracket

Playoff predictions – Western Conference

Fans in Vancouver are predictably blasé about the NHL playoffs; the Canucks have missed the post-season for the first time since 2008, and YVR hockey fans aren’t exactly renowned for loving the game so much as their team. (Case in point: the Abbotsford Heat are shutting up shop at the conclusion of their playoff run after years of decreasing returns in the Valley. People out thisaway are so scared of Calgary Flames cooties they’ve refused to see professional puck for $20.)

We at Pucked in the Head believe in celebrating the game, even when our local team comes up lame. Here are Jason’s picks for this year’s post-season. He’s so concussed by the ascension of Zack Kassian and the retirements of Teemu Selanne and Ryan Smythe — not to mention the bizarre first-round matchups determined by the NHL’s new wild card system — that he’s thumbing for Stanley Cup supremacy…  the San Jose Sharks (!?!?!?!)

Playoff bracket

 

Eastern Conferece – click here.

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After giving up a pair of homers in the first inning, Paxton settled down and put in a solid performance before straining his shoulder. Photo unflinchingly stolen from the internet.

Mariner Report, Episode 2

Seattle Mariners move forth without Paxton
by John Stewart
Record: 5-3
AL West: 2nd, a game behind Oakland

One of the nice things about growing up in a family with an affinity for baseball — my grandfather played in the Pacific Coast League in the 1920s — is having a mother who actually enjoys going to games. So, as an early Mother’s Day present, we made our way down to Safeco Field for the home opener.

The usual show ensued prior to the game, with fireworks, red carpets, and an insane amount of cheering for the Super Bowl champion Seahawks, who brought their tropy with them, posed for photos, and had quarterback Russell Wilson throw the ceremonial first pitch – caught by none other than King Felix behind the plate.

After giving up a pair of homers in the first inning, Paxton settled down and put in a solid performance before straining his shoulder. Photo unflinchingly stolen from the internet.

After giving up a pair of homers in the first inning, James Paxton settled down and put in a solid performance before going on the DL with Crazy Eye Syndrome. Photo unflinchingly stolen from a random internet website.

The book on Mariners starter James Paxton going into the game was, how will he handle the Angels hitters (who had seen him a week prior) adjusting to him? The first inning was…not a real happy place for the Safeco faithful. Paxton coughed up two HUGE home runs, over 400 feet each, and the home team was down 3-0. Those of us who have been Mariners fans for a long time sighed and hoped the offense could turn things around.

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309km

Sub-60 10km

For the first time since I was a bloody teenager— and let’s be honest, I don’t even know if I did it back then — I ran 10 km in under 60 minutes. While I should probably be all happy about breaking that barrier, I can’t say I enjoyed it very much. It felt a little too much like… I don’t know, work.

309km

I’m now at 309.6 km during this calendar year; that leaves me a shade under 31% complete on the 2014 goal of running 1,000 km. Some quick math tells me I’m about 30 km ahead of schedule despite having missed nearly two weeks with the flu in late March.

#118forBoston

  • Activity: Running
  • Distance: 10 km
  • Duration: 59:06
  • Average Pace: 5:55 min/km
  • Calories Burned: 859
Joni Ortio, recently named to the 2013-14 AHL All-Rookie Team, backstops the Abbotsford Heat as the rev up for post-season play. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

Heat host Barons, prepare for playoffs

The Abbotsford Heat hold their final homestand of the regular season this weekend, with games against the Oklahoma City Barons on Friday night and Sunday afternoon.

Joni Ortio, recently named to the 2013-14 AHL All-Rookie Team, backstops the Abbotsford Heat as the rev up for post-season play. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

Joni Ortio, recently named to the 2013-14 AHL All-Rookie Team, backstops the Abbotsford Heat as the rev up for post-season play. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

The Heat are riding high at the moment, having clinched a playoff berth after sitting out last year’s post-season. They are also celebrating goaltender Joni Ortio’s nomination to the AHL All-Rookie Team for 2013-14; Ortio has been a revelation in the Heat crease, netting 24 wins and two shutouts in just 34 games played. As well, left winger Sven Baertschi has knotted seven points in two games against the Rockford Ice Hogs last week, earning AHL Player of the Week honours.

The Barons have just four wins in their past ten games, and have lost four of the last five meetings with Abbotsford. This weekend marks a return for former Heat forward Roman Horak, who is the Barons leading scorer this season.

With five games left, the Heat sit in fifth place in the Western Conference, and are almost guaranteed to open the post-season against the St Louis Blues affiliate Chicago Wolves.

For those interested in ye olde arena foode, Friday night’s game features 3-2-1 pricing on beer, hot dogs and soda; if prizes are your thing, Sunday’s home finale offers fan appreciation giveaways, including jerseys and a freaking car.

Get tickets here.

Jason Kurylo either with his game face on or trying to tell us that his extended health plan doesn't include sufficient dental care.

Song of the Week — Poker Face

As a new runner, I need all the help I can get. Here, I’ll talk about the songs on my running playlist and what makes them — and me — tick.

Song of the Week
Lady Gaga — Poker Face

Look, I’m no fan of Top 40, but when I’m looking to hoof my lard ass from point A to point B, sometimes I need some motivation. Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, better known as Lady Gaga, happens to put together tunes that get me moving. Comparisons to Madonna are obvious, even trite — Gaga, seemingly a personification of New York ambition, emerged from a Catholic background to manufacture image-based, sexually charged pop music — but even with Born This Way being pretty much a carbon copy of Express Yourself, I find just as much Freddie Mercury in her work as Material Girl.

Poker Face runs at 120 beats per minute, which sites like jog.fm suggests will pull you in at about eight minutes per kilometre, but I find personally that it’s the perfect driving beat for 5:45 klicks.

Album: The Fame
Release date:
2008
Beats per minute: 120
Subject: Cards / gambling
Content warning: Sexual innuendo / repeated use in chorus of profanity (so subtle is Gaga’s insertion of the f-word, however, that the overwhelming majority of radio stations do not use the edited version in their broadcasts)
Video: 

Robinson Cano showing off his sparkling new M's jersey.

Mariner Report – Week 1

Week one of the 2014 MLB season brought some serious bats to the Seattle Mariner organization, and resulted in the kind of giddy, vibrating happy haps that the Emerald City hasn’t felt since… Well, since February. Damn you, Seahawks, for ruining a perfectly good blog lede. M’man John Stewart giddily shakes his way through this Week One Mariners wrap-up. On with the Boys of Summer!

Felix Hernandez walks off the mound after tossing 11 strikeouts in his first start of the 2014 season. Photo ripped unceremoniously from the interweb.

Felix Hernandez walks off the mound after tossing 11 strikeouts in his first start of the 2014 season. Photo ripped unceremoniously from the interweb.

Being a Seattle Mariners fan always includes plenty of angst. One is simultaneously hopeful (Cano! Miller! Seager! Felix!) and terrified (Hart, Morrison, Ackley, Saunders, Smoak…) So many good things could happen! And oh, so many bad things could as well.

Somehow this team not only swept their opening series against Albert Pujols and the Anaheim Angels, but did so in grand style. Production up and down the lineup! C Mike Zunino, he of so much promise yet so much growing to do, came up big multiple times. CF Abe Almonte, similar to Zunino in the promise-but-growing-needed camp, showed off his speed (and inability to properly play balls in centre field, but hey, he’s learning). In each of those three Angels games we saw either six or seven Mariners with at least one hit – exactly the kind of production this lineup needs to deliver. Second baseman Robinson Cano is looking great, but you can’t expect any player (even one making that much money) to carry the team on his back. Baseball is, inevitably, a team sport.

As I write this, the Mariners have recovered from their single loss so far this season by beating the Athletics 3-1…and lead the American League West, with a 4-1 record. It has been difficult to keep both feet on the ground this week, to be honest.

All-Star second baseman Robinson Cano brings great expectations (and a whole lot of greenbacks) to Seattle this season. Photo cribbed from a random website

All-Star second baseman Robinson Cano brings great expectations (and a whole lot of greenbacks) to Seattle this season. Photo cribbed from a random website

That loss to the Athletics could be chalked up to some of the worst umpiring I have ever seen. Sean Barber made his Major League umpiring debut behind the plate, and after this outing, the hope is that he goes back to AAA for some more work. The game also featured (thankfully) the last appearance by pitcher Hector Noesi in a Mariners uniform, as he was designated for assignment yesterday.

Another thing going well for the team is the starting pitching, despite the absence of Hisashi Iwakuma and Tai Walker. Erasmo Ramirez came up big in his first start, a welcome development given last season, and Felix Hernandex is the King for a reason (he had a shutout going into the 9th inning in today’s win over the A’s).

This Mariner team is long on promise and short on proven track record. But the American League West is a very different division from a year ago. The Rangers are hampered by injuries, the Angels’ expensive lineup is far from a sure thing, and as everyone who follows the division knows, the Athletics cannot be counted out – but also can not be counted on before the second half.

So for Mariners fans, this first week has been about as good as we dared hope. The offense has done exactly what it needed to do, the starting pitching has been frankly better than anticipated, and the bullpen has not completely imploded. A solid outing from Fernando Rodney in today’s victory over the A’s certainly did not hurt; while I don’t expect Rodney to be as good as he was last season, a productive year from him in the closer role will go a long way toward keeping the Mariners competitive.

The Mariners need to make it through April and at least keep it close. With Iwakuma and Walker coming back (hopefully some time in May) the rotation will only get better. And if the offense can continue to produce at anything close to the rate they did against the
Angels… well, it’s going to be a fun year.

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19km is a long way

It was my longest run yet. 19.34km. And holy hell, is it ever a long way.

About 17km into the run, I said hello to Mr Oppenheimer at the entrance to Stanley Park. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

About 17km into the run, I said hello to Mr Oppenheimer at the entrance to Stanley Park. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

I went out early Sunday morning in order to get my body used to pre-breakfast activity. Normally I hit the trail in the middle of the day — teaching classes that either start at 8am or end after 10pm doesn’t lend itself to morning runs — but with the half marathon in May I’ll be out the door before sunrise and through the starting line at 7am. If I haven’t done at least a handful of runs at that time of the morning, it’ll be hard to motivate on race day.

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