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Today the Stanley Cup, Tomorrow...Grand Ole Opry?

Column by Bo Light
Associate Sports Editor

Welcome to the first summer edition of EA Sports. Brian is taking the summer off, but I'm still here to provide you, our loyal readers, with as much useless sports misinformation as possible. Today's issue, however, will be entirely devoted to Mike Tyson's return to boxing, and what a wonderful guy Mike is.

The Stanley Cup

Just kidding about that whole Tyson thing. Anyway, last week the New Jersey Devils shocked the world by humiliating the heavily favored Detroit Red Wings and taking Lord Stanley's Cup in four straight games. Less shocking was the fact that the Devils immediately took steps to move the franchise to Nashville.

Why move? First, New Jersey's lease at the Meadowlands was up, and playing at Exit 16W is expensive, definitely more expensive than the Grand Ole Opry. Second, the city of Nashville has made the Devils an extremely attractive offer to bring hockey to the home of country. And finally, who wants to live in upper New Jersey anyway? The Devils' reported move simply adds to the controversy they have created throughout the playoffs, controversy that started with the "Neutral Zone Trap," a zone defense which New Jersey executed to perfection. The trap was heavily criticized during the playoffs. Teams around the league, especially teams which were eliminated by the Devils in the Eastern Conference playoffs (Boston, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia), berated the trap as "bad hockey," due to the low-scoring, unexciting games it produced.

This criticism is just so much sour grapes. New Jersey lost their season series against the Bruins, the Penguins, and the Flyers, and they used the trap then. They won playoff games because they played better than the other team, and that is that. To Detroit's credit, the Red Wings never blamed the trap for their losses, and even attempted to adopt the trap as a defense in game four. The official EA Sports advice to detractors of the trap: get used to it. Now that the Devils have shown it to be an effective defense, a number of teams will begin using it next season.

The NBA Finals

In the Final That Nobody Wanted, the Houston Rockets won their second straight NBA title with a four-game sweep of the Orlando Magic. Oddly enough, nobody seemed to be rooting for Houston to win (except the citizens of Houston, of course). The Rockets had to continually stun their opponents by coming from behind during the playoffs, much to the disgust of fans. Even during the Western Conference finals, it seemed obvious that most people in the basketball establishment wanted to see San Antonio go to the Finals. Some anti-Rocket sentiment is understandable; Houston won it all last year, and it is the nature of Americans to cheer for the underdog, not the defending champ. Also, the Rockets aren't a terribly exciting team, and the Finals are all about excitement. Sending the flamboyant Spurs certainly would have made for higher-scoring, more exciting games, as well as better ratings. Instead, the Rockets came in with a low-scoring, defense-oriented game, and won in four straight. Does this sound familiar? Basically, people don't want to see the Rockets in the Finals for the same reason they don't want to see the Knicks in the Finals, or, for that matter, New Jersey in the Stanley Cup. Defense wins games, but it is boring. The Rockets, by virtue of their success and lack of excitement, are fast becoming the Buffalo Bills of the NBA - the team no one wants to see in the finals, but gets there anyway. The difference, of course, is that the Rockets win.

The Batter's Box

Anybody started going to baseball games yet? Apparently not - attendance is down almost 25 percent from last year. Too bad, too, because this is the most upside-down season baseball has seen in a while. Check out the AL East, for instance. New York, Baltimore, and Toronto, all of whom improved their rosters over the winter, and all of whom looked to be playoff contenders, are languishing several games below .500, behind the surprising Red Sox, who continue to add over-the-hill, injury-prone veterans to their roster, and the Tigers, who a month ago were so convinced they were non-contenders that they began shopping around top players like closer Mike Henneman. Weird.

How about the AL West? The division that didn't have a team above .500 for most of last season doesn't have a team below .500 right now, and has once again become the most feared division in baseball. Can you imagine the Mariners in the playoffs? Really weird. Who would have thought that in one season you could look at the standings and see divisions led by Cleveland, the Chicago Cubs, and Colorado?

Listen up, all you angry young fans, it's time to start watching baseball again. Go to one game. If you still want to send your message to the owners and players, and refuse to attend a game, fine. But find a television and watch. You may not get a season like this anytime soon.

Sports Potpourri

In case you missed it, MIT played host to the National Wheelchair and Amputee Championships last week. The nation's top disabled athletes spent the week attempting to qualify for the 1996 Paralympics in such events as archery, fencing, tennis, and weightlifting. MIT also hosted the first round of the Bay State Games; if you missed those, the finals in most sports will be held here July 1214. The national men's soccer team won the U.S. Cup last weekend, after a 0-0 tie with Colombia. The finest moment for the U.S., though, was a 4-0 pasting of Mexico the week before, that boosted the team's confidence, and probably (and you heard it here first) earned interim coach Steve Sampson a permanent head coaching job. The powers that be claim to still be searching for a foreign coach with international experience, but letting Sampson go at this point would be a very poor move. On the subject of soccer, Major League Soccer, the American professional soccer league due to start next year, is well on its way to success after signing Alexi Lalas. Lalas, the only American ever to play in the highly regarded Italian Premiere League, is the latest U.S. player to sign. Look for MLS to rise above the gloom-and-doom predictions of its critics and become the next major sport in the U.S.

Trivia Question

Since it's summer, and you've got a month to answer, and this is the only thing in the sports section, we'll give you two questions today. Don't pinch yourself; you're not dreaming. 1.) The Cleveland Indians are currently the best team in baseball, and are on pace to win upwards of 95 games. What was the last year the Tribe won the World Series? 2.) This was New Jersey's first appearance in a Stanley Cup Final. What was the last team to win the Stanley Cup in its first appearance? Send your answers to either or both questions, along with your comments, to easports@the-tech. Answer to last month's question: The last baseball strike was a two-day work stoppage in 1985, and the Kansas City Royals won the World Series that year. Congratulations to Brian Greenblatt '96, Tim Piwowar '97, and Stephen Vetere '97, who supplied the correct answer. Vetere, Matt Congo '97, and Joel Sokol Galso supplied the year of the last major strike, 1981.