Friday, May 28, 2010

Stanley Cup Finals: Will Chicago's wind play a factor?

Flyers use swamp boats in practice to simulate windy conditions

The Flyers walk the concourse of Chicago's United Center in brand new, wind resistant hooded sweatshirts. The team got lost in the arena's cavernous halls before eventually finding the media room for a press conference.

Chicago, IL--The Philadelphia Flyers last played a game against the Blackhawks in Chicago's United Center on December 26, 2008. The game was not even close as the home team convincingly won, 5-1, over the visiting Orange and Black.

"The only thing I can remember about that game was the wind," said Flyers' left winger, Simon Gagne. "We just were not accustomed to the wind coming in off of Lake Michigan. To get a shot on goal, you had to aim five feet to the side of the net."

Eastern Conference teams do not play in every Western Conference city each year and vice versa. Teams from the east, who rarely travel to Chicago to take on the Blackhawks, really have to over prepare themselves for the city's strong winds. For this reason, the Flyers brought in 12 swamp/fan boats this week to their practice facility in Vorhees, NJ, to become more familiar with playing hockey in windy conditions.

"I've never played in those conditions," said Flyers' goaltender Michael Leighton, after practice on Wednesday. "When all 12 boats were turned on, the force was so strong that the equipment guys had to create this elaborate anchoring system from ice skate laces."

The Windy City will be hosting a Stanley Cup Final game for the first time since 1992. In that year, Mario Lemieux, Hall of Fame star for the Penguins, who won the series in four games, was fortunate enough to figure out the wind patterns of northeastern Illinois fairly quickly.

"My advice to the Flyers would be to really overcompensate for the wind," said Lemieux, now co-owner of the Penguins, who is pulling for his Atlantic Division foe against the Blackhawks. "In '92, I would lick my finger and hold it to the air to determine the wind direction. This proved invaluable. This was only after finding out that gathering ice shavings from the rink surface and releasing them into the wind was not an effective approach."

Flyers' head coach Peter Laviolette has stressed to his team the importance of wind compensation when passing, shooting, clearing and, believe it or not, line changing.

"Winds are stronger coming over the glass and the boards," warned Laviolette, who brought in a University of Chicago wind expert, a Chester County native, to talk with the team. "When coming on and off the ice the players must use the doors to the bench. The wind can prevent a player from coming over the boards, which can result in a too many men penalty."

Having played in the wind for 41 regular season and 8 playoff home games, the Blackhawks hold a definite advantage. Both teams, however, will quickly find out whether or not 12 swamp boats can level that playing field ... er, rink.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

BP to hold online contest for solving oil leak

London, U.K.--Officials at BP are out of ideas. Frustration cannot begin to describe the mood of one of the planet's largest energy company's thousands of worldwide employees. The Gulf of Mexico oil leak that eventually resulted from an April 20 oil rig explosion off the coast of Louisiana is wreaking havoc on the region.

Oil is beginning to coat beaches, beachgoers, bayous and wildlife in states and countries all along the Gulf Coast. "Countries that I have never even heard of are claiming that oil is washing ashore," said one BP executive. "Turks & Caicos? Where the hell is that? Is it one or two places?"

Advisers to the company have now suggested executives and engineers seek solutions from outside its own walls. As a result, beginning tomorrow, BP will launch an online contest for ideas on how to plug the 5,000 barrels per day leak that is nearly one mile below the Gulf's often placid surface. Entries should be sent to BP's American headquarters in Houston, TX no later than July 30, 2010.

"We wanted to give people enough time to create a cool video or something," said Max Ventnor, 24, a consultant with LastStand Consulting, a damage control consulting firm. "We're hoping this will be a Youtube thing or maybe something with Google, but definitely a Facebook thing. But, I want everybody to remember that even if we come across a great idea early on, we will not announce the winner until July 30. Rest assured that no solution will be implemented until sometime in August."

BP has posted more details concerning the contest on the company's official website.

"Once you come to BP's website, scroll down to the very bottom of the page. On the right hand side will be a giant cartoon 'MD' icon. Click on this to navigate to our marketing department. Scroll to the very bottom of the marketing department's page and on the left will be the icon for 'Sprites Fix a leak Contest,'" explained Douglas Hartnell, a public relations official for BP.

BP appears to be supporting the idea for online solutions.

"Online contests are hip and cool. Both Mountain Dew and Lipton Tea held contests in the last few years for something or other. This is partly the reason why we're partnering with Sprite," said Hartnell. "No, we're not a soft drink company, but we do deal with liquids."

Ideas to stop the flow of oil seem to be slowly surfacing around the world, as two University of Texas Austin engineering students feel they are on to something. "Oh we have an idea that would definitely work. There's no doubt about it. But it will definitely take us right up to the July 30 deadline to create an awesome video presentation that will interface with Facebook. My buddy wants to use video editing software that neither of us are familiar with."

Winners will receive a limited edition Hess collectible toy truck, a $10,000 scholarship to a participating university and, once the cleanup is complete, 0.00025% of all the recycled oil pulled from the Gulf's waters, which may or may not be worthless.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Flyers exercising extreme patience with new fans, journalists covering hockey for first time

Philadelphia, PA--In the postgame news conference last night after the Flyers eliminated the Montreal Canadiens and advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 1997, Captain Mike Richards was asked by a local journalist if he was concerned about the number of "icy's" the team accumulated during the series.

Richards, after trying desperately not to laugh, responded,"I'm sorry, did you say icy's? Did you mean icings?"

The journalist took a quick glance down at the folder in his lap and confirmed that, yes, in fact, he meant icings.

Later in the news conference, standout defenseman Chris Pronger was asked, citing his size, if face-offs would ever be replaced by jump pucks, similar to jump balls in basketball. The giant blueliner gave a big smile and said he would love to see that because of his often glaring height advantage over other players.

At the conclusion of games one and two against the Canadiens, each at the Wachovia Center, the Flyers reported that nearly four hundred fans demanded a partial ticket refund because, they claimed, "this game was only three periods long." The team did issue partial refunds, but said it will not exercise this policy during the Finals.

Last night, one of the greenest Flyer' fans attending the game celebrated what he thought was a Stanley Cup championship.

"I was going nuts in the stands," said an embarrassed Pete Tomwill, a Lower Merion Flyers fan, who was informed by a nearby season ticket holder that there is one more round of hockey before the cup. "The guy wearing the 'C' on his jersey picked up that big trophy that was very silver and cup-like. Why would they have such a nice trophy for the semi-finals?"

When teams make deep runs into the playoffs, such as the Flyers' current drive to the Finals, large numbers of new fans, often not nearly as savvy as the average season ticket holder, want to share in the teams' success and feel the same elation that fans around them are experiencing by cheering for a sport they may not even care for.

"This happens every year with every sport, believe it or not," explained Dr Reid Clossuer, a sports psychologist at Graduate Hospital in Center City Philadelphia. "But the stress this causes players is often magnified in hockey as media members, usually assigned to cover football or baseball, are asked to pull double duty and report on hockey. It's like asking an experienced airline pilot to all the sudden drive a car."

The good doctor also recognized that Flyers' players may not have it as bad as some that have come before them.

"Philadelphia is a fantastic hockey town," said Dr Reid Clossuer "The team has been very patient with the 'bandwagon' fans and new journalists, but, not to take away from their kindheartedness, the Hurricanes and Lightning may have faced the ultimate test several years ago."

Clossuer is referring to when the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Carolina Hurricanes won the Stanley Cup in 2004 and 2006 respectively. In these sunshine belt cities, not known as hockey hotbeds, the players' patience with new fans and journalists during their run to the Cup soon wore so thin that Clossuer was called in to council the athletes.

"In 2006, Rod Brind'Amour, captain of the Hurricanes at the time, was asked 26 times during the Finals about the apostrophe in his last name by the same Greensboro Sun reporter," said Clossuer. "[The journalist] kept insisting that Brind'Amour make the 'A' lowercase, remove the apostrophe and make the last name one word. I showed Rod some very useful breathing exercises."

Friday, May 21, 2010

SEPTA to extend rail coverage with new rail cars, giant truck

Philadelphia, PA--The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) is expanding as a result of a growing ridership. Providing these riders with a more comfortable commute will be made easier by the new Silverliner V rail car. The Authority has purchased 120 of these sleek cars from the South Korea based manufacturer.

Part of the expansion, in addition to new rail cars, includes reconnecting towns by "rail." Towns that at one time were linked to the regional rail system will once again be tied to Center City Philadelphia by the "rail" network. Well, sort of.

Extending rail service with new track and securing right-of-ways can drain a transit agency's wallet very quickly. This forced SEPTA to become extremely creative by not only thinking outside of the box, but also thinking outside of the area that is just outside of the box. SEPTA calls this method, "thinking outside of the outside perimeter of the box."

"Refurbishing or installing new rail lines is cost prohibitive," explained Pete Francis, a SEPTA Planner. "Placing these dashing new rail cars on the backs of large flatbed trucks will allow us to serve many more communities by 'rail' without devastating our budget."

The concept is fairly simple: when a train reaches a line's current terminus, a lifting device, most likely a crane, will elevate the car from the tracks and onto a truck.

For example, West Chester, where rail service concluded in 1983, will be linked to the R3 Line, which currently terminates in Elwyn. After being lifted by crane and set onto the oversized tractor trailer, the new, behemoth unit will make its way north on Route 352, escorted by police, with stops in Lima and Cheyney before ending on Market St in West Chester.

"We are so very excited to be getting rail service again," said Gail Davenport, West Chester's mayor. "I realize it's not rail service, but at the same time it is rail service. Heck, I'm just glad we're getting rail service. All aboard!"

With this revolutionary idea, SEPTA hopes to provide "rail" service to Phoenixville, Chadds Ford, Newtown and Quakertown in the next two years.

"People like rail travel. Period. And if we can provide our riders with the rail travel vibe, even though the rail car will be on the back of a truck, we feel it is in our best interest. Studies have shown that buses are terrible at replicating a 'train feeling,'" said Tyler Swanson, a SEPTA official, when asked why the region's transit provider wouldn't simply use buses, a much cheaper option, when reconnecting towns.

The transit agency has attempted several practice truck transports (shown above) and has streamlined the process down to six hours from the time the train stops at the final station until the car is safely secured to the trailer.

"Oh, it's quite a process to get the rail cars on and off the truck," said Swanson. "We are confidant, however, that in five years we can have the process down to about 1.5 hours. We are also hoping that the cost of transfer, now at $25,000, can be cut in half ... but, hey, these are federal rail dollars, so ..."

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Moyer recalls getting powder blue jersey as a 38-year-old kid

Above: Phillies' pitcher Jamie Moyer in the 1970's retro powder blue uniforms last night in Milwaukee. Moyer recalled getting a similar jersey as a 38-year-old kid in the 1970's.

Milwaukee, WI--Many Phillies fans, unaware of Retro Weekend in the land of cheese, brats and beer and brats filled with cheese and beer, desperately tried to adjust their tv's after tuning into last night's game. The reason? Well, Jamie Moyer and the rest of the Phillies wore crisp throwback powder blue 1970's uniforms in a game against the Brewers.

Comcast SportsNet reported that over 2,000 calls poured into the network's call center from fans demanding to know if the color problem would soon be corrected. Eventually, Comcast ran a banner across the bottom of the screen informing the television audience not to adjust the color and that "the powder blues are back, baby."

The powder blue road uniforms were quite the hit during their run in the 70's and 80's. Moyer, a Souderton, PA native, grew up a Phillies fan and fell in love with the powder blues. The pitcher, who is off to a hot start this season accumulating a 5-2 record, experienced major flashbacks while putting on the retro jersey last night before the game.

"I asked for the powder blues for my 38th birthday. I was just a kid and [Mike] Schmidt was hitting the cover off the ball," said Moyer, standing at the top of the visitor's dugout steps in Miller Park. "I remember opening that box so clearly. My mother had wrapped the package in Three's Company wrapping paper. The paper was from the early seasons because the Ropers, and not Mr Furley, were with Jack, Janet and Chrissy."

The ageless pitcher desperately wanted to don that gift from so long ago for last night's game.

"I searched my house up and down last week to see if I could find that jersey and actually wear it for this game. I just couldn't find it, as that was over 30 years ago. I did find an old Phillies thermos, though. Still great for soup."

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Outfielder can only laugh as "fan" comes onto field 3rd consecutive night

Above: Phillies' outfielder Jayson Werth tracks down a fly ball as a "fan" lands behind him on the warning track.

Philadelphia, PA--On Wednesday night, Philadelphia Phillies' outfielder Jayson Werth couldn't help but smile when a fan came onto the field for the third night in a row in South Philadelpiha. During the the previous two nights at Citizens Bank Park, two fans ran onto the field causing mixed crowd reactions and delaying the game for several minutes. The first night became a national news story, as a 17-year-old fan was chased and eventually tasered after failing to cooperate with police.

Before the game, fans were asking themselves if the Philly faithful would go for the hat trick and create an on-field disturbance for a third consecutive night. The crowd appeared distracted and on edge most of the evening in anticipation of who may venture onto the field. Security personnel reported more fans than ever bringing cameras into the game.

"The fans wanted to be ready for YouTube," laughed Paul Zeigler, a security guard stationed at the entrance near the east end of Ashburn Alley. "There was an unusually high number of picture and video devices brought in on Wednesday."

After seven innings of painful waiting, a fan came down from the right field, lower level seats. That is, a large, gray box fan. The 21" x 7" x 24", 12.8 pound fan was thrown onto the right field warning track as right fielder Jayson Werth pursued a fly ball into the corner.

"It was pretty clever," said a still-smiling Werth, as reporters gathered around his locker after the game. "Obviously, if it hit me or a real fan it would have been a different story. I was pretty focused on the ball and Shane [Victorino] yelled, 'Watch out.' And then, all of the sudden, this fan lands about 10 yards from me."

Werth played along after the game was halted, and, to the delight of the crowd, pretended to taser the disfigured cooling device as it lay in the red dirt in front of the padded outfield wall.

The Park's security is extremely concerned about the incident. Play was interrupted for almost 20 minutes as more than 25 security guards and police officers searched the seats for the culprit.

"At this time we are unsure of how a fan was able to conceal a large box fan and bring the device past security and into the stadium," said Steve Anderson, head of security for the Phillies. "Even if several fans brought individual pieces in and assembled the fan once inside, it would have been extremely difficult. These guys are good. In my expert opinion, it is unlikely their first time doing this."

Comcast SportsNet cameras caught Werth picking up the fan, and, after pretending to apprehend it, reading a note taped to the metal casing.

"I didn't realize there was a note on the fan at first," explained Werth, while taking the paper from his pocket. "It reads, 'Don't taze me because the high voltage of the taser could mess up my wiring, which could render me useless to someone during the hot summer months.'" (Police later confiscated the note from Werth.)

The fan, or fans, that threw the fan has not yet been found, but security personnel are examining the stadium's security tapes that were directed in the vicinity of the incident.

Notes: The Phillies said after the game that the team will auction off the fan and attached note at an upcoming charity event once the police no longer consider the device evidence. During the 9th inning, manager Charlie Manuel had the entire team sign the fan, which has made it more than difficult for police to locate a clean fingerprint.