The New Orleans Pelicans (formerly Hornets) in 2002. The Houston Texans in 2002. The Cleveland Browns in 1999. The Tampa Bay Rays and Arizona Diamondbacks in 1998. Expansion teams are unique and show us that teams haven’t always been around in their respective leagues like the Los Angeles Lakers, New York Yankees, Chicago Bears, and Detroit Red Wings have. But they haven’t always had success right out of the gate.
Taking a look at the teams mentioned above, only a handful of had their share of success. The New Orleans Pelicans, at this time the Hornets, in their expansion season of 2002-2003 went 47-35, only to bow out in the first round of the playoffs to Philadelphia. Since then, they have had just five winning seasons, and made the playoffs in those five winning seasons with one trip to the Western Conference Semifinals. The Cleveland Browns have had just two winning seasons since 1999, and has played in only one playoff game. The Texans didn’t have a winning season until 2009, and didn’t make the playoffs until 2011. The Rays’ first nine seasons saw the franchise not reach more than 70 wins in a season until the organizations’ 10th season in 2008 where they reached the World Series for the first time.
The lone team to have success as an expansion franchise are the Arizona Diamondbacks. In just their second year they won 100 games, and in their fourth season of playing baseball in the desert, they won the World Series.
The Diamondbacks may have quickly rose to fame and shocked the world by winning a title that fast, but it’s not like they started winning right away. In their first season, they went 65-97, finishing last in their division. But this year, we say hello to a new team in the professional sports world, and that’s the Vegas Golden Knights in the National Hockey League. They’re the newest team in the NHL and are the first professional sports team in the city of Las Vegas.
For years Las Vegas has seen only minor league or semi-pro action, and currently the only minor league team to call Las Vegas home are the Las Vegas 51s, a triple-A affiliate of the New York Mets. Other than that, natives of “The City of Lights” have only been treated to UNLV Basketball and Football, the annual Las Vegas Bowl, and NASCAR’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. But finally, they have a team to call their own. And in a time where one of the most vibrant, jubilant, and joyful cities in the country was struck with heartbreak and disaster, the Golden Knights are just what the city needed to give everyone a smile and some hope in “The Silver City.”
So why are the Vegas (not “Las Vegas”) Golden Knights possibly the best team in expansion team history? Not even a month into the season, the Golden Knights are a remarkable 8-1-0, and are second in the Pacific Division of the Western Conference. Do you know the Detroit Red Wings’ record in their first season? 12-28-4. Now, yes, the season has been nearly doubled in games played, but the Golden Knights will surpass the number of wins in the Red Wings’ first season in their own first season. Detroit didn’t have a winning season until their third year of existence, and even after that struggled in the regular season with losing years. The Chicago Blackhawks in their first three seasons went a horrible 33-85-14 in their beginning years. So, for Vegas to already have success this early is highly impressive, given the fact that they had to build their roster through an expansion draft.
How are they this successful already? Well, it started by acquiring their best player thus far, left wing James Neal, in the expansion draft, taking him from Nashville. Neal, who plays on the Canadian National team and played in last year’s Stanley Cup Finals with the Predators, has 10 points already with 7 points and 3 assists. Then they traded away their 2018 4th round draft pick to Florida for Reilly Smith. A right wing out of Miami (OH), he has 7 points so far with 2 goals and 5 assists. Last year with the Panthers, he had 37 points, with 15 goals and 22 assists. Now on a team that he can be a leader, he has more room to move the puck, and skate to his ability, making plays happen. In addition to those playmakers, they also acquired left wing David Perron from St. Louis, who has racked up 3 goals and 4 assists already this year. This is his 10th year in the league and first with a new team.
Cody Eakin is their starting center, with William Karlsson backing him up. They both have 5 points with 3 goals split between them. The Knights got Eakin out of the draft from Dallas, and plays on the Canadian National team. But he had his worst year yet last season, playing in 60 games with just three goals after being suspended and going through an injury. As for Karlsson, Vegas acquired the eight-year veteran from Columbus. Karlsson also represents Sweden on their national team.
The Golden Knights’ defense in the beginning of the year is led by Nate Schmidt and Luca Sbisa. Schmidt was acquired from Washington, and has plenty of playoff experience from playing on the Capitals. And Sbisa was the 19th overall pick in the 2008 draft, selected by the Flyers, but has been here and there since, playing in the National League in Switzerland for HC Lugano, and previously playing for the Ducks and Canucks. He also plays on the Switzerland National team.
The key to winning in the NHL is always to have a shutdown goalkeeper, and the Golden Knights have three special ones in Marc-Andre Fleury, Malcolm Subban, and Oscar Dansk. Fleury will be getting most of the minutes, having been drafted in the expansion draft out of Pittsburgh. Honestly, Vegas could not have lucked out any better than getting Fleury. A three-time Stanley Cup Champion with the Penguins, a gold medalist for the Canadian National Team, and a ten year veteran in the NHL. So far he has 124 saves for Vegas, but that was sadly before he was placed on the Long Term Injury Reserve List after suffering a head injury against Detroit.
The Golden Knights’ second man up was Malcolm Subban who won his first appearance for Vegas against Boston, his former team, and he has since saved 88 shots. But in their game against St. Louis, Subban suffered an injury going for a save, tearing a muscle, and is out indefinitely. So Oscar Dansk has filled in since, and he has let up just 3 goals in his two starts, saving 71 out of 74 shots.
Notice a pattern? Vegas isn’t playing with any rookies. Rather, they’re putting veterans with international, Olympic experience, and experience in the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs. They got it right when picking through the expansion draft, and their head coach Gerard Gallant is doing a phenomenal job working the line shifts. Plus, they’ve never even named a captain. Might be a case of not putting anyone above the rest of the team.
At the end of the day, it’s not that hard to win in the NHL with a new team, but that’s not to say that it’s a given. Vegas has come in and showing history rich teams in Boston, Buffalo, Chicago, and St. Louis that they belong and don’t want to be the odd man out. Is it early? Heck yeah. But if there’s ever a better opportunity to jump on the Golden Knights’ bandwagon, it’s now.
2016 provided many thrilling moments that I was able to be apart of, and why we may never see a year like it again.
By Brendan DeVenney
Leading up to 2016, living in Cleveland had become a bore. Nothing real exciting was happening, and there was all talk about what could be. Generally no winning teams. The city becoming the butt of many jokes. And people moving out as soon as they got the chance.
And for myself personally, I was still waiting to see exciting athletics at Saint Ignatius as a broadcaster on the Saint Ignatius Broadcast Network. Yes, it’s prominently been known as a sports school. We hold over 30 state championships, and even a number of national championships. But in my time as a student, I had seen weak football my first three years. The basketball program was playing under par. And baseball was on the rise.
However, all things would change in one year. Enter 2016. No one could predict what a monstrous year it was for everyone living in The Land. And, especially for me, it was time where I had to cherish everyone moment I got to live.
Basketball ‘Cats make a return to possible glory
We start off in January, where the Saint Ignatius Basketball team was starting to make some noise and grab the state’s attention. You see, the Saint Ignatius Basketball program had struggled for years, failing to get out of the District Tournament. However, the tone of the program would change when Head Coach Brian Becker returned to the helm of the team.
Through January, the team was showing so much promise with their high powered offense, led by Deven Stover, Jimmy Berger, and Matt Davet. There was a point where they played three overtime games in five days, winning two of them. And when they went deep into February, the schedule got tougher, playing Ohio powerhouses in St. Edward, Massillon Jackson, and Garfield Heights. Despite their only win in that tough three game stretch coming against St. Edward, this team still showed that they were playoff ready.
The came the tournament. Around this time, the school year was in a frenzy in the month of March. This is the time where winter playoffs are in full swing, St. Patrick’s Day and March Madness fevers are in the air, and spring sports is starting up. So fast forward to Saturday, March 5. One of the biggest days in Saint Ignatius Athletics history. Why is that? Well the basketball team and hockey team were both playing rival St. Edward in their respective District Championship games! To add even more excitement, the basketball game was moved to the Cleveland State University Wolstein Center in Downtown Cleveland to accommodate for a massive crowd.
The hockey game was scheduled for 1:00 with tipoff for basketball scheduled for 7:00. So, this was a day where you just weren’t doing homework. After I live tweeted the hockey game, where the Wildcats beat St. Edward 3-1, it was time to head downtown for the biggest game of the season. Picture the Cleveland State Wolstein Center, with two gigantic student sections that you don’t see at Vikings games and all sides filled to the rafters with cheering, adoring high school basketball fans for a rivalry game with both team’s seasons on the line.
Well those fans got a thriller of a game as it went down to the wire, with Saint Ignatius coming out on top, 58-51, winning the District Championship. The ride would continue for the Wildcats, who had caught the eyes of a lot of the media around the state. No one had seen a Saint Ignatius basketball team this talented in a long time, and they were starting something pretty special where the school, students and faculty combined, and the outside community were getting behind this basketball team. It was something beautiful in the making. You really started to question how far they could go.
Well after beating Solon in the Regional Semifinal at the Wolstein Center, it set up a rematch with Garfield Heights, a team with a lot of swagger and attitude. They loved playing like an NBA team, something the Wildcats didn’t do. Both teams showed up and took each other into double overtime. Five buzzer beaters occurred during the game, and it felt like neither team deserved to lose the game. It was a thriller, with fans holding their breath during the whole game. Sadly, Saint Ignatius came out on the losing end in one of the best Ohio high school basketball playoff games ever to be played.
Being apart of this one week of high-level, agonizing, riveting basketball was a once in a lifetime opportunity. I had never seen high school basketball this exciting, and to be able to cover these games that everyone around the state was paying attention to was truly something beautiful. I’ll always remember that one week.
Wildcat Baseball makes another memorable run
Fast forward to the spring, where I had the opportunity to call a Saint Ignatius baseball team that proved all doubters wrong. The Wildcats started the season a little slow, starting off 2-6. But slowly, led by the leadership of Dennis Grosel, Kevin Mingus, and Michael Rogers, and the star pitching of Murphy O’Brien and Connor Adams, the Wildcats made it all the way to State Tournament.
Their playoff run was spectacular, and always with the high school baseball tournament, the end of the school year makes it even more enjoyable! They dominated St. Edward with a District Championship win, highlighted by a Grosel solo shot. The following week they rolled through their Regional Tournament, winning their second consecutive Regional Title. Being along side the players, they all felt that this was their year and that they were finally going to get it.
Early June, I would broadcast for the second time from Huntington Park. It was the State Semifinal between the Wildcats and Pickerington North. It was a classic of a game, a game where I got to bring out my inner Tom Hamilton (if I have one). The game went into extra innings, but Saint Ignatius couldn’t pull it out. What a beginning to the summer it was, though, with major high school playoff baseball.
Cleveland’s title run begins
While all of this was occurring, something special was going on in professional sports in Cleveland. The city of Cleveland was on edge of actually winning a pro sports title for the first time since 1964. But first, Clevelanders were treated to some other titles to get themselves hyped up for the big one.
First, it was Euclid native and UFC fighter Stipe Miocic. On May 14, 2016, Miocic battled Fabricio Werdum in UFC 198 for the UFC Heavyweight Championship belt. He would win in Round 1 in less than a minute to win his first ever World Championship and bring a UFC title to Northeast Ohio.
Then, only a few weeks later in early June, the Lake Erie Monsters (now named the Cleveland Monsters) of the American Hockey League brought the Calder Cup back to Cleveland for the first time since 1964. Led by the goal tending of Anton Forsberg and the hot stick of Oliver Bjorkstrand, the Monsters would sweep the Hershey Bears and win the Calder Cup with a 1-0, overtime Game 4 win at Quicken Loans Arena in front of 19,665 Clevelanders.
All of this winning became contagious and as a Cleveland fan, you felt alive and a little entitled to winning everything. Well, in Cleveland, you don’t get a whole lot. So this was an exception to people being entitled to only the best. Sure enough, five days after the Monsters won the Calder Cup, Clevelanders would get what they have been hoping for for 52 years.
For the first time in 52 years…
Everyone knows the story of the Cavaliers coming back from a 3-1 deficit by winning Games 5 and 6 of the 2016 NBA Finals, but instead I’ll focus on the actual day that took place on Father’s Day 2016.
The Sunday started off like any other Sunday with mass at Saint Ignatius High School. Following that, it was time to head downtown to watch the red hot Indians look to sweep the Chicago White Sox at Progressive Field. We’ll talk about the Tribe later, but Cleveland’s boys of summer started the party that day with a walk-off RBI single by Jose Ramirez in the 10th inning, defeating the White Sox 3-2.
After celebrating a Tribe win, everyone in Cleveland started to get a weird feeling in their stomach. No team had been this close to a title since the 1997 Cleveland Indians when they took the Florida Marlins to seven games, only to fall 3-2 in 11 innings. But this feeling was different with the Cavaliers. The dream just had to come true.
That night, however, I was at the wrong place at the wrong time: work. I punched in at 6:00 with tipoff of Game 7 of the NBA Finals at 8:00. Around that time, no one was in the restaurant I was working at, mainly because there was more important things to worry about then getting ice cream. Around 8:00, I pull out WatchESPN on my phone and start watching the game in the back room with my fellow employees, while at the same time trying to get some work done.
Well, God must had been on my side because around 9:00, our manager let’s some of us leave to watch the game. So I punch out and race home (luckily 2 minutes down the street), getting in front of the TV just in time for most of the oh-so important second half.
For all father’s and sons in Cleveland, there could not had been a better Father’s Day gift than watching Game 7 of the NBA Finals with LeBron James leading the Cavaliers. Well, with my hands clenched tightly, holding my breath, the final three minutes begin with the score knotted at 89-89. Then, this happens.
After one of the greatest blocks in NBA history, the Cavaliers knew they had to start something offensively. Still I was on the edge of my seat, literally, and couldn’t believe it when one of the most clutch players in the league hit the biggest shot of his life.
Before the game, I felt like it was either going to go one of two ways. The first being the Cleveland curse story. We come so close yet fail to come out on top. Or, the second being LeBron James plays the game of his life to lift Cleveland to their first title since 1964. Luckily, it was the latter. The Cleveland Cavaliers were NBA Champions.
Three days later, 1.3 million of our closest friends threw a huge block party. It was the first championship parade ever in the City of Cleveland. People flew in from all over the world to be a part of history. And after that, you felt like Cleveland is no longer the “Mistake on the Lake.” No. We’re the “City You Want to Be.” The “City of Champions!”
Cleveland is on top of the world
Cleveland would then start to get a little attitude, in a good way. We loved positively being in the spotlight for once. And that would be taken to new heights when the city hosted the 2016 Republican National Convention.
The summer of 2016 showed the entire nation, and even the world, what Cleveland is truly made of. It showed that we can play with the big dogs like New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Miami. It was a precedent for what is hopefully to come in the future for the city. Even Saint Ignatius High School got in the action by hosting Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah” at The Breen Center for the Performing Arts.
Wildcat Football is back to a powerhouse
But once the big party was over, fall rolled around, and again I could not have had a more fun fall. No, the Browns didn’t add any excitement, but there was still a ton to cheer about.
Let’s start with the Saint Ignatius Varsity football team. This was a team that you just didn’t want to mess around with. Game after game, their defense shut opponents down, and for myself and my broadcast partner, calling their games got even more fun as the weeks went by. For instance, after winning on the road in Cincinnati versus St. Xavier, a trip they historically don’t do well on, they would then defeat St. Edward at FirstEnergy Stadium convincingly, 34-7. Those two games saw the program get so hyped up and we made sure our broadcasts were way more exciting and even more professional.
Fast forward to the Regional Final when Saint Ignatius faced off with St. Edward again. This time the Eagles wouldn’t go down without a fight, taking the Wildcats into overtime. At a packed Bedford Bearcat Stadium, the Wildcats would stand strong and come out with a victory, headlined by running back Mark Bobinski and the stifling Wildcat defense.
But then two weeks later, the Wildcats played in the game that they dreamt of playing in their entire lives: the State Championship game. On a Friday night in early December, fans from Cleveland and Cincinnati met halfway at “The Horseshoe,” Ohio Stadium at The Ohio State University. Two Jesuit rivals, Saint Ignatius and St. Xavier, would clash for a State Title.
My day started early, arriving at school around 7:15 just like any other day. Periods went by with me gearing up, when time allowed, for the biggest broadcast of my life that night.
After Economics 7th period, it was time for the SIBN crew to load up and head down to Columbus for the most important broadcast of our lives. I remember arriving on The Ohio State University’s campus, which feels like a city in itself, and seeing the stadium in distance and my jaw dropping. “I’m broadcasting from there?” Just a week ago Ohio State won in overtime versus Michigan at this same stadium. Now it was Saint Ignatius’ turn to get a win.
So the SIBN crew got perched high above everyone else in one of the largest press boxes I’ve even been in. After taking a trip onto the field for our pregame promo, a walk inside the tunnel, and after meeting the Voice of the Buckeyes, Paul Keels, it was showtime.
The game and broadcast started out perfectly, with the Wildcats winning 10-0 at halftime. But then in the second half, the wheels started to come off. The Wildcats fumbled at their own 2-yard line to allow St. Xavier to take the lead, and then a stumble at the 5-yard with no one insight in overtime came back to haunt the Wildcats and open up chances for St. Xavier.
In double overtime, the Wildcats were unable to pull out the win, but from a broadcasters perspective, between the nerves, adrenaline, and discipline to stay professional, it was a roller coaster ride sitting in the same spot for hours. In the end, there was a lot of agony. Yet, in the moment, I realized that what we all saw was art on a football field.
I obviously wasn’t happy that we lost the State Championship because for years, through grade school, I had dreamt of calling a State Football Championship with Saint Ignatius winning. Sadly, that didn’t happen. But what I had to realize on the positive side was I called history. No State Championship had gone into double overtime until that night. Plus, I did fulfill my dream of broadcasting a State Championship. Only one other broadcast team of the SIBN has gotten to do that and that was back in 2011. So it was pretty exciting to be apart of history. It’s something I still play back in my head, still hoping the game would’ve gone a different way. But that means it’s a memory I’ll never forget.
An October (and November) to Remember
And finally, one of the many best times Cleveland has ever experienced. The 2016 World Series. All season long, the Cleveland Indians were underestimated by everyone. Until one night in early October, where the Tribe got their postseason started like no other team in baseball has ever done. Hammy?
At that point, you knew something real special was happening. You could feel it in the regular season, when Tyler Naquin hit the walk-off inside-the-park home run and when the Indians won 14 games in a row. But when you hit three home runs in one inning in Game 1 of the ALDS, you’re showing that you’re for real. And oh were they for real.
The Indians would sweep the Red Sox to advance to the American League Championship Series against Toronto. They then made it look easy again, winning their first three games before losing Game 4. But then newly engaged Ryan Merritt took the mound in Game 5, a rookie making just his second major league start. Blue Jays veteran Jose Bautista said that he would probably be “shaking in his boots.” Well he was far from shaking. He was dealing. Merritt threw 4 1/3 innings of scoreless baseball, allowing just 2 hits as the Indians clinched the American League pennant to advance to the Fall Classic.
So, now it’s time for the World Series versus the Chicago Cubs. Cubs? World Series? That’s the perfect national story for everyone in the country to talk about. They haven’t won since 1908. 108 years without a World Series. Everyone’s obviously going to be rooting for them to break the curse. Well, everyone except Clevelanders.
Thus, the series proved to be a thrilling World Series. And it did not disappoint with both Cleveland and Chicago taking each other into a Game 7 at Progressive Field. Yes, another Game 7 for the city of Cleveland to overcome.
My experience of Game 7 was a little different from Game 7 of the NBA Finals. On the night of November 2, I wasn’t in the comfort of my living room, nor was I downtown to hopefully celebrate. I was at the perfect place. The Jesuit Retreat House in Parma, Ohio, leading Kairos 192 for Saint Ignatius.
The retreat leaders and retreatants weren’t blind. We all realized that history could happen that night and we didn’t want to miss it. So we hold a watch party after our final prayer of the night.
The game isn’t going the way we’re all hoping it would. The Indians find themselves down 6-3 after 6 innings. It’s not looking good, and we’re starting to feel real doubtful since the past two games didn’t end so well. Until this happens….
Honestly, it doesn’t get much better than a moment like this. A game-tying home run in front of the home town crowd in Game 7 of the World Series. Cleveland players themselves said it felt like they were back in little league, storming out of the dugout to pounce on Rajai Davis. This was a moment so beautiful that you appreciate life even more and you count your blessings to be alive. You also feel closer to those around you cheering for the same purpose, no matter if they’re black or white, Muslim or atheist, gay or straight. I myself knew in the Jesuit Retreat House that all around me didn’t care about division. It was truly a joyful moment. Especially being on a Kairos retreat. This was supposed to be a time to get away from everyday life, yet here we were watching the World Series. I had to give a Kairos talk the next morning, and it so was important to reel everyone back into the retreat and to put their focus back on finding God. So this was this a real unique experience to be apart of, an experience no one will likely ever feel again.
Sadly, Mother Nature hit, the game went into extra innings, and Chicago prevailed over the Indians, 8-7, to win the World Series. But besides the fact that they lost, what a time it was to be a native of Cleveland.
Cleveland: The City of Champions
Why did I write this? Mainly because moments like these need to be remembered. Plus, looking ahead to the future, we may never experience a year like 2016 again that saw so much success. Yes, Cleveland is still on the rise with its sports teams, infrastructure building, and national appearance improving immensely. Cleveland is now starting to become a tourist attraction and a city to hold major events. We’re even in the running to host a future NFL Draft and a FIFA World Cup. Yes, a World Cup. So, with that being said, remember 2016. Because that was the year that started the rebirthing of the City of Cleveland.
For this year’s Christmas Day, we get a big treat when it comes to watching sports all day in celebration. From early in the day to late at night, we will get bombarded with both NFL football and NBA basketball.
And it’s not regular matchups that you would see on a daily basis, like the Bucks taking on Detroit. We’re talking about playoff caliber football and basketball this coming Sunday.
With Christmas Day falling on a Sunday this year, the NFL had to move a good majority of their games to Saturday (Christmas Eve) to accommodate the NBA and still let them have their day.
For the NBA, this is their Thanksgiving. The NBA usually schedules five marquee matchups for this day, starting from noon all the way to 10:30 at night. Playing on Christmas Day is taken as an honor in the NBA, meaning that you are one of the best teams in the league. For the most part, every team playing this coming Sunday we will see in the playoffs. (Except for the Lakers and Timberwolves, who both enter with dismal losing records.)
For the NFL, this is a rare occurrence. From September to February, they own Sunday. Well when Christmas falls on the first day of the week, what do you do? You move the games back to Saturday, Christmas Eve. 12 of the 16 games in Week 16 will be played on a Saturday, giving it a college football feel. There will still be the Thursday Night Football game and the Monday Night Football game. But this year, we get two marquee matchups on Christmas. Each team is fighting for their right to play in the postseason, and both games are divisional rival matchups.
With that being said, let’s preview each game on Jesus’ Birthday.
12:00 – Boston Celtics @ New York Knicks – Madison Square Garden
Both the Knicks and Celtics squared off in early November, and it was Boston who came away with a convincing 115-87 win. That automatically makes the Celtics the favorite going into this matchup. In that win, Isaiah Thomas put up 29 points for Boston. Thomas has emerged as the real leader of Brad Stevens’ squad, averaging 26.6 points per night. Along with Thomas, Jae Crowder has been holding his own and is a monster outside and when he drives. He’s averaging 13 points per game for the Celtics and is going to be a tough matchup for New York to go against. The Knicks still have Carmelo Anthony who’s averaging 22.5 points per game, but then you add Derrick Rose and Kristaps Porzingis, who have made this New York team dominant this year. They both add a better outside and inside presence on this team. The Knicks have the most Christmas Day wins with 22, and they could very well get 23 this Sunday.
Prediction: New York by 15
2:30 – Golden State Warriors @ Cleveland Cavaliers – Quicken Loans Arena
This is the first rematch of the 2016 NBA Finals, and it looks very different from a year ago. This time, the 2015 Champion Warriors have added former Thunder forward Kevin Durant, who has been able to make the Warriors a threat to the Cavaliers chances to defend their title. He’s averaging 25.9 points a game, and adds a physical presence to the floor for Golden State, making them harder to defend. Along with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, they are a better three-point shooting team than last year, shooting 38% from behind the arc. For Cleveland, they are without JR Smith, out with a right thumb injury for 12 weeks, and have no major presence inside versus this Golden State team with Mozgov not on the roster this year, and Channing Frye isn’t able to fill in that role. The Warriors are coming off a very scary 119-113 win over Detroit on Friday, while the Cavaliers were able to rest their regular rotation guys with an 119-99 blowout with over Brooklyn. This Finals rematch has the making of a classic, that is if LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love are all putting up 20-plus points. The Warriors are obviously the favorite going into this one, and it will probably end up just like last year’s Christmas Day matchup where the Warriors were able to get a convincing 89-83 win, in a game the Cavaliers looked lost.
Prediction: Golden State by 10
4:30 – Baltimore Ravens @ Pittsburgh Steelers – Heinz Field
The first NFL game on Christmas features two divisional rivals who are battling for the AFC North title. Pittsburgh and Baltimore have easily taken hold of the rocky AFC North division. The division is up for grabs every year between the Steelers, Ravens, and Bengals, and that is never more evident than this year. Pittsburgh enters at 9-5, and Baltimore enters at 8-6. For the Steelers, a win clinches the division, whereas Baltimore needs this one to stay alive. Some experts have picked the Steelers to actually make the Super Bowl this year, and rightly so with Ben Roethlisberger somehow having himself another huge year. Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell have been explosive this year once again, with Brown receiving for 11 touchdowns and 1,188 yards, while Bell has run for 6 touchdowns and 1,146 yards. They have been so hard to stop for any defense this year, so what does that mean for Baltimore? Terrell Suggs, C.J. Mosley, and Ladarius Webb of the Ravens defense need to have a huge game trying to stop Pittsburgh’s offense. Joe Flacco can only do so much so it will come down to defense for this Ravens team at Heinz Field.
Prediction: Pittsburgh by 2 TD
5:00 – Chicago Bulls @ San Antonio Spurs – AT&T Center
This is one of the more interesting matchups in the NBA on Christmas, as the Bulls have been slowly seeing what they are like without Rose, and the Spurs are just doing Spurs-like things at 24-6. Chicago is definitely a different team without Rose, but they haven’t fallen way down. They were able to acquire Dwayne Wade as their now starting shooting guard and Rajon Rondo at point. Even with a starting lineup that features Wade, Rondo, Jimmy Butler at small forward, and Taj Gibson and Robin Lopez as their big men, they’ve found it hard to win games. They’re shooting 44% from the field, a dismal 30% from behind the arc, and have struggled to play good defense. They’re inconsistent as well, with losses to Milwaukee, Washington, Charlotte, and Minnesota. But they’ve been able to knock off Cleveland, San Antonio, and Miami twice. Yet, for Gregg Popovich’s Spurs, they are rolling with the retirement of Tim Duncan. Kawhi Leonard, Lamarcus Aldridge, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili are all hot right now, as the Spurs were able to go on a 9-game winning streak, plus start the season with a dominating 129-100 win over the Warriors.
Prediction: San Antonio by 20
8:00 – Minnesota Timberwolves @ Oklahoma City Thunder – Chesapeake Energy Arena
You can basically right in a win for the Thunder in this one. I don’t even know why the Timberwolves are playing on Christmas. A better matchup for OKC would be the Rockets or Grizzlies. Minnesota is 9-20 right now, and the only big names they have are Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. Compare that to Russell Westbrook, Steven Adams, Jerami Grant, and Victor Oladipo. After Durant left, Westbrook was basically left by himself to lead this Thunder team. He has been averaging a crazy 31.3 points a game, and in the last three games he has put up 46 (a season high in a loss to Atlanta), 42, and 43 points. Minnesota is going to have a long day trying to defend him, specifically Andrew Wiggins.
Another great matchup for the NFL on Christmas. How the league actually got these games right for December 25 is beyond me. However, in this AFC West divisional game, the Broncos and Chiefs are battling to make the playoffs with two more weeks left. Right now, the Broncos, the defending Super Bowl Champions, are out of the playoffs. They need a win to stay alive. Yet the Chiefs can clinch a playoff spot and eliminate Denver with a win at home. Alex Smith has had himself a career season with a 66.4 completion percentage. He has come up clutch in wins over Oakland, Carolina, Atlanta, and New Orleans. But no bigger win came in Week 12 over the Broncos. He was 26 for 44 in that overtime win for the Chiefs, and threw for 220 yards and no interceptions. That game is a good estimate of what could happen on Sunday. For Denver in that game, in his first season as starting quarterback for Denver, Trevor Siemian was 20 for 34, for 368 yards, 3 touchdowns, and no interceptions. Yet, last week in the 16-3 loss to New England, he threw 1 interception, was sacked 4 times, and was 25 for 40. You never know with Siemian, and that is basically the reason the Broncos are on the verge of missing the playoffs.
Prediction: Kansas City by 7
10:30 – Los Angeles Clippers @ Los Angeles Lakers – Staples Center
The nightcap of Christmas Day features the Battle of LA, as always the case on Christmas. This is the Lakers’ first Christmas in a while without Kobe Bryant, so how they qualify for a Christmas Day game still is beyond me. They’re still 12th in the Western Conference, whereas their rival is 3rd at 22-9. Nick Young and D’Angelo Russell have been doing the most work for Luke Walton. They both average the most points for the Lakers at 15.1 and 14.9 points a game. The Lakers are pretty healthy, but they have struggled to get offensive bursts to get wins. They’ve lost their last four, and they haven’t been pretty. Then there’s the Clippers who have some people believing they have a legitimate shot at making the Finals this year, and knock out either Golden State or San Antonio. This past Thursday they were able to defeat San Antonio 106-101. But in that game, they lost point guard Chris Paul to a hamstring injury. His status is uncertain, which will likely mean he won’t be playing on Sunday. That means Austin Rivers will take over at point. He’s averaging 9 points a game, but just 2 assists per game. Then you have Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, and J.J. Redick. They are the core of both the offense and defense for the “Clip Show.” Redick is averaging 15 points a game, Jordan is averaging 11 points a game, and Griffin is averaging 21 points per game. They have helped make the Clippers one of the most dominant teams in the league, and pose a major test for the struggling Lakers.
What a time it is to be alive. What a time it is to live in Northeast Ohio. Heck, what a time it is to go to school literally 8 minutes from Downtown Cleveland!
Unless you have been living under a rock for the past year or so, you know that Cleveland has been having quite a bit of success in the sports world. The spotlight has been on Cleveland in the national media. More so than major markets like New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles. Now that’s not to say that they aren’t getting as much attention that Cleveland has been getting, but we’re finally getting the amount of attention that we deserve for the right reasons.
It all starts with someone you would only know if you follow the Ultimate Fighting Championships (UFC). It was a true Cleveland story that occurred in the middle of May. The Euclid native Stipe Miocic became a champion for the city he grew up loving by defeating Fabricio Werdum in UFC 198 in Brazil. Miocic was not the favorite going into the fight, which makes it an ultimate Cleveland story. The underdog winning outright for a UFC Heavyweight Championship.
Miocic would go on to defend his title in front of a hometown crowd of over 18,000 Clevelanders at Quicken Loans Arena this past September by defeating Alistair Overeem in UFC 203, winning the UFC Heavyweight Championship.
Onto championship number two. On a warm Saturday night, the Lake Erie Monsters (now named the Cleveland Monsters, because it just makes sense) kept the title train rolling when they swept the Hershey Bears in the Calder Cup Finals. The Monsters had to do it in the most Cleveland way possible by earning their title. In the best of four series, the Monsters had to go into overtime twice at Quicken Loans Arena. In Game 4, with the score knotted 0-0 in overtime thanks to an outstanding goaltending performance from Monster Anton Forsberg (23 shots, 23 saves), it was Oliver Bjorkstrand bringing the Calder Cup home to Cleveland for the first time since 1964, ironically the last time Cleveland had won any type of Championship.
The Monsters refused to lose, which is something we’re growing accustomed to in Cleveland. They lost only twice throughout the playoffs, and won the franchise’s first Calder Cup in front of 19,665, the largest crowd ever to watch a professional hockey game in Cleveland, and the second largest crowd ever to watch an AHL game.
Then, there was championship number three. Down 3-1 in the NBA Finals to Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors, the unthinkable happened. “Are the Cavaliers done?” “Why is that even a question? Yes, the Cavs are done!” exclaimed Stephen A. Smith on ESPN’s ‘FirstTake.’ Well, he would be wrong. LeBron James and Kyrie Irving would both go off for 41 points in Game 5, while Golden State’s Draymond Green would get suspended for Game 6. In Game 6, James would add 41 points again, while Tristan Thompson would add 16 rebounds. Oh yeah! And Steph Curry would get ejected, as well, for throwing his mouthguard. He could whine all he wanted. But Cleveland forced a historic Game 7. In Game 7, with 1:50 left, LeBron James delivered “The Block” on the Warriors’ Andre Iguodala to keep the score tied at 89. Then, with 53 seconds left on the clock, Kyrie Irving hit the shot of his life. Dubbed “The Shot,” Irving hit a step back three over the reach of Steph Curry to put the Cavaliers ahead 92-89. Defense was the key the rest of the game, and the Cleveland Cavaliers broke the city’s 52-year championship drought by doing it the Cleveland way. While many are saying the Warriors blew a 3-1 series lead, in which in fact they did, you have to give credit where credit is due. The Cavaliers overcame a 3-1 series deficit to win the franchise’s first NBA championship.
The Wednesday following Game 7, Cleveland threw the largest party ever. 1.3 million people flocked to downtown Cleveland for the Cavaliers Championship Parade. We celebrated Miocic, we celebrated the Monsters, and we celebrated the Cavaliers. That was a moment you would never forget. Partying with 1.3 million of your closest friends.
Yet, that was just the beginning! The spotlight stayed on Cleveland throughout the summer. Whether you viewed it as a positive or negative, the Quicken Loans Arena hosted the Republican National Convention. It was remarkable to see the RNC Committee celebrate the official beginning of the election in the same place we celebrated our first NBA Championship.
As B.B. King proclaims, “Let the good times roll!” The magic in Cleveland would continue with the Indians, as they clinched their first American League Central Division Championship since 2007, and 8th overall, with a 7-4 win over Detroit, a city that we seem to love dominating so much. Well, them and the entire country of Canada.
Speaking of Canada, Cleveland would win yet another conference/league championship over Toronto. First it was the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals. This time it was the Indians, winning the American League Pennant for the first time 1997, and 6th overall, with a 5-1 series win over the Blue Jays to advance to the World Series. The Tribe had to overcome a lot of “circumstances,” but why not? We’re Cleveland! We love doing things the hard way.
It has truly been the year of the “216.” 2016 has been special in a lot of ways for Cleveland and Saint Ignatius, too many to put in one article. Things are really coming up for Cleveland, and it’s such a blessing to be apart of it. Now if only the Browns could actually join the fun, then we would really stop being the laughing stock of professional sports. But until then, enjoy all of this winning while it lasts.
Cleveland’s other championship team, the American Hockey League’s Lake Erie Monsters, have changed their name.
The Monsters will now be classified as the ‘CLEVELAND’ Monsters. And with all of this renaissance going on in the city of Cleveland, why not be classified as being in Cleveland.
Monsters SVP/COO of Franchise Operations Mike Ostrowksi said in the press conference on Tuesday that, “This brand refresh has been in the works for several seasons and we are thrilled to make the Cleveland Monsters a reality at long last. In the wake of the Monsters’ Calder Cup Championship and the Cavs’ NBA Title, and heading into the Monsters’ 10th anniversary season, we feel now is the perfect time for our organization to honor our great city and proudly become in title what this team has always been in spirit, the Cleveland Monsters.”
I have two opinions on this: 1) Why did they not make the name the ‘Cleveland Monsters’ in the first place? and 2) It does not have the same ring to it as the ‘Lake Erie Monsters.’
Some people who didn’t live in Ohio, let alone Cleveland, would not have known if the Monsters were in Cleveland since they had Lake Erie in the name. Plus, they play in the same arena as the Cleveland Cavaliers and Cleveland Gladiators. It just makes the most sense to be named the Cleveland Monsters.
The Monsters won their first Calder Cup this past June with a sweep of the Hershey Bears. This upcoming season they will play in their 10th season as a franchise.