NHL community 'can't take much more' heartbreak

534152.jpg

NHL community 'can't take much more' heartbreak

From Comcast SportsNet Thursday, September 8, 2011
For the NHL, an already dark summer became unimaginably worse Wednesday. From Anaheim to Montreal, the world's best hockey players struggled to comprehend a shocking loss to their sport after a chartered Russian plane carrying the Kontinental Hockey League's Lokomotiv Yaroslavl team crashed, killing several NHL veterans in one of the worst air disasters in sports history. Many players heard about the accident on their way back to work from summer breaks. Most NHL training camps open next weekend, and every club radiates optimism for the season ahead. But hockey is hurting after an offseason of tragedies and disappointments, including the deaths of three players in a four-month span before the catastrophic crash. "The hockey world mourns yet again. Please God, we can't take much more," tweeted New York forward Brandon Prust, the former roommate of late Rangers enforcer Derek Boogaard. Even a glorious, seven-game Stanley Cup series ended ugly with riots in Vancouver when the Canucks lost to the Boston Bruins. Looting, vandalism and sporadic violence left 140 people injured and resulted in 100 arrests and millions in property damage. "This has been a terrible summer for the sport all around," said Predators center David Legwand, who played four seasons in Nashville with Karlis Skrastins, a respected NHL veteran killed in the crash. "(Hockey) is a pretty tight-knit family, whether you play in Russia, Switzerland, Finland, Sweden ... it is a tough thing for everybody." No NHL team was left unscarred by the obliteration of a top club in the KHL, which emerged as Europe's most lucrative league over the past three years, with teams in former Soviet republics competing with the NHL for players mostly from eastern Europe. In the intertwined world of elite hockey, it's impossible to find two teams without players who share a common playing history, nationality or friendship. Lokomotiv's roster included three-time All-Star Pavol Demitra, a Slovakian who played for five NHL clubs; veteran Belarusian defenseman Ruslan Salei, who met his wife in Anaheim and raised his family in Orange County; and Czech forward Josef Vasicek, who won the Stanley Cup with Carolina in 2006. "I am still in disbelief about today's tragic news," said former Avalanche captain Joe Sakic, who played with Skrastins and Salei in Colorado. "Both Karlis and Ruslan were unbelievable individuals and great teammates. They will be sorely missed." Hockey had been reeling since May 13, when Boogaard died in his apartment in Minneapolis. The personable forward was one of the NHL's top enforcers, bringing charisma to the traditional hockey role of brawler who sticks up for his teammates in crowd-pleasing fights. Boogaard died from an accidental mix of alcohol and the painkiller oxycodone, officials said. Meantime, Boston University scientists are studying his brain to determine whether he had a degenerative condition resulting from hits to the head. Three months later the body of Rick Rypien of the Winnipeg Jets was discovered at his home in Alberta after a police official said a call was answered for a "sudden and non-suspicious" death. Although Rypien had suffered from depression for a decade, his brawling style of play raised additional questions about the mental health of enforcers. Recently retired player Wade Belak hanged himself in Toronto on Aug. 31, a person familiar with the case told the AP. The Lokomotiv disaster will linger over the upcoming NHL season, particularly for teams with direct connections to the club. The Detroit Red Wings were hit particularly hard: Lokomotiv coach Brad McCrimmon was Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom's defensive partner and an assistant to Detroit coach Mike Babcock until May, while Salei played 75 games for Detroit last season. "It's just so sad that their lives have suddenly changed forever, and now they've got no dad or husband," Babcock said after driving to the McCrimmon family's home earlier Wednesday. "It just goes to show that you can't miss out on doing stuff with your family, because change can come in an instant."

With Bumgarner sidelined, Blach 'taking full advantage' of opportunity

With Bumgarner sidelined, Blach 'taking full advantage' of opportunity

SAN FRANCISCO -- At some point over the next four days, Madison Bumgarner will pick up a baseball, stand a few feet across from a member of the training staff, and simply play catch. It'll be a huge step in Bumgarner's rehab, and should it go well, a boost to the psyche of a struggling team.

In the meantime, another lefty is making sure the Giants don't suffer too much without their ace, as improbable as that first seemed.

Ty Blach took a shutout into the eighth Saturday night and in true Bumgarner fashion, he added a pair of hits and an RBI. The Giants beat the Braves 6-3. They've won Blach's past three starts, and even with a 10-run outing in Cincinnati mixed in, he has a 3.71 ERA since taking the spot left open by a dirt bike accident.

"Because of what happened he's in the rotation," manager Bruce Bochy said, "And he's taking full advantage."

Blach has shown that long term, he might be a big part of this rotation. It's been years since the Giants locked a young, cost-controlled starter in, and Blach has backed up his big cameo last year. It's possible -- likely even -- that at some point the Giants will need to trade a veteran, perhaps Johnny Cueto, for young bats. Blach provides needed insurance. 

Short term, he's providing a huge boost to a team that doesn't have much going right. Blach has thrown at least seven innings in his past four starts. He has allowed just eight earned runs in four starts since the one in Cincinnati, throwing 28 2/3 innings. 

"I feel good," Blach said. "I've always been a starter, so it's been a pretty easy transition to make. I feel comfortable."

The Giants are comfortable behind him, as evidenced by a half-dozen strong defensive plays Saturday. 

"He's been consistent and he works quickly," first baseman Brandon Belt said. "He's just a great guy to play behind."

Blach even joined in at the plate. He had an RBI single in his first at-bat -- his first big league hit off Not Clayton Kershaw -- and later roped another single. Blach even showed off his wheels, busting it from first to third on Denard Span's ball to the corner before Phil Nevin held him up. 

"I worked into some good counts and I was able to get fastballs," Blach said of his night at the plate. "It's definitely a big confidence booster when your spot comes up and you're able to drive in runs."

The night was straight out of Bumgarner's playbook, and it was needed. The Giants had dropped five of six, but Blach was backed by homers from Nick Hundley and Brandon Belt. It got a little hairy late, but the bullpen held on, clinching Blach's third win of the season. He looks poised for many more, and Bochy is happy to keep running him out there.

"I'm not surprised by what he's doing," the manager said.

 

Instant Analysis: Blach does it all vs Braves, Giants snap skid

Instant Analysis: Blach does it all vs Braves, Giants snap skid

BOX SCORE

SAN FRANCISCO — This spot in the rotation is the one reserved for the stopper, the pitcher who takes a game by the throat when his team really needs it. 

Ty Blach took the mound Saturday for a team that had lost five of six, and just as Madison Bumgarner often has, Blach ended the skid. The young lefty was dominant into the eighth and the bats finally provided enough support. The Giants won 6-3, tying this weekend series with the Braves.

Here are five things to know from a night we were reminded that Emilio Bonifacio is in the big leagues … 

--- Blach pitched 7 2/3 innings. He has thrown at least seven innings in his last four starts, and five of seven starts overall. Jeff Samardzija (6) is the only Giants starter who has gone that deep more often. Blach is tied with Johnny Cueto for second-most seven-inning starts on staff, and Cueto has made three additional starts. 

--- Blach’s RBI single in the fourth was -- at the time -- the fourth hit of his career, and the first against a pitcher not named Clayton Kershaw. The ball had an exit velocity of 101 mph. Blach tried to score from first on Denard Span’s double, but Phil Nevin held him. Still, the way he was moving, it makes you wonder if Samardzija really is Bruce Bochy’s best pitcher-pinch-running option. In the seventh, Blach picked up a second single. 

--- Blach’s only bad start has been the one he made in Cincinnati, where the Giants played like a Double-A team. If you take that one out, Blach has a 2.21 ERA since taking over Bumgarner’s rotation spot. 

--- Even though he gave up just two earned in 7 2/3, Blach’s home ERA actually went up. It’s 1.75, which ranks seventh in the National League. The sellout crowd gave Blach a standing ovation when he was pulled in the eighth. 

--- Blach had a season-high five strikeouts. When he got Nick Markakis to end the first, Blach ended a streak of 37 left-handers faced without a strikeout. He later struck out another lefty, Matt Adams. The new Braves first baseman came up as the tying run in the eighth but Derek Law got him to ground out to first. 

--- Bonus sixth “thing to know” ... on Blach of course: His first name is Tyson, not Tyler. It’s Tyson Michael Blach.