Tuesday, January 31, 2012

NHL Overtime Game Conspiracy - Update


Back in the first month of the NHL season, I noticed that games played between teams from different conferences had a much larger chance of going to overtime. It was still early days though, and the small sample size (94 games) had something to do with those surprising results (50% of non-conference games went to OT compared to only 15% of matches between conference foes). Now that we are at the all-star break and more than half the season is in the books, I thought it would be a good time to update the results.

Out of 735 total games played through January 25th, 164 (22.3%) have gone to extra time. Of the 554 conference tilts, 112 (20.2%) went beyond regulation while games featuring East vs West have an OT rate of 52/181 (28.7%). The numbers have obviously regressed towards the mean, which is what is bound to happen when you move from a small sample size to a larger one, particularly when the initial results are so skewed. Although there is a noticeable difference between the two, it is still not enough to cry foul. More data is required to prove something meaningful.

I looked at the results 2010-11 and found them to be quite similar. Including last season's 1230 games along with games so far this season, a more statistically significant result emerges:
       Total Intra Inter
Games  1965  1514   451
OT 461 334 127
% 23.5 22.1 28.2
The difference between 22.1 and 28.2 may not seem like a lot, but the it is actually 27.6% (that's 28.2/22.1). In other words, inter-conference games are 27.6% more likely to result in 3 points, a statistic worth considering when gambling in Las Vegas, if you could bet on this sort of thing.

Still, a season and a half is not much at all, so I continued to include prior seasons, planning to go back until 2005-06, which is when the shootout was instituted. However, from that season until 2007-08, clubs played only 10 non-conference games compared to 18 in later years. I decided to ignore these seasons as the difference in scheduling might bias the outcome. (As an aside, they didn't change the results much, mainly because there were so few non-conference games).

I was therefore left with 3.5 seasons to analyze. When I add 08-09 and 09-10 to the data, the theory vanishes, as you can see in the following table:
       Total Intra Inter
Games  4425  3434   991
OT 1044 798 246
% 23.6 23.2 24.8
So is the recent increase merely statistical noise or a changing trend? Let's look at the data by year. The following shows the percentage of overtime games by season.
Season  Total Intra Inter
11-12   22.3% 20.2% 28.7%
10-11 24.1% 23.1% 27.8%
09-10 24.5% 24.6% 24.1%
08-09 22.9% 23.8% 20.0%
As you can see, overtime is becoming more likely in non-conference games every season, while the other numbers bounce around a bit with no discernible pattern.

So do we have a conspiracy? Are teams playing to guarantee each the single point when East faces West? Doubtful. If they were, I think we'd see far more overtime games in these cases. As I said before, I think that clubs might change their late-game strategy when playing a close non-conference game, since allowing their opponent an extra point is not harmful in the conference playoff race.

Then again, we saw the opposite in 08-09. Naturally, such a limited data set makes any truly meaningful conclusion difficult; but the trend bears watching. I'll be paying close attention to the end of game action when I am watching the Leafs in Alberta next month, just to see if there is any noticeable change in strategy.

Best,

Sean

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Another Asia League Ice Hockey Doubleheader - January 28, 2012


As I mentioned when I last went to see some Asia League Ice Hockey, the circuit now comprises teams from Japan, Korea, and China. The Chinese entry has managed but a single overtime loss in 24 contests so they are not worth watching, but the two Korean squads are competitive, with Anyang Halla sitting second in the 7-team league, just behind the Oji Eagles. With these two teams facing off in Tokyo in the early game of a doubleheader and the other Korean club, High 1, taking on the Nippon Paper Cranes in the nightcap, I thought it a good time as any to revisit the DyDo Drinco Ice Arena to see just how good Korean hockey is.

DyDo Drinco Ice Arena


Located in western Tokyo, this arena used to be home to the Seibu Prince Rabbits who folded two seasons back. Since then, the arena is mostly used as a local skating rink as well as for games featuring Tokyo universities. It is right next to Higashi Fushimi station (above) on the Seibu Shinjuku line and takes just 2o minutes from Shinjuku, although you have to transfer from the rapid to the local train two stops before. It was originally known as the Higashi Fushimi Ice Arena before DyDo (a soft drinks concern) bought the naming rights in 2006.


With a capacity of 3,500, the rink is quite a bit nicer than the one used in Yokohama, but there is still little else to write about. You can walk around the concourse but it does get crowded near the west side where the path becomes very narrow. When I saw a game here nearly 15 years ago, the boards were partially made of plexiglass so you could see through them onto the ice, a rather unique touch. Since then though, there have been renovations and the rink is much like any other small hockey venue.


There is a limited concession offering noodles, beef buns, and a few other rather tasteless looking morsels. I would recommend buying your food at one of the convenience stores near the station. There is also a McDonalds right across the street from the arena if you are particularly hard up for choices.


Tickets for the doubleheader were 4,000 yen for the reserved seats along the sidelines (the red box seats in the picture above) and 3,000 yen for the unreserved benches next to the glass. There's quite a bit of distance between the bench and the glass, so some people spent the game standing right next to the glass taking pictures, which didn't seem to bother anyone.


The south side corners were reserved for the cheering sections, above is the small group supporting Anyang Halla. Unfortunately, they didn't have much to cheer for.

Game 1 - Anyang Halla 0 vs Oji Eagles 4


This one was over early as Oji's Marc Cavosie (above) scored just a minute in, and he assisted on a Shuhei Kuji goal two minutes after that. A third tally from Sho Sato at the 8-minute mark and the rout was on. Chris Harrington added a 4th in the middle frame to close out the scoring. Halla never really threatened and were outshot 47-23 on the afternoon, despite being gifted with 7 consecutive power plays. With the win, Oji clinched a playoff spot.

Perhaps the highlight of the game was a fight late in the third period. I didn't see what precipitated the brawl, but several players were involved, including Yusuke Kon and Yoon- Hwan Kim trying in vain to pummel each other. Woo-Young Kim (Halla had 8 Kim's in total) then tried a flying arm tackle, only to miss badly and fall to the ice. For his troubles, W.Y. Kim was given 5 minutes for cross-checking and a game misconduct. Kon and the other Kim were given double minors and misconducts, which they were forced to serve out in the penalty box despite there being just 7 minutes left in the game.

One of the names I was suprised to see on the Anyang Halla roster was Ric Jackman (below), who spent parts of 5 seasons in the NHL and won the Stanley Cup as a member of the Anaheim Ducks in 2007. He was on the ice for all 4 Oji goals and seemed to be a bit out of sorts throughout the game, as did most of his team.


After an hour break, in which fans could leave the rink to warm up (there was no heating inside so people ran over to McDonalds or the nearby grocery store to escape the chill), the second game was on tap, with fourth-place Nippon Paper Cranes taking on High 1, who ranked 5th. It was a critical battle for the final playoff spot, and turned out to be a much better game than the one between the top two squads.

Game 2 - High 1 3 vs Nippon Paper Cranes 4 (SO)

The High 1 team is sponsored by a ski resort in Korea and has no nickname. There were 3 Japanese players on the team, including starting goalie Mitsuaki Inoue, shown below making a pad save.


High 1 opened the scoring 9 minutes into the first period when Hyung-Joon Kim (one of 7 Kim's on the team) blasted a shot that Cranes' keeper Hisashi Ishikawa mishandled with his trapper. The Korean club added to their lead five minutes later when Michael Swift sent Oren Eizenman in on a shorthanded breakaway, which he deftly converted with a top shelf shot.


The second period saw another shorthanded goal for High 1, this time Swift scoring on a wicked wrister from the slot, with Eizenman picking up the assist. It looked like another rout, but shortly after, High 1 picked up a delay of game penalty to go down 2 men, and the Cranes converted the 5-on-3 with Hideyuki Osawa scoring from the point (that's the Cranes celebrating below).


Near the midway point of the period, High 1 had a power play when two of their players collided, allowing the Cranes to break out. Shinya Yanadori finished off a nice passing play to make it 3-2. For those counting, that was 3 shorthanded goals in the game.

Momentum had clearly shifted, and the Cranes pressed for the equalizer, finally capitalizing with just 7 seconds left in the period. After a strong and persistent forecheck, the puck came to captain Daisuke Obara open in the slot and he buried a slap shot behind Inoue to send us to the final frame tied at 3.

The third period was back and forth, but neither team scored, so it was on to a 5-minute overtime period, which decided nothing, although the Cranes had the better of the play, only to be stymied by Inoue several times.

Lots of threes on the scoreboard.

This brought on the shootout, or Game Winning Shots (GWS) as it is called in this league. The Cranes went first and missed. Swift shot first for High 1 and beat Ishizaki with a snap shot (below).


John Hecimovic then shot for the Cranes and scored on a great deke, lifting the puck up and over Inoue (below).


You might have noticed that both goalies were defending the same net. Unlike the NHL, the ALIH only uses one of the two goals during the GWS, which is bad news for fans at the other end.

Anyway, the next 3 shooters all failed and so the shootout was tied at 1. This is where things became confusing. The referees didn't seem to really understand the rules and it took a few minutes to get things straightened out. The teams now reversed the order of shooting, with High 1 going first, and the first team to win a round would win the game, just like in the NHL.

Yu-Won Lee missed the fourth attempt for High 1 (Yu-Lost!) and Masahito Nishiwaki had a chance to finally end things. He made no mistake, beating Inoue low to the stick side. Cranes win! Japan's hockey honour is saved! OK, this really wasn't about nationalism as there were Japanese players on the Korean club, but it was a very good game between two determined teams. In fact, it was one of the better sporting events I've seen in my time in Japan, and certainly more entertaining than many of the interminable baseball games I've endured over the years. It'll be interesting to see which of these teams makes it into the playoffs. High 1 has the advantage with 3 games left against the Chinese team with just a month left in the season.

Notes

Both the Korean and Japanese national anthems were played before each game. There was no booing.

The scoreboard displayed "offside" or "icing" whenever either was called on the ice, but the scoreboard operator didn't seem to know the rules that well, making mistakes when there were whistles for other reasons, such as the referee losing sight of the puck.

The teams switched dance partners on Sunday and again High 1 blew a 3-0 lead, losing 4-3 in overtime to the Eagles, while the Cranes thumped Halla 5-2.

For those interested, the Japanese and Korean national teams will play each other on March 31 and April 1 at the same rink. When I find more information, I will add it here.

Next Up

Just over a week until my trip to LA and the Prairies, but before that I'll watch some Top League Rugby, which finishes its regular season next weekend. I won't bother with a recap here, but from February 8th I'll be updating daily, so check back then.

Best,

Sean

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Fours Are Wild Road Trip


I like to post road trip ideas here even when I'm not taking them as it keeps the creative juices flowing. While browsing the NCAA Baseball home page, I noticed that the Final Four and Frozen Four were being held one week after the other, with both taking place in the southeast; New Orleans is hosting the hoops on March 31 and April 2, while Tampa showcases the hockey on April 5 and 7. At the same time, the newly-named Miami Marlins open their ballpark on 4/4. Fours everywhere! A bit of searching to find some other games in between and we have the following:

Sat Mar 31   NCAA Final Four at New Orleans
Sun Apr  1   Arkansas at LSU (NCAA Baseball at Baton Rouge)
Mon Apr  2   NCAA Basketball Championship Game at New Orleans
Tue Apr  3   Winnipeg Jets at Florida Panthers or Florida Gulf Coast at Florida State (NCAA Baseball at Tallahassee)
Wed Apr  4   St. Louis Cardinals at Miami Marlins (Stadium Opener)
Thu Apr  5   NCAA Frozen Four at Tampa
Fri Apr  6   New York Yankees at Tampa Bay Rays (Home Opener)
Sat Apr  7   NCAA Frozen Four Final at Tampa

It would be a long drive (850 miles) from New Orleans to Sunrise to see the Panthers, so Tallahassee might be a more reasonable stop. In reality though, you'd probably want to reserve that day for recovering from the post-game party that is sure to rock Bourbon Street.

Best,

Sean

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Akita Northern Happinets 99 at Chiba Jets 78 - January 21, 2012




The last bj League game I attended was in February 2011 when I watched the Tokyo Apache take on the Osaka Evessa. Two weeks later saw the terrible catastrophe that wreaked death and destruction in the Tohoku area, and which eventually resulted in the Apache folding tents and disappearing for the remainder of the season. The owners chose to sit out this season as well, and when it was announced that they weren't planning to restart operations next year either, I realized that I would need to look elsewhere for basketball.

Fortunately, the bj League had expanded to two nearby locations, with Chiba and Yokohama both starting new franchises for 2011-12. The league is notorious for using multiple arenas for each team during the season, and it took me several weeks to find a game that I could attend on a weekend. It turned out to be in Yachiyo, a small town in Chiba, where the Chiba Jets would host the Akita Northern Happinets. Get it?! Like Happiness but with -nets instead of -ness. 'Cause they play basketball! Turns out this wacky nickname would be the highlight of the day.

Yachiyo Municipal Gymnasium

Tradition dictates that I put a brief review of the venue in this post, but like most bj League arenas, this is just a local gym co-opted for a professional basketball game. Located near Yachiyo-chuo station on the rarely-used (by me at least) Toyo Rapid Railway, the gym is actually fairly easy to get to from central Tokyo, as some trains on the Tozai subway line go straight onto the Toyo Rapid Railway. Leaving the station and embarking on a 10-minute walk through a bit of Japanese suburbia brings you to a dull, grey, featureless building.


There are three types of seats here, with the "upper" level consisting of four rows of benches for 2,000 yen, while floor level seats are 3,000, unless you want to first class treatment, which sets you back 7,500 for a courtside view. As you can see below, the 3,000 seats are pushed well back from the court, so take the 2nd floor seats to get a better angle on the action.


There are a few food options, with coconut curry looking the best. However, I'd recommend stopping by the Mos Burger near the station on the way to or from the game. One of Japan's best fast food restaurants, try the unique Kalbi Yakiniku Burger with strips of sauced beef served between rice patties. Messy but tasty and relatively healthy too.


I sat in the second row of the upper deck and had part of my view blocked by a pole that was used for volleyball nets or some other purpose. It wasn't a significant problem, but shows just how the league is forced to use facilities that aren't well-suited to the game of basketball.


The other thing that was rather annoying was the constant noise throughout the afternoon. They have an emcee who leads the crowd through pre-game cheering practice and then screams out during every possession of the game, either "Go Jets" on offense or "D-Fence!" when Akita had the ball. Coupled with the ridiculously loud horn that signaled every substitution or timeout and this was two hours of auditory overload. Nothing new though, if you have read previous reviews of my bj League trips, you will know that each venue tries very hard to be the loudest in the league.

The Jets have a rather bland nickname, particularly by Japanese standards, but they do go cutesy when it comes to the mascot, Jumbo, a pink elephant. I trust that the club doesn't know the fairly obscure meaning associated with the term.


The Game

The teams were playing the second of their weekend doubleheader, with Akita winning handily the day before to take the lead in the East while Chiba languished down in 8th in the 10-team conference. It didn't take long for the Happinets to pick up where they left off, sinking their first two three-pointers on their way to an 11-1 lead. Although Chiba fought back, they were unable to get close as the Happinets were clearly the better team, carving up the Jets defense as Mychal Kearse demonstrates below.


The Happinets had a 25-17 lead after one and won the second quarter by another 8 points to take a 45-29 stranglehold by the half. It was not a pretty game, and Jets' coach Eric Gardow was clearly upset with his charges (that's him pointing in the bottom right below as Takaki Ishida completes a layup).


Chiba started the second half on a 7-0 run and I thought we might have a game, but the Happinets had different ideas, stifling the Jets' attack and maintaining their double-digit cushion with ease.

Midway through the third quarter, the refs blew a call, nailing a Jet for a foul when the Akita player merely bobbled the ball. Gardow became apoplectic and continued to berate the officials until he was given a technical foul. Normally that would be enough, point taken (literally with the free throw) and all, but Gardow continued to run his mouth, following one ref up and down the court. Finally, with just over a minute left in the frame and the Jets down by 11, the ref sent Gardow packing with his second technical. The Jets promptly collasped, giving up 7 points to end the quarter down 69-51.

Maurice Hargrow topped all scorers with 23 points

I figured Gardow had seen enough of the garbage his team was serving and wanted to get home early, but in all seriousness, he needed to remain in charge because once he left, the team checked out. The fourth quarter was just garbage time, with teams trading baskets back and forth as Akita won 99-78 to sweep the weekend set.


There were two key stats that summarize the Akita advantage. They went 16/27 on three-pointers, while committing only 9 turnovers to Chiba's 23. The Jets were simply outplayed; I felt like the Happinets played basketball within a system while the Chiba players weren't fully committed to each other, often choosing bad shots when a pass was the better option. Their perimeter defense was also rather weak, allowing far too many open looks from beyond the arc. The result was an embarrassing blowout, Chiba's 10th loss in 16 home games. Even then, they are only two games out of the playoffs, so if they can learn to play together and with some intensity on defense, they might still have a shot to sneak in to the postseason tourney. I'll let you all know how that turns out.

Notes


With just over a minute to go, Akita allowed Yu Yushimoto to play. Listed at 5'7", he certainly seemed much shorter, and it was fun to watch him guard the much taller Maurice Hargrow (above). Yushimoto did nail a three from the corner to round out the Akita attack.

Tokyo will have a new team from next season as the bj League continues its relentless expansion plans. If I'm still around, I'll pay them a visit. Until then, my next game in this league will be in Okinawa in March as the Golden Kings host the Evessa in a battle of the top Western teams.

Next up

Before that though, I'll be quite busy. Next week, the Asia League Ice Hockey returns to Tokyo for another weekend doubleheader with two Japanese teams taking on a couple of clubs from Korea and I'll stop by for one day.

The following weekend sees the final games of the 2011-12 Top League Rugby regular season and I'll visit Chichibunomiya for that as well. A few days later, I'm off to North America for a whole bunch of hockey and some basketball and even baseball! It will be a busy start to 2012, so please check back often for updates.

Best,

Sean

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Maple Leafs in the Winter Classic?


It has been rumoured for a couple of days that the 2013 Winter Classic, to happen a mere 352 days from now, will take place in Ann Arbor, Michigan and feature the Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings. The venue will be Michigan Stadium, usually home to the University of Michigan's football team. Still, the stadium was used for an outdoor hockey game between the Wolverines and Michigan State in 2010, a game which set the record for most spectators at a hockey game with over 104,000 fans braving the elements. Naturally, when the NHL comes to town, that record will be shattered; estimates are that they will be able to sell 115,000 tickets. Even then, I'm sure demand will far outstrip supply and I'd guess an average price in excess of $300 for this one. Time to start saving!

Doubtless this game will be the centerpiece of a trip to Canada around Christmas. I'll also catch NHL games in Boston, Carolina, and Buffalo, thus completing all 30 active rinks, and if things work out, a few NBA and NFL games as well. Obviously finalized schedules are months away from being released, but I'm already excited. I expect a number of my sports road tripping brethren will make the journey so it will be good fun for all.

Update: Unless of course, the morons who run the league decide to cancel the whole thing. Buh-bye NHL. Don't let the door hit you on the way out.

Next Up

I've decided to check out a bj League game in Chiba next week as it has been a month since I last saw a live sporting event. The following weekend sees the Asia Ice Hockey League offer a couple of weekend doubleheaders in Tokyo, and I might try to catch one day of action. One week after that is the final weekend of the Top League Rugby season and 4 of of the top 5 teams will be in action at the Chichibunomiya Stadium in central Tokyo, so I'll pay another visit to one of Tokyo's best sporting venues.

Shortly after that, I'm off to my 2012 Prairie trip which sees over two weeks watching hockey in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba, with two stops in Los Angeles on either end to keep warm. It's going to be a busy month, so check back often for updates.

Best,

Sean

Friday, January 6, 2012

Prairie Trip Planned - Leafs in Alberta and 2 Jets Games!


After a rather dull 2011 with only one extended sports roadie, I'm starting off 2012 with a 3-week jaunt back to Canada to catch the Leafs' two-game trip in Alberta as well as two Winnipeg Jet games as part of my effort to see all active NHL rinks. After this, I'll only have Boston and Carolina to take care of, which will be done next season.

Filling out the schedule will be a number of WHL tilts and even one day of Canadian college sport, something I have not seen since I graduated a couple of years ago. (Update: Found a Jr. B hockey game the same night and am debating about which to watch.)

Interestingly, it is cheaper to fly to LA first and then get a separate flight to Calgary, which also allows me to add some other games on both ends of the trip. There's an NBDL and NCAA basketball game on the way over, although I'm waiting until later to decide which NCAA game to see on the 9th, depending on how the teams are doing. Since the Pauley Pavilion is undergoing renovations, UCLA is playing at the LA Sports Arena for most of the season, so I'm leaning toward the USC game as I prefer to see teams in their usual surroundings. (Update: USC are terrible this year, so I'm going to see UCLA after all).

The NCAA baseball season starts in February as well, so I'm hoping to catch a few innings at Pepperdine before moving over to Staples Center to watch the T-Wolves and Clippers. There's also an NCAA golf tournament I'll try to see that morning. I had an indoor soccer league game in Anaheim on the schedule but the available flights were too late arriving so I decided to spend another day in Calgary and watch the WHL's Hitmen.

This trip has taken a while to plan, with many changes as new games were discovered, but the schedule below is more or less final:
Wed Feb 8   Tulsa 66ers at Los Angeles D-Fenders (NBDL) 7:00
Thu Feb 9 Stanford at UCLA (NCAA Basketball) 7:30
Sat Feb 11 Prince Albert Raiders at Lethbridge Hurricanes (WHL) 7:00
Sun Feb 12 Brandon Wheat Kings at Medicine Hat Tigers (WHL) 6:00
Tue Feb 14 Toronto Maple Leafs at Calgary Flames 7:00
Wed Feb 15 Toronto Maple Leafs at Edmonton Oilers 8:00
Thu Feb 16 Lloydminster Bobcats at Camrose Kodiaks (AJHL) 7:30
Fri Feb 17 Swift Current Broncos at Saskatoon Blades (WHL) 7:00
Sat Feb 18 Regina Cougars at Saskatchewan Huskies (CIAU Women's Basketball) 6:15
Sat Feb 18 Regina Cougars at Saskatchewan Huskies (CIAU Basketball) 8:00
Mon Feb 20 Moose Jaw Warriors at Swift Current Broncos (WHL) 2:00
Tue Feb 21 Philadelphia Flyers at Winnipeg Jets 6:00
Thu Feb 23 Tampa Bay Lightning at Winnipeg Jets 7:30
Fri Feb 24 Moose Jaw Warriors at Regina Pats (WHL) 7:00
Sat Feb 25 Swift Current Broncos at Moose Jaw Warriors (WHL) 7:00
Sun Feb 26 Kelowna Rockets at Calgary Hitmen (WHL) 4:00
Tue Feb 28 The Del Walker Match Play (NCAA Men's Golf) at Long Beach, CA 9:00
Tue Feb 28 USC Trojans at Pepperdine Waves (NCAA Baseball) 3:00
Tue Feb 28 Minnesota Timberwolves at Los Angeles Clippers 7:00
Wed Feb 29 Loyola Marymount Lions at Cal State Fullerton Titans (NCAA Baseball) 4:00
As usual, I will be updating the blog, so check back regularly during that time.

Best,

Sean

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Tour De France


I like to post on each destination I visit during a sports road trip, adding a bit on tourist attractions I found interesting, or just some general information on the area that might be useful for others. I spent the last two weeks of 2011 driving around France and although it wasn't a sports trip, I did see a few interesting sights that I've decided to list here as well as some info on driving in France that might be worth reading if you are planning your own road trip there.

Driving in France


If you are a visitor doing a road trip in Europe, you will probably need a rental car. Most cars available there come with a manual transmission, so if you don't know how to drive one, you'll need to pay more for an automatic. There are some good rental sites that concentrate on Europe, such as EuropCar, although I ended up using a specific American rental company for which I had a good discount code.


Generally speaking, it's best to avoid the toll roads between the major cities, as they are expensive and rather boring. Instead, try to take the smaller side roads, usually denoted with a D or N along with the road number. These take you through some beautiful country side and old towns that you will not see otherwise, and if you can, stop in at one of these places for a snack or lunch. Below is a restaurant we found in Riec-sur-Belon just east of Pont Aven that turned out to be surprisingly good and devoid of any tourists.


You can use mappy, a French road trip site, to determine how much tolls would be if you are more concerned about time than money, but be aware that French tolls are expensive; a 5-hour trip between Carcassonne and Nice cost nearly 40 euros.

Driving is on the right side, and I found French drivers to be better than I expected, although some tailgate without trying to pass. Speed limits are in km/h and are as high as 130 on the tollways, 110 on the smaller highways, and 90 for the most part otherwise. I saw few cops but there are plenty of speed cameras, so try to maintain a steady pace around the limit.

You'll need a map to plan your trip, but I never had trouble once on the road; signs are plentiful and easy to understand. The only minor problem I had was driving in the cities without a detailed map; these are old towns with small streets, many of them one-way, so it can take a while to get around and find your destination. These cities are where drivers are impatient and quick to honk if you don't know exactly where you are going, but that's no different than any big city in North America.

Street parking can be tough to find in bigger cities, but there are plenty of underground parking garages that are well-signed.

Overall, it was my first driving experience in Europe and very enjoyable, with no major problems to report. I'm looking forward to a return trip, this time with a few more sporting events.

Paris


I spent just two days in Paris before heading out on the road. I finally managed to visit the top of the Eiffel Tower and was fortunate to get a clear afternoon. Other than that I just recovered from the flight and enjoyed a couple of nice meals.


The road trip portion saw us visit a number of tourist towns that are well-known in Japan, where World Heritage sites are much more publicized. We started with a day in Mont St. Michel, then drove southwest to Pont Aven for two nights. After that was a trip to wine country in Bordeaux and St. Emilion, and then a night in Carcassonne, before the final four days in Nice, with side trips to Nimes and Monaco.

Mont St Michel


This is a town built on a rock by the seaside, with a church on top of it all. There are hotels inside the town, but we stayed about 2km away and drove over the causeway. In the summer, you can walk along the road, but when we were there it was cold and wet, so we drove the short distance and paid the 6 euro parking charge, one of the bigger ripoffs on the trip. The church is not particularly impressive in and of itself, but it is amazing that they built it in such an inaccessible place. Lots of tourist stores here make the town a bit kitschy but worth a day.


Pont Aven

Most famous as the home of Paul Gauguin before he moved to Tahiti, this is a sleepy town with few tourists in the off-season. The highlight is the Tremolo Chapel, which contains the Yellow Christ that Gaugin painted back in 1889; the canvas is now in the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo. The town has a river running through it which provides a number of picturesque photo opportunities.


Bordeaux

If you like wine, you will like Bordeaux. Surrounded by thousands of wineries, you could spend months here exploring, but we only had two days. The city is a tourist attraction in its own right with many historic buildings, but most of our time was spent learning about (i.e. drinking) wine.


Just 45 minutes east lies St. Emilion, a World Heritage site that also doubles as one of the many wine appellations in this area. The picture above is of a vineyard near St. Emilion on a foggy morning, while below is from the bell tower in the town later that day, with the fog still hanging around.


Canal Du Midi

Between Toulouse and Carcassonne runs the first stage of the Canal du Midi, a 320-year old waterway that is also a World Heritage Site. You can stop at any number of towns along the way to take some pictures.



There is a bike trail alongside much of the route, although it is better to use it in the summer.


Carcassonne


A fortified town originally from the 3rd century, Carcassonne is yet another World Heritage site. Inside the walls lies the Cite, with the rest of the town (Ville Basse) lying down below. Try to stay inside the city and walk down at night for some great views of the Cite lit up.




Nimes


If you've seen the movie Ronin, you've seen the main attraction in Nimes, the 2,000 year old Roman arena which is the best preserved coliseum in the world. It is still in use (bullfights are held there every year) and open for tours daily. A detailed audio guide is available and really adds some colour to the tour; well worth a stop if you have time.


Nice


We finished up with 4 days in Nice along the French Riviera. Not a whole lot to see here but most museums are free, including the Musee Massena above, but some beautiful sunsets and a great old movie theater allowed us to relax to end the vacation.


Monaco


Monaco is the second smallest nation in the world (only the Vatican City is smaller) and just 20 minutes from Nice by train. You don't need a passport to get into the country, but you do need one to get into the casino as locals are not allowed to gamble. The best race of the F1 calendar is held here and you can walk or drive around the course, which is just some city streets. A great place to spend a day and add another country to your list.


Summary

Overall, this was a great two weeks with fantastic food, wonderful weather, and spectacular scenery. Perhaps the biggest problem we encountered is the amount of dog shit on sidewalks in every city. Paris, Bordeaux, Nice - it doesn't matter where you are, you can't get caught admiring the architecture, lest you step into a stinking pile of canine crap. It was the biggest blight in an otherwise beautiful country, but don't let that dissuade you from taking a trip there. It is really a magnificent destination for more than just sports.

Best,

Sean

Monday, January 2, 2012

NFL Playoff Picture - Week 17


The season has ended and its time for the playoffs. Four teams in the NFC were playoff seeds after week 4 and the final seedings first appeared in week 14. In the AFC, three clubs maintained their playoff position from week 4, with week 13 seeing the final seeding for the first time. Denver took the AFC West based on a better record against common opponents (5-4, while Oakland and San Diego went 4-5).
NFC
Week 4 Week 10 Week 11 Week 12 Week 13 Week 14 Week 15 Week 16 Week 17
1. GB (4-0) GB (9-0) GB (10-0) GB (11-0) GB (12-0) GB (13-0) GB (13-1) GB (14-1) GB (15-1)
2. Was (3-1) SF (8-1) SF (9-1) SF (9-2) SF (10-2) SF (10-3) SF (11-3) SF (12-3) SF (13-3)
3. SF (3-1) NO (6-3) NO (7-3) NO (8-3) NO (9-3) NO (10-3) NO (11-3) NO (12-3) NO (13-3)
4. TB (3-1) NYG (6-3) Dal (6-4) Dal (7-4) Dal (7-5) NYG (7-6) Dal (8-6) NYG (8-7) NYG (9-7)
5. Det (4-0) Det (6-3) Det (7-3) Chi (7-4) Chi (7-5) Atl (8-5) Atl (9-5) Det (10-5) Atl (10-6)
6. NYG (3-1) Chi (6-3) Chi (7-3) Atl (7-4) Atl (7-5) Det (8-5) Det (9-5) Atl (9-6) Det (10-6)

AFC
Week 4 Week 10 Week 11 Week 12 Week 13 Week 14 Week 15 Week 16 Week 17
1. Hou (3-1) Hou (6-3) NE (7-3) Hou (8-3) NE (9-3) Hou (10-3) NE (11-3) NE (12-3) NE (13-3)
2. Buf (3-1) NE (6-3) Hou (7-3) NE (8-3) Bal (9-3) Bal (10-3) Bal (10-4) Bal (11-4) Bal (12-4)
3. Bal (3-1) Bal (6-3) Bal (7-3) Bal (8-3) Hou (9-3) NE (10-3) Hou (10-4) Hou (10-5) Hou (10-6)
4. SD (3-1) Oak (5-4) Oak (6-4) Oak (7-4) Den (7-5) Den (8-5) Den (8-6) Den (8-7) Den (8-8)
5. Ten (3-1) Cin (6-3) Pit (7-3) Pit (8-3) Pit (9-3) Pit (10-3) Pit (10-4) Pit (11-4) Pit (12-4)
6. NE (3-1) Pit (6-3) Cin (6-4) Cin (7-4) Cin (7-5) NYJ (8-5) NYJ (8-6) Cin (9-6) Cin (9-7)
Playoff predictions:

Wild Card
Atl and NO, Pit and Hou

Conference
GB and NO, NE and Bal

Update: Did not expect the Giants to make it this far. Home teams going 7-1 is really surprising to me though. Never have the home teams gone 8-0 in the first 8 games in the wild card era. The Giants made sure that stat did not change this year.

Championship
GB and Bal

Super Bowl
Hard to pick against the Packers, looks like a budding dynasty in Green Bay.
Baltimore over SF, going with the Harbowl theory rather than the Giants are repeating 2008 theory, which would see them playing the Pats. Regardless, high hopes for conference championship games. Not disappointed in either game, good hard-nosed football.

Picking NE in a hope that my crappy picks continue, don't want to see another Boston championship.

Best,

Sean

Sunday, January 1, 2012

2012 Schedule


DateSportVenueResultAttendance/Time
Sat, Jan 21bj LeagueYachiyo City Gymnasium, Yachiyo, JapanAkita Happinets 99 at Chiba Jets 781,111
Sat, Jan 28Asia Ice Hockey LeagueDyDo Drinco Ice Arena, Tokyo, JapanAnyang Halla 0 vs Oji Eagles 41,106
Sat, Jan 28Asia Ice Hockey LeagueDyDo Drinco Ice Arena, Tokyo, JapanHigh 1 3 vs Nippon Paper Cranes 4 (SO)1,340
Sun, Feb 5Japan Rugby Top LeagueChichibunomiya Rugby Stadium, Tokyo, JapanKobelco Steelers 28 at Suntory Sungoliath 3210,944
Sun, Feb 5Japan Rugby Top LeagueChichibunomiya Rugby Stadium, Tokyo, JapanPanasonic Wild Knights 25 at Toshiba Brave Lupus 5913,017
Wed, Feb 8NBA D-LeagueToyota Sports Center, El Segundo, CATulsa 66ers 98 at Los Angeles D-Fenders 110250
Thu, Feb 9NCAA BasketballLos Angeles Sports Arena, Los Angeles, CAStanford Cardinal 61 at UCLA Bruins 725,207
Sat, Feb 11WHLENMAX Centre, Lethbridge, ABPrince Albert Raiders 1 at Lethbridge Hurricanes 43,227
Sun, Feb 12WHLMedicine Hat Arena, Medicine Hat, ABBrandon Wheat Kings 2 at Medicine Hat Tigers 44,006
Tue, Feb 14NHLScotiabank Saddledome, Calgary, ABToronto Maple Leafs 1 at Calgary Flames 519,289
Wed, Feb 15NHLRexall Place, Edmonton, ABToronto Maple Leafs 4 at Edmonton Oilers 3 (OT)16,839
Thu, Feb 16AJHLEdgeworth Centre, Camrose, ABLloydminster Bobcats 2 at Camrose Kodiaks 41,608
Fri, Feb 17WHLCredit Union Centre, Saskatoon, SKSwift Current Broncos 3 at Saskatoon Blades 75,350
Sat, Feb 18CIS Women's BasketballPhysical Activity Complex, Saskatoon, SKRegina Cougars 83 at Saskatchewan Huskies 721,177
Sat, Feb 18CIS BasketballPhysical Activity Complex, Saskatoon, SKRegina Cougars 70 at Saskatchewan Huskies 1101,608
Sun, Feb 19SJHLWest Central Events Centre, Kindersley, SK Battlefords North Stars 6 at Kindersley Klippers 2713
Mon, Feb 20WHLCredit Union iPlex, Swift Current, SK Moose Jaw Warriors 4 at Swift Current Broncos 5 (SO)2,552
Tue, Feb 21NHLMTS Centre, Winnipeg, MBPhiladelphia Flyers 5 at Winnipeg Jets 4 (OT)15,004
Thu, Feb 23NHLMTS Centre, Winnipeg, MBTampa Bay Lightning 3 at Winnipeg Jets 415,004
Fri, Feb 24WHLBrandt Centre, Regina, SKMoose Jaw Warriors 2 at Regina Pats 85,498
Sat, Feb 25WHLMosaic Place, Moose Jaw, SKSwift Current Broncos 2 at Moose Jaw Warriors 54,050
Sun, Feb 26WHLScotiabank Saddledome, Calgary, ABKelowna Rockets 1 at Calgary Hitmen 29,519
Tue, Feb 28NCAA BaseballEddy D. Field Stadium, Malibu, CAUSC Trojans 2 at Pepperdine Waves 7203
Tue, Feb 28NBAStaples Center, Los Angeles, CAMinnesota Timberwolves 109 at Los Angeles Clippers 9719,243
Wed, Feb 29NCAA BaseballGoodwin Field, Fullerton, CALoyola Marymount Lions 2 at Cal State Fullerton Titans 61,143
Sun, Mar 18Eastern LeagueYomiuri Giants Stadium, Kanagawa, JapanYokohama DeNA BayStars 6 at Yomiuri Giants 31,117
Sun, Mar 25bj LeagueNaha City Gymnasium, Okinawa, JapanOsaka Evessa 75 at Ryukyu Golden Kings 703,067
Wed, Mar 28American LeagueTokyo Dome, Tokyo, JapanSeattle Mariners 3 at Oakland Athletics 1 (11)44,227
Sun, Apr 1Pacific LeagueKleenex Miyagi Stadium, Sendai, JapanChiba Lotte Marines 4 at Rakuten Golden Eagles 218,576
Sun, Apr 1Kirin Challenge CupYurtec Stadium, Sendai, JapanUSWNT 1 at Nadeshiko Japan 115,159
Thu, Apr 5Pacific LeagueSapporo Dome, Sapporo, JapanOrix Buffaloes 1 at Nippon Ham Fighters 315,041
Sat, Apr 7J.LeagueSapporo Dome, Sapporo, JapanKashiwa Reysol 2 at Sapporo Consadole 014,023
Tue, Apr 10Pacific LeagueYahoo Dome, Fukuoka, JapanNippon Ham Fighters 1 at Fukuoka Softbank Hawks 327,466
Tue, Apr 17AFC Champions LeagueAjinomoto Stadium, Tokyo, JapanBeijing Guoan 0 at FC Tokyo 39,537
Wed, Apr 18AFC Champions LeagueMizuho Athletic Stadium, Nagoya, JapanTianjin Teda 0 at Nagoya Grampus 06,006
Thu, Apr 19Central LeagueNagoya Dome, Nagoya, JapanYomiuri Giants 1 at Chunichi Dragons 427,800
Fri, Apr 20Western LeagueNagoya Baseball Stadium, Nagoya JapanFukuoka Softbank Hawks 2 at Chunichi Dragons 1152
Tue, May 8AFC CupBishan Stadium, SingaporeChonburi 2 at Home United 11,393
Fri, May 18MLB InterleagueRogers Centre, Toronto, ONNew York Mets 5 at Toronto Blue Jays 1426,712
Sat, May 19MLB InterleagueRogers Centre, Toronto, ONNew York Mets 0 at Toronto Blue Jays 234,962
Sat, May 19International LeagueCoca-Cola Field, Buffalo,
NY
Indianapolis Indians 6 at Buffalo Bisons 117,005
Sun, May 20MLB InterleagueRogers Centre, Toronto, ONNew York Mets 6 at Toronto Blue Jays 541,867
Mon, May 21AHL Western Conference Final, Game 3Ricoh Coliseum, Toronto, ONOklahoma City Barons 3 at Toronto Marlies 57,327
Wed, May 30Southeast Asia Swimming Championships, Water PoloToa Payoh Swimming Complex, SingaporeIndonesia (W) 13, Thailand (W) 8; Singapore (W) 17, Malaysia (W) 1; Thailand (M) 11, Malaysia (M) 9~50
Fri, Jun 8MLB InterleagueTurner Field, Atlanta, GAToronto Blue Jays 3 at Atlanta Braves 4 (10)42,488
Sat, Jun 9MLB InterleagueTurner Field, Atlanta, GAToronto Blue Jays 2 at Atlanta Braves 532,819
Sun, Jun 10MLB InterleagueTurner Field, Atlanta, GAToronto Blue Jays 12 at Atlanta Braves 420,222
Mon, Jun 11Southern LeagueBaseball Grounds of Jacksonville, Jacksonville, FLJackson Generals 8 at Jacksonville Suns 03,245
Tue, Jun 12Florida State LeagueSpace Coast Stadium, Viera, FLDaytona Cubs 8 at Brevard County Manatees 3883
Wed, Jun 13Florida State LeagueJoker Marchant Stadium, Lakeland, FLDunedin Blue Jays 0 at Lakeland Flying Tigers 1667
Thu, Jun 14MLB InterleagueTropicana Field, St. Petersburg, FLNew York Mets 9 at Tampa Bay Rays 621,947
Thu, Jun 14Florida State LeagueBright House Field, Clearwater, FLTampa Yankees 7 at Clearwater Threshers 102,008
Fri, Jun 15MLB InterleagueTropicana Field, St. Petersburg, FLMiami Marlins 0 at Tampa Bay Rays 1118,369
Sat, Jun 16MLB InterleagueTropicana Field, St. Petersburg, FLMiami Marlins 4 at Tampa Bay Rays 3 (15)22,332
Mon, Jun 18Florida State LeagueMcKechnie Field, Bradenton, FLSt. Luice Mets 5 at Bradenton Marauders 65,126
Tue, Jun 19Florida State LeagueCharlotte Sports Park, Port Charlotte, FLPalm Beach Cardinals 6 at Charlotte Stone Crabs 81,224
Wed, Jun 20Florida State LeagueRoger Dean Stadium, Jupiter, FLFort Myers Miracle 7 at Jupiter Hammerheads 31,493
Thu, Jun 21NBA Finals, Game 5American Airlines Arena, Miami, FLOklahoma City Thunder 106 at Miami Heat 12120,003
Fri, Jun 22MLB InterleagueMarlins Ballpark, Miami, FL Toronto Blue Jays 12 at Miami Marlins 522,387
Sat, Jun 23MLB InterleagueMarlins Ballpark, Miami, FL Toronto Blue Jays 7 at Miami Marlins 124,448
Sun, Jun 24MLB InterleagueMarlins Ballpark, Miami, FL Toronto Blue Jays 0 at Miami Marlins 927,888
Mon, Jun 25Florida State LeagueRoger Dean Stadium, Jupiter, FLClearwater Threshers 7 at Palm Beach Cardinals 5424
Tue, Jun 26Florida State LeagueDigital Domain Park, St. Lucie, FLDaytona Cubs 3 at St. Lucie Mets 4 (12)1,686
Tue, Jun 26Florida State League, Game 1 DHHammond Stadium, Fort Myers, FLTampa Yankees 6 at Fort Myers Miracle 7 (8)
Tue, Jun 26Florida State League, Game 2, DHHammond Stadium, Fort Myers, FLTampa Yankees 6 at Fort Myers Miracle 51,009
Wed, Jun 27Florida State LeagueFlorida Auto Exchange Stadium, Dunedin, FLBradenton Marauders 5 at Dunedin Blue Jays 3715
Thu, Jun 28Florida State LeagueGeorge M. Steinbrenner Field, Tampa, FLBrevard County Manatees 1 at Tampa Yankees 71,085
Fri, Jun 29Florida State LeagueJackie Robinson Ballpark, Daytona Beach, FLDunedin Blue Jays 11 at Daytona Cubs 103,221
Sat, Jun 30National LeagueTurner Field, Atlanta, GAWashington Nationals 5 at Atlanta Braves 726,491
Mon, Jul 2American LeagueRogers Centre, Toronto, ONKansas City Royals 11 at Toronto Blue Jays 317,127
Tue, Jul 3American LeagueRogers Centre, Toronto, ONKansas City Royals 3 at Toronto Blue Jays 615,516
Sat, Jul 7CFLRogers Centre, Toronto, ONCalgary Stampeders 36 at Toronto Argonauts 3920,682
Sun, Jul 8Indy CarExhibiton Place, Toronto, ONResults20,000
Sun, Aug 19V-LeagueThong Nhat Stadium, Ho Chi Minh City, VietnamHa Noi T&T 0 at Saigon Xuan Thanh 025,000
Sat, Sep 1Malaysia CupJalan Besar Stadium, SingaporeJohor FA 0 at Lions XII 14,832
Sun, Sep 16S LeagueToa Payoh Stadium, SingaporeAlbirex Niigata 0 at Balestier Khalsa 1578
Fri, Sep 21Formula 1 PracticeMarina Bay Circuit, SingaporePractice1/Practice 2~25,000
Sun, Sep 23Formula 1Marina Bay Circuit, SingaporeResults~80,000
Sun, Sep 30ICC World Twenty20, Super 8sR. Premadasa Stadium, Colombo, Sri LankaSouth Africa 146/5 vs Australia 147/2~24,000
Sun, Sep 30ICC World Twenty20, Super 8sR. Premadasa Stadium, Colombo, Sri LankaPakistan 128 vs India 129/234,999
Tue, Oct 2ICC World Twenty20, Super 8sR. Premadasa Stadium, Colombo, Sri LankaPakistan 149/6 vs Australia 117/7~12,000
Sun, Oct 7Formula 1Suzuka Circuit, Mie, JapanResults~120,000
Fri, Nov 2Asia Rugby Sevens World Cup QualifyingSingapore Cricket Club, SingaporeResults~500
Sat, Nov 3Asia Rugby Sevens World Cup QualifyingSingapore Cricket Club, SingaporeResults~7,000
Sun, Nov 4Singapore Rugby SevensSingapore Cricket Club, SingaporeResults~5,000
Sat, Nov 10Singapore Open, 3rd RoundSentosa Golf Club, SingaporeResults8,000
Sun, Nov 11Singapore Open, 4th RoundSentosa Golf Club, SingaporeResults12,000
Sun, Nov 18Philippine Basketball AssociationSmart Araneta Coliseum, Manila, PhilippinesPetron Blaze Boosters 110 vs Globalport Batang Pier 81~9,000
Sun, Nov 25Clash of ContinentsSingapore Indoor Stadium, SingaporeResults7,614
Sat, Dec 22Dutch EredivisieKyocera Stadion, Den Haag, NetherlandsNEC Nijmegen 0 at ADO Den Haag 211,000
Fri, Dec 28EuroLeague Top 16Palau Blaugrana, Barcelona, SpainFenerbahce Ulker Istanbul 78 at FC Barcelona Regal 1004,693