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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

A Grip on Sports: The NHL season finally melts away tonight and it may just include a dubious accomplishment

A GRIP ON SPORTS • Is there a wider gap in how each day six-months apart presents themselves than the one between June and December? Not likely. It all starts early in the morning and ends late in the evening, times that are dark just before Christmas and light as we prepare for Hoopfest. But such polarity is also reflected in what’s happening in the world of sports. Except in hockey.


• There were no NHL games on Dec. 24 of last year. The league takes a break the days around Christmas. If you look at the standings from then, though, you might notice one of our Stanley Cup finalists among the league leaders. The other? Well, Edmonton was not only 18 points out of first in the Pacific Division, it trailed the Seattle Kraken by four points. That’s not good.

Today, however, dawns with the Oilers on the cusp of another Stanley Cup. The most unlikely of what would be the franchise’s sixth, for sure, and not just because Wayne Gretzky is 63 years old. The Christmas-season standings tell one aspect of the Oilers’ story. An 0-3 hole in the Final series tells a more telling one.

Sure, it’s been more than 30 years since a Canadian team has skated with the Cup. That’s a long time. But it pales in comparison to the lengthy gap since an 0-3 finals comeback. That gap reaches back more than eight decades, to World War II, to a weird confluence of events that led to Toronto losing three consecutive times against a lackluster Detroit team before roaring back to etch its name on the Cup for the fourth time.

That 1942 final may duplicate itself tonight in Homestead, Fla., home of the Florida Panthers, last year’s runner-up on the verge of repeating that finish in the worst possible way. Even worse, surely, than being swept without winning a game.

So close. And now the pressure is Mariana Trench intense. Will the Panthers implode? We’ll find out, starting at 5 p.m. on ABC, when the most winter of winter sports will reach its zenith in South Florida four days into summer.

• Our simple mind finds it so ironic – and funny – the NHL season will end on the same day the NCAA’s 2023-24 schedule does.

As it does every year, in Omaha with the Division I baseball championship handed out. Two SEC teams, Tennessee and Texas A&M, have won one game each in the World Series’ best-of-three final. Tonight’s winner (4, ESPN) will earn its first NCAA baseball crown.

• We spent most of last evening glued to the TV set for another summer sport. Track and field. The Olympic Trials. From not-too-far-away Eugene, Ore.

The glittering palace that is the new Hayward Field put on a show. From a 16-year-old (Quincy Wilson) making the 400-meter finals to a veteran sprinter (Noah Lyles) easing into the 100-meter title to a former BYU steeplechaser (Kenneth Rooks) running to a trials win, we were mesmerized.

Even if Snoop Dogg expressed amazement while learning the runners could step on the steeplechase barrier and launch themselves over the water. Celebrities don’t need to be concerned with such details to earn a paycheck.

NBC did a fine job, one that continues tonight, albeit on tape with its prime time start of 8 p.m. in our area.

• Are the Mariners ready for prime time? At home, sure. On the road? Not so much. Since hitting the season’s high-water mark (13 games over .500) to open the road trip in Cleveland, Seattle has lost four of five, including Sunday’s 6-4 loss to woeful Miami.

That loss, with Bryce Miller struggling for the third time in four starts, dropped the M’s road record to 18-23, easily the worst among division leaders. More importantly, it sliced another game off their A.L. West lead. Once 10, it is six, with the Astros looming. T-Mobile, where the Mariners are 27-12, like a siren sings, but Seattle’s most recent odyssey first makes a stop in Tampa tonight (3:50, Root). It is the first of three games against a Rays team that just finished a winning road trip to Atlanta, Minnesota and Pittsburgh, taking four of the last five.

Can Bryan Woo tap his cleats together three times and make Tropicana feel like home? Or does the slide continue? Tune in, at least until the sun sets – or the hockey starts.


WSU: Around the Pac-12 and the nation, Sunday was a busy day for football recruiting. High school players made visits and decided to tell everyone where they were headed. For now. We can offer stories that cover announcements concerning schools from Washington to Arizona and in-between, from Oregon State to Utah. … Jon Wilner delves into the early tenure of Arizona athletic director Desiree Reed-Francois and the challenges she has had to face. … The Oregonian’s football numbers countdown continues today. We are at No. 69 for Oregon State and Oregon, and No. 68 for the Beavers. … UCLA rebuilt its roster with six transfers, all on the strength of something Sam Gilbert would endorse: more NIL money. … Oregon revealed Matthew Knight Arena’s remade basketball floor design. It’s a little more understated than the previous one. … A former USC player went from being undrafted to winning an NBA ring.

Gonzaga: We received a copy of a letter men’s basketball season-ticket holders were sent from the school recently, covering all the changes in college athletics and explaining how they are expected to impact the athletic department. The bottom line is contained within a bold-faced paragraph: “We are seeking your input as a season ticket holder on various options we are considering – which includes significant increases to season ticket costs and modernizing our ticketing allocation process.” The changes, and costs, of running an athletic department are hitting home for everyone who wants to cheer on their favorite team in person. And some of us naively thought an un-named booster would pay for everything.

EWU: The S-R’s previews of local Olympic track and field hopefuls continue today with Dave Cook’s story on former CV, CCS and Eastern Washington hurdler Parker Bowden’s quest to make the team in the 110 hurdles. Bowden runs in heats today. … Elsewhere in the Big Sky, Bozeman’s Duncan Hamilton missed out on the Olympic steeplechase team. … A Northern Colorado running back is betting on himself. … Weber State product Dillon Jones feels he has already cashed in his NBA bet.

Preps: We wonder if anyone at North Central High when Ryne Sandberg walked the halls that someday there would be a statue of the youngster outside Wrigley Field? There is one now.

Indians: Spokane seems to like this winning thing. And shutouts. The Indians finished off their series with visiting Eugene on Sunday with a 3-0 win. Dave Nichols has this story on the game, the final score of which matches Spokane’s second-half record. … Elsewhere in the Northwest League, Hillsboro scored three times in the top of the 10th only to see host Everett score four in the bottom of the inning and win 8-7. Vancouver won its third consecutive game in Tri-City, making a first-inning run stand up in a 1-0 win.

Velocity: Despite a lot of chances to earn a league win, Spokane and Lexington SC tied at one Sunday night at ONE Spokane Stadium. Ethan Myers was there and has this coverage.

Mariners: We linked the game story above. We link it here too. … Dominic Canzone has tweaked his swing. It’s worked. … Dropping a series to Miami is not good. … If you have some time and are a bit of a baseball nerd – guilty as charged – this Athletic story on how pitching has changed over the past decade or so is fascinating. Our first thought? It’s time for hitter’s to adjust again, to become more like Ichiro or Rod Carew or Pete Rose or Ty Cobb, for goodness sake. But we’re worried they won’t.  

Storm: Seattle celebrated its 25th anniversary in style, winning 72-61 over visiting Connecticut on a day dedicated to the winning culture the Storm has built.

Reign: The winless streak is seven matches long, though Seattle and Louisville played a 1-1 draw Sunday.

Sounders: The U.S. Men’s National Team opened Copa America play against lightly regarded Bolivia (84th in FIFA’s rankings) Sunday. And the 11th-ranked U.S. won, 2-0. Up next in group play is Panama (43rd) followed by Uruguay (14th). Uruguay topped Panama 3-1 in the other match.

Golf: Climate protesters. Security making tackles on the 18th green. A clutch Tom Kim putt to force a playoff. All unexpected. But Scottie Scheffler winning the Travelers Championship? Expected. After all, it was his sixth win this year.

Olympics: The track and field trials, which take Tuesday and Wednesday off, are just beginning. The swimming trials ended Sunday. The team is a mix of young and old, of surprise qualifiers and expected members.


• A quick update on the week. We will not be here Thursday. Some friends are visiting from out of town and we don’t want to be pounding away on the computer as they sleep in the guest room nearby. They don’t want to hear our more-than-occasional screaming at the computer. Mainly when we can’t come up with the right action verb. Hey, writing is a competitive sport for us. Until later …